Police in helmets and riot gear downtown Washington, DC

What Happened When God Lost an Election?

Some of my Christian brothers and sisters are disappointed with the results of the election. Well, disappointed is an understatement. To be honest, I’ve been disturbed at their inability to accept reality. I mean, the electoral college has met, and Biden has 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 228. That’s about the same margin of victory as Trump had over Clinton in 2016. I know denial is one of the stages of grief, but at some point you have to move on to acceptance. You will never recover from this if you don’t accept reality. That’s the price you pay for living in a democracy.

Police in helmets and riot gear downtown Washington, DC

But I understand. All the self-proclaimed prophets told you Trump was going to win. You think Trump is God’s anointed, and you can’t accept that God could possibly lose an election. But what if I told you the Bible records an instance where that actually happened? If you believe the Bible, this is not the first time God lost an election. If you want to know how God got over it, this post is for you.

For this episode, we’re going back to the time of the Judges. If you don’t know, this is the period of Israel’s history following the conquest of Canaan under Joshua. They divided up the land, setting boundaries for each of the twelve tribes. It was a difficult time for them in a number of ways. Though they were technically one nation, they functioned more like twelve individual tribes. Despite claims in the book of Joshua that they annihilated all the Canaanites and other peoples native to the land, they still lived among them. The neighboring nations frequently raided them, killing some, enslaving others, and plundering their food and goods. Nowhere was safe.

In the book of Judges, God raised up leaders when crises arose who would unite a few tribes to team up against a particularly bad enemy, like the Philistines. They would defeat the enemy and be safe for a while. But they would slip back into apostasy, worshipping the gods of other nations, God would hand them over to their enemies, they would cry out for deliverance, God would raise up another leader (called a judge) to lead an army to defeat the enemy, and they were safe again. Until they slipped back into apostasy, and the cycle would repeat. By the end of Judges, the people of Israel were behaving even worse toward each other than their enemies were. To answer the unspoken question, “Why?” the author says,

In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

(Jdg 21:25 NRS)

Obviously, a system like this wasn’t sustainable. But a light of hope came not in a military commander but rather a spiritual leader. His name was Samuel, and in the years from about 1040-1020 BC, he became something like a Wesleyan circuit rider, traveling from one shrine of Yahweh to another. He reformed the worship and helped settle disputes, so they wouldn’t slip into the kind of depravity we see in chapters 17-21 of Judges. He reminded them of the sacred traditions about Yahweh, the God who had sent Moses to call them out of Egypt and be his people, who had given this land to them and the law of Moses, so they could learn the ways of justice and righteousness.

When I say the purpose of the law of Moses was to teach justice and righteousness, some of you are skeptical. You say there is a lot of the law of Moses that does not look just and righteous to you. I understand. I plan on doing a full explanation in a later post. For now, I will refer you to Genesis 18:19.

“… for I have chosen [Abraham], that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

(NRSV)

God says here the way of the LORD is righteousness and justice, and God wants Abraham to teach his children and his household after him to learn and practice this. I know not everything Abraham did was righteous and just, and the same is true of the law of Moses. But that was always the goal, and Samuel not only taught it but lived it to the best of his knowledge.

Not the P.K.’s

The people loved and respected Samuel, so they listened to him. But they saw a problem down the road. Samuel’s sons did not have his integrity. Do you know what a P.K. is? A “preacher’s kid.” There is a stereotype of them being wild and rebellious. Samuel’s two sons were “P.K.’s” in the worst sense of the word. Samuel had done a lot to root out corruption in their religious institutions, but he was getting old. He made his two sons judges to take over some of his duties, and they threatened to undo all the good Samuel had done.

Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.

(1Sa 8:3 NRSV)

Whereas Samuel administered justice, his sons perverted justice (1 Sam 7:14-8:3). The most discouraging part was Samuel did nothing to correct them. They came to Samuel with a solution. So now, I’ll read from 1 Sam 8, starting with verse 4.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD,

 (1Sa 8:4-6 NRS)

Ramah was Samuel’s home, where he would rest between circuits. The elders come to him on behalf of the people and tell him they do not trust his sons like they trust him. They like him, but they don’t want his sons governing them. And to be fair, their concerns are legitimate. This is one more failure of a hereditary-based system of rule. But their solution is to set up another hereditary-based rule. They want a king to govern them, like other nations.

The last sentence of the book of Judges, quoted above, makes it sound like this is the solution they need. When there was no king, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Samuel at first takes it personally. He sees it as a rejection of himself.

It’s not you, Samuel, it’s me

… and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only–you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”  

(1Sa 8:7-9 NRS)

So to paraphrase, God tells Samuel, “They are not rejecting you. They are rejecting me.” Their history toward God, ever since they came out of Egypt, has been, rejecting him, “Please take me back,” rejecting him, “Please take me back,” and this is just another chapter in that story. If you are in a relationship like that, you have my sympathies.

But God says something specific about this episode. They have rejected me from being king over them. I see God saying here, “If you want a king, fine. I’ll be your king.” God is literally offering them the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, but once again they will reject it. As much as God must be getting sick of this cycle of rejection and reconciliation, God tells Samuel twice, Listen to the voice of the people. So God is saying he will accept the results of the election, but first God wants Samuel to warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them. Let’s see what that means.

Be careful what you pray for

So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 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”

(1Sa 8:10-13 NRSV).

