Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions

By Roland De Vaux ; John McHugh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
THE PERSON OF THE KING

THE fact remains that, for a period of several centuries, Israel lived under a monarchy, and this is precisely the period when its political organization is best known. Moreover, royal institutions had an undeniable influence on some of Israel's religious conceptions, though this influence may have been exaggerated by a recent school of exegesis. We must therefore devote some attention to them. Unfortunately our information is one-sided; it is mainly about Judah, from which most of our documents have come, and we have just seen that Israel held another view of the royal power. Moreover, it is incomplete, because the Biblical writers were not specially interested in studying institutions. We can of course make good this deficiency by examining the organization of the neighbouring countries, which is sometimes better known; this can be very helpful, but then we run the risk of attributing to Israel ideas or customs which were foreign to it.


1. Accession to the throne

We have seen that while the dynastic principle was never really accepted in the northern kingdom, it was always observed in Judah. Even in Judah, however, accession to the throne implies a divine choice: a man is 'king by the grace of God', not only because God made a covenant with the dynasty of David, but because his choice was exercised at each accession. If the kingdom descended to Solomon and not to his elder brother Adonias, it was 'because it came to him from Yahweh' ( 1 K 2: 15; cf. 1 Ch 28: 5), and, as we shall see, every enthronement meant a renewal of the Davidic covenant and an adoption of the new sovereign by Yahweh. This idea of divine choice is universal in the ancient East. It is affirmed in Mesopotamia, even when a king succeeds his father, as was the ordinary rule, and at all periods, from Gudea, who is 'the shepherd designed by Ningirsu in his heart', down to Nabonidus, whom ' Sin and Nergal chose to reign when he was yet in his mother's womb', and Cyrus, of whom a Babylonian document says, 'Marduk chose his name for the kingdom over the world.' With this we naturally compare Is 44: 28, 'It is I (Yahweh) who say to Cyrus: My shepherd', and Is 45: 1, 'Thus says Yahweh to Cyrus his anointed.' The idea is carried to extremes in Egypt, where every king is held to be a son of Ra, the sun-god. In the

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