tions Become OneThe Lust For Power: How Politics and Personal Relations Become OneWILLIAM YAOThe stories of the Bible reveal a pattern of ups and downs for thenation of Israel. A period of prosperity, faithfulness and fearing God wouldalmost always be followed by a period of destitution, lawlessness and idolatry. This recurring cycle can be linked to political authority, and the level ofseparation of political authority from other influences. The successfulstruggle for liberation under the leadership of Moses and the glorious conquestof Canaan under Joshua instilled a fresh breeze of hope and a renewed faith inGod in the nation of Israel.
Guided by God, the nation of Israel met withunprecedented success as they journeyed to the promised land. During this time,political authority among the Israelites rested in the hands of patriarchs, orprominent members within the tribes. These men were righteous figures ofauthority, chosen by God, to lead His people and to teach His ways. The successthat swept over the Israelites was short-lived, however, and for the next twohundred years the people of Israel struggled against neighboring tribes.
Thenew 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 worshippingother gods and engaging in various sexual activities. To save His people fromtheir 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 inthem to lead the people of Israel and to save them from their sins. Theymobilized the people of Israel against invasions of the tribes all around them.Order now
At this time, the nation of Israel was nothing more than a loose confederationof twelve tribes. Israel had no central authority, which meant no unity, noorganization and no power. During the period of the judges, there was no needfor a central government, because the people of Israel were able to defend theirtribal territories effectively against adjoining peoples. Whenever there was athreat from a neighboring tribe, God sent a judge to lead the Israelites againsttheir enemies. As this era came to an end, however, the Israelites were facedwith a much larger problem – the Philistines’ military threat.
As theIsraelites 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 powerfor the nation of Israel. God granted their request, and Samuel reluctantlyappointed Saul in God’s name. The king’s function was to provide leadership andto unify the people against their enemies. However, the responsibilities,powers and privileges that came with kingship overwhelmingly went beyond thescope of politics.
The personal relationships between the king and his peoplebecame increasingly involved with government. With the rise of the monarchycame a definite change in political authority. As Israel changed from theperiod of judges to the period of the monarchy, politics and political authoritybecame increasingly associated with personal relationships. In the period ofthe monarchs, the separation between politics and personal matters was no longerdelineated as it was before, and politics and personal relations becameinterrelated.
“Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge andsaved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived” (Judges2:18). God sent judges to lead the Israelites in the process of consolidatingtribal areas and defense against organized enemies. The judges led theIsraelites into battle and also served as reminders to the people to obey theword of God. It is needless to say then, that the judges were leaders of theIsraelites during desperate times. The main reason why a clear distinctionbetween personal relations and political authority during the period of thejudges was possible , was that there was no succession of judges. God chosejudges to lead Israel against its enemies only when they were in need ofleadership and guidance, and in doing so, there was no power struggle or fightfor the crown.
There was no specific person next in line to lead theIsraelites, because the only thing important to them at that time was defendingthemselves against neighboring powers. It was of no concern to the Israeliteswho the leader was, as long as the leader was competent and effective. Anothercharacteristic of the judges’ rule that compensated for the separation ofpolitics and personal matters was the brevity of their leadership. Whereas amonarch would remain ruler of the land after conquest, the judges served only asa sort of temporary relief for the nation of Israel. After fulfilling theirassignment as leaders of the Israelites against their adversaries during timesof emergency, they would humble themselves before God and before the Israelites. It is clear that the judges possessed political authority over the Israelites,but rarely did they allow personal matters and relationships to interfere withgovernment.
Only in the case of Samson did his personal relationships anddesires come in the way of political authority. There were twelve judges inall, but the Bible pays most of its attention to three of the twelve: Deborah,Gideon, and Samson. Deborah, the only woman leader of the judges, won unquestioned respect. She commanded Barak, son of Abinoam, to battle Sisera, the commander of thearmy of King Jabin.
