Saturday, January 25, 2014

Does Saul's Anointing Oppose Interposition? Historical Perspectives

"If the [particular] obedience due to Saul proceeded from
God's institution, it can extend to none but those who are so
peculiarly instituted and anointed by his command, and
the hand of his prophet, which will be of little advantage
to the kings that can give no testimony of
such an institution or unction."
-- Algernon Sidney

By David's refusal to stretch out his hand against Saul on the basis of Saul being the Lord's anointed, some infer that resistance against tyrants is never appropriate. In this view, all rulers are considered anointed, and are therefore untouchable.

Historically, however, many have opposed this view, and several have put forward arguments to explain why Saul's anointing does not, biblically speaking, imply that lesser magistrates and/or the people cannot interpose to prevent tyranny. 

Here are several of those arguments:

Samuel Eaton (1596?-1665) (English Congregational divine):
Objection: David would not stretch out his hand against Saul upon this ground, for that he was his Master the King of Israel, and the Lord’s Anointed, though he was then in actual, violent, and unjust pursuit of his life, 1 Sam. 24.5, &c 26.9.&c.
Reply. David at that time was but a private man, and Saul was King unquestioned by the Heads of Israel, and Sauls persecution was but of one private mans life, it appears not that he was a Tyrant unto the Commonwealth. However it is evident that he was given of God immediately, without the interposition of the people, and therefore it might be, that he must be taken away by God, though he had been a Tyrant. But what is this to Princes in these times, that have no such immediate Cals [calls?] to Kingdoms?[1]

John Milton (1608-1674) (Statesman, poet, polemicist):
And if David refus'd to lift his hand against the Lords anointed, the matter between them was not tyranny, but private enmity, and David as a private person had bin his own revenger, not so much the peoples; but when any tyrant at this day can shew to be the Lords anointed, the onely mention'd reason why David withheld his hand, he may then but not till then presume on the same privilege.[2]

[Note: some believe that Milton was theologically unorthodox. We don't know either way, but we must note that quoting him here is not necessarily an endorsement of his overall theology.]

Algernon Sidney (1623-1683) (English statesman, political theorist, military officer):
[I]f the obedience due to Saul proceeded from God's institution, it can extend to none but those who are so peculiarly instituted and anointed by his command, and the hand of his prophet, which will be of little advantage to the kings that can give no testimony of such an institution or unctionand an indisputable right will remain to every nation of abrogating the kingdoms which are instituted by and for themselves. But as David did resist the authority of Saul and Ishboshethwithout assuming the power of a king, tho' designed by God, and anointed by the prophet, till he was made king of Judah by that tribe; or arrogating to himself a power over the other tribes till he was made king by them, and had entered into a covenant with them; 'tis much more certain that the persons and authority of ill kings, who have no title to the privileges due to Saul by virtue of his institution, may be justly resisted; which is as much as is necessary to my purpose.
Object. But David's heart smote him when he had cut off the skirt of Saul's garment, and he would not suffer Abishai to kill him. This might be of some force, if it were pretended that every man was obliged to kill an ill king, whensoever he could do it, which I think no man ever did say; and no man having ever affirmed it, no more can be concluded than is confessed by all. But how is it possible that a man of a generous spirit, like to David, could see a great and valiant king, chosen from amongst all the tribes of Israel, anointed by the command of God and the hand of the prophet, famous for victories obtained against the enemies of Israel, and a wonderful deliverance thereby purchased to that people, cast at his feet to receive life or death from the hand of one whom he had so furiously persecuted, and from whom he least deserved, and could least expect mercy, without extraordinary commotion of mind, most especially when Abishai, who saw all that he did, and thereby ought best to have known his thoughts, expressed so great a readiness to kill him? This could not but make him reflect upon the instability of all that seemed to be most glorious in men, and shew him that if Saul, who had been named even among the prophets, and assisted in an extraordinary manner to accomplish such great things, was so abandoned and given over to fury, misery and shame; he that seemed to be most firmly established ought to take' care lest he should fall.
