Watershed Formation Studies

Chapter 7 - Crown

In chapter 6, we heard the story of the conquest of the land of Canaan and dealt with the difficult questions of God who seems to act like a tribal warlord.

In chapter 7, the Israelites were still plagued by Canaanites who were left in the land, and many foreign gods were among them. They were a loose network of individual tribes, barely holding their own in the time of the judges. The people wanted a king like the nations around them had.

They asked Samuel the prophet to appoint a king, and despite warnings of the price they would pay for this, their wish was granted, first with Saul and then with David and Solomon.

The listeners around the fire cheered to hear stories of the “golden age” of the great kings, but they also learned of the darker undertones of the story — kings who were jealous, insecure, two-faced, and not entirely loyal to God alone. David, for instance, wanted to build a temple for God even though God had not asked for it. Ironically,a temple was built for the God who sets people free from slavery…using slaves. And in years to come, Solomon did many more things that God had commanded kings not to do.

The story became a cautionary tale, warning of the dangers of the affluence, oppression and state religion that marked Solomon’s reign. The people then and now turn to confession, as King David had done. “Create in me a clean heart, oh God…”.

Questions for Discussion

1) Why did God give the people a king?
2) How did Samuel's predictions come true?
3) How were Israel's kings to be different?
4) Do you see God as a King?


The period of the judges concludes with the statement,”In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” Judges 21:25. This verse implies that the solution to the chaotic period of judges was unification under a king. Samuel understands the people’s desire for a monarchy, like the other nations, as a rejection of God’s will for Israel. How would you explain God’s accommodation to the people’s desires?

Bev Patterson: It seemed under this new experiment of monarchy the nation itself became mere fodder, pawns as they say, of all three kings. God had strict guidelines for how he wanted kingship to be carried out, distinct from the tribes of other nations — no excessive military, no excessive material gain and to follow the Torah as a guiding principle for how to lead the people. Adultery, murder, covetousness, genocidal activity on the battle field are common descriptors for the above-mentioned kings and to top it off, every building project was carried out on the backs of their "beloved" subjects. Once again the Israelites had become slaves and were used, not for the vision of mercy and justice but for the explosive egos of these very flawed and treacherous leaders.

It's not that God didn't desire good leadership or a kingly presence for Israel, but his vision wasn't just another re-do of the surrounding tribes and nations. He envisioned for them a new kingdom ethic where they could step into their identities of being bearers of righteousness and the light they carried would be for all nations. Sadly, not only did the people of Israel experience hardship and cruelty at the hands of these fallen heroes but they were stripped of their true vocation to be a light on the hill. Gone was their status of being co-creators with a loving covenantal God, instead they were "trapped" and seconded to Slavery all in the name of being part of the world stage.

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Linda Tiessen-Wiebe: God seems incredibly tolerant and adaptive in accommodating the people’s desires! God never seems to insist on God's way, but always finds a way to make another invitation to covenant. Maybe God accommodated because imposing God's will on humanity would ultimately be anti-covenantal; it would mean relating to automatons. God really seems to desire authentic relationship, which is weird. God, creator of the universe, the "light that backs everything," wants to relate meaningfully to us who are made of dust.

God adapts in the sense of giving the people a way of having kings that still points towards covenant: servant leadership. The king would be a servant of God and a servant of the people. And when the king didn't comply, prophets were there to sound the "pedal" note of covenant. So God doesn't reject the people because they reject him (God never takes things personally ;-). Instead, he finds a way to honour their choices but also give them a way to come back. It’s as if this covenant life, as hard as it is to live, isn't a setup by God for failure, but rather, God bends over backwards to make the way possible. Think of that next time you come up against a recurring sin pattern.

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Samuel made dire predictions about what would happen to the people if they crowned a king. (1 Sam 8:11-18) Did these predictions come true during the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon? How? (use Gladding or Scripture to illustrate)

Verda Heinrichs: This period is a really interesting shift within this ‘tribal’ collection of people. Tired of the chaos of things running amok, the people look to leadership to help them build something. But the prophet Samuel sees that 'precious something' which is in danger of being lost and in fact sees the danger of returning to the slavery they had been delivered from. And yes, Samuel’s dire predictions do come true over time.

The first appointed king, Saul, was a good looking lad. You could call him the 'people’s choice’ for a king. He managed to gather an army, but failed to have the strength of character and faith to win their battles against the Philistines and draw them into a single nation. David was the unexpected choice for a king but was referred to as the one having a heart after God. Amazingly, he united the tribal people and they experienced their rise to nationhood with secure borders. But under the rule of David’s son Solomon, the rise in power leads to Samuel’s dire predictions with amassed horses and chariots, many wives, and the ownership of land. The very tabernacle of God was built by the slavery of their own people. A fall from grace indeed.

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Different Kind of King

How were Israelite kings required to be different from sovereigns of other nations? And what overall effect did this transformed kingship have on the hopes of the people?

