Samuel warns the people about the problems they can expect with an earthly king as their leader.
Read 1 Samuel 8:1-5
It’s challenging for Tom Bradford to express all the depth and ramifications of what is happening at this point in Israel’s national history and God’s redemptive history.
And complicating the matter is that this is another of those places in the Tanach whereby he has an important decision to make. Does he simply teach you what is here, or does he take the time to also explain why what is here has such significant repercussions and how broadly it has affected Judeo-Christianity?
And how in turn Judeo-Christianity has tended to treat this portion of the Bible as a redheaded stepchild because of its nature.
Tom has also debated for some time at what point to open up this can of worms (and believe me that is not too strong of a term) and look at it in depth, and this point in 1st Samuel affords that opportunity.
So after considerable thought, Tom Bradford decided that he wanted to take the time to do his best to explain the ramifications at this point in the Old Testament even if it might seem as though we’re on a major detour (but he promises you we’re not).
Tom begins by saying that the difficulties posed in the books of Samuel and Kings have had much to do with Bible academia’s belief that a whole new approach to scriptural and theological examination was needed to account for what is written in those biblical manuscripts, and the result was a new study discipline called Literary Criticism.
While Literary Criticism has a high-brow sound to it, it’s not at all hard to understand. All it means is that one method (of many) to study the Bible and understand how it came to exist.
How it was written and put together over time (and as a means to check its reliability from a scientific viewpoint), is to study the various styles of writing and the different usage of certain phrases and keywords.
To see if it can help us to tell if a book was written by one person or more than one person and if it has been corrupted or redacted by yet another hand at some point in history.
Literary critics claim to be able to answer those sorts of questions by identifying unique literary styles and grammar that can even tell us WHEN certain passages were written.
Thus this is why over the last few decades a new debate has arisen in theological circles over whether some of the books of Bible prophecy were fraudulently or disingenuously written well after the fact.
In other words (for example) some literary critics claim that the Isaiah prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem occur only AFTER it happened and this is because they argue that the way the writer of Isaiah uses words and phrases indicates a much later rather than a much earlier time that it was written.
And that Isaiah the prophet was not the writer (or perhaps not the SOLE author); only his name was used so the real writer would have instant credibility.
You can probably tell by my tone that I am more than skeptical of these literary critics whose work is by its very nature is subjective. And there is utterly no way to prove any of it (but it is an excellent way to put doubt into the minds of Believers and to make a name for one’s self).
So basically they make these questionable claims that can neither be proved nor disproved, but they are often believed and accepted by other professors because these literary critics have the proper academic credentials and reputation. Then these claims are taught to Bible College and Seminary students and in a short time, presto! Their theories become fact.
The most modern Literary Critics’ view of Samuel and Kings is that two different writers (at a minimum) with two very different agendas (competing and opposite agendas, actually) wrote these books.
And that when carefully reading them, we’ll see two contradictory and irreconcilable God-principles at play, and therefore that is itself evidence of some ancient writer injecting himself (probably at the order of some king of Israel) to make sure that his viewpoint was expressed in opposing the other point of view.
The obvious conclusion then is that the books of Samuel and Kings cannot be trusted and the foundation of that belief is that in one instance we have God despising the idea of a monarch governing Israel (a human king). But then later on the Lord reverses course and not only accepts the idea of a king but makes the specific king the centerpiece of His plan of redemption for mankind.
And the truth is that when we read these books through the eyes of a modern Gentile traditional evangelical Christian viewpoint that is exactly what seems to be happening.
This takes us back to something Tom told you quite some time ago in an introduction to our extensive study of the book of Judges. It is that despite the standard Christian stance that the book of Judges is all about God expressing His disgust at the possibility of Israel wanting a human king to rule over them, that in fact, it is the opposite.
It is my firm conviction that when we read in context, without an agenda or doctrine driven approach, and retaining intellectual honesty, the book of Judges shows us unequivocally that God was teaching Israel of its NEED for a king.
He was preparing Israel for a king, demonstrating that all of the humanity could not function properly without a king (because that’s how He created us) and that in the end all mankind would indeed be ruled by a king.
The issue was never IF there would be a king, rather it was what KIND of a king. Would it be a typical self-serving, politically correct worldly king like all the kings that had come and gone and would arise in the future, who ruled in a way that upheld their own greatness, and imbued to them great wealth and personal benefit?
Or would it be a king who expressed God’s attributes of love, truth, being a servant to His people, dealing in perfect and merciful justice based on God’s laws, and leading in absolute purity?
Therefore the issue we see being batted around in Samuel and Kings is NOT whether Israel should or should not change from being a tribal confederation led by a combination of Judges and High Priests to an all-powerful sovereign monarch. But rather it was that God’s people needed to be taught that if they persisted in their desire for a king who used the neighboring Gentile kings as his role models, that by definition it was the wrong kind of king and all such kings will fail.
Such a king would not be the kind that God would eventually install. As we go forward into Samuel and Kings, this is the big picture that we need to keep in mind at all times.
