by Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad
Rev. Dr. Gaikwad is the current chairperson
of WSCF AP and the director of SCEPTRE
in Serampore College, Kolkota, India.
You and I are a “cross century” generation. We have moved from the twenty-first century. This is not merely a chronological movement, it is a crossing over into a period of radical global changes. From the industrial revolution we have moved into information technology revolution, from modernism we are venturing into post-modernism, from classical capitalism we are drawn into globalization, from nominal religiosity we are being led into either fundamentalism and communalism or atheistic secularism. The people of so-called “third world” or “developing” countries are attracted to follow the ways of the “first world” or “developed” countries. It is in such a context that we are called upon to be vigilant and courageous enough to resist the pressures of globalizing paradigm shifts.
No individual, community or nation lives in isolation. We all live in a society, nation and world with their political systems, legal constitutions, economic policies, religious traditions and cultural lifestyles. For example, a study of political systems in the world reveals to us tribal communities with their chiefs and council of elders, monarchies and their royal structure of governance, dictatorships and their autocratic rule, parliamentary democracies with their term-based majority party or coalition party administrations, communist governments with their totalitarian regimes, and so on. So also when we examine economic systems in the world we discern subsistence economies, feudal societies, different forms of capitalism and socialism, and mixed economies. Behind every system or structure of society, there is an explicit or implicit ideology or philosophy of life and society.
Right from birth, human beings live and grow in the context of different paradigms, perspectives and processes of life. Therefore it is but natural that the views and ways of life of individuals and groups are influenced to a great extent by the prevailing faith affirmations, philosophies, systems, traditions and fashions of their times. For instance, many tribals in their homelands develop an order of priorities in life in which the community comes first and one’s self-interest come last. Emphasis is laid in community solidarity and fellowship. However, people living in India’s metropolitan cities tend to be individualistic. Their “apartment” lives keep them aloof from their neighbours: they are largely obsessed with themselves. Then again, personal family backgrounds may also influence us. An individual brought up in a wealthy businessman’s house is more likely to opt for a capitalist economic system, while a person is raised in a family with socialist inclinations may well become an advocate of a Marxist economic system.
So we affirm that no human being lives an island life. Hence we need to ask ourselves: Where are ideologies and systems leading us? Who or which are he forces that are regulating or impacting our ideologies and systems? Are our ideologies God-centered? Are our systems giving expression to the reign of God as envisage by Jesus in Luke 4:18-19 (“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”)? To set us off in our reflections, let us focus our attention on the note of caution sounded in I Sam. 8:4-20.
In I Sam. 8:4-20 we read that the people of Israel had reached a critical stage in their history. They wanted a paradigm-shift in their political, economic and social system. The Israelites had so far followed tribal systems of government with chiefs and elders guided at times by prophets or judges. However some of the nations around them seemed to be far advanced. They had human kings came the grandeur of palaces, royal courts, temples, professional armies, higher wages, extensive trade and urbanization. Indeed their neighboring nations appeared great and powerful. Therefore the plea of the people of Israel to Samuel, “Appoint for us a king, like all the other nations” (1 Sam. 8:5).
In our own times many so-called “developing” countries are attracted to the capitalistic economies of the developed nations with their scientific technologies and the consequent consumeristic happiness. Hence the inclination of governments and peoples to economic liberalization and globalization so that they too could become like the developed nations.
When the Israelites mooted the proposal of a paradigm-shift in their political system, Samuel was shocked and dejected. Yahweh counseled Samuel not to take this proposal as a personal insult, but to reflect upon its deeper implications. Yahweh discerned, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Sam. 8:7).
The Israelite nation had so far been a theocratic community. Yahweh had been their “King”. On one occasion when the Israelites invited the successful judge Gideon to establish his family’s dynastic rule of them, Gideon had protestingly asserted, “I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you” (Judg. 8:22-23). In fact the “Kingship” of Yahweh was a recurring creeda affirmation in Israelite faith. For instance, Isaiah 33:22 declares, “For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king...” So also the psalmist emphatically affirms, “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Ps. 95:3).