Let’s stop for a minute and see what this means. You want a king like the other nations? Well, here is what the kings of other nations do to their people.

He will take your sons. Right away, this suggests slavery. Chariots, horsemen, and commanders point to conscripted military service. Instead of plowing their own fields and reaping their own harvests, the king will force your sons to do that for him. They will be forced to make implements of war and chariots. Taking their daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers doesn’t sound that bad, but again, it won’t be for themselves or their households. They will be taken from their families and forced to do this for the king and his court. Apparently, under Samuel, service to the state was voluntary. A king will make it mandatory, just like other nations.

The most puzzling thing for me is when he says he will make your sons run before his chariots. Why did kings do that? I don’t know, but what happens to you if you are running in front of a chariot, and you can’t run as fast as the horses? Have you seen Ben-Hur? Let’s continue.

“He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.”

(1Sa 8:14-15 NRSV)

There was a tithe of grain and vineyards and olive orchards under Mosaic law, but it was meant to feed people who did not have the means to grow their own food, i.e., priests, Levites, and the poor. A king, who is already rich, will take your tithe for himself and his courtiers.

“He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.”

(1Sa 8:16-17 NRSV)

Again, he will take the best or your hard-earned labor for himself, and leave you with the least. And God saved the worst for last. You shall be his slaves. Remember, this was a nation founded on deliverance from slavery. They were allowed to own slaves, as noted in this passage. That is one of those things critics say make the Bible irrelevant or immoral. I understand. I don’t want anyone to think I’m advocating for slavery. But it was a different time. Every period of history has its moral blind spots, and slavery was so much a part of the social fabric I don’t think they could imagine a world without it. But the memory of slavery was supposed to temper their treatment of slaves. A king will make you slaves once again, and he would not have any of the restraints toward his slaves that they had.

The LORD will not answer you in that day

“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.”

(1Sa 8:18 NRSV)

Now that warning is about as stark as you can get. God called Moses back to Egypt, because they cried out from the harsh treatment of Pharaoh and his taskmasters. But when they cry out again because of their king, the LORD will not answer you in that day. Why? Because this is your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves. You made your bed, and you will lie in it.

Even God can’t change the election results

Protesters with signs "Count the Votes," "Count every vote," "Democracy means count all the votes."
The votes were counted, and God accepted the results.

But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”  

(1Sa 8:19-20 NRSV)

So God tried to be elected king by will of the people, and lost! They didn’t even have a candidate to run against God. They didn’t have anyone to vote for. Their only purpose was to vote against God. And then, they wanted God to pick who would be king. “We voted against you. Now, we want to you to pick the person to fill the office we rejected you for.”

If anyone had a right to complain about an unfair election, God did. But did God complain?

When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD.

The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.”

(1Sa 8:21-22a NRSV)

“But a king is going to oppress them! A king is going to do all the evil to them they want to be saved from, and worse! This is a fraudulent election! They didn’t even have a candidate! How can you have an election without an opposing candidate? This is the greatest fraud in history! And look at this chart! I was ahead in the vote count at sundown! That means I won! Samuel, if you don’t overturn the results of this election, you’re fired!”

No, one thing God is not is a sore loser or a snowflake. Listen to their voice and set a king over them. God accepted the results of the election and the will of the people, even though God knew it would not give them what they wanted.

Why was God opposed to a king?

There were actually a number of good reasons for a king, and I’ve already mentioned most of them. I don’t think God had a problem with a desire for a king. In fact, after David took the throne, God blessed him and his dynasty beyond anything even David had imagined. I think the problem was their reasons for wanting a king. Three reasons:

1. They wanted a king to govern.

No problem there. They had to have some sort of government. The law of Moses even commanded them to set up a government, though it did not include a king. Still, for the time, it was not an unreasonable request. A monarchy can work pretty well if the king is wise and benevolent. Remember, the author of Judges advocated for a king to establish order and justice. By having a king to govern all twelve tribes, it would unite them and make them into a nation powerful enough to defend itself against its enemies.

2. They wanted a king to go out before us and fight our battles.

God did not call them to be a military nation. They were not even allowed to have a standing army. It’s true they needed to be able to defend themselves against the hostile nations surrounding them, who constantly invaded, raided and oppressed them. But when you talk about a king to go out before you into battle, you’re not talking about defense. You’re talking about doing some invading and raiding yourself. In a dog eat dog world, they did not just want to be safe. They wanted to be the alpha dog.

3. They wanted to be like other nations.

Remember that verse I showed about how God wanted Abraham’s descendants to be the vessels through which God would bring righteousness and justice into a dark and unjust world? The children of Israel were those descendants of Abraham. The desire to be like other nations would lead them to copy their ways, not only in having a king. It would mean copying their injustice and unrighteousness. Their kings would copy the kings of other nations in oppressing their own people.

The author of Judges thought a king would be the answer, not only to oppression from their enemies but to the injustice that Israelites did to each other. Isn’t it ironic that the very thing Judges said would save them from injustice, God said would become an instrument of injustice that they would be powerless to stop. And as you watch the history of Israel unfold from the Judges to the Exile, everything God said the kings would do to them, they did.

And even knowing all this, God accepted the results of the election. My brothers and sisters in Christ, could it be time for you to do the same, and stop demonizing those who simply counted the votes?