by Ron Gaudio
Featured writer of The Liberty Voice
In the Old Testament, during the iron age, Israel was ruled by “judges.” These were men of character chosen to be itinerant judges, making circuit rides on donkeys throughout Israel to hear legal cases (1 Sam. 7:16-17) The governing principles of Israel were found in the Law of Moses, given to the Israelites several hundred years prior. People were expected to be self-governing, but there were judges available to hear cases when the need would arise. In times of war, these judges often led the nation into battle as generals. There was no draft, but troops would rally around the generals and were mustered as needed. Those who, for various reasons, did not want to fight, were exempted.
This form of government was a great blessing. The judges did not rule with iron-fisted authority, but led by example and provided moral authority by humbly applying God’s law to the people. Often, after a judge would die, the people would lapse into immorality and end up being oppressed by a foreign power until another judge was raised up. The people were to rule themselves according to the Law of Moses, with God as their King, but they needed the moral guidance of the judges. They were most free when they were most obedient to God’s law, and most oppressed when they deviated from that law.
Israel was unique in the ancient world, for all of the other nations had kings. Their constitutional theocracy stood in sharp contrast to the hereditary absolute monarchies of the other nations. Often, the men who were chosen to be judges, such as Gideon, were reluctant men who did not desire power. After Gideon led Israel to defeat the Midianites, he wanted to retire, but the people wanted to make him a king. Gideon’s response was striking:
“I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.”
Here is an early instance in history of a person refusing to be crowned a king, but instead directing people back to God. Not only that, but he rejected any type of hereditary monarchy.