Surely these things are neither to be thought strange in relation to Saul, who was God's anointed, nor communicable to such as are not: some may suppose he was king by virtue of God's unction (tho' if that were true, he had never been chosen and made king by the people) but it were madness to think he became God's anointed by being king: for if that were so, the same right and title would belong to every king, even to those who by his command were accursed and destroyed by his servants Moses, Joshua and Samuel. The same men, at the same time, and in the same sense, would be both his anointed and accursed, loved and detested by him; and the most sacred privileges made to extend to the worst of his enemies.
Again; the war made by David was not upon the account of being king, as anointed by Samuel, but upon the common natural right of defending himself against the violence and fury of a wicked man; he trusted to the promise, "that he should be king," but knew that as yet he was not so: and when Saul found he had spared his life, he said, "I now know well that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall surely be established in thy hand;" not that it was already. Nay David himself was so far from taking upon him to be king, till the tribe of Judah had chosen him, that he often acknowledged Saul to be his lord. When Baanah and Rechab brought the head of Ishbosheth to him, he commanded them to be slain; "because they had killed a righteous man upon his bed, in his own house;" which he could not have said, if Ishbosheth had unjustly detained from him the ten tribes, and that he had a right to reign over them before they had chosen him. The word of God did not make him king, but only foretold that he should be king; and by such ways as he pleased prepared the hearts of the people to set him up; and till the time designed by God for that work was accomplished, he pretended to no other authority, than what the six hundred men who first followed him, afterwards the tribe of Judah, and at last all the rest of the people, conferred upon him.
I in no way defend Absalom's revolt; he was wicked, and acted wickedly; but after his death no man was ever blamed or questioned for siding with him: and Amasa who commanded his army, is represented in scripture as a good man, even David saying, that Joab by slaying Abner and Amasa, had killed "two men who were better than himself"; which could not have been, unless the people had a right of looking into matters of government, and of redressing abuses: tho' being deceived by Absalom, they so far erred, as to prefer him, who was in all respects wicked, before the man, who, except in the matter of Uriah, is said to be after God's own heart. This right was acknowledged by David himself, when he commanded Hushai to say to Absalom, "I will be thy servant O king ;" and by Hushai in the following chapter, "Nay, but whom the Lord and his people, and all the men of Israel choose, his will I be, and with him will I abide;" which could have no sense in it, unless the people had a right of choosing, and that the choice in which they generally concurred, was esteemed to be from God.
But if Saul who was made king by the whole people, and anointed by the command of God, might be lawfully resisted when he departed from the law of his institution; it cannot be doubted that any other for the like reason may be resisted. If David, tho' designed by God to be king, and anointed by the hand of the prophet, was not king till the people had chosen him, and he had made a covenant with them; it will, if I mistake not, be hard to find a man who can claim a right which is not originally from them. And if the people of Israel could erect and pull down, institute, abrogate, or transfer to other persons or families, kingdoms more firmly established than any we know, the same right cannot be denied to other nations.[3]

