Royal Ideology

Royal Ideology


We were talking last time about the establishment
of the monarchy or kingship in Israel and I want to say a little bit about some of the
features of Israelite kingship, and today I’ll be coming back frequently to the Israelite
notions of kingship and royal ideology. But to start off: one of the most important
things to realize is that the king in Israel was not divine, as he was in Egypt, or even
semi-divine. Occasionally, he offered sacrifice but he
didn’t play a regular role in the cult. Israelite royal ideology was heavily indebted to Canaanite
royal ideology. You have similar language that’s applied to the kings of Israel. The
king is said to be appointed by the deity or deities to end wickedness, to enlighten
the land, he is the channel of prosperity and divine blessing for the nation. All of
this is true of Canaanite kings as well, and the king, as we’ve seen, is spoken of as “God’s
son”. That doesn’t imply divinity. It’s a metaphor, the metaphor of sonship. It was
used for the Canaanite gods as well, and it expressed the special relationship between
the king and the deity. It was the same relationship as was found between that of a suzerain and
a vassal, and in our suzerainty treaties, also, the vassal is the son of the suzerain.
It’s a kind of adoption, and what it means is that the one who is metaphorically the
son is to serve the father loyally, faithfully, but is also susceptible to chastisement from
him. And that’s what we saw in Nathan’s statement
or pronouncement or prophecy to David last time.
Michael Coogan points out that the notion of the sonship of the king was revolutionary.
It was a deliberate effort to replace an earlier understanding according to which the entire
nation of Israel was God’s son. You remember during the plagues in Egypt when God refers
to Pharaoh as having oppressed His son, Israel, His firstborn. As Yahweh’s son, the king now
is standing between God and the people as a whole. And we’re going to return in a moment
to this new royal ideology and what’s really going to be a very tense juxtaposition with
the covenant theology. But first I want to say a little bit more about the characters
of David and Solomon before going into the way royal ideology was later developed.
In the Bible, David is second only in importance and in textual space to Moses; the amount
of space that’s devoted to him, is second only to Moses. There are three characteristics
of David which stand out, and the first is that he’s described as being quite proficient
in music and poetry and so we’ll see that later tradition is going to attribute to him
not only the invention of various instruments but also the composition of the Book of Psalms.
It seems to make sense that he would be the composer of the Book of Psalms in that he
has a reputation for poetry and music. He is also credited with great military and
tactical skill and confidence. He deploys his army on behalf of Israel but he also,
once he is king, deploys his army within Israel against his rivals.
Third, he is depicted as a very shrewd politician. And it was David who created permanent symbols
of God’s election of Israel, God’s election of David himself, God’s election of David’s
house or line or dynasty to rule over Israel in perpetuity.
It is said that he conceived the idea of a royal capital. He captured the city of Jebus,
Yebus–it was a border town so it was free of any tribal association. I guess it’s sort
of like Washington, D.C.; it’s not located really within any one tribe; and he captured
this and built it up as the city of David. The city was going to be renamed Jerusalem
and it would become understood as the chosen city, the place where God caused His name
to dwell: as Deuteronomy said, there would be a place where God would choose to cause
His name to dwell.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *