As Christians, we claim to have one Lord and Master, one Heavenly King. But is it possible that we betray that allegiance when we seek earthly powers to govern us? As Americans, we're told that our vote matters. Politicians from all sides appeal to the Christians in this land by promising to represent our values. We want a leader who will protect us, serve us, and let's face it, agree with us. Just like the people of Israel who first cried for a king, we want a ruler 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." (1 Sam. 8:20) Be careful what you wish for!
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Fr. Dustin Lyon joins me again today. He's a regular contributor on the Doulos podcast. He's the host and producer of The Way podcast also on the Ephesus school network. So welcome back, Fr. Dustin, so glad to be talking with you this morning.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 0:37
Yes, thanks for having me here again. Good to be here.
Hollie Benton 0:39
So as Christians, we claim to have one Lord and Master, one Heavenly King. But is it possible that we betray that allegiance when we seek earthly powers to govern us? As Americans, we're told that our vote matters. Politicians appeal to the Christians in this land by promising to represent our Christian rights, and to fight our non-Christian oppressors. Even in our workplaces, our companies, or schools or churches, whenever there's a vacancy in leadership, even when they are Christian organizations, a vacancy in leadership creates a sense of uneasiness. And we want to find a leader who will protect us, serve us, and let's face it, agree with us, and lead us in a way that makes us feel good about who we are and what we're doing. So just like the people of Israel who first cried for a king, we want 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." So for starters, Fr. Dustin, have we come a long way in American democracy in seeking an elected president over us rather than an ordained King?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 1:55
Well, I'm not so sure. Yes, it's different, but I don't know that it's necessarily better and it's definitely not scriptural.
Hollie Benton 2:03
So it's not scriptural. So what does the Scripture say? Let's look at I Samuel chapter eight, the passage in which Israel rejects its judges and seeks a king. But before we hear it, Fr. Dustin, could you help contextualize this passage? By this point in the Old Testament the people have been first introduced to the stories of the patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then the Lord delivers his people out of the hand of Egypt, and provides his commandments through Moses, and then also establishes the Levitical priestly line through his brother Aaron. And then it is the time of the Judges, which comes immediately before the historical books of I and II Samuel and I and II Kings. So specifically, how does a judge differ from a king?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 2:52
Yes, so we're at this point in the story, the Israelites have been freed from Pharaoh, they're entering the promised land. And right before they enter the Promised Land, Moses sets them all down and says, Let me rehash the law, the second law, this is what we call Deuteronomy. And he basically says, if you follow God's law, then you'll have life, all these good things will happen to you. If you don't follow God's law, here are the curses, here are the bad things that will happen to you. And the idea here is that as the Israelites are entering into the promised land, they have no king, except God, God is their king. And he's given them the rules, the instruction for life, how they should behave, how to live their lives. But as you know, problems arise. There are people in the Promised Land that are hostile to the Israelites. There's a particular pattern that they follow through. So the Israelites typically become unfaithful to God's instructions to his laws, those things that were given to them by Moses. So as punishment, God delivers them to their enemies, ultimately, they end up in exile in Babylon. But before that, before they had a King and all of this, they were given over to their enemies as a punishment. And they had been forewarned, Moses had said, If you don't follow God's instruction, these sorts of things would happen. It's not like God's punishing them to be mean, God's doing what he said he would do when they disobeyed. Well, the people end up realizing that they've disobeyed God, and they've messed up and so they end up repenting. So at this point, God sends a champion then to rescue the Israelites and bring them back as a people. And so this champion is what we call a judge. It's one of those heroes that kind of rescues the people of Israel on God's behalf. So it's not a king, they're only brought into power or brought up as a champion at times of need, as I said, and the cycle repeats itself several times. So for those who are listening, you probably have heard of some of the judges: Othniel, Ehud, Deborah Gideon Jeptha, and of course, the most famous one is Samson. These are the judges that we are familiar with, the ones that we hear about. Now, the difference between them and a king is that these judges are not appointed judges at birth, and neither did their offspring become judges. It's someone that God raises up at a particular time of need. As I said, the Israelites had usually fallen into despair. They've disobeyed God, God's delivered them to enemies, they've repented, and now they need someone to rescue them. A king, on the other hand, is someone who is a king for life. And these kings aren't necessarily appointed by God, a king is hereditary. So it goes on to the next son and the son after that, and so on. In Hebrew, a king is malak. That's the word for King. And this word has a sense that we don't get in English, it can also mean like the chief owner. And so a king owns not only his kingdom, but he owns all the land and all the people belong to him, there's a sense of ownership. This becomes the problem with the king. A king, a person, doesn't own land, he doesn't own the people, that only belongs to God. So there's a conflict of interest here between God as King versus a human king. And so scripture prefers this judge, someone that's appointed by God only at times of need, rather than a king, who usurps God's power, and that becomes the problem.
