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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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King, a title applied in the Scriptures to men (;; ), to God (; ), and to Christ (;;;; )—to men, as invested with regal authority by their fellows; to God, as the sole proper sovereign and ruler of the universe; and to Christ, as the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of the Jews, the sole Head and Governor of His church.

Regal authority was altogether alien to the institutions of Moses in their original and unadulterated form. Their fundamental idea was that Jehovah was the sole king of the nation (): to use the emphatic words in , 'The Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king.' We consider it as a sign of that self-confidence and moral enterprise which are produced in great men by a consciousness of being what they profess, that Moses ventured, with his half-civilized hordes, on the bold experiment of founding a society without a king, and that in the solicitude which he must have felt for the success of his great undertaking, he forewent the advantages which a regal government would have afforded. Nor is such an attempt a little singular and novel at a period and in a part of the world in which royalty was not only general, but held in the greatest respect, and sometimes rose to the very height of pure despotism. Its novelty is an evidence of the divine original to which Moses referred all his polity. Equally honorable is the conduct of Moses in denying to his lower nature the gratifications which a crown might have imparted, and it is obvious that this self-denial on the part of Moses, this omission to create any human kingship, is in entire accordance with the import, aim, and spirit of the Mosaic institutions, as being divine in their origin, and designed to accomplish a special work of Providence for man; and, therefore, affords, by its consistency with the very essence of the system of which it forms a part, a very forcible argument in favor of the divine legation of Moses.

That great man, however, well knew what were the elements with which he had to deal in framing institutions for the rescued Israelites. Slaves they had been, and the spirit of slavery was not yet wholly eradicated from their souls. They had, too, witnessed in Egypt the more than ordinary pomp and splendor which environ a throne, dazzling the eyes and captivating the heart of the uncultured. Not improbably the prosperity and abundance which they had seen in Egypt, and in which they had been, in a measure, allowed to partake, might have been ascribed by them to the regal form of the Egyptian government. Moses may well, therefore, have apprehended a not very remote departure from the fundamental type of his institutions. Accordingly he makes a special provision for this contingency (), and labors, by anticipation, to guard against the abuses of royal power. Should a king be demanded by the people, then he was to be a native Israelite; he was not to be drawn away by the love of show, especially by a desire for that regal display in which horses have always borne so large a part, to send down to Egypt, still less to cause the people to return to that land; he was to avoid the corrupting influence of a large harem, so common among Eastern monarchs; he was to abstain from amassing silver and gold; he was to have a copy of the law made expressly for his own study—a study which he was never to intermit till the end of his days; so that his heart might not be lifted up above his brethren, that he might not be turned aside from the living God, but observing the divine statutes, and thus acknowledging himself to be no more than the vicegerent of heaven, he might enjoy happiness, and transmit his authority to his descendants.

The Jewish polity, then, was a sort of sacerdotal republic—we say sacerdotal, because of the great influence which, from the first, the priestly order enjoyed, having no human head, but being under the special supervision, protection, and guidance of the Almighty. The nature of the consequences, however, of that divine influence avowedly depended on the degree of obedience and the general faithfulness of the nation. The good, therefore, of such a superintendence in its immediate results was not necessary, but contingent. The removal of Moses and of Joshua by death soon left the people to the natural results of their own condition and character. Anarchy ensued. Noble minds, indeed, and stout hearts appeared in those who were termed Judges; but the state of the country was not so satisfactory as to prevent an unenlightened people, having low and gross affections, from preferring the glare of a crown and the apparent protection of a scepter, to the invisible and, therefore, mostly unrecognized arm of omnipotence. A king accordingly was requested. The misconduct of Samuel's sons, who had been made judges, was the immediate occasion of the demand being put forth. The request came with authority, for it emanated from all the elders of Israel, who, after holding a formal conference, proceeded to Samuel, in order to make him acquainted with their wish. Samuel was displeased; but, having sought in prayer to learn the divine will, he is instructed to yield to the demand on a ground which we should not assuredly have found stated, had the book in which it appears been tampered with or fabricated for any courtly purposes or any personal ends, whether by Samuel himself, or by David, or any of his successors—'for they have not rejected thee (Samuel), but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them' (, see also ). Samuel was, moreover, directed to 'protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.' Faithfully did the prophet depict the evils which a monarchy would inflict on the people. In vain: they said, 'Nay, but we will have a king over us.' Accordingly, Saul the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, was, by divine direction, selected, and privately anointed by Samuel 'to be captain over God's inheritance;' thus he was to hold only a delegated and subordinate authority. Under the guidance of Samuel, Saul was subsequently chosen by lot from among the assembled tribes; and though his personal appearance had no influence in the choice, yet when he was plainly pointed out to be the individual designed for the scepter, Samuel called attention to those qualities which in less civilized nations have a preponderating influence, and are never without effect, at least, in supporting 'the divinity which doth hedge a king:' 'See ye him whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people,' for he was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward; 'and all the people shouted, God save the king.'