There were several reasons why Yahweh had been so far honoured as “King”. Yahweh was considered responsible for specially bringing the nation of Israel into existence. It was Yahweh who gave then a sense of identity “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord you God has chosen you to be people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6). It was Yahweh who had delivered them from political and other bondages and who had led then through the wilderness to the Promised Land. This salvation history was the grateful creed of the Israelites: “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good for his steadfast love endures forever... to him who smote the first born of Egypt... and brought Israel out from among them... and slew famous kings... and gave their land as a heritage... a heritage to Israel his servant, for his stead-fast love endures for ever. (Ps. 136:1, 10, 11, 16, 18, 21, 22). Furthermore their political, socio-economic and cultural life was directed to Yahweh. The laws and rules which regulated their day to day moral life and inter-personal ethical relationship had Yahweh as their basis. For instance the Ten Commandments began with the words “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20:2).
Hidden behind the glamour of globalization lurks the gloom of loss of freedom, self-respect, unique identity, original creativity and cosmic har mony. Concealed behind the covers of consumeristic happiness are the pages of the cruelty of competition, corruption and crime.
Even the jubilee year of liberation had Yahweh as the central authoritative force: “You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear you God; for I am the Lord your God... the lad shall not be sold in perpetuity for the land is mine... And if he (a slave) is not redeemed... then he shall be released in the year of jubilee, he and his children with him. For to me the people of Israel are servants, they are my servants whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God,” (Lev. 25:17, 23, 54, 55).
While, theologically and existentially speaking Yahweh was “king”, for all practical purposes Yahweh reigned through chiefs and elders, prophets and judges. Within such a political framework, the Israelites like all other tribals would have followed a subsistence economy, They would have worked hard for catering to the needs of individuals and families in the community. Care would have been taken to see that no member was in any serious difficulty. The members were bound together by a strong sense of tribal solidarity. The people stood together through all the joys and sorrows of life. For instance, they rallied round one another in conquering the land of Canaan so that they all could secure a dwelling place.
However while they were engaged in the process of establishing themselves some of the surrounding nations seemed to be doing much better. They had human kings, and the external façade of monarchial rule appeared very attractive. How they wished to appropriate the systems, structures and accompanying life-style of their neighbours!
When the majority in any community gets preoccupied with a certain euphoria, it becomes very difficult for them to see the limitations and problems of their obsession. Hence as the Israelites were clamoring for a monarchial system, Yahweh attempted to caution them about the dangers of monarchy.
Among the perils of embracing monarchial rule was the loss of freedom: “he will take your sons and appoint for himself commanders... and some to plough his ground and to reap his harvest... He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers,” (1 Sam. 8:11-13). Indeed the people would become the king’s “slaves”. (1 Sam. 8:16). The Israelites had so far enjoyed a certain freedom characteristics of all tribal communities. Each family had its relative autonomy. The chiefs and elders did not infringe upon the freedom of individuals and families except in times of community defense and development. Even those exceptional cases were not considered to be infringements of freedom because people experienced joy and satisfaction in working for the community. The danger, which Yahweh had talked about, became a reality in the history of Israel’s monarchy. For instance, King Solomon introduced a taxation scheme which proved to be quite a burden for the people. The territory of the northern tribes was divided into twelve administrative and revenue districts headed by twelve officers whose duty it was to provide in turn for the royal household for one month of the year (1 Kings 4:7-19,27-28). Bonded service was already introduced under the reign of King David (2 Sam 20:24); King Solomon had continued the practice (1 Kgs. 9:20-21). Since the common people began to feel the burden of royal legislations, when Rehoboam came to the throne, they appealed to him to lighten their load. However King Rehoboam replied, “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions” (1 Kgs 12:14). Indeed, embracing monarchy implied embracing slavery.
Related to the danger of loss of freedom is the threat of loss of property under monarchial rule. Yahweh warned the people: “He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards... He will take the tenth of you grain... He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your asses... He will take the tenth of you flocks... ” (1 Sam. 8:14-17). This threat was not a fanciful nightmare. It again was to become a reality in Israel’s history. A good illustration is the story of Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kgs. 21). King Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard. Naboth refused to hand over his property to the king because it was the inheritance of his fathers. Ahab’s wife Jezebel cleverly manipulated events as a result of which Naboth was stoned to death and his property was usurped by the king. And so several years later Ezekiel placed the vision of an ideal kingship before the people: “and my prices shall no more oppress my people; but they shall let the house of Israel have the land according to their tribes” (Ez. 45:8).
