Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The King After God: Power from Above

Photo: Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS
It is understood in 1 Samuel 9:15 to 17 that it was God Himself who chose Saul to be Israel’s first king. God revealed this in a word of prophecy that came to  the Prophet Samuel the day before Saul came to visit the prophet to ask regarding some lost donkeys (1 Samuel 9:15). when Samuel presented Saul before all the tribes of Israel, except for a few troublemakers, everyone there agreed that there was no one like him among all the people (10:24). From the time he was introduced in the Scriptures, his “impressive” stature always deserved highlight: “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the others” (9:2).

Many cultures around the world hold charisma as a fundamental qualification of a king. In its simplest concept, a king is a hero, a culture’s champion whose example in flesh and blood comes close to the ideals held by a people. Ideals, in turn, are based on the human urge to survive. To start with, an individual dealing with survival recognizes death as a—or perhaps the—conclusion of all life. The Sumerians understood this and so did the Egyptians. To the Babylonians, all hopes drained into death. This idea is reflected in Job 10:21 where the grave is described as “the place of no return”; Ecclesiastes 9:2 calls it “a common destiny” for “the righteous and the wicked.” In spite of this, however, no one from the ancient days held a way of life that promoted a passive, submissive advocacy to death and decay. All cultures the world around are an expression of the universal right to live. All cultures have been a search for a path that led to survival and to the ideals that lay above survival. And the ones who etched these paths were leaders variably known as heroes, champions, trailblazers, or kings.

Photo: Robert Landau/CORBIS
A king embodied a people’s ideals of survival. He was the understandable picture of the prosperity romanticized by his people. He was the specimen of what his people are or to become. His life and words are to advocate the superiority of his culture and the importance of keeping it pure and set apart from the inferior lifestyles of the other nations which lead to nowhere but death. A king must live, and lead the life aspired by his people; basically, therefore, he must look it. This is called charisma, the embodiment of authority, integrity, reliability, and credibility.

Saul towered at an impressive height: a head higher above the average Israelite. When he stood, he commanded the respect and obedience of his people. Or, at least, he was supposed to. To a Philistine, an Amalekite, or any pagan tribe, this quality may have worked tremendous wonders of authority, but not to the people of God. Though God chose someone as impressive as Saul, the authority to be obeyed, respected, and believed nevertheless came from Him. This principle was cited by Jesus in His conversation with Pilate when He said, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above” (John 19:11). Or if it were taken away from you by the Above, just as what happened to Saul when he rebelled against mandate to destroy the Amalekites, as expressed in 1 Samuel 15:23,26 and 28:

“Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel. The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you.”

Photo: Araldo de Luca/CORBIS
The persuasion of physical beauty expresses perfection of ideals. The sight of a leader’s physical beauty declares to his people the hope that their culture holds and the glory they will become. The physical beauty of a leader will testify of the superiority of a people. Through his beauty, a king will convey to a subject who beholds his splendor that their being born into their nation or tribe was no mistake. This was the belief held by the nations outside the realm of the Israelite Theocracy. Israel, on the other hand, understood what it was like to be ruled by tribal chiefs and by an unseen God with prophets or judges, like Moses and Samuel, as His human intermediaries; but never by a king—a single human entity that embodied all their standards and desires. And one day, after a couple of hundred years of living in the Promised Land, the Israelites suddenly had a thought: Why not try out that government style that every nation’s been talking about—the one with a king; the one that’s been around even the time before their forefather Abraham; the one that made Sumeria, Babylonia, and Egypt great!

