Category Archives: Biblical Studies

Critical Thinking & Faith (Pt. 1): What “Biblical Faith” is NOT

[The picture above is a scene from the movie Jesus of Nazareth (1977) where Jesus (played by Robert Powell) is telling the Roman Centurion (played by Ernest Borgnine) that his servant is healed as he believed.]

by Chris L. Verschage

NOT Opposites?

Critical thinking, logic, reason and faith are not opposites.  This may surprise many people.  There is a dominant misconception that to have faith in God is to deny critical thinking, logic and reason.  And from the writings of many philosophers, we see this misconception perpetuated.  For example,

Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe. (Voltaire)

Faith: not wanting to know what is true. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

The way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason. (Benjamin Franklin)

We may define “faith” as the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of “faith.” We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence. (Bertrand Russell)

Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. (Richard Dawkins)

Many will argue that these men, including Richard Dawkins, are great geniuses, and they are experts in their fields of study, but not when it comes to understanding biblical faith.  As we will see in this study, these quotes demonstrate a poor perception of faith as it is presented and discussed within the Bible.  But not do only philosophers, scientists, and the general public have a poor concept of biblical faith, but the unfortunate truth is that many Christians past and present have also been equally mistaken about it as well.  For example, there are many churches that have placed on their signs in their front yard, “Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has.”  One would like to think that Christians, at least, would have a clear concept of biblical faith, but the evidence, unfortunately, does not support that conclusion.  To illustrate this further, I’d like to use an experience I had in one of my college classes.

A Disturbing Discussion

I had just responded to student’s statement when a huge gasp was heard across the room.  You would’ve thought that I had just committed a heinous sin in front of everyone, rather than just question a belief statement made by a student in one of my English Composition courses. I wanted to know upon what evidence she was basing her statement.

“You can’t question her beliefs,”   I was told by several students.

“Why not?” I asked.  “Why can’t I question them?”  The look on their faces told me that they thought I had apparently lost my mind, because certainly someone of my age should know better than to do something like this.

One of the students responded, “Faith is believing in something where there is no reason or evidence for it.  If there was evidence, then it wouldn’t be faith.”   The rest of the class then nodded in agreement.

One can easily see that this student is perpetuating the historical misperception of biblical faith.  When I pressed the issue further to see where they had learned this definition of “faith,” many of them said, “At church.”  I was surprised.  Why?  Because this is not the view of faith taught by the Bible.  Consequently, then, there are churches today teaching their own definition of faith, rather than how the Bible defines and uses the term.  So in this article, I want to build on our discussion of critical thinking (see What is “Critical Thinking”? And Can We Do THAT In Church?”by examining the relationship between critical thinking and faith.  But before we can do that, we need to have a clear idea of what biblical faith is, so I’m going to define it by negation, first telling what it is not (here in part 1) and then what it is (part 2).

What “Biblical Faith” is NOT

Biblical faith is not what the world or American culture says that it is, it is not “blind” nor is it a “blind leap in the dark,” nor is it based on the absence of critical thinking, logic or reason.  In fact, it is the opposite of how it is usually described in American culture in both the Hebrew and the Greek.  So let’s begin this study by defining what biblical faith is NOT.

Biblical Faith is NOT merely the mental or verbal agreement or acknowledgment of a belief, a particular doctrine, or a set of doctrinal statements.

This might be the first step towards biblical faith, but this is not what the Bible means by the word “faith.”  For example, James writes, “You believe that God is one; You do well: the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19, NASB).

I’ve heard people say, “Well, I believe there is a God,” and think that is all that is needed to get them into heaven, but James writes here that “the demons also believe.” You see, merely acknowledging that there is a God is not enough.  Satan and every demon under his authority believe that there’s a God, and they’re still going to Hell.  People think Hell is where Satan rules, but that’s not true.  The Bible calls him “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), as well as “the prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  Satan does not want to go to Hell any more than anyone else does; he just wants to make sure he takes as many people with him as he can.  In fact, I’ll go one step further, Satan and his demons don’t just believe there’s a God, they know for certain that there’s a God because they’re continually seeking to mess up what He does.  So, no, mental acknowledgment is not enough.

Biblical Faith is NOT merely Calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and Doing Good Works.

There are people who think that biblical faith is all about calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and then doing good works; however, in His renowned sermon, “The Sermon on the Mount,”  Yeshua/Jesus makes it quite clear to the crowd following Him that there is more to faith in Him than that:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name?  and in Your name have cast out demons?  And in Your name done many wonderful [miraculous] works?  And then I will profess [say] to them, I never knew you: depart from Me, you workers of iniquity.  (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB)

I remember the first time I realized what Yeshua/Jesus is saying here, and it shook me up because I knew that up until that point, I had been one of these people that He is addressing in this scene.  And if not for His love and grace, and the Spirit who revealed the truth of this passage to me, I would have been standing there among them in the future.  What I learned from this passage is that Yeshua/Jesus is pointing out the following important truths to the crowd:

Merely calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” is not enough to get you into the Kingdom; He must actually be your Lord.  To call Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” is where your journey with Him begins, it is not the full extent of what it means to have “faith” in Him.  To call Him “Lord” is to say that He’s your “Master” or “Owner.”  But you must not just say it, you must live in submission to His Lordship or “Ownership.”  This is what it means to give your life to Him, you are giving Him the control and ownership of your life.  It is no longer your life, but His.  For example, I am shocked when I hear a Christian say,

It’s my life, I’ll do what I want with it.

