And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel. Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beersheba. And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment. (1 Samuel 8:1–3)
In this passage of Scripture we see the future of Israel hanging in the balance. Samuel’s sons were worldly and profane, and their leadership punctuated by wickedness (1 Sam. 2ff.). They had the outward show of religion and perhaps even the outward testimony of their father, but their own testimony was void of legitimacy. They were covetous men, perverse and lacking judgment.
Nevertheless, Samuel made his reprobate sons judges. Perhaps he hoped they would receive the office with sobriety and sense. But they failed to change even when thrust into a situation which requires godly sobriety and holy obedience to the law of God.
Herein is the first transgression. It was typical of what was to follow.
Samuel’s sons, like Eli’s, were reprobate men. Nothing could change that.
We might view Eli’s sons as representing the apostasy of the priests, and Samuel’s sons the apostasy of the civil rulers.
Both of these apostate groups were setting the stage for a great judgment upon Israel. It is a fact of Scripture that the judgment of God must come upon every nation that refuses to follow His lawful precepts, especially when it concerns leadership, statesmanship, and government. If God judged His own people, Israel, how much more will He judge other nations that rebel against His holy law?
Perhaps Samuel’s offense is not to be laid upon Samuel alone. Perhaps he was too tenderhearted as a father and thus his eyes were blinded and his heart hopeful that his seed would be great in the earth God-ward. Although he was wrong, Samuel needn’t bear the guilt alone. The people were equally to blame, and perhaps more so.
On the one hand, the elders acknowledged that Samuel’s sons were apostate, and could not rule as judges. On the other hand they asked for an equally sinful solution. They asked for a king patterned after the kings of the pagan nations around them:
Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. (1 Sam. 4:4–5)
This request defied all logic as well as knowledge. It was a complete rejection of God and His laws, and God would not suffer His chosen, covenantally bound people to reject Him without retribution.
Notice the elders wanted to be judged like the other nations were judged. Since the other nations were structured tyrannically, with totalitarian despots acting like gods according to personal whims and lusts, Israel was asking to become slaves of wicked men. They were asking to return to the vomit of Egyptian slavery.
It was common knowledge that the nations outside of God’s covenant were despotic. Nevertheless, the people desired to be like them. This request was not made out of ignorance, but out of defiance:
And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. (1 Sam. 8:7)
What was transpiring was a complete repudiation of the covenant oath that Israel had made with God in the wilderness. It was a blatant violation of a promise sworn before God, and to God.
Israel wanted God’s covenant of redemption, but refused to have His covenant of political precept and expression. They would rather take after the nations and ideologies of the heathen. They wanted God’s salvation but not His Lordship. They wanted Him as Savior but not as King. This was impossible. Divine salvation is predicated upon God’s sovereign rule. There is no redemption without lordship. There is no redemption without submission to Christ’s crown and His covenant.
Israel thought that salvation was a ticket to escape lawful obedience to God’s precepts. Today this idea prevails in many churches, both Arminian and Reformed. Statements such as “We are under grace and not under law” are typical of those wanting God’s redemption but not His lordship.
Salvation is not an escape from obedience, but rather it emphasizes obedience, as well as sacrificial devotion and service. This idea of salvation without obedience was born out of pagan rebellion. The pagan idea of salvation was one of safety and prosperity, not obedience to an ethical standard of holiness. Pagan redemption had little to do with an obedient lifestyle, since salvation was based upon ritual and ceremony and was relegated to the individual alone—a “me and my savior” relationship without any infringement upon personal needs, desires and actions.
Israel desired liberation from God and not a liberation to God They wanted heaven, but they wanted it without fulfilling their covenant oath of obedience. Israel wanted the impossible.
R. J. Rushdoony puts it this way, “There can only be divine salvation where there is a sovereign and omnipotent God.”1
Israel had rejected God as Lord. God was now going to reject them.
Why did God require Israel to uphold His political covenant structure?
Daniel Elazar, in Covenant and Polity in Biblical Israel, observes:
Covenant can be studied in three dimensions: 1. As a form of political conceptualization and mode of political expression; 2. as a source of political ideology; and 3. as a factor shaping culture, institutions and behavior.2
In rejecting God as King, Israel was rejecting God’s political covenant structure which included:
1. Divine law, justice and equity
2. God’s political ideology of righteousness, which has at root ethical purity
3. God’s commanded political structure, which was to shape the culture, its institutions, and regulate the behavior of the people.
All this was rejected and overthrown by Israel’s desire to be ruled by a king and a system of government that was diametrically opposed to the divine civil and legal order of Jehovah.
