“Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them” (1 Samuel 8: 9)
We have covered the account of the Hebrew elders demanding a king of Samuel. We discussed the causes and tactics behind that demand which God Himself deemed a national apostasy in civil government. We also discussed the lessons we can derive from their spiritual failures and the political failures that resulted. We now move from the decision itself to the fallout from that decision. This, too, has striking lessons for us today.
Deuteronomy 17 did allow Israel to install a king. It was not solely in the request for a king that Israel erred. Instead, it was the manner of king they demanded and the misplaced trust in man which drove them to demand it. Deuteronomy outlined for them the type of the monarchical administration they would be allowed to have. It was strictly limited: no standing army, no large treasury, no foreign alliances, etc. This was the Law of God concerning kings. But the Hebrew elders did not take their inspiration from the Law of God; their motivation was to be like all the nations. The Law even anticipated the influence of the nations (Deut. 17:14) and allowed for it in regard to the creation of the office in general. But the elders wanted to go further: they wanted a pagan-style king, a symbol of national strength and greatness, installed specifically for a purpose contrary to God’s written Law: military might and conquest. In effect, then, Israel wanted something God allowed but they wanted it on their own terms.
Because the elders’ demand was a direct rejection of God’s Law, God condemned it as a rejection of Him. For this same reason, God had Samuel explain to them exactly what they were asking for. They had refused the manner of king which God allowed for them, so God showed them the social fallout from the manner of the king they demanded.
The Road to Serfdom
God Almighty, via the prophet Samuel, warned and pleaded with the Israelite nation not to accept a humanistic king. They were about to abandon their privileged status of self-government under God which so distinguished them over against the nations. They wished now to be like all the nations. The abandonment of individual liberty under God for pagan-style centralized government entailed much more than these elders—stricken with war-lust and national-glory-lust—had obviously considered. So God told Samuel to explain to them the shocking ways of the king who will reign over you (8:9, 11).
We should note at this point that the word “ways” is a bit misleading, as are most of the translations: “manner,” “procedure,” “practice.” None of them quite get to the point of what is a fairly common and well-understood Hebrew word: mishpat, or “judgment.” The word almost without exception specifies governmental functions, usually civil government. It can often refer to the ordinances or laws created via acts of civil government. I see no reason why it should not especially be understood the same way here. This passage is not describing the customs or personal manners of the king; this is about how he will transform society by executive order.
The ordinances of the godless state
From the looks of the ordinances this pagan-style king would implement, Samuel is warning them against the road to total serfdom. First would come military conscription for a standing army: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties (8:11–12). This is not a need-based, voluntary militia such as God’s law commanded for Israel (Deut. 20:1–9). The young men—including the sons of those very elders—would be taken by the King for this purpose. They would have no choice. The Law mandated a militia system which left open several opportunities not to fight but to leave any potential battle. The militia was called only when there was a godly purpose to fight. Only after a voluntary militia was raised did they appoint commanders. So virtually everything Samuel says the new king would do in this regard would be a violation of the Law. Note also this army was for himself, not for godly warfare. This was not about national defense; this would be about the protection of the king and his reign. This army would exist for what Machiavelli would later call “reason of state”—that which exists to ensure the dominance and perpetuity of the established government, even if the measures involved violate existing laws, morals, or individual rights and liberties.
Military conscription was only the beginning. Second, the king would also involve the government in agriculture, and thus the economy. He would take their sons to plow his ground and to reap his harvest (8:12). This would surely affect food, clothing, and labor prices, but it gave priority to state on the backs of its newly conscripted slaves. This was serfdom defined: the state has the premier claim to your person, labor, and produce. It is not yours, it is his, that is, the king’s, the state’s.
Third, he would also take the sons for military manufacturing: to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots (8:12). This was the creation of a military-industrial complex. It may have even been a fully-nationalized—that is, national socialist—industry. Whatever it was, it was for the king’s Lawless army, and served the interests of empire rather than peace.