Hollie Benton 6:34
Right, thank you, Fr. Dustin, for that explanation, providing some context here for what we'll now hear in I Samuel 8. "But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to govern us. And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, hearken to the voice of the people and all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them, according to all the deeds which they have done to me from the day I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, hearken to their voice. Only you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them. So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking a king from him. He said, These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you, he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots, and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands, and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards, and give it to his officers into his servants. He will take your men servants and maid servants and the best of your cattle and your asses and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day, you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves. But the Lord will not answer you in that day. But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel. And they said, No, but we will have a king over us that we will also be like all the nations and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles. And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken to their voice and make them a king." So, oh boy, this doesn't look good. I know, when a parent or a boss has approached my rebellion with a strategy of, Fine, have it your way, it doesn't really turn out well. Not only am I taught a valuable lesson about what I should have done in taking their advice in the first place, but I get a good dose of humble pie. The Lord's strategy is to give the people what they asked for and to teach them the folly of their ways.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 9:18
Yep, that's exactly what's happening here. The people come to Samuel and they say, look at all these nations around us. They have kings, we want a king too. They're playing "let's keep up with the Joneses."
Hollie Benton 9:28
Fr. Dustin Lyon 9:29
It's exactly what they're doing. And they say, We think we prefer a king because maybe if we have a king, we won't have to listen to everything that God wants us to do. This king, he'll take care of us. Samuel comes in. He says, Well, no, that's not the way this works. Because this king won't be thinking about you. He won't be thinking about what's best for you. Instead, all he's going to think about is what he wants. He's going to be your master and you will end up being his slaves. That's exactly what he says right there in verse 17, "He will take a tenth of your flocks and you shall be his slaves." And that's exactly what Samuel is warning them of. You're trading God for a king, and this is going to become a problem. God responds and says, Well, we'll see how this works out for them. We know the rest of the story, they end up exiled in Babylon because of the king's sins. All you need to do is read Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel or one of the Minor Prophets to see how the kings treated the people. And it's exactly what Samuel said, he makes them their slaves. In fact, it's very interesting, the word for temple in Hebrew is the exact same word for Palace. It's the same word. And we know archaeologically in Jerusalem, you had the Jerusalem temple that ended up being built by the king. The temple itself becomes a problem because it's not a movable tabernacle that can go with the people. Because remember that the tabernacle always represented God's presence among the people. But anyway, so you had the temple in Jerusalem, then what happens is the king ends up building his palace right next to the temple, and he built it bigger than the temple. In Hebrew, it's a double smack, because the word for temple and palace are the same. So in other words, you have God's temple. And right next to it is the king's temple, which is bigger and fancier and nicer. I think if you want an image of the problem, that's it right there. But God says, Well, if that's really what they want, we'll see how that works out for them. In other words, he's being fatherly, letting them learn a lesson for their own good. I know a story that was told to me when I was in seminary, it's like, there's a kid who always wants to touch the stove. You know, as a parent, you say, don't touch a stove, that's hot, you're not giving them an instruction to make them mad, or to hurt them or to be mean, you know, like, "Don't touch the stove!" That's not what it's about. You tell them not to touch the stove, because you don't want them to burn their fingers. You don't want them hurt. And it's finally at some point saying, Well, okay, fine, touch your stove, we'll see how that turns out. And we all know, as soon as the kid touches the hot stove, they're going to burn their finger, and they're going to start crying and then they'll have a blister. So this is exactly what God's doing. He's saying, Well, okay, well, let them have the king. They've been warned. And we'll see what happens. As I said, we know the rest of the story, it turns out very poorly for them. You know, the same thing happens even in a democracy, you asked about if we're more advanced because we have a democracy rather than a kingdom? Well, I don't know. You look at government figures. And you think, Okay, we have a government that's supposed to serve the people, you know, serve the people, by the people, all those sorts of things. We have this government, and that's supposed to help the people, build roads, protect us, you know, health care, keep us healthy, you know, look after us, all those sorts of things. And of course, we all know that politicians get greedy and they start cheating. We also know during this pandemic, I think we've all seen the news stories of politicians putting mandates in place to protect the public, like masks and social distancing, or limiting public activities. But then they turn around and have their own private parties and do their own thing as if they're above the law. In other words, politicians think they're the masters and we're the slaves. I mean, they may be elected, but they still think as if they're a king. And so I don't think it's that different than what's happening now. Whether you're thinking of an actual King, like David or Saul, or Solomon, or Queen Elizabeth in England, versus an elected government. Humans are humans, and we all fall to temptation and things go to our heads, and we forget about God and we end up enslaving people around us. And this is precisely why we need God as the King, because His commandments aren't about egos, and they aren't about puffing people up. His laws are unto life, rather than enslavement. That's the whole point that Samuel is trying to make. When we're leading, our leadership always needs to remember that we're not in charge. We're not the ultimate King. It's God. We're trying to follow his instructions, rather than stuff that pleases us.