Israel rejected God’s declaration of His holiness, His covenant oath to them, and their oath to Him. God’s covenant agreement was an informed agreement, pact or contract with Israel, based upon their voluntary consent. It was an agreement established by God (a higher authority), with certain stipulations of divine law attached to it. These stipulations were sanctions of two kinds: curses for disobedience and blessings for obedience. It was generational in scope. If obeyed, the blessings would continue throughout their generations; but if disobeyed, the nation would be destroyed.
Divine covenants are important because they shape the worldview and perspectives of the parties involved, and because they sustain those divine ends whereby they cannot be altered without divine sanctions.
Elazar confirms this:
As a source of political ideology, covenant shapes the world views … of whole societies, defining their civil character and political relationships, and serving as a touchstone for testing the legitimacy and often even the efficiency of their political institutions and those who must make them work.3
Covenanting is a security measure, especially when it comes to political ideology, structure, and expression. As a result of the sinful rejection of God and His laws, Israel’s culture would now be structured according to the apostate system of government under a king who was like the pagan kings in their totalitarian rule.
Covenants are expressions of relationships. By violating their covenant with God, Israel severed the relationship between themselves and God, their Saviour, Lord, and Protector. Once they rejected God, they were on their own, and under the frowning providence and active judgment of the Almighty.
Elazar again notes that God’s original covenant with Israel actually established the Hebrew people, and founded them as a body politic, while at the same time creating a religious framework that gave that polity its reason, norms, and constitution. It also gave them particular guidelines, i.e., laws, for the development of a political order based upon justice and equity, all of which were based upon a covenantal relationship.
God’s covenant established Israel’s moral commitment to one another and to God. It was a binding law. All this Israel rejected. Even after they had been warned time and time again, they continued in their rejection of the counsel of God.
The result was tyrannical rule under a totalitarian statist government, brought about by the direct intervention of God according to His declared judgment for rebellion. Israel was seeking a political platform that would free them from the covenantal obligations of God’s law. They wanted to decide for themselves right and wrong according to arbitrary human standards and thus sought independence from God’s law and from God’s blessings.
What they said in effect was, “We the people of Israel will decide how we will be governed.” And they did this by seeking a legislator-king outside of the parameters God gave. They traded God for Saul, a terrible mistake.
Israel’s rebellious cunning quickly backfired and they became slaves once again. Samuel told the people what the results of their choice of a human king would be in 1 Samuel 8: 11–18. Even with this warning the people were seared in their conscience, and desired to live under the yoke of an oppressive statist system. As long as they could be like every other nation, and compete in the global arena, and do it the way they saw fit, they would be satisfied. Or so it seemed.
The Parallels Are Astounding
Like Israel, Americans desire a president, or a political party, structured after those of the nations of the world. When non-Christian rulers are placed into power they enter into office with their own ethical standards, epistemological starting point, economic ideologies and worldviews, structured according to humanistic ideas, and refuse to follow God’s ethical standards for a community, state, or nation.
As author Buddy Hanson states, “Any other view of civil government other than [God’s] view, will result in the citizens [including lawmakers who are elected from the citizenry] becoming a law unto themselves.”
During the Reformation the idea of national covenanting was rejuvenated. It was the Reformation that inspired the Puritans, Covenanters, and early American colonists to consider returning to the God of their fathers, so as to construct a body politic obedient to the law of God and His infallible Word. As a result, Biblical covenanting re-emerged as a central theme in political theology, political philosophy, and political practice.
Men like Theodore Beza and the German-born Calvinist Johannes Althusius were among the finest of juridical scholars. Althusius systematized Calvinistic teachings and stated:
[A] republic is formed by a covenant between the rulers and the people before God, that the foundation of this covenant is the Law of God … that the Decalogue is the best expression of this higher law, that the church and state are separate in form, but joined in function, that families, churches, and states alike, must protect the rights and liberties of the people, and that violations of these rights and liberties, or of the divine and natural rights that inform and empower them, are instances of tyranny that must trigger organized constitutional resistance.4
The Reformation called men to both an outer and an inner reformation wherein they would be conformed outwardly and inwardly to the Word of God. This reformation concerned every area and institution of life, especially in the realm of government, since tyranny would be violently hostile to the preaching of the gospel and the health of the Christian cause.
Beza insisted that tyrants were rulers who violated the terms of the political covenant.
John Witte notes:
For Beza, tyrants were rulers who violated the terms of the political covenant—particularly its foundational requirements, that all must honor the rights of God to be worshipped, and the rights of God’s people to discharge their duties of the faith, in conformity with God’s Law.5
It was Beza, more so than Calvin, who advanced the doctrine of interposition whereby the lesser magistrates could resist and overthrow, if necessary, the tyrant. According to Beza, if the ruler exceeded his authority in violation of the political covenant, the people, through their representatives, had both the right and the duty to resist him as a tyrant. It was this doctrine of interposition (or the doctrine of the lesser magistrate) that was invoked by the American Puritan colonists during the late 1700s, sparking the American War for Independence.
