Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Kingship in Israel

Posted by cherylem on June 16, 2010

Continuing with themes of violence in the Old Testament, I thought a handout I made for Sunday’s lesson on 1 Samuel 9-17 was pertinent. It follows here

King was not divine or even semi-divine; he occasionally offered sacrifice but played no regular religious role. Originally Israel was God’s son; now the king will play that role, but will not be divine. In some ways the king stands between God and Israel. This had been the sole role of the prophet/leader before.

Review: Judges is a bridge between Joshua and 1 Samuel. Samuel the man is a bridge between the “reign of the judges” and the monarchy.
The book of Judges is in many ways pro-monarchy, because it ends . . . “there was no king in Israel.” Yet there is a very deep-rooted distrust of kingship. The only permanent king Israel needs is God. Yet . . . Israel needs a king. Judges ends in civil war with all the other tribes united against Benjamin. Yet . . . Saul, the first king, will be a Benjamite.

“Some have argued that the editors who compiled the text preserved the pro-monarchic perspective of their sources, but they chose to frame the pro-monarchic passages with their own anti-monarchic passages, with the result that the anti-monarchic passages really provide a stronger interpretative framework and are dominant. The implication is that despite positive contemporary evaluations of Israel’s kings, from the perspective of the later period, from the perspective of the editors and perhaps those sitting in exile, the institution of kingship was a disaster for Israel.” (Christine Hayes, Intro to the Old Testament, Lecture 13, http://oyc.yale.edu/religious-studies/introduction-to-the-old-testament-hebrew-bible)

The Deuteronomistic framework (Deuteronomy to 2 Kings).
Deuteronomy Kingship code (Deuteronomy 17:14-20):
• God will choose the king from among the people.
• King cannot acquire great number of horses
• King cannot make the people return to Egypt
• King must not take many wives
• King must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold
• King must follow the priestly (Levitical) law
Part of what the Deteronomistic framework does is to point out that: there is NO GOOD KING.

Some issues:
• Saul offers sacrifice in chapter 13 instead of waiting for Samuel (bad) but . . . David and other kings will offer sacrifice (good!?).
• Saul and holy war in chapter 15. Saul is called upon to wreak the vengeance of herem (no one left breathing) upon the Amalekites for something the Amalekites had done 450-500 years earlier! That Saul fails to do this is, according to chapter 15, bad.
• Two different stories regarding David. A soldier? A shepherd? When did Saul know him?
• 1 Sam. 16:14. See JST: evil spirit which was not of the Lord. But . . . ancient Hebrews believed God was responsible for everything, so the JST may be a correction of the text regarding how we understand and know God today, according to modern revelation, but the text itself declares how ancient Israel knew and understood God. This has enormous implications as to how we read the OT.

Watch in your OT study for pro- and anti-monarchy readings, and for pro-Saul (Benjamin) and pro-David (Judah) readings.

Read: 1 Nephi 13:23 The record of the Jews “are not so many” as the records on the brass plates. The Book of Mormon finds other records important, as the BOM is a record of the tribes of Ephraim/Manasseh – in other words of some of the northern prophets, which we don’t have. Lehi was from the tribe of Manasseh, and his genealogy as a descendent of Joseph of Egypt is emphasized in 1 Nephi 5.

Every bad king in the Book of Mormon will be defined as bad by the terms of Deuteronomy 17. Moroni even describes bad kings of the Jaredites (who had never heard of the kingship code) in these terms.

In the Old Testament, where is there a good king in Israel, according to this code? Actually, in some ways, Saul. Saul was responsible for no huge building program, no large number of wives, etc.

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