Friday, March 16, 2012

Judges, Kings and America

America can learn something from the nation of Israel. In the Old Testament we see that when the Israelites drifted away from God and hence fell into idolatry, loose living was but the sad result. As such, liberty under God’s law turned into license in the absence of his law. Historian, William Durant, once said that when liberty turns to license, dictatorship is near. In fact, the last verse of the book of Judges indicates that the Hebrews grew weary of God’s law and authority. Indeed, they wanted a change. The concluding verse in the book of Judges is as follows: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what he thought best.” (Judges 21:25)

After Moses had led the Israelites to the frontiers of the Promised Land, Joshua, his successor, took the reins, ushered them in and had the Twelve Tribes settle in their respective regions. For the next several years God chose to govern his people through the Twelve Judges. Their names were Othniel, Ehud, Shamger, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, Abdon, and Samson. It was God who chose each judge and through the anointing of the Spirit, they exercised a judicial oversight over the new nation. However, they did not enjoy the power of a king. To be sure, the power of the judges was modest and intermittent. By no means did they possess unlimited power under God. By and large, people were free to govern themselves.

Years later our Lord Jesus would remind the Jews that to sin is to be a slave of sin. And slavery to sin eventually translates into political slavery. When the first-century Jews rejected their Messiah in favor of Caesar, it was Caesar, the Roman emperor, who sent his general Titus to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. Due to their own sin, they could not discern their deliverer.

True and enduring liberty can only be had within the observance and protection of God’s law. But when sin and lawlessness increases, feelings of insecurity will increase just the same. And when people forfeit the protection of Almighty God they will soon seek the protection of an all-powerful State. After all, Scripture says that a distressed conscience magnifies misfortunes. After the twelfth Judge of Israel, the Israelites “did what they thought best.” In other words, they followed their own desires instead of God's laws. Sure enough, Israel had looked to their neighbors for inspiration. Seeing that other nations had kings, they too wanted their own king.

Enter Samuel: In the First Book of Samuel this prophet makes an appearance. Some say he was the last of the Judges but the first of a long line of prophets. In any case, he was favored by God. Through him the Lord would speak to his people. The Israelites knew this. So they approached Samuel and requested a king. When Samuel heard their request, he was upset. He knew that by them requesting a king they were, at the same time, rejecting God’s rule through the Judges. Samuel took the matter to God. In response, the Lord replied, "Grant the people's every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king. As they have treated me constantly from the day I brought them up from Egypt to this day, deserting me and worshiping strange gods, so do they treat you too.”

Samuel then gave them their wish. But they would have to pay a price by loaning their land and children to the State. He told the Israelites: The rights of the king who will rule you will be as follows:

1. He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot.
2. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.
3. He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers.
4. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials.
5. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves.
6. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work.
7. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves.

Strangely enough, when people are given a choice between liberty and security, they will choose security. This is especially the case when people feel deprived of Divine Providence through a life of sin. Israel would have to learn this lesson time and time again.

To make a long story short, they got their king. The first King of Israel was Saul. He was anointed by the prophet Samuel. But Saul proved to be a disappointment. By default, the Lord told Samuel to anoint David. He then became king and his son, Solomon succeeded him. From 1050 BC to 930 BC these three kings ruled over the kingdom of Israel. Happily, Israel was one nation during this time. But that was to change after Solomon died. Under his son, Rehoboam (grandson of King David), Israel was divided into two different kingdoms through conflict in the year 930 BC. Ten tribes formed the northern kingdom, better known as Israel. Two of the tribes established the southern kingdom, which was given the name of Judah. The royal line of David was to be preserved in the kingdom of Judah (Just as the successors of St. Peter, the first pope, was preserved in Western Christianity after it split from Eastern Christianity. Western Christianity became known as the Roman Catholic Church. Eastern Christianity became known as the Orthodox Church. Both sides can trace their lineage back to the Apostles).

Unfortunately, the northern kingdom of Israel fell into the worst kind of paganism. Israel lasted from 930 BC to 723 BC. In 723 BC it was destroyed by Assyria. Approximately 19 kings ruled and every single one of them were bad. But the kingdom of Judah was not much better. It lasted from 930 BC to 586 BC. Like Israel, the kingdom of Judah was destroyed by a superpower known as the Babylonian Empire. Approximately 25 kings ruled Judah but only a handful were good.

These were the sad results of a people who rejected the dominion of God. For centuries the Jews would be dominated by one mighty empire after another. By the time the Roman Empire came along (when Jesus was born), the suppressed nation of Israel was so desperate to be free from oppression that they misinterpreted the Messianic prophecies to mean that their political liberation was at hand. According to them, their Messiah would be a political warrior. But God had better plans. Instead, he proposed to save their souls through his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. The same proposal is held out to America. To be sure, it is only by freeing the soul from sin that any nation can be liberated from political tyranny. If the soul is not saved, nothing is saved! Unfortunately, Israel had to learn this the hard way. Let's pray that America will not repeat the same mistake.