Hollie Benton 13:57
Right. I really wonder what it would look like if Christians were to step out of the political arena, so to speak, and just really focus on obedience to the commandments of the Lord, rather than canvassing and campaigning and trying to get their Christian representative elected. What would that look like if we really were interested in submitting and serving uno the Lord? And even if we do have people appointed over us or elected or ordained above us, why is it so difficult to submit? Why do we always have to keep rebelling and fighting those in authority above us? What would it look like if we actually took seriously having one Lord and Master over us? Jesus Christ?
Fr. Dustin Lyon 14:46
Yeah, that's a very interesting question. What would happen if all Christians pulled out of politics? My first thought is it would look something like the early Christians in the book of Acts, you kind of see these communities coming together to help each other. It's very interesting, as you read through the New Testament, especially the Gospels, we have all these terms that we call Jesus. We call him the Son of God, we call him Savior. And we don't think much of it, we think of these terms as religious terms. But instead, these terms are actually political terms. The Roman Empire had gone through essentially three different civil wars back to back, starting with the murder of Julius Caesar, and then Mark Anthony and Augustus. And in the end, Octavian who later becomes Augustus Caesar. Augustus by the way means one who's worthy of worship, right? So Augustus comes out on top at the end of these civil wars, and by his military might, he's able to enforce peace in the Roman Empire. And this is known as the Pax Romana, Roman peace, right?
Hollie Benton 15:47
And fairly ironic by the force of might, he's able to enforce peace.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 15:51
Yep, he does it through military. What ends up happening is because there's no peace in the empire, and you can't blame the people, if they've been through these three civil wars, war is never fun. He becomes exalted. And so they give Augustus these titles, not only Augustus, but also Son of God, and Savior. Those are the titles that belong to Octavian or Caesar Augustus. And so when the early Christians come around, and they start using these terms for Jesus, it was a stab at Rome. They were saying, he's not the one in charge. He's not the Savior. He's not the Son of God. This humble carpenter who dies on a cross naked outside the walls of the city, this one is the real Savior, this one is the Son of God. So they are challenging Rome's power directly by the titles they use for Jesus. It would be like saying today, if Jesus had come in 21st century America saying, He's the president of the United States, you know, he's the Commander in Chief, you know, those titles that we give to Joe Biden, right now, as President, if we were to give those titles now to Jesus. That's what it would sound like in those first century ears. The first Christians weren't interested in getting into politics, in order to change the Roman Empire, they weren't interested in that, you know, becoming senators and making laws, or becoming Caesar. And, in fact, later in the fourth century, when Constantine - it's usually said, like, he's the first Christian emperor - well, he uses Christianity to his advantage, he uses it as a political way, in order to try to bring peace to the Empire. You know, you can debate whether him being Christian was a good thing or a bad thing at the time. But for those early Christians, what they're more interested in, is just living their lives based on the commandments of God. So ultimately, this breaks down to loving God and loving neighbor, right? And so they formed these communities of support to help each other out. They weren't interested in politics and changing the world that way. They were undermining Roman power in a different way. Even though they were an occupied territory, they were determined to love that soldier who was occupying their territory. Despite that soldier being there, you know, as Jesus says, they turn the other cheek, they would give the shirt if the soldier took their coat. So this is a very different impact in the world. It's like change through love, rather than change through political power. And I think that's a very important distinction, change through love. We see this now. You saw churches, like in the Great Depression, this is what happened in a previous community I served, the Great Depression happens, there are all these people who are out on the street, they don't have food, they don't have homes. And so the churches of the community got together, and they built what is now known as the rescue mission. And it's the soup kitchen and homeless shelter in town, and the churches ran it. And they just, they didn't go through politics, they didn't try to get city money. They didn't try to, you know, say, hey, we need to do this. They just got together and they did it. They bought a building downtown. And they started providing food and housing to those that needed it. And they just moved forward. And they did what they're called to do. And so you see these sorts of things happening. Usually food banks right now, I've seen a lot of churches respond by creating food banks, or warming shelters, when it's cold out, these sorts of things. It's just the community responding to the needs around them by loving their neighbor. Rather than saying, Well, I'm going to go door to door and get votes and raise money, and then I can change things by making laws. That's not the way God intended things to work, we should just be responding out of love to our neighbor, and not looking for that extra tip on the side because someone wants us to vote their way,
Hollie Benton 19:23
Right. Imagine that! A world filled with love and obedience to God's commandments and what a world we would have if we actually took seriously what we espouse to believe.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 19:35
It would be life changing, world changing! You know, we can change the world and affect our own communities, our own ways. God calls us to be obedient. And so whether we're able to change the world or not, we still have that obedience that we're called to, to love our neighbor. The rest is in God's hands because he's the King.
Hollie Benton 19:53
That's right. Thank you, Fr. Dustin, for this great interview today.
Fr. Dustin Lyon 19:57
Of course. Thank you for having me.
Hollie Benton 19:59
Transcribed by https://otter.ai