No Kings in Israel – An Essay on Gravitation toward Kingly Government

Benjamin Franklin observed:

It will be said that we do not propose to establish kings.  I know it.  But there is a natural inclination in mankind to kingly government.  It sometimes relieves them from aristocratic domination. They had rather have only one tyrant than 500.  It gives more of the appearance of equality among citizens; and that they like.  I am apprehensive, therefore — perhaps too apprehensive — that the government of these states may in future times end in a monarchy.

This “inclination in mankind to a kingly government” that Franklin speaks of led me to find what the scriptural record had to say about “kingly government.”


At its essence, this issue boils down to what was fought over the war in heaven – which is of course still being fought on Earth today.  Moses 4 is where the Lord tells the story:

Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;  And he became Satan, yea, even the devil, the father of all lies, to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto my voice.

Satan rebelled because he could not have the position to rule and the Honor of God.  God’s plan, supported by Christ, provided all men could retain their agency, or the ability to choose for themselves, which will ultimately cause many to be lost and not be saved in the Kingdom of God.  By the same token, agency is the critical component of eternal progress.  Satan’s plan would have saved everyone, whether they liked it or not, all power being held by Satan himself.  However, as the Lord clearly states in D&C 134:2 the government, or any force for that matter, should not violate the “free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.”  In verse 3, the Lord states how no one should infringe on the “rights and liberties of others.”  And there should not be rules of worship that “bind the consciences of men,” and should “never control conscience,” and “never suppress the freedom of the soul.”

These two sides of the war over agency go directly to the inclination of men toward kingly government. It all boils down two ends of the spectrum of control.  On one end we have complete self-government, with inherent rights, liberties, and abilities to govern ourselves.  This is sometimes referred to as “anarchy,” but not in the pejorative meaning – rather, where one needs no government because people get along governing themselves.  On the other end, we have tyranny, which is complete control of property and rights and privileges by rulers.  In this system, any rights and privileges come from the government, not the people.  It helps to think of this spectrum as the “peoples’ law vs. rulers’ law” spectrum.  More appropriate than anarchy, is what was originally established as the republic of The United States.  This form of government minimized actual government itself.  Its intent was to limit and restrict rulers and continue doing so, while maximizing the rights and privileges of citizens.  Thus individuals would largely govern themselves.

In D&C 101:80, the Lord himself states that He “established Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom [He] raised up unto this very purpose ….”  And in D&C 98:5–6, the Lord states: “[a]nd that law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before me.  Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land[.]”  D&C 134:5 adds that we are “bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which [we] reside, while protected in [our] inherent and inalienable rights ….”  This kind of government is precisely where the Lord placed his latter-day people on the spectrum between anarchy and tyranny – a limited system, with rights originating with the people, and all kinds of checks on it to prevent sliding down the spectrum toward the tyranny observed by the British Empire and other past civilizations.

Before I continue, I want to specify that there were some wonderful kings in history, such as Melchizedek, the King of Salem, to whom Abraham paid tithes, in Genesis 14:20.  And Kings Benjamin and Mosiah in the Book of Mormon, explored in more detail below.  Obviously these righteous kings are the exception rather than the rule, if one just considers all the kingdoms and rulers the world has seen.


With the “peoples’ law vs. rulers’ law” spectrum in mind, the history of the war in heaven on Earth is interesting, particularly during the time of Samuel.  After leaving Egypt, up until the time of Samuel, Israel was ruled by judges.  This began with Moses, after hearing counsel from his father-in-law, Jethro, regarding delegation of his responsibility to judge those in Israel (Exodus 18:13–27).  In Judges 18:1, 19:1, and 21:25, it states that “there was no king in Israel.”  The last verse adds “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”  So it appears that at this point, the children of Israel were closer to “peoples’ law” than “rulers’ law” on the spectrum, and did pretty well as they pleased – judges providing structure, mediation, and organizing defense.

But in 1 Samuel 8, the children of Israel wanted a change, due in part to some wicked sons of Samuel, who were appointed judges at the time.  In summary, the people were frustrated with their current judges, and wanted to be like other nations and have a king.  The Lord was displeased with this, and told Samuel that in reality, they were rejecting the Lord, not Samuel or his sons.  So the Lord told Samuel to hearken to them, but protest and show them the manner of kings they would have.  Then Samuel told the people what the Lord told him to say regarding their future kings.  The king would take their sons into his service to fight and work for his food  (verses 11-12).  He would also take their daughters to cook, bake, and even make perfumes (see footnotes – verse 13).  He would take their property and give it to his servants, (eminent domain – verse 14).  He would take what they produce and feed it to his servants (verse 15).  He would take their servants, young men, animals, and put them to his work, and even the people “shall be his servants” (verses 16-17).  And the people would cry out against the king, but the Lord will not hear them (verse 18).

