There stand the thrones for judgment, the thrones of the house of David. Psalm 122:5 (NIV)
I am happy to say that I have had very little experience with the judicial system along my life journey. Only once have I been sworn in to testify before a judge. I’ll be happy for it to never happen again.
That said, a system of justice has always been a cornerstone of human civilizations. In the ancient Near East, justice typically began and ended with the king who sat on the throne, though there were often larger systems set up in order to disperse the workload so that it didn’t fall solely on the monarch to hear every little dispute.
This is exactly what Moses was dealing with when his father-in-law, Jethro, visited him in Exodus 18. Moses was hearing every dispute from early morning until late at night. Jethro told him to create a judicial system and appoint judges to hear all of the cases, and only the hard cases would work their way up to Moses.
For the ancient Hebrew tribes making pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the seasonal religious festivals, one of the side-benefits to the visit was to bring judicial issues to be decided. It was common for there to be a judgement seat or throne at the gate of the city where these judicial matters were heard and settled.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 122, is another ancient Hebrew pilgrimage song. In the lyrics of this song, the pilgrim is standing at the gates and he sees the thrones of judgment where the pilgrim can find justice. The lyrics then pray a blessing over the city so that the entire nation, including the pilgrims and their families, may live in peace and security.
In the quiet this morning, my heart and mind are meditating on two things that I’ve observed along this life journey, three things I’ve concluded. First, there will never be a perfect system of government or justice if human beings are involved. There is corruption in every human system of government and justice. Based on my experiences and observations, I believe it unreasonable and foolish for me to expect otherwise. This leads to my second observation. The best human systems of government and justice provide checks and balances to help protect the system from corruption and address corruption when it occurs. And, when the system fails to address and correct corruption it is my responsibility to do what I can within my power, citizenship, and rights to address it myself via the voting booth, free speech, and free assembly. Some systemic corruption gets addressed and corrected. Other systemic corruption continues unabated and is even accepted and praised by those who benefit from it. When I see that, I refer myself back to my first observation.
Interestingly, Jesus’ teaching had very little to say with regard to human systems of government and justice. His mission was not to change the kingdoms of this world but to instill the Kingdom of God into the hearts of individuals, into my heart, that I might bring that Kingdom into the human systems in which I interact every day. Jesus addressed individuals with the expectation that I should conduct myself in such a way as to deal honestly, honorably, and justly in my own interpersonal relationships and dealings. To serve others, and consider others more important than myself.
I’m not perfect, but I’m endeavoring to, once again, get better at it today.
Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?”1 Samuel 9:21 (NLT)
For hundreds of years, the nation of Israel had existed as clans and tribes living under a loose system of government. The priesthood of Aaron’s descendants and the priestly tribe of Levi held the tribes together through the law of Moses and the sacrificial system God established during their escape from Egypt. National leaders emerged as God raised them up in times of need (e.g. Gideon, Samson, and Deborah) and the “judges” God raised became national leaders for their lifetime. There was, however, no system in place to elect a new leader once the old leader died. National leadership defaulted back to the priests or to a high priest (like Eli, who was the priest leading when we began reading 1 Samuel). Local leadership appears to have been handled by tribe and clan patriarchs who appealed to judges as the arbitrator of disputes.
At this point in the story, the people of Israel have demanded a new system of government. They want a monarch, a king, like all of the neighboring nations. But, how do you just start a monarchy? I find it fascinating that God told Samuel to anoint Saul ruler of Israel. In a few chapters God will tell Samuel to anoint David. So, while the people are asking for a king, God is still the one raising up the leader, just as He did with the judges.
In raising up first Saul, then David, God provides Israel with a national object lesson. In Saul, God will provide for the nation a self-centered crazy maker who will exemplify all that a nation does NOT want or need in a leader. Then, in David, God will raise up a flawed man whose heart follows after God. Two flawed human beings (what else can you find on the earth?) with stark differences of heart. God will reject Saul and make David’s line the royal line through which Jesus, the Messiah, will be born. The people may have demanded a monarch, but through Samuel God is raising the monarch of His choosing.
I also find it interesting this morning that in the bookend rulers, Saul and David, God raises up men from the smallest of tribes, and from the least of the tribal clans. In David, God goes one step further to choose the youngest of many brothers. Over and over and over again God raises up individuals from the smallest towns, the dregs of society, the youngest, the socially handicapped and the least networked to accomplish His purposes.
If God specializes in using the least of society, then He can and will use both you and me.