Ferdinand I (1875-1938), king of Romania between 1914-1927
The Bible celebrates God’s kingship in some of the most beautiful lyrical texts. The Song at the Sea is a homage to the Divine King that proved his authority as superior to that of the Egyptian Pharaoh (Exodus 15). His magisterial leadership is saluted through several psalms, called for that reason The Monarchical Psalms, some of which even start with the proclamation: ‘The Lord reigns’ (93, 97, 99).
Although one can easily imagine that the image of a king was implied by the biblical writers to support their doctrine of Godhead, there are other images used as means of communicating the truth about God. In other instances, God is compared to a Judge, a Commander, a President, a Father, a Husband, a Friend, a Shepherd, a Potter, a Goldsmith, a Builder, or a Guard, to mention just the most frequently used images. We could have also mentioned God as shield, fortress, mountain, rock, sun, moth, rottenness, etc. These images come from different segments of the ancient society.
SNAPSHOTS FROM ROMANIA’S RECENT HISTORY
More than 50 years ago, more precisely few days before the Christmas Eve, H.M.S. Michael of Romania was invited urgently to the capital city of Bucharest by a prime-minister who seized power, Petru-Groza. The king left his palace Pelesh accompanied by his mother. His first guess was that the government reached a decision concerning his marriage engagement to princess Ann of Danemark, planned for April 1948. At only 22 years of age, in August 1944, H.M.S. Michael succeeded in ending up the military dictatorship of Marshal Antonescu. Only three years after the dramatic events that got Romania out of a dangerous partnership with Nazi Germany and halted an unjust war for his country, King Michael was forced to resign under the threat of death. He had been already announced about a secret initiative the Communists had in mind for the coming spring, calling the nation for a referendum concerning the Constitution. Probably fearing the impact of His Majesty New Year’s Eve address to the nation might have, the Communist decided to act immediately. Thus, on the last day of the year 1947, they forced King Michael to sign his own resignation and proclaimed the Republic. This is how Romania became kingless, or a king short. It was the 30th December 1947. Soon afterwards he was forced to leave the country, which he re-entered only after 50 years of exile.
The few monarchies left in Europe might still enjoy a favorable status-quo, but it is not difficult to predict their extinction. Especially if the relevance of this institution is assessed from the perspective of public interest and the credibility of the persons in office. Consequently kings and queens are pushed back from public life to their reclusive but glamorous palaces. The British beloved queen’s popularity is decreasing. The former Bulgarian king resigns to his monarchic right to become prime-minister. Even so, the monarchy represented a source of inspiration for generations of people, not only in Europe but in the whole world. Disregard its age and tradition people from different continents associated to the kingship the divine right to rule the world. Behind a fragile human there was always a sense of persistency that can be associated with very few other things.
Background: THE KING IN ANCIENT ISRAEL
As we understand now the progress of politics, it seems that the separation of power in state appeared in the Greek states, as a reaction to king absolutism. This was precisely the reality of this office in Orient wherein the king enjoyed both legislative and executive authority at the same time. Besides he was the commander-in-chief of the army and many times even the high priest of the state authorized religion. Therefore the best title fitting the king office was that of despot, that is all powerful lieder of the state.
Kingship was a relatively new thing for the Hebrews, even though it was announced as early as the patriarchs (Gen. 17:6, 16; 35:11). Nevertheless the king type preferred by God was very much different from that of the political context of the day. We can even speak of the first official intention to separate the powers in state. Thus,
• The high-priest office was reserved to the Levites from the family of Aaron.
• The Commander-in-chief office was vacant, because the Lord reserved it for Himself.
• The legislative authority was moderated through the High Council, that is the 70 elders.
During the course of history, there were some Israelite kings passionate about power, but absolute power was acquired only at the expense of social injustice and after eliminating of the competitors by unorthodox means. The advice of the High Council was frequently ignored in favor of some close advisors counsel. We read about other kings who brought to the court and supported cohorts of prophets just to hear prophesied the message they needed (the so-called Yes-men).
