The divine right of kings
The idea of the divine right of kings, that God had appointed the monarch to have authority and could not be held accountable by parliaments, was popular in Europe from the medieval period. By the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries this had grown to mean that the king also had authority over spiritual matters.
James VI of Scotland (1567 – 1625) was a major believer in divine right. In 1603 he also became King James I of England and Ireland.
William Shakespeare wrote a Scottish play which is believed to have been first performed in 1606. The plot goes against the divine right of kings because Macbeth kills the king that God chose (Duncan), therefore going against the will of God and the divine right of kings, because Macbeth was not chosen by God to rule. There is an anachronism in the plot, Macbeth was king of Scotland between 1040 to 1057 long before the idea of divine right was introduced, but this anachronism does not matter to the plot, the play is a satire and is taking James’s side the witches scene taken from James’s book Daemonologie. The play about a good king who is assassinated and the plotters pay the consequences was first performed within an attack on James’s life, the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, with a character in Macbeth saying, “Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake.” Equivocation was used as a defence by one of the conspiritors at the Gunpowder Plot Trial.
When God’s prophets get it wrong
Divine right of kings claims to have its roots in the Bible. But is that true? Rule of the land of Israel was by god through judges, prophet/warriors who were called on to defend the land. The role of judge was usually held by one person but the roles could be split as with the prophet Deborah and General Barak.
The book of Judges ends badly with Judge Jephthah, who kills his own daughter because he had made a oath to God that he cannot break. As God did not ask Jephthah to make that oath Jephthah could have repented and his daughter could have lived. It is a sad story.
The first book of Samuel starts with the stories of the last two judges of Israel,Eli and Samuel. By the time the story starts Eli is old, and the job of judge is being done by his sons. They are not being fair in their leadership. God did not ask for the judges to form dynasties, the dynasty of Eli was not working. Later there wold be the start of the dynasty of Samuel. Samuel’s sons were doing the job of Judge in Samuel’s old age, and things were even worse than under Eli’s sons. So bad that the people of Israel asked for a king like the nations around them. Samuel was upset that the rule of his sons and by extension his rule, had been rejected, and went to ask God about it…
‘And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey 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.” ‘ 1 Samuel 8:7 ESV UK
In the Bible, kings could get it right. Melchizedek king of Salem who helped Abraham is one of them, but there is a problem with dynasties, like father like son does not work, a good king is often followed by a bad one. This can be seen in the histories of the kings of Israel and Judah in the two books of Kings.
Israel was supposed to have no king but God. The psalms compiled immediately after the return from the Babylonian exile, particularly Psalms 95 to 100 have a common theme that God is king not just of the country but of the whole world. The nation of Israel was supposed to show in action what it means to be God’s people, but instead wanted to be like the other nations having a king to rule them. They rejected God.
After the exile there was a book of psalms compiled which became Psalms 90 to 106. Within it Psalms 95 to 100 are songs of congregational praise that worshipped God as the king of the whole Earth, not just of their nation. Israel/Judah would never have a human king rule over them again.
It is not that dynasties are bad. The role of High Priest was handed down the line of Aaron. The main point is the rejection of God. As Christians the rule of God comes first over all. We can be royalists or republicans, socialists, liberals or conservatives. The main questions are whose kingdom are we living in, and if we are living in the kingdom of God we have to ask ourselves if we are doing anything that goes against his kingdom.