From James Tyrrell's Bibliotheca Politica (1727) (includes arguments for and against resistance in the form of a dialogue):
[see around pages 145-147 and 177 for opposing arguments]
I am so far from differing with you in what you have said concerning this Example of David towards Saul, tho' his Enemy, that I think it ought to be a Pattern to every single private Man, tho' never so great, in a Kingdom or Commonwealth, how to comport himself towards the Supreme Powers, if he himself alone be unjustly persecuted by them either in his Life or Estate, that is, to fly if he can, tho' with the Loss of all his Estate, rather than resist. Tho' there are some Circumstances in this Story of David, that make it evident that he did not think a defensive War against those Cut-throats that Saul might send to kill him unlawful; and so much Dr. Fearn himself, in his first Discourse call'd Resolving of Conscience, &c. against Resistance of the Higher Powers, acknowledges: For David, when he fled from Saul, made himself Captain of four hundred Men, which Number soon increased to six hundred, and still every day grew more by Additions. Now why should he entertain those Men, but to defend himself against the Forces of Saul? that is, to make a defensive War, whenever he was assaulted by them.[4] ...
[A]nd to what purpose should he make use of so many as 400 or 600 Men, unless it were to defend himself against those Men that Saul might send against him, since half a score or twenty Persons had been enough to have served for Spies? And if he had thought himself obliged only to run away, three or four Servants had been enough in conscience to have waited on him in any neighbouring Country : But that David thought it no Sin to defend himself from the Violence of those whom Saul should send to kill him, is plain from what he says to Abiathar, upon his Flight unto him after the Death of his Father: Abide thou with me; fear not: for he that seeketh my Life, seeketh thy Life, but with me thou shalt be in safeguardAnd if David had not meant by these Words to have defended Abiathar's as well as his own Life, if assaulted, and without a possibility of escaping, it had been very cold comfort for David to have only assur'd him, that he should be in safeguard with him till the first Assault that should be made upon them, but that then he should shift for himself; for as for his own part, he would, rather permit his Throat to be cut by the King's Officers or Soldiers than resist them.
And therefore, tho' I own that it was not lawful for him to stretch out his Hand against the Lord's Anointed; since I do not allow any private Subject to kill even Tyrants, unless in a State of actual War or Battle, wherein they are Aggressors, nor then neither, if it can possibly be avoided: Yet do I not find it at all unlawful for David, or any other private Man, to defend his own Life against such Assassinates as his Prince may send against him; so it may be done without a Civil War, or endangering the Peace of the Commonwealth. And so much you your self, tho' coldly, seem to yield, when you say, that the very Presence of such a number of Men about David, without any hostile Act, preserved him from being seiz'd on by some officious Persons, who otherwise might have delivered him into Saul's Hands: For I cannot think that David would have been at the trouble of keeping so many Men only for show, and a Terror to those officious Persons you mention, without resisting of them, if there had been occasion.
And tho' you tell me, that his being anointed by Samuel to be King after Saul's Death, was the first step to the Kingdom, to have such a Retinue of valiant Men about him; which made his Advancement to the Throne so much the easier, and discouraged any Opposition which might have been made against him, and that we see it proved so in the Event; and therefore have reason to believe, that it was thus ordered by God to that very End, I must take the liberty so far to differ from you.
For first, I desire to know by what Authority David could list 6 or 700 Men in Arms in Saul's Territories? and whether, according to your Doctrine, they were not Rebels for joining themselves with one who was declared a Traitor by the King? And tho' you fay it was thus ordered by God, I grant indeed it was; yet doth it not appear that it was done by any Divine Revelation to Nathan or Abiathar, but only by the ordinary Course of his Providence, like other things in the World: And therefore it is no fair way of arguing for you to affirm, that whatever David did in the matter of his own Defense, contrary to your Principles, he must needs do it by express Order from God, of which the Scripture is wholly silent: Much less doth it appear from the Story, that these Men whom David kept with him, were only to facilitate his attaining the Kingdom, as you  affirm; since the Scripture mentions no such thing, only that after Saul's Death he went up by God's Command to Hebron, with the Men that were with him and thither the Men of Judah came, and there they anointed David King over the House of Judah. But 'tis no where mentioned, that these Men were of any use to David for the obtaining of the Crown, since the Tribe of Judah would have made him King, tho' these Men had not been with him: For what could 600 or 1000 Men do against so vast a Multitude as the whole Tribe of Judah? And therefore it is evident, that these Forces were for no other End than his own defense.[5] ...
Nor are your Instances of Saul or Pilate, to the Question in hand: I grant Saul was God's Anointed, and could not have been lawfully resisted by David, notwithstanding his murdering of Abimelech, and the rest of the Priests: And Pilate might have his Authority from above, notwithstanding his Abuse of it: Yet doth it not therefore follow, that if either the one or the other had declared themselves sworn Enemies to the whole Nation of the Jews; and that instead of governing and protecting them, they had gone about utterly to destroy them, I think they had then ceased to be the Ordinance of God, and their Divine Commission had been at an end. To conclude: As for the Reason you give, why St. Paul might call the Roman Emperors by the Name of Powers, I shall not deny it. But whether by the Word [we omit the Greek word that follows], the Apostle means Persons or Powers, is much at one ; for if he means the former, he only urges Obedience to them as they are the means of the Happiness and Preservation of the People, as appears by the third and fourth Verses of the Chapter you now quote, where the main Reason St. Paul gives for our Obedience, is, That Rulers are not a Terror to good Works, but to the evil; and that he, (viz., the Supreme Power) is a Minister to us for our GoodAnd indeed, it had been a very odd way of enforcing our Obedience, for him to have said the quite contrary, that this Power was to be obeyed, because he was a Terror to good Works, and a Plague to all good Men, and a Minister to us of all manner of Mischief and Misery.[6]