The Law of Moses interdicted the Israelite king getting busy with gathering treasures, militarizing the nation and enlarging the harem (Deut 17:14-20). On the contrary, he was supposed to accumulate knowledge about God’s Law (memorizing it and copying it for himself) and then supervise it being taught to the people. It is known that this happened only in few particular occasions, wherein the kings who promoted the Biblical understanding of the office were appreciated by the people, declared good, passionate for God as none other before. Such exemplary individuals were rare, though. We read about how the Israelites asked for the king, putting the prophet Samuel under pressure to anoint for them a king to resemble the foreign pattern prompted by the Ammonite king-judge-commander-in-chief. The type requested promoted the idea of a despot king in flagrant opposition to the type intended by God.
Once the king was in place, we read that he would reign from the capital-city (eventually Jerusalem). The signs of monarchy were the sceptre and the crown. We read about how David fetched the crown of his Moabite counterpart, a masterpiece in gold and precious stones weighing one talent, that is about 75 pounds (2 Sam 12:30). The sceptre must have been a lavishly ornamented baton, on which there were engraved the heraldry. Rare materials were expected to have been used, mainly gold and ivory. The Bible speaks in more details about Ahashverosh’s sceptre (Esther 5:2, 8:4). Richness was always appreciated by kings and Israelite kings were no exception. Some kings were very generous to the people and Temple though. Eventually money guaranteed resources for purchasing armament, strengthening and fortifying the cities. The most notable inventions in terms of weaponry were the composite bow, the war horse, war chariots, catapults and assault towers. It was mostly Solomon and Uzziah who invested in this new technology (2 Kgs 9:10 ff; 10:26-29; 2 Chr 26:15).
One of the most important duties of the king was the succession. By large, the institution of harem was promoted to avoid succession problems. Obviously, there were other problems inherent to it, such as the great costs involved, the court plot, especially when multiple potential successors were available, etc. For example, it is known the case of Ghedeon. Even he has never become a king and refused the office when invited to hold it, he behaved as if he was cut short of his natural right. He used to have a large enough harem for his 70 male offspring to be justified. Surprisingly he also had an illegitimate son whom he called “my father is king” (Abi-Melek). Compared to Ghedeon, David was poor, because he had only 8 wives and 10 concubines. Compared to Solomon this was nothing: the Bible credited him with 700 wives and 300 concubines. In such circumstances, naming the future king was probably the most important public act of a king, very useful and dangerous at the same time, because it tended to awaken the conspirators from their tidy sleep.
King’s security was assured by professional soldiers, paid from palace resources. They were called “runners” and their duty was to guard the palace. Many times the security of king himself was trusted to mercenaries, like the Greeks from Cyprus. These body guards are known as Cherethits and Pelethits, and their command was entrusted to the most able Hebrew captain from the group of “valiant warriors”.
Foreground: GOD AS KING
THE OLD TESTAMENT WITNESS
Probably the first mission God takes over as the king of his people is freeing his nation from Egyptian bondage (Exod 7:1-5). God makes a covenant with Israel at Sinai, a contract that is spelled out very much in resemblance with the suzerainty treaties in Ancient Near East. In those days, it was customary to deal with the trickiest problems on the battlefield and allow the gods to decide between the litigious parties. Lord’s triumph over the Egyptian army was interpreted as a reflection of his ability to reign forever (see the Song at the Sea – Exod 15:1-19).
Seeing God enthroned is part of the same Sinai tradition. At the Holy Mountain, Israel’s leaders are allowed to see part of God’s glory, to be more precise the most insignificant part of his throne: “Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.” (Exod 12:10) Of a clearer view was the vision granted to Isaiah, but even this one barely gets above the feet level. Isaiah saw a throne, somebody sitting and the hem of the robe filling the Temple (Isa 6:1-3). The person to whom the seraphs and cherubs were paying such a trembling homage must have been God. By far, the most detailed description of God’s lordship belongs to Ezekiel (chapters 1 and 10), but even his vision stops at throne level, paying attention to details underneath the throne platform.
King and Prophet David tried to put in words God’s majesty and this is how Psalm 60 was born. But then he liked it so much that he reiterates it again in Psalm 108. There are other psalms that are speaking about God in similar terms, therefore called Kingship Psalms. For example, Psalm 24 talks about the entry of the king in Jerusalem, psalm 29 ascribes to the Lord all authority, and psalm 146 praises His sovereignty over all other lords and masters.
