A Handful of Kings

Political engagement in a broken world

Everything points to Jesus. It’s one of the first rules of biblical studies, everything points to Jesus. When you’re knee deep in the history of the kings of Israel and Judah, however, that can be harder to see than at other times.

It can seem like an endless roll call of ne’er-do-wells with only the occasional bright light. A long list of men—with names that seem at times confusingly similar, and mainly begin with the letter J—who all too often ‘did what was evil in the sight of the Lord’.

I believe, however, that the histories recorded in the bible speak not only of who Jesus is, but also of how we should engage with politics in a broken and fractured world.

A brief history of Israel and her kings…

Ancient Israel was not always a monarchy, for hundreds of years it was led by judges who were inspired by God to deliver them from oppression and restore His justice when they had wandered away. After the time of Samuel, however, the people demanded a king.

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 judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
– 1 Samuel 8:4-7 (ESV)

The reason they gave for their request was that Samuel’s sons were not as godly as him and so unfit to be judges, yet we see that at the heart of their request was the thought of being like the other nations. They believed they could do better on their own, with an earthly king, in control of their own fates.

And so God granted their request. First came Saul, and then David, and then a succession of kings after them. The people put their hope in men and found themselves constantly let down. Just as the law couldn’t fix their hearts, so human kings couldn’t fix their nation.

As we read through the book of Kings we see a litany of men who failed as leaders. Most of them did evil in the eyes of the Lord but even those that did good, even the best of human leaders, like Jehoshaphat or Joash, were not good enough; none could fulfil the hope and promise of Israel.

Jesus is a new and better hope…

Anything that we put our hope in that is not Christ Himself eventually lets us down, but what the kings of Israel and Judah did is create in the people a hope for a greater king to come. By the 8th century BC when Isaiah is prophesying, the people hope for God Himself to become their king again.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
– Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)

The great kings showed that even the best efforts of good men could not bring about real righteousness, and the bad kings—well, they showed in dramatic fashion the effects of putting our hopes in anything other than God. As Richard J. Mouw writes:

“After a long series of political disillusionments, God’s people began to nourish a political hope that could only be properly satisfied by God himself, by a ruler who is not only the Wonderful Counselor and the Prince of Peace, but is also the Mighty God and Everlasting Father.”
– Richard J. Mouw, When the Kings Come Marching in

The whole of the Old Testament, the law and the judges, the kings and the prophets, all combine to show the people that their needs can only be met by Jesus. Only in God becoming King can the desire for justice and the hope for the fulfillment of God’s promises come true.

When we read the book of Kings we see the truth of the proverb that hope deferred makes the heart grow sick, but we also see that the answer is to put our hope into something greater.

What are the implications for us today?

In the political turmoil that seems to be filling so many nations at the moment, let’s remember that our ultimate hope is not in the politicians of our day but in Jesus Christ. If we look to them for our hope then, good or bad, they’ll never fulfil it.

Our ultimate hope is not in the politicians of our day but in Jesus Christ.

If we think that Trump, or May, or Clinton, or Corbyn, is the answer to humanity’s needs then when all of our hopes do not come true; we’ll blame them and find it far harder to fulfil our biblical mandate to pray for and honour them.

But if our supreme hope is in Christ and Him alone, then we can engage with the political process in a far better way: We can vote in a considered and conscientious way without placing our ultimate hope in human institutions, we can allow our faith to influence our politics, but we can also protect our faith from the failings of our political world.

We can engage with our communities knowing that we represent the one who can bring real and lasting change. Whoever is governing our country we can submit to the rule of law, pray for them, and get on with partnering with the true King in His great aim; making all things new.

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