[1] "A Reply to an Answer Pretending to Refute Some Positions Which Tended to Make the Oath of Allegiance Void, and not Obliging," in Samuel Eaton, The Oath of Allegiance and the National Covenant Proved to be Non-Obliging; or, Three Several Papers on that Subject (London: Peter Cole, 1650), 13.
[2] John Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, ed. William Talbot Allison (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911), 23.
[3] Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government: Volume II (Edinburgh: G. Hamilton and J. Balfour, 1750), 19-23.
[4] James Tyrrell, Bibliotheca Politica: or, an Enquiry into the Ancient Constitution of the English Government, With Respect to the just Extent of the Regal Power, and the Rights and Liberties of the Subject (London: J. Darby, 1727), 145
[5] Ibid., 146, 147.
[6] Ibid., 177.


Scolaris Legisperitus said...

I think the "private person" argument is not a good one. With this argument, we could say that nothing can be done for the Texas family that was just raided by the despotic State because it is only an issue between the State and one family. But citizenship is akin to universal magistracy, and everyone in the civic body is concerned when the State tramples on the biblical rights of only one individual.

I also think the mediate/immediate anoiting argument does not hold in Saul's case because it's the people of Israel who requested a king in the first place.

The way I view it, God sets forth the Rule of Law : the same law for everybody, nobody is above the law (this is hammered throughout the Bible), and if anyone breaks it, it is the duty of everyone to take action so that the Rule of Law is restored. The only entity who can bypass God's law is God himself (because the law is part of the Creation order, thus it applies to Creation but not to the Creator). In Saul's case, God sovereignly bypassed His own Rule of Law and ordered David not to slay Saul even if Saul violated the Rule of Law by trying to kill David.

BTW, it is funny that the same pietist folks who keep saying that the Old Testament is not binding today in civil matters always come up with the David-Saul argument when they argue against resistance.

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Scolaris Legisperitus,
Thanks for your feedback. My two cents:

I don’t think the “private person” arguments were meant to deny the legitimacy of appeals to the state for justice, but rather to deny such things as vigilante justice. The former is in the category of working within the justice system, while the latter is in the category of working outside of it.

The Texas situation would be parallel to the private-person actions condemned in the writers in this post only if the parents attempted to get their children back by force.

There are other considerations, of course, but there is the further complication of Saul being God’s anointed ruler. I think the anointing implies a non-normative situation because, while the people indeed requested a king, God required them to choose he whom the Lord had previously chosen.

Thus it was a unique historical circumstance: Saul was overtly chosen by God and anointed by a prophet. And this was David’s basis for not raising his hand against Saul—he was “the Lord's anointed”—not the “people’s anointed.” No ruler today can claim the former title.

“BTW, it is funny that the same pietist folks who keep saying that the Old Testament is not binding today in civil matters always come up with the David-Saul argument when they argue against resistance.”

Great argument - hadn't thought of that!

Scolaris Legisperitus said...

I agree that public and « official » justice must be preferred over vigilante justice, but I think the former is not completely illegitimate. Even Calvin, who was so sceptic of private person’s rising against the established order, recognized that God could « manifestely arouse his servants and the weapons of his commandments to punish an unjust domination and deliver from calamity the iniquitously afflicted people » (my translation from an old French version of his Institutes, quoted in L’Honneur et la Foi : le droit de résistance chez les réformés français, Geneva, Droz, 2012, chapter 1).

We surely agree that Saul’s conflict with David « was a unique historical circumstance ». However I have difficulty with the notion that Saul was supposedly « untouchable » simply because he was « God’s anointed ». Yes, we know from holy writ that God intervened in an extraordinary way in Saul’s coronation / institution to office. But I cannot accept that this only made Saul immune from resistance if he broke God’s Rule of Law.

In Historial and Theological Foundations of Law, Vol. I, p. 350, Eidsmoe argues that « The choice was God’s ; He revealed His choice through Samuel ; but the choice did not become effective until it was ratified by the people », cf. 1 Sam 10:24. So despite God’s unusual intervention in Saul’s case, this seems to conform with Rutherford’s argument that kings are made in a mediate way by God : God works through human agents.

Moreover, Eidsmoe draws from 1 Sam 14:45 that the people successfully exerciced interposition against Saul when he wanted to slay his own son Jonathan for disobeing him (by eating a meal) — remember that « the people » aka « the Assembly of Israel » was a legal body under the Hebrew Constitution. This is further evidence that even if Saul was « God’s anointed », he could be opposed.

Now begs the question : could David had legitimaly executed Saul in the En-Guedi cavern (1 Sam 24) ? Saul was trying to kill a man withoud any justification whatsoever. Worst, by that time Saul was a murderer (of the innocent priests and inhabitants of Nob, (1 Sam 22). David was by every practical means a lower magistrate, so by biblical law David SHOULD have executed the arch-criminal Saul. He did not because he BELIEVED he could not strike « God’s anointed ». The text does not say explicitly that David could not legally strike, simply that David BELIEVED he could not legally strike. Even if this belief was erroneous (by biblical law), it most likely came from God. It is God who decided to bypass his own law by making David refrain from rightfully executing Saul. Saul deserved no less than death under the lex talionis. The subsequent events — namely Saul’s repentance and death, and David’s accession to the throne, demonstrate how God was intervening in a very providential and peculiar manner.

We fundamentally agree, but I think that it is more proper and more powerfull to answer the issue from the Rule of Law perspective than from the « God’s anointed » perspective.