Vladimir Moss

Original Source: http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/832/-origins-israelite-autocracy/

It was not given to Abraham or any of the patriarchs to build the true kingdom of peace – that is, the kingdom that would be at peace with God. The new, God-pleasing kingdom would emerge after a long process lasting hundreds of years that began with a famous “war of national liberation”, or exodus, from the second of the great absolutist monarchies of the ancient world – Egypt. Under the leadership of Moses the Hebrews created an embryonic state of a new kind, which finally acquired a territorial base and stability under Kings Saul and David…

 

The distinguishing mark of the Hebrew nation and state was its claim, quite contrary to the claims of the Babylonian and Egyptian despotisms, that its origin and end lay outside itself, in the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It took its origin from a direct call by God to Abraham to leave his homeland, the Sumerian city of Ur, and go into a land which God had promised him. The God of Abraham was different from the false gods of polytheism in several ways. First, He revealed Himself as completely transcendent to the material world, being worshipped neither in idols nor in men nor in the material world as a whole, but rather as the spiritual, immaterial Creator of all things, visible and invisible. Secondly, He did not reveal Himself to all, nor could anyone acquire faith in Him by his own efforts, but He revealed Himself only to those with whom He chose to enter into communion – Abraham, first of all. Thirdly, He was a jealous God Who required that His followers worship Him alone, as being the only true God. This was contrary to the custom in the pagan world, where ecumenism was the vogue – that is, all the gods, whoever they were and wherever they were worshipped, were considered true.

 

The nation of the Hebrews, therefore, was founded on an exclusively religious – and religiously exclusive – principle. In Ur, on the other hand, and in the other proto-communist states of the ancient world, the governing principle of life was not religion, still less the nation, but the state. Or rather, its governing principle was a religion of the state as incarnate in its ruler; for everything, including religious worship, was subordinated to the needs of the state, and to the will of the leader of the state, the god-king.

 

But Israel was founded upon a rejection of this idolatry of the state and its leader, and an exclusive subordination to the will of the God of Abraham, Who could in no way be identified with any man or state or material thing whatsoever. It followed that the criterion for membership of the nation of the Hebrews was neither race (for the Hebrews were not clearly distinguished racially from the other Semitic tribes of the Fertile Crescent, at any rate at the beginning, and God promised not only to multiply Abraham’s seed, but also that “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22.18)), nor citizenship of a certain state (for they had none at the beginning), nor residence in a certain geographical region (for it was not until 500 years after Abraham that the Hebrews conquered Palestine). The foundation of the nation, and criterion of its membership, was faith, faith in the God Who revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and acceptance of the rite of circumcision. At the same time, the very exclusivity of this faith meant that Israel was chosen above all other nations to be the Lord’s: “in the division of the nations of the whole earth, He set a ruler over every people; but Israel is the Lord’s portion.” (Wisdom of Sirach 17.17).

 

Some half a millenium later, in the time of Moses, the Hebrews were again living under another absolutist regime – this time, Pharaonic Egypt. And God again called them out of the despotism – this time, through Moses. He called them to leave Egypt and return to the promised land.

 

We have seen that all the major States of antiquity were absolutist monarchies, or despotisms. The defining characteristic of such a State is the concentration of all power, secular and religious, in the hands of one man. In pagan societies this is combined with worship of the ruler as a god. Insofar as the worship of a created being is a blasphemous lie and places the state under the control of “the father of lies”, Satan, such a state can be called a satanocracy. Israel was the opposite of this State system insofar as it worshipped no man as God, and had no ruler but God; and as such it can be called a theocracy.

 

However, pure theocracy is an extreme rarity and cannot in practice be sustained for long: the only true theocracy in history has been the Church of Christ – which is not, and cannot be, a State like other States, since its essence and heart is not of this world, being in essence the kingdom that is not of this world. If, therefore, the people of God are to have a State organization, a system of government that comes as close as possible to rule by God must be devised. The form of government that is closest to theocracy is what Lev Alexandrovich Tikhomirov called “delegated theocracy” – that is, autocracy, whose essence consists in a division of powers between a king and a high priest, with both recognizing the supreme lordship of the One True God.

 

The very first, embryonic example of autocracy is to be found, paradoxically, in Egypt – the Egypt of the time of Joseph. For the formal ruler of Egypt, Pharaoh, had placed virtually all power in the hands of Joseph, a servant of the True God. As Joseph himself said: “God has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45.8). The Egyptians also, following Joseph’s example, showed great honour to his father, Jacob. This honour was particularly manifest at the burial of Jacob, when “all Pharaoh’s servants and the palace dignitaries, joined by all the dignitaries of the land of Egypt” (Genesis 50.7), went up with Joseph and his family to bury the patriarch in Canaan. The relationship between father and son in Egypt was similar to that of the “symphony of powers” in Byzantium; for just as Joseph recognized the spiritual leadership of Jacob, so Jacob recognized the royal dignity of his son in his bowing down to his cross-like staff. As the Church says: “Israel, foreseeing the future, did reverence to the top of Joseph’s staff [Genesis 47.31], revealing how in times to come the most glorious Cross should be the safeguard of royal power.”[1]

 

