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Did God Want a King for Israel?
by Cate Russell-Cole
9/09/2015 / Christian Apologetics
Updated January 2017: This article has been affected by a coding glitch. My only other option is to re-upload, but that will affect long-standing embedded links to it. Please accept my apologies for the big gaps.
There has been a great deal of debate as to whether or not God wanted a king for the nation of Isra’el. Until David’s time, the Judges, full of the Spirit of the Lord and under divine direction, had led the people; however the people wanted to be like other nations and have a visible king in human form. Despite Isra’el’s covenant commitment to the Lord, they were willing to set aside the sovereign rule of their God and trust man instead.
The reason why this issue is debated is because God gave Moses the instructions for how any king of Isra’el was to act in Deuteronomy 17: 14- 20:
“You are about to enter the land the LORD your God is giving you. When you take it over and settle there, you may think, ‘We should select a king to rule over us like the other nations around us.’ If this happens, be sure to select as king the man the LORD your God chooses. You must appoint a fellow Israelite; he may not be a foreigner.
“The king must not build up a large stable of horses for himself or send his people to Egypt to buy horses, for the LORD has told you, ‘You must never return to Egypt.’ The king must not take many wives for himself, because they will turn his heart away from the LORD. And he must not accumulate large amounts of wealth in silver and gold for himself.
“When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the LORD his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.”
There are a number of points worth noting, when you make up your own mind about this issue. Firstly, in Deuteronomy, the rules for a king only come after the Lord has set down the rules for worship and Isra’el’s conduct towards Him. A king is never the first priority. Justice, dealing with slaves and debtors and the festivals to be celebrated are also listed first.
Secondly, the Scripture says, “You may think, we should select a king.” Isra’el was never told to actually do it. From my study, I have concluded that a king was nothing short of a bad idea, which in practice was a disaster; but to stop it from becoming completely out of hand, rules were set down by a loving Father who knew the hearts of His children. [For example, see Deuteronomy 31:14 to 32:43]
Both God and Samuel were angry in 1 Samuel 12 when Isra’el demanded a king. Samuel states: “The Lord your God was already your king.” Isra’el had seen her error very quickly, but still, despite always having a choice to go back to divine rule under the guidance of the Judges, Isra’el never removed royal rule, which led both tribes to spiritual destruction and being taken captive as slaves. With that in mind, how can choosing a man over God possibly be a good idea?
Hosea 13:11 states: “In my anger I gave you kings, and in my fury I took them away.”
After the reign of David ended, God was very rarely ever attributed as leading Isra’el to victory over their enemies. As early as 2 Samuel 5, the very day that David was made King over all of Isra’el, the people had already lost sight of God. “In the past, when Saul was our king, you were the one who really led the forces of Israel.” In both Isaiah 42:8 and 48:11 the Lord says, “I will not give My glory to another.” The glory had been taken from Him by man glorifying man. This led Isra’el to sin, which no decision made by God could ever have been capable of doing.
~ The Judges did not have wealth and power, so they were far less likely to be corrupted than a king.
~ God had the flexibility to place the needed Judge in the right place, at the right time, without being limited by hereditary succession. A new one could be risen up without time limits.
~ No one tribe would have all the power centred on them, as Judah did, as the kings came from that lineage. For example, see the revolt of Sheba against King David to see how the tribe verses tribe problem played out in reality. [2 Samuel 19:40-20:22 except for one wise woman, there would have been civil war.]
~ Any Judge worth their salt refused to be king. Gideon is an example of this. Other plans for Isra’el to appoint a king before 1 Samuel, fell to ruin quickly under the Lord’s hand.
~ Handing the role of a king down through generations is problematic as it means the original vision for the people’s welfare and deliverance is lost, as is also, the Lord’s discipline and lessons He has invested in shaping the ultimate leader; plus David’s faith, courage and relationship with the Lord can’t be replicated either. You have a king who has a right to leadership, a duty, rather than a passion for the Lord’s people. “And David realised that the Lord had confirmed him as king over Isra’el and had blessed his kingdom for the sake of his people Isra’el,” [2 Samuel 5:12]
~ It was inevitable that choosing a king would lead to a loss of faith, as the only kings who had ever existed, all came from the pagan surrounding nations. None of them were godly, thus all the practices, customs and lifestyles that Isra’el’s kings adopted to accompany the new role were built on a sin-inspired model and destined to fail.
Not even a human warrior could care for Isra’el as the Lord did. This is a quick list of the battles the Lord won / engineered for Isra’el. Who else compares to this?
- Crossing the Red Sea - Exodus 14
- Victory over the Amalekites - Exodus 17:8-16
- Promise to fight for the people - Exodus 23:27-31 and Deuteronomy 7:7-8
- Jordan River dry crossing - Joshua 3:15-16
- Fall of Jericho - Joshua 6:20-21
- Ai - Joshua 8
- Amonites - Joshua 10:11
- North captured for Isra'el - Joshua 11:16-20, especially verse 23
- South captured for Isra'el - Joshua 10:40-42
- Deborah and Barak - Judges 4:14-15
- Gideon - Judges 7
- Samson - Judges 16, especially verse 30
- Ark of the Covenant against the Philistines - 1 Samuel 7
- Jonathan against the Philistines - 1 Samuel 14
- David and Eleazar son of Dodai - 2 Samuel 23
- David and Shammah son of Agee - 2 Samuel 23
Battles Won for Judah
- God defeated the army of Jeroboam as Abijah and his army trusted God. 2 Chronicles 13
- God saves King Jehoshaphat in battle - 2 Chronicles 18
- Battle with Ammon, Moab, and some of the Meunites - 2 Chronicles 20
- God helped Uzziah in his wars against the Philistines - 2 Chronicles 26
- Rescue of Judah under the leadership of the righteous King Hezekiah - 2 Kings 19
In 2 Samuel 22:1-4 David sums it all up, beautifully:
“David sang this song to the LORD on the day the LORD rescued him from all his enemies and from Saul.
“The LORD is my rock, my fortress, and my saviour;
my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my saviour,
the One who saves me from violence.
I called on the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and He saved me from my enemies.”
For more information on King David, please have a meander through the King David Project Facebook page, our web site and our blog, Masada Rain. The blog houses many useful resources on studying, David plus bits and pieces of information which don't neatly fit into article form. Please ignore dates and use the search feature to find what you want. The web site has resources on David's family tree, life and the Psalms. All content is creative commons and non-profit. Sharing of the project's work would be deeply appreciated.
~ Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fromdespairtodeliverance
~ Masada Rain Blog: https://masadarain.wordpress.com
~ The project web site: http://cateartios.wix.com/kingdavidproject
This article by Cate Russell-Cole is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Written in Australian English.
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