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The appointment of a king in Israel (1 Samuel 4ff) pitted the will of the people against the will of God, and the nationalist movement wedged the prophet Samuel right in the middle of the fray. Israel alleged the need for a king because Samuel’s sons waxed nefarious. The whole business hurt Samuel’s feelings, but God told him to cheer up, because Israel had not rejected Samuel, they had rejected God. “Vox populi vox dei.” The history of kingship in Israel demonstrates how bad a joke that really can be.

Israel’s first king (Saul) started off great, then formed a bad habit of taking matters into his own hands, and he descended from bitterness to madness to suicide. The king who succeeded him (David), “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), remained for centuries the posthumous standard-bearer for royalty in Israel, even though David seduced a soldier’s wife, then had the man killed.

David’s son (Solomon) went off the deep end chasing women from around the world, and after the kingdom split, not one sovereign in the north and only a handful in the south scored a good review. There was Josiah, so devout that he wept like a heart-broken evangelist at the discovery of a long-lost prayer book, but there was also Manasseh, who got his jollies sacrificing children in fire. Based purely on math, would you say that Israel’s first official experiment in politics failed?

“Holy history” sheds light on all history, especially during this season of seasons that celebrates the experiment we call the United States of America. (The Declaration of Independence was signed starting August 2, 1776, btw.) Political commentary is verboten in this space. But is it going too far here to suggest that 100 percent faith in any human system, no matter how noble in principle, is risky business? That something else (Someone else?) deserves our deeper loyalty? “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8).

The Rev. Eugene Stockstill is pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Myrtle United Methodist Church in Union County.

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