It follows, according to St. Ignaty Brianchaninov, that it was the Hebrew Joseph, and not any of the pagan Pharaohs, who was “the founder of autocratic (or monarchical) rule in Egypt”[2], transforming it from patriarchal simplicity to a fully organized state with permanent citizenship and a land tax, which Joseph instituted to prepare for the years of famine, and which lasted, essentially, for hundreds of years. Records show that there were dramatic fluctuations in the level of Nile flooding, and therefore of the harvest yield, during the reigns of the 19th– and early 18th-century BC Pharaohs. One of those Pharaohs was Senwosret III, in whose time, as Ian Wilson writes, “uniquely in all Egyptian history, the great estates formerly owned by Egypt’s nobles passed to the monarchy. They did so in circumstances that are far from clear, unless the Biblical Joseph story might just happen to hold the key: ‘So Joseph gained possession of all the farmland in Egypt for Pharaoh, every Egyptian having sold his field because the famine was too much for them; thus the land passed over to Pharaoh’ (Genesis 47.20). So could Senwosret III or Amenemhet III, or both, have had an Asiatic chancellor called Joseph, who manipulated the circumstances of a prolonged national famine to centralise power in the monarchy’s favour?”[3]

 

Of course, Egypt remained a pagan country, and on Jacob’s and Joseph’s deaths the embryonic “symphony of powers” that existed between them and Pharaoh disappeared, being replaced by the absolutist despotism of the Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1.8) and hated Israel. It was in the fire of conflict with this absolutist ruler that the first real autocracy based on a symphony with the One True God, Israel, came into being.

 

*

 

Abraham’s battle with the Babylonian kings was the first between Church and State in history. The second took place between the people of God led by Moses, on the one hand, and the Egyptian Pharoah, on the other. For Egypt was another totalitarian society that rose up against the True God and was defeated (although the Egyptians did not record the fact, since gods, according to the Egyptian conception, cannot fail).[4]

 

Its apex was the cult of the Pharaoh, the god-king who was identified with one or another of the gods associated with the sun.

 

Egyptian religion was a very complicated mixture of creature-worship and ancestor-worship. Thus Diodorus Siculus writes: “The gods, they say, had been originally mortal men, but gained their immortality on account of wisdom and public benefits to mankind, some of them having also become kings; and some have the same names, when interpreted, with the heavenly deities… Helios [Re], they say, was the first king of the Egyptians, having the same name with the celestial luminary [the sun]…”[5]

 

“Although Egypt had a pantheon of gods,” writes Phillips, “the principal deity was the sun god Re (also called Ra), for whose worship a massive religious centre had grown up at Heliopolis, some fifty kilometres to the north of Memphis. It was believed that Re had once ruled over Egypt personally but, wearied by the affairs of mankind, had retired to the heavens, leaving the pharaohs to rule in his stead. Called ‘the son of Re’, the pharaoh was considered a half-human, half-divine being, through whose body Re himself could manifest.[6] However, as the falcon god Horus was the protector of Egypt, the king was also seen as his personification. By the Third Dynasty, therefore, Re and Horus had been assimilated as one god: Re-Herakhte. Depicted as a human male with a falcon’s head, this composite deity was considered both the god of the sun and the god of Egypt, and his incarnation on earth was the pharaoh himself. Only the king could expect an individual eternity with the gods, everyone else could only hope to participate in this vicariously, through their contribution to his well-being.”[7]

 

The Egyptian Pharaoh was, according to John Bright, “no viceroy ruling by divine election, nor was he a man who had been deified: he was god – Horus visible among his people. In theory, all Egypt was his property, all her resources at the disposal of his projects”[8] – and these, of course, were on the most massive scale. “The system was an absolutism under which no Egyptian was in theory free,… the lot of the peasant must have been unbelievably hard.”[9] Thus according to Herodotus, the largest of the pyramids, that of Pharaoh Khufu, was built on the labour of 100,000 slaves. It is far larger than any of the cathedrals or temples built by any other religion in any other country, and it has recently been discovered to contain the largest boat found anywhere in the world.[10]

 

Pharaoh was the mediator between heaven and earth. Without him, it was believed, there would be no order and the world would descend into chaos; he guaranteed that the sun shone, the Nile inundated the land and the crops grew. As Silverman writes: “The king’s identification with the supreme earthly and solar deities of the Egyptian pantheon suggests that the king in death embodied the duality that characterized the ancient Egyptian cosmos. The deified ruler represented both continuous regeneration (Osiris) and the daily cycle of rebirth (as Re). In their understanding of the cosmos, the ancient Egyptians were accustomed to each of their deities possessing a multiplicity of associations and roles. It was a natural extension of this concept for them to view the deified Pharaoh in a simìlar way”.[11] All the dead Pharaohs (with the exception of the “disgraced” Hatshepsut and the “heretic” Akhenaton) were worshipped in rites involving food offerings and prayers. Even some non-royal ancestors were worshipped; they were called “able spirits of Re” because it was thought that they interceded for the living with the sun god.

 

Rohl has theorized that Egypt was conquered in pre-dynastic times by Hamites arriving from Mesopotamia by sea around the Arabian peninsula, who left a profound mark on Egyptian religion and civilization. Thus Cush, the son of Ham and father of Nimrod, arrived in Ethiopia, giving that country its ancient name. Another son of Ham, Put, gave his name to Eritrea and the south-west corner of Arabia; while a third son, Mizraim, gave his name to Egypt, becoming the first of the Egyptian falcon kings, the descendants of Horus, “the Far Distant One”. Now the name “Mizraim” means “follower of Asar” – in other words, according to Rohl’s theory, follower of the Babylonian god Marduk insofar as Marduk is to be identified with Ashur (Asar), the grandson of Noah! This places the Egyptian god-kings in the closest spiritual relationship with the Babylonian god-kings, being all deified followers or reincarnations of Marduk-Osiris-Ashur. Noah himself seems to have been deified by the Sumerians, according to Rohl. Thus in the Sumerian Gilgamesh epic, Utnapishtim, the Akkadian name for Noah, is elevated to divine status by the gods after leaving the ark and sacrificing to the gods. “Hitherto Utnapishtim has been but a man, but now Utnapishtim shall be as the gods.”

