Summary: With a nod to John Knox, this is about tyranny; what it is, why it is, how we escape it (including the tyranny of sin).
Webster’s dictionary defines “tyranny” as arbitrary or unrestrained exercise of power. We don’t use the word “tyranny” a lot in our own day. We don’t routinely hear people in positions over us referred to as tyrants. (They may in fact be tyrants, but we don’t use the word.)
But the word “tyranny” was pretty common in the political discourse of the day when our nation was founded. In fact, one of the flags that was flown by colonial patriots in the American Revolution said this, “Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God.” Or, maybe you’ve heard that quote by Thomas Paine, a professional fomenter of revolution, “The tree of liberty must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” The Mel Gibson movie, The Patriot, set in that era, had his character, a reluctant warrior, say something like, “It remains to be seen whether it is better to be ruled by one tyrant a thousand miles away, or by a thousand tyrants one mile away.”
More recently, the great 20th Century Christian philosopher/prophet, Francis Schaeffer, referred to what he saw in the 1970’s as a coming American “tyranny of the 51% vote.” His theory was that the essential ingredient of a tyrant is political power combined with a refusal to obey God’s commandments. He predicted it thirty years ago and we’re eating the fruits today. In America, supreme political power, by design, rests with the voters. If a majority begins to vote in opposition to the revealed will of God, then even a democratic society will become tyrannical.
But, like I said, we don’t much use words like that. And, the truth is that the terms “tyrant” and “tyranny” are relatively new. Though the Scriptures have a whole lot to say about tyrants and tyrannical uses of power, those words do not appear. Instead, the Bible speaks in terms of “bondage,” “slavery,” and “captivity” to communicate the same ideas.
This morning, I ask you to join me in I Samuel 8:4-20. This passage is the story of the end of the period of the Judges who ruled over Israel, of whom Samuel was the last, and the choosing of their first king, Saul. I’ve titled this message, The King of Rejection, and we’ll see that’s what Saul was—the king who came into power because the people had rejected the rule of God. We’re going to look at what God Himself promises will be the nature of that ruler. That’s going to give us a pretty fair description of tyranny.
What I want you to get from this message is this warning: Just because we don’t talk about tyrants like the first Americans did, that doesn’t mean we can’t wind up in a state of bondage, oppression, and tyranny. We’re not immune from tyrants just because we don’t use the label anymore. Understand also that Jesus spoke of sin in just these sorts of terms…bondage, slavery, cruel masters, etc. A lot of folks walk around thanking God for their American political and religious freedom and all the while their personal lives are crushed and overrun by the harshest of dictators, their own sinfulness.
READ 1 SAMUEL 8:4-20
The first thing I want to look at is the request for a king. We see it in verses 5 and 20, “that we also may be like all the nations.” Now, that’s what they said. Those were their words, but God sees the heart. He gets past all the baloney. What they said was that they wanted to be like everybody else, but God knew what that really meant. He explains it in verses 7 and 8. What they were really doing was rejecting God’s rule over them. They were giving God a pink slip, and hiring some bum off the street to replace Him. “Thank you so much for all your fine service to this organization, but times have changed, and we must change with them to remain viable.” It was a new generation of Israelites, but the same old rebellion their fathers had exhibited in the wilderness. (v.8)
But in another sense they were way ahead of their time, for Psalm 2 would later point to the days of Jesus when the people would gather together against the Lord and His Christ and say, “Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.” (Ps 2:3) Here is the real irony in this whole message. Unbelieving man sees God’s law as tyrannical. He refuses to be ruled by it, and in so doing sets himself up for oppression and bondage. What everybody needs to understand is that the question is not whether you will have an absolute Ruler over your life. The only real question is what sort of Ruler will you have? Nationally, the way to phrase that is this: Someone’s god, someone’s religious opinions, someone’s moral standards will be in charge of any land. The only question is which god? Reject the God of the Bible because you think His laws are oppressive, and you will soon see what real tyranny looks like.