Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Bible on Authority and Power III

I Sam 8:4-22
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, 'You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.' But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, 'give us a king to govern us.' Samual prayed to the Lord, So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 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 thousand and commanders of fifties, and some to plough his ground and 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 given it to his offecers and courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of cattle and donkeys and put them to his work. He will take one-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 on that day.'

Notice two things; (1) there are voices in the Bible regarding political authority other than Paul's, and (2) these voices do not assume that politcal authorities wil rule justly, as a matter of fact, most often they assume the opposite, that authorities will be injust. Israel is warned that political authority will lead to economic exploitation; their crops will be taxed, their wealth claimed, collect and redistributed to the 'elites' (the Kings allies. If you are keeping score, this is the system of economic 'growth' that Rome put in place in Palestine at the time of Jesus.) Taxes were not used to reinvest in infrastructure like roads, schools and civil servants as we are accustomed. Taxes made the elites wealthy. Also notice that political authority will lead to violence. Sons will be conscripted to fight in the Kings army. In Agrarian societies (farming based economies) economic growth was limited to the production of the land. One could really only gain more wealth by gaining more land. One could only gain more land by taking it from someone else, hence, war. the King will claim your wealth and even worse, your life and leave you a slave. Notice here that God is not concerned with 'foreign' authorities oppressing Israel as in the Exodus story, but with Israel's own leadership. I Samuel pushes to not only look at the injustice of others, say Iran, Iraq or China, but also to look with open eyes and hearts at the injustice that may stem from our own system of government.

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