Wednesday, March 30, 2011

1 Samuel 12: God's rule or man's rule?

1 Sam 12:22-24 "For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you."

Today's scripture talks about failures and regrets: the Israelites wanted to be like the other nations who had kings. So they rejected the loose theocratic confederacy of tribes under the Lord's rule through ad-hoc Spirit-anointed judges in favour of a monarchy with a single human king. When Samuel told them what the Lord said to him, that in asking for a human king (monarchy-rule by man) they are in fact rejecting Him (theocracy-rule by God). And in rejecting God's direct rule, they would have to live with the consequences of living as a people under the monarchic government. The negative consequences are not God's punishments but built-in weaknesses of the monarchy which looked so attractive and "modern" from the outside. The monarchy needed to be supported by taxation, military conscription and acquisition of people's children and lands to service the king and his entourage.

Compared to the tight control of monarchy where God's right to rule can be usurped by an evil king, the loose confederacy of nations under the direct rule of God through his judges allow more room for each tribe to exercise their freedom of choice within the boundary of God's laws. The "weakness" of the confederacy of tribes was its inability to maintain a standing army to protect Israel from her enemies. Israel's sin is not in their preference for the monarchy but in their rejection of God's sovereign authority.

Even as we look around the denominations today, we see different systems of organization, each with its strengths and built-in weaknesses. Essentially, churches can be divided into 4 kinds of organization:
(1) rule by elders (Presbyterians, Brethren, AG, independents, )
(2) rule by bishops (Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Methodists & Lutherans)
(3) rule by congregation (Baptists, Congregationalists)
(4) rule by the Senior Pastor (Independent churches)

Each has its strengths and inherent weaknesses. However, whatever the system we adopt, none is superior to the others but all can work if we individually learn to submit to God's rule in our lives. In any human systems, an ungodly person can seize power and cause spiritual decline. Nevertheless, any system can prosper if godly people are in power. Even in the case of the monarchy, when Israel had a godly king (e.g. David, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, etc), the nation prospered. So, it is not the system that is evil (though every system has its weaknesses), but rather the leadership that exploits the system's weaknesses to gratify its lust for power.

However, godly leaders who seek to submit to God's rule and desire nothing more than to extend His rule over God's people and beyond into the society will bring spiritual and material prosperity to the people they rule--despite the weaknesses of the system they operate under.

Father, grant us Your new wineskin to contain the new wine which You will pour into our lives. Amen.