Doctrine of Kingship, Freedom, & Tyranny
Judges Lesson #002
June 18, 2000
1 Samuel 8:5 “And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” They want to be like everybody else. What is everybody else doing historically at that time? 1 Samuel 8:6–7 “But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” When the writer of Judges says that there was no king in the land he is talking about the fact that throughout the period of the judges there is a steady degeneration of the spiritual condition of the nation when the people as a whole have rejected God from being the King over them. 1 Samuel 8:8, “According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods …” They have given themselves over to idolatry, were continuously negative toward God, and that is the result of the spiritual degeneration of the nation and why they are going to go through some of the things that will follow. God always intended for them to have a king but they had to have Saul because they were operating on human viewpoint and have a king like everybody else, and the result was that they suffered.
The doctrine of kingship
1) Human government and the authority of human government is established in the covenant with Noah in Genesis 8:20–9:17. In the covenant with Noah they were told that the purpose of government was to restrain sin and evil in a culture and to exercise judicial restraint and punishment for criminal activity. We know that because in those verses God tells Noah that the human race has been given the responsibility to execute [exercise capital punishment] murderers. That is the most extreme form of exercising judicial operation. It follows that all others areas of judicial decision making go with that. Capital punishment is a very controversial thing in our culture. We have to remember that God in His omniscience knew that man was fallible and He delegated the responsibility not as an option but as a mandate. So capital punishment is not something that is optional, it is established and mandated in the Noahic covenant and we are to manage to do it to the best of our ability. God knew that man would make mistakes, so just because man makes mistakes is not a legitimate excuse for backing away from capital punishment of criminals. The reason it is so severe is to emphasize the importance of the criminal act. Throughout the Mosaic Law we never get the idea of reforming the criminal.
2) Israel’s government took the specific form of a theocracy: God was the ruler and under Him were specific leaders called judges [shaphatim, deliverers]. These judges were raised up in times of national need to deliver the nation from oppression and lead the armies of Yahweh against the enemy. In some cases [e.g., Deborah] it involved judicial decisions, but for the most part it was more of a military leadership for the nation.
3) Under this theocratic government which was established by God in the Mosaic Law, Israel was given a code of freedom. It was unique in the ancient world and unique in history. In God’s view the purpose for government is twofold: to protect the citizen from internal enemies [criminals], and to protect the nation from external enemies [foreign aggression]. In order to protect the nation from internal enemies – criminals – it demands a sound judicial system based on objective and fair laws, a police system that applies those laws in the arrest of criminals, and a judicial system that applies the laws and discovers who is guilty and who is not guilty. That is the basis for freedom. What happens when a culture becomes paganized is that it is not long before the people who inhabit these institutions reflect the paganized concepts of the culture from which they come. In respect of protecting the nation from foreign aggression there are generally two types of nations: those that are power hungry and always seeking to grab land and power away from other nations, and those who love freedom. For a nation who loves freedom it is necessary to have a strong military in order to protect itself from the aggression of other nations. Once a military is allowed to collapse then there is no longer a hedge of protection against foreign aggression. This is exactly what we will see time and time again in Israel during the period of the judges. One of the evidences of the paganization of a culture is the idea that there can be world peace.
4) Under the Mosaic law Israel had the right to possess property, to enjoy the blessings of that property, to benefit and to profit in business transactions unhindered by an overpowering government. It did not have a bureaucratic government coming in and taxing them to the maximum and taking away what was rightfully the citizens’. A government has the right to tax but the more a government taxes the earnings of the citizen the less freedom they have. If you work six months of the year in order to pay your income tax bill then you are a slave to the government, you are working six months to pay the salaries of all the bureaucrats.
5) Freedom includes authority and respect for authority. That is why Israel lost her freedom during the period of the judges so many times: they lost the concept of authority. They rejected the authority of God and did that which was right in their own eyes. Freedom without authority is anarchy; authority without freedom is tyranny. In the Christian life freedom without authority is antinomianism. People think they can sin with impunity because Christ has already died for their sins on the Cross, so now they don’t need to listen to any of the mandates of Scripture, they can just do whatever they want to do. Authority without freedom is the tyranny of legalism.
6) Absence of a despotic monarchy in Israel not only meant a high degree of personal freedom but it stood out in the ancient world as a unique and powerful witness to Yahweh. As the caravaners came through they would see that everywhere else people were afraid of the government but in Israel there was true freedom. This was to be a witness for God and the unique environment of Israel.
7) Under this environment of freedom Israel could achieve spiritual success which would bring them material blessing, military victory and agricultural bounty as a testimony to the grace and power of the one true God. Remember our ability for success is directly related to our potential for failure. If a government wants to come in and provide a safety net, then raises that safety net up, it is also lowering the ceiling for opportunity and freedom, because in order to protect those who make bad decisions and suffer the consequences from it they have to take away from those who have been willing to risk and to gain and to succeed, and are therefore limited in their ability to reap what they have done and to benefit from the results of their good decisions. One of the problems with socialism is that it limits people’s ability to succeed and to benefit from their own initiative. It also limits the consequences so that people don’t have to worry too much about being a failure, and they end up being a burden on everyone else.
