from The Gospel Coalition Blog by Mike Cosper
The royal wedding, just one day away, will be a multi-million dollar extravaganza for the A-list of all celebrity and political A-lists. News coverage has turned frantic, filling the celebrity gossip websites and cable news programs with speculation about who will be there, what will happen, and how grand it will all be. Celebrities are even lobbying publicly for invitations, or lamenting over the lack thereof.
Along with the buzz over the wedding comes speculation about what kind of king William will be. Some have not-so-subtly hoped that Charles might abdicate so that they can zip past his checkered history and restore dignity (and more than a little glamour) to the crown.
Many others, especially on this side of the pond, wonder why all of this matters. Is it just more celebrity gossip? More tabloid voyeurism?
I can’t help but think that there’s a hint of something else going on here. There’s something about the rhetoric surrounding the whole subject of royalty that sounds downright theological.
A Good King
It’s not enough to have a king with the proper line of succession, or with the legal right to rule; people want a good king. They want a king with some dignity, who doesn’t bare a checkered past of divorce and sex scandals. And it’s not just the king’s subjects who care. Hundreds of millions around the world will be watching tomorrow.
As I’ve wondered about this, I found myself looking at 1 Samuel 8. In it, the people of Israel reject God’s established rule over them, demanding a human king who leads them like the other nations of the world. God tells Samuel to give the people what they want. “Fine, they want a king, give them a king,” God seems to say. “They’ve never listened to me, and they have no idea what they’re asking for.”
Samuel delivers a speech that unpacks the weakness of all kings throughout history. He tells them exactly what to expect:
So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day (1 Sam. 8:10-18).
The British royal family, while not a repressive monarchy now, remains one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the world because of the legacy of their rule. They own an unbelievable amount of property—in fact, most of their wealth comes from being landowners. This isn’t necessarily land acquired through savvy business deals, just as the jaw-dropping collection of Egyptian antiquities at the British Museum didn’t come through fair trade agreements with the people of Egypt. Just as Samuel warned, all human kingdoms are marked by a legacy of wealth-hoarding and oppression.
Even though they were warned, the Israelites responded in remarkable, typical fashion:
But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 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” (1 Sam. 8:19-20).
They’re unconcerned about the consequences. They want to see a king, a hero, at the center of their nation. So God gives them what they want, and they end up with Saul.
What Is God Up To?
When we read the book of Samuel, there’s two ways to see what God is up to. On the one hand, God “gives the people what they want,” delivering them over to the injustice and suffering that surely accompanies a human king. It is unwise to resist the kingdom of God. On the other hand, in his sovereignty, he is unfolding a mystery that will ultimately lead to a much greater King: Saul’s reign yields to David’s, and David’s succession ultimately leads to Jesus.
Blaise Pascal famously described our vain attempts to fill the infinite abyss inside us with anything but God. Perhaps the obsessive reading, watching, and waiting for Friday’s wedding comes from a similar place, an emptiness inside of us that hungers for the ultimate reign of our King Jesus.
In a few days, much of the Western world will gather around TV sets to watch the incredible spectacle that will surely unfold. There will be a grand processional, and ultimately, a bride will appear, dressed in white, to wed the heir to the throne. We can watch it with a grumpy cynicism; we can watch it with an idolatrous awe; or we can see it as a signpost, pointing to a wedding in which we’ll play a part, and whose King will never disappoint.