During the years of the Reformation, John Calvin admonished the people of Geneva with a stern warning, “And ye, o peoples to whom God gave the liberty to choose your own magistrates, see to it that ye do not forfeit this favor by electing to the positions of highest honor, rascals and enemies of God.”6
This warning could have easily been given to the twenty-first-century evangelical Christian community. But where there has been warning, it has mostly fallen on deaf ears. Today, we see very little real outcry from any quarter as to the apostasy of our civil magistracy, and almost no outrage.
Why Is the Community of the Church So Complacent?
The visible church has lost the vision of what it means to be at liberty under God. Not only has the church lost the vision, she has become like Israel desiring a king (or a political party) to rule over her like the other nations. Rather than rebuking and abstaining from the workers of iniquity, many Christians run to them for safety and the hope of prosperity. But America’s true hope is neither in any king nor in any political party. Moreover it is not in politics per se.
Many in Christendom have testified that they want to reform the nation and bring it back to the morality of Scripture. An abundance of words are spoken, but little real action is implemented. However if and when action is finally implemented, it is with the hope that Christ will emerge and rapture the church from the evils of the world supernaturally. This two-kingdom heresy has stifled the church to the point of her being culturally irrelevant in many areas of society.
There are far too many professing Christians still eating at Jezebel’s statist table, wiping their mouths and saying that they have done no evil. Too many saints have bought into the lie that the government is here to help and to provide for cradle-to-grave assurances. American Christians have yoked themselves with the beast of statism.
Like Israel they desire Saul.
The community of Christendom has forged an unholy alliance with God’s enemies, thinking that appeasing the oppressor will insure survival, not realizing that appeasement of the beast only stirs its wrath. American Christians seem to think that if they act according to the liking of the “beast,” believing its lies, getting involved with its programs, and refraining from antagonizing it, the “beast” will spare them. It will not. In the end it will destroy them in the same way it destroys the ungodly. It is the nature of man, when given any kind of political power, to enslave, impoverish, humiliate and eventually kill the very people he has sworn to protect. In doing so, he kills himself along with the people of his charge.
Buddy Hanson has a keen eye for the problem:
It is said that it’s hard to read the label from the inside of the jar, but that is exactly where we are in the early years of the 21st century. The cultural jar into which we have allowed ourselves to be placed, and confined, is a result of a century and a half of preferring the world’s ways to God’s. This has so influenced the way we look at life, that when we decide to “do something” about our culture, we act according to non-Christian tactics—and don’t even realize that we are doing so.7
In other words, trying to change the culture by acting according to the dictates of the culture, and re-establishing the position of godless rulers, avails nothing, and exacerbates the problem, bringing the wrath of God down upon us more ferociously.
He continues, “What is not understood is that by acting naturally, we are guaranteeing that the non-Christian agenda will continue to influence the culture.”8
The answer to our political, economic, militaristic, and cultural problems is not whether the Republicans or the Democrats gain control over the government. Our problems will only be remedied when God’s people stop making excuses for their acquiescence to wickedness and tyranny, and devote themselves to an expressly Christian world and life view that seeks to advance the crown rights of Christ and not the kingdom of man.
As long as our approach is godless, we will continue to lose ground. As long as we continue to think like the world we will be snared and enslaved by the world. As long as we continue to forge alliances with the wicked of the world, we will lose God’s support and His holy justice will fall upon our family or nation and us as individuals.
Christians must once again decide between Christ or Caesar; between God and Baal; between the Table of the Lord or the table of idols; between being bond servants under God’s law, or being slaves of sin, the lusts of the flesh, serving corrupters and the promoters of wickedness.
We stand at a crossroads. Will we Christians continue to be led like sheep to the slaughter, or will we be men of faith and resolve, relying upon God alone for our every blessing?
The future of Christendom and our coming generations depend upon our answer. While we may not avoid the destruction of our present culture, we still may avoid the comprehensive totality of God’s wrath upon ourselves. May God have mercy upon our godless nation.
Rev. Paul Michael Raymond is the pastor of the Reformed Bible Church in Appomattox, VA, and founder of the Institute for Theonomic Reformation (www.hisglory.us) and New Geneva Leadership Academy (www.newgeneva.us).
1. R. J. Rushdoony, Salvation and Godly Rule (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2004), 19.
2. Daniel J. Elazar, Covenant in Polity in Biblical Israel, Vol. 1 (n.p.: Transaction Publishers, 1995), 20.
3. Ibid., 20–21.
4. John Witte, Jr., The Reformation of Rights (United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 9.
5. Ibid., 7.
6. John Calvin, Commentary on Samuel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981).
7. Buddy Hanson, The Christian Prince (Montgomery, AL: The Hanson Group Publishing, 2007), 5.
8. Ibid., 6.