King or Tyrant (Jeremiah 22:10–23:8)

“Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing
and does not give him his wages,
who says, ‘I will build myself a great house
with spacious upper rooms,’
who cuts out windows for it,
paneling it with cedar
and painting it with vermilion.

Do you think you are a king
because you compete in cedar?
Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?
Then it was well with him.
He judged the cause of the poor and needy;
then it was well.
Is not this to know me?
declares the Lord.

But you have eyes and heart
only for your dishonest gain,
for shedding innocent blood,
and for practicing oppression and violence.” —Jeremiah 22:13–17

chess-2727443_1280.jpgIt has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others. The real genius of our democratic republic is more negative than positive in nature. The brilliance isn’t foremost in contriving a constitutional government that is so good, but recognizing that the constitution of man is bad. The system of checks and balances, the limitation of terms, the division of power, the constitutional rights—all of these limit how much bad, bad men can do. 

Given this, isn’t it peculiar, that even in our republic, even we are enchanted by kings. You could chalk this up to fairy tales, Arthurian legend, historical intrigue, and royal pomp, but I believe there is something far deeper. The historical story of kings is filled with injustice and unrighteous, and even so, there is a longing for the royal, the regal, the kingly, the majestic. Our republic betrays this when she says “In God we trust.”

From Jeremiah 21:1–22:30 we have a string of wicked kings, and the answer of chapter 23:1–8 to this, the hope held out, isn’t the abolition of the Davidic Dynasty, but the fulfillment of it. It is not less monarchy, but monarchy in the fullest that is the hope of man. Spreading the power of government out to more fallen men doesn’t bring enduring peace and justice. The answer is an absolute sovereign who is absolutely good. Mysteriously, He is also man. He is certainly more than a mere man, but He must be a man. He shows us man as man ought to have been. Kingly, imaging forth his Sovereign in the domain given to him, acting as a steward-king.

What is it that makes a king a king? Cedar does not a king make. Rightfully residing in a royal palace doesn’t make one royalty. Jehoiakim was indeed king, but he was not kingly. What is it that makes a king a king?

This is similar to the question “what makes a man a man?” There are men, who though they are men, they are not manly. They remain boyish. It is just this type who so often strives for manliness, but always in a way that makes it more boyish. Such men try to compensate by artificial markers of manliness, a self-defeating act manifesting just how boyish they are. Such violent strength and ill gained wealth are empty of all that is truly regal and royal. As Jehoiakim builds up, he tears down. As he tries to climb, he digs.

In Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy, the earthy (not earthly mind you) King Lune of Archenland was kingly, whereas the outrageously opulent Tisroc was trying to compensate. What makes the difference? The Tisroc’s glory is one built by taking, whereas King Lune’s is built by giving. King Lune’s glory is one of magnanimous joy; the Tisroc’s, of demanding servitude of others. King Lune explains to his son, “…this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”

The truly majestic is not a glory that grabs, but that gives. This is the difference between a tyrant and a king. The King of kings bled to make His bride beautiful. The kingly is that which flows with sacrifice knowing it is more blessed to give than to receive.

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