The stories of the Bible reveal a pattern of ups and downs for the
nation of Israel. A period of prosperity, faithfulness and fearing God would
almost always be followed by a period of destitution, lawlessness and idolatry.
This recurring cycle can be linked to political authority, and the level of
separation of political authority from other influences. The successful
struggle for liberation under the leadership of Moses and the glorious conquest
of Canaan under Joshua instilled a fresh breeze of hope and a renewed faith in
God in the nation of Israel. Guided by God, the nation of Israel met with
unprecedented success as they journeyed to the promised land. During this time,
political authority among the Israelites rested in the hands of patriarchs, or
prominent members within the tribes.
These men were righteous figures of
authority, chosen by God, to lead His people and to teach His ways. The success
that swept over the Israelites was short-lived, however, and for the next two
hundred years the people of Israel struggled against neighboring tribes. The
new generation of Israelites knew neither the Lord nor what he did for Israel
(Judges 2:10). They began to do evil in the eyes of the Lord by worshipping
other gods and engaging in various sexual activities. To save His people from
their enemies and from their evil ways, God raised up judges to rescue them
(Judges 2:16). These so-called judges had the political authority vested in
them to lead the people of Israel and to save them from their sins. They
mobilized the people of Israel against invasions of the tribes all around them.
At this time, the nation of Israel was nothing more than a loose confederation
of twelve tribes. Israel had no central authority, which meant no unity, no
organization and no power. During the period of the judges, there was no need
for a central government, because the people of Israel were able to defend their
tribal territories effectively against adjoining peoples.
Whenever there was a
threat from a neighboring tribe, God sent a judge to lead the Israelites against
their enemies. As this era came to an end, however, the Israelites were faced
with a much larger problem – the Philistines’ military threat. As the
Israelites were eliminating all the small powers around them, the Philistines,
with their iron implements and organization, were becoming an emergent threat.
In order to protect themselves from the looming danger of the Philistine army,
the Israelites asked for a king to furnish unification, organization and power
for the nation of Israel. God granted their request, and Samuel reluctantly
appointed Saul in God’s name. The king’s function was to provide leadership and
to unify the people against their enemies.
However, the responsibilities,
powers and privileges that came with kingship overwhelmingly went beyond the
scope of politics. The personal relationships between the king and his people
became increasingly involved with government. With the rise of the monarchy
came a definite change in political authority. As Israel changed from the
period of judges to the period of the monarchy, politics and political authority
became increasingly associated with personal relationships. In the period of
the monarchs, the separation between politics and personal matters was no longer
delineated as it was before, and politics and personal relations became
“Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and
saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived” (Judges
2:18). God sent judges to lead the Israelites in the process of consolidating
tribal areas and defense against organized enemies. The judges led the
Israelites into battle and also served as reminders to the people to obey the
word of God. It is needless to say then, that the judges were leaders of the
Israelites during desperate times. The main reason why a clear distinction
between personal relations and political authority during the period of the
judges was possible , was that there was no succession of judges. God chose
judges to lead Israel against its enemies only when they were in need of
leadership and guidance, and in doing so, there was no power struggle or fight
for the crown.
There was no specific person next in line to lead the
Israelites, because the only thing important to them at that time was defending
themselves against neighboring powers. It was of no concern to the Israelites
who the leader was, as long as the leader was competent and effective. Another
characteristic of the judges’ rule that compensated for the separation of
politics and personal matters was the brevity of their leadership. Whereas a
monarch would remain ruler of the land after conquest, the judges served only as
a sort of temporary relief for the nation of Israel. After fulfilling their
assignment as leaders of the Israelites against their adversaries during times
of emergency, they would humble themselves before God and before the Israelites.
It is clear that the judges possessed political authority over the Israelites,
but rarely did they allow personal matters and relationships to interfere with
government. Only in the case of Samson did his personal relationships and
desires come in the way of political authority. There were twelve judges in
all, but the Bible pays most of its attention to three of the twelve: Deborah,
Gideon, and Samson.
