Tag Archives: Monarchy

The “Divine Right” (to Be Equal)

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
1 Corinthians 1:26-29 (NIV)

Wendy and I have a guest room that we’ve been decorating with a UK theme. We’ve loved our trips to the UK and thought it would be kind of fun (“cheeky,” even) to channel that into our home. On one of the walls we’ve hung portraits of royalty as well as some of our favorite British writers and actors. Of course, we felt the need to separate the portraits with the royals (and a couple of Prime Ministers) on one side and the those low-life, “commoner” artist types on the other 😉

Having grown up in a representative republic like America, the notion of royalty is a bit of romantic idea and the stuff of nostalgia for us. For most of human history, however, the idea of people being better than others simply because of the blood in their veins and the family into which they were born was part of the fabric of every day life. And, going all the way back to ancient rulers, it was commonly believed that there was some sort of divinity that marked the distinction. Rulers often claimed to be gods themselves. The idea of monarchs ruling by “divine right” was popularly held (mostly by the royals themselves) until recently.

Even in the times of Jesus and the early Jesus Movement, the notion of “divine” rulers was popular. One of the reasons the early believers were executed or thrown into the Roman circus to be eaten by lions for the sake of entertainment was that they refused to swear that Caesar was god.

In today’s chapter Paul is quick to reference that the believers in Corinth were not people of wealth and influence. For the most part they had little status in the eyes of the world. He reminds them, however, that they are highly esteemed by God.

We easily forget that one of the things that made the early Jesus Movement so radical was that everyone could freely accept the gift of salvation offered by Jesus. Everyone was equally a member of the body of Christ. Spiritual gifts were bestowed on every believer by Holy Spirit, and when the Spirit came upon a group of believers everyone manifested the experience regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, or social standing. When believers met together for a love feast and to share in the ritual of the Lord’s supper everyone was welcome at the table. If a slave and the slave’s master were both believers, they had equal status at the table of Jesus’ followers.

This morning I find myself meditating on the reality that as the Jesus Movement became the institutional church and gained both power and influence, it quickly abandoned its egalitarian roots and developed rigid systems of hierarchy and status that exist to this day. In personal practice and in my, admittedly small, circles of influence I am consciously trying to lead us back to the egalitarian spiritual roots of the Jesus Movement where everyone is of equal status in the body of Christ and where everyone is welcome at the table. We’ll let the ancient notion of “divine” rulers  or those of higher or more noble “status” be simply a bit of nostalgia on our guest room wall.

Speaking of that. One of the decorative touches we want to make to our guest room is a collage of postcards from the UK. If I have any readers from across the pond who would like to contribute, we would be both humbled and blessed to have you send us a postcard (or two, or three!). Simply drop it in the mail it to:

Tom & Wendy Vander Well
c/o Intelligentics
801 Franklin St. #526
Pella, IA 50219 U.S.A.

Tomorrow begins the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. Please know that I am truly thankful for you who faithfully, or occasionally, (or even rarely) read my posts. Cheers!

“Divine-Right” Deceptions

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
1 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV)

Wendy and I have recently binged our way through Netflix’s original series The Crown. It is a dramatic interpretation of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed it

One of the subtle themes in the storytelling is the British royal family’s understanding of their role as a “divine right” monarchy. It was very common for the royal families of Europe to view their respective reigns as being God’s appointed rulers. The Queen is not only viewed as a head of state but also head of the Church of England. Rulers taking on the mantel of divinity has a very long and storied tradition in human history. From Pharaohs of Egypt to Caesars of Rome the rulers of Empires have claimed to be gods or to have some divine “right” to rule.

This of course, stirs up all sorts of conflicting feelings, especially here in the culture of the States which was founded on a rejection of monarchy altogether. The founding fathers created a government that was, as Lincoln would put it four score and seven years later, “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Nevertheless, this theme of royals and nobles being better than the commoner, or not, still resonates in our storytelling.

Even Shakespeare used this as a device. Henry V was a divine-right monarch like the rest of the British kings and queens, but Shakespeare wrote the heroic “Hal” as a populist King of the people.” Cloaked and disguised as a common soldier, King Henry sits by the fire with his “common” men at arms an waxes on his own humanity:

I think the king is but a man, as I
am: the violet smells to him as it doth to me: the
element shows to him as it doth to me; all his
senses have but human conditions: his ceremonies
laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man; and
though his affections are higher mounted than ours,
yet, when they stoop, they stoop with the like
wing. Therefore when he sees reason of fears, as we
do, his fears, out of doubt, be of the same relish
as ours are: yet, in reason, no man should possess
him with any appearance of fear, lest he, by showing
it, should dishearten his army.