Fourth, the state would show some egalitarianism in that it would conscript the daughters as well: He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers (8:13). Cooks and bakers are understandable—not acceptable, since they would be state slaves, but understandable due to the basic need for food. But perfumers? The making of fragrant oils was associated with the priesthood and worship of God (Ex. 30:25, 35; 37:29). In fact, it was forbidden for anyone else to use the special recipe God prescribed for temple use (Ex. 30:33). But even in general, aromatic oil represented holiness, anointing, and glory. For the king to adopt this also as an adornment of his reign, he would be making a boast of his own glory and honor rivaling God’s. And the young women would be forced to participate in such near-blasphemy.
Fifth, once individual liberty is gone, expropriation of property is the next logical step. Thus, He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards . . . your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys (8:14–16). While these features are intertwined with those of the next point, they are describing a separate infraction under the heading of property. This is about the confiscation of property in total—or what we call generally today “eminent domain.” In this case it would be without compensation. So even those who were not conscripted in person would feel the heavy hand of this new state as it took their land, farms, contracts, and means of production. But that’s not all:
Sixth, there would be a new income tax. The king would take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and . . . the tenth of your flocks (8:15–17). The also was beyond God’s Law. The Mosaic Code nowhere allowed for civil taxation. None was needed if the culture simply flowed that Law—that is, lived free, loved God, and loved their neighbor accordingly. The only required payment was God’s command to tithe to the priests and Levites, and to the family for festivals (Deut. 14). These payments were God’s portion, paid to the ecclesiastical establishment or spent in a family and community setting. There was never supposed to be any means of civil enforcement for even God’s portion. But this new administration would impose a civil tax on income. This would send a message as well: the state is rival to God and deserves just as much honor and sacrifice. This is revealed in two ways: 1) the fact that a civil tax was imposed to begin with (the King’s word attempting to improve upon God’s Word), and 2) the fact that the tax would be as high as God’s portion—a tithe, or 10 percent.
Seventh, Samuel gives us a brief summary of all the following: you shall be his slaves (8:17). In short, Samuel could have said, the abandonment of self-government under biblical Law in exchange for a pagan social order was nothing short of a road to serfdom. The people who longed for military victory, national security, and prosperity through the installation of such a king stood totally blind to the fact that it would lead to their own enslavement. What they believed would be salvation would in fact turn to their slavery.
Finally, Samuel assured these men that their slavery would be irreversible. When the time came that this state grew to the fullness of its corruption, the people might be tempted to pray to their God for deliverance, but God would not answer (8:18). As we said in the last sermon, the nation would be given over to the consequences of their sins. And not only would God not deliver them, He would actually judge the nation like Sodom and Gomorrah, as we shall see when we get to chapter 27.
Denial and decline
The elders reacted with incredulity: No! (8:19). That will never happen among us! They were so self-assured that even their heretofore perfectly accurate prophet could not dissuade them with a prophetic Word from God. Thus do the politically deluded live in a denial which dismisses even God’s Word in favor of the assertion of human wisdom. So often do men shelter their pet political beliefs from even divine criticism. So often do men deny God’s Word to advance their own desires. So often do men rest on false assurances built on their own godless dreams. And just as often do societies weather and decay from the blights of human vanity. The text does not spare to describe this as a people who refused to obey.
The portent of this blind incredulity is that once the slavery was in place, and the property and persons under the control of the state, the people would still refuse to see it for what it is. Instead, they would embrace their slavery as necessary or beneficial, or both, and call it national greatness. As we shall see in later sermons, Saul’s administration will indeed have this type of effect which ends up turning its subjects into willing tools of the oppressive state.