Photo: Sandro Vannini/Corbis
They knew exactly what a king was; they have made treaties with them; one Hebrew even worked as the right-hand man of the Egyptian pharaoh; but never have they been under a king of their own. From their father Abraham of Ur, the Hebrews began existence as nomads, until Joseph, son of the patriarch Jacob. When he became viceroy of Egypt, a severe famine struck the Egyptian-Canaanite region, prompting him to open the fertile Egyptian district of Goshen for his father and brothers to relocate into (Genesis 45:12,17-18; 47:5-6,11). Here, for several hundred years, the Hebrews found a home and relatively became settlers for about a century and a half, until “a new king, who did not know Joseph, came to power in Egypt” (Exodus 1:8). Now they were known as slaves. For four hundred years, as foretold by God to Abraham (Genesis 15:13), this new Egyptian order mistreated the very people they sheltered in the “best part” of their land (Genesis 47:11) until a man came along to lead them back to Canaan. At that point they abandoned being slaves and re-donned their status as nomads for about what they believed to be eleven days until they reach the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:2). But what was supposed to be an eleven-day travel protracted into a forty-year meandering ordeal because of the unholy grumbling they voiced against God (Numbers 14:27,34). Throughout all the four difficult decades, their national dream of greatness remained an ethereal concept as they watched how nations of Egyptians, Amalekites, Midianites, Edomites, and Canaanites found their niche of power in the world around them, with their king to thank for, while the Israelites remained nomads lost in a vast blazing desert.

Photo: Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis
In this context, one can somehow come to understand how eager the Israelites were to finally produce a king of their own. While it is true that God made Himself vitally known to His people, dwelt with them in their midst in a specially designed compartment in a tent, God understood that the corrupting of sin will prove its grip stronger than His spiritual reality as their minds fall trapped within the realm of the flesh—the visible, the obvious, the instant gratification, the now, the simply understandable logic that “man is man, God is God.” Even with the representation of Moses as God’s intermediary to the people, the corruption of sin and its influence over their philosophy will keep their ideals ensnared by the seduction of a master in the flesh than keep their faith in an eternal God. There were, however, those who genuinely understood the rule of God, envisioned the benefit of its uniqueness from other nations, and took faith in the truth of His promise to bring Israel into glory. This is what made Moses raise his staff many times against Egypt and then at the Red Sea at the command of God; this is what electrified Caleb and Joshua when they explored the Promised Land for the first time (Numbers 14:7-9); this is what made the Levites rally beside Moses and slay the disobedient who celebrated the golden calf (Exodus 32:24-29); this was the zeal that took over Phinehas when he impaled with a spear a man caught fornicating with a Midianite woman (Numbers 25:7-8).

Photo: Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS
But the corruption of sin will never be denied its share in human nature and entrench many in its culture of decay and impermanence, for after Joshua’s generation “had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10) and no sooner did the Israelites, recently wresting Canaan from its natives through a stunning string of decisive victories, wallow in the same poison that brought Divine judgment to the Canaanites.

“…they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths. In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them. He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist them. Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress” (Judges 2:13 to 15).

In a place opposite Gilgal, the site where a covenant with God was sealed through circumcision, the angel of the Lord imposed another promise in consequence to the disobedience of an entire nation He calls His people:

“I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this? Now therefore I tell you that I will not drive them out before you; they will be thorns in your sides and their gods will be a snare to you’” (Judges 2:1-3).

Photo: Gianni Dagli Orti/CORBIS
And as the occupying Israelites tolerated the existence of the Canaanite natives as slaves instead of obliterating them as they were Divinely charged, they absorbed elements of pagan culture, from the use of the olive oil lamp, worshiping of alien deities, to the aspiration for their own king. And in the turbulent years that followed, the frequent conquests crashed and wore away the Chosen People’s respect for their One True Theocratic Head. While judges rose to deliver the people at the point of their greatest need, for every invasion that followed as a result of the death of a judge, the idea of a king crystallized until the day they came before the Prophet Samuel, the judge at the time, and finally asked him for a king.

[And as before, there's more! Oh, shall it ever end?]


  1. Other readers complain of not being able posting comments here. Please give due attention.

  2. For many many times, God appeared to the Jews proclaiming that they are His own people with a promise of deliverance from all their troubles and enemies until the end of times. Even in disobedience, God remain in His words and promises.
    With God's command to the Jews to spread His Words to other nations, we learned to imbibe in us, non-Jews, the same faith with theirs. Thus, we became His own people too.
    With what's happening in Israel now, we are in deep prayers that the move to divide the Promise Land to the Jews with the their enemy, Palestinians, will not materialize but instead, a permanent place be apportioned to them somewhere else in the vast space with their brother Arabs, like: Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Jordan.