When God tells Samuel, Israel’s judge, to anoint a king for Israel according to their demands with the words “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Sam 8:7), many Bible readers and students assume that the institution of kingship was theologically disallowed for Israel. That’s a common assumption, but it’s wrong. The laws of Deuteronomy (Deut 17:11-20) outlined laws for a king. Anyone who assumes that Deuteronomy was written before 1 Samuel (e.g., those who embrace Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy) therefore have an explicit problem with a negative view of kingship. But even those who don’t presume Mosaic authorship of Deuteronomy have plenty of reasons to believe that kingship was not forbidden for Israel. Rather, the issue was the type of king, defined in terms of what the king was supposed to be/do and not be/do.
One of the most readable explanations of this issue that rebuts the “anti-kingship” notion is that of David Howard: “The Case for Kingship in Deuteronomy and the Former Prophets,” Westminster Theological Journal 52:1 (Spring 1990): 101-115. I regularly assigned this article to students when I taught courses in the OT historical books or the history of Israel. Howard discusses the work Gerald Gerbrandt in this article, another Old Testament scholars whose Kingship According to the Deuteronomistic History (SBLDS 87; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986) is Howard’s specific point of interaction.1 Please have a look at it (it’s not that lengthy); I think you’ll find it makes good sense, and that the institution of kingship was not inherently wrong for Israel.
- Note that the term “Deuteronomistic History” is the academic term for the books from Deuteronomy through 2 Kings. See footnote 3 in Howard’s essay for how he and Gerbrandt use the term. ↩