Even more importantly, this state-imposed slavery would not occur in its entirety overnight. There were elements of it at first, and then later others. But each crept in individually, and then each in its individual fullness, only by degrees. It would not be too long before Saul became corrupt, but it would be another forty years or so before he was finally judged and committed suicide in battle (1 Sam. 31). Behold the space God gave the nation to repent. And Behold how long it takes for sin to run its social course. As we mentioned in the last sermon, it would be 430 years or so before the full period of the kings was eclipsed by its own sins and the whole nation cast into full slavery in Babylon. The important point emphasize here is that political solutions may seem wise in the near-term, but if they defy God’s Word, they can do nothing but contribute to the long-term downward decline. And just because you don’t see the full evil-outworking of that short-term decision immediately does not mean God is smiling upon you. It does not mean He approves or is protecting you from future judgment.
1. A critique of the welfare-warfare state
The most important point to take from Samuel’s warning is that the welfare-warfare state is divine punishment for rejecting God and His Word in the civil realm. It was judgment for civil idolatry and godlessness by Israel, and it is upon us for the same reasons. So when the Christian observes the same hallmarks of the road to serfdom paralleled in our allegedly free society today, we ought to pause before we call ourselves the “Land of the free and home of the brave.” In light of our taxation and socialistic systems, we might rather consider whether we are in fact the “Land of the fee and home of the slave.” In many instances, our society has far surpassed the tyranny which Samuel described. We are in so deep it is difficult for us to see some aspects of Israel’s tyranny as unacceptable or even undesirable. Parts of it look like greater freedom to us. Who wouldn’t settle for a mere 10 percent income tax today? But rest assured, the welfare-warfare state period is God’s judgment for rejecting His Word in the civil realm. And this means we have a lot of repenting and restoration ahead of us; or worse, decline into further slavery.
Consider briefly how far we have slid in these areas already: we have had military conscription on more than one occasion. Thousands of souls have died under this slavery who would otherwise have abstained from war according to biblical Law. And even though we have abolished it, we have left the Selective Service System in place as a registry of persons just in case. Every male 18–25 years old must register so that the king has you on a list in case he needs to reinstate the draft. In its own words, the SSS exists to “provide our Nation with… the most prompt, efficient, and equitable draft possible, if the country should need it.” Failure to register remains punishable as a felony including up to five years in prison and up to a quarter-million dollar fine.
Secondly, labor or civil service conscription is under serious discussion. While such compulsory service does yet exist, some leaders and rulers have plans to institute it as soon as they can. In a July 2, 2008 campaign speech, Obama uncharacteristically departed from his teleprompter to say, “We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.” His plan was not for voluntary service: “I will set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year. This means that by the time you graduate college, you’ll have done 17 weeks of service.” His first Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had written virtually the same plan: “Here’s how it would work. Young people will know that between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, the nation will enlist them for three months of civilian service.”
Compulsory national service would enforce the God-rejecting state’s belief that it owns its people and can demand their service and sacrifice at will. This is especially true of the youth—our sons and daughters—and is the long-held belief of humanists (left and right) who wish to impose military-type conscription as an every-day, peacetime policy, and have for a long time. In 1910, William James wrote an essay called “The Moral Equivalent of War” in which he says, “We should be owned, as soldiers are by the army, and our pride would rise accordingly.” Following James’s vision, the current administration, and leftists in general, believe that the State “owns” its people, and that it can mandate their service at will. But we should make this a critique of leftism alone. Samuel’s warning was against statism in general, and this kind of social development can occur as a result of abandoning God’s Word in the civil realm no matter what party is in power.
Thirdly, the state confiscates property and land almost at will. Aside from the general fact that the state uses “eminent domain” laws to grab any land it wants, as long as said purposes can somehow be argued to be “in the public good,” it also has other means of taking property for itself. In 2009, Congress passed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act—a conglomeration of dozens of conservation and environmental bills that resulted in the confiscation of two million acres of land as “wilderness,” and over 1,000 miles of river, among other things. The state believes it owns the land, and the state takes it for its purposes at will.
