The Lust For Power: How Politics and Personal Relations Become One


WILLIAM YAO


The stories of the Bible reveal a pattern of “ups and downs” for the
nation of Israel. A period of prosperity, faithfulness and fearing God would
almost always be followed by a period of destitution, lawlessness and idolatry.
This recurring cycle can be linked to political authority, and the level of
separation of political authority from other influences. The successful
struggle for liberation under the leadership of Moses and the glorious conquest
of Canaan under Joshua instilled a fresh breeze of hope and a renewed faith in
God in the nation of Israel. Guided by God, the nation of Israel met with
unprecedented success as they journeyed to the promised land. During this time,
political authority among the Israelites rested in the hands of patriarchs, or
prominent members within the tribes. These men were righteous figures of
authority, chosen by God, to lead His people and to teach His ways. The success
that swept over the Israelites was short-lived, however, and for the next two
hundred years the people of Israel struggled against neighboring tribes. The
new generation of Israelites “knew neither the Lord nor what he did for Israel”
(Judges 2:10). They began to “do evil in the eyes of the Lord” by worshipping
other gods and engaging in various sexual activities. To save His people from
their enemies and from their “evil ways,” God “raised up” judges to rescue them
(Judges 2:16). These so-called judges had the political authority vested in
them to lead the people of Israel and to save them from their sins. They
mobilized the people of Israel against invasions of the tribes all around them.
At this time, the nation of Israel was nothing more than a loose confederation
of twelve tribes. Israel had no central authority, which meant no unity, no
organization and no power. During the period of the judges, there was no need
for a central government, because the people of Israel were able to defend their
tribal territories effectively against adjoining peoples. Whenever there was a
threat from a neighboring tribe, God sent a judge to lead the Israelites against
their enemies. As this era came to an end, however, the Israelites were faced
with a much larger problem - the Philistines\' military threat. As the
Israelites were eliminating all the small powers around them, the Philistines,
with their iron implements and organization, were becoming an emergent threat.
In order to protect themselves from the looming danger of the Philistine army,
the Israelites asked for a king to furnish unification, organization and power
for the nation of Israel. God granted their request, and Samuel reluctantly
appointed Saul in God\'s name. The king\'s function was to provide leadership and
to unify the people against their enemies. However, the responsibilities,
powers and privileges that came with kingship overwhelmingly went beyond the
scope of politics. The personal relationships between the king and his people
became increasingly involved with government. With the rise of the monarchy
came a definite change in political authority. As Israel changed from the
period of judges to the period of the monarchy, politics and political authority
became increasingly associated with personal relationships. In the period of
the monarchs, the separation between politics and personal matters was no longer
delineated as it was before, and politics and personal relations became
interrelated.
"Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and
saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived" (Judges
2:18). God sent judges to lead the Israelites in the process of consolidating
tribal areas and defense against organized enemies. The judges led the
Israelites into battle and also served as reminders to the people to obey the
word of God. It is needless to say then, that the judges were leaders of the
Israelites during desperate times. The main reason why a clear distinction
between personal relations and political authority during the period of the
judges was possible , was that there was no succession of judges. God chose
judges to lead Israel against its enemies only when they were in need of
leadership and guidance, and in doing so, there was no power struggle or “fight
for the crown.” There was no specific person “next in line” to lead the
Israelites, because the only thing important to them at that time was defending
themselves against neighboring powers. It was of no concern to the Israelites
who the leader was, as long as the leader was competent and effective. Another
characteristic of the judges\' rule that compensated for