Theology 101

The Failure of the Monarchy in Israel

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The people of Israel’s first experiment with a king did not go very well, as we saw in my last post. The first king, Saul, put himself above God’s rule and the claim to the throne was taken away from him and his lineage and transferred to another. The second king, David, exemplified the limitation of a king under God, but still used his position and power to sin greatly.

What about the third king of Israel? As we will see, David’s son Solomon, embodied the tyranny of which the Israelites were warned.

Solomon is a prime example of the failure of human delegated authority—marvelously gifted with wisdom, blessed with epiphanic visions, but disobedient to the three-fold prohibition against the multiplication of horses, wives, and gold.

Growth in the Size of Government

Solomon’s oppressive policies pursuant to his glorification of himself, his kingdom, and even the Lord’s house were so great that they led to the breakdown of kingdom unity at the time of his heir Rehoboam’s assumption of rule (1 Kgs 12).

The breakdown is the direct result of Solomon’s failure to assume a role as “servant” as his father David had done. Solomon, unlike his father, had grown up in as much luxury as was available to a 10th century BC Israelite. He understood power, or at least he thought he did, and when he came to the throne he was committed to maintaining a strong governmental hand, one even stronger than that of David.

Solomon, following the deathbed advice of David, dealt harshly with most of the ones who had either deeply disappointed David, or who represented threats to the security of Solomon once he became king. In a manner similar to the ending of a Godfather film, he had his half-brother Adonijah killed, he exiled the priest Abiathar, he had the former general of David’s army, Joab, assassinated, and eventually, he had Shimei, a man who had cursed David when he was deposed and then repented when he returned, killed as well (all of this is related in 1 Kings 2).

Solomon accumulated great wealth due to heavy taxation. His wealth included imported weapons and horses (2 Chr 1:14-17) and imported wood and other building materials to be used in the construction of the temple and in the construction of a very ornate kingly palace (2 Chr 2-7; 1 Kgs 7).

The reputation of Solomon’s wealth spread far and wide so that when dignitaries like the Queen of Sheba visited, they testified to his great wisdom and wealth and added more wealth besides. The Queen of Sheba alone gave Solomon the equivalent of two tons of solid gold. And it was extracted, not earned by capitalistic enterprises. It was wealth flowing to the government, not to the people.

Heavy Burden of Government

As Rehoboam took the throne after the death of his father, he consulted with his father’s “cabinet.” The people had already spoken to him and informed him that Solomon had “put a heavy yoke” on them, a yoke of a heavy-handed centralized government exercising its will in an unimpeded manner. Their immediate response makes it clear that Solomon’s fiscal policies had been nothing short of confiscation for the glory of his own kingdom.

His father’s advisors replied, “Be kind to the people and give them a favorable answer.” Rehoboam, however, chose to listen instead to advice from his younger peers, young men of the court who had also grown up in luxury and prestige. Their advice: “Tell these people who have asked you to lighten the load that the load is about to get much heavier. Tell them that your father scourged them with whips, but that you will scourge them with scorpions” (2 Chr 10:8-11). 

In other words, the government was about to get even bigger, and the people would simply have to put up with it. If you know the rest of the story, you know they did not put up with it. Ten of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel (the northernmost tribes) seceded from the union and went to war to secure their secession.

Solomon had pushed the size of government too far as he built a giant administrative state that brought him fame and glory. The divided kingdom(s) assumed a direction that can only be called a descent into ultimate judgmental destruction. Once the dominating human monarchy was fully established, the downward spiral was only briefly slowed by the occasional efforts of Davidic descendants in Judah.

End of the Monarchy

This would appear to be the dire end predicted from the outset of the demand for a king—no “cry” would be heard, for consequences are to be carried out against “both you and your king” (1 Sam 8:12; 12:15, 25). This fate, which swallowed up people and king, is also what causes such pain and bewilderment to the suffering “remnant.”

The lure of kingly prerogatives warned about during the initial clamor for a new form of government in the days of Samuel proved too much to overcome. No attempts at establishing treaty relationships with the great powers of the day—Egypt, Syria, Assyria, Phoenicia, Babylon—whether through Solomon’s “marriages” or through standard alliances against common enemies, sufficed to save the kingdom(s). The Assyrians swallowed up the north (722 BC), and Babylon carried off the south (607-586 BC).

From this point forward there appears to be little interest (at least in the biblical record) in re-establishing the human monarchy of Israel. However, there is great interest in what God may (or may not) do to set someone on the “throne of the Lord.” The history of this concern is undoubtedly the core of the messianic hope and promise.

Davidic psalmody repeatedly takes up the theme of Zion as God’s city of rule, the Temple as his footstool, and the Davidic king as but a type of the heavenly coming reality. We’ll take a closer look at those Psalms in my next post.

Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from the IFWE research paper, God and Government: A Biblical Perspective (The Bible and Limited Government) by Dr. Tom Pratt. Read the full paper here.

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