Hebrew Ideals of Kingship.

The Israelitic kingdom was later in origin than Israelitic nationality. The latter began as a theocracy at Sinai under an eldership which appeared sufficient for the demands both of peace and war. The astonishment that Moses "founded no state" (Vatke) and the conclusion therefrom that the Pentateuchal legislation must have arisen later in a state already in existence proceed from a false view of the Hebrew state. The bond of Hebrew nationality was the covenant with Yahweh, which based legal relations upon prophetic authority. A human kingdom was superfluous since Yahweh was king and leader in war (Ex. xv. 18, xiv. 14; Num. xxi. 14), with that leadership incarnated in Moses. But the time came when no mighty and prophetically inspired man like Moses or Joshua stood at the head of the people, when the spiritual bond was not strong enough to hold the scattered tribes together, when even the Yahweh worship was endangered by the disintegrating influences of Canaanitic heathenism. In the days of the Judges the need was felt of a central power to unify action, and this tendency was exemplified in the history of Gideon (q.v.) and Abimelech (Judges viii.-ix.), though the results of this premature attempt postponed for a long time definite establishment of the kingdom. When Samuel became too old for the performance of his duties and his sons proved unworthy, while the Philistines were aggressive, the demand became clamorous and Samuel yielded to the request of the people to anoint a king. Wellhausen mistakenly regards I Sam. ix. 1-x. 16, xi. as the early account of the


founding of the kingdom and chap. viii. as the post-exilic view. But chap. viii. is entirely consonant with the person and character of Samuel (see SAMUEL; SAUL). It was not by chance that a man from the smallest tribe was chosen king; the will of Yahweh determined the selection and chap. viii. supplies the account, basing the selection on Saul's worth. A similar reason underlay the choice of David. In both cases consecration to the kingly office was by anointing (I Sam. x. 1, xvi. 13), as was customary among the neighboring peoples. This anointing was connected with religious usage and implied divine sanction. In David's case it was repeated when he was made king over Judah and again when he became king of Israel (II Sam. ii. 4, v. 3). Prophetic anointing is often mentioned, as in the cases of Absalom, Solomon, Jehoahaz, and Jehu (II Sam. xix. 10; I Kings i. 39; II Kings xi. 12, xxiii. 30). The rabbis regarded anointing as necessary only to the establishment of a new dynasty and thus explain omissions of anointing in other cases. A symbol of kingly power was the scepter, in place of which Saul appears to have used the spear. From early times the crown also is in evidence (I Sam. i. 10), and the throne appears with Solomon (I Kings x. 18).

Kingly Duties and Privileges.

The position of the king was from the first not that of an Oriental despot with unlimited power. The law of the kingdom (I Sam. x. 25; cf. Deut. xvii. 14-20) was naturally not a mere embodiment of popular law and custom, but arose out of the religious situation of the Hebrews. The king was to be an Israelite, was not to multiply wives or wealth or horses (as evidences of his glory). Further he was to regard the torah, written and prophetic, as his guide. In war he was the leader, and in peace the chief authority in justice. As judge he was to be humble in mind, giving access to those who sought relief; his responsibility to Yahweh was urged by the prophets. As Yahweh had made free choice of the king, so he might reject and displace him (I Sam. xiii. 13-14; I Kings xi. 29 sqq.). The succession was hereditary, but the power of appointment of a successor was in the reigning king, with the mothers of the various princes exercising influence behind the throne. Often the succession was otherwise determined--by the nobility, the priesthood, and indeed the people. The queen mother had a high and influential position from which, however, she might be deposed (I Kings xv. 13). In the northern kingdom also prophetic sanction was given to the kingship, as in the case of Jeroboam I. and Jehu (qq.v.). But in general other forces, including that of usurpation, were at work in Israel (Hos. viii. 4). In the cult the king took a commanding position, offering sacrifices, praying, and blessing the people. But in sacrificing, it might be that the priest was the actual officiant; indeed in later times it may be said that the king yielded to the priest his priestly functions. A limitation of the kingly privileges doubtless came into play and is in view in the legislation of Ezekiel. It was his duty (according to Ezekiel) to care for the ordinary and festival offerings, and in preexilic times he might appoint and dismiss priests (I Kings ii. 35), though he was in these matters not left to the exercise of arbitrary power.

The Royal Court and Revenues.

The king was surrounded with councilors and ministers who came to bear the name of princes as inmates of the royal palace; in addition to these he had personal servants about him, who often misused their power. The number of the officers was not set by law, but varied with the needs of the times; thus under David there were the general of the army, the captain of the guard, the recorder, the chancellor, and the overseer of labor; under Solomon appeared an upper officer over the twelve prefects of the districts, and an officer in charge of the household (I Kings iv. 5-6); with these went a large number of lesser officials of various grades and service, while later there came in eunuchs (perhaps the name of an office, I Kings xxii. 9, margin). The royal revenues were not at all times on the same basis, and I Sam. viii. 11 sqq. indicates possibilities of arbitrariness in the king's demands. Yet only profligate kings would override the rights of their subjects, as in the instance of Naboth, and in cases of aggression would usually have at least the semblance of right of action. Custom developed the perquisites of the king. Thus Amos vii. 1 indicates that to the king belonged the first cutting of the grass. The custom of making presents to the king is very early, and regularity developed it into tribute. Conquered peoples brought tribute (II Sam. viii. 2), as did those who placed themselves under the royal protection or did homage (II Sam. viii. 10; I Kings x. 25). Solomon put the Canaanites and even Israelites to forced labor. Of booty taken in war a considerable part was appropriated by the king, and the kings had usually their private estates. For the idealistic and prophetic development of the idea of the kingdom see MESSIAH, MESSIANISM.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Oettli, Das Königsideal des Alten Testament, Greifswald, 1899; R. Smend, Alttestamentliche Religionsgeschichte, Tübingen, 1899; the literature on the History of Israel under AHAB; later works cited under ARCHEOLOGY, BIBLICAL; and for the idealistic view of the monarchy the works under MESSIAH.


CCEL home page
This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at
Calvin College. Last modified on 10/03/03. Contact the CCEL.
Calvin seal: My heart I offer you O Lord, promptly and sincerely