Emanating as the royal power did from the demand of the people and the permission of a prophet, it was not likely to be unlimited in its extent or arbitrary in its exercise. The government of God, indeed, remained, being rather concealed and complicated than disowned, much less superseded. The king ruled not in his own right, nor in virtue of the choice of the people, but by concession from on high, and partly as the servant and partly as the representative of the theocracy. How insecure, indeed, was the tenure of the kingly power, how restricted it was in its authority, appears clear from the comparative facility with which the crown was transferred from Saul to David; and the part which the prophet Samuel took in effecting that transference points out the quarter where lay the power which limited, if it did not primarily, at least, control the royal authority. We must not, however, expect to find any definite and permanent distribution of power, any legal determination of the royal prerogatives as discriminated from the divine authority; circumstances, as they prompted certain deeds, restricted or enlarged the sphere of the monarch's action. Thus, in , sq., we find Saul, in an emergency, assuming, without consultation or deliberation, the power of demanding something like a levy en masse, and of proclaiming instant war. With the king lay the administration of justice in the last resort (; , sq.). He also possessed the power of life and death (2 Samuel 14). To provide for and superintend the public worship was at once his duty and his highest honor (1 Kings 8;;; ). One reason why the people requested a king was, that they might have a recognized leader in war (). The Mosaic law offered a powerful hindrance to royal despotism (). The people also, by means of their elders, formed an express compact, by which they stipulated for their rights (), and were from time to time appealed to, generally in cases of 'great pith and moment' (; ). Nor did the people fail to interpose their will, where they thought it necessary, in opposition to that of the monarch (). The part which Nathan took against David shows how effective, as well as bold, was the check exerted by the prophets; indeed, most of the prophetic history is the history of the noblest opposition ever made to the vices alike of royalty, priesthood, and people. When needful, the prophet hesitated not to demand an audience of the king, nor was he dazzled or deterred by royal power and pomp (;; ). As, however, the monarch held the sword, the instrument of death was sometimes made to prevail over every restraining influence ().

