Campaign season is here. Presidential campaigns begin on January 21st of the new term. Posturing renews. Partisan fighting does too. And then there is the peculiar quality of it all. Every candidate has a message. And they ask people to “deliver a message” by voting for them. Whatever the messages are they must be important. But they are not effective. Because we get them every cycle.
The Parable Of The Trees
The trees needed a king. They thought they did anyway. They went first to the olive tree. “Be our king,” they said. But the olive tree did not need to be anointed king. It made the anointing oil. It could not stop doing that. If the olive tree quit making the oil, what would they anoint with?
Next they went to the fig tree. The fig tree made sweet fruit that was nourishing to every one that ate it. The fig tree politely declined to rule over the other trees. The vine was asked. But it declined because its fruit made wine that cheered the gods and human beings. What an honor it received in providing such fruit!
Lastly, the trees asked the bramble. The bramble was delighted. It declared that the trees could come rest in it’s shade. And from now on, instead of fire being used to eradicate such a despicable plant, it warned the other trees they would be burned if they rebelled.
The parable is not from Jesus. It is from Jotham, the youngest surviving son of Gideon who delivered Israel from the Midianites.
The Message From The Opposition
Jotham was angry with the fickle people of Shechem. His father had been a champion for the people of the city. But when Gideon died, the people turned their backs on Gideon’s household. They helped Gideon’s son Abimelech murder his brothers. Only one son had escaped.
Jotham stood on Mount Gerizim against the city and offered the parable. It is recorded in Judges 9:7-15. The people of Shechem could not miss the meaning of this parable. They were doing something against all good sense when they made Abimelech king. But they did it anyway. And three years later they paid a terrible price for it.
The Mixed Message
Was Israel supposed to be ruled by kings? Deuteronomy 17:14-20 assumes the people will want a King. Whereas, 1 Samuel 8:6-7 shows that in asking for a King the people reject God.
Israel needs the kingdom and the institutions that come with it. The tribes need unity and security. The people recognize the need. What was the better solution? We will never know.
Israel’s kingdom involves more about civil strife and destruction brought onto the people than could have been understood when it began. The warnings given do not begin to cover what the future brought. After the Exile, kings are politically inexpedient. There is never another one from David’s lineage.
Now Back To Our Message
Aristotle argues that monarchy is the best form of government and that tyranny is the worst. The problem is obvious. There is a line between the two. America’s founding leaders tried in the Presidency to broaden the width of that line. During my lifetime, the American people have regarded their presidential candidates as either Messiahs or Anti-Christs.
Candidates tell us to deliver a message. It must be delivered to Washington, to the bureaucrats, to the billionaires, to the world. The message is Christian, righteous, and just, we hear. The messages “to them” are declarations of judgement or condemnation. They are not messages of peace and grace. They are often messages of destruction. Aristotle would recognize the words that lead to tyranny. Israel experienced their kings in the same ways.
Dispelling The Illusion
Christians should participate in all areas of society including the political sphere. Reinhold Niebuhr, who was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom, said the very best governments could only promote justice. Only the Church could promote the love and peace of Jesus Christ.
The idea sounded pretty “middle-of-the-road” for its time. Now it appears to be radical. And the church is worse off for it. The churches allowed the wrong messages to control them. We forgot the goodness of the cheer provided by the vine, of the food of the fig tree, and the cleansing oil of the olive tree. We looked to the brambles to protect them and provide them for us.
I approve this message.