 

Now the original supreme deity of Egypt was Atum, later Re-Atum, which means “the all”. “Atum,” writes David Rohl, “was both man and god. He was the first being on earth who brought himself into the world – the self-created one… Atum as the first being – and therefore the first ruler on earth – was regarded as the patron deity of royalty – the personal protector of the pharaoh and all kingship rituals… The name Atum is written A-t-m with the loaf-of-bread sign for the letter ‘t’. However, it is recognised by linguists that the letters ‘t’ and ‘d’ are often interchangeable within the different language groups of the ancient Near East… The Sumerian Adama becomes Atamu in Akkadian. So I believe we are justified in substituting the Egyptian ‘t’ in A-t-m with a ‘d’ – giving us Adam!”[12]

 

This theory, if true, sheds a very interesting light on the early Biblical account. Thus if the Babylonian cult of the god-king goes back to the self-deification of Nimrod, which is in turn based on the deification of his ancestors Ashur (Marduk) and Noah (Utnapishtim), then the Egyptian cult of the god-king, while receiving its first impetus from Babylonian Marduk-worship, went one step further back in deifying the ancestor of the whole human race, Adam, and placing him at the peak of their religious pantheon. Eve fell through believing the word of the serpent that they would be “as gods”. The descendants of Noah and Ham fell through believing that Adam and Eve succeeded in their impious ambition…

 

*

 

Now during the life of Moses, a third important element besides faith and circumcision was added to the life of Israel: the law. The law was necessary for several reasons. First, by the time of Moses, the Israelites were no longer an extended family of a few hundred people, as in the time of Abraham and the Patriarchs, which could be governed by the father of the family without the need of any written instructions or governmental hierarchy. Since their migration to Egypt in the time of Joseph, they had multiplied and become a nation of four hundred thousand people, which no one man could rule unaided. Secondly, the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt had introduced them again to the lures of the pagan world, and a law was required to protect them from these lures. And thirdly, in order to escape from Egypt, pass through the desert and conquer the Promised Land in the face of many enemies, a quasi-military organization and discipline was required.

 

And so the law was given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. Its God-givenness was vital. It meant, as Paul Johnson points out, that “the Israelites were creating a new kind of society. Josephus later used the word ‘theocracy’. This he defined as ‘placing all sovereignty in the hands of God’… The Israelites might have magistrates of one kind or another but their rule was vicarious since God made the law and constantly intervened to ensure it was obeyed. The fact that God ruled meant that in practice his law ruled. And since all were equally subject to the law, the system was the first to embody the double merits of the rule of law and equality before the law. Philo called it ‘democracy’, which he described as ‘the most law-abiding and best of constitutions’. But by democracy he did not mean rule by all the people; he defined it as a form of government which ‘honours equality and has law and justice for its rulers’. He might have called the Jewish system, more accurately, ‘democratic theocracy’, because in essence that is what it was.”[13]

 

But there was no democracy in the modern sense. Although every man in Israel was equal under the law of God, which was also the law of Israel, there were no elections, every attempt to rebel against Moses’ leadership was fiercely punished (Numbers 16), and there was no way in which the people could alter the law to suit themselves, which is surely the essence of democracy in the modern sense. Even when, at Jethro’s suggestion, lower-level magistrates and leaders were appointed, they were appointed by Moses, not by any kind of popular vote (Deuteronomy 1).

 

One of the major characteristics of the Mosaic law, notes Johnson, is that “there is no distinction between the religious and the secular – all are one – or between civil, criminal and moral law. This indivisibility had important practical consequences. In Mosaic legal theory, all breaches of the law offend God. All crimes are sins, just as all sins are crimes. Offences are absolute wrongs, beyond the power of man unaided to pardon or expunge. Making restitution to the offended mortal is not enough; God requires expiation, too, and this may involve drastic punishment. Most law-codes of the ancient Near East are property-orientated, people themselves being forms of property whose value can be assessed. The Mosaic code is God-oriented. For instance, in other codes, a husband may pardon an adulterous wife and her lover. The Mosaic code, by contrast, insists both must be put to death…

 

“In Mosaic theology, man is made in God’s image, and so his life is not just valuable, it is sacred. To kill a man is an offence against God so grievous that the ultimate punishment, the forfeiture of life, must follow; money is not enough. The horrific fact of execution thus underscores the sanctity of human life. Under Mosaic law, then, many men and women met their deaths whom the secular codes of surrounding societies would have simply permitted to compensate their victims or their victims’ families.

 

“But the converse is also true, as a result of the same axiom. Whereas other codes provided the death penalty for offences against property, such as looting during a fire, breaking into a house, serious trespass by night, or theft of a wife, in the Mosaic law no property offence is capital. Human life is too sacred where the rights of property alone are violated. It also repudiates vicarious punishment: the offences of parents must not be punished by the execution of sons or daughters, or the husband’s crime by the surrender of the wife to prostitution… Moreover, not only is human life sacred, the human person (being in God’s image) is precious… Physical cruelty [in punishment] is kept to the minimum.”[14]

 

A major part of the Mosaic law concerned a priesthood and what we would now call the Church with its rites and festivals. The priesthood was entrusted to Moses’ brother Aaron and one of the twelve tribes of Israel, that of the Levites. As St. Cyril of Alexandria writes: “Moses and Aaron… were for the ancients a fine forefigure of Christ… Emmanuel, Who, by a most wise dispensation, is in one and the same Person both Law-Giver and First Priest… In Moses we should see Christ as Law-Giver, and in Aaron – as First Priest.”[15]

 

Thus already in the time of Moses we have the beginnings of a separation between Church and State, and of what the Byzantines called the “symphony” between the two powers, as represented by Moses and Aaron.

