Royal Ideology in Ancient Israel

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Royal Ideology in Ancient Israel

One of the main themes present in the rise of monarchy in Ancient Israel has to be the concept of royal ideology. Royal Ideology is the practice of believing that the king is considered to be at the same level of power as Yahweh, and vice versa. Throughout our studies of Ancient Israel there are many pieces of evidence to support this idea, and it had a great influence on the monarchal structure that developed throughout the time. Dealing with this subject matter, focusing on Wisdom is undoubtedly one of the prime methods of being able to interpret these Old Testament texts.

One of the clearest themes to emerge when dealing with royal ideology in Ancient Israel is the acknowledgment of the king as Yahweh's anointed one and the function of the king as one whom Yahweh willed to deliver Israel. A prime example of this would be King David, although with him, the scope was greatly enlarged. He was still anointed and chosen by the "men of Judah” (Sam. 2:4) and later by the "elders of Israel" (2 Sam. 5:3), but he also conquered Jerusalem and called it the "city of David" (2 Sam. 5:9); he had a capital city that he considered his personal property, not a part of any tribal allotment. The next important amplification of David's royal ideology was the transfer of the ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam.6:1-15); with this step the "city of David" was made co-extensive with Israel's cultic center.

Considered to be one of the most momentous steps in this expansion of royal ideology under David would be the prophecy of Nathan (2 Sam. 7). This text seems to exhibit many expansions from later hands, but it is still possible to discern the oldest layer of the tradition. The key concepts dealt with within the text were that Yahweh promised to "make a house" (i. e. a dynasty) for David and to establish his throne "for ever" (v. 16). A later expansion has added that David's descendants would be the recipients of a special parent-child relationship with Yahweh (v. 14). Both concepts are exceedingly important when dealing with covenant and kingship in Israel.

The major themes of the royal ideology (anointed of Yahweh, sure throne forever, and special parent-child relationship with the God of Israel) that emerged in the historical books are developed greatly within the royal psalms. The developments may, however, be summarized quite briefly. With regard to the nations, Israelite kingship included worldwide dominion (Pss. 2:8; 72:8, 11) and military leadership (Pss. 18:32-43; 21:8-12). In the subject of domestic affairs, the royal ideology made Israelite kings the mediators of blessing which were the presuppositions of natural bounty (Ps. 72:3, 6, 16), indeed the "breath of [Israel's] nostrils" (Lam. 4:20), and the guarantor of justice (Pss. 45:7-8; 72:4, 12; 101:2, 5, 7). In its full development, therefore, Israel's royal ideology saw the king as Yahweh' s anointed and (adopted) child, the recipient of a "covenant for ever" (2 Sam. 23) or the "mercies of David" (pss. 21:8; 89:25, 29, 34), who exercised world-wide dominion and military leadership with regard to the nations, and, with regard to Israel, mediated blessing in the natural world as he guaranteed a just social order.

One thing that is dealt with when dealing with the idea of Kingship in Israel, but is said in silence is that no first-person royal accounts have come to light from Israel, a state of affairs without parallel in the ancient Near East. Quite apart from silence, however, limits were also imposed openly by Israel. This is seen in the fact that David was elected (2 Sam. 2:4; 5:1-3) and in the fact that Rehoboam had to negotiate, unsuccessfully as it turned out, for the rule of the north (1 Kgs. 12:1-20). Israel could also complain about the burdens imposed by kingship (1 Sam. 8:11). Israelites could even hold up the institution of kingship to ridicule, portraying it as worse than useless (Judg. 9:8-15). The unkindest cut of all was the...
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