Old Testament books, Deuteronomy, Samuel and Kings, establishing a monarchy for Israel and Judah proved somewhat problematic. This was due both to the divinity of God and the inevitable humanity that would be part of a human king. Throughout the historical books of the Old Testament God repeatedly states that he is a jealous God, tolerating no others. Kingship then might be seen as an attempt to usurp the power of God, or indeed to detract from worshiping God as the nation's ultimate leader. Furthermore a monarchy is a pagan idea that has penetrated Israel from the foreign nations they have been in contact with through battle. This of course connects further negativity with the idea of a king for God's people. The demand of a king is thus in effect the rejection of God as ruler over Israel and Judah. An issue closely related to this is the problem of obedience. Israel and Judah have proved themselves to be frequently disobedient to the commandments of God. The books of Deuteronomy, Samuel and Kings then also prove that this disobedience takes a particularly problematic slant.
The obedience and disobedience of the nation is expressed by means of the nation as a single entity in the book of Deuteronomy. This book is also the link between the history related in Genesis and Exodus, and the events in the Promised Land related in later books. This is where the nation of Israel receives the laws ordained for the nation as a whole. The emphasis is also on communal life and worship, and there is no barrier between God and his people, except the sin committed by the nation as a whole.
In Samuel and Kings, the theme of disobedience is explored by means of the individual kings, as they are the leaders and the bearers of the collective consciousness of Israel. Thus the story of Israel and Judah has become the story of each individual king and the extent to which he was obedient or disobedient to God. The figure of the king thus stands as mediator or in some cases a barrier between God and the people, whereas the prophets work with the kings instead of directly with the people. The king then acted as representatives of their people, and the sin of the king became the sin of Israel. This is the difficulty foreseen by God and his prophets when Israel began to demand a king. Deuteronomy however focused on the ideal Israel and Judah, with God as their only king and their supreme leader.
Deuteronomy is the collection of the discourses of Moses before his death, just as Israel is about to enter Canaan, the Promised Land. The focus of the book is to provide Israel and Judah with a national identity as the people of God. They are set apart from other people by being a monotheistic nation, and by the Covenant that God has made with them. This Covenant and national identity are the basis for God's call to obedience from his people. The Covenant entails that God will reward his people with victory over foreign nations. The book thus expounds the past glory, present anticipation and future ideal of the nation as a collective community.
Moses thus begins his discourse with a summary of past encounters with God, and an appeal towards faithfulness. It is notable that each depiction of past events is accompanied by an exhortation to be faithful and obedient to God. The past is thus used to show the faithfulness of God to his people, and to form a basis of Israel's obedience.
Moses' second discourse moves to an explanation of the Ten Words, or Commandments, and the possible temptations that might be forthcoming from contact with other nations. Here national obedience centers around remaining pure in terms of race and religion. This entails that other nations have different religions and communal habits from Israel and Judah. These would be damaging to the nation in that they would detract from the purpose of Israel to honor and worship God.
Israel and Judah do not only have a responsibility to God, but also to each other in that they are a community of people who are to exhort and encourage each other in worship and obedience to God. The third discourse then is a continuation of this, a reminder of the Covenant, and further instructions for faithfulness. A warning against disobedience and its consequences is included in this section of the book. This emphasizes the fact that the people of Israel tend to be disobedient on occasion.
Deuteronomy is thus the link between the grace of God proved on numerous occasions in the past, and the future hopes of the nation of Israel. These future hopes are however shattered by numerous occasions of disobedience once they are settled in Canaan. Indeed, this disobedience manifests itself not only in the actions of Israel and Judah, but also in their demands for a king. The misgivings of the prophets and leaders of the nation, and the resistance of God to the idea of a king stems from complications in the disobedience issue, and also from the fact that the idea of a king is inspired by the kings of the foreign nations that are, according to theological instruction, to be avoided.
Deuteronomy then emphasizes that there is a direct relationship between God and his people. It is thus a cultural rather than a legal document in terms of for example Leviticus. The true and living God has manifest himself to Israel as compassionate and caring. There is thus an emotional aspect in the book that is absent from the more formal books such as Numbers and other law-oriented books. Instead Deuteronomy is focused on God and his Covenant with Israel and Judah. The book thus presents a moment between events: Israel is about to enter their new life in a new land, and God has brought them so far by providing miracles as a result of which the people are expected to be obedient. Obedience is however not the only important point, as God also desires a loving relationship with his people. Obedience is then the catalyst for the love of God and also the manifestation of the loyalty related to this love. As a manifestation of love then, obedience provides Israel and Judah with blessing and life, while disobedience results in the opposite of this: curses and death
. God however further displays his mercy by leading the people into the land, despite repeated evidence of their disobedience.
Deuteronomy was then the primary criterion by which the people of Israel and Judah judged themselves. It is therefore the perfect balance between the law and the emotion of the religion to which Israel adhered at the time.
Samuel: the call for a king
The need for a king for Israel and Judah is an ambivalent issue. The assumption by the prophets and presumably by God is that this is a rejection of God's kingship for his nation. Indeed, this is something that is seen as a pagan paradigm. Other nations have a multiplicity of gods, and they also have kings. Thus this is one of the "bad" habits that should have been avoided by Israel.
On the other hand, Israel did need a king from both a pragmatic and a political point-of-view. In the book of Joshua, Israel is obedient, but once the one central leader is taken away, the nation falters. Everybody did what appeared right to him or her individually, and there was no central rule of law. The Israelites thus perceived, and perhaps not wrongly, that they needed a king in order to reestablish the central rulership. A monarchy is therefore seen as the solution to Israel's moral decay. Yet the prophet Samuel does not see matters in this way.
The monarchy, according to Samuel, is a choice. When Israel chooses a monarchy, the nation does so in rejection of God and his supreme power. The people also do so to their own detriment. A monarchy is thus not as much as a solution to moral decay, but rather corruption in terms of religion and the personal relationship established with God in Deuteronomy. The people choose against God and for a mortal king. For Samuel this choice is non-ambivalent and clearly delineated as a choice between God and a human being.
The religious problem with having a mortal king is the fact that an individual now intrudes upon the relationship that God has established with his people. The king is no longer flawless. Being flawed then, the king as representative of the people would make mistakes and disobey God. The moral state of the entire nation would then be dependent upon the moral state of the single, flawed king. This is a system that time and again proves detrimental to the relationship that God wished to establish with Israel
The theme of Samuel is then the establishment of the monarchy…