Like All the Nations

29 When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land;

30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.

~ Dt 12:29-30

Israel was meant to be a special nation.  It was meant to be the original shining city on a hill.  Other nations were supposed to look at it and wonder, not the other way around.

5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.

6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.

7 For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for?

8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?

~ Dt 4:5-8

Of course, we know that Israel failed time and time again.  They failed during the days of the judges, and they failed when they had kings over them.  They failed when they asked for a king.

I have a question for you government types: If one man rule is really what God expects and blesses, then why was He so angry at Israel for asking for a king?  Weren’t they simply asking for the “proper” type of government?

Structure vs substance.  The people were looking for someone to be an intermediary between them and God, just as they wanted Moses to be a mediator between them and God.  Just like all pagan nations cry out for an intermediary between them and God!

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,

5 And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.

~ 1Sa 8:4-5

The people did not just ask for a king!  No, that alone would have been bad enough.  However, they added insult to injury in their total rejection of God by wanting a king like the pagan nations around them.

Here is where some pastors will concentrate on King Saul’s appearance and height.  He was literally head and shoulders above most men, according to the biblical description.  That much is true.  It is also true that man tends to judge by outer appearance.  I’m in no way denying this.  However, I would put forward that this is only part of the equation.

God gave the people exactly what they asked for.  They asked for a king just like the pagan kings around them.  What were pagan kings like?

Egypt was rule by Pharaoh.  Pharaoh was supposed to be not just a king but a son of Ra, the sun god.  This was merely an adaptation of how the various city-states founded by Nimrod viewed their rulers.  He and his mother-wife were the original pagan deities, supposedly descended from the gods.

Canaan used to be a province of Egypt.  At some point, however, Egypt lost interest in the area, and some Pharaohs were more interested in attending to problems at home.  Like Egypt, Canaanites had a pantheon of gods.  They were not a united nation by any means, but they were more of a loosely associated group of city-states, some of which fought with each other.  Each city-state usually had its own king.  After Egypt’s influence waned, the Amorites became more powerful for a time, but the influence of Babylon eventually became greater.  In an interesting development, Babylon was conquered by the Amorites for a time, and Babylonian became the official language.

Canaanitish culture became wholly Babylonian; even its theology and gods were derived from Babylonia. The famous legal code of Khammu-rabi (see HAMMURABI, CODE OF) was enforced in Canaan as in other parts of the empire, and traces of its provisions are found in Gen. Abram’s adoption of his slave Eliezer, Sarai’s conduct to Hagar, and Rebekah’s receipt of a dowry from the father of the bridegroom are examples of this. So, too, the sale of the cave of Machpelah was in accordance with the Babylonian legal forms of the Khammu-rabi age. The petty kings of Canaan paid tribute to their Babylonian suzerain, and Babylonian officials and “commerical travelers” (damgari) frequented the country.

~ “Canaanites”, Biblios Bible Encyclopedia online

Babylon and the cities of Nimrod invented worship of human rulers.  Not surprisingly, the Canaanite kings generally played an important role in the religion of the city, almost being priest-like.

Canaanite religion was strongly influenced by their more powerful and populous neighbors, and shows clear influence of Mesopotamian and Egyptian religious practices. Like other people of the Ancient Near East Canaanite religious beliefs were polytheistic, with families typically focusing worship on ancestral household gods and goddesses, the Elohim, while acknowledging the existence of other deities such as Baal and El. Kings also played an important religious role and in certain ceremonies, such as the sacred marriage of the New Year Festival may have been revered as gods. “At the center of Canaanite religion was royal concern for religious and political legitimacy and the imposition of a divinely ordained legal structure, as well as peasant emphasis on fertility of the crops, flocks, and humans.”

~ “Canaanite religion”, Wikipedia

The Philistines were a constant threat during the time of the judges.  The story of Samson is perhaps the most well-known one involving the Philistines.  The story of Samuel opens with the story of Eli and his sons, and how Eli’s sons take the Ark of the Covenant into battle against the Philistines.  Not much is known about the Philistines from the Philistines themselves.  The Bible and some writings of Egypt exist, but it appears that for the most part their culture, especially their religious practices, essentially melded in with the Canaanites.

Near the end of Samuel’s life, the Ammonites are on the rise.  Saul’s first battle is against the Ammonites.  They worshipped Milcom, another name for Molech (Chemosh to the Moabites).  Human sacrifice was common in the worship of Molech.  It is useful to note that not much is known about them other than what comes from the OT.  The word Molech is closely related to the Hebrew word melek or “king”.  Specifically, he was regarded as the chief god of worship.

They were very closely allied with Moab, their brother nation, and had much in common.  The article on “Ammon, Ammonites” points out that Ammon and Moab were sometimes viewed as one unit.  Jephthah addresses Ammon, but he talks about the god Chemosh instead of Milcom/Molech.  This is interpreted by some that ancient Israel at times viewed the two nations as the same.  Some believe Ammon became more pastoral due to unexpected climate change, but the article disagrees.

A bit of irony I cannot resist throwing in, although totally unrelated, is found among other places in the Wikipedia article “Amman”, capital of present day Jordan.  However, its name has not always been so Semitic.  Rabbath Ammon was the capital of Ammon.  Later, it was conquered by the Assyrians, then the Persians and then the Macedonians.  It was then conquered by Ptolemy II Philadelphus, a Macedonian ruler of Egypt.  He renamed the city to Philadelphia, a name which it held even after coming under Roman control and becoming part of the Decapolis.  Apparently, the name did not change back to Amman until the Ottoman Empire.  This is not the Philadelphia of Revelation, BTW, but I find it ironic, especially given that as part of the Decapolis it was on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire.

Back to the topic, what are we to make of the nations that surrounded Israel?  They were a rather heterogeneous lot in general, but there were also a lot of similarities, including the worship of Ba’al, the god of the people, and the chief god Molech/Milcom/Chemosh.  The influence of Egypt and Babylon ensured that there was a thread of commonality throughout the region.  Most of them engaged in fertility rites and to some degree included child sacrifice (although the frequency is disputed by scholars).

As far as their rulers go, we can deduce from the sketchy information at hand that the kings were at minimum an intermediary between the people and Ba’al.  They may have even been viewed as demigods, even as the Pharaohs were, but that cannot be proven.  In short, being a king in the land of Canaan was to be not just a political entity but also a religious one.  Separation of church and state was not a concept that was understood until many centuries later.

When Israel demanded a king from Samuel, that is what they were demanding.  They wanted an intermediary between them and YHWH.  They did not want be individually accountable to God for their actions.  It is a form of idolatry.

It is the world’s way.  Set up leaders that will solve all the problems of the nation and even the world.  The people don’t have to change then.  They don’t have to give up their sinful ways, and they just delegate solving all these issues to political leaders.  This is why seeing Christians get so wrapped up in politics is so sad to watch.  Politics is not the answer.  Human beings are not the answer, do not have the answer and cannot have the answer.  The answer is to seek God and change according to His expectations.  Instead, having a human leader installed with godlike powers supposedly imbued in them, who reflects their own prejudices and evil desires, is what people time and time again propose as the solution.  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is one definition of insanity.

How many Churches of God do the same thing?  Some look for an intermediary between the members and God rather than stressing individual accountability before our Lord and Savior, Who is supposed to be our intermediary rather than another fallible human being.  When they look to human leadership to rule in their lives rather be servants who share in their joy (2Co 1:24), they are engaging in nothing less than idolatry.  It is easier than becoming self-governing with the help of the Holy Spirit.

They are looking for apostles just like all the other churches to judge and to lead in their spiritual war.