The ignored lessons of 1 Samuel 8 – Government as God.
Many misguided collectivists that stuff the pulpits of Christian Churches today (called by various names such as Pastor, Reverend, Minister, Father, etc.) ignore the straight forward lesson of the Book of Judges and 1st Samuel in the Old Testament. The Christian Church, as an institution, is divided into liberal and conservative factions, much like politics. We can ignore the more “liberal” or “Progressive” element for this rant. I only want to deal with those to actually believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. It is they that tend to fail to understand the warning of Samuel. The other side has drank this cool-aid long ago. The are already infected by the collectivist dream.
The power people in the pulpits of the nation on the conservative side are fond of using a verse found in multiple places in the book of Judges which lays down the principle that men, instead of obeying the moral order such as the Ten Commandments, do what seems right in their own eyes.
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Judges 21:25 (also see Judges 17:6)
What is usually done in this case is to couple the above verses with one from Proverbs.
There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. Proverbs 14:12
Or this one…
There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth. Proverbs 30:12
Or this one…
Trust in the LORD with all your heart And do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5
This creates a package that tries to explain the supposed social and economic instability of the Judges period in the context of moral declension (a safe move). Following this period come a parade of Kings, some good and some bad. The effect of these verses cobbled together in this way and the supposed principle that arises from it leaves a congregation with the impression that every effort must be made by Christians to place into positions of authority the right people. After all, big government is inevitable. So we need a good King/president/leader, someone “righteous”, who has a heart after God, who seeks the Lord, etc. Never mind if his economic perspective is Keynesian or his solution is collectivism.
This sounds good to those who follow Christ’s vicar, the Calvinist theocrat, people looking for a human savior or that Christian leaders have some kind of magical power that can transcend truth and disregard the consequences of natural law. The “progressives” already have their political savior in Mr. Obama. The Conservative folks are much less aware that their course of action leads them towards the same fundamental quest without perceiving it as such.
These two groups are usually caught in the false dichotomy of Right vs. Left, Republicans vs. Democrats, FOX news vs. CNN. Both sides of which promote collectivism in different ways. Both sides hold out the false hope that if only we got our guys into the place of power the world will eventually be better. Both offer up centralized federal solutions. Both claim the moral high ground. Both propose their own practical method of implementing their Utopian vision usually involving a federal solution.
Actually, the book of Judges never insinuates that “everyone did what was right in his own eyes“ is an undesirable situation. It simply states that it was the situation at the time these events occurred. The undesirable aspect of it only comes into play when the verses in Judges are coupled with the verses in Proverbs.
However, before one rolls into Proverbs there is a very clear rebuke given in scripture against this interpretation and puts the debate squarely around liberty vs. collectivism, men with freedom to obey their conscience or men oppressed by government, whether one can enjoying the fruits of ones’ own labor or experiences the continuous and ever increasing plunder of those who rule over them. In short, it is as Franklin said, the choice is between God and Tyranny*.
This volley against the standard we need a good king vs. a bad king extrapolation, or, in this day and age, good president bad president is found in 1 Samuel 8. Prior to this God allowed the people of Israel to obey Him or not with the consequences for each course of action laid out before them and known by them. They could obey His wise council and prosper or ignore it at their own peril. Nothing has really changed in an ultimate sense from that day to this.
But the people wanted to be like all the other nations. They may have wanted to fit in or be respected by their peers (the surrounding nations). Whatever the reason, they asked for a King. The prophet Samuel was very angry at this. Even so, God prevails upon Samuel to let the people have what they want. God tells Samuel that they have not rejected Samuel’s judgeship; they have rejected God as ruler.
The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. 1 Samuel 8:7
Ultimately God warns them, in essence saying Israel may not like what they have but the course of action they are determined to follow will be far worse.
Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” 1 Samuel 8:9
God then enumerates several things about the kind of king that will rule over them. Even though the context here is about a king, the principles can be extrapolated to apply to any type of rule by men and about the tendencies of any type of centralized government as is clearly demonstrated not only by the history of ancient Israel but of the world.
- He will utilize your offspring for his purposes whether serving in the military, aiding in pomp and ceremony, or sever in the bureaucracy (vs. 11).
- He will use them for the production of goods to supply the governmental structure that will arise around his rule for both guns and butter (vs. 12).
- He will take their daughters to produce his luxuries (vs. 13).
- He will redistribute the best items from those who have it to those who attend his needs. In essence he will have the ability to plunder the goods of the land and give it to those who serve his purposes just as the modern socialist welfare state does now (vs. 14-17a). Three and one half verses are needed to cover the different kinds of plunder and theft that will occur under a central government.
- The people will end up as a slaves, devoid of the liberties and freedoms they once had. Their rights will also be plundered by the cancer of government expansion (vs. 17b).
- It appears that once the king/government has gone this far it is irreversible and God will no longer be available to rescue the people from their dilemma (vs. 18-19).
God does not make any distinctions about the nature of the king. He does not say this only applies to “bad” kings, but all kings. Simply, this is what happens. This is the overall tendency and direction of centralized power. And while a truly benevolent king or bureaucrat may arrive on the scene from time to time, consolidation of power towards a centralized locus will still continue unabated.
It happens in evangelical churches too. A pastor or pastors take it upon themselves to come up with a “vision” (purpose) for their local body. Instead of “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” as Paul admonishes, he/they come up with some catchy anachronism to illustrate what he and his fellow insiders perceive that “his” local fellowship should be doing. Other visions are to fit into and be subsumed by this grander one. They think that this is leading. But it is not organic and it is not liberty. It is veiled collectivism encased in Jesus speak. Instead of the pastoral leadership facilitating the “vision” of others, they provide their own. Instead of warning and preparing their people for the peril of the times, protecting them from wolves carrying doctrine or behavioral anomalies, and aiding in the development of and facilitation of the “flock” to do the work, they have the “flock” work for and around the vision they see. Is this leadership serving or is this serving leadership?
But this is how centralized power always works. The only difference is the magnitude of force that is needed by centralized authority to utilize people as cows to be milked. The pulpit occupier in the local church has much more limited power and must be more clever. The government, with its vast and ever increasing centralized control, relies less on reason and more on violence because it can.
The founding fathers had very good reasons for distrusting centralized government. Whether left or right, communism or fascism, or some socialist hybrid, people look to political men for their salvation. What they will get is not liberty, but slavery. This what always happens. This is the warning from 3000 years ago. It is not progress but regression back towards slavery. We are almost there.