1 Samuel 8: 20: ” That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.”
Today’s post comes from a reflection on the above reading, which I came across (again) during my daily Bible reading. The emphasis (italics) is mine, and that phrase is the source of my reflection.
To make sense of the above passage, we need context. The danger of context is it can expand exponentially in all directions once you start bringing in other pieces. So be prepared for an interesting ride, and I’ll try to keep some focus.
The above passage from 1 Samuel shows the people of Israel asking Samuel to give them a King to rule over them. Samuel had judged them for many years, and grown old; his sons who were helping him judge were corrupt; so the people yearned for something else, and what else was there but a king? As the passage says, they wanted to be like other nations.
See, the Israelites were different, and humans don’t do well with different. It might do us well to reflect on how they were different. They had freedom. Oh, sure, the various tribes had patriarchs and leaders, but it was a loose organization. They didn’t have political powers to appease. They were a people of law: God’s law; they had freedom and the responsibility it entailed. They could choose what to do with what was theirs, and were responsible to rules themselves, judge themselves, and fight their battles.
Over this, of course, God was their king, with the promise that if they followed his laws he would protect and bless; if they ignored his laws they would be cursed.
When the Israelites asked for a king, they asked to be relieved of their responsibilities and their freedoms. Notice they wanted a king to judge them; they want a king to fight their battles. Freedom requires the ability and responsibility to judge oneself and fight one’s own battles.
Why do I spend all this time elucidating the above? Because I am a believer in American Exceptionalism. No, I don’t believe that the USA is a chosen country in the same way Israel of the Bible was, or that some people feel the country of Israel and the Jewish people are today. But I do believe we are exceptional in that we are not “Like all the nations”.
At our founding there was quite a belief that we had rights, that we were a people of law. During several of the battles during the American Revolution one of the rallying cries was “No King but King Jesus”. There was a clear concept that a free people meant the rule of law, and the responsibility to see to one’s self and one’s own, the responsibility to fight one’s own battles. The idea of kings to lord it over and take care of us was anathema.
Yet today we see a trend to be “like all the nations”. There are no more kings (or very few) in the nations around us, yet that principle of monarchy, of being taken care of, has been transported from the person of the king into the government itself. Around the world the solutions is to let the government do it. Let the government take care of problems. Let the government fight our battles.
No, I am not saying that wars should be engaged by private citizens. The Israelites too went to war as a people.But there is a difference between a people choosing and going to war through their government, and a people letting their government dictate the time and place of war.
War isn’t really the focus of this discussion. The crux of the matter is that we have lost our sense of freedom and of responsibility. We shouldn’t depend on the government to take care of us. We need to insist on the rule of law.
Paternalistic government leads to a muliplication of laws, which inversely affects the rule of law. For the rule of law sets the limits on both government (strict) and people (loose).But as laws increase, the limits on government decrease, and those on the people increase — in both complexity and contradiction.
Let me conclude: We need to reject government that acts like a king; We need to return to “No King but King Jesus” and take responsibility for ourselves and the freedom that brings. We need to embrace exceptionalism.