Democracy brings with it a slew of weaknesses. One need only look back to the spectacle of the 2000 election and the sad saga of hanging chad to recall more than a few of those weaknesses. First, the United States went through months of wrangling over who would become the most powerful man in the world, the leader of the only superpower. Both candidates for that role were reduced to wheedling judicial sycophants, hiring armies of lawyers to appear before a passel of judges to make the case that each had won the contest.
Of course, once the final decision had been made, one not much to the liking of the dominant media elite, we were reminded that while George W. Bush indeed sat in the White House, he arrived there utterly bereft of a “mandate.” He was the leader of the free world, but only on a technicality. His daunting task, we were told, was to prove that he could pick up the mantle of leadership.
With a monarchy, one rarely faced such challenges. The rules of succession were laid out with great care. And if these were not sufficiently clear, and sometimes even if they were, the decision was made on the battlefield. But in the one monarchy established by God, things were even more complicated. There, one did not become a king by being the son of a king. Instead, one was elected to the office. Or, to put it in slightly clearer terms, one was anointed for the office. In this election, God alone cast the vote.
But then God did something we would not have expected. He voted twice. First, He anointed Saul to be king over Israel. When Saul fell under His wrath, He turned His attention to the young shepherd boy, and instructed Samuel to anoint David as the king of Israel. What is stranger still, however, is that God did not announce His act of impeachment from on high. He did not tell the children of Israel that their loyalty was now to be directed away from Saul and toward David. It seems almost as if He didn’t even bother to tell David.
As 1 Samuel draws to a close, we witness the ugly spectacle of Saul’s downhill slide. Bereft of the indwelling gift of the Spirit of God, he falls deeper and deeper into sin, and deeper and deeper into insanity. He is desperately afraid that he has lost the loyalty of those around them, and frantically certain that that loyalty has turned toward David. But David, though he knows that he has been called by God to rule over the house of Israel, though Saul pursues him mercilessly, knows that Saul is the king. He refuses to lay a hand upon the Lord’s anointed. Indeed, when an Amalekite appears before David to claim that he has put Saul to death at Saul’s own request, David, rather than thanking the young man for removing the one obstacle to the throne, puts him to death.
We are rightly humbled by David’s humble posture during his long ordeal with the madman Saul. But we also ought to be humbled by our parents in the faith. This month we take the next step on our march through the history of the church. We already have covered the first century and the second. This month we look at the third. As the church grew through the centuries, as she faced new theological challenges, there remained one constant. The people of God suffered persecution. This year, as with the past two, we devoted a feature article to the suffering of God’s people during this time.
What we see in all three centuries is a repeat of the story of David. Every Christian who faced death by martyrdom in the first three centuries of the church did so by the command of the Caesar. And all of these Caesars, like Saul before them, were madmen. But also like Saul, they were anointed by God. The victims of the persecution of Rome were no doubt familiar with Paul’s letter to the church there, where he tells us: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom. 13:1).
Such knowledge, I have to believe, offered only little comfort to those who faced wild beasts and gladiators in the Colosseum, those who were burned alive, and those who were crucified. David, of course, had this to comfort him—he knew that one day he would be king. My guess is that what comforted the martyrs of the third century, what gave them the peace to face such horrific pain, was the same thing that comforted David. They knew that they had been anointed, that they, in union with Christ, not only would be but already were kings and queens. My guess is that they not only were familiar with Paul’s letter to the Romans, but that they also knew of his letter to the church at Ephesus, which tells us: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us … raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4, 6).
We, too, if we are His, will not escape persecution. But we, too, like David and our fathers of the third century, have been anointed. We are kings and queens with Christ. And such cannot be revoked.