Psalms 93, 97 and 99 share a couple of common characteristic. Formally they all start with the cry out: “The Lord is King!” and end up with references to his holiness. Thematically they discuss the matter of God’s authority extended over all His subjects, even when it is not accepted wilfully. Submission to God and to his king are melted together into the concept of public service as loyalty to the king rightfully enthroned which now has a long history. This we can see very well when reading the wisdom literature of the OT. Here are just few examples:
A king delights in a wise servant, but a shameful servant incurs his wrath. (Pr. 14:35)
A king’s wrath is like the roar of a lion; he who angers him forfeits his life. (Pr. 20:2)
He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend. (Pr. 22:11)
THE NEW TESTAMENT WITNESS
Nativity Narratives speak about the new born son, not Joseph’s, but God’s. Especially according to Matthew, the baby is regarded as king’s son. It is a sarcastic play on Herod, the tyrant playing the role of the current king who doesn’t have a clue about something like that happening to his court. Even after the holy family returns from exile in Egypt they refrain themselves to live in the capital city, as if they would have disturbed the current king, this time Herod’s son, by claiming the throne for little Jesus. I am sure it was nothing like this in Jesus’ parents’ minds but it is a meaningful connection Matthew makes in his gospel.
Look then at the way Jesus behaved, walking with commoners, rarely in very populated places like the capital overcrowded neighbourhoods. His concern was to heal and help. Crowd were always around him for his compassion was wide known, being probably the most significant part of Jesus’ reputation that preceded him. His preferences resemble rather the shadow king David. Nevertheless his powerful speeches entitle Him as the new lawmaker of Israel. Thus the Sermon on the Mount is considered by many the new Constitution of the new people of God. The Parables of the Kingdom allow us to feel His concern for the Kingdom as one who knows the thing from inside. Two of them are particularly important here: Matthew 22:1-14 describes God’s dealings with humanity, and Matthew 18:21-25 describes the relations expected between God’s servants.
Jesus is received as a king in Jerusalem. Both the ritual prepared by his disciples at Jesus’ command and the warm reception the population is self explanatory. His message during the following days focused on God’s Kingdom. Eventually Jesus is arrested. The main accusation is actually a misinterpretation of a subjective claim. Based on the assumption that Jesus is King, very much in charge over God’s Kingdom, the Pharisees built up the charge that Jesus entitled himself King of Judea the Roman province, tempting to destabilize the rule of Cesar. Unconsciously they touched the core of Jesus’ teaching and the bottom of reality: Jesus was a king indeed, not over Judea but the King of Universe.
Probably the most eloquent presentation of this event comes from apostle John (John 18:33ff). All gospel writers witness that there was no other accusation against Jesus than that of declaring himself “king of Jews”. Apostle John tell us the circumstances which led to the writing of the guilt on a board on top of his cross (John 19:19-22). Pilat’s intentions was to defile the leading Jews and the whole nation nailing in the tree the best they could come up with; it was a public scorn Pilat was so happy to use.
It takes some time before the apostles understood clearly the kingship of Jesus in God’s economy. The dynastic right of Jesus over the throne of David stays as the historical basis for Jesus being the MESSIAH, but also it’s the basis for his divinity (ap. Peter at Pentecost – Acts 2:22-36, ap. Paul in Antiohia – Acts 13:21-41). His sovereignty is going to be manifested over all creation at the proper time. The history will not end up until he will not achieve this purpose. Eventually all the authority will be handed back to God the Father (1 Cor 15:24-26).
When the apostle John sees Lord Jesus while being exiled in Patmos in a manner similar to OT prophets. His sight is scaring, all light and fire (Rev 1:13-20). The throne is a complex place: the presence of God is sensed there, there are cherubs and the Lamb. Throughout the New Testament Jesus presented as LORD Jesus, a right earned through birth right (coming from David’s dynasty) and ressurection. Read
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.
Obviously royalty is connected with authority. The king used to represent the final authority in state. Associating kingship and divinity was possible due to the representative character of the king office. As a matter of fact, the king from Davidic line received the epithet “son of God”. Prophets saw in it the proper fulfilment in Messiah. This formula identifies the man by excellence, God’s representative on earth, in Zion, the chosen city. GOD is our King and he is calling for our allegiance. There will be a time for rewards, but for now our unconditional submission is expected. The Lord is the Great King of the Universe. Be thankful for you being chosen as his servant. Be graceful towards other servants like yourself the same Lord was graceful to you. If God is really the King we talked about, honour Him by words, thoughts, deeds, relations, behaviours, by your mere existence.