Judge or king?

I guess we’ll only know how significant the ‘Arab Spring’ is in retrospect.  It may be the definitive move away from (somtimes religious) totalitarian rule or it may be just an opening for another form of domination, maybe by (other) religious powers.  I was pondering this as I read this morning about Israel’s desire for a king in 1 Samuel 8.  They were a confederacy ruled by God via Samuel the Judge.  But they wanted to be ‘like the nations’ and have a king.

You see others prospering and ‘free’ and want to share in the benefits.  You want the status of a modern nation.  And if the current form is monarchy, you go for that.  The Bible is pretty ambivalent about the consequences.  There is a lot of hype about the first king, Saul, but also plenty of warning from Samuel about conscription, taxes and royal aggrandisement.

That ambivalence underlies Christian political thought, which has influenced western liberalism:  the conviction that the state can never be given one’s absolute devotion, because there is a Higher Judge of the social order.  This is not about religious fundamentalism, but about sustaining a critique of government in the light of compassion and viewing humans as made in the image of God.

I love the way Samuel is down-to-earth, though, about the practical consequences of Israel’s choices.  That is also the debate intensifying in Scotland:  are we prepared to pay for ‘going it alone’?

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