How do we find true wisdom?
How is power passed down through generations? What about spiritual power?
Richard the Third may have had the ‘ump, but King Henry the Eighth was positively livid! How could his divine mandate be passed to the next generation if there was no male heir? Thus commenced the familiar sequence regarding the fate of his wives; divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Out of this mess came Edward VI, who only lasted a few years, followed by his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth I.
Henry was a firm believer in the doctrine of the divine right of Kings, seeing himself more or less as the “English Pope”, God’s right-hand man in God’s own country, setting himself up as the head of the English Church, once he had split from Rome.
The divine right of Kings may have been a convenient excuse for Kings behaving badly, but it was neither divine in origin, nor right. So where did it come from? It seems to have originated with a Papal Bull, a controversial and badly-received proclamation from Pope Boniface VIII in 1302. The thinking was that God had given spiritual power to the Church (through the Pope, of course) and earthly power to the political ruler, the King. The implication was that the King was free to do whatever he wanted (as was the Pope) and relegated God to absentee parent, leaving his favourite child free to bully the rest of the kids in the playground.
Of course, this was not from the Bible, just another example of the corruption of the medieval Church and the basic human inclination to create power bases. If this was not something that came from Holy Scripture, then what does the Bible really tell us about such things? Is there such a process of anointing a succession of men (and women) for His purposes? Well there is, but it’s not how the World (and the medieval Church) would have done it. Which is, let’s face it … quite comforting.
It all began with Father Abraham, the true head of mankind’s earthly (through the Jews) and spiritual (through the Christians) dynasty. He was even commissioned directly from God, with a promise:
The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you."I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:1-3)
So did Abraham (then known as Abram) divorce or behead his wife because of the lack of an heir? Did he leave her for a younger more fertile option when her biological clock had seemingly ground to a halt? Of course not … no, wait a minute … he did! Yes, he did dally with the au-pair … but that was at his wife’s insistence and she didn’t lose her head in the process! The result of this dalliance was a first son, Ishmael.
That would have sufficed for King Henry. A male heir, happy days! But from this point the Bible doesn’t follow the World’s script, because Ishmael, the first born, does not become the heir. Instead Abraham and Sarah break all gynaecological records and produce a son, Isaac, in their twilight years. And it is he who becomes the heir.
… it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned ... (Genesis 21:12)
We move to the next generation. Isaac finds a wife Rebekah and she bears him twins, Esau and Jacob. Again, it is Jacob, the younger, who becomes the heir, albeit as the result of a bit of trickery and fine dining. God repeats the same blessing He gave to his granddad.
"I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. (Genesis 28:13-14)
The next generation is even more interesting because this time the heir is the fourth born, Judah. This is because the firstborn, Reuben, slept with his father’s mistress (presumably without permission) and the next two, Simeon and Levi had killed all the males in a city in revenge for the rape of their sister. Further down the line, we find Jesse’s six eldest sons being rejected and God’s favour passing to David, who was, of course to become King of Israel.
We all know that the next king of Israel was Solomon, but here we see not one but two curiosities. First, the physical succession. As a King you would expect Solomon to have been David’s heir apparent, his first-born. In fact he was at least the tenth official son, not including a collection of unofficial sons, born from his mistresses. There’s no time to go into this except to say that it was a decision David made himself, prompted by Solomon’s mother Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet (1 Kings 1:5-53). Then, there was the spiritual succession, which passes not to Solomon, but his younger brother, Nathan. Solomon had started well, but his reign nosedived at a pace that reflected the speed with which his harem grew!
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For the next article in this series, click here.
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