On Monday we began looking at the question why did Jesus live? (You need to begin with that post for all this to make sense.) To do this, we’re telling Israel’s story to see where Jesus fits in. So far, God’s original image-bearers have rebelled, but God has acted in mercy to choose for himself a people who will be his image-bearers, showing the world what life is like when lived the way God intended. The only problem is, they messed up again – so that by the end of the book of Judges, they’re mired in idolatry and immorality, living by their own rules, not God’s:Judges 21:25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
So we move to the next important event in Israel’s story: what Scot McKnight calls “Plan B.” Plan A was for Israel to have no king but God – but that wasn’t working too well. Every time they strayed, God ended up having to raise up leaders (or “judges”) to bring them back to himself, culminating in Samuel. Samuel even tried to turn his leadership into a king-like dynasty, appointing his sons as leaders – but they were a complete failure. Israel ends up deciding that they wanted to be like all the other nations around, and have a proper king. They say to Samuel:1 Sam 8:5 “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.“
Samuel gets cranky with them for rejecting him, but God explains to Samuel that it’s really God they are rejecting:1 Sam 8:7-9 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
Again, they don’t want to be God’s image bearers, with God as king; they want to be like everyone else. So God lets them.
And the first king he gives them is Saul: a king very much like those of the nations around. He’s tall and handsome – but verty quickly proves to be a failure. He values public opinion over God’s commands, and ends up having the kingdom taken from him. (It’s like God says: I’ll give you the a king like the nations, so you can see how badly that will turn out.)
But then God gives them David: a man after God’s own heart. A king who will rule with God’s justice, exercising God’s rule over his people. A promising plan B. And as with Abraham, God makes a covenant with David:2 Sam 7:9b-16 Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. “‘The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’
This promise of a king on David’s throne forever will become important in Israel’s story, and by the time of Jesus it was central to her hope for the future.
This king from David’s line was seen as God’s image-bearer to Israel and to the world. The psalm used at the coronation of Solomon, David’s son, describes this in detail:Ps 72:1-4 Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. 2 May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. 3 May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. 4 May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor. 8-11 May he rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. 9 May the desert tribes bow before him and his enemies lick the dust. 10 May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. 11 May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him. 17-19 May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed. 18 Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvellous deeds. 19 Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
In short, Israel’s king is to execute justice in Israel, and in the world. Because he’s a beacon of justice, he’s to receive tribute from the nations around, and be a blessing to all nations. He’s supposed to fulfil the plan God had for Abraham’s descendants: that they would show what life was like when lived the way God intended, and thus be attractive to the nations around. Despite the fact that Israel has rejected Plan A, God in his mercy has granted them their wish of a human king, and his Plan B is to work through that king so that Israel can fulfil her calling as his image-bearer.
But things are about to go horribly wrong. We’ll see how Plan B fares next time.
To think about
How often do we miss out on Plan A because we want to be like “the nations around” – instead of fulfilling our calling as God’s image-bearers?
How are you going as an image-bearer? Are you standing out, or are you fitting in with the rest of the world?