Add to this the concept of property tax which has been with us for a long time. This is the government’s claim that it has a right to a recurring fee from real property owners based upon the value of their property. While all forms of civil taxation are grievous and unbiblical, this is particularly egregious. It is not based upon income, but upon your ownership of land. As such, it is a claim that you do not own your property outright: the state has a claim that transcends your deed. This is why your deed is called “fee simple” rather than “allodial.” The former is essentially a feudal rent arrangement in which you pay rent to the king for the privilege of living on property he allows you to live on. The latter is a true “allotment” (thus, “allod”) of property which you own and over which the only overlord is God Himself. Such ownership is exempt from civil property tax, and as such, is almost impossible to obtain today. Today we are stuck as glorified feudal renters from the state.
Finally, the 10 percent tax I have already mentioned is a mild tyranny by modern standards. In the modern civilized world, the lowest level of taxation as a percentage of GDP is still over 20 percent. The average is closer to 30 percent. In some nations it pushes 50 percent. The 10 percent tyranny of Israel would represent a radical step toward freedom in today’s world, yet it was still the tyranny of civil godlessness. By this we must judge the multiplied wickedness of our modern states: if God demands a tenth from his people, the modern state must consider itself two to five times more deserving than God.
So be mindful of two things here: 1) Samuel’s warning was a description of a rebellious society under God’s judgment, and 2) our own society far surpasses the tyrannies that he described as judgment and outright slavery. This drives us to the conclusion that our society has rejected God in the civil realm, and is far down the road in doing so. In some aspects, it rejected him long, long ago. We need to turn a critical, prophetic voice upon this world, call it to repent, and get on with the long work of Christian reconstruction. Toward this end, we must outline the blueprint of what a free, biblical civil society looks like. That is, what is the goal toward which we must aim?
2. Advancing Christian Theocracy
There is no neutrality in the civil order. Either we are faithful to Christ’s Kingship or we are not. If God considered a civil order other than His to be a rejection of Him, then we must accept the fact that civil government is not a neutral realm. It is not a “neutral” area in which God gives us space to create our own laws and agendas that contradict His, while calling ourselves faithful servants of God. Thus we must choose between the two: His order or our own. The Christian must, therefore, pursue a true theocracy in our civil order with all our hearts, minds, and all our being.
Considering the road to serfdom that resulted from departing from God’s Law invites us to understand the only alternative: faithfulness to that Law. There is no greater design for civil law which upholds individual liberty, moral integrity, prosperous economy, and social justice than the “theocracy” of self-government under the Law of God. In doing so we should recall the remark made by R. J. Rushdoony:
Few things are more commonly misunderstood than the nature and meaning of theocracy. It is commonly assumed to be a dictatorial rule by self-appointed men who claim to rule for God. In reality, theocracy in Biblical law is the closest thing to a radical libertarianism that can be had.
Indeed, under God’s design, the civil government can have no standing army, no large treasury, no conscription, no permanent foreign alliances, and a focus on localism (see Deut. 17:14–20)—things often blasted by self-professed conservatives today as “libertarian.” In reality these principles are direct repetitions of God’s Law. That so many Christians oppose these principles can only mean they, like the Hebrew elders, live in denial of the fact that God’s judgment is upon us in the civil order. No! America could never be under God’s judgment!
Instead, judging by Samuel’s warning, we ought to consider it vile and godless tyranny to have military conscription, the state involved in agriculture, a military-industrial complex, mandatory civil service, eminent domain, property tax, and income taxes. It should follow that as Christians we should be formulating and organizing to secure a political order that abolishes and condemns these things. Even if we work within an established party, the Christians ought to be unified on at least the long-term goal of achieving an end to taxation, subsidies, corporate welfare, and tax-funded military contracts, and military aggression for starters—and these goals ought to be published and stated clearly. Right next to the right to life and defining marriage Christians should be demanding an end to taxation and war.
