The Kingdom of God is Not an Empire nor a Dynasty
A biblico-theological reflection on the upcoming State of the Nation Address
Wars, state terrorism, martial rule and political killings are not new occurrences. Before the ideology called globalization used market and military to manipulate and control weaker nations, before the British, American and Spanish empires colonized nations and traded their Bibles for the land of the native people, and before Christendom divided the world between good and evil, Christian and non-Christian,— the greatest king of Israel wrested power from the the hands of Moses’ tribes into the hands of his family to establish the Davidic Dynasty.
First and Second Samuel tell the story of political rivalries within Israel and wars between nations. But as a child, I read over and over again the story of how David, the chosen one of God, was victorious over a giant named Goliath. I also read about Jesus being a descendant of David. But what kind of man was David behind our victorious proclamations about him?
Let me tell you about the dark side of David. I begin my critique of the ‘greatest’ Israelite king from the text of II Samuel 11, the rape of Bathsheba. When a king orders a married woman to be brought to his palace, does she ‘naturally’ fall in love with him and forget her husband? Or could it be that she resisted when she was being taken from her home, pleaded with the king to let her go and fought David as he forced himself upon her? What kind of shame and anger did she endure as she returned home? Would her husband have believed her if she had told him of her abuse or would her silence protect her and her husband?
Chapter 13 of the same book tells of another rape, an incestuous rape. Amnon, David’s heir to the throne, raped his half-sister, Tamar. After the evil deed, she begged him to marry her but he threw her out. Tamar’s brother, Absalom comforted her and hated Amnon but he did nothing and only asked Tamar to be silent. The crime of David and Amnon was to become a pattern where those in power, perpetrate violence against their own people to achieve their selfish desires. The silent anger of Absalom cultivated a culture of silence where those who could seek justice for others, do nothing even if they had the power to do something. The rape of Bathsheba and Tamar compels us to face the painful reality that the weak do not always find protection and mercy from the powerful.
Absalom, after a period of silence, murdered his half-brother Amnon to avenge the rape of Tamar. Then he runs away. David seeks to reconcile with his son Abasalom even if he had murdered his other son, Amnon. Despite the reconciliation, Absalom rebels against his father and conspires to kill him so that he can take his place as king. In the end, Absalom is defeated and dies while being pursued by the army of his father. David in the account is pictured as a merciful and forgiving father. Both Amnon and Absalom, his sons, were unpunished for their evil deeds. And we ask, how could the chosen king, David, raise a rapist and a murderer?
Because he himself was a rapist and a murderer.
He raped Bathsheba and he ordered the death of her husband, Uriah. When Nathan, the prophet, told David that there was rich man who killed the only lamb a poorer man had, even when he had so many cattle and sheep, David was so angry about the injustice that he ordered the death of this man. Only to find out that he was ‘that man.’ Why does a king want another man’s wife when he already had so many wives? Because as the king, he could have any woman he wanted. He was the king. Everyone and everything in the kingdom was actually his possession, his property. In his own crimes and in his silence in the crimes of his sons, he perpetrated a culture of violence and injustice. Amnon and Absalom had David as their role model. In the history of one family we witness ‘state terrorism,’ ‘martial rule,’ and ‘political killings.’
David had fulfilled God’s warning to Samuel: that a king will “take your sons and appoint them to his chariots…,” “take the best of your fields .. and give him to his courtiers,” “take one-tenth of your grain…and give it to his officers and courtiers,” and “you yourselves will become his slaves.” (1 Samuel 8, 11-17) Land and the fruits of the land and livestock were no longer for the benefit of communities. Families and communities were no longer in covenant. What used to be ‘for the people’ became ‘for those who are in power.’
Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar, critiques the dynasty of David, saying that this king ‘paganized’ Israel and inverted everything that Moses and the Israelite people fought for. In the Exodus story, the Hebrew people escaped from slavery to create an alternative community where each of them was accountable for the quality of life of the other. In David’s monarchy and dynasty, a new kind of tyranny oppressed the people. And like any empire, David’s monarchy was not content in ruling over one nation. Like other kingdoms, David wanted to expand his empire. However, this was not David’s greatest sin. In the creation of a dynasty and in building a temple for God, he ‘owned’ God. No longer was God to be worshipped in the mountains; no longer did God lead the people through a cloud of fire. The acts of God were limited to one bloodline and God was contained in one place, the temple. David’s greatest sin was to claim that his dynasty embodied God.
The Filipino people is ruled over by empires and dynasties. The Filipino worker is not just enslaved in his or her own country because 15 million are sacrificed as labor export even when 7 of them return in a casket everyday to save the Philippine economy. Sixty-five (65) percent of the government budget is spent on debt-servicing, US$1 Billion was lent to the IMF to save the European economy, and basic services like education and health continue to be privatized. Forty of the richest families in the Philippines amass wealth worth over US$47 Billion while 4.8 million families experience involuntary hunger. The 13 year old Visiting Forces Agreement and militarization continue to ensure the interests of the powerful in the Pacific and the number of extrajudicial killings under Aquino is up to 95 in just two years.
No human institution or human being can claim to be God. When governments, presidents, and military generals pretend to be God, divide the world between good and evil and pronounce judgement upon communities and persons, the oppression of other religions and cultures and the marginalization and massacre of entire communities is justified. We have seen this in the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the occupation of Palestine . We have witnessed this in the seeming unending killing of human rights advocates under the rule of GMA, and now under P-Noy. We have seen how urban communities are demolished and how rural communities are militarized and are forced to evacuate.
Amnon, Absalom and David had the power to do justice but they did not. Those in authority have the power to do justice but do not. Jesus preached the ‘kingdom of God’ because he was preaching against the Roman and Jewish ‘kingdoms’ which were oppressive to the common people. As followers of Christ, we denounce all empires and dynasties which deny life and dignity to the Filipino people. And we demand of P-Noy, and the Davids of monarchies and empires, to serve only God by serving the people.