Deborah, the only woman leader of the judges, won unquestioned respect.
She commanded Barak, son of Abinoam, to battle Sisera, the commander of the
army of King Jabin. Throughout the story of her triumph, not once was Deborah’s
personal relations mentioned. It can be assumed then, that Deborah kept her
personal relations separate from her political leadership, and was focused on
one thing and one thing only – the defeat of Jabin and the Canaanites.
Forty years of peace ensued after Deborah’s military victory, and then
the people of Israel again began to fall into sin and were overcome once again,
this time by the Midianites. God raised up Gideon to direct the people of
Israel against the Midianites. Gideon defeated the Midianites, and in doing so,
was offered an opportunity to be king.
However, Gideon declined the opportunity
to rule declaring I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The
Lord will rule over you (Judges 8:23). The lack of succession of judges is
parallel to the separation of politics and personal relations. There was
evidently no power struggle among the Israelites, because even when offered the
power to rule, Gideon declined. There was no fight for succession of leadership
because there was no succession of leadership.
The story of Samson can be seen as the transition from the period of
judges to the period of the monarchy. Samson, although the most gifted of the
judges, had a tragic flaw; he was pitifully unable to control his lust for women.
Samson’s personal desire for women affected his ability to reason, and thus
hindered his ability to lead the people of Israel. With his great physical
strength and hot temper, Samson single-handedly pushed back the Philistines –
more by accident than by intention. . He was eventually betrayed and ruined by
a woman due to his boisterous wildness and careless encounter with Delilah. God
intended Samson for great things. Of all the judges, he was the only one to be
announced by an angel before he was born (Judges 13:3).
He was given
supernatural abilities, and his life was specially devoted to God. However,
despite all these advantages given to him at birth, his uncontrollable desire
for woman destroyed him. His personal relations destroyed his prospects of
becoming a great leader among the Israelites. Samson’s desire for women
overpowered his desire to deliver the Israelites out of the hands of the
Philistines, and this led to his tragic downfall. The story of Samson vaguely
foreshadows the connection between politics and personal relations in the period
of the monarchs. It acts as a link joining a period when politics and personal
relations are clearly defined and separate, and a period when they are
indistinct and inseparable.
Nearing the end of the period of the judges, the Israelites began to
notice that virtually every other nation had a king, while Isarael was nothing
more than an alliance of scattered tribes . The rising power of the Philistines
and other imminent threats to Israelite security impelled the Israelites to ask
for a king. A king offered two advantages: first, a king would provide central
government, therefore providing unity and organization; and second, since a king
would normally be succeeded by his sons, the nation did not have a crisis of
leadership every its leader became old. God despondently granted the wish of
His people and gave them a king.
Samuel anointed Saul as king of Israel, and
the people were satisfied. Military success went hand in hand with bringing the
tribes together in one united country, but when the desire for succession of the
crown came into play, personal relations and government become one.
Saul was successful as king of Israel until David proved to be a threat
to the crown. After David defeated Goliath of the Philistines, the people sang
aloud Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands (1 Samuel
Saul thus became jealous of David, for he could not stand to be second
best in a nation he calls his own. From that point thereafter, Saul’s political
authority and leadership was no longer concentrated on the good of the nation
and the welfare of his people, but rather he focused his efforts on keeping a
jealous eye on David (1 Samuel 18:11), and David remained his enemy the rest
of his days (1 Samuel 18:29).
Saul spent the rest of his days searching for
David in attempts to kill him so that he may regain the respect of his people,
and in doing so killed many innocent bystanders that got in his way. This rash
outrage of jealousy and personal hatred for David was critically associated with
politics. While Saul could have directed his efforts toward the betterment of
Israel, he was after personal benefit, and this led to his eventual collapse.
David, having unconditional respect for Saul, spared his life twice, and thus
allowed Saul to further pursue him. Saul eventually dies, however, and David is
made king over the house of Judah.
