Friday, June 27, 2014

1 Samuel 8 and Forms of Government Theft (John W. Robbins)

It is typical of the goodness of God that he does not leave us with general principles-such as, You shall not steal-but that he goes on to give us specific examples of stealing, and specific commands against and proper punishments for theft. John Calvin, in his commentary on ExodusLeviticusNumbers and Deuteronomy, lists these instances and their punishments under his discussion of the Eighth Commandment.

One of the central passages that must be discussed in relation to the Eighth Commandment is 1 Samuel 8:10-18:
Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves, and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your young men and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
This passage is important, not only because it contrasts the Hebrew republic with the later monarchy, but also because it contrasts Christian government with anti-Christian government. The Israelites had demanded a king “such as all the other nations have.” God says to Samuel that “it is not you they have rejected as their king, but me.” They were rejecting the government of God for an ungodly government. They would eventually become slaves to this anti-Christian government, yet they refused to listen to Samuel’s warning of their impending slavery.

There are two things, both quite obvious, that must nevertheless be pointed out about this passage. Earlier we had to stress the obvious point that all men and human institutions are subject to the law of God. Now we must stress the two obvious points that this passage is a warning to the Israelites and a statement that God disapproves and condemns the type of actions listed in this passage. First, this is a warning. As such, it would make no sense if these actions had already been commanded and approved by God for the government of Israel. It makes sense only if the Hebrew republic was given a government by God that did not do these things. One does not yell, “Look out for the train” to someone already sawed in two by its wheels. Second, God condemns the actions that the future kings will take. We have already noted his condemnation of Ahab, whose actions are prophesied by Samuel in this passage. God does not command, approve, or condone the governmental actions described here, and the government he had established for the Hebrew republic was empowered to do none of these things.

What specifically are the policies or actions condemned in this passage? The draft (verses 11, 12, 16), exorbitant taxes-ten percent or over (verses 15, 17), eminent domain-the taking of private property (verses 14, 16), forced labor-national service (verses 12, 13), the redistribution of property (verse 14), and slavery through unrestrained political power (verse 17). This passage is central to any discussion of the Biblical view of civil government, for it clearly delineates many ways in which ungodly governments violate the Eighth Commandment. Notice the repetition of the phrase “He will take.....” It is used six times. Rulers violate the Eighth Commandment by drafting men or women, forcing them to perform labor, imposing taxes ten percent or higher, taking private property, redistributing property, and finally imposing total slavery. Other verses of Scripture mention other ways in which governors violate the Commandment: taking bribes, and the debasement and manipulation of the money. It is unmistakably clear that the draft and the national service are prohibited by the Eighth Commandment.

John W. Robbins, "The Bible and the Draft," The Trinity Review, ed. John W. Robbins, May, June 1980 (2003): 2, 3. Retrieved June 27, 2014 from

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