8) Failure to follow the divine mandates in Israel led to the cultural decline where Israel resembled their pagan neighbors and there was no discernable difference in the way they thought or acted. Israel just absorbed like a sponge all the value systems, all the religious thinking, and the political thinking of the Canaanites surrounding them; the result was they didn’t look, act, or think any differently from anyone else. This is exactly what we see going on in Christianity today. It is because the message from the pulpits of most churches is so shallow and never goes anywhere much beyond salvation that Christians can’t grow.
9) Only Bible doctrine provides a framework to maintain the proper balance between freedom and authority. It is only doctrine that helps us have any level of real freedom no matter what the government might be. Only on the basis of doctrine can people be free. John 8:31–32. If our thinking is not aligned with reality then we are not free, we are slaves because we are operating on false concepts. It is only through the Word of God that we learn what reality is because it is God who defines reality, not man. When a nation is divorced from doctrine and has cut itself off from the anchor of absolutes in the Word of God then that nation will always drift into paganism and then follow the historical trends either towards anarchy or tyranny. That is just where we are as a nation because we have cut ourselves off from the roots of the Judeo-Christian ethic. We are adrift, in moral relativism; there are no absolutes in the land, everyone does what they want to do, and we are no different from the ancient Canaanites as a culture. The result is that we are drifting more and more towards tyranny because once you get away into relativism there has to be some sort of control, and so there will always be the pressure to move toward the government to come in and solve everybody’s problems and to provide security for everybody because nobody wants to take responsibility for their own decisions, and especially for their own failures.
Israel’s government is described in Deuteronomy 16:18, the structure and organization of the twelve tribes. Ultimately it is a theocracy, but the organization is tribal, it is a loose confederacy. What unified them was the covenant that God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and they are organized around the central sanctuary of the tabernacle in the wilderness. Each tribe had a location as they surrounded the tabernacle, a central site of worship showing that the unifying point of their culture was God: the very presence of God and His relationship with Israel. What we learn from that is that if we are going to have a political unity in a culture it has to be based on a spiritual reality. That spiritual reality can be pagan or it can be biblical but it can’t be both because then there is too much division. That is why we see a lot of tension and fragmentation in our culture today, because the original foundation of our culture was on a Judeo-Christian basis. What happened in the 20th century is that we cut ourselves loose from that and we are now cast adrift on the sea of pagan thought. There is no unifying principle because there is still a large group of believers who are trying to operate on a Judeo-Christian basis, so there is tension and there will always be that tension until one or the other wins out.
God establishes a government and we can see that in Deuteronomy 16:18–22. “… they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” “Righteous” tsedeq means you have to have a source of absolutes. That is what is given in the Mosaic Law, it comes from God, and in order to have a sound judicial system you have to have a solid source of absolutes. It can’t come from the people, it has to come from outside. By analogy, for the believer the pursuit of justice/integrity by application is the purpose of the Christian life, i.e., to operate on the standards of God throughout life. Deuteronomy 16:21 notes the spiritual element: God had to be exclusively the center of their culture.
Deuteronomy 17:14–20: God prophesies what will occur in 1 Samuel 8. Notice the stipulation in Deuteronomy 17:16, “But he shall not multiply horses for himself.” In other words, he is not going to accumulate prestige and power to himself. He is not going to make himself wealthy, he is not going to have all the trappings of leadership that all of the other kings have. Deuteronomy 17:18–20: in Israel the king is still under God. That is another thing that distinguishes the monarchy in Israel from the monarchy everywhere else where it is the final authority; in Israel it is always under God. So the source of the law does not come from the king, it does not come from the culture, it comes from God and the king is to write out a copy of the Law in the presence of the Levitical priests. The same law is mandated to the people. This is why every believer ought to be reading through the Scriptures on a consistent basis to be reminded of the promises of God, the flow of history.
Now we see, historically, what has happened is that you move from a status in the ancient world where you have this autocratic king in Egypt and Babylon to Israel where at least in the early stages of the theocracy, from about 1400 to 1050 BC, there is no king. There is the highest level of freedom in any culture or government in human history. They are centered around a central shrine of the tabernacle, and later the temple, and there is tremendous freedom. In about the 8th or 9th century BC in Greece and later in Rome, the development of what scholars term “amphictyony” – a compendium of several Greek words; this defines a culture or league of tribes who settle around a common sanctuary. Although numerous pagan cultures adopted and tried to duplicate this organization style, due to the lack of a divine mandate or having The God Who Is at the core of their political structure, they did not survive. Deuteronomy 32:17 shows that they were actually demonic in worshipping nature and pagan idols.
The organization of Judges: three divisions
Introduction: Judges 1:1–3:6 the various cycles of deliverance
Judges 3:7–16:31: shows how paganization affects leadership
Judges 17:1–21:25: tests which show the problem is not just leadership but the people and their negative volition.