Although David’s reign was better than that of Saul’s, he too had
problems. Ish-Bosheth is the threat to the throne this time, while Ish-
Bosheth’s general Abner is a threat to him. Abner slept with Saul’s concubine,
therefore openly making a claim on the crown. In David’s time, women acted as
political symbols. Abner’s sleeping with Saul’s concubine suggested that he had
his eyes on becoming king himself. In pursuit of David, Abner killed the
brother of Joab, David’s general. As a result Joab had a personal vendetta
against Abner and was after his life.
When Ish-Bosheth was murdered, and it was
evident that David was going to become the next king, Joab murdered Abner. It
is not difficult to see that this soap opera of events is due to the fact that
personal relations and politics were interrelated. Either personal relations
effected a political change, or politics effected a change in personal relations.
After David is crowned king of Israel, he had problems of the same nature.
David, seeing the alluring Bathsheba, wanted her for his own immediately. He
blatantly disregarded the fact that she had a husband, Uriah, and took her for
his wife, having Uriah killed in the process. This corrupt use of political
authority demonstrates how political authority and personal relations are linked.
David’s son, Absalom, also had his eyes on the throne. He led a conspiracy
against his father by traveling all over Israel winning the favor of the people,
and he also slept with his father’s concubines in public. Absalom publicly
slept with his father’s concubines for political reasons; it made clear his
claim to the throne. Israelites who held back their allegiance thinking father
and son would reconcile their differences, knew now that the breach was
permanent; they had to take a side.
Again sexual potency and sexual relations
are acutely tied in with politics. David was ultimately confronted with the
fact that he must capture or destroy his son Absalom. When he found out that
his soldiers killed Absalom, he mourned deeply. His love for his son collided
with his effectiveness as a leader. David wept so excessively that it
demoralized the troops who had risked their lives for him and the nation of
When David’s time was over, once again there was a power struggle for
succession of the throne. This time it was between the sons of David, Adonijah
and Solomon. Adonijah took initiative and set himself up as king, but Bathsheba,
David’s favorite wife, and Nathan the prophet, pulled a few strings to secure
Solomon’s claim of the crown. Due to the efforts of Bathsheba and Nathan,
Solomon was crowned king. This pulling of strings demonstrates how personal
relations may engender lasting impacts on politics. If Bathseba had not been
David’s favorite wife, and Nathan had not been David’s trusted advisor, Adonijah
may have been crowned king of Israel instead of Solomon.
Solomon also used
women to his advantage; he had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.
Most of his wives were princesses of nearby tribes, so it can be inferred that
his marriages were politically motivated. He was married to Pharaoh’s daughter,
and had an alliance with Pharaoh. The story of Solomon’s succession is as
complicated and as involved with personal relations as his predecessors.
As Israel developed from a confederation of tribes into a great
monarchial power, a notable change took place. As the nation of Israel moved
from the period of judges to the period of the monarchy, politics and political
authority became increasingly associated with personal matters and personal
relations. Personal relations began to affect politics and political authority,
and in turn, politics affected personal relations.
This change occurred because
the characteristics of leadership changed. During the period of the judges,
there was no succession of power, and because there was no succession of power,
no one was fighting for it. The judges were sent to lead the Israelites in
times of need and emergency. Their leadership was only ephemeral, and thus not
one of them were able to gain an exorbitant amount of political power. When
the period of the monarchy was firmly in place, however, there was a system of
succession of power. Even before the king muttered his last words, there were
peopleeagerly waiting in line to take his place. And if that wasn’t enough,
people were plotting against the king in hopes of succeeding the throne, even
his own sons.
This feature of the period of the monarchy allowed for the mixing
and intertwining of politics and personal relations. The use of women as
symbols of power and dominance became abundant as kings challenged the
prospective successors, and as prospective successors challenged the kings.
Events took place that can be compared to episodes of TV soap operas or Melrose
Place. Politics and personal relations became interrelated, and above all else,
the underlying reason was power. As people began to lust for power, for wealth,
and for recognition, the association of the two became imminent, and the
separation of the two became impossible.