When Christians utter such statements, it is clear that they have no clue what it means to call Yeshua/Jesus “Lord.”  To call Him “Lord,” means, for example, if He asks you to speak to someone, you do it, or if He asks you to give someone money or something you own to help them out, you do it, or if He asks you to give up your job, your home, and all that you own to follow Him into another country, like He did my wife and I, you do it.  Even if He asks you to sacrifice your life as a martyr for His glory, you do it.  Once you have made Him the Lord of your life, it is no longer your life, but His.  You are now the steward (manager) of your life, but He is the owner.  We can see this idea repeated in different ways in the New Testament:

Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who  is in you, whom you have from God?  YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN, for you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. (I Corinthians 6:19-20; emphasis mine)

You were bought at a price;… (I Corinthians 7:23)

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.  They will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even DENYING THE MASTER WHO BOUGHT THEM, and will bring swift destruction on themselves.  Many will follow their unrestrained ways, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.  In their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words.  Their condemnation, pronounced long ago, is not idle, and their destruction does not sleep. (2 Peter 2:1-3; emphasis mine)

In all three of these references, we can see the same repeated idea: we have been bought with a price and, therefore, if we have made Yeshua/Jesus the Lord of our lives, we do not own ourselves any longer, but we now belong to God and to the Messiah Yeshua/Jesus.  Consequently, we cannot live any way that we choose, but we must die to self daily, sanctify ourselves in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, and we must live in a way that’s pleasing to God and in accordance with His Word.

I am crucified with Christ [Messiah]; nevertheless, I live, yet not I, but Christ [Messiah] lives in me, and the life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  (Galatians 2:2)

Obviously, if “I am crucified with Christ [or Messiah],” then this life no longer belongs to me; in fact, Paul writes, “yet not I, but Christ [Messiah] lives in me.”  My life, Paul is saying here, is no longer mine.  I don’t own it anymore.  I don’t have the right to determine what happens to it.  It has a new owner, Messiah.  It now belongs to Him. I now go or do where He wants me to go or do.   In fact, in Luke 6:46, Yeshua/Jesus even asks, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  If Yeshua/Jesus is your “Lord” (Master/Owner), then submission and obedience to His authority in your life should be clearly evident.  In fact, Yeshua/Jesus is the supreme model of one who lays down His life (His wants, needs, interests) to follow God’s plan for His life:

When you [the religious leaders] have lifted up the Son of man, then shall you know that I am He [the Messiah], and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father has taught Me, I speak these things.  And He that sent Me is with Me; the Father has not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him. (John 8:28-29)

Just as Yeshua/Jesus laid down His life, we are to lay down our lives daily, and just as He always did what was pleasing to His Father, we are to live our lives seeking to please Yeshua/Jesus and His Father in everything that we do.  To be His disciples means to live and imitate Him in how we live our own lives.  (NOTE: the use of “man,” “he,” and “him” are used in the generic sense.)

If any man will come after Me [or be My disciple], let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

He that has My commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves Me; and he that loves Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him. (John 14:21)

If a man loves Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.  He who loves Me not keeps not My sayings: and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s which sent Me. (John 14:23-24)

As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you.  Remain [or continue] in My love.  If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.  I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. (John 15:9-11)

Notice, there is much more to salvation than simply saying “Yeshua” (or “Jesus is My Lord.”  There is an expected lifestyle standard that Yeshua/Jesus expects of all those that claim to be His disciples.  He expects His disciples to lovingly obey His teachings, not just to call Him “Lord” once or twice a week and then go off and live life the way that person wants without any regard to Yeshua/Jesus at all.

Some may say, “This is just your opinion.”  However, it is not.  The Lord has spoken to us through my wife, and He has made His view extremely clear:

Trust Me, says God, and know that all things will work out for Good to those who seek Me, My Torah, and has My words, says God Almighty, because My words, My Torah, are One and the same.  You take away My Torah, My Holy Scriptures, you have taken Me away.  You cannot pick and choose what you want to believe.  All of My words are yes and amen.  Not one of them is better than the next.  They all, I say, have an importance to them.  I say, Do not take anything from the beginning or the middle away, it is all valid and important for you today, My children.  The Old Testament is just as valid as the Newer Testament.

How can a people who say they have read My Word from beginning to end, say with all honesty, that they can believe all this hogwash that people have told them concerning My words.  How stupid.  Even a baby can understand better than all of you “more learned and sophisticated ones” that think you have Me and My Father all figured out.  You blaspheme My Holy Name every time you tell My children who are seeking Me and My Father lies about Me, God, changing My plans after My death and resurrection, NOT SO. (“Torah & the Spirit: What God Wants for His Children”)

What is the lie?  That some part (usually “God’s law”) or even the whole Old Testament is no longer valid for believers today.  Yeshua/Jesus did not die to do away with the law of God, but the law of sin and death.  Consequently, the teaching that God’s law ended at the cross is a horrendous error and deception that Christianity has perpetuated throughout the centuries.  God’s law was never given to “save” us, but to provide God’s expected standard of how “saved people” should live their lives.  Did you also note that in John 15:9-11, Yeshua/Jesus Himself teaches that the way we stay in His love is by our loving obedience to His commands (or teachings), yet I have never heard one minister ever teach this.    You see, Yeshua/ Jesus is our example.  Just as He remained in His Father’s love through His loving obedience to His Father, so we will remain in Messiah’s love by our loving obedience to all that He taught.