OK, up ‘til now this has been the easy part of today’s lesson. What I have to tell you next is complicated, but it needs to be said. As regarding Samuel and Kings, we will see both good and bad aspects of Israel having a king.
In fact, a number of aspects of the king issue is raised but generally, only one is concentrated on by theologians. What has happened is that due to two historic major innovations within Christianity, only ONE aspect concerning the nature of a king for Israel (and God’s reaction to it) can be considered as valid and all the other issues are considered anywhere from less valid to irrelevant. I know that may sound like goobledy-gook right now but I’ll try to unravel it a bit more.
The two historic innovations within Christianity that I’m speaking about are
- The notion of orthodoxy versus heresy, and
- The advent of modern Systematic Theology.
The orthodoxy versus heresy notion arose within the Church sometime in the late 1st century to early 2nd century, and modern Systematic Theology was created in the 18th century. I’ll briefly explain both and I think you’ll see why it’s important for all Believers to have this information.
The orthodoxy versus heresy notion, in a nutshell, is this: that within the Christian religion there are is a set of non-negotiable doctrines or principles (as defined by that denomination’s leadership) that a member is to accept without hesitation; heresy is to question (let alone reject) one of those doctrines or principles.
A person who operates firmly within the orthodoxy of their denomination or sect and doesn’t stray is allowed to remain a member of that congregation in good standing.
A person who questions or rejects one of those non-negotiable doctrines is branded a heretic and is usually punished or re-educated until they repent or is outright excommunicated from that congregation.
Folks don’t even remotely think this is a thing that was reserved for the ancient church, or for the dreadful time of the Inquisition; it is alive and well and more active than ever within the Church today on a nearly universal basis.
Here’s a familiar example within Evangelical Christianity: if a particular denomination believes that the Rapture will occur at the mid-point of the Tribulation, then (depending on how adamant that denomination is on that issue), the mid-trib rapture becomes orthodoxy.
If someone within that denomination comes along and challenges or rejects that view, they are often branded a heretic and thus are shunned by the rest of the membership or even turned out as a member. And this is orthodoxy and heresy at work.
What’s important to understand is that the notion of orthodoxy and heresy didn’t always exist. A research project that was documented and published by Professor Daniel Boyarin of Stanford University has provided real evidence for what had been suspected for some time: that until around the time of Christ, Judaism didn’t operate within the notion of orthodoxy and heresy.
In other words, one sect of Judaism could (and regularly did) claim that another sect was terribly wrong in their theology, but it didn’t result in demand for excommunication.
If a student of Hillel violently disagreed with a student of Shammai, (two great Rabbis), the accusation and threat of “if you believe such a doctrine in opposition to what I believe then you cannot claim to be a Jew.” That didn’t even occur.
Judaism allowed for a continuous and wide ranging debate and dialogue on Scriptural issues and doctrinal questions. All one has to do is read the Talmud, and you will find wide ranging viewpoints on practically everything about the Holy Scriptures, but no call for excommunication for the opposition.
In general, it remains so today in all but a few circumstances (the most notable exception being a Messianic Jew who accepts Yeshua as Messiah). So until around the time that the Christian Apostles began to stir up controversy we don’t find any real evidence of Judaism even embracing the concept of orthodoxy and heresy.
But in Christianity, the place of orthodoxy and heresy is a mainstay in Church governance, and many of you have experienced it (or know someone who has). Beginning especially with the Roman Church, the orthodoxy/heresy issue wasn’t particularly complicated to administrate. If a church authority decided you were a heretic, that was that. Often it was a rather arbitrary accusation that served some other agenda that the victim knew nothing about.
But it invariably also served one major purpose: all dialogue concerning church doctrine was shut down. It was political correctness taken to the extreme. During certain periods in past centuries, a conviction of heresy cost you your life.
The only possible dialogue about entrenched church doctrines took place at rare ecumenical councils of the highest church leadership, behind closed doors, and even then it was a dicey situation for the participants depending on the particular doctrine that was being discussed.
Many of us have at one time or another been part of a church or synagogue whereby we knew full well there were certain sensitivities (that electrified 3rd rail) that could not be openly (and often even privately) broached without a real possibility of retribution and rebuke.
However, with the advent of modern Systematic Theology, this fully accepted concept of orthodoxy and heresy in the Church found a new expression.
The Systematic Theology we know of today that is present throughout the Protestant church (and a form of it in Catholicism) was essentially Christianity’s response to the threat of the European Enlightenment of the 18th century, and the radical new theories of the academic elite such as Hume, Voltaire, and Kant.
These philosophers’ teachings revolved around demystifying religion, taking any supernatural or miraculous element away from Judeo-Christianity and virtually popularizing secular humanism (the belief that there is no God and that the human intellect and rational thinking was the key to mankind’s progress).
It was the Enlightenment movement that elevated the Scientific Method to the ultimate of all human protocols designed to discover the truth. And fundamental to the Scientific Method is that someone (a scientist) theorizes possibilities and then proceeds with reproducible testing procedures of those theories that seek to prove or disprove each theory and thus arrive at the truth.