This all comes to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. Paul addresses those believers of Corinth who have become arrogant and have displayed an attitude of being better, more godly, more authoritative, and more spiritually noble than others believers. They were acting as some sort of “divine-right” authorities within the church.

Paul’s response is to point out that those who follow Jesus, all of us, have nothing spiritually that has not been graciously given to us by Christ. This is a cornerstone of our belief system. We don’t earn God’s favor. We don’t merit Jesus’ love, or forgiveness, or grace, or mercy, or salvation because of what we’ve done or not done. All we have is a gift of God given to all and for all to receive irrespective of gender, race, creed, socio-economic status, standing in society, education, age, or moral/immoral track record.

This morning I’m mulling over my own track record. Along my journey I know there have been times when I’ve spoken or acted out of spiritual arrogance. Some very specific examples spring to mind in my memories. Lord, forgive me. I’ve deceived myself and acted the part of “divine-right” authority from time to time. I’d like to think that age and experience have taught me humility, but they have also taught me that I easily cycle in and out of these things. “Ceremonies laid by” I’m just as human as everyone else, including Queen Elizabeth II.

Acceptable Choices are Not Always Wise Choices

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community.
Deuteronomy 17:14-15 (NRSV)

St. Paul wrote, “all things are permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial.

In today’s chapter, Moses predicts that the Hebrews would one day wish to appoint a king over them as all of the other peoples around them had done. He makes it clear that having a king was not a wrong thing, but goes on to lay down some crucial boundaries for that person. He would have to be subject to God’s law like everyone else. He would need to constantly be reminded of God’s law so he didn’t forget it. He would need to be humble and not be considered better than the lowliest of his subjects.

A few books and a few centuries later, the people would do exactly as Moses predicted as chronicled in the book of 1 Samuel. The people demanded a king and Samuel capitulates but reminds the people that while it was permissible for them to do so, it wasn’t necessarily the wisest choice. And, it would come back to haunt them.

I’m reminded this morning that there are many times in life when we may make perfectly permissible choices for ourselves that will come back to haunt us. We can make decisions that are not wrong, but are not necessarily wise either. We may end up regretting those decisions and living through the painful consequences they bring into our lives.

As I continue to progress in my life journey, I pray that I can be increasingly wise to make the choices and decisions that are good and beneficial for me and my loved ones in the long run rather than those that are permissible and simply feel desirable in the moment.

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Laying Down the Law

Furthermore, I [King Darius] decree that if anyone defies this edict, a beam is to be pulled from their house and they are to be impaled on it. And for this crime their house is to be made a pile of rubble.
Ezra 6:11 (NIV)

One of the things that I loved about college was that you got to explore, study, ruminate and argue about all sorts of questions of life. I remember one semester a classmate of mine and I had an ongoing discussion and argument as we worked together in food service at Judson College. The argument was over the best system of government. I started by arguing that a representative republic was best, and he argued that a socialist system was best. By the end of our argument we came to agree that we were both wrong. We agreed that if you had a good, true, intelligent and just person to lead [which, we conceded, you’d never consistently find in this fallen world], then the ideal form of Government was a monarchy.

I won’t belabor or editorialize on our debate. I will say, however, that one of the reasons we came to our conclusion was that a monarch does have the ability to lay down the law. A strong central leader can cut through red tape just like Darius did. Which is why I thought of it while reading today’s chapter.

When we left off, the Hebrew exiles had been harassed by their local neighbors and officials regarding the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. The Hebrews appealed to King Darius that their construction had been decreed by his predecessor. In today’s chapter, King Darius responds, firmly lays down the law, and settles the matter. Sure enough, the King’s scribes found the original decree and he allows the building of the temple to continue. Darius goes one step further and commands that the local officials who caused the ruckus, to their humiliation, assist in the rebuilding. If they don’t they’ll be impaled on a load bearing beam from their own home so that they die and their own house collapses. [Yikes!]

Today, I’m thinking about the fact that all human institutions are fundamentally flawed because humanity will always have to deal with this nagging seed of corruption that God’s message refers to as sin. In today’s example, the outcome was favorable for the Jewish people. History, however, is rife with examples of unfavorable outcomes for the Jewish people. This side of eternity we all must face joyful victories and disappointing defeats for our particular political and spiritual persuasions. Perhaps that’s why Jesus laid down the law in a very different way:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

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Idealism to Cynicism to Hope

This land will be his possession in Israel. And my princes will no longer oppress my people but will allow the people of Israel to possess the land according to their tribes.
Ezekiel 45:8 (NIV)

When I was young, one of my boyhood dreams was to go into politics. With idealistic notions and the strains of Schoolhouse Rock going through my head, I thought that it would be great to serve my country by running for office.