 

That the Levites constituted the beginnings of what we would now call the clergy of the Church was indicated by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow in his polemic against the attempts of the tsar to confiscate church lands: “Have you not heard that God said that any outsider who comes close to the sacred things will be given up to death? By outsider here is understood not only he who is a stranger to Israel from the pagans, but everyone who is not of the tribe of Levi, like Kore, Dathan and Abiram, whom God did not choose, and whom, the impious ones, a flame devoured; and King Uzziah laid his hand on the ark to support it, and God struck him and he died (II Kings 6.6,7).”[16]

 

However, it is important to realize that there was no radical separation of powers in the modern sense. Israel was a theocratic state ruled directly by God, Who revealed His will through His chosen servants Moses and Aaron. The Church, the State and the People were not three different entities or organizations, but three different aspects of a single organism, the whole of which was subject to God alone. That is why it was so important that the leader should be chosen by God. In the time of the judges, this seems always to have been the case; for when an emergency arose God sent His Spirit upon a man chosen by Him (cf. Judges 6.34), and the people, recognizing this, then elected him as their judge (cf. Judges 11.11). And if there was no emergency, or if the people were not worthy of a God-chosen leader, then God did not send His Spirit and no judge was elected. In those circumstances “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21.25) – in other words, there was anarchy. The lesson was clear: if theocracy is removed, then sooner or later there will be anarchy – that is, no government at all.

 

The unity of Israel was therefore religious, not political – or rather, it was religio-political. It was created by the history of deliverance from the satanocracies of Babylon and Egypt and maintained by a continuing allegiance and obedience to God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God Who appeared to Moses and Joshua, – as their only King. Neither Abraham nor Moses was a king. Rather it was said to Abraham by God: “Kings will come from you” (Genesis 17.6; cf. 17.16, 35.2). And Moses was a lawgiver, a priest and prophet rather than a king. Early Israel was therefore not a kingdom – or rather, it was a kingdom whose king was God alone. As Tikhomirov writes: “According to the law of Moses, no State was established at that time, but the nation was just organized on tribal principles, with a common worship of God. The Lord was recognized as the Master of Israel in a moral sense, as of a spiritual union, that is, as a Church.”[17]

 

Ancient Israel, in other words, was a Theocracy, ruled not by a king or priest, but by God Himself. And strictly speaking the People of God remained a Theocracy, without a formal State structure, until the time of the Prophet Samuel, who anointed the first King of Israel, Saul. Early Israel before the kings had rulers, but these rulers were neither hereditary monarchs nor were they elected to serve the will of the people. They were charismatic leaders, called judges, who were elected because they served the will of God alone.

 

And they were elected by God, not the people, who simply had to follow the man God had elected, as when He said to Gideon: “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the Midianites: have I not sent thee?” (Judges 6.14). That is why, when the people offered to make Gideon and his descendants kings in a kind of hereditary dynasty, he refused, saying: “I shall not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you” (Judges 8.23).

*

 

Nevertheless, it was God’s plan that Israel should have a “delegated theocracy”, a king who would be in all things obedient to Himself. But the fulfillment of that plan would have to wait until the Israelites had permanently settled a land. For”a king is an advantage to a landwith cultivated fields” (Ecclesiastes 5.8).

 

However, to ensure that such a king would be a true autocrat, and not a pagan-style despot, the Lord laid down certain conditions to the people through Moses: “When thou shalt come unto the land which the Lord thy God shall choose, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, ‘I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me’, thou shalt surely set a king over thee whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother… And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel” (Deuteronomy 17.14-15,18-20).

 

     Thus God blessed the institution of the monarchy, but stipulated three conditions if His blessing was to rest on it. First, the people must itself desire to have a king placed over it. Secondly, the king must be someone “whom the Lord thy God shall choose”; a true king is chosen by God, not by man. Such a man will always be a “brother”, that is a member of the People of God, of the Church: if he is not, then God has not chosen him. Thirdly, he will govern in accordance with the Law of God, which he will strive to fulfil in all its parts.

 

In the period from Moses to Saul, the people were ruled by the Judges, many of whom, like Joshua, Jephtha and Gideon, were truly God-fearing, charismatic leaders. However, towards the end of the period, since “there was no king in Israel; everyone did what seemed right to him” (Judges 21.25), and barbaric acts, such as that which almost led to the extermination of the tribe of Benjamin, are recorded. In their desperation at the mounting anarchy, the people called on God through the Prophet Samuel to give them a king. God fulfilled their request, but since the people’s motivation in seeking a king was not pure, He gave them at first a king who brought them more harm than good. For while Saul was a mighty man of war and temporarily expanded the frontiers of Israel, he persecuted true piety, as represented by the future King David and the prophet Gad, and he disobeyed the Church, as represented by the Judge and Prophet Samuel and the high priests Abiathar and Ahimelech.

 

*

 

Some democrats have argued that the Holy Scriptures do not approve of kingship. This is not true: kingship as such is never condemned in Holy Scripture. Rather, it is considered the norm of political leadership, as we see in the following passages: “Blessed are thou, O land, when thou hast a king from a noble family” (Ecclesiastes 10.17); “The heart of the king is in the hand of God: He turns it wherever He wills (Proverbs 21.1); “He sends kings upon thrones, and girds their loins with a girdle” (Job 12.18); “He appoints kings and removes them” (Daniel 2.21); “Thou, O king, art a king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given a powerful and honourable and strong kingdom in every place where the children of men dwell” (Daniel 2.37-38); “Listen, therefore, O kings, and understand…; for your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High” (Wisdom 6.1,3).

