If you believe it was an example of a USS, you would be mostly right. Certainly, the religion and the civil society were one and the same – there was a marriage of ‘church and state,’ if you will. My fudge in using the word ‘mostly’ in the first sentence of this paragraph will twig the alert reader to the fact that there are qualifiers. Here are a few:
- Old Covenant Israel was not just any human society. God put this people together supernaturally for a redemptive purpose for the whole world.
- National Israel served as a type of Christ and Christ’s New Covenant people, made up of Jews and Gentiles from all nations – a kingdom that belongs to no particular earthly kingdom (including physical Israel). In other words, the USS, Israel, carried the seeds of the Composite model of the people of God within all the kingdoms of the world.
- God, as the One True Living God, ruled His people directly for the first several centuries. He raised up rulers and judges, but God was recognized as King (when Israel was doing well, at least).
- Even when Israel cried out for a king so that they could be like the other nations (1 Samuel 8ff), we are told that the true King of Israel was the Lord Himself.
- Evidence of God’s particular rule of Israel was indicated in specific incidents that highlighted the superiority of ‘sacral/spiritual rule’ over civil authority. Examples:
- Saul was rejected as king largely because he presumed to take the role of a priest (1 Samuel 13:9 and context).
- Uzziah was a good king for many years, but “when he was strong, he grew proud to his destruction” (2 Chronicles 26:16 ESV). Again, he presumed the role of a priest – like Saul had – and was judged by God. God afflicted him with leprosy for his intentional confusion of spiritual and civil authority. Those 80 brave priests (26:17) knew their sacred/secular categories!
Consider the role of prophets and priests in Israel compared to the kings. Even David deferred to Nathan in the matter of building the temple (2 Samuel 7). The first time David asked the prophet about the temple, Nathan said, “sure, King, go ahead, do whatever you think is best” (my loose paraphrase). But then, Nathan enquired of the Lord and God said that David was not to build the temple. David accepted this. Can you imagine any other king in a USS falling in line behind a prophet? An Egyptian, Assyrian or Philistine king could have wiped out any prophet or priest that stood in his way. Who would have stopped him? Of course, at its worst moments, the kings did control the prophets in Israel and Judah. At least they thought they did (see 1 Kings 22 – that’s another story altogether!).
Of course we must recognize that the real Composite Societies were many centuries away from Old Testament Israel, but it is worth reflecting of the seeds of separation that are present even in the Old Covenant testimony.
The New Testament is where we really see the distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world come to the forefront. There are many, many examples of this:
- The nature of our Lord’s Kingdom and Messianic reign in His earthly ministry and in the present age since Pentecost. There is an ‘already/not yet’ aspect, of course, but Jesus did say that the Kingdom had arrived – with Him!
- The testimony of Christ and the Apostles to the believer’s relationship with the state demonstrates a separation between the kingdoms of God and man (‘render to Caesar’ – Luke 20:25; Romans 13, 1 Peter 2). Christians are responsible to be good citizens, but our first allegiance is to the Kingdom that is ‘not of this world.’
Throughout Christian history, believers who stood firm for the distinction between the kingdoms of men and the Kingdom of God suffered terribly at the hands of those who would not recognize the difference. For centuries, the worst persecution came from the official church. This was the cost of being ‘strangers and aliens’ on earth. The story of some of these dissenters is the subject of the next post.