Then I grew up. And, my idealistic notions gave way a more sober understanding of what politics is really like in our day and age. You have to have money to run and pay for all those political advertisements, so your hand is always out and you’re likely going to be required to make deals with donors and special interests so your war chest is full. You can’t get anything done without political alliances with the inside power brokers who have been incumbents for decades and hold all the senior positions. So, you have to make back room deals and support bills you don’t agree with so that you can get your pet project through. Then there’s pork barrel spending, negative ads, and a number of other “realities” that make me happy to put away one particular boyhood dream.

The people of Israel went through a similar wake-up call in Ezekiel’s day. About 500 years before, the people of Israel with their idealistic notions wanted a change in government. They wanted a King to rule over them; A strong centralized monarchy like all of their neighbors had. God, through the prophet Samuel, warned them that they were being naive and said:

[This King you desire] will take the best of your fields and vineyardsand olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.

But, they finally got their wish. Now, 500 years later, Ezekiel is giving a prophetic word of eschatological hope that someday the princes of the land will stop oppressing the people by continuing to do exactly what Samuel had predicted.

Today, I am reminded that on this side of eternity there is no perfect form of government, because there are no perfect human beings. Our fallen nature, despite the highest of ideals and best of intentions, is given to corruption, greed, and pride. Monarchy, Parliamentary, Democratic, and Socialist governments all suffer from the same human corruption. As it was in Ezekiel’s day, so it remains these 2600 years later.

A rather sobering and cynical thought to start the work week, but I am reminded that the underlying message Ezekiel is communicating is one of hope that someday things will be restored, reclaimed, and redeemed. And, this morning I take that to heart and join with all others who continue to hope for that Day.

Mining Nuggets in a Boring Chapter

English: King Solomon in Old Age (1Kings 4:29-...
English: King Solomon in Old Age (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adoniram son of Abda (was) in charge of forced labor.

Solomon had twelve district governors over all Israel, who supplied provisions for the king and the royal household. Each one had to provide supplies for one month in the year.
1 Kings 4: 6b-7 (NIV)

 

Many people have told me over the years that they struggle to read the Old Testament because its ‘s boring. A chapter like the one today is probably a good example. Compared to the buttery, heart-felt lyrics of David’s Psalms, today’s chapter is dry toast.  The book of Kings was written as a historical record of Solomon’s reign. As such, it records of the names of his officials. But seriously, who really cares today who served as Solomon’s cook?

 

As I’ve read through these books over the years, I’ve learned to approach chapters like today’s with a certain frame of mind. You have to look for small details, repeated patterns, and names that are familiar. Sometimes these nuggets, when you put them together, become clues to a broader understanding of the context.

 

For example, today I noticed a few nuggets:

 

  • The description of Solomon’s kingdom is notably large and lucrative, especially compared to what his father David started with, and what the first king, Saul, had before David. Conclusion: David’s conquests were paying off, and Solomon was raking it in.
  • Solomon had TWELVE officials scattered around as district governors to provide the king and his household with provisions (not just food, it’s likely they also provided slave labor, military conscriptions, concubines for the kings sizable harem, livestock, building materials, and etc.). Conclusion: As I read through this and contemplated what it must have been like for the people in this district being forced to give up their stuff for the king’s pleasure, I suddenly remembered God giving a warning to the people through Samuel just two generations earlier. The people of Israel are beginning to experience exactly what God warned them:

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day. 1 Samuel 8:10-18

 

  • Two of the 12 governors were sons-in-law, married to Solomon’s wives. Conclusion: A little nepotism has taken hold in the monarchy. History teaches us that political nepotism usually breeds favoritism, conspiracy, racketeering, poor management, and scandal. I’m seeing a tragic flaw emerging in Solomon’s wisdom.
  • David and Solomon were both noted for building their palaces and building the Temple, but I noticed that Adoniram is providing them with forced labor or slave labor (Adoniram’s has been at it a while, his name came up in 2 Samuel 20:24). Conclusion: Eventually forced labor, especially the forced labor of your own people, leads to civil unrest.

Taxation, nepotism, and slave labor. [Scratching my head, carefully avoiding the receding hairline] If I’m standing in Solomon’s sandals things seem pretty cushy. If I’m standing in the sandals of a common citizen on the outskirts of Gilead who just watched the king’s official walk off with my children, my livestock, and a two month’s supply of olive oil, I’m not exactly feeling the love.

 

I feel a storm cloud rising on the horizon.

Today, I’m thinking about how we sometimes don’t see the forest for the trees. This happens in families. This happens in business. This happens in churches. This happens in government. I’m thinking about broader implications of words, decisions, and actions. I’m praying for discernment to see the bigger picture around me, and for courage to make tough choices based on what I see and perceive.

 

The Bookend Monarchs

David and Saul
David and Saul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.