  • Doing miraculous things for God is not enough to get you into the kingdom.  Secondly, Yeshua/Jesus also notes in His teaching, known as “The Sermon on the Mount,” that these same people who are calling Him “Lord”  are prophesying, casting out demons, and doing many miraculous works in His name, and yet He still says to them, “depart from Me, you workers of iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23).  The problem is not what they are doing, it is that they don’t have a relationship with Yeshua/Jesus, or as He says, “I never knew you.”  It’s not that He didn’t know about them, the word “knew” here is in reference to an intimate relationship.  There wasn’t one between Him and these people.  And what’s mind-boggling to me is that even though they do not have an intimate relationship with Yeshua/Jesus, they are still able to do these things.  And in the Greek, this is even more mind-boggling.

Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied [declared truths through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit] in thy name [or delegated power and authority]?  and in thy name [delegated power and authority] cast out devils?  And in thy name [delegated power and authority] done many wonderful works?  (Matthew 7:22, explanations mine)

Notice these people are doing these things through His delegated power and authority and even through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and yet, they really do not have an ongoing intimate relationship with Him.  They may have started out well, but then somewhere along the line, that relationship was lost.

And what we need to realize is that God may choose to use someone who does not have a good relationship with Him in order to bless His people who are there in the congregation or to bring others into an intimate relationship with Him.  The person’s ability to prophesy, cast out devils, and do other miraculous acts is not evidence that this person has a good relationship with God himself (or herself).  There have been several modern examples of ministers who God used to minister to others, even though the minister himself (or herself) was living in sin.  Of course, the problem here is that most people make the false assumption that when they see these miraculous things happen, it automatically proves that this person is in a good relationship with God.  Obviously, then, these things are not evidence in of themselves.  Instead, when these things happen, what we should understand by them is that they are proof or evidence for the existence of God and His continuing rule and reign, and for His continuing mercy and grace to heal and deliver people today.

Biblical Faith is NOT “a Divine Force”

When I first heard this taught, it reminded me of the movie Star Wars, and the line, “May the force be with you.”   Obviously, those who teach this are confusing “faith” with the Holy Spirit.  It is not “faith” that makes things happen, but the Spirit of God; when we have faith in God, God then responds to our faith.  Let me give an example from the Gospels.  In Matthew 12, Yeshua/Jesus has just healed a blind and mute man by casting out a blind and mute spirit (or demon), something that the sages and Pharisees taught that only the Messiah could do when He came.

Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.  And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? (Matthew 12:22-23)

The crowds had been listening to the sages and Pharisees in their teaching of the Scriptures.  They saw the miracle and remembered the teachings they had received in the synagogue, and they came to the logical conclusion based on those teachings that Yeshua/Jesus must be the long-awaited promised Messiah, “the son of David.”  However, rather than the religious leaders maintaining their own teaching and admitting that Yeshua/Jesus had, in fact, fulfilled this Messianic expectation, they accused Him of healing by the power of “Beelzebub, the prince of the devils (or demons):”

But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow does not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils [demons].  (Matthew 12:24)

Their response was completely illogical since it violated what they themselves had long taught.  However, their hatred of Yeshua/Jesus and His teachings completely blinded them to the truth and their use of logic and reason.  Now am I saying that all Jews are filled with hatred and are blind to Yeshua/Jesus?  No, I am not.  We must remember that Yeshua/Jesus Himself is a Jew, His family is Jewish, His early disciples were Jewish, the Apostle Paul is Jewish, and those from the crowds that believed in Him were Jewish.  We must also remember that there are many Jews today who have put their faith and trust in Yeshua/Jesus as their Lord and Messiah.  It is also important to remember that the Jews are God’s covenant people, and just like in the first century, C.E., there are those that have believed, and there are those that have not.

However, in Yeshua’s/Jesus’ response to their irrational accusation, He uses logic and reason to demonstrate the truth of what had just happened:

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city and house divided against itself shall not stand.  And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?  And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children [disciples] cast them out?  therefore they shall be your judges.  But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.  (Matthew 12:25-28; emphasis mine)

Notice the Scriptures make it clear that it was not by “the force of faith” that Yeshua/Jesus cast out this blind and mute devil (spirit), but “by the Spirit of God.”  Yeshua/Jesus had faith in God His Father to deliver the man (John 5:19-20; John 10:25, 32, 37; John 14:10-11), His faith was there in the situation, but His faith was not some “force,” like you hear some evangelists and ministers teach today, that delivered the man from the blind and mute demon, but it was “the Spirit of God” that cast it out (Acts 10:38).  God responded to Yeshua’s/Jesus’ faith and by His Spirit, He drove out the demonic spirit and brought healing to the man.  And the same is true when people are healed today.  Our faith is not some “force” that heals and delivers us, or makes things miraculously happen, but it is God responding to our faith in Him, and it is He who heals and delivers and performs the miraculous.

