04 Oct 2015

R.C. Sproul on Monarchy

Religious 11 Comments

At Sunday school (where they study the Bible before the actual worship service) we watched a 23 or so minute video from R.C. Sproul on monarchy in the Bible. (I think this is the link to it, but it’s $2.)

Libertarian Christians like to show not only atheists but also neoconservative Christians just how much God was against monarchy (with a human head). When Israel demands a king to be like the other (pagan) nations, here is what God told Samuel:

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.

10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king. 11 And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. 12 He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to beperfumers, cooks, and bakers. 14 And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. 16 And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men,[a] and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. 18 And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.”

19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

Like I said, it’s understandable how libertarian Christians would say, “See guys? Stop equating religion with the State. Yes, religious officials throughout history have used theology as a club against their sheep, but they were perverting the true doctrines. God sounds like Nock when the people want to grow their secular State.”

But I want to bring up something else. Notice that God lets them choose something that He knows is wrong. As Sproul says in his lecture, here God is acting like the father in Jesus’ famous parable of the prodigal son. The man lets his son go off and make disastrous life choices, in order for him to eventually come back and be welcomed again into the family, wiser.

I admit that there are some passages in the Old Testament that are…difficult. But the character of God is far more nuanced than the caricature of a petulant tyrant that you get from Hitchens et al. I’m pretty sure if a town in North Korea asks to secede and join South Korea, Kim Jong-un wouldn’t say, “Well, they’re rejecting me. OK let them go, but warn them that with free speech comes the annoying paparazzi. And wait to see how gross Burger King fries are.” No, he’d probably have the leaders of the region imprisoned or shot.

11 Responses to “R.C. Sproul on Monarchy”

  1. khodge says:

    Once again, trying to fit most of history into a template that is less than 300 years old yields wildly misleading answers: The Bible (OT or NT) says nothing about God rejecting monarchy, only that His chosen people were to be governed directly by God. Modifying monarchy with “with a human head” confuses the question. This command parallels the commandment that you shall not have strange gods before me: not a denial of other gods, an affirmation of the unique relationship between Israel and its one god.

    Perhaps Israel in the time of Christ was actually closest to God’s command because the Romans were, except for taxes, mostly absent rulers. That, in conjunction with the fact that Israel at the time had very many sects (far beyond the Pharisees and Sadducees) may well have been, practically speaking, quite libertarian.

    One thing that makes me uncomfortable is that what is being demanded is a theocracy like Iran.

  2. knoxharrington says:


    One way of reading this portion of Samuel is the way favored by libertarians who want to show that even God condemns the State. Another way would be in line with the Pauline prescription in Romans 13 that people should obey the earthly authorities. In case the point isn’t clear the passage from Samuel can be read as a way of justifying civil authority along with some victim blaming – “you don’t like the King? Guess what – God told you it was going to be this way and now you have to submit because you wanted it.” It is not unlike the H.L. Mencken aphorism about the people knowing what they want and they deserve to get it good and hard.

    It is interesting to note that nowhere after this do the people ask God to restore a “Stateless” society and God never intervenes to fix the people’s error in judgment. So, since people several thousand years ago decided wrongly, we all have to bear the burden of their stupidity today – and there is nothing we can do about it. I read it less as a cautionary tale and more as a justification of the State and victim blaming.


    • guest says:

      Which begs the question: How do you recognize a biblical “earthly authority”?

      Is there some criteria, or is it the guy who everyone *else* seems to be following?

      I hold that there is a criteria, otherwise, some guy is just throwing his weight around which doesn’t an authority make.

      It is interesting to note that in the passage cited, the people’s response to the supposed statement-of-fact of kings behaving thus and so was “No, we want a king.”

      Which only makes sense if Samuel was appealing to their sense of liberty. Samuel was saying don’t choose this route, or else you’ll be slaves. It’s bad. Don’t do it.

      So, regardless of God’s decision to never intervene to fix the people’s error in judgement, the passage tells you that it was an error in judgement.

    • David Friedman says:

      Knox gives the same reading as Rabbinic law. The passage is taken to justify the king of Israel, hence later the communal authorities, doing things that are not permitted by ordinary Jewish law.

    • Colombo says:

      Paul did not obey earthly authorities, and he was murdered.
      In History, earthly authorities have murdered even people who obeyed.
      It doesn’t matter whate the beliefs of the person being killed are or what the beliefs of the authorities who kill him are.

      Speaking of the burden of stupidity of previous generations, think of the qwerty layout. But it is not like we “have” to endure it. Some day keyboards will be reasonable, when anarchists dominate engineering and marketing, bwahahaha!

    • knoxharrington says:

      “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

      Romans 13:1-7

      In case it wasn’t clear from my post I was arguing that Paul, in Romans above, tells a different story from the one in Samuel and that it is possible to read Samuel in an unlibertarian way.

      As everyone who regularly read Bob’s religious posts knows I am an atheist and don’ t believe any of this stuff. I’m also an anarchist and think that any justification of the State on religious or secular grounds is, to borrow from the old hymn, “built on sinking sand.” Virtually everything advocated in the Romans 13 passage is abhorrent.

  3. Dave says:


    Here is a link to an excellent treatment of the alleged difficulty of some O.T. passages regarding genocide.

    Just as looking through the incorrect lens will produce a distorted image, so too will looking through the correct one snap the picture into focus.

    I strongly recommend and encourage anyone interested in the subject to purchase/read it.


  4. Jim says:

    Hi Bob,

    Not sure if you knew but RC Sproul’s son, RC Sproul Jr., is a libertarian.

    This podcast is an interview with him on “Reformed Libertarian:”


    • Bob Murphy says:

      Thanks Jim! Yes I was a consultant on this, though I just interacted with the producer, not Sproul Jr.

      • guest says:


        Now, maybe well-meaning church leaders won’t actively seek out the crappiest jobs they can find to “help” those who are in between jobs, as if it’s some kind of duty to suffer unnecessarily.

        Also (crosses fingers), maybe church leaders will be more willing to look the other way when people try to skirt the Minimum Wage.

        In their desire to obey the laws of the land, they are, unfortunately, ignorant of the fact that the Minimum Wage was actually intended to cause the unemployment of “undesirables”, and should be seen as going against the notion of good stewardship.

        (Aside: These are not contradictory positions. You’re supposed to find the most profitable job you can. But sometimes that may mean sticking your foot in the door to a new industry by offering to work for a lower wage.)

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