1 Kings 2.1–4, 10–12
When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying: ‘I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. Then the Lord will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: “If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.”
Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned for seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established.
How appropriate it is that as we approach the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee of Accession, on Sunday, the Lectionary offers us some wisdom from the Book of Kings. In it, we eavesdrop on the final conversation between the great King David and his son, Solomon. Essentially, it boils down to a warning. King David says to Prince Solomon – ‘Watch it, boy! Make sure that you follow the laws of God, so that He will bless you. For if you don’t….’
It’s important to remember that, according to the book of 1 Samuel, God was not at all keen on the idea of Israel having a King. For generations, up to the time of Samuel, God had appointed a ‘Judge’ to rule over the Nation, while maintaining that God was their King. The Judges (of which Samuel was the last) had power to decide on key national events and important legal issues, but they didn’t have the same status and wealth as a King.
But the people didn’t like this arrangement. The other tribes around them had Kings – giving those tribes status in the eyes of others. The people of Israel wanted the same for themselves. Samuel warned them against the idea, saying, essentially, that “a King will take taxes from you to build his palaces, and he’ll draft your young men to fight his battles for him”. But the people were adamant, and eventually Samuel gave way (after consulting with God). Saul was anointed as the first King, followed by David, and then Solomon – the subjects of today’s Old Testament reading.
The story of how Samuel came to start a monarchy is however, important. It’s especially so in the light of the English practice of maintaining a monarchy. The clear message of Scripture is that God would really rather prefer it if we didn’t have a monarch, at all. But, Scripture tells us, he will tolerate having one, if we really must!
As I’m sure you’ll be aware, England’s history with Monarchy is a rather fraught affair. We’ve had Kings who have conquered us. We cut the head off one King, and we had a ‘Protector’ instead of a King, for a while. When bloodlines of our Monarchs have run out, we’ve tended to cast around to other European nations to find a new one – resulting in the present ‘Windsor’ line, who should more correctly be called ‘Saxe-Coburg’ of Germany.
Of course, we like to pride ourselves on having a ‘constitutional monarchy’ – that is, a Monarch who has all the wealth and status of a King or Queen, but none of the power in any real sense. It’s a classic British compromise, really. Power is vested in the Monarch – but it is exercised by Parliament, through the Government.
So, just as Israel demanded of Samuel, we have the prestige among nations which Monarchy offers us. But, perhaps attentive to Samuel’s warning about monarchical power, we have found a way of having one without giving them over-weening, or unrepresentative power.
There is no doubt that our own dear Queen is a treasure. She has taken her promise to serve the Nation entirely to heart. Her life has been, in so many ways, one of devoted service to God, and to us. I’m sure that she has done all within her (actually quite limited) power to live by David’s advice to Solomon. As for her life of service, which among us would enjoy her life of opening buildings and national events, chit-chatting to strangers and politicians (without unduly influencing them) and running a huge Royal estate. I certainly wouldn’t. Running the little estate of St Faith’s Havant is enough for me! The Queen has palaces and lands all over the Nation! As for dealing with politicians – just think of some of the people with whom she has had to dine. She had to have the odious Donald Trump for dinner, not so long ago!
So for me, the British monarchy is a compromise – and one which finds some resonance in Scripture. We are fortunate to have, in Queen Elizabeth, a godly and indeed Christian woman who has lived up to the promise she made of a life of service to others through the office of the Crown. I’m certain that the Queen points to Jesus Christ as the supreme example of what a life of service means. And we would do well to follow where her finger points.
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