If the king were to possess the property of the people it was but inevitable that the king would make himself rich at the cost of the people. For instance, since the trade routes to the Fertile Crescent passed through Israel, King Solomon seized upon the opportunity to fill his coffers. He levied a road toll on thorough-faring traders (1 Kgs. 10:15). He conducted an extensive trade in horses and chariots which was apparently a monopoly (1 Kgs. 10:28-29). Besides, the seaport town of Eziongeber with its coppermines and opportunities for marine business must have swelled Solomon’s treasure chests (cf. 1 Kgs. 9:26-28). With so much wealth pouring in, it was difficult to distinguish between crown property and state property.
Construction works were another passion with King Solomon. He made the people happy by arranging for the construction of a fabulous temple in honour of Yahweh. King Hiram of Tyre was asked to supply the requisite timber (1 Kgs. 5). But along with timber for the temple he also got sufficient timber for the construction of his royal house! The timber was not free (cf. 1 Kgs. 5:9-11). And so King Solomon had to make payment for the same perhaps partly through the royal treasuries and partly through taxing the people. In fact, the bill became so high that Solomon was forced to mortgage some of his cities in Galilee (cf. 1 Kgs. 9:10-14).
Along with loss of freedom and loss of property lurked the danger of the loss of equality in society. Yahweh warned the people that the king would create new classes of officers and servants in monarchial society (cf. 1 Sam. 8:14-15). The relatively classless tribal community life would give way to a society of class distinctions: the king, the royal mobility, the kings officers, traders, the king’s servants, and the peasants. These socio-economic class distinctions would result in the exploitation and oppression of the weak and the poor. In the days of economic prosperity in the eight century B.C., Amos criticizes the rich who “trample upon the poor”, who take from them “exactions of wheat”, who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe and turn aside the needy in the gate” (Amos. 5:11-12). Not only rich men but even the wives of rich men are guilty of oppressing the poor, crushing the needy and living a life of wasteful luxury (Amos. 4:1). To add to the woes of the people, exploitation is coupled with corruption. Micah a contemporary of Amos criticized the traders for using false weights and measures (Mic. 6:11).
As we seek to appropriate the ideologies of the rich developed nations and to set up systems and structures which are linked with them, the word of God cautions us, “Beware of the dangers of liberalization of economy and capital intensive science and technology!”. It could lead to loss of freedom. From our experience as an Indian nation for the past fifty years we have realized that political independence does not necessarily lead to complete freedom. We are still in the clutches of the economic neo-colonialism of the wealthy nations. They are determining what we produce, how we produce and how much we produce. Many developing nations are struggling to pay back even the interest on loans given by international funding agencies. Moreover the wealthy nations are influencing our culture: our dressing, our eating, our housing, etc.
Imitating the ways of the developed nations could lead to greater evils in society: consumerism, individualism, cut-throat competition, corruption, widening of the gap between the rich and the poor, the exploitation and oppression of the weak, and the pollution and degradation of the earth. Hidden behind the glamour of globalization lurks the gloom of loss of freedom, self-respect, unique identity, original creativity and cosmic harmony. Concealed behind the covers of consumeristic happiness are the pages of the cruelty of competition, corruption and crime.
Inspite of Yahweh’s warning, the Israelites opted for the paradigm-shift to monarchy (1 Sam. 8:19-20). They suffered the prophesied consequences. As they wailed, mourned and lamented, God seemed to be paying a deaf ear to their cries on several occasions (cf. 1 Sam. 8:18). Down through history the Israelites beheld the greatness of the Babylonian, Mede and Persia, Greek and Roman empires. Suffering in despair, they still hoped against hope for the advent of an ideal king, a messiah who would make Israel the No.1 Super-Power Nation in the world. It was in such a context that John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed:
Turn to God – Rejoice in Hope!