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Comparing the Ancient Kingdom of Israel and the American Government
By Joe Yudin
What do the systems of government in the United States and the ancient Kingdom of Israel have in common? More than you think. Let me explain.
David was a folk hero for all of Israel even before he became king. After slaying Goliath he and his band of men would roam the countryside fighting the brutal Philistines and saving Israelites. The Israelite woman used to sing a song about him (I Samuel 29:5):
Is not this David, of whom they sang one to another in dances, saying: Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands?'
According to Israeli archaeologist Eilat Mazar, she has recently uncovered the remains of King Davidís palace on top of Mt. Zion just below the Temple Mount (http://www.cityofdavid.org.il/ArticleDetails_eng.asp?id=225). This is pretty much exactly where the Hebrew Bible says it should be. She claims to have found the largest 10th century BCE public building ever found in Jerusalem, just adjacent to a Jebusite period large building, possibly a fortress, supported by a massive foundation. This she says is proof of King Davidís palace.
While standing atop this reported the ancient biblical narrative comes alive. To the north the Temple Mount is a stoneís throw away, where Abraham took Isaac intending to sacrifice him only being stopped by an angel at the last second. This story of ďthe Binding of IsaacĒ is a revolutionary moment in the history of humanity which begins the era of nonacceptance of human sacrifice by the Jewish people. To the south-east is the hilltop where the Bible tells us the ancient Canaanites used to sacrifice their own children to the gods. But in our story of Isaac, Abraham does not do the murderous deed. Our God, doesnít want the lives of our children, our God wants us to live. In Judaism life is the most important, sacred thing and God commands us to live with few exceptions (weíll talk about the three exceptions in another blog).
Perhaps this is why Davidís son, King Solomon, builds the holy Temple on Mount Moriah (the Temple Mount) just to the north here. David buys for the fair market value the mountains summit, the threshing floor, from the rightful owner the previous king of Jebus (Jerusalem), ďthe AraunahĒ. The site being holy is now legally belonging to David and his people, and David decides to build his capital city here knowing that the Temple will rise above it.
Why does David choose Jerusalem as his capital? There are better candidates: Bethlehem his home town, Hebron, a thriving, large fortified city and holy because of the graves of the Israelite forefathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Leah and Rebecca. Abraham purchased the cave to which they are all buried hence legally giving this land to their descendents. These lands are surrounded by Davidís army and are safe from invasion. Why Jerusalem? Well there is the holiness of the site as discussed previously on the one hand. On the other hand Jerusalem was at the every center of the country. Hebron and Bethlehem where in the heart of the territory designated and conquered by the tribe of Judah, Davidís tribe.
David wants to unite the tribes. During the 200 years before his reign, as recorded in the Book of Judges, the tribes where quite often fighting amongst themselves. Here in Jebus we have a city, well fortified, in the middle of the country, occupied by Hittites and Hurians which was supposed to go to the little tribe of Benjamin who were apparently unable to conquer it. Itís neutral territory between the two biggest rival tribes with a lot of bad blood dating to the times of Joshua and Caleb: Ephraim and Judah. A solid conclusion is that David chooses Jerusalem not only for its religious connection but also for its neutral position between the northern and southern tribes which were sometimes at war with each other. Sound familiar? Why is the capital of the United States in Washington D.C. and not Philadelphia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compromise_of_1790)?
David builds his palace:
And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar-trees, and carpenters, and masons; and they built David a house. (II Sam 5:11)
According to the Hebrew Bible, for the next several chapters David consolidates his power, brings the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem and defeats enemy after enemy starting with the Philistines sometimes leading the troops into battle, sometimes commanding from afar and rarely staying in Jerusalem. He had defeated his worst enemies, the Philistines, Aramites, Ammonites and all the armies from across the Euphrates. He had created the most feared empire in the known world at the time and his borders were ever expanding. When we get to Chapter 11 in II Samuel, verse 1 we find:
And it came to pass, at the return of the year, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried at Jerusalem.
This is interesting. It seems that David is bored with the war effort. Everything has fallen into place. The battles that are being fought seem to be nothing more than clean up operations. When Davidís successor takes power there is indeed 40 years of peace with all the other great powers like Phoenicia and Egypt signing treaties with Israel in order to stave off war. Indeed Pharaoh marries off his own daughter to King Solomon in order to sign a peace treaty with him! This is the only instance in any ancient source that has Pharaoh marrying off his own daughter showing Israelís superior strength over the Egyptians. So what does David do with himself while all of the Israelite men are off to war? We turn to II Samuel 11:2-5:
And it came to pass at eventide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king's house; and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. And David sent and inquired after the woman. And one said: 'Is not this Bath-sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?' And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness; and she returned unto her house. And the woman conceived; and she sent and told David, and said: 'I am with child.'
The answer to the question is he gets into trouble. From the ruins of Davidís palace we can clearly see what David saw 3,000 years ago, lots of flat roofs on stone houses with water tanks and solar panels. David would have seen large stone pools of water not the tanks with the panels but the water may have been on the roof for the same reason, to heat it up for a bath. Most people back then didnít have running water so what better place to take a bath than on the roof?