After the transfer of the crown from Saul to David, the royal power was annexed to the house of the latter, passing from father to son, with preference to the eldest born, though he might be a minor. Jehoash was seven years old when he began to reign (). This rule was not, however, rigidly observed, for instances are not wanting in which nomination of a younger son gave him a preferable title to the crown (; ): the people, too, and even foreign powers, at a later period, interrupted the regular transmission of royal authority (;;; ). The ceremony of anointing, which was observed at least in the case of Saul, David, and Solomon (;;;;;;; ), and in which the prophet or high-priest who performed the rite acted as the representative of the theocracy and the expounder of the will of heaven, must have given to the spiritual power very considerable influence. Indeed, the ceremony seems to have been essential to constitute a legitimate monarch (; ); and thus the authorities of the Jewish church held in their hands, and had subject to their will, a most important power, which they could use either for their own purposes or the common good. We have seen in the case of Saul that personal and even external qualities had their influence in procuring ready obedience to a sovereign; and further evidence to the same effect may be found in; such qualities would naturally excite the enthusiasm of the people, who appear to have manifested their approval by acclamations (;;;; ). Jubilant music formed a part of the popular rejoicings (); thank-offerings were made (); the new sovereign rode in solemn procession on the royal mule of his predecessor (), and took possession of the royal harem—an act which seems to have been scarcely less essential than other observances which appear to us to wear a higher character (;; ). A numerous harem, indeed, was among the most highly estimated of the royal luxuries (;; ). It was under the supervision and control of eunuchs, and passed from one monarch to another as a part of the crown-property (). The law (), foreseeing evils such as that by which Solomon, in his later years, was turned away from his fidelity to God, had strictly forbidden many wives; but Eastern passions and usages were too strong for a mere written prohibition, and a corrupted religion became a pander to royal lust, interpreting the divine command as sanctioning eighteen as the minimum of wives and concubines. In the original distribution of the land no share, of course, was reserved for a merely possible monarch; yet the kings were not without several sources of income. In the earlier periods of the monarchy the simple manners which prevailed would render copious revenues unnecessary; and a throne which was the result of a spontaneous demand on the part of the people, would easily find support in free-will offerings, especially in a part of the world where the great are never approached without a present. There seems also reason to conclude that the amount of the contributions made by the people for the sustenance of the monarch depended, in a measure, on the degree of popularity which, in any particular case, he enjoyed, or the degree of service which he obviously rendered to the state (;;;; , sq.). That presents of small value and humble nature were not despised or thought unfit for the acceptance of royalty, may be learned from that which Jesse sent to Saul (), 'an ass, with bread and a bottle of wine, and a kid.' The indirect detail 'of the substance which was King David's,' found in , sq. (comp.; , sq.), shows at how early a period the Israelitish throne was in possession of very large property, both personal and real. The royal treasury was replenished by confiscation, as in the case of Naboth (; comp. , sq.; ). Nor were taxes unknown. Samuel had predicted (), 'He will take the tenth of your seed and of your vineyards,' etc.; and so in other passages (; ) we find that levies both of men and money were made for the monarch's purposes; and, in cases of special need, these exactions were large and rigorously levied (), as when Jehoiakim 'taxed the land to give the money according to the commandment of Pharaoh; he exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, of every one according to his taxation.' So long, however, as the native vigor of a young monarchy made victory easy and frequent, large revenues came to the king from the spoils of war (, sq.). Commerce also then supplied abundant resources ().

According to Oriental custom, much ceremony and outward show of respect were observed. Those who were intended to be received with special honor were placed on the king's right hand (). The most profound homage was paid to the monarch, which was required not merely by common usage, but by the voice of religious wisdom ()—a requirement which was not unnatural in regard to an office that was accounted of divine origin, and to have a sort of vice-divine authority. Those who presented themselves before the royal presence fell with their face towards the ground till their forehead touched it (;; ), thus worshipping or doing obeisance to the monarch, a ceremony from which even the royal spouse was not exempted (). A kiss was among the established tokens of reverence (; ), as were also hyperbolical wishes of good (; ). Serious offences against the king were punished with death ().

Deriving their power originally from the wishes of the people, and being one of the same race, the Hebrew kings were naturally less despotic than other Oriental sovereigns, mingled more with their subjects, and were by no means difficult of access (;;;;; ). After death the monarchs were interred in the royal cemetery in Jerusalem: 'So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David' (;; ). But bad kings were excluded 'from the sepulchers of the kings of Israel' (). In 1 Kings 4 will be found an enumeration of the high officers of state under the reign of Solomon (see also;;;;;;;;; ). The misdeeds of the Jewish crown, and the boldness with which they were reproved, may be seen exemplified in Jeremiah 22 : 'Thus saith the Lord, Execute judgment and righteousness, and do no wrong; do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow; neither shed innocent blood. But if ye will not hear these words, this house shall become a desolation,' etc.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'King'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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