This month I came upon an older article on the royal nature of deities in the ancient Near East: “The Concept of God/the Gods as King in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible,” TrinJ 3 (1982), 18-38.
Gary Smith (now at Union University) surveyed ANE texts and cites a variety of similarities in ANE and OT descriptions of deity. The ancients needed analogical language to describe deities, and they often did so with sociopolitical terms: “Lord and king of the world,” “mighty warrior who destroys his enemies,” “a judge over his kingdom.”
Smith concludes with some important differences between ANE and OT. In light of yesterday’s tornado in my childhood home, and last month’s record floods, felled trees, and lightning that knocked out our cable/internet in my adopted home town, the following difference jumped off the page:
“When the power of 1000 nature gods is concentrated in the power of one God, he becomes king in a way that was foreign to Mesopotamian thinking.”
Indeed. Yahweh is King in a way that blows all categories for deity in the ancient Near East–and the modern world as well.
Next week we begin a residency program in Memphis: college students join us for two months of service and teaching, either in our congregation or in urban ministries and congregations in Memphis.
The first topic we address is king/kingdom, in order to calibrate a few key concepts:
- the nature of Scripture — the word, the story, and the covenant of the King…we believe what it teaches and do what it says
- the gospel — the King’s solution for rebels, adoption as royal sons and daughters, etc
- our tasks in the kingdom — servants, stewards, children and heirs, ambassadors, images, etc.
When the Bible pulls back the curtain that divides heaven and earth, we often see Yahweh portrayed as King. Few concepts are more challenging to contemporary approaches to life, religion, and self-conception than the belief that God is Emperor, Lord over all. But few concepts are as encouraging, ennobling, and enlightening. If He is King, he can save us from ourselves, our enemies. If He is King, he can make us heirs of all things.
Perhaps, as Smith suggests, kingship can function as “a conceptual framework which will unite the biblical functions of God into an overarching framework.”