So What Faith is NOT

In conclusion, then, we can see that —

  • Biblical Faith is NOT merely the mental or verbal agreement or acknowledgment of a belief, a particular doctrine, or a set of doctrinal statements;
  • Biblical Faith is NOT merely Calling Yeshua/Jesus “Lord” and Doing Good Works; and
  • Biblical Faith is not “a Divine Force”

So if these are not accurate descriptions of biblical faith, what is it?  In the next part of this two-part series, we will explore what faith is, according to the Bible.  Some may be surprised to discover that God does make use of critical thinking and logical reasoning.  The difference, of course, is that it is His logic and reasoning, as opposed to humanity’s.  For as the Scriptures teach,

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Although we will never understand God completely, this does not mean we cannot grasp at least some of His use of logic and reasoning evident within the Scriptures (as we will see in part 2 of this series).

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What is a “Messiah”? (Pt. 1): A Study of the Ancient Israeli Kings

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward.  So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.” (I Samuel 16:13)

What is a “Messiah”?

The word “Messiah” is the English equivalent of the Hebrew word mashiach, which means “anointed one.”  The term is derived from the Hebrew word mashach (pron. “mah-shock”), meaning “anointed.”  Consequently, when an individual was “anointed” (mashach), he became an “anointed one” (mashiach) or in English “messiah.”  The title “Messiah” (Heb. Moshiach) was given to an individual who had been chosen by God to occupy one of the three leadership positions — King, Prophet, or High Priest — over the nation and people of Israel.   After the kingdom divided, the ancient Israeli prophets foretold of One who would be a special descendant of David who would have the anointing of, not one of the national offices, but all three of them simultaneously.  In the Greek New Testament, the Greek word that’s used for this special promised  Messiah is the word Christos, or in English “Christ.”  So in actuality, the words “Messiah” and “Christ” are equivalent, synonymous terms.

Why is this Study Important?

Consequently, in order to understand what it means to call Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) “Messiah,” as well as to be His disciple, we need to trace the meaning of the word back to its origin and usage in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures).  By understanding how the word was used and understood in the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures; “Old Testament”), we can properly understand it within its original context.

The Importance of Context

Proper context is extremely important in understanding any historical, cultural, or theological text, and the Bible is not any different.  If you remove any text from its original context, then it becomes a pretext to misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and/or error. Therefore, we will be examining this concept of “Messiah” by placing it back into its original context, examining and interpreting it within that context, and then to bring that meaning forward to see how we can apply that meaning today.

In applying the term “Messiah” (or “Christ” from the Greek) to Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), it’s important to remember that He grew up and lived His life, as well as taught and ministered, as a Middle-Eastern, Israeli Jew of the 2nd Temple era, and how the term would have been used and understood by Him and His disciples (and others) would have been how it was used and understood within the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as within that culture, religion, and time.   To apply a meaning to the word “Messiah” apart from its original contexts is to open the door to misinterpretation, misunderstanding and error.

How Many “Anointed Ones” are there in the Hebrew Bible?

So in tracing the word “Messiah” back into the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures), how many individuals are given this title?  In researching its use, we discover that every prophet, priest, and king mentioned in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) were all “anointed ones.”  The first “anointed one” mentioned in the Bible was Aaron,  Moses’ brother, which we will discuss further in the second part of this study.

“Messiah” – A Political & Religious Term?

Most people within the church view the term “Messiah/Christ” as a spiritual term with a spiritual meaning; however, as we shall see in this part of the study, it is also a political term with a political meaning.  Interestingly, it is not the spiritual term/meaning that dominates the writings of the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures; Old Testament), but the political.  As a result, we are going to look at the political usage in this part of the study (since it is what dominates).  Consequently, if the term “Messiah/Christ” is indeed a political term, as well as a religious term, then the kingdom preached by Yeshua (Joshua/ Jesus) would likewise indicate a concept that was both political and spiritual.  And as modern day disciples of the Messiah who are part of that “kingdom,” then our identity in Messiah is likewise both political and spiritual.  You can see this perspective can raise some rather interesting questions.

But in continuing on with the study, have you ever wondered, “Who made someone an ‘anointed one’ (i.e., a national leader) or how was it done?  What was the process?  Was it by election, like in the U.S.?  Was it something one chose for himself or did someone else make the decision? To answer these (and many other) questions, I would like to examine the pattern which Scripture reveals in the lives of five of Israel’s ancient kings.

Why the Ancient Israeli Kings?

In speaking about those who lived and are discussed in the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures; Old Testament ), Rav Sha’ul (Paul) writes in I Corinthians 10:11,

Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction upon whom the ends of the ages have come.

What Paul is telling us, for the purpose of our study, is that we can look back at the lives of these kings as “an example” of how God interacted and treated them, and what were His expectations of those He chose to be “an anointed king.”  We can also look at their lives as “our instruction” in what “an anointed one” was and how he became one.

Ancient Israeli Kings – An Overview

In the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures), beginning with the book of I Samuel to the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the ancient Babylonians in 586 B.C.E., there are recorded in the biblical text a total of forty-two kings.

