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The Birth of the Messiah
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
June 7, 2015
1 Samuel 8:4-22 Mark 3:20-35 Psalm 138
In our reading from 1 Samuel, we hear about Israel’s decision to anoint a king over them. This was a huge shift in their social and religious governance. Previously, they were governed by prophets and by individual moral intuition. There is an important verse at the end of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel, every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). In the passage we heard this morning, Israel’s decision to anoint a king over them is seen as a rejection of God as their king. God tells Samuel, “They have rejected me from being king over them” (1Samuel 8:7). The entire social order in Israel is shifting now. It is a momentous shift.
In many ways, choosing a king is a rejection of God. The desire for a king is so that the Israelites can be like the nations around them. They don’t want to be organized the way they had been with Yahweh as the central uniting force of their culture. They want to be like the nations they see around them who have a king. They say, “We will have a king over us, that we may like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles” (8:19-20). They are rejecting the form of society that was given them by God through Moses. That early form of society was a tribal confederation. The twelve tribes of Israel were each independent and yet united by the one God Yahweh. In places in the Bible we hear of them being a kingdom of priests. Each Israelite was responsible for his or her own behavior. Each one had land given them by God that was to stay in the family. Each one had the law of God in their heart. They would band together when an enemy opposed them and disperse to their own lands after the enemy had been dispatched. Worship of Yahweh and following Yahweh’s laws were the bond that held society together.
This all changes when the Israelites take a king. When they take a king, they are also taking the mythology that comes with kingship in the Ancient Near East. Under Ancient Near Eastern models for kingship, the king himself was the first and closest connection to God. God spoke to the king, and God’s divine power came through the king to the people. In many cases, the kings were considered divine or semi-divine. Such a concept slipped into Israelite culture. Psalm 2:7 states, “I will proclaim the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” The welfare of the whole kingdom depended on the king and the proper rituals he needed to perform. Among them were proper sacrifices and enacting sacred ritual dramas in order to secure God’s blessings. One such sacred drama was the re-enactment of the fertility cycle. The king goes through a ritual death and rebirth. This symbolizes the death of crops in the winter and their re-birth in the spring. By performing this sacred drama, God’s power was re-energized. This assured a fertile crop for the coming year. Peace and prosperity within the kingdom depended on the king’s relationship with God and the sacrifices he performed. If the king fell from favour with God, the land would waste away and war and potentially defeat from some foe could follow. So the welfare of the kingdom now depended on the king, not on each individual and their own relations with God.
So in a way, wanting a king was putting a man between God and the people. Instead of God governing the people through the laws given by Moses, now the king was governing the people. There was a real threat to the integrity of Israelite society when they chose to anoint a king. For potentially, the king could do whatever he wanted to do. He was king. The people wanted the king to rule over them, not Yahweh.
With the king came a new office in Israel. That new office was the prophet. The prophet was there to make sure that the king followed the laws of Yahweh. You could say that the prophets kept the king in check. Previously, prophets served the people at large. They would decide matters of justice, like judges. They would perform sacrifices. But they would be open to all the people. Now they had one specific target–the king. It was their role to make sure that the king was following the laws of God.
As I have been saying, choosing a king was a dramatic change in Israel’s society. It also changed their religion. I have spoken a few times about anointing a king. Although the king ruled over the people, the king needed to be consecrated by the prophet. It was the prophet Samuel who chose Israel’s first king, Saul. And Samuel made Saul king by anointing his head with oil. Every king in Israel’s history was anointed with oil in order to be consecrated into the role of king. So kings were called “anointed ones.” The Hebrew word for “Anointed,” is “Messiah.” When we hear the word, “Messiah,” it means, “Anointed One.” The anointed one is the king. So the Messiah is the king. Had there been no king in Israel’s history, there would be no Messiah. A whole new religious system evolved around the idea of the Messiah. And when we Christians hear the word Messiah, we think of Jesus. I think we can say that we wouldn’t have had the role Jesus filled if there had been no king in Israel. There would be no Messiah mythology for Jesus to fulfill.
In Israelite theology, The Messiah is most closely associated with King David. This is because of a promise that God makes with King David. It is called the Davidic Covenant. God promises that King David’s heirs will always be on the throne in Jerusalem. We find this promise in 2 Samuel 8:16. In this verse, God says to David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” So God promised that King David’s kingdom and his heirs would continue forever. David’s “house” meant his heirs, and his throne meant his kingdom.
But this is not what happened. In 587 BCE the Babylonian kingdom conquered Judah, and destroyed the royal city of Jerusalem. Since that time, there were no more kings on the throne in Jerusalem. So the promise to King David got placed in the future. Israelites looked forward to the time when a descendant of King David would come and rule on the throne in Jerusalem. This was the hope for the coming Messiah. And without that hope, we would have no Messiah in the form of Jesus.
All the Gospels trace Jesus’ ancestry through King David. They do this to establish that Jesus is the Messiah, who was of David’s lineage. When Jesus came, people were expecting a king. They were expecting a divine king. This divine king would drive out the Romans and rule on the throne in Jerusalem. Throughout His ministry, Jesus kept trying to explain that He was not a worldly king. He tried to explain that His kingdom was spiritual. But the people didn’t get it. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, people cheered Him as a coming king. They said, “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming!” (Mark 11:10). When Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, he doesn’t want to believe that Jesus will suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders and be sentenced to death. Jesus rebukes Peter sharply, again trying to redefine the mythology of the Messiah (Mark 8:27-33).
With kingship established in Israel, we have a theology in place that leads to a Divine King. Although kingship was imported into Israel as a foreign idea, it reshaped their whole theology. It led to the hope of a future king. This paved the way for the coming of Jesus’ heavenly kingdom. With power concentrated in one person on the throne, the next step is that one Divine-Human can rule in our hearts. A king in Israel leads to a King of heaven. Jesus is the Messiah, but the Messiah of a spiritual kingdom.
We can see the whole scriptures as pointing to that one Savior of humanity. With the Messiah established in Israelite theology, we have a savior figure who will come to the earth. We know that Savior as Jesus Christ. In Luke we are told that Jesus showed the Apostles how all the scriptures were about Himself, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). While 1 Samuel 8 makes the anointing of a king look like a rejection of God, in fact it leads to the coming of God on earth. For the anointing of Saul is the birth of the Messiah.
Lord, we give you thanks for coming to us in a form we could relate to. You came not as an overwhelming God on high; you came not as a powerful emperor; but you came as a humble man. All your life on earth, humanity tried to make you a king. Yet you continually turned away these human vanities. You gave yourself the titles of Friend, and you even called us brothers and sisters. And yet, even though you did not appear in the awe due your name, humanity felt the power of your presence. While you would not be king, humanity felt you as God. The light of your love and truth could not be hid. It shined through your Humanity, filling it with Divinity. We thank you, Lord Jesus; we praise you, Lord Jesus; we worship you, Lord Jesus. All glory and power and wisdom is yours!
And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.