 

The tragedy of the story of the first Israelite king, Saul, did not consist in the fact that the Israelites sought a king for themselves – as we have seen, God did not condemn kingship as such. After all, the sacrament of kingly anointing, which was performed for the first time by the Prophet Samuel on Saul, gave the earthly king the grace to serve the Heavenly King as his true Sovereign. The tragedy consisted in the fact that the Israelites sought a king “like [those of] the other nations around” them (Deuteronomy 17.14), – in other words, a pagan-style king who would satisfy the people’s notions of kingship rather than God’s, – and that this desire amounted to apostasy in the eyes of the Lord, the only true King of Israel.

 

Thus the Lord said to Samuel: “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should rule over them… Now therefore listen to their voice. However, protest solemnly to them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them” (I Kings (I Samuel) 8.4-9).

 

And then Samuel painted for them the image of a harsh, totalitarian ruler of the kind that was common in the Ancient World. These kings, as well as having total political control over their subjects, were often worshipped by them as gods; so that “kingship” as understood in the Ancient World meant both the loss of political freedom and alienation from the true and living God.

 

God allowed the introduction of this despotic kind of kingship into Israel because the religious principle had grown weak. For the history of the kings begins with the corruption of the priests, the sons of Eli, who were in possession of the ark at the time of its capture. Thus for the kings’ subsequent oppression of the people both the priests and the people bore responsibility.

 

However, God in His mercy did not always send such totalitarian rulers upon His people, and the best of the kings, such as David, Josiah and Hezekiah, were in obedience to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Nevertheless, since kingship was introduced into Israel from a desire to imitate the pagans, it was a retrograde step. It represented the introduction of a second, worldly principle of allegiance into what had been a society bound together by religious bonds alone, a schism in the soul of the nation which, although seemingly inevitable in the context of the times, meant the loss for ever of that pristine simplicity which had characterised Israel up to then.

 

And yet everything seemed to go well at first. Samuel anointed Saul, saying: “The Lord anoints thee as ruler of His inheritance of Israel, and you will rule over the people of the Lord and save them from out of the hand of their enemies” (I Kings 10.1). Filled with the Spirit of the Lord, Saul defeated the enemies of Israel, the Ammonites and the Philistines. But the schism which had been introduced into the life of the nation began to express itself also in the life of their king, with tragic consequences.

 

First, before a major battle with the Philistines, the king grew impatient when Samuel the priest delayed his coming to perform a sacrifice. So he performed the sacrifice himself without waiting for Samuel. For this sin, the sin of the invasion of the Church’s sphere by the State, Samuel prophesied that the kingdom – a Kingdom that would last forever – would be taken away from Saul and given to a man after God’s heart. “For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart” (I Kings 13.13-14). That man, of course, was David, who, by becoming the ancestor of Christ, would become the founder of an eternal Kingdom.

 

The example of Saul was quoted by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow: “Listen to what happened to Saul, the first king of Israel. The Word of God said to Samuel: ‘I have repented that I sent Saul to the kingdom, for he has ceased to follow Me.’ What did Saul do that God should reject him? He, it is said, ‘did not follow My counsels’ (I Kings 15.10-28)…This is the Word of God, and not the word of man: ‘I made you ruler over the tribes of Israel and anointed you to the kingdom of Israel, and not to offer sacrifices and whole-burnt offerings,’ teaching for all future times that the priesthood is higher than the kingdom, and that he who wishes for more loses that which is his own.”[18]

 

Saul’s second sin was to spare Agag, the king of the Amalekites, together with the best of his livestock, instead of killing them all, as God had commanded. His excuse was: “because I listened to the voice of the people” (I Kings 15.20). In other words, he abdicated his God-given authority and became, spiritually speaking, a democrat, listening to the people rather than to God. And so Samuel said: “Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord also shall reject thee from being king over Israel” (I Kings 15.23)… It was no accident therefore, that it was an Amalekite who killed Saul at Mount Gilboa and brought his crown to David…

 

To modern readers Saul’s sin might seem small. However, it must be understood in the context of the previous history of Israel, in which neither Moses nor any of the judges (except, perhaps, Samson), had disobeyed the Lord. That is why Samuel said to Saul: “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness as iniquity and idolatry” (I Kings 15.22-23). For even a king can rebel, even a king is in obedience – to the King of kings. Only the absolutist despot feels that there is nobody above him, that there is no law that he, too, must obey. His power is absolute; whereas the power of the autocrat is limited, if not by man and the laws of men, at any rate by the law of God, whose independent guardian and teacher is the priesthood of the Church.

 

To emphasize the truth that disobedience to God “is as the sin of witchcraft”, Saul then falls into the most serious sin of consulting a witch on the eve of his last battle against the Philistines. Thus he asked the witch of Endor to summon the soul of Samuel from Hades, although he himself had passed laws condemning necromancy. It did him no good: the next day, at Gilboa, he lost the battle and his life…[19] “So Saul died,” according to the chronicler, “because of his transgression which he committed against the Lord… by seeking advice from a ghost… Therefore He slew him and gave the kingdom to David…” (I Chronicles 10.13, 14).