The First Three kings (Saul, David, and Solomon) ruled and reigned over all the tribes of Israel in a United Kingdom; however, after the death of Solomon, when Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, takes the throne, the kingdom of Israel splits into two kingdoms:

  • The Northern Kingdom (called Israel; sometimes Ephraim), which had a total of nineteen kings until their captivity by the Assyrians that began in 740 B.C.E. (some sources though dated it around 733-732 B.C.E.) and was completed in 722 B.C.E. These ten tribes were scattered across the Assyrian empire and have become known as “The Lost Ten Tribes.”
  • The Southern Kingdom (called Judah), which had a total of twenty kings until their captivity by the Babylonians, which happened in 586 B.C.E. It was during their Babylonian captivity that the term “Judean” was shortened to form the word “Jew.”

Of these forty-two kings, the Scriptures mention only five of them being anointed for office: the first three kings (Saul, David, and Solomon), and then after the kingdom split, Jehu from the Northern Kingdom, and Joash (also called Jehoash) from the Southern Kingdom.

In the rest of the study, I would like to examine the experience of these five men had in becoming an “anointed one” or an “anointed king,” and to demonstrate through their experiences, that the Bible shows that there is a pattern – a specific process – that one went through in order to become an “anointed one” or a leader over the nation of Israel.

King Saul – Israel’s First King.

The story of Israel’s first king can be found in I Samuel.  The people of Israel up until this time had been under the leadership of the prophet Samuel, who was the last of the Judges (temporary military leaders), but like the High Priest Eli who had raised him (see I Samuel 1:25-2:11, 18-20; 3:1-4:1), Samuel did not discipline his sons.

Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. (I Sam. 8:1-3)

Since Samuel’s sons were corrupt leaders and could not be trusted as judges, the people began to ask for a king, so that they could be like the other nations around them.

But what was the difference between a “Judge” and a “King”?

Usually, we think of the word “Judge” as someone in black robes who sit in a courtroom and who listens to both sides of the case and oversees the trial.  However, when the Bible states that someone was a judge, this is not what it means.  In fact, the book after “Joshua” is called “Judges.”

In the Bible, both judges and kings were people raised up to assume a position of authority over the nation of Israel; however, a judge’s position of authority was temporary.  A judge was usually raised to address a specific crisis that was going on at the time.  Throughout the book of Judges, for example, these individuals were called to address some form of oppression or attack that was being waged against the nation, so a judge (in the biblical sense) was a military leader who would lead the nation in a battle or war to free it from the attacks or domination by another country.  But then once the crisis was over, the judge then would go back to living life as usual. Consequently, there was no real “human government” (in a permanent sense) that was in place during a judge’s time of rule over the nation.

However, a king was a different story.  A king was a permanent position of authority over the nation, whose reign was then usually handed down to his son, and then his grandson, etc.  With a king, there was a form of government known as a “monarchy,” in which the king reigned supreme, whose word was law, and who owned everything within his kingdom.  Samuel tried to warn the people of Israel about what having a king would mean, and what they would be giving up.

And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.” (I Samuel 8:10-18)

But the people were still determined; they wanted a king.  Of course, this upset Samuel very much, because he viewed this as a rejection of him as the nation’s leader (even though his sons by this time were doing most of the judging).  However, God explains to him that it is not Samuel the people have rejected, but God:

And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day; with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods; so they are doing to you also.”  (I Samuel 8:7-8)

God had chosen and placed Samuel into his position of authority over the nation, so therefore, for the people to reject Samuel and his sons as their national leaders was, in effect, to reject God.

Samuel Anoints Saul as King

God then instructs Samuel to do as they requested.  God then showed Samuel who He wanted him to anoint as their new king; it was Saul (Heb. Sha’ul) from the tribe of Benjamin.  Through some interesting circumstances, God arranges for Saul to come to the city where Samuel was staying.

After Saul and his servant spend an evening with Samuel, Samuel requests that the servant go ahead, so that he could speak to Saul alone.  Then Samuel anoints (Heb. māshach) Saul with a vial of olive oil:

Then Samuel took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his [Saul’s] head, and kissed him, and said, “Is it not because the LORD has anointed [Heb. māshach] you to be captain over His inheritance?” (I Samuel 10:1)

After anointing him with oil, Saul then becomes the mashiach (lit. “anointed one” or “messiah”).  Samuel then goes on to give Saul instructions on what would happen to him until Samuel would meet with him again.  One of the things mentioned that would happen to him would be that the Spirit of the LORD would come upon Saul and that he would be “changed into another man”:

And the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them [a group of prophets that Saul would meet], and shall be turned into another man. (I Samuel 10:6)

From this reference, we can note three things about the Messiah (or “Anointed One”):

  1. The term “Messiah” is a political title and is used to designate the king God had chosen to rule over the people and nation of Israel;
  2. The Messiah was designated as God’s chosen leader by the ritual of having oil poured over his head by a prophet (or a priest); and
  3. The Messiah was also designated as being “empowered” and “consecrated” (or set apart) by God when God’s Spirit came upon him.
  4. When the Spirit of God came upon Saul as the first “anointed king” (or “Messiah”), there was something new and different about Saul than what he was like before the Spirit came upon him since the text says, “he was changed into another man.”