Linda Tiessen-Wiebe: Israel's kings were supposed to be servant kings, looking to take care of the marginal people (orphans, widows, poor people). They were supposed to be the representative between God and Israel. They were not to have a standing army or amass wealth. They were to depend on God's provision for guidance and protection and not on their own ingenuity or military strength. And they were not to make covenants with other nations and gods. This would shape a people with human rights built into governance and a "non-engagement" military policy.

If they were true to the monotheistic faith and the "blessing to the nations" thrust, they might have found a way to invite others to overhear. Being a small nation, this could have fostered diplomacy skills. It's hard to imagine a nation like this actually. War and religious syncretism was part of life at the time. Alliances were how small nations sought to survive. All these injunctions from God go against the status quo and keep calling the people back to trust the Creator, Liberator God. I think it created a tension within Israel always calling them beyond their expectations. It was a creative way for God to meet their demands (or developmental needs) while still shaping them in a unique way. Probably why the prophetic tradition grew during the kingship years.

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How does the symbol of the King influence your god-image or understanding of spirituality? (positive, negative or both? )

Bev Patterson: I don't think I consciously think of God as king - I much prefer the image of father. And yet, for some reason I am drawn to the way the gospels use the image of Kingdom of God. It feels like a new prototype in that it is a kingdom without a KING; instead God, through Christ, has created this place where the mode of leadership isn't about positional power or ruled by detached and aloof authority. This new "kingdom" is fueled by servant leadership, it is led by someone who is willing to be brought low through suffering love instead of being "lord of the manor," a lord who never gets his hands dirty.

Christ the King is "the man in the crowd" jostled to and fro by the incessant needs and demands of others. This king doesn't have indentured servants who do his bidding and maintain his many fields and flocks, protecting his private property. This king IS the shepherd. This king is willing to lose everything. This king is willing to gamble and give up a life of prestige and specialness and become a nobody so that the rest of us can gain access to the love and freedom he knows so well through his relationship with the father. This king doesn't demand military service in order to protect or expand his territory. This king chooses to enter death and do spiritual battle for all of creation so that death, genocide, savagery and destruction can be replaced by a map with no borders where mercy and justice becomes the new constitution. This new kingdom is open to all.

The only way God as king is at all palpable and alluring as an image is when we put the face of Jesus on that coinage. No one has seen a king as this.

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Linda Tiessen-Wiebe: Its funny before this chapter, I wasn't really drawn to the King metaphor; it’s archaic for our times, and carries bad associations of despotism and corruption. But in starting to think about how God adapts to the people’s desires and what God's idea of king is, that starts to shift. Especially when you start to see the kind of king Jesus was. He fulfilled the image of the servant king, and through Jesus' spirit we are called and empowered to enter into that kingship as well. I think some of us were talking about this either Sunday, or maybe on Monday. God really desires us to participate actively with Him in living into creation. To follow Jesus into that kind of kingship.

So what would that look like? Well, it would be marked by freedom, freedom to not be perfect. If I make a mistake God as partner calls me back, makes a way back possible. Marked by attentiveness to the marginal, including creation. Present to the small moments. Marked by humility in the sense of not living for myself, not living self-referentially. Marked by suffering, letting go of the power structures of our world and trusting ultimately in God to redeem us. This seems a bit daunting because I sure don't live up to this. But that just brings me back to how God makes the way back to covenant possible, and that is cause for hope, not my own track record.

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Lydia Penner: For me, the concept of king is as remote or obsolete as the “queen” is for Canada. I guess our closest image is the rulers of our country or province or cities, who are usually male. This too feels remote to my everyday life. (I remember years ago when Susan Thompson was Winnipeg’s mayor, and Bev complained to Susan’s office about not knowing about parking bans during snow season. To her surprise, Susan called Bev at work! Not such a remote leader there!)

Yet, we grew up hearing stories of the kings of Israel. Israel seems like a spoiled, bratty teenager, asking for something that the other teenagers had, not wanting to take no for an answer, until finally the father caved in. The rules were stipulated but not followed as Israel “got what they wanted”. As a reader, you just know it’s gonna go bad for them. Even the best kings did heinous things. The stories of the good they did, like Solomon asking for wisdom when asked what he wanted most, stand out, but they are certainly not one dimensional good characters.

I think it’s a wonderful coincidence that we’re reading chapter 5 in Spufford, about “Yeshua” or Jesus. This king is different from all. He doesn’t want lavish temples, houses and chariots. He is content with a stone for a pillow, and knows how to say no to temptation. He identifies with our condition. Spufford says he is "that man in the crowd; a man under arrest, and on his way to our common catastrophe.”

