5.50 1 Kings -- The Big Leagues
For a very brief time, Israel's light shone brightly on the world stage. We have seen Solomon establish positive relationships with three regional leaders: Pharaoh, Hiram, and the Queen of Sheba. Israel might have continued as an independent power in its own right, ruling the surrounding enemies as subject peoples. The political and cultural center of this Israelite Empire would have been Jerusalem, itself dominated by the Temple. God's Law would have "gone forth from Jerusalem" (Isa 2:3), not stopping at the borders of the kingdom itself, but carried by traders and diplomats to foreign capitals
This could have been the way history proceeded, but it didn't. For the foundation of Israel's prosperity was not its military strength or its abundance of resources and men. Rather, the determining factor in Israel's future was the degree of obedience to God -- and most important, the measure of the king's obedience. This strikes us moderns as unjust for two reasons: 1. for us, personal morality has little bearing on public service and political success. 2. the ruler of a nation is no better than, and counts for no more than, the ordinary citizen. The Old Testament contraverts both these assumptions:
1. In Scripture, with the possible exception of Samson, there is a direct correlation between personal integrity and public promotion. God made this clear when He called David from tending sheep to rule Israel:
"Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam 16:7).
This principle worked in David's favor when he was anointed king, but the same standard nearly crushed him when God punished him for adultery and murder. At that time, as a result of David's personal sins, God unleashed civil war in Israel. Many ordinary citizens died for the sins of the king.
2. The leader sets the moral tone for the nation. This is very clear in Scripture: the fate of the nation depended on the king's fidelity to the Covenant. When the king was evil, the righteous were persecuted -- they became the "righteous remnant."
When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding (Prov 28:12).
God Himself actively stirred up enemies, both internal and external, against the wicked kings. It is a very curious and unbalanced hermeneutic that derives from the New Testament a doctrine of subservience in the face of evil rulers. Did not Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, and many others lay their very lives on the line to confront the king when he did wrong? It was the Israelite king's chief duty to protect, not the nation's borders, but the Covenant which was the source of the nation's identity. And when he failed to do so, the whole nation suffered.
It is outside the scope of this study to consider how these Biblical principles of government apply in today's world. Yet the subject is crucial to Christian citizens in every nation. It is a sad fact that very few people in the modern world live under a righteous ruler -- not righteous in the narrow sense of compliance with Old Testament Law, but in the sense of moral integrity, of recognizing that political power is only a form of stewardship under God. But if there is any political wisdom in Scripture at all, can there be any doubt that the only possible outcome of electing unfit leaders is to forfeit the favor of God, not just for the leaders themselves, but for entire regions or nations that they represent?
From the Bible's own standpoint, the only way for Israel to have remained a dominant political force in the ancient Middle East was for her kings and her people to have been steadfast in observing the Mosaic Law, in performing the prescribed sacrifices, and in repudiating the idols of the surrounding nations. This counted for more than geopolitical, military and economic factors.