For years, I have heard ministers argue that the act of anointing a king with oil was a symbol of the Holy Spirit; however, since the Spirit of God comes upon Saul in addition to him being anointed with oil, I would have to question this traditional interpretation. I would like to note here, though, that to question an interpretation is not the same thing as questioning Scripture.  The Scriptures are clear that they were “given by the inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16); however, when an interpretation, even a traditional one, seems to contradict or violate the writing of Scripture, then it should be called into question.

Saul was anointed with oil and he was anointed with the Holy Spirit.  He was anointed by both, not just with oil.  If he had only been anointed with oil, and not by the Spirit, then I believe the traditional interpretation would be valid, but since that’s not the case here, or even with David, as we shall see, I’d have to question the validity of the traditional interpretation.

What was the Purpose of Being Anointed with Oil?

The purpose of being anointed with oil was more than it being a symbol for the Spirit of God; it was part of the ceremony of making the individual a “Messiah” or an “Anointed One.”  Remember, the term “Messiah” (Heb. Mashiach), as it is used in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) is dominantly a political designation for a national leader, rather than a spiritual one.  Just like in the United States, a candidate can be elected to the presidency, but until he goes through the Inaugural Ceremony and is sworn into office by the U.S. Chief Justice, he does not possess the title of being “President.”  In much the same way, until the individual is anointed with oil by a prophet or a priest (which was Israel’s version of the “Inaugural Ceremony”), the individual cannot be called an “Anointed One”: in Hebrew a Mashiach, and in English, a “Messiah.”

In this inaugural ceremony, the anointing with oil, rather than symbolizing the Holy Spirit, seems to have functioned as a symbolic way of indicating that this person had been set apart by God for this national position, role, and authority.  As we shall see, these same three criteria are also repeated in the anointing of the next king, David.

David is Anointed King

When King Saul disobeys God several times, God says that He was sorry that He had ever made Saul king (I Samuel 15:11).  God then told Samuel to go to the city of Bethlehem and to anoint another king, one who would have an obedient heart:

And the LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing that I have rejected him from reigning from over Israel?  Fill your horn with oil, and go, I will send you to Jesse the Bethlemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons. (I Samuel 16:1)

In this scene, we should note that it is God who is actually the One ruling and reigning over the nation of Israel.  The human king functions more like a servant to God, in that he follows what God says He wants to be done.  Therefore, Saul really was more like what we may think of as an ambassador-type position, rather than as a king as we understand the term.

Since on more than one occasion, Saul did not follow the instructions that God, the actual king, had given to Saul, God’s representative, to carry out, God took the initiative to have Saul replaced.  If Saul had been a king, in the sense that we understand the term, meaning that he was in complete control of himself and everything in his kingdom, the anointing of David never would have occurred. Therefore, we learn from this account that it is not the national leader who holds the power and authority over a nation, but God.

When Samuel does arrive at Jesse’s home, he discovers that Jesse has eight sons, but only seven of them were there at the house to meet Samuel.  Each outwardly looked like he could assume the position of king; however, God did not choose any of them (I Samuel 16:11).

When Samuel asks if these were all his sons, Jesse tells him David, the youngest, was still out in the field watching the sheep (16:11).  Samuel then has him send for David.  When David comes, the LORD instructs Samuel to anoint him:

And the LORD said, “Arise, anoint him: for this is he.”  Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward.  So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.  (I Samuel 16:13)

In this narrative, we see the following:

  1. It was God who decided that Saul needed to be replaced;
  2. It was God who decided who He wanted to be the next king over the nation of Israel;
  3. The prophet Samuel poured a horn of oil over David’s head as part of the ritual to inaugurate him as the new “anointed king” (or “messiah”); and
  4. God’s selection (or empowerment and “consecration”) of him was made evident by the Spirit of the LORD coming upon him.

However, unlike the narrative with King Saul, the Scriptures do not say that David “was changed into another man,” like they had with Saul.  Is this something we can assume happened since it happened the time before, or was David not “changed”?  And if so, why not?  (Something to think about since the Scriptures are silent on this point.)

In addition, David did not acquire the throne at the time that he was anointed.  David was only a teen at this time.  Some time later, he would begin a period of several years where he would be pursued by King Saul, who would repeatedly try to kill him.  During this time, there were several people who followed David.  If this narrative had been written in Greek (as the New Testament had been), David’s followers would have been described as the followers of the “Christ” (the “anointed one”), or we would say “Christians.”  So a “Christian” is one who is a follower of “the Christ” or “the Messiah” (the “Anointed One”), and in the case of this part of the study, the chosen leader of the people and nation of Israel.

However, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) is unique in that God has made Him king, not just over the people and nation of Israel, but over all the nations of the world.  There’s a prophecy of this in Daniel 7:13-14,

I kept looking in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven, One like a Son of Man was coming, and He came up to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.  And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion which shall not pass away; and His kingdom is one which shall not be destroyed.

And Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) favorite term for Himself was “the Son of Man,” a reference to this passage in Daniel.  And Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), like His ancestor David, will one day ascend the throne and rule and reign over Israel and all the nations of the earth from His capital city in Jerusalem.

And just like we are waiting for Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus) to ascend His promised throne, David, likewise, did not immediately ascend the throne, but it was years later when he was thirty years old and after Saul had been killed in battle.