Throughout the story of her triumph, not once was Deborah’spersonal relations mentioned. It can be assumed then, that Deborah kept herpersonal relations separate from her political leadership, and was focused onone thing and one thing only – the defeat of Jabin and the Canaanites. Forty years of peace ensued after Deborah’s military victory, and thenthe people of Israel again began to fall into sin and were overcome once again,this time by the Midianites. God raised up Gideon to direct the people ofIsrael against the Midianites.
Gideon defeated the Midianites, and in doing so,was offered an opportunity to be king. However, Gideon declined the opportunityto rule declaring I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. TheLord will rule over you (Judges 8:23). The lack of succession of judges isparallel to the separation of politics and personal relations.
There wasevidently no power struggle among the Israelites, because even when offered thepower to rule, Gideon declined. There was no fight for succession of leadershipbecause there was no succession of leadership. The story of Samson can be seen as the transition from the period ofjudges to the period of the monarchy. Samson, although the most gifted of thejudges, had a tragic flaw; he was pitifully unable to control his lust for women. Samson’s personal desire for women affected his ability to reason, and thushindered his ability to lead the people of Israel.
With his great physicalstrength and hot temper, Samson single-handedly pushed back the Philistines -more by accident than by intention. . He was eventually betrayed and ruined bya woman due to his boisterous wildness and careless encounter with Delilah. Godintended Samson for great things.
Of all the judges, he was the only one to beannounced by an angel before he was born (Judges 13:3). He was givensupernatural abilities, and his life was specially devoted to God. However,despite all these advantages given to him at birth, his uncontrollable desirefor woman destroyed him. His personal relations destroyed his prospects ofbecoming a great leader among the Israelites. Samson’s desire for womenoverpowered his desire to deliver the Israelites out of the hands of thePhilistines, and this led to his tragic downfall.
The story of Samson vaguelyforeshadows the connection between politics and personal relations in the periodof the monarchs. It acts as a link joining a period when politics and personalrelations are clearly defined and separate, and a period when they areindistinct and inseparable. Nearing the end of the period of the judges, the Israelites began tonotice that virtually every other nation had a king, while Isarael was nothingmore than an alliance of scattered tribes . The rising power of the Philistinesand other imminent threats to Israelite security impelled the Israelites to askfor a king.
A king offered two advantages: first, a king would provide centralgovernment, therefore providing unity and organization; and second, since a kingwould normally be succeeded by his sons, the nation did not have a crisis ofleadership every its leader became old. God despondently granted the wish ofHis people and gave them a king. Samuel anointed Saul as king of Israel, andthe people were satisfied. Military success went hand in hand with bringing thetribes together in one united country, but when the desire for succession of thecrown came into play, personal relations and government become one.
Saul was successful as king of Israel until David proved to be a threatto the crown. After David defeated Goliath of the Philistines, the people sangaloud Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands (1 Samuel18:7). Saul thus became jealous of David, for he could not stand to be secondbest in a nation he calls his own. From that point thereafter, Saul’s politicalauthority and leadership was no longer concentrated on the good of the nationand the welfare of his people, but rather he focused his efforts on keeping ajealous eye on David (1 Samuel 18:11), and David remained his enemy the restof his days (1 Samuel 18:29). Saul spent the rest of his days searching forDavid in attempts to kill him so that he may regain the respect of his people,and in doing so killed many innocent bystanders that got in his way.
This rashoutrage of jealousy and personal hatred for David was critically associated withpolitics. While Saul could have directed his efforts toward the betterment ofIsrael, he was after personal benefit, and this led to his eventual collapse. David, having unconditional respect for Saul, spared his life twice, and thusallowed Saul to further pursue him. Saul eventually dies, however, and David ismade king over the house of Judah.
Although David’s reign was better than that of Saul’s, he too hadproblems. Ish-Bosheth is the threat to the throne this time, while Ish-Bosheth’s general Abner is a threat to him. Abner slept with Saul’s concubine,therefore openly making a claim on the crown. In David’s time, women acted aspolitical symbols.