Inherent in the Scientific Method is that if something can’t be tangibly tested, then there can be no proof. Thus since one can’t test the spirit, the spirit cannot exist. If one can’t tangibly prove God, then there is no God. That which is not observable using our natural human faculties and senses, therefore, cannot be trusted as truth or even exist.
Faith, then, is not scientific since it is not testable or tangible, and thus faith is but a religious word for ignorance, superstition or myth. An enlightened person cannot possibly believe in God because there is no tangible evidence concerning Him that can be reproduced in a laboratory. It can’t be given validity by scientists.
Christianity took notice of this new reality because Church leadership found itself under a scathing attack from educated folks who applied this rational thinking approach to long-held church teachings and doctrines.
And in the end, Christian scholars found themselves with no tangible evidence to prove the validity of their beliefs, and in some cases no answers to some tough and disturbing fundamental doctrinal questions that had the effect of challenging their faith.
Since they couldn’t come up with a scientific test for the existence of God, they were able to provide some answers to some disturbing questions. And one of those disturbing questions (believe it or not) that tormented Christianity to no end was this: whatever happened to Israel?
After all, both Old and New Testaments prophesied at length about Israel’s exile from the land, but also about their unmistakable return. Israel was last exiled around 70 A.D., and 17 centuries later they had not been heard from, and there seemed to be utterly zero prospects for their return.
Since the mystery of God and faith of God was no longer acceptable, every biblical and spiritual question one could contrive demanded a firm answer. Christianity’s rational solution to the glaring dilemma of what became of Israel is what we today dub Replacement Theology.
God has rejected His original people and the church is the new Israel and the new Zion is wherever Christians set foot. Thus the prophecies were correct we just misunderstood who Israel was. Problem solved. But this is merely one example of this process of finding answers to every theological question.
So the church is composed of imperfect humans and did what humans do: we adapted, compromised, and tolerated the demands of the Enlightenment society. The Church (to be seen as “modern”) decided to present their theology systematically, in a kind of scientific format. To hopefully be less ridiculed by the new enlightened mindset of the European population and to fit in better with a society that was also becoming more educated and religiously diverse.
And so a system to define Christianity was created whereby a number of standard groupings or categories of the major theological questions common to all Christianity were formulated. These categories go today by some fancy and esoteric names (scholars just love to use words that only they understand), but they’re really not at all difficult to grasp.
I won’t give you all the categories, but some are
- Christology (who and what is Christ);
- Soteriology (what is salvation and how is one saved);
- Eschatology (what does the future hold for Believers and how does it play out); and
- God (who is God and what is His nature).
There are several more (usually around 10) categories and so how any given Christian religion and/or denomination answer those 10 questions posed by those systematic categories becomes the non-negotiable faith doctrines and membership rules of that religion or denomination. The answers to those theological questions become the orthodoxy of that religion or denomination and by definition any other answer is heresy.
Whether you are a member of the
- Baptist, Assemblies of God,
- Jehovah’s Witness,
- Episcopal or
- Any other of the roughly 3000 Christian denominations in existence today.
Although you may not have realized it, what you believe about any given subject or aspect of your faith is the result of those 10 or so categories of questions and answers about Christian Systematic Theology.
So now that I’ve put forth this information how does this affect a modern Believer or even a modern seeker of God? It is self-evident that there is no universal consensus or agreement within Christianity as to the answers to those questions, or else we wouldn’t have 3000 denominations that generally compete with one another and often declare that many of the others are cults and not Christian at all.
Instead, any disagreement or attempt at the dialogue about Christian doctrines is often met with either, “perhaps you don’t belong as being part of us anymore” or, “you can’t call yourself a Christian if you believe differently than we believe.” That’s just another expression of the orthodoxy/heresy notion that over time was molded into Systematic Theology.
So here we are, nearly 2000 years after Messiah came to usher in a new era, and the unity He encouraged us to have in Him couldn’t be more splintered. Is this how it was supposed to be? Is there any way to turn back the clock to before there was such a thing as Systematic Theology, or back even further to before there was the notion of orthodoxy and heresy?
But even more important, since there are approximately 3000 competing sets of what is supposed to be divine truth, how do we determine which is the right set? Or is there a right set?
I probably won’t be able to answer that in quite the way many of you would prefer, partly because I think the question itself is borne out of a set of assumptions that are dubious.
But I think I do have a way to approach this matter and it has to do with how we read and study and perceive the holy Word of God. It involves our willingness to step outside of ourselves and our preconceived notions for a while. It means opening ourselves to discovering some unconscious (but ingrained) assumptions that we hold deep within us that we aren’t even aware we have.
These subconscious assumptions act as a filter that blocks so much of what God has for us, impedes our spiritual maturity, and at times strips away just enough so that we only get the partial story and thus not so much an erroneous as an incomplete truth. And we’ll get into that next time as we will soon employ what we’ve learned from our study of Samuel.