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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

King

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KING

1. Etymology and use of the term . The Heb. name for ‘king’ ( melek ) is connected with an Assyr. [Note: Assyrian.] root meaning ‘advise,’ ‘counsel,’ ‘rule,’ and it seems to have first signified ‘the wise man,’ the ‘counsellor,’ and then ‘the ruler.’ The root occurs in the names of several Semitic deities, e.g. Molech , the tribal god of the Ammonites, and the Phœn. Melkarth . In the days of Abraham we find the title ‘king’ applied to the rulers of the city-States of Palestine, e.g . Sodom, Gomorrah, etc. ( Genesis 14:2 ). We also find references to kings in all the countries bordering on Canaan Syria, Moab, Ammon, Egypt, etc., and in later times Assyria, Babylonia and Persia. In the NT the title ‘king’ is applied to the vassal-king Herod ( Matthew 2:1 , Luke 1:5 ) and to Agrippa ( Acts 25:13 ). In the Psalms and the Prophets God Himself is constantly designated ‘King of Israel’ or ‘my King’ ( e.g. Isaiah 43:15 ; Isaiah 44:6 , Psalms 10:16 ; Psalms 24:7 ; Psalms 24:9 ; Psalms 24:9-10 ; Psalms 44:4 ; Psalms 74:12 ; Psalms 84:3 etc.), and the Messianic advent of the true King of the Kingdom of God is predicted ( Zechariah 9:9 , Isaiah 32:1 etc.). In the NT Christ is represented as the fulfilment of this prophecy and as the true King of God’s Kingdom (cf. John 18:33 ; John 18:37 , 1 Timothy 6:15 , Revelation 17:14 ).

2. The office of king in Israel

(1) Institution . The settlement of the people of Israel in Canaan, and the change from a nomadic to an agricultural life, laid the incomers open to ever fresh attacks from new adventurers. Thus in the time of the judges we find Israel ever liable to hostile invasion. In order to preserve the nation from extermination, it became necessary that a closer connexion and a more intimate bond of union should exist between the different tribes. The judges in the period subsequent to the settlement seem, with the possible exception of Gideon ( Judges 8:22 ), to have been little more than local or tribal heroes, carrying on guerilla warfare against their neighbours. The successes of the warlike Philistines made it clear to patriotic minds that the tribes must be more closely connected, and that a permanent leader in war was a necessity. Accordingly Saul the Benjamite was anointed by Samuel ( 1 Samuel 10:1 ), and appointed by popular acclamation ( 1 Samuel 10:24 , 1 Samuel 11:14 ). The exploits of Saul and his sons against the Ammonites ( 1 Samuel 11:11 ff.), against the Amalekites ( 1 Samuel 15:7 ), and against the Philistines ( 1 Samuel 14:1 ff.) showed the value of the kingly office; and when Saul and his sons fell on Mt. Gilboa, it was not long till David the outlaw chief of Judah was invited to fill his place.

(2) The duties of the king are partly indicated by the history of the rise of the kingship. The king was ( a ) leader in war. He acted as general, and in person led the troops to battle (cf. Saul on Mt. Gilboa, 1 Samuel 31:2 ; Ahab at Ramoth-gilead, 1 Kings 22:29 ff.), By and by a standing army grew up, and fortresses were placed on the frontiers (cf. 1 Kings 12:21 f., 2 Chronicles 17:2 ). ( b ) Besides being leader of the army in war, the king was the supreme Judge (cf. 2 Samuel 14:5 ; 2 Samuel 15:2 , 1 Kings 3:15 ). Before the institution of the monarchy judicial functions were exercised by the heads of the various houses the elders. These elders were gradually replaced by officials appointed by the king ( 2 Chronicles 19:5-11 ), and the final appeal was to the king himself, who in Amos 2:3 is called ‘the judge.’ ( c ) Further, according to the usual Semitic conception, the king was also the chief person from a religious point of view. This idea has been lost sight of by later Jewish writers, but there is little doubt that in early times the king regarded himself as the supreme religious director, the chief priest. Thus Saul sacrifices in Samuel’s absence ( 1Sa 13:9-11 ; 1 Samuel 14:33 ff.), so also David ( 2 Samuel 6:13 ; 2 Samuel 6:17 ; 2 Samuel 24:25 ); while both David and Solomon seem to appoint and dismiss the chief priest at pleasure (cf. 2 Samuel 8:17 , 1 Kings 2:26-27 ; 1 Kings 2:35 ), and both bless the people ( 2 Samuel 6:18 , 1 Kings 8:14 ). Jeroboam sacrifices in person before the altar in Bethel ( 1 Kings 12:32-33 ), and Ahaz orders a special altar to be made, and offers in person on it ( 2 Kings 16:12 ). In later times, however, the priestly functions of the kings were less frequently exercised, priests being appointed, who are usually regarded as royal officials and numbered among other civil servants ( 2 Samuel 20:23 ff.).

(3) The kingship hereditary . It was a fixed idea in ancient Israel that the office of the kingship passed from father to son, as the judgeship passed from Gideon to his sons ( Judges 9:2 ), or from Samuel to his sons ( 1 Samuel 8:1 ). Although Saul was chosen by the people and David invited by the elders of Judah to be king, yet Saul himself regarded it as the natural thing that Jonathan should succeed him ( 1 Samuel 20:30 ff.). Adonijah assumed that, as David’s son, he had a right to the throne ( 1 Kings 2:15 ), and even the succession of his younger half-brother Solomon was secured without any popular election. It is impossible to speak of an elective monarchy in Israel. The succession in Judah remained all along in the house of David, and in the kingdom of the Ten Tribes father always succeeded son, unless violence and revolution destroyed the royal house and brought a new adventurer to the throne.

