It is easy to forget that “we the people” in the long run must always pay for whatever the government does for us. Only fools suppose that by committing a matter to the government, they can get it done for nothing. Still worse, human government not only makes the people pay for everything done to them, but it always makes them pay more that it should cost. For only a part of the wealth taken by the government ever comes back to the people in services. No lesson in human history is taught more clearly than this, yet the lesson apparently is never learned. –Alva J. McClain
One of the books that has sat on my shelf for several years unread is The Greatness of the Kingdom by Alva J. McClain. Thanks in part to a group of fellow pastors who will be discussing this book in January, I have finally begun to work through Dr. McClain’s extensive study of the Kingdom of God in Scripture. Along the way, McClain offers insights and applications based on the Biblical data concerning the Kingdom and its forms, especially in the Old Testament. For instance, as he writes about when the children of Israel came to Samuel and requested that he “make [them] a king to judge [them] like all the nations,” McClain notes that Samuel was disturbed by the people’s request and that he received a message from God for the people, warning them of the cost that they would have to pay in order to have a king like all the nations.
What the Israelites wanted wasn’t anything exceptional or unusual, as their own request makes clear. They wanted a king who would judge them and to fight for them. In other words, they wanted a leader who would establish order within the nation and who would project power to the neighboring peoples. McClain says, “It is an axiom of history that no government has ever succeeded, even temporarily, without offering to the people these two values.” He calls this “the fundamental good” that all governments supply to some extent, and those which last and are most successful over time demonstrate both order and power with consistent effect. The only real factor, then, that distinguishes between governments of different types is the cost that the people must pay in order to have order within and security without. Under the previous arrangement, where God had chosen their leader, Israel had enjoyed order and power when they obeyed the Lord and worshiped him faithfully. Whatever volatility existed in their society, it was a direct result of their own rebellion against the Lord and his chosen rulers. But now they wanted a king like all the other nations whose family would enjoy the rights of dynastic succession, and the cost of such an arrangement was bound to be greater.
Over the next few weeks, we will consider the warning of 1 Samuel 8:10-18 and the principles of human government that are contained in it. They just might surprise you.