 

*

 

The anointing of Saul raises the important question: are only those kings anointed with a visible anointing recognized by God? The answer to this is: no. There is also an invisible anointing. Thus St. Philaret of Moscow writes: “The name ‘anointed’ is often given by the word of God to kings in relation to the sacred and triumphant anointing which they receive, in accordance with the Divine establishment, on their entering into possession of their kingdom… But it is worthy of especial note that the word of God also calls anointed some earthly masters who were never sanctified with a visible anointing. Thus Isaiah, announcing the will of God concerning the king of the Persians, says: ‘Thus says the Lord to His anointed one, Cyrus’ (Isaiah 45.1); whereas this pagan king had not yet been born, and, on being born, did not know the God of Israel, for which he was previously rebuked by God: ‘I girded thee, though thou hast not known Me’ (Isaiah 45.5). But how then could this same Cyrus at the same time be called the anointed of God? God Himself explains this, when He prophesies about him through the same prophet: ‘I have raised him up…: he shall build My city, and He shall let go My captives’ (Isaiah 45.13). Penetrate, O Christian, into the deep mystery of the powers that be! Cyrus is a pagan king; Cyrus does not know the true God; however Cyrus is the anointed of the true God. Why? Because God, Who ‘creates the future’ (Isaiah 45.11), has appointed him to carry out His destiny concerning the re-establishment of the chosen people of Israel; by this Divine thought, so to speak, the Spirit anointed him before bringing him into the world: and Cyrus, although he does not know by whom and for what he has been anointed, is moved by a hidden anointing, and carries out the work of the Kingdom of God in a pagan kingdom. How powerful is the anointing of God! How majestic is the anointed one of God!”[20]

 

*

 

The falling away of Saul led directly to the first major schism in the history of the State of Israel. For after Saul’s death, the northern tribes (Ephraim, first of all) supported the claim of Saul’s surviving son to the throne, while the southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) supported David. Although David suppressed this rebellion, and although, for David’s sake, the Lord did not allow a schism during the reign of his son Solomon, it erupted again and became permanent after Solomon’s death…

 

The greatness of David lay in the fact that he represented the true autocrat, who both closed the political schism that had opened between north and south, and closed the schism that was just beginning to open up between the sacred and the profane, the Church and the State. Indeed, according to the author of the two books of Chronicles, it was David’s solicitude for the Church and her liturgical worship that was the most important fact about him. As Patrick Henry Reardon points out, nineteen chapters are devoted to David, and of these nineteen “the Chronicler allotted no fewer than 11 – over half – to describe the king’s solicitude for Israel’s proper worship (I Chronicles 13; 15-16 and 22-29). This material includes the transfer of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, the organization of the priestly and Levitical ministries, preparations for the sacred music, and David’s lengthy instructions to Solomon with respect to the temple.

 

“According to the Chronicler, David not only made all the arrangements for the consecration of the temple and the organization of the worship (I Chronicles 28.19), he did so by the Lord’s own command (II Chronicles 29.15). Even the musical instruments used in the worship are credited to David (II Chronicles 29.17; cf. Nehemiah 12.36).”[21]

 

“Like Gideon,” notes Paul Johnson, David “grasped that [Israel] was indeed a theocracy and not a normal state. Hence the king could never be an absolute ruler on the usual oriental pattern. Nor, indeed, could the state, however governed, be absolute either. It was inherent in Israelite law even at this stage that, although everyone had responsibilities and duties to society as a whole, society – or its representative, the king, or the state – could under no circumstances possess unlimited authority over the individual. Only God could do that. The Jews, unlike the Greeks and later the Romans, did not recognize such concepts as city, state, community as abstracts with legal personalities and rights and privileges. You could commit sins against man, and of course against God; and these sins were crimes; but there was no such thing as a crime/sin against the state.

 

“This raises a central dilemma about Israelite, later Judaic, religion and its relationship with temporal power. The dilemma can be stated quite simply: could the two institutions coexist, without one fatally weakening the other?”[22]

 

The reign of David proved that State and Church could not only coexist, but also strengthen each other. In a certain sense, the anointed king in the Israelite kingdom could be said to have had the primacy over the priesthood. Thus David appears to have ordered the building of the temple without any prompting from a priest, and Solomon removed the High Priest Abiathar for political rebellion (I Kings 2.26-27).

 

Thus there were two spheres, “the king’s matters” and “the Lord’s matters”. If the king ventured to enter “the Lord’s matters”, that is, the sphere of Divine worship in the temple, he would be punished. We see this clearly in the case of King Uzziah, who was punished with leprosy for presuming to burn incense before the Lord…

 

*

 

The central act of David’s reign was his conquest of Jerusalem and establishment of the city of David on Zion as the capital and heart of the Israelite kingdom. This was, on the one hand, an important political act, strengthening the centralizing power of the State; for as the last part of the Holy Land to be conquered, Jerusalem did not belong to any of the twelve tribes, which meant that its ruler, David, was elevated above all the tribes, and above all earthly and factional interests. But, on the other hand, it was also an important religious act; for by establishing his capital in Jerusalem, David linked his kingship with the mysterious figure of Melchizedek, both priest and king, who had blessed Abraham at Salem, that is, Jerusalem. Thus David could be seen as following in the footsteps of Abraham in receiving the blessing of the priest-king in his own city.

 

Moreover, by bringing the Ark of the Covenant, the chief sanctum of the priesthood, to a permanent resting-place in Zion, David showed that the Church and the priesthood would find rest and protection on earth only under the aegis of the Jewish autocracy. As John Bright writes: “The significance of this action cannot be overestimated. It was David’s aim to make Jerusalem the religious as well as the political capital of the realm. Through the Ark he sought to link the newly created state to Israel’s ancient order as its legitimate successor, and to advertise the state as the patron and protector of the sacral institutions of the past. David showed himself far wiser than Saul. Where Saul had neglected the Ark and driven its priesthood from him, David established both Ark and priesthood in the official national shrine.” [23]

 

The Ark was a symbol of the Church; and it is significant that the birth of the Church, at Pentecost, took place on Zion, beside David’s tomb (Acts 2). For David prefigured Christ not only in His role as anointed King of the Jews, Who inherited “the throne of His father David” and made it eternal (Luke 1.32-33), but also as Sender of the Spirit and establisher of the New Testament Church. For just as David brought the wanderings of the Ark to an end by giving it a permanent resting-place in Zion, so Christ sent the Spirit into the upper room in Zion, giving the Church a firm, visible beginning on earth.

