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Volume 14, Issue 2: Magistralis

Strange Gods

Greg Dickison

Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. 1 Sam. 8:5

When Samuel was old, he made his sons to be judges over Israel. The Israelites were unhappy about the prospect of being judged by Samuel's sons. Joel and Abiah did not walk in the ways of their father, who never defrauded or oppressed anyone, or perverted justice. Rather, they judged according to who was the highest bidder. But instead of asking for different judges, Israel threw the baby out with the bathwater and asked for an entirely new, and foreign, form of government. After centuries of being ruled by God through judges and priests, Israel asked for a king.
Asking for a king went beyond asking for a different bureaucratic structure. The demand for a king was a theological shift, an act of rebellion and idolatry. In telling Samuel to acquiesce to their demand, God says to Samuel that "they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them" (1 Sam. 8:7). From the day they came out of Egypt, Israel had been seeking other gods, and this was more of the same (1 Sam. 8:8).
Judges and kings are fundamentally different. A judge resolves disputes by applying the law given to him by the king. His office is not that of a sovereign, and it is not the judge's job to make up new laws. The king is the lawmaker. He makes the law the judge is to apply. The king is sovereign, and can do as he wills.
God gave Israel the law when they were wandering in the wilderness, explained by example how the law was to be applied, and commanded the appointment of judges to implement the law. We would call it a common-law system. The law did not lay down expressed and detailed rules for every situation, but it did provide comprehensive principles which would guide the judges in any decision they would be called upon to make. The judges were expected to apply the law to the situation within the broad outlines given.
For example, houses were to have battlements on the roof to keep people from falling off and being killed (Deut. 22:8). This was an example of the application of the commandment. The example did not limit the judge to battlements. If an Israelite had blood on his house because he did not make his house adequately safe for his neighbor in some other way, he could be held accountable. At the same time, he was free to love his neighbor in the building of his house as God led him, and not as the local building inspector decreed.
In giving Israel a law, God was demonstrating that He was Israel's King. When Israel asked for a king, they were asking for a lawgiver apart from God. In asking for a king "like the other nations," they were asking for a civil religion. God commanded Samuel to warn the people what the king they wanted would do. He would demand a tithe—just like God. He would demand their service—just like God. He would take the best of their land, their belongings, and their children for himself—just like God. In other words, the king would effectively declare himself to be a god. But unlike God, the king would not return a blessing to those from whom he demanded worship. Because a king would be a child of Adam like themselves, Israel would "cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you." (1 Sam. 8:18).
Yet, because God was merciful to His chosen people, even in the midst of their rebellion, He put conditions on the kingship. The king had to be an Israelite of God's choosing, a member of the covenant. And he had to write out his own copy of God's law, that he would follow it and not his own (Deut. 17:14_20).
There can be no law greater than God's. No law of man can bestow wisdom, greatness, and righteousness on a nation like the law of God (Deut. 4:6_8). God says that only His law can make a nation great. But rebellious men reject God's law, and try to be great without Him. Men can never rebel just a little; they must needs go whole hog.
Look at what comes of rejecting God as king and setting up a king of our own, one who does not keep covenant, and who does not follow God's law. He takes more of our substance than God ever demanded, and he gives it to our enemies. We own our land and our homes only at his pleasure. He claims our children, and demands that they be taught the ways of his gods. He is threatened by right worship of the living and true God, and declares it hostile to freedom and liberty. He carefully screens judges to make sure they will be just as faithless as himself. He multiplies tedious rules and regulations, which have nothing to do with loving our neighbors as ourselves, but which require that we love false gods with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths.
The solution is not, as some would have it, and as worldly wisdom would suggest, to replace the bad king with a good one, or to rebel against his office. God has not made the world that way. In any reformation, God starts with the small things. He uses the weak to overthrow the strong, and the foolish to confound the wise. He begins at home, in His own house. Every Bible story of God's deliverance begins with one simple command: put away your idols from among you, put away the strange gods, prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only.

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