And the men of Judah (the largest of the southern tribes) came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. (2 Samuel 2:4a)

Notice it is this second anointing ceremony that places him as king over the tribe of Judah.  Also, the text says that it was the “men of Judah” who anointed him as king.  There’s no mention of a prophet or a priest.  Consequently, there’s no way to know for certain whom the person was who actually anointed him at this time.

Also, an interesting question to ask here is, “Why was it necessary for David to be anointed again since Samuel had already anointed him as a teenager?”  The Scriptures are likewise silent on this point.  However, we do learn that after another 7½ years, David was finally anointed king over the whole house (or country) of Israel (i.e., a third anointing ceremony):

So all the elders of Israel came to the king in Hebron; and king David made a league with them in Hebron before the LORD: and they anointed David king over Israel. (2 Samuel 5:3)

Here we learn from the text that it was the “elders of Israel” who anointed David to be their king over the whole kingdom of Israel; again, there’s no mention of a prophet or a priest.  Consequently, we cannot say for certain if these men were prophets, priests, or just the political elders (or representatives) of the twelve tribes.

According to the Scriptures, David then reigned over the whole kingdom of Israel for a period of 33 years, in addition to the 7½ years he reigned over Judah, so that he reigned for a total period of 40 years (2 Samuel 5:4-5).  Interestingly, again, there’s four things I’d like to point out:

  1. Like Saul, David was chosen by God to be king over the nation of Israel;
  2. Like Saul, David was anointed with olive oil as part of the ritual to make him king;
  3.  However, even though the prophet Samuel had anointed David as king when David was still a teenager, he was anointed king again each time he was made king, first of Judah and then of all of Israel; and
  4. Like Saul, the Spirit of the L-RD came on David during his initial anointing, but unlike Saul, the text does not say that David “was changed into another man,” and the Spirit remained on David during his lifetime. God’s Spirit did not need to repeatedly come on David each time he was anointed for office.

Solomon is Anointed King

The third example of a king being anointed is Solomon, David’s son, Israel’s third king.  Near the end of David’s life, God reveals to him that his son Solomon would be the one from among his many sons who would rule over the kingdom:

Then David the king stood upon his feet, and said, “Hear me, my brothers, and my people:  As for me, I had in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and for the footstool of our God, and had made ready for the building: but God said to me, You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war, and has shed blood.  However, of all my sons (for the LORD has given me many sons), He has chosen Solomon, my son, to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel.  (2 Chronicles 28: 2-3, 5)

An interesting side-note regarding the phrase “the kingdom of the LORD” (lit. “kingdom of YHVH”) in the final verse above is that after the Babylonian exile, the Jews started avoiding the use of God’s covenantal name and using evasive synonyms instead, such as the word “heaven,” therefore, instead of saying “kingdom of the LORD” (or lit. “kingdom of YHVH”), Jews would use the phrase “kingdom of heaven,” like we see Yeshua (Joshua/ Jesus) using throughout the Gospels.  The phrase “kingdom of God” was the Greek way of expressing the same phrase, or to put it another way, “the kingdom of the LORD,” “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God” are just three different ways of saying the same thing.

Now because Adonijah, another of David’s sons, tries to steal the kingdom for himself, David ends up instructing Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet to take Solomon down to Gihon and anoint him there as king (I Kings 1:32-34).

So Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoida, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, went down, and caused Solomon to ride upon king David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon.  And Zadok the priest took a horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon.  And they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, God save King Solomon.  (I Kings 1:38-39)

Interestingly, like Saul’s anointing, Solomon’s anointing results in him acquiring the throne immediately; however, unlike Saul and David’s anointing, there is no mention of the Spirit of God coming upon Solomon after his anointing by Zadok and Nathan.

Also note, like Saul’s and David’s anointing, there was a prophet mentioned doing the anointing; however, unlike Saul’s and David’s anointing, there’s a priest present also.

Jehu is Anointed King

The fourth king that’s mentioned as being anointed in the Scriptures is Jehu, a commander of the Northern Kingdom’s troops.  This selection by God for king happens years after the united kingdom had divided into two separate kingdoms.

According to the Scriptures, the prophet Elisha calls for one of “the sons of the prophets” (a term used for the prophet’s disciples), and tells him to take a flask of oil and to go to Ramoth-gilead (2 Kings 9:1).  Once he gets there, he is to do the following:

When you get there, look for Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, son of Nimshi.  Go in, get him away from his colleagues, and take him to an inner room.  Then, take the flask of oil, pour it on his head, and say, “This is what the LORD says: ‘I anoint you king over Israel [i.e., the name of the Northern Kingdom was also Israel].’” (2 Kings 9:2-3)

Elisha’s disciple does this, and after he anoints Jehu king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, he passes on to Jehu the instructions that God had given to Elisha, who then passed on these same instructions to his disciple to tell Jehu:

To strike down the house of your master Ahab so that I may avenge the blood shed by the hand of Jezebel – the blood of My servants the prophets and of all the servants of the
L-RD.
   (2 Kings 9:7)

Jehu thus begins his reign over the Northern Kingdom as God’s chosen assassin to kill all those who belonged to the house of Ahab, including Ahab’s son, Joram, who was presently the reigning king over the Northern Kingdom; Ahab’s wife, Jezebel; Ahab’s seventy sons; Ahab’s entire household; as well as all his close friends and priests.