Yet what do we see? We find Christian conservatives for the most part in the lead and largely unified in promoting these things. They want property taxation to continue to fund beloved men in blue, no matter how nationalized and militarized these forces grow. They want you taxed to pay for their tax-funded schools. They want that military-industrial complex because—aside from the excuse of creating jobs—much like the Hebrew elders, they want a military empire that is world-class in the eyes of all the nations. Then they borrow and debase the money supply in order have that forbidden large treasury to fund these things—further infractions of biblical Law. Looking over the way most Christians today view civil government, we have to assess them no wiser and no more faithful than the Hebrew elders who rejected God in the civil order. And Christians make these mistakes for the same reason those elders did: they judge things according to worldly wisdom instead of the Word of God.
If we are to break free from the downward spiral into tyranny that we have experienced since—since when? 1965? 1937? 1913? 1865? 1789? Does it matter?—then we have to get serious about biblical Law and biblical definitions of a free society. This means home schools, private welfare, local government, states’ rights, private charity instead of civil taxation, honest money, free markets, private and local courts, voluntary militias for godly causes only, and executive governments limited to the strict enforcement of God’s Laws and nothing beyond. To call for civil government to get involved in anything contrary to God’s Law is to lead society in the rejection of God. The result will be the slow decline into tyranny and total state slavery over generations.
But the embrace of a biblical society smacks too much of “libertarianism” for too many Christians who have grown accustomed to a godless state. They cannot think outside the box of calling for civil government solutions to everything they dislike, even in many places where God’s Law does not allow it. Overcoming this problem will be an effort of either persuasion or attrition. These misguided and fearful (really rebellious) saints must either be brought to read, apply, and accept God’s strict limits for civil power, or we must pray that they be soon replaced by more faithful believers who do.
We must not fear those who would mischaracterize “theocracy” as a brutal dictatorship, nor those who label biblical blueprints for law, money, and war pejoratively as “libertarian.” The truth is that God’s Law condemns them both, and their efforts to thwart it through ignorance or lies are evidence of their rejections of Him. In the end, the victor shall be those who remained faithful no matter what. It does not matter whether we persuade and lead society back to freedom, or whether we are marginalized by the establishments only to escape, as God’s faithful remnant, the judgment that will come upon them. While we still have space to repent and reform, let us work hard and hope to persuade others.
3. We must not settle for the façade of religion
There is a particularly annoying aspect of the elders’ demand for a King: it had something of a biblical sanction. Thus, despite being told that their system was a rejection of God that would lead to tyranny, these leaders could ignore the appeals to the details of God’s Law and point to their out-of-context, overly-generalized Scripture reference to justify themselves in their own mind. And this would have been all they needed to turn to the general populace and propagandize their view.
The sad fact is that the disobedient Hebrew political leaders could point to Deuteronomy 17:14 as a proof-text for installing a king, and thus for their open rejection of God. Of course, having a king in general and having the particular style and purpose of king they wanted were two different things. The first had the sanction of Scripture; the latter, as we have noted, violated the verses following Deuteronomy 17:14 and 20:1–9 in multiple ways (not to mention other laws protecting private property, etc.). So the appeal was disingenuous.
The Hebrew elders did the same thing with their pitch to Samuel: they highlighted the bribery and perversion of justice occurring under the current system. Thus, they had enough moral sense to acknowledge that bribery was wrong and unjust. Yet they used this common moral ground between them and Samuel (biblical Law) in their demand for something clearly unbiblical. Samuel saw through it, but did not contest the original fact that bribery in the land was a bad thing. He just did not think it a good reason to uproot the whole Word of God. The elders, however, were willing.
Christianity has dealt with this problem in various forms since its early days. Rarely ever has the church sought the Word of God alone as a standard for civil law and government. Instead, it has nearly always adopted pagan ideas and practices from the Greeks, Romans, Arians, Saracens, Crusades, Moors—Aristotle, Plato, Averroes, Avicenna, Aquinas, Scotus, Hermes, Grotius . . . you name it. Everything but biblical Law. As a result, we have always been baptizing pagan social theories in an effort to have a “king like all the nations.” The endeavor frequently ignores and nullifies God’s Laws while using the sanction of good moral language to endear the people and stifle critics.
