Friday, July 15, 2016

Christian Reasons in Favor of Kingship

Dean Arnold has written a good piece on why monarchy should be considered as a viable form of government from an Orthodox perspective.  Since the heavily Protestant South would be expected to ask, ‘What does the Bible say?’, we will post a portion of his essay dealing with that question, in particular, how one should understand I Samuel ch. 8.  But the whole thing is worth reading:

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Biblicists who oppose monarchy are quick to turn to I Samuel 8, as it is the best passage, if not the only passage, that provides some kind of rationale for something other than a monarchical government.

In the story, Samuel has led Israel well for decades as a “judge,” not a king, but his sons are corrupt, and the elders insist that Samuel install “a king to judge us like all the nations.” Samuel is displeased, prays about it, and God tells him to do what they asked. “They have not rejected you, but rejected me,” God says, “that I should not reign over them.” (I Sam. 8:7)

On it’s face, this passage seems to provide nice ammo for refuting monarchism, but it has a number of serious weaknesses.

♦ Firstly, it is strange for Israel to get rebuked for wanting a king when a few hundred years before Moses laid out some rules for kings in Israel: “When you come to the land … and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses.” (Deut. 17:14-15)

♦ Secondly, Israel wasn’t rebuked for wanting a king. They were rebuked for wanting a king “like all the nations.” (This seems to fit with the previous point that God had already made proscriptions for a king.) Biblical scholar James Jordan points out that this phrase “like all the nations” can mean, in the original language, two possible things.

1: A king, as other nations have kings.
2. A king that acts like other nations’s kings, not one tied to Moses’s code of laws.

Jordan believes, because of the context of the passage, and Deut. 17, that the elders of Israel were asking for the second option. And this explains the verses surrounding both Deut 17 and I Sam. 8, warning against kings multiplying horses, gold, and wives. Other nations’ kings built military machines (horses), heavily taxed their subjects (gold), and sported large harems. Moses and Samuel both warn Israel’s king not to go in that direction.

♦ Thirdly, the days of Israel’s judges was no panacea for godly society. The book ends with a woman being raped in front of her passive husband, who then chops her up and sends the pieces to the twelve tribes to point out how corrupt things had gotten. The book is filled with similar atrocities. Judges ends by saying, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” (21:25). According to Gleason, “the lack of monarchy implies anarchy.  The consciences of the populous were insufficient for bringing righteousness to the nation. A godly king was needed.”

♦ Fourthly, one of the reasons the Israelites were rejecting God by asking for a king was because to do so, at that time, would be violating the mosaic law. Jacob declared at the end of his life, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah.” (Gen. 49:10). The Israelites knew their king was to come from Judah, but that tribe was temporarily disqualified due to sexual immorality: “One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation.” (Deut. 23:2)

Judah had slept with his daughter-in-law Tamar (unwittingly—she posed as a prostitute), and she gave birth to Perez (see Gen. 38, a rather bizarre interruption to an otherwise thrilling drama about Joseph). The tribe of Judah was in it’s ninth generation when the elders of Israel demanded a king. Saul had to be taken from another tribe, Benjamin. But he was replaced a generation later by David, from the tribe of Judah, who was now qualified to be king.

The writer of Ruth makes this crystal clear at the very end of the book, naming ten generations from Perez to David: “Now this is the genealogy of Perez: Perez begot Hezron; Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab; Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon; Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed; Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David. (Ruth 4:13-22)

Pretty cool, huh? (Jordan explains this point well in the podcast link already provided, and Gleason writes about it here.)

♦ Lastly, those who use I Samuel 8 to argue against monarchy certainly cannot use it to argue for democratic republics as we know them today. The system under Samuel was a theocracy, a nation under specific laws from God. Whatever is argued for today, whether it be democracies, republics, loose confederations, or pseudo-anarchism, to argue that Israel before its monarchy modeled the ideal government is to argue for something even more radical for today’s sensibilities than monarchy. A few actually do this, but everyone else needs to chill a little bit.

Fr. John Whiteford, an Orthodox priest in Texas (ROCOR), wraps up his excellent article on this topic with this conclusion: “So one could argue that the most ideal form of government is a theocracy, but as the history of Israel up to this point demonstrated, such a theocracy only worked out well for the people when they were zealous to obey God, which very often was not the case. So monarchy is perhaps the second best system of government, but not one without problems … because for monarchy to work out well, you need a king that is pious.”

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