 

Only it was not given to David to complete the third act that was to complete this symbolism, the building of the Temple to house the Ark. That was reserved for his son Solomon, who consecrated the Temple on the feast of Tabernacles, the feast signifying the end of the wanderings of the children of Israel in the desert and the ingathering of the harvest fruits. Such was the splendour of Solomon’s reign that he also became a type of Christ, and of Christ in His relationship to the Church.

 

Only whereas David prefigures Christ as the Founder of the Church in Zion, Solomon, through his relationship with foreign rulers in Egypt, Tyre and Sheba, and his expansion of Israel to its greatest geographical extent and splendour, prefigures the Lord’s sending out of the apostles into the Gentile world and the expansion of the Church throughout the oikoumene. Thus David sang of his son as the type of Him Whom “all the kings of the earth shall worship, and all the nations shall serve” (Psalm 71.11). Moreover, at the very moment of the consecration of the Temple, the wise Solomon looks forward to that time when the Jewish Temple-worship will be abrogated and the true worship of God will not be concentrated in Jerusalem or any single place, but the true worshippers will worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4. 21-23): “for will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee: how much less this house that I have built?” (I Kings 8.27).

 

As St. Philaret of Moscow demonstrates, the superiority of the Israelite Autocracy makes of it a model for all nations in all times: “It is in the family that we must seek the beginnings and first model of authority and submission, which are later opened out in the large family which is the State. The father is… the first master… but since the authority of the father was not created by the father himself and was not given to him by the son, but came into being with man from Him Who created man, it is revealed that the deepest source and the highest principle of the first power, and consequently of every later power among men, is in God – the Creator of man. From Him ‘every family in heaven and on earth is named’ (Ephesians 3.15). Later, when sons of sons became a people and peoples, and from the family there grew the State, which was too vast for the natural authority of a father, God gave this authority a new artificial image and a new name in the person of the King, and thus by His wisdom kings rule (Proverbs 8.15). In the times of ignorance, when people had forgotten their Creator… God, together with His other mysteries, also presented the mystery of the origin of the powers that be before the eyes of the world, even in a sensory image, in the form of the Hebrew people whom He had chosen for Himself; that is: in the Patriarch Abraham He miraculously renewed the ability to be a father and gradually produced from him a tribe, a people and a kingdom; He Himself guided the patriarchs of this tribe; He Himself raised judges and leaders for this people; He Himself ruled over this kingdom (I Kings 8.7). Finally, He Himself enthroned kings over them, continuing to work miraculous signs over the kings, too. The Highest rules over the kingdom of men and gives it to whom He wills. ‘The Kingdom is the Lord’s and He Himself is sovereign of the nations’ (Psalm 21.29). ‘The power of the earth is in the hand of the Lord, and in due time He will set over it one that is profitable’ (Sirach 10.4).’

 

“A non-Russian would perhaps ask me now: why do I look on that which was established by God for one people (the Hebrews) and promised to one King (David) as on a general law for Kings and peoples? I would have no difficulty in replying: because the law proceeding from the goodness and wisdom of God is without doubt the perfect law; and why not suggest the perfect law for all? Or are you thinking of inventing a law which would be more perfect than the law proceeding from the goodness and wisdom of God?”

 

“As heaven is indisputably better than the earth, and the heavenly than the earthly, it is similarly indisputable that the best on earth must be recognized to be that which was built on it in the image of the heavenly, as was said to the God-seer Moses: ‘Look thou that thou make them after their pattern, which was showed thee in the mount’ (Exodus 25.40). Accordingly God established a King on earth in accordance with the image of His single rule in the heavens; He arranged for an autocratic King on earth in the image of His heavenly omnipotence; and … He placed an hereditary King on earth in the image of His royal immutability. Let us not go into the sphere of the speculations and controversies in which certain people – who trust in their own wisdom more than others – work on the invention… of better, as they suppose, principles for the transfiguration of human societies… But so far they have not in any place or time created such a quiet and peaceful life… They can shake ancient States, but they cannot create anything firm… They languish under the fatherly and reasonable authority of the King and introduce the blind and cruel power of the mob and the interminable disputes of those who seek power. They deceive people in affirming that they will lead them to liberty; in actual fact they are drawing them from lawful freedom to self-will, so as later to subject them to oppression with full right. Rather than their self-made theorizing they should study the royal truth from the history of the peoples and kingdoms… which was written, not out of human passion, but by the holy prophets of God, that is – from the history of the people of God which was from of old chosen and ruled by God. This history shows that the best and most useful for human societies is done not by people, but by a person, not by many, but by one. Thus: What government gave the Hebrew people statehood and the law? One man – Moses. What government dealt with the conquest of the promised land and the distribution of the tribes of the Hebrew people on it? One man – Joshua the son of Nun. During the time of the Judges one man saved the whole people from enemies and evils. But since the power was not uninterrupted, but was cut off with the death of each judge, with each cutting off of one-man rule the people descended into chaos, piety diminished, and idol-worship and immorality spread; then there followed woes and enslavement to other peoples. And in explanation of these disorders and woes in the people the sacred chronicler says that ‘in those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was pleasing in his own eyes’ (Judges 21.25). Again there appeared one man, Samuel, who was fully empowered by the strength of prayer and the prophetic gift; and the people was protected from enemies, the disorders ceased, and piety triumphed. Then, to establish uninterrupted one-man rule, God established a King in His people. And such kings as David, Joashaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah present images of how successfully an autocratic Majesty can and must serve for the glorification of the Heavenly King in the earthly kingdom of men, and together with that – for the strengthening and preservation of true prosperity in his people… And during the times of the new grace the All-seeing Providence of God deigned to call the one man Constantine, and in Russia the one man Vladimir, who in apostolic manner enlightened their pagan kingdoms with the light of the faith of Christ and thereby established unshakeable foundations for their might. Blessed is that people and State in which, in a single, universal, all-moving focus there stands, as the sun in the universe, a King, who freely limits his unlimited autocracy by the will of the Heavenly King, and by the wisdom that comes from God.”[24]

