Elections are a pillar of democracy, but can often be very problematic. “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others,” Winston Churchill once quipped. Election campaigns swallow large sums of money, close relationships with influential individuals are abused, and tactics are employed that are often not completely aboveboard in the eyes of the law. The electoral landscape becomes a playground for the media and polling companies, as they attempt to gauge the popularity of the candidates. And it’s not always those most suited to leadership that garner the most attention. A candidate’s ability to get his or her name out there by means of an effective PR campaign is usually more important to electoral success than the individual’s actual policy positions.
At the end of the period of the Judges, the nation of Israel demanded a king. Somewhat unwillingly, the prophet Samuel aided the search for a suitable monarch. And how did Samuel finally select a king ordained by God for the nation? He called together the people of Israel (1 Samuel 10:20-21) and simulated elections by casting lots.
“Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the Tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. Then he brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its families, and the Matrite family was taken. And Saul the son of Kish was taken.”
The Hebrew word for “taking by lot” (yelaked – ילכד) appears three times in these verses. The same Hebrew word appears four chapters later when Saul said, “‘Cast lots between me and Jonathan my son.’ And Jonathan was taken.” Similarly, after the defeat of Israel at Ai (Joshua 7) each tribe had to appear before God, each family and each house, each man, and God had lots cast (yelaked) that revealed the sinner (Achan) from among the people.
It was was a brilliant tactic. If Samuel had called Saul out from the Tribe of Benjamin as king without an election procedure, the other tribes and families would have been dissatisfied and jealous.
“Now therefore, present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your clans.” (1 Samuel 10:19)
Among the twelve tribes, step-by-step, he selected one tribe, then one family and finally one candidate. Once again, Samuel makes it clear to the people that God had cast the lot on King Saul:
“Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? Surely there is no one like him among all the people.” So all the people shouted and said, “Long live the king!” (1 Samuel 10:24)
The people had to agree to Saul being crowned king, and for this reason Samuel declared there to be no one like him. The people cheered and assented with “Long live the king!” To a certain extent, Samuel was forced to play the PR manager appointed by God for King Saul, although in principle he was opposed to a monarchy.
Saul was actually shy by nature. When he was first chosen, Saul could not be found, for he was “hiding himself by the baggage” (1 Samuel 10:22). This term “נחבא אל הכלים – nechbah el hakelim” is still used today for shy people. Nowadays, timid politicians have no chance of being elected. Saul was anything but popular, and yet he became king. Such a thing today would be unthinkable. In our day and age, popularity, wealth and power determine one’s chances of being elected by the people.
In the biblical narrative, there is a facade of democracy, though God had already chosen Saul prior to the spectacle put on by Samuel. (Of course, Bible-believers today still view our elected officials as having been ultimately appointed by God.) A citizen from among the people was selected. That citizen was presented to the public to be either approved or rejected. Later, when the sons of Belial (1 Samuel 11:14) opposed the choice of Saul, his kingship was further ratified at Gilgal.
In the same way that people in that time did not fully realize that the Benjamite Saul had already been selected by God, so too we might consider that the outcome of our recent election was foreknown, and perhaps even written, by God. It all depends on whether or not we believe in divine intervention in such matters.
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