Just like Benjamin Franklin said, “It sometimes relieves them from aristocratic domination. They had rather have only tyrant than 500.  It gives more of the appearance of equality among citizens; and that they like.”  It appears they were tired of their bribe-taking judges.  Ultimately, despite the warnings of the Lord through Samuel, the people said “Nay, but we will have a king over us;  That we also may be like all the nations” (verses 19-20).  It appears that one, maybe two, factors also added to their desire to have a king.  They apparently really wanted to be like the other nations, and wanted to be consistent with the cool kids next door.  Also, the people said that their king would go out before them, and fight their battles.  With only judges and people, the people themselves generally fight the battles that need fighting. With a king and his army, the generic “people” perceived they wouldn’t have to, but the king’s army would.  This possible freedom from the responsibility may have been a factor.  I like to think the people said “Nay; but we will have a king over us; That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles[,so we don’t have to]”.  So the Lord basically said: “fine, let ‘em have it!”  Thereby came Saul, David, then Solomon, each increasing the size of the government, and the number of women to answer to each man’s desires.   After all, kings need this kind of stuff, right?

Let’s jump ahead a few years after having kings, to 1 Kings 12.  After Solomon, Rehoboam was in line to be king   In verse 4, the congregation of Israel points out to him his father’s heavy burdens on the people, and states to Rehoboam that if he made the burden lighter, they would serve him.  He said he needed three days to think about it and consulted with the old men that stood before Solomon, his father (verses 5-6).  These older men counseled him to be a servant to them, and speak “good words to them, then they will be [his] servants for ever.”  In verse 8, it states that he “forsook the counsel of the old men … and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him ….”  When he asked them about the request to make the burden lighter, they counseled him to be harsher in verse 11 and to state “whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke:  my father has chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.”  You can imagine what the people thought when Rehoboam told them how he would rule.  In verse 18, Rehoboam sent a tax-collector named Adoram to get the tribute from the people, “and all Israel stoned him with stones, that he died.  Therefore, king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot to flee to Jerusalem.”  The people had had enough – particularly when it came time to pay their heavier taxes.  They killed the first tax collector to come by on the spot.  11 tribes rebelled and seceded.  Only one of the 12 tribes stuck with him, Judah.  And it could have grown much worse – in verse 21, Rehoboam got together 180,000 warriors “to fight against the house of Israel, to bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam the son of Solomon.”  Thank goodness, in verses 22-24, a prophet named Shemaiah was told by the Lord to tell Rehoboam to not go out and do this, but to send the men home.  This time, Rehoboam listened, and there was no compulsory union between the tribes.  It’s too bad something like this didn’t happen in 1860 with Abraham Lincoln to prevent the compulsory union of seceding states – slaughtering hundreds of thousands.

Jeroboam, however, the competing leader against Rehoboam at the time, was no better.  In 1 Kings 12:26–27, Jeroboam was convinced that if the people “go up to do sacrifice in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem” they would turn again to their Lord, and Rehoboam – now king of Judah, “and they shall kill me ….”  So in verse 28, he decided to make two calves of gold and said to the people “[i]t is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem:  behold thy gods [the golden calves], O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.”  He set one at each center of the fractured kingdom, made priests out of those not of the house of Levi, and added a religious feast of his own upon the altar.  And even at the end of the next chapter, 13, after being warned by a prophet of his actions, he still “returned not form his evil way” (verse 33).

Ultimately, the selfishness of Rehoboam, a king of Israel, caused rebellion and fracture, and a civil war to compel union almost occurred.  And the selfishness of Jeroboam for his own position had him instantly violating commandment #1 against worshipping false idols.  Note here that the decision to do so by Jeroboam wasn’t because he was an uneducated, confused and a recently-freed Egyptian slave kind of person, as were the people under Moses.  No – this time it was a strategic move to cause a whole people to engage in worshipping false idols so that he could stay in power.  It’s not unreasonable to think that there were some well-studied Israelites who sat back and observed their predicament at this time, and thought back to their ancestors’ insistence on having a king – and raised their fists while cursing those ancestors’ very names.  Moral of the story:  don’t ask for a king!

Part 2 – Kings and Judges in the Book of Mormon

Image: LDS Media Library