Summary: Israel demands a king, but this only demonstrates the rejection of their real king - the LORD.
Kingship in Judges and 1 Samuel
It’s amazing how quickly a classroom can turn when a teacher walks out for a moment. Paper, hats, pens, shoes, glass bottles get thrown at fans. Bags get thrown out of windows. Furniture is mysteriously re-arranged so that all students are now sitting in the back corners of the room. Two of the more interesting stories I’ve heard about were when a teacher returned to the PE change rooms to find a mentally handicapped student emerge and run around the playground completely naked, and another occasion when a particularly troublesome year eight boy lit up a cigarette, started smoking it, and then proceeded to light some of the carpet on fire. When there’s no authority in the room there’s always a possibility that all hell will break loose. There’s no one in charge so everyone does as they see fit, even if that means setting fire to the room.
Hopefully you’ll remember that phrase that is repeated about three times toward the end of judges, firstly in 17:6 – “In those days Israel had no king everyone did as he saw fit.” As a political statement it’s quite accurate – Israel had a series of leaders and prophets beginning with Moses and passing down through to the Judges. But that’s no really what this statement is all about. Israel didn’t have a king when Moses was leading them, but we don’t hear that refrain repeated throughout Leviticus or Deuteronomy.
The real question we need to answer is ‘who should their king have been?’. Gideon gives us a very clear response in Judges 8:23. If you remember, he has just led Israel to a great military victory over Midian and people are trying to install him as their king. “But Gideon told them, "I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you." Gideon knows who the real king of Israel is. He knows because the real king of Israel had just miraculously routed the entire Midianite army with three hundred men, some empty jars and a few trumpets. The LORD God is the king of Israel, and he appoints prophets and judges as his chosen instruments of rule. They are, if you like, his stewards or governors. But God is the king.
Yet, as we’ve see over the last few months as we’ve worked our way through Judges, the people of Israel seem to be conducting a systematic campaign of rejection and idolatory towards God. Abimelech, the son of Gideon doesn’t share his father’s faithfulness. He wants to be the king. He wants the power. And what happens to him? He’s killed by a woman who drops a millstone on his head. Chapters 17-21 form a sort of epilogue to the book and contain a series of stories which characterize Israel during the period of the judges. And the picture they paint is one of darkness and depravity. In case you haven’t got it yet, says the writer, here’s some events that will show you just how far Israel have fallen from the covenant of the Law established under Moses. They cast idols and worship them, they attack and plunder one another, they rape and murder their fellow Israelites – both men and women. They don’t need a foreign power to oppress them, they do a fine enough job themselves!
But most of all they are characterized by a complete rejection of God as their king. They ignore him and follow the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of the Canaanites and the Philistines. Even when they make some attempt to worship the
LORD, they do it in a perverse and heathen manner like Micah and his idol. They have rejected the LORD.
I think we can often hear of the sin of Israel and somehow think that their actions are particularly bad or especially sinful. But we as a society and we as individuals are no better. We set up our own idols of money, power, family. We have our own perversions where gangs of men rape young women, where we fantasise over internet pornography, where live for ourselves and not for God.
Now we could look at these unfortunate set of circumstances in Israel’s history and moralise about the importance of good, stable, strong government. But that’s not the real problem here. Again, look at our own society: by most standards, we have strong, stable government but we still experience drive-by shootings, sexual assault of men, women and children. The real problem is that we all reject God as our rightful king. And the consequences of that rejection are plain to see. For Israel, it is the lawlessness and depravity of Judges 17-21. In Romans 1, it’s the sexual perversion, hatred, greed, murder, slander, wickedness and evil that God hands people over to so that they can wallow in their own sin, reaping the pain of the disobedience that they sow.