Wednesday

5 December 2018

1 Samuel 8:4-22

When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. (v 21)

Psalm: Psalm 133

Background

Much of the ceremony surrounding the coronation of British monarchs looks back to the Old Testament. Think, for example, of Handel’s coronation anthem ‘Zadok the Priest’, which takes its text from 1 Kings 1. So it may come as a surprise to read an Old Testament passage that is so negative about kingship. Here is a point of transition, from Israel as community living in a direct covenant with God, to Israel as a people with a king as God’s representative. It is almost as if the people are making a choice between the kingship of the God who has brought them out of slavery and into the promised land, and a kingship that is a human creation. Samuel, a truthful prophet to the end, gives a vivid and unflattering picture of life under a king. Giving someone such immense power will lead inevitably to the abuse of power, with all the suffering that that brings.

Looking back on the long and largely tragic history of Israel’s kings, we can only agree with Samuel. However, the establishment of kingship goes ahead in spite of his dire warnings and Samuel, on behalf of God, is called to make the best of it. There is a tender picture here of Samuel as the go-between who mediates between God and the people; a priestly as well as a prophetic role.

It is the general failure of the human kingship in Israel that leads later prophetic voices to look for something radically different – a kingship that is God’s own self ruling and serving the people. For the first Christians, that vision was fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. That’s why Advent is an invitation to become part of God’s reign of justice and peace.

 

To Ponder:

  • What power – direct or indirect - do you exercise over other people? Can you identify ways in which you could do so more justly and fairly?
  • How might a vision of the kingdom of God influence the way you see government and authority?

 


Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain. Between 2004 and 2017 he served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. Previously his ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.