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As the sovereign ruler of the universe, God is the all-powerful and glorious king who reigns for ever and rules over all (Psalms 10:16; Psalms 24:8; Psalms 24:10; Psalms 95:3; Psalms 103:19; Jeremiah 51:57 : Daniel 4:17; 1 Timothy 1:17; Revelation 15:3). In particular he is king to his people, who live under his absolute lordship (Psalms 98:6; Malachi 1:14). This was well illustrated in the covenant that God made with Israel at Mt Sinai. In response to God’s sovereign act of graciously taking Israel to be his people, the Israelites promised to live in obedience to all his commands (Exodus 19:5-6; Exodus 24:3).

During the period of the Old Testament, Israel’s national life functioned under various kinds of government – the absolute leadership of Moses (Numbers 12:6-8), a federation of self-governing tribes (Joshua 24:1), a united monarchy (1 Samuel 11:15), a divided monarchy (1 Kings 12:17-20; 1 Kings 15:1) and a governorship controlled by a foreign overlord (Nehemiah 5:14). However, the people were to regard God as their king, regardless of the kind of government they lived under. The New Testament teaches that the same principle applies to Christians, who in different countries and eras may live under different kinds of governments (Luke 20:25; 1 Peter 2:13-17; see GOVERNMENT).

Establishment of Israel’s monarchy

In the early days of Israel’s settlement in Canaan, there was no monarchy and no central government. The various tribes looked after their own affairs (Judges 21:25). During this period, the people of Israel were repeatedly unfaithful and disobedient to God, and this brought God’s judgment upon them in the form of repeated invasions from hostile neighbours (Judges 2:13-19). In their search for greater national stability, the people decided to follow the pattern of neighbouring nations and appoint a king who would rule over the whole nation through a central government (1 Samuel 8:4).

This desire for a king was really a rejection of God – not in the sense that an Israelite monarch replaced God as the leader of the government, but in the sense that the people tried to solve their problems without submitting to God. Their troubles arose from their sins, not from their system of government. Therefore, the way to overcome those troubles was to turn from their sins to God. Instead they chose to ignore God and to try to solve their problems by changing the political system. They did not want a way of life where their well-being depended on their spiritual relationship with God (1 Samuel 8:7-8).

Samuel warned that having a king would not improve matters if the people remained disobedient. In the days before they had a king they had been punished for disobedience, and under a king they would be punished just the same (1 Samuel 12:9-15).

Characteristics of the kings

During the period before the setting up of the monarchy, God had rescued Israel from foreign oppression by raising up deliverers (called judges) in response to the people’s repentance. Through the power of God’s Spirit, these leaders carried out God’s judgment on the oppressors and restored Israel’s independence (Judges 2:16-19; Judges 3:10; Judges 6:34; Judges 11:29; Judges 13:25). This sort of activity continued into the reign of Israel’s first king, Saul (1 Samuel 10:6; 1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 11:6), but the next king, David, was the last of the Spirit-gifted leaders (1 Samuel 16:13-14). David established the sort of dynasty that the people had looked for. They wanted a system where the throne would pass on automatically from the king to his son, generation after generation. Such a system had no need of God’s provision of specially gifted people.

From what they had seen in the nations round about, the Israelites knew that kings could be oppressive because of their desire for personal power and wealth. But when Samuel warned them of this, they ignored him (1 Samuel 8:9-20).

Centuries earlier, Moses had anticipated this desire for an Israelite king. He therefore gave specific instructions to prevent Israelite kings from following the pattern of other kings, who built for themselves military glory, large harems and excessive wealth (Deuteronomy 17:14-17). Above all, the Israelite king was to have a personal copy of God’s law and study it carefully, so that he might govern Israel justly and righteously according to God’s standards (Deuteronomy 17:18-20; cf. 2 Samuel 23:3-7; Psalms 101).

The history of the Israelite monarchy records the development of the sorts of problems that Moses and Samuel had expected. Only by taxing the people heavily could many of the kings support their large royal households, finance their extravagant building programs and pay foreign overlords to support their throne (1 Kings 4:1-7; 1 Kings 5:13-17; 1 Kings 12:4; 2 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 23:35). Some kings brought justice and peace to the people, but others were cruel and corrupt (1 Kings 21:1-14; 2 Kings 18:1-6; 2 Kings 21:16; 2 Chronicles 17:3-4; 2 Chronicles 17:9; Jeremiah 22:13-17). The entire period of the monarchy was marked by a striking mixture of obedience and disobedience to the instructions set out in the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 17:14-20; cf. 1 Kings 3:9; 1 Kings 3:28; 1 Kings 10:14-22; 1 Kings 10:26; 1 Kings 11:1-7; 2 Kings 11:12; 2 Kings 22:11-13; 2 Chronicles 19:4-11).

Repeated disobedience among the kings was one reason for the nation’s decline and fall. In the end the nation was conquered, the people taken into captivity, and the monarchy brought to an end (2 Kings 17:21-23; 2 Kings 21:10-15; 2 Kings 23:26-27).

The ideal king

With the increasing disorder that characterized Israelite life during the period of the monarchy, people looked back to the time of David as the nearest Israel had ever been to having an ideal king (Psalms 89:20-21; Acts 13:22). Each king of the dynasty of David was, in a sense, God’s son, because through him God exercised his rule. The coronation ceremony was the occasion when God formally adopted the king and anointed him for the task of ruling his people (2 Samuel 7:14-16; Psalms 2:7; Psalms 20:6; Psalms 45:7; Psalms 89:3-4; Psalms 89:26-29).

In spite of the failure of their kings and the termination of the monarchy, the Israelite people still hoped for the day when the dynasty of David would be restored to power. They looked for one who would be the ideal king, the great descendant of David whom they called the Lord’s ‘anointed one’, or, in the Hebrew language, ‘the Messiah’ (Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Ezekiel 34:23-24; Ezekiel 37:24; see MESSIAH). In contrast to the kings of a former era, this king would rule with perfect wisdom, power, love and justice (Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:2-5; Jeremiah 33:15).

Jesus Christ was this promised king (Matthew 2:2; Matthew 21:5; Matthew 21:9). However, he was not the sort of king many of the Jews expected; for his chief concern was not with bringing in a political golden age, but with bringing sinful people to submit to the rule of God in their lives. His kingdom was not concerned with national glory; it was a kingdom of a different kind from the political kingdoms of the world (John 6:15; John 12:13-16; John 18:33-37; see KINGDOM OF GOD). Unrepentant sinners did not want a king whose concern was for such a kingdom, and in the end they had him crucified (Matthew 27:29; Matthew 27:37; Matthew 27:42; John 19:15; John 19:19; cf. Luke 19:14).

Through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, God showed that Jesus Christ was indeed his chosen king, and the early preachers enthusiastically proclaimed his kingship and his kingdom (Acts 2:36; Acts 4:26-27; Acts 5:31; Acts 8:12; Acts 17:7; Acts 19:8; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31; Philippians 2:9-11). This kingship will be displayed openly on the day when Jesus Christ returns in glory as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:15-16; cf. Matthew 25:31; Matthew 25:34; Matthew 25:40).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'King'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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