My thoughts went to C.S. Lewis’ descriptions of Aslan the lion king as the perfect model of how a king should be. Of course, this is a description of Christ. Aslan is not a tame lion, or as Mr. Beaver says, “Aslan isn’t safe. But he’s good.” Like Jesus, he has many followers. When the children hear Aslan’s name, they not only perceive his power, but also become a little bit more themselves. Edmund has betrayed his family and is cold to his mistakes, but begins to feel the guilt of it when he hears Aslan. Peter becomes braver as he becomes a leader, Susan loves beauty and sees this is Aslan, and Lucy feels freedom.

Aslan doesn’t just take the White Witch out with a wave of his paw. Everyone expects him to be a great military leader and conduct a battle against the witch (like the kings of our passages would have), but instead allows himself to be sacrificed in Edmund’s place. His sacrifice involves humiliation and torment and a dead end, but ultimately resurrection.

The concept of king might leave me kinda cold, but this depiction of Aslan, as well as Jesus, is one I can hang my hat onto.

“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”

Paul also reminded me on Monday night that this idea of king is more about king as "archetype". The book King, Warrior, Magician, Lover by Robert Moore, has an excellent description of the king archetype, which I'll include below. After reading it, I realize that the idea of a "king" is much more relevant than I thought, even if we don't have a literal king. A king seems necessary when there is an utter lack of order. I remember certain teachers that held that "kingly" energy, able to put others' needs above their own, harmonize diverse viewpoints, and whom people were happy to work for.

In the recent TV series by Ken Burns, Roosevelt strikes me as a good king. People felt free to write letters to him and he received thousands of letters every week. Someone had scrawled "Roosevelt is my friend" on a train. In the midst of the Depression, he was able to create jobs. The fact that he was wounded by polio and never talked about it or wanted to let it be known, showed that he was able to put others' needs above his own in a profound way.

Jesus, too, was a wounded king who identified with the common people and was able to unite opposites (Jews and Gentiles, men and women, even children were not seen as "other," etc). Interesting that the immature king is the tyrant king who is threatened by even a baby, as Herod was.

The King (from King, Warrior, Magician, Lover)
The King is the source of order in the kingdom. If he is a wise and just king, the kingdom prospers, people eat well and are safe from harm. In the kingdom of the wise king, laughter rings through the lands, the crops shoot up high, joyful celebrations keep the woods awake, merchants travel with overflowing carts to lively markets. The king is the harmonizing principle, the subjugator of chaos, the uniter of opposites. He is the channel through which the gods communicate, and he channels divine blessings to his people and the lands (to whom he is “wed”). He is selfless, and puts the good of his people above his own needs. When the King grows weak, darkness threatens the borders of the kingdom, the sun disappears from the sky, and the crops wither and die. When the king dies, he knows, he is merely replaced by another in a lineage of divinely blessed kings, which humbles him (remember the saying, “The King is dead, long live the King”).

In the psyche of the man, the King archetype is the central archetype, around which the rest of the psyche is organized. If the King energy in us is weak, our psyche falls in disarray, and chaos threatens our lands. The man who is constantly overwhelmed by life - who can't seem to find harmony or order - must develop the King energy, often in conjunction with Warrior energy to protect his borders.

The two main functions of the King are:

Live according to the Tao, the Dharma, the Word, and the lands will flourish

Bring fertility and blessing. The King is the masculine equivalent of the Great Mother, and he is wed to the lands. The king's vitality and sexuality directly reflect on his kingdom.

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Jen Nicholson: My thoughts about "Jesus as King" have been swirling in my mind, so I thought I would share them.

I'm reading through a chronological Bible which has the stories in the Bible arranged chronologically rather than by book. Stories that are repeated in different books are placed side by side. I came to the stories of the beginning of the kings over the summer and what hit home personally was that my desire to have a husband could, in some ways, connect to Israel's desire for a king... not because I want someone to "judge me", lol, but in how God wanted Israel to trust and obey him first and foremost, but looking at the other nations, Israel decided that having a king seemed much more practical. I can look at my relationship with God and ask, "can you really meet all my needs because looking at the people around me, having a life partner seems far more practical." Of course, if Israel and myself are honest, we know we are really idealizing the situation (the grass is always greener...).

Samuel's response/warning reminded me of the Garden of Eden and God's response/warning to Eve: "your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." I have come to understand that this was not a curse but more of a prophetic statement. It does not give a man the right to "rule" his wife, it's a consequence of sin in our lives which needs to be transformed by Christ in us. Which is essentially what God said about the earthly king, this will work if all parties remain submitted to me. God didn't curse them with "bad kings" but we are all, inherently, sinful.

So where I'm going with this is that the image of Jesus as King, in my mind, is connected to the image of the church being the bride of Christ (carried from the image of the first relationship of Adam-Christ and Eve-the church). We have this built-in desire for a leader, for a partner, but all fall short on Earth. So maybe it's not about wanting a "king" or a "husband" but about entrusting oneself to them when both are really only supposed to point us to Christ.

Jesus modeled this: "23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man" (John 2: 23-25). He entrusted himself only to God.

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