The current issue of Biblical Archaeology Review (Sept./Oct. 2013, Vol. 39 No. 5) includes an article–“Portraits of Ancient Israelite Kings” by Irit Ziffer–that is fascinating for its depiction of how absolute monarchy turns human beings into groveling nebbishes.
Illustrations of ancient monuments show grown men prostrating themselves before kings and actually kissing the ground the king walks on (pg. 43), waiting on the ruler hand and foot (pg. 46), and being presented to him, stark naked, as his prisoners, to kill or enslave as he pleases (pg. 49). These monuments span many centuries of history in Mesopotamia, Canaan, and elsewhere, showing the long persistence of tyranny.
Is this not a shameful way to live? But it seems a way that our own country’s rulers are intent on imitating. Most of the members of our ruling class, if they could trade places with one of those kings, would think they’d died and gone to heaven. Just imagine Hilary Clinton sitting on a throne, grinning at some helpless prisoner, and you’ve got the picture.
While all this was going on around them, God gave His people Israel laws by which they could govern themselves, under God, as free men and women accountable to Him. Unlike their contemporaries everywhere else, the rulers of ancient Israel could not have someone put to death just because they felt like it. Under God’s law, that person had to commit one of several capital crimes, and could not be sentenced to death until he had been convicted by the testimony of at least two independent witnesses.
But of course the people of Israel rejected government by God’s laws and clamored for a king, because all the other nations had kings. God punished them by giving them what they wanted. Over time–as told in the Bible–the kings of Israel and Judah drifted farther and farther away from God, dragging the people with them: and the end result was destruction at the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians.
We in America have followed the same road; and it will take us to the same destination.
P.S.–To view the article online, visit the BAR website, http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org