The Messiah as Perfect King
In the Old Testament there is a tension in the conception of kingship which seems only recently to have received adequate attention, for it tended to be masked by the literary criticism of the historical books. It seems impossible to take the passages condemnatory of kingship in an absolute sense, as some earlier scholars were prepared to do, or to regard kingship per se as a denial of the theocracy. To do so is to fail to do justice to so much, especially to the prophecies of the Messianic king; for, in fact, we can get the picture of a restored theocracy without a king only by illegitimate exegesis. Nowhere does the king play a smaller role than in Ezk. xl-xlviii, but even there 'the prince' has an assured and necessary place.
It would seem that in Dt. xxxiii. 5 Moses is called king; quite correctly too, though the title was doubtless never applied to him in his lifetime. I am not competent to express an opinion on the value of Samaritan tradition, though I think it probable that not enough attention has been paid to it. Whatever its value, it is very likely that in calling the judges (shophetim) kings (melakhim) it is giving a much truer estimate of their power and position - however much the term may be anachronistic - than the very watered down conception found in most modern textbooks. By this I am merely trying to bring out that Samuel's words, 'Yahweh your God was your king', irrespective of the judgments of literary criticism on 1 Sa. xii, must be construed as a condemnation of a type of kingship, not of kingship itself.
The shophetim were clearly charismatic persons, which is in itself sufficient explanation why the chief sign to Saul that Yahweh had really chosen him was that he 'prophesied'. Though Saul was to be the founder of an essentially non-charismatic order in Israel, he was in this way to show his link with those that had gone before him as divinely appointed rulers in Israel. It does seem somewhat ingenuous to suggest that men who not only claimed the divine charisma, but who had also shown by their deeds that they possessed it, had their influence limited to their own tribe or even their own clan. We have sufficient evidence, old and new, from Bible lands, to show how far-reaching such a man's influence and authority may be.
By demanding a king 'like all the nations' Israel was not denying Yahweh's kingship, for all the nations looked on their kings as supreme representatives of their gods - and this statement holds good whatever date we give to 1 Sa. viii and xii. They were limiting Yahweh's kingship by refusing His gift of charismatic leaders, whom He could raise up whenever He willed and whenever they were needed. They were demanding that He should be represented by one who would normally hold his office by accident of birth. That is why in later prophecy the Messiah's descent from David is obviously secondary to his enduement with the spirit of Yahweh.
The tension has also been obscured by the traditional conservative interpretation of the royal Psalms as purely Messianic and by the insistence of the Wellhausen school that they were all, or almost all, post-exilic, thereby making a serious estimate of the implications of their language unnecessary. Though the older critical view still has its influential supporters, especially Pfeiffer, there can be no doubt that in ever widening circles, especially in those where archaeological and cultural factors weigh more heavily than those of purely literary criticism, the views of Gunkel, Mowinckel, Engnell, Albright, etc. have won the upper hand. That means that all, or almost all, the royal Psalms are to be regarded as pre-exilic. This in turn demands that similarities in language and setting with similar literature of the fertile crescent dealing with the'divine kings' may no longer be ignored.
Quite a popular modern idea is that the concept of the Messianic king is not really to be found before the exile and is the outcome of the failure of the Davidic kingship. It has its first cautious beginnings in Jeremiah, while its full flowering is to be found in passages interpolated into Micah and especially Isaiah. But if we may base ourselves on the evidence of Ezekiel, Haggai and Zechariah, it would far rather seem that there was a scaling down in the concept of the Messianic king during and after the exile, than the reverse. Passages like Is. ix. 2-7, Mi. v. 2 link far better with Pss. ii. and cx and the pre-exilic monarchy than with the post-exilic community with its changing scale of values.
The pre-exilic tension round the king consisted of the vision of one who should perfectly represent Yahweh, even as the heathen around Israel declared their 'divine kings' represented their gods, and the stark reality of one who, however great his office, fell far short of the vision. If they were ever tempted to forget this under the better kings, the divided kingdom remained an abiding reminder. This falling short was symbolized by the withholding of priestly power from the king. Uzziah will not have been the only one to attempt its usurpation (2 Ch. xxvi. 16-21); the attempt lost Saul his throne, for it was one ground of his rejection. Some scholars seem to suffer from the strange delusion that an apparent doublet means that at least one of its forms is unreliable. There is no reason why 1 Sa. xiii. 8-14 and 1 Sa. xv should not both be true. In the former Saul is rejected because he claims priestly authority, in the latter prophetic, or at least he claims by implication to know the will of Yahweh better than Samuel.