In addition to Ahab’s house, King Jehu killed Ahaziah, the king of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, as well as all the Ba’al worshippers, servants, and priests that were in Israel, the Northern Kingdom.  King Jehu then destroyed Ba’al’s temple and turned it into a latrine (2 Kings 9:8 – 10:28).  Although Jehu carried out the instructions of God in all those that he was supposed to kill, the Scriptures state that he did not devote himself entirely to following God but continued in the “sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had caused Israel to commit – worshipping the golden calves that were in Bethel and Dan” (2 Kings 10:29).  In spite of this, the LORD told Jehu,

Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in My sight and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart, four generations of your sons will sit on the throne of Israel.  (2 Kings 10:30)

In examining Jehu’s anointing, we discover that,

  1. He was selected to be king of the Northern Kingdom by God; and
  2. like the first three kings (Saul, David, and Solomon), Jehu was also anointed with oil by a prophet, but unlike Solomon, a priest was not also present.
  3. However, unlike Saul and David, but like Solomon, there is no mention of the Spirit of God coming down upon Jehu.

Joash is Anointed King

The fifth and final king that’s specifically mentioned in the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) to have been anointed king is seven-year-old Joash.

As a result of Jehu killing Ahaziah, the king over the Southern Kingdom of Judah, there was no one to assume the throne (2 Chronicles 22:9).  Athaliah, Ahaziah’s mother, wanted the throne for herself, so she went out to kill all her grandsons, anyone that might be a possible heir to her son’s throne.  In this way, she was very much like Herod the Great, an Edomite who ruled over Judea in the first century C.E., because like Athaliah, Herod did not want anyone to take his throne from him.  He is known in history for killing some of his own sons, whom he viewed as a threat to his reign, as well as him killing all the newborn sons, up to two years of age, in the town of Bethlehem (from the Gospel accounts), so that he might kill the newborn Messiah Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), whose birth was signaled by an unusual star and who was visited by shepherds, and then a year or so later, some magi (wise men) from the east visited Him and his family who were living in a house (Luke 2:1-20; Matthew 2:1-12, 16-18).

Joash is Saved by His Aunt

However, rather than allowing Joash, one of Ahaziah’s sons to be killed, Jehoshabeath, Ahaziah’s sister and the wife of Jehoiada the priest, risks her own life to save Joash from his power-hungry grandmother, Athaliah.  (2 Chronicles 22:10).

Joash is Hidden in the Temple

Jehoshabeath, king Ahaziah’s daughter, somehow manages to smuggle the one-year-old Joash out of the palace and gets him to the Temple in safety, where she keeps him hidden in one of the bedchambers within the Temple complex for six years (2 Chronicles 22:11-12).

While hidden in the Temple, Joash was raised by his aunt and her husband Jehoiada the priest.  Once Joash reaches the age of seven, Jehoiada enters into a covenant with the Levitical priests of the Temple, the commanders of hundreds within the Judean military, and the heads of the families of Israel.  He brings them all to the Temple there in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 23:1-2).

Joash is Made King

Once they arrive, they enter into a covenant with seven-year-old Joash within the Temple.  The Levites are then assigned to protect the entry ways into the Temple, and the military commanders are assigned to stay as close to Joash and to protect him at all times (2 Chronicles 23:3-6).

Once everyone was in place, Joash is brought out of the Temple where he had been hidden for six years, and he is anointed king over the Southern Kingdom of Judah:

Then they brought out the king’s son [Joash], and put upon him the crown, and gave him the testimony, and made him king.  And Jehoiada and his sons anointed him, and said, “God save the king.”  (2 Chronicles 23:11)

However, when Joash’s grandmother, Athaliah, heard the noise of the people cheering and praising Joash as king, she went out to the Temple to see what was going on.  When she saw the people, the trumpet blowers, and the singers standing all around Joash, she “tore her clothes and screamed, ‘Treason, treason!’” (2 Chronicles 23:13).

Athaliah is then arrested by the guards, removed from the Temple complex, and then taken to the entrance of the Horses’ Gate (one of the gateways into the city of Jerusalem) where she is put to death (2 Chronicles 23:14-15).

What about the Other Kings?

Out of the forty-two ancient Israeli kings, only five kings are specifically said to have been anointed with oil as part of the process to make them king over the nation.  Does this mean that the other thirty-seven kings were never anointed for office?  No, they would have been anointed with olive oil, just like the five, since that was an important part of the ceremony that made them an “Anointed One” or “Messiah.”  But for whatever the reason that detail from their inaugural ceremony was not included in the biblical record.

A Summary of the Biblical Record

Now based on the Hebrew Scriptures, concerning the five kings that it specifically discusses as being anointed with oil, what pattern do we discover within the text?

  • It is God who selects and chooses who He wants to rule and reign over the people and nation of Israel;
  • The term “Messiah” [Heb. Mashiach] is a political term used to designate the king God had chosen to rule over His people.
  • The Messiah was designated as God’s chosen leader by the ritual of having olive oil poured over his head by a prophet or a priest. (even though this was only specified for five out of the forty-two kings of ancient Israel).
  • And only the first two kings (Saul and David) is it specified that the Spirit of God came upon the “Anointed One” or “Messiah” and empowered and consecrated him for his role as a national leader.

 

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