‘Come writers and critics Who prophesies with your pen And keep your eyes wide The chance won't come again And don't speak too soon For the wheel's still in spin And there's no tellin' who That it's namin'.’
Simon and Garfunkel
Strong and Stable Government
Remember that phrase? Well it’s what the Israelites are longing for in the First Book of Samuel. Samuel is the last of the great Judges, men who combined the office of prophet and leader, chosen by God to unite the tribes of Israel in order to answer a particular crisis or threat from outside. As the Jewish nation comes to a more mature consciousness, it realises that it needs more stability, and it wants a king like other nations.
Samuel isn’t keen. He sees in this demand a rejection of his and God’s authority, and is suspicious of the peoples’ desire for a quick fix for all their problems, “Give us a king, and all will be well.” Samuel knows it’s not the system, but the people’s fidelity that is the answer.
God tells Samuel, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” I Samuel 8, 7. In some ways, this is a remarkable response from God, not what one might expect from that ‘nasty Old Testament God.’ Already, we are seeing the dawning realisation that God wants a relationship and he is prepared to work with what is.
And the rest, as they say…
Saul and then David are anointed as Israel’s first kings. The establishment of the monarchy is anything but a smooth process. Saul is at first the blue-eyed boy and then rejected for not doing as he is told. David is anointed behind Saul’s back, and there follows a period of jealousy and threat that would fit very well into a modern-day political thriller (read I Samuel 8-16 and make up your own mind about why things turn out the way they do). Even David, the beloved of the Old Testament, is far from perfect – but more of that later.
A division of powers
From now on in Israel, the office of prophet and leader will be divided, and will not be united again until Christ himself comes. The prophet/judge figures like Gideon, Samson and Samuel are in the past. There will be tension between prophets and Kings. Prophets will often be unwelcome reminders of where the monarch goes wrong, and will travel a lonely and often dangerous road.
Most things in life are about power at some level or another. It is often about control, or who has the biggest stick, or who has the authority. In western culture, we often place the emphasis upon the earning of respect or authority. This is all very well, but someone often has to step in and resolve a situation (sometimes it is the wrong person). It’s all very well having a debate about everything (as some of the Greek city states did), but eventually someone must decide on which side the traffic flows!
It is the managing of power that is the key: the power to enable and transact. Saul, David, Solomon and the other kings would realise this, while the prophets reminded them that the real power lay with God, and it was in the carrying out of his will that the nation would prosper. Truth, integrity, right action, humility, and a whole list of other virtues would be demanded of the king and the people. When they strayed from these in the exercise of power and relationships, the prophets were there to steer them back.
Which standard are we using?
In the daily exchange of relationships, what is guiding us in the use of the power that we have? We might feel that we are powerless. God reminds us that we are not, and when we act rightly and demand justice, that is when we are at our most powerful – as any tyrant knows.