David had several wives and other women in his harem, so why does he send for this married woman? We can speculate and justify his deed by linking Uriah, Bathshebaís husband, to the Jebusites who taunted David before Jerusalemís conquest but that really is no reason for David to commit adultery. David continues to dig himself into a hole (II Samuel 11:6-9):
And David sent to Joab [, saying]: 'Send me Uriah the Hittite.' And Joab sent Uriah to David. And when Uriah was come unto him, David asked of him how Joab did, and how the people fared, and how the war prospered. And David said to Uriah: 'Go down to thy house, and wash thy feet.' And Uriah departed out of the king's house, and there followed him a mess of food from the king. But Uriah slept at the door of the king's house with all the servants of his lord, and went not down to his house.
So what is David doing? Basically he calls Uriah back from the field, honoring him, getting him drunk, giving him a feast and sending him home to his wife, obviously with the intention that Uriah will sleep with her and that nobody will know that she slept with another man. But what happens? (II Samuel 11:10-11):
And when they had told David, saying: 'Uriah went not down unto his house', David said unto Uriah: 'Art thou not come from a journey? wherefore didst thou not go down unto thy house?' And Uriah said unto David: 'The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in booths; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field; shall I then go into my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing.'
David doesnít give up (II Samuel 11:13):
And when David had called him, he did eat and drink before him; and he made him drunk; and at even he went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but went not down to his house
Wow. This guy Uriah is a saint! I can tell you from experience when a soldier comes home from war on leave most of us have no problem taking a shower and getting into bed with our wives, but Uriah here is saying that he would feel guilty that all of Israel and Judah were sleeping in tents in the battlefield and he would be at home in bed with his wife! So what does he do? He sleeps just outside the place, somewhere in the vicinity of these ruins (http://www.cityofdavid.org.il/vtour_eng.asp?id=26).
What happens next makes my stomach turn. David orders that the Israelites engage the enemy and that they withdraw without telling Uriah (II Samuel 11:26-7):
And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she made lamentation for her husband. And when the mourning was past, David sent and took her home to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD.
This not only makes David an adulterer but now he is a murderer. Not only does he give the order that will send Uriah to his death, Uriah was a righteous, loyal man who had not broken the law. And yes there was a law in the land. That law is called the Torah (first five books of the Hebrew Bible). 613 laws as written down by Moses at Mt. Sinai and given to all the Children of Israel and those who dwelt amongst them. What happens next is the key to understanding a primary point of Judaism (2 Samuel Chapter 12:1-14):
And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him: 'There were two men in one city: the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and reared; and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own morsel, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him, but took the poor man's lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.' And David's anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan: 'As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this deserveth to die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.' And Nathan said to David: 'Thou art the man. .. Wherefore hast thou despised the word of the LORD, to do that which is evil in My sight? Uriah the Hittite thou hast smitten with the sword, and his wife thou hast taken to be thy wife, and him thou hast slain with the sword of the children of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from thy house; because thou hast despised Me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. Thus saith the LORD: Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. For thou didst it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.'
And David said unto Nathan: 'I have sinned against the LORD.' And Nathan said unto David: 'The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast greatly blasphemed the enemies of the LORD, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.'
The key to this passage is Davidís admission of guilt. Think about this: Nathan the prophet, judge and advisor to David is telling David that what he did was wrong and that by Davidís own response David himself deserves to die for his deed. When Nathan tells David that there will be a justified rebellion against him and that his wives will be taken by others, David does not slay Nathan in a fit of rage or go out on a murderous rampage that most other dictators, monarchs or tyrants have done throughout the history of the world from Pharaoh to Nebuchadnezzar to Henry the VIII or Louis the XVI. David, accepts his fate. He admits his guilt. He becomes subservient to Godís will. Even David, the most powerful man in the world at that time, realizes that his ego had become to great and that even he must submit to Godís law as embodied in the Torah.
So what does this story have to do with Democracy and the United States of America? Well I think itís pretty clear:
1. David was more popular than King Saul, smarter than King Saul and a better warrior than Saul. David is anointed King by the Prophet and Judge Samuel while Saul was still reigning despite the fact that Saul had plenty of male successors.
2. David chooses Jerusalem as his Kingdoms capital in the center of the country, in order to united the warring tribes of the north and south.
3. The King of Israel was not a god and was not above the law. This is the first time in the history of the world where that is true. Even the king had to obey the law, Godís law.
4. The Torah or law as handed down by Moses was the constitution of the time (and for religious Jews is still the law today). This legislation was interpreted by the prophets and judges and a sentence was handed down by Nathan (the judge) to David (the king) which was that David would die and lose his wives and kingdom. Because David admitted his guilt his crimes were less harshly punished but he was able to keep his kingdom. He wasnít however allowed to build the Temple.
5. Here we can see system of government with checks and balances: legislative (Torah), Judicial (Prophet/Judge) and Executive (king) to which the kingís office is dependent upon popular support, obeying the law and the good graces of the prophet/judge.
Did these biblical narratives inspire Jefferson and other founding fathers of the United States? Yes, I think so.
The author is General Manager at www.TouringIsrael.Com
from the June 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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