There is every sign that most later kings learnt the lesson of Saul's fate. Their respect for the prophets hardly needs to be stressed. False prophets were doubtless often played off against the true, but there was seldom an open flouting of the prophets as such. We need not doubt that the kings were constantly tempted to encroach on the powers of the priests, and from the time of Solomon it is clear that they had to a great extent become state officials. But with the already mentioned exception of Uzziah the only certain examples preserved for us of kings taking on themselves priestly functions come from the lives of some of those who had embraced a Canaanized form of Yahweh worship and so naturally had also assimilated the concepts of their neighbours as to the powers of the king. Much modern scholarship has rightly stressed the unique position of the king in the pre-exilic worship of Jerusalem, but we have no right to assume in the teeth of biblical evidence that the unique was identical with the royal position elsewhere in the religion of the fertile crescent. Mutatis mutandis his role can probably be best visualized in the one that Henry VIII aspired to play in the Church of England. Fundamentally, the union of religious and civil leadership seen in the 'divine kingship' of the fertile crescent was dissolved. In Ps. cx. 4 we see the union re-created.
There will be few today to support the once fashionable attribution of this Psalm to the time of Simon the Hashmonean. Though one may hesitate to accept some of the more extreme interpretations of this Psalm, which by textual emendation would bring it right into the sphere of mythological thought, there seems no doubt that it clearly fits into the pre-exilic pattern and equally obviously does not fit the post-exilic pattern, so far as it is known to us. David, the conqueror of Jerusalem, should have continued the tradition of its priest-kings, but could not; the oracle of 'a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek' points to one who will reconcile the contradiction.
I believe Bentzen goes too far when he claims that the preexilic king was the present saviour and present 'Messiah'. He seems to be making a common error among the Scandinavians of pressing the language of the Psalms in the light of the ritual pattern of the fertile crescent to the exclusion of balancing Scriptures. The royal Psalms show that the king should have been more than the civil head and war-leader (naghidh) of the state, but the sum of pre-exilic writings shows that he never was in fact, what from one point of view he was in theory.
In other words Messiahship is for the Israelite inherent in kingship; the king always looks forward to one who is to come, not back to a perfect figure whose descendant he is. David is looked back to as the best king, never as the perfect king. It can be argued that I go too far on the evidence. The Messiah is an eschatological figure, while the perfect king to be theoretically need not be. But as I have already said in this lecture, I believe that some form of eschatology is as old as the religion of Israel and is inherent in its conception of goal and purpose.
So far, then, from the Messianic conception being virtually a replacement of discredited kingship, I believe it to have been a necessary concomitant of the peculiar Israelite conception of kingship from the first. It is quite consistent with this that the highest conception of the Messianic king, which we find in Is. ix and xi, should come just at the time of Ahaz, when Israel was going to its doom and Judah showed every sign of going the same way. When the turn of the Judaean monarchy came we find Jeremiah with but little to say about the Messianic hope, not because he was the first clear enunciator of a new idea, but because of the very nature of his message. He who had denied to the external all ultimate spiritual and soteriological power was not the man to encourage his people to put their hope in the merely outward advent of the Messiah. The popular faith of New Testament times shows how real the danger linked with the prophecies of the Messianic king was, and by his realization of this fact we can best explain Jeremiah's reticence on the subject.
Questions for Reflection / Discussion:
What is your impression of kingship in the Old Testament? Do you find it mostly good or bad, and why?
In what ways do figures such as Moses and the Judges point towards an ideal 'king' figure who will rule perfectly in God's kingdom?
What do you make of the connection between kingship and 'Messiahship' in the Old Testament? How do the Davidic kings, good and bad, point forwards to the 'Messiah,' God's representative?
How do you see this idea of 'Messianic king' fulfilled in Jesus?
 I owe my information to E. Robertson, The Old Testament Problem, pp. 179ff., 188ff.
 R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (2nd edit.), pp. 619 seq.
 A good example is L. E. Brown: The Messianic Hope in its Historical Setting.
 There seems to be a peculiar reluctance on the part of many moderns to come to grips with the reasons for Saul's rejection, e.g. Kittel, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, II, pp. 85f., Oesterley and Robinson, A History of Israel, I, p. 186, Lods, Israel, where it is not mentioned. There is a careful study of the problem resulting in the position defended in this lecture in E. Robertson: Samuel and Saul (republished in The Old Testament Problem) and the same opinion at least in general outline is expressed by others, e.g. Buber, The Prophetic Faith, p. 81, Auerbach, Wüste und Gelobtes Land I, passim (though he takes the part of Saul!).
 R. H. Pfeiffer, op. cit., p. 630, is a notable exception.
 Cf. A. Bentzen, Messias, Moses redivivus, Menschensohn, p. 14, note.
 A. Bentzen, op. cit., p. 71.
 So L. B. Browne, op. cit.
 E.g. Je. iii. 16f., vii. 3-15, vii. 21ff., viii. 8f., ix. 25f.