Summary from the 8s: observations from ancient Israel’s history

The Weather Channel™ has its local weather forecast “on the 8s,” occurring every ten minutes, starting with 8 minutes after the hour.  Those are usually pretty good summaries of local weather (as I recall . . . we haven’t cable or any other such TV service for more than three years).

In paying recent attention to chapter 8 of Judges and chapter 8 of 1Samuel, I’ve observed substantial historical weight.  Here in these chapter 8s, we seem to find pretty good summaries of negative aspects of historical Israel.

Judges 8
After the account of Gideon’s unusual army and a resounding defeat of the Midianites,

The men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of the Midianite. . . .”  But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you . . . the Lord shall rule over you.”

Aspects of the leader (and some of his actions) and not appropriate for emulation today, but oh, for Gideon’s spiritual acuity and his devotion to God’s sovereignty.  His insight stands in contrast to the people’s desires.  Those desires, unfortunately, are to progress with time. . . .

1Samuel 8
This chapter 8 begins with this event:

When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel.

In making that appointment, perhaps Samuel felt he was acting according to established pattern¹ (see Eli, 1Samuel chapter 2), but his poor judgment led to the people’s distrust of the system of judges—and to their desire for a progression to something new.  With hindsight, I wonder why Samuel, who was clearly sanctioned and blessed by Yahweh throughout the narrative (see 1Sam 3:19-21, to start), didn’t also call to mind a striking double-negative in Israel’s recent history:  (1) his predecessor Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas had been killed when (2) the ark of God was taken by the Philistines.  If Samuel had been superstitious, he might have been afraid to install his sons as priests.

And the story continues:

Yet his sons did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.  Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations.”  But the thing displeased Samuel. . . .

And it should have displeased Samuel.  But the Lord told Samuel to listen anyway, because the people were not rejecting Samuel, after all; they were rejecting God Himself (1Samuel 8:9).

God told Samuel to warn the people what would happen.  And warn them he did:

[The king you want] will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots . . . and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and fifties . . . and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. . . .

This king-like-other-nations’-kings would . . . well, he would be like all the other kings!  He would conscript, and he would tax, and he would build up the “empire”—his own royal reign.  According to the ancient text preserved in this chapter 8, Samuel concluded his warning with the dire prediction that the people would bemoan the resulting situation, crying out because of this king they had chosen for themselves.  We ought to note who is doing the choosing—and for whom.  And the most terrible thing of all?

. . . the Lord will not answer you in that day.

But the people persisted:

No!  But we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

And the Lord made it happen.  And the Lord knew what was going to happen.  I’d say there is a rather solid prediction in chapter 8, and it’s not about fair weather.

Other 8s
Now . . . maybe it was boredom, but I became curious about the chapter 8 thing and started to look other chapter 8s in the Hebrew Bible.  Starting with Genesis . . . .

Genesis 8:  At the outset of this chapter, it is reported that “God remembered Noah” after the flood—or, as the New Jerusalem Bible has it, God “had Noah in mind.”  The covenantal aspect of God might be said to begin here.

Leviticus 8:  Here we find the ceremonial “setting apart” of Aaron and his sons in a “priestly” class—and an atonement ceremony that involved Aaron, his sons, and Moses the deliverer, too.  I haven’t thought previously about possible leadership connections (for lack of a better term) between Israel’s priests, judges, and kings.  I don’t know that there is any dark light shed on the Aaronic priesthood at the outset, but it is curious to me that God set in this role the family of the man who had overseen the making of the golden calf.

Deuteronomy 8:  Here, too, is a major section about the covenant between God and His people.

Joshua 8:  The destruction of Ai is founded on the “word of the Lord” . . . see 8:8:  God makes a point of saying “I have commanded you.”  It is God’s doing.

I’m not thoroughly familiar with the storyline of Joshua, but I have the general impression that things began to deteriorate after his death.  If the people, in the eras of the Judges and Kings, had had both the faith and perspective of Joshua, perhaps redemptive history would have played out differently.  I can conceive of an entirely different, 1000-year historical progression in which the scenario would not have included kings at all . . . and perhaps the mission of the Redeemer Christ would have looked a bit different when He came, as well.

Postlude on the 8s
Back to documented events and observation over hypothesis.  Two realities seem clear:

  1. Judges 8:  The record of the time of the Judges starkly shows Israel’s faithlessness and lack of loyalty.
  2. 1Samuel 8:  The origin of Israel’s Kings reveals the beginning of what became a progressively bad scenario:  God’s people were looking (a) less to God and (b) more to humans as their leaders.  Having essentially forgotten the Exodus with its Red Sea, the cloud-by-day and fire-by-night, the manna and quail, and the initial conquests, the people wanted a human king.  And God conceded.²

I present the following as a pretty good summary of an underlying concept in at least those two chapter 8s:

God has always been the sovereign ruler of His people.  When His people reject Him in one way or another, it is not pleasing to Him.  Since the beginning of Israel’s “kings” era, the people’s loyalties were divided, and as a result, things proceeded differently.

God will always be sovereign, but not always in the way the people expect or desire.

¹ A cynical view might query whether Samuel felt entitled, based on political clout, to pass on his exalted standing to his descendants.

² Not at all incidentally, I see God’s response as an open concession, not approval or pleasure.  Tomorrow’s follow-up will append a brief expansion on this point.

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