Jesus confronted this same problem among the Pharisees (who, after all, were civil leaders in their day—Matt. 23:2). In one example, they had devised a system of “offerings” which in some cases obligated people to give their savings as offerings even if they needed the money to fund their parents’ old age care, etc. Jesus said, “For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father’” (Matt. 15:4–6). The Pharisee-rulers had devised a system which enriched their cronies and oppressed the people, especially the elderly, in the name of donating to religion. Jesus summarized their sin:
For the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God (Matt. 15:6).
Get that: this fancy lawyering apart from God’s Word yet done in the name and façade of faithfulness Jesus said was nothing less that nullifying the Word of God itself.
How many times do you think we have nullified the Word of God through our civil legislation today?
And how many times do you think we have done it in the name of good, Baptist, moral, “God-fearin’,” decent-folk, clean-shaven religion?
So often does rebellion find itself religious sanction. Men remove the Bible and Christian faith from the foundations of their political worldview, yet retain the language of morality, care, and justice. They sit in churches on Sunday mornings praising the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but then build their own humanistic societies based on their own humanistic principles, practically denying God in the public square. Feeling the need to justify the erection and maintenance of their godless public square to the Christian public that hears their confession on Sundays, these leaders are quick to veneer their policies with references to morals, care, integrity, rights, fairness, and other general religious values no one would dare oppose. Thus God’s Word is nullified by faux appeals to God’s values.
Instead, we must test every piece of legislation, every law, every statute, every court case, every political platform, and every politician by the standard of biblical Law. Apart from this, we can lay claim to little else than the promotion of idolatry and atheism in the public square.
The choice we have is whether we shall choose to obey God or to reject God in the public square. There is no neutrality, which means any compromise with humanism is a victory for humanism. Christians must decide today whether they wish to stand before God with the testimony that they dragged His name through the public square while trampling it their whole lives, or whether they stood for His Law despite the worst men could do. We must decide whether we shall continue to love the godless state in the name of God, embracing the welfare-warfare state as a gift rather than judgment from God; or whether we decide to get serious about His true gift to society: what the New Testament calls the “perfect law of liberty” (Jam. 1:25), the “royal law” (Jam. 2:8), which is the revealed standard of civil liberty, justice, freedom, and prosperity. That is the choice before us, and the time to make it now, before our own rejection of God in the civil order leads us to lament our own Babylon.
 I have covered this passage also in God versus Socialism: A Biblical Critique of the New Social Gospel (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, Inc., 2009), 13–19. So of the material in the following sections is taken from that work.
 http://www.sss.gov/what.htm (accessed April 25, 2013).
 http://www.sss.gov/FSinternet.htm (accessed April 25, 2013).
 “Obama’s remarks on service,” Wall Street Journal, July 2, 2008, http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2008/07/02/obamas-remarks-on-service/ (accessed April 25, 2013).
 “Barack Obama: Call to Service in Colorado Springs, CO,” 16:44–16:58, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Df2p6867_pw (accessed April 25, 2013).
 J. D. Tuccille, “Obama’s Chief of Staff choice favors compulsory national service,” examiner.com, Nov. 6, 2008, http://www.examiner.com/x-536-Civil-Liberties-Examiner~y2008m11d6-Obamas-chief-of-staff-choice-favors-compulsory-universal-service (accessed April 25, 2013).
 Quoted in Michael Gallucci, “The ‘GIVE’ Act Calls for Your Kids to be ‘Owned’ by the State,” lewrockwell.com, March 25, 2009, http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig10/gallucci1.html (accessed April 25, 2013).
 http://www.oecd.org/document/4/0,3343,en_2649_34533_41407428_1_1_1_37427,00.html (accessed August 27, 2009).
 Roots of Reconstruction (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1991), 63.