Abner’s sleeping with Saul’s concubine suggested that he hadhis eyes on becoming king himself. In pursuit of David, Abner killed thebrother of Joab, David’s general. As a result Joab had a personal vendettaagainst Abner and was after his life. When Ish-Bosheth was murdered, and it wasevident that David was going to become the next king, Joab murdered Abner. Itis not difficult to see that this soap opera of events is due to the fact thatpersonal relations and politics were interrelated. Either personal relationseffected a political change, or politics effected a change in personal relations.
After David is crowned king of Israel, he had problems of the same nature. David, seeing the alluring Bathsheba, wanted her for his own immediately. Heblatantly disregarded the fact that she had a husband, Uriah, and took her forhis wife, having Uriah killed in the process. This corrupt use of politicalauthority demonstrates how political authority and personal relations are linked. David’s son, Absalom, also had his eyes on the throne. He led a conspiracyagainst his father by traveling all over Israel winning the favor of the people,and he also slept with his father’s concubines in public.
Absalom publiclyslept with his father’s concubines for political reasons; it made clear hisclaim to the throne. Israelites who held back their allegiance thinking fatherand son would reconcile their differences, knew now that the breach waspermanent; they had to take a side. Again sexual potency and sexual relationsare acutely tied in with politics. David was ultimately confronted with thefact that he must capture or destroy his son Absalom. When he found out thathis soldiers killed Absalom, he mourned deeply. His love for his son collidedwith his effectiveness as a leader.
David wept so excessively that itdemoralized the troops who had risked their lives for him and the nation ofIsrael. When David’s time was over, once again there was a power struggle forsuccession of the throne. This time it was between the sons of David, Adonijahand Solomon. Adonijah took initiative and set himself up as king, but Bathsheba,David’s favorite wife, and Nathan the prophet, pulled a few strings to secureSolomon’s claim of the crown.
Due to the efforts of Bathsheba and Nathan,Solomon was crowned king. This pulling of strings demonstrates how personalrelations may engender lasting impacts on politics. If Bathseba had not beenDavid’s favorite wife, and Nathan had not been David’s trusted advisor, Adonijahmay have been crowned king of Israel instead of Solomon. Solomon also usedwomen to his advantage; he had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. Most of his wives were princesses of nearby tribes, so it can be inferred thathis marriages were politically motivated.
He was married to Pharaoh’s daughter,and had an alliance with Pharaoh. The story of Solomon’s succession is ascomplicated and as involved with personal relations as his predecessors. As Israel developed from a confederation of tribes into a greatmonarchial power, a notable change took place. As the nation of Israel movedfrom the period of judges to the period of the monarchy, politics and politicalauthority became increasingly associated with personal matters and personalrelations.
Personal relations began to affect politics and political authority,and in turn, politics affected personal relations. This change occurred becausethe characteristics of leadership changed. During the period of the judges,there was no succession of power, and because there was no succession of power,no one was fighting for it. The judges were sent to lead the Israelites intimes of need and emergency. Their leadership was only ephemeral, and thus notone of them were able to gain an exorbitant amount of political power. Whenthe period of the monarchy was firmly in place, however, there was a system ofsuccession of power.
Even before the king muttered his last words, there werepeopleeagerly waiting in line to take his place. And if that wasn’t enough,people were plotting against the king in hopes of succeeding the throne, evenhis own sons. This feature of the period of the monarchy allowed for the mixingand intertwining of politics and personal relations. The use of women assymbols of power and dominance became abundant as kings challenged theprospective successors, and as prospective successors challenged the kings. Events took place that can be compared to episodes of TV soap operas or MelrosePlace. Politics and personal relations became interrelated, and above all else,the underlying reason was power.
As people began to lust for power, for wealth,and for recognition, the association of the two became imminent, and theseparation of the two became impossible.Religion