Theocracy in the Old Testament -- By: Y. David Kim

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 05:0 (NA 1972)
Article: Theocracy in the Old Testament
Author: Y. David Kim


Theocracy in the Old Testament

Y. David Kim

“Theocracy” is defined by Webster as a “government … by the immediate direction or administration of God; hence, government … by priests or clergy as representatives of God.”1 According to this definition, any state that claims to be governed by God or gods may be called a theocracy. History has seen many such governments. This idea underlies the Papacy and the Caliphate.

The term theocracy does not occur in the Old Testament. The idea, however, of the rule of God over His people permeates through its pages. In fact, when Flavius Josephus of the first century used the term initially, he intended it to denote exclusively the form of government described in the Old Testament. Josephus said, upon the analogy of aristocracy and democracy, “Our legislator … ordered our government to be what I may call … a theocracy.”2

Theocracy in Israel, as defined by Josephus, has survived all the vicissitudes of history. Accordingly, it may not be too much to say that the history of Israel is the history of theocracy. To set this out fully would be like writing the whole history of Israel. This article will confine itself to several salient points of its development within the scope of the Old Testament.

I. Inauguration through Moses

It is widely accepted, through the work of Gerhard von Rad,3 that the earliest and most succinct expression of the historical memory of Israel is preserved in the Book of Deuteronomy 26:5–9. In this passage the Israelite who will eventually reach the Promised Land is commanded to present himself before the altar of God (Deut. 26:1–4) and recite the mighty acts of God in a liturgy, saying,

A wandering Aramean was my father; and he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly, and afflicted us, and laid upon us hard bondage. Then we cried to the Lord the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice, and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror, with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

This is an affirmation of the faith that God, the Creator of the universe, the Ruler of the world, has rescued the Israelites from the Eg...

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