c. 2008 Religion News Service
(UNDATED) The television coverage of this year’s presidential election features a large number of talking heads who chatter daily about the perceived winners and losers on the political battleground.
Some talking heads are respected journalists and academics, but most are simply “Inside the Beltway” types labeled as either Democratic or Republican “strategists,” whatever that term may mean.
One night while watching some “strategists” hurl mindless barbs and stale cliches at one another, my eyes glazed over. In that TV-inspired stupor, I imagined that similar “strategists” appeared thousands of years ago on INN (Israelite News Network) as they covered a key moment in biblical history.
That event was when the ancient Israelites came before their leader, Samuel the Judge, and begged him to appoint a king to reign over them. But the elderly Samuel vigorously rejected the plea for a royal ruler.
Instead, he offered an ominous warning about a king: “He will take your sons … for his chariots and horsemen … to make them instruments of war … (a king) will take your daughters to be cooks and bakers. He will take your fields and vineyards and give them to his officers and to his coterie of servants … you will all be the king’s servants …”
But the people refused to listen to Samuel: “We want a king over us that we may be like all other nations.”
Here’s how it might have sounded back then on INN:
Moderator Zeev: Tonight we want to drill down on the intense conflict that is going on between the Israelites and Samuel. It’s clear that many people want a king, but Samuel is publicly opposed to the idea. Tonight, we have Jared, a political strategist who agrees with Samuel’s position, and Miriam, another strategist who supports the appointment of a sovereign over Israel. Jared, what’s going on?
Jared: Well, Zeev, I think Samuel laid it out pretty well. Having a king means there will be a draft to fill the ranks of the army, heavy taxation, and probably there will be war with the Philistines who are rapidly building up their military capability. Polls show the strongly religious folks believe we already have a ruler; it’s God, the King of Kings.
Miriam: I can’t believe what I’m hearing. His polling data is quite old. The pro-king forces have been doing their own internal polling; they actually send pollsters into family tents to get opinions. My sources tell me there’s an upward trend in favor of a king. A king would provide a sense of stability for Israel’s scattered tribes.
Jared: Not at all, Miriam. Having a king would create dissension. I mean, which of the dozen tribes would provide the king? The large tribe of Judah? Or someone from a smaller tribe like Benjamin? Nothing but trouble ahead. Are we going to have 12 candidates for the crown?
Miriam: Oh come off it, Jared. You and I know we can’t continue to depend on Judges like Samuel, Deborah or Gideon. That was OK years ago, but now we need real change, a central political and military center.
Jared: Not at all. We’ve done very well since Joshua brought us into the Promised Land. In fact, the latest polls shows 65 percent of the people think we are going in the right direction.
Miriam: You and your polls! Jared, have you recently stepped out of your bubble and actually talked with folks? Most of them desperately want a king to provide national security, protection from a Philistine attack. The world is too dangerous to have 12 tribes acting independently.
Jared: But having a large standing army isn’t going to make us any safer. Just the opposite. It’s a new kind of war. We do better with a small citizen army with a limited government. Certain things should be left to the various tribes, and not to an inefficient big government.
Miriam: Jared, wake up and stop idealizing the past. We need a king to do the things tribes can’t do for themselves.
Jared: An Israelite king will tax us, maintain lots of do-nothing bureaucrats, expropriate our land, and we won’t be a bit saferâÂ?¦.
Zeev: Good conversation, guys, but we have to take a break now. Tomorrow we’ll interview Samuel himself for the full hour. Stay tuned.
(Rabbi Rudin, the American Jewish Committee’s senior interreligious adviser, is the author of the recently published book “The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans for the Rest of Us.”)
KRE/CM END RUDIN