(4) Power of the king . While the monarchy in Israel differed considerably from other Oriental despotisms, it could not be called a limited monarchy in our sense of the term. The king’s power was limited by the fact that, to begin with, the royal house differed little from other chief houses of the nation. Saul, even after his election, resided on his ancestral estate, and came forth only as necessity called him (cf. 1 Samuel 11:4 ff.). On the one hand, law and ancient custom exercised considerable restraint on the kings; while, on the other hand, acts of despotic violence were allowed to pass unquestioned. A powerful ruler like David or Solomon was able to do much that would have been impossible for a weakling like Rehoboam. Solomon was practically an Oriental despot, who ground down the people by taxation and forced labour. David had the power to compass the death of Uriah and take his wife, but public opinion, as expressed by the prophets, exerted a considerable influence on the kings (cf. Nathan and David, Elijah and Ahab). The idea was never lost sight of that the office was instituted for the good of the nation, and that it ought to be a help, not a burden, to the people at large. Law and ancient custom were, in the people’s minds, placed before the kingly authority. Naboth can refuse to sell his vineyard to Ahab, and the king is unable to compel him, or to appropriate it till Naboth has been regularly condemned before a judicial tribunal ( 1 Kings 21:1 ff.). Thus the king himself was under law (cf. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 ), and he does not seem to have had the power to promulgate new enactments. Josiah bases his reform not on a new law, but on the newly found Book of the Law ( 2 Kings 23:1-3 ), to which he and the elders swear allegiance.

(5) Royal income . The early kings, Saul and David, do not seem to have subjected the people to heavy taxation. Saul’s primitive court would be supported by his ancestral estate and by the booty taken from the enemy, perhaps along with presents, more or less compulsory, from his friends or subjects ( 1 Samuel 10:27 ; 1 Samuel 16:20 ). The census taken by David ( 2 Samuel 24:1 ) was probably intended as a basis for taxation, as was also Solomon’s division of the land into twelve districts ( 1 Kings 4:7 ). Ezekiel ( Ezekiel 45:7-8 ; Ezekiel 48:21 ) speaks of crown lands, and such seem to have been held by David ( 1 Chronicles 27:26 ff.). The kings in the days of Amos laid claim to the first cutting of grass for the royal horses ( Amos 7:1 ). Caravans passing from Egypt to Damascus paid toll ( 1 Kings 10:16 ), and in the days of Solomon foreign trade by sea seems to have been a royal monopoly ( 1 Kings 10:16 ). It is not quite certain whether anything of the nature of a land tax or property tax existed, though something of this kind may be referred to in the reward promised by Saul to the slayer of Goliath ( 1 Samuel 17:25 ); and it may have been the tenth mentioned in 1 Samuel 8:15 ; 1 Samuel 8:17 . Special taxes seem to have been imposed to meet special emergencies (cf. 2 Kings 23:35 ), and the kings of Judah made free use of the Temple treasures.

(6) Royal officials have the general title ‘princes’ ( sârîm ). These included ( a ) the commander-in-chief, ‘the captain of the host,’ who in the absence of the king commanded the army ( e.g . Joab, 2 Samuel 12:27 ). ( b ) The prefect of the royal bodyguard, the leader of the ‘mighty men of valour’ of AV [Note: Authorized Version.] (in David’s time the Cherethites and Pelethites, 2 Samuel 8:18 ; 2 Samuel 20:23 ). ( c ) The ‘ recorder ,’ lit. ‘one who calls to remembrance.’ His functions are nowhere defined, but he seems to have held an influential position, and was probably the chief minister, the Grand Vizier of modern times (cf. 2 Samuel 8:16 , 2 Kings 18:26 ). ( d ) The ‘ scribe ’ ( sôphçr ) frequently mentioned along with the ‘recorder’ seems to have attended to the royal correspondence, and to have been the Chancellor or rather Secretary of State ( 2Ki 18:18 ; 2 Kings 18:37 , 2 Chronicles 34:8 ). ( e ) The officer who was ‘over the tribute’ ( 2 Samuel 20:24 ) seems to have superintended the forced labour and the collecting of the taxes, ( f ) The governor of the royal household, the royal steward or High Chamberlain, seems to have held an important position in the days of the later monarchy ( Isaiah 36:3 ; Isaiah 36:22 ; Isaiah 22:15 ). Mention is also made of several minor officials, such as the ‘king’s servant’ ( 2 Kings 22:12 ), the ‘king’s friend’ ( 1 Kings 4:5 ), the ‘king’s counsellor’ ( 1 Chronicles 27:33 ), the ‘head of the ward-robe’ ( 2 Kings 22:14 ), the head of the eunuchs (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘officers,’ 1 Samuel 8:15 ), the ‘governor of the city’ ( 1 Kings 22:26 ). We hear much from the prophets of the oppression and injustice practised by these officials on the poor of the land (cf. Amos 2:6-7 , Isaiah 5:8 , Jeremiah 5:28 , Micah 3:11 etc.).

W. F. Boyd.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'King'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/k/king.html. 1909.

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