 

August 11/24, 2017.

 

[1] Menaion, September 14, Exaltation of the Cross, Mattins, Canon, Canticle 7, troparion.

[2] St. Ignaty, “Iosif. Sviaschennaia povest’ iz knigi Bytia” (Joseph. A Holy Tale from the Book of Genesis), Polnoe Sobranie Tvorenij (Complete Collection of Works), volume II, Moscow, 2001, p. 37.

[3] Wilson, The Bible is History, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999, p. 37.

[4] Graham Phillips has recently claimed to have discovered traces of this defeat in Egyptian archaeology. According to his theory, the Pharaoh of Moses’ time was Smenkhkare, whose tomb was plundered and desecrated by his brother and successor, the famous Tutankhamun, in punishment for his failure to avert the catastrophe of the ten plagues of Egypt (Act of God, London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1998).

[5] Quoted in Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, II, 1.

[6] Thus a typical letter to a pharaoh began: “To my king, my lord, my sun-god” (Bernhard W. Anderson, The Living World of the Old Testament, London: Longman, 1967, p. 45, note).

[7] Phillips, op. cit., pp. 35-36.

[8] Bright, A History of Israel, London: SCM Press, 1980, p. 39.

[9] Bright, op. cit., pp. 39, 40.

[10] Barbara Watterson, Ancient Egypt, Stroud: Sutton Publishing Company, 1998, pp. 18-19.

[11] David P. Silverman, Ancient Egypt, London: Piatkus, 1998, pp. 18-19.

 

[12]Rohl, Legend: The Genesis of Civilization, London: Random House, 1998.

[13] Johnson, A History of the Jews, London: Phoenix, 1995, 1998, pp. 40-41.

[14] Johnson, op. cit., pp. 33, 34.

[15] St. Cyril, in Vyacheslav Manyagin, Apologia Groznogo Tsaria (Apology for the Awesome Tsar), Moscow, 2004, p. 167.

[16] Nikon, in M.V. Zyzykin, Patriarkh Nikon (Patriarch Nikon), Warsaw: Synodal Typography, 1931, part II, p. 36.

[17] Tikhomirov, Monarkhicheskaia Gosudarstvennost’ (Monarchical Statehood), Buenos Aires, 1992, p. 126.

[18] Zyzykin, op. cit., part II, p. 17.

[19] See St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Witch of Endor: A Letter to Bishop Theodosius, translated in Living Orthodoxy, #124, vol. XXI, N 4, July-August, 2000, pp. 24-26.

[20] St. Philaret, Iz Slova v den’ koronatsia Imperatora Aleksandra Pavlovicha. Sbornik propovednicheskikh obraztsov (From the Sermon on the Day of the Coronation of the Emperor Alexander Pavlovich. A Collection of Model Sermons). Quoted in “O Meste i Znachenii Tainstva Pomazania na Tsarstvo” (“On the Place and Significance of the Mystery of Anointing to the Kingdom”), Svecha Pokaiania (Candle of Repentance) (Tsaritsyn), N 4, February, 2000, p. 15.

[21] Reardon, Chronicles of History and Worship, Ben Lomond, Ca.: Conciliar Press, 2006, p. 12.

[22] Johnson, A History of the Jews, London: Phoenix, 1995, 1998, p. 57.

[23] Bright, op. cit., pp. 200-201.

[24] St. Philaret, in S. Fomin & T. Fomina, Rossia pered Vtorym Prishestviem (Russia before the Second Coming), Moscow, 1994, vol. I, pp. 320-321.

August 24, 2017

The Origins of the Israelite Autocracy by Vladimir Moss

Original Source: http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/832/-origins-israelite-autocracy/ It was not given to Abraham or any of the patriarchs to build the true kingdom of peace – that is, the kingdom that […]
August 19, 2017

The Fall of the Non-Commemorators by Vladimir Moss

Original Article: http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/articles/830/-fall-non-commemorators/ The news that Bishop Longinus of Bachna, Ukraine has returned into full communion with the Moscow Patriarchate and even accepted promotion to the rank […]
August 15, 2017

The Response of Bishop Andrei (Erastov) to Vladimir Moss

Source: http://austroca.org/bishop-andreis-response-v-moss-%D0%BE%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%82-%D0%B2-%D0%BC%D0%BE%D1%81%D1%81%D1%83/   In his article “The Reunification Of The Russian Church” (Воссоединение Русской Церкви) http://nftu.net/reply-of-v-moss-to-the-proposals-of-bishop-andrei-erastov/#comment-2728, church historian Vladimir Moss provides a critical analysis of the report […]
August 14, 2017

Tsar Nicholas II: Restorer of Orthodox Autocracy by Vladimir Moss

[Original Here] The title “Restorer of the Orthodox Autocracy” has been ascribed to Tsar Paul I, and not without reason. After the extreme westernization of the […]