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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sunday, November 27, 2005

"On Having the Right King"

(This Sermon was presented November 26, 2005 at Ahavat Zion. It deals with our tendency to whittle God down to a conventient shape and size, to seek for a user-friendly Deity, and the problems this leads to).

Adonijah was the son of King David, but not slated to be king. So he tried to steal the position from out from under King David and his half brother, Solomon. And Adonijah almost pulled it off, were it not for the vigilance and faithfulness of Bathsheba, and Nathan the Prophet.

Now you may assume that one king is as good as another. However, the Bible doesn’t agree. The Bible takes care to remind us that there were good kings, and bad kings, kings who were a blessing, and kings who were a disaster for God’s people. Among the people of Israel, human kings were the ones who set the tone for the nation as a whole. . . As the king went, so went the nation. If the King followed the Lord, then the nation followed the Lord, and if he didn’t, then the nation didn’t either. And when the nation did not follow the Lord, sooner or later, disaster would strike.

Following the Lord is important—because it is only by following the true and living God that we will find that our life has indeed been well-lived and well-invested. So it is that we read this incredible assessment of Abaham’s life, found in today’s Torah passage: "1 Abraham was now old, advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed Abraham in all things."
And in fact, it is the Lord who is the true King, toward whom the earthly kings of Israel and Judah were meant to serve merely as pointers, and toward whom they were to be faithful, modeling that faithfulness to the rest of Israel. This is why Kings were required to write their own copy of the Torah—that they might be reminded to be faithful to the One True King, the Living God blessed be He .

But the people of Israel were fickle, and we are still that way We what what we want, even if that takes us away from really honoring God This is why Samuel the Prophet, who was to be the one to anoint the first human king of Israel, was chagrined with the people. He saw what was coming: he saw that we have a tendency to manufacture kings of our own liking. Actually, we have a tendency to wander away from the simplicity of honoring God. We get fancy. We get cute. We try to improve on things. And we create messes by doing so.

Look at what happened when the people asked Samuel to give them a human king. There is a truckload of wisdom in this passage:

1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his first-born son was Jo'el, and the name of his second, Abi'jah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, "Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations." 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to govern us." And Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, "Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds which they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, hearken to their voice; only, you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them." 10 So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking a king from him. 11 He said, "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your asses, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day." 19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, "No! but we will have a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles." 21 And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. 22 And the LORD said to Samuel, "Hearken to their voice, and make them a king." Samuel then said to the men of Israel, "Go every man to his city."

12: 7 Now therefore stand still, that I may plead with you before the LORD concerning all the saving deeds of the LORD which he performed for you and for your fathers. 8 When Jacob went into Egypt and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried to the LORD and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought forth your fathers out of Egypt, and made them dwell in this place. 9 But they forgot the LORD their God; and he sold them into the hand of Sis'era, commander of the army of Jabin king of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab; and they fought against them. 10 And they cried to the LORD, and said, 'We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD, and have served the Ba'als and the Ash'taroth; but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve thee.' 11 And the LORD sent Jerubba'al and Barak, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side; and you dwelt in safety. 12 And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, 'No, but a king shall reign over us,' when the LORD your God was your king. 13 And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the LORD has set a king over you. 14 If you will fear the LORD and serve him and hearken to his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God, it will be well; 15 but if you will not hearken to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king."

The people insisted on a king after their liking, a king like the other nations, when the Lord was already their king.
We have a tendency to reject the kingship of God as He is, and to install other kings in our lives—installing other, more pleasing, groovy, perhaps even sexy alternative deities. And we do this all in the name of serving God.
In our New Covenant passage as well, we see the people of Israel rejecting their true King. This is nothing new, you see. It is very old, but also very current, because we tend to do the same things our ancestors did, just as they replicated the mistakes of their own ancestors.

In our New Covenant reading, the people in Pilate’s courtyard choose Barabbas, a popular revolutionary, over Yeshua, the true King of the Jews. This is an excellent picture of what all of us are prone to do—to exchange the truth about God for a lie, to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, to fashion for ourselves more convenient, user-friendly models of God. We do it constantly. Most of us have modified God and we don’t even realize that we have done so.
So what’s the big deal? Why am I harping on this?

The big deal is that only a life spent in serving the true God, and walking in His ways, will in the end prove to be well-invested. Any other choices, no matter how attractive, will inevitably result in profound and shattering regret. When we leave off following in the ways of God, ordering our foot steps to follow Him, our feet always lead us into trouble. The only variable here is in how soon it becomes apparent to us that we are in trouble. For some people, the awareness only comes at the end of life. For the luckier ones, we realize sooner than that that we have wandered from the way, that "all we like sheep have gone astray," that we have ceased following the True and Living God. And when we realize that we have modified God, and thus modified our lives from conformity to His will, there is only one thing to do. And that is the heartily repent and to return to a right vision of God and a right understanding of how we ought to be living.

What are some measures we might institute to make sure we are on the right track and that we stay there?

(1) Read the Bible constantly. Someone has said, "the Bible will keep you from sin and sin will keep you from the Bible." This is true. It is also true that constancy in reading the Bible will keep you oriented to who the True King is and to his ways. You will develop not only knowledge of His ways, but also an instinct for the kinds of things that please or displease Him. If you are avoiding the Bible, it may well be because you recognize you are not following God as you should. It is time to return to God and to return to reading the Scriptures. They are the best ever repository of reliable information about the Living and Eternal King.

(2) Listen to the voice of our traditiion. We are part of people who have been seeking to honor the Living and Eternal King for thousands of years. Let us not be so cocky as to imagine that we can develop a mature knowledge of God while rejecting the broader context of that community to whom the Bible was given. He is the God "asher bachar banu mikkol ha-ammim, v’natan lanu et Torato," the people chosen by God to be recipients of His revelation. We need to listen to the voices of others of contemporaries who reverently interact with what the Bible teaches and of whom it speaks. And we need to listen to the voices from the past, the voices of tradition: we need to eavesdrop on thousands of years of Jewish discussion of the way God is and acts and what that tradition regards as solid information about the Holy One.

(3) Don’t be so proud as to imagine that others within the community of God’s faithful, the wider ekklesia, don’t have anything to teach us. This is proud and foolish language. Instead, we should learn from the church’s accumulated wisdom of the centuries about the ways of God and compare their knowledge to our own and that of the Jewish community. God can teach us through their experience, the same way we can instruct Christians through our own.

(4) Beware of your own tendency and of that of people you associate with to modify God and to fudge on His ways. Always be asking yourself, "What is the best I know of God’s mind for His people when we are found situations like this?" This means being leery of your own tendency to instinctively modify God when there is something you don’t want to do or something you want to do, while you are sensing that your wants are not in line with what God says of Himself.

(5) Beware of accommodating yourself to social contexts and to people who have another King other than the God of our people, even when that king is simply their own preferences.

(6) Do not yoke yourself with evil: do not create alliances and relationships that require of you unacceptable compromises of your values and allegiance to God. You don’t have to be a hard-liner in some abrasive sense, in fact you should not. But you need to have firm boundaries, and know what they are. And you need to be prepared to assert those boundaries when you are being encouraged or tempted to ignore them or treat them as negotiable.

(7) Learn to honor the King and ask of Him that He would remind you in many ways of how wise was your decision to honor Him. Following God is hard, and we need his encouragement.

(8) Let us all remember to be an encouragement to one another in following the ways of God. And when you need help from others to persist in following God, learn to ask for that help. Following God is hard, and we all need one another’s prayers, encouragement, and assistance.