The Purpose of a King

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice! Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness! May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! Psalm 72:1-4

Psalm 72 and many other places it clearly demonstrates the purpose of a king – to execute righteousness, justice, and judgment. All three of these work in tandem and can to some extent be interchangeable, but each idea has a different focus. Before talking about these ideas, I want to give you a small sample of what the Bible has to say about a king’s purpose. The Queen of Sheba had this to say to King Solomon, “Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.” (I Kings 10:9) The writer of Samuel says this of King David, “So David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people.” (II Samuel 8:15) Referring to the righteous judgment of a king, Proverbs 20:26 says, “A wise king winnows the wicked and drives the wheel over them.” The book of Psalms has much to say about kings, and in chapter 99 it refers to the greatest king, the King of kings, our magnificent Lord God. “The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. (Psalm 99:4) In Jeremiah referencing the future king and kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, the text declares, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 23:5) There are many other scriptures that state the same, making it abundantly clear what the purpose of a king is. A king’s main purpose according to the Bible is to establish and execute righteousness, justice, and judgment.

Righteousness

According to Vine’s Dictionary of the Bible, righteousness means the character or quality of being right or just. The dictionary also notes that this word was formerly spelled, “rightwiseness”.There are numerous examples of righteousness but I am drawn to the rightwiseness of David in II Samuel 9. In this particular case, after becoming king and making a name for himself with military victories, David remembers his friend Jonathan. David shows kindness to the son of Jonathan.

And David said, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” . . . Ziba said to the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in his feet.” . . . Then King David sent and brought him from the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, at Lo-debar. And Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan, son of Saul, came to David and fell on his face and paid homage. And David said, “Mephibosheth!” And he answered, “Behold, I am your servant.” And David said to him, “Do not fear, for I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.”

Then the king called Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that belonged to Saul and to all his house I have given to your master’s grandson. And you and your sons and your servants shall till the land for him and shall bring in the produce, that your master’s grandson may have bread to eat. But Mephibosheth your master’s grandson shall always eat at my table.”  . . . So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons. II Samuel 9:1,3,5-7,9-10,11

David remembered Jonathan and showed great kindness to his son who was lame. David restored all of Saul’s land and possessions to his grandson, Mephibosheth. Then he instructed Ziba, who had been Saul’s servant and told him to till the land for Mephibosheth. This included Ziba, his sons and servants which was about 35 people (15 sons and 20 servants). And then, David did great honor to this son of Jonathan by instructing him to eat at the king’s table. You may be wondering what all of this has to do with righteousness. Well, there is no doubt that David did this out of his great love for his friend Jonathan. But there is more to it than that. David restored to Mephibosheth the land of his family. Adam Clarke notes these lands were the family estate of the house of Kish, which David might have retained. But according to Jewish law the estate belonged to the descendants of Saul’s family. James Dixon in his commentary says that Mephibosheth was five years old when Jonathan his father died. The time from Jonathan’s death to II Samuel 9 is 18 years. During this time Mephibosheth lived in obscurity while Ziba was caring for Saul’s estate.We can see this was more than just about David’s love for his friend Jonathan. Although as king David could have denied Mephibosheth what was rightfully his, he did not. He restored the estate of Saul to his grandson and also showed him great honor, the honor of a son. You may also remember this act of David is a fulfillment of the covenant he had made with Jonathan.

“show me the steadfast love of the Lord, that I may not die; and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the Lord cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.” And Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord take vengeance on David’s enemies.” And Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul. I Samuel 20:14-17

This action of kindness and love to Mephibosheth was much more than the reflection of David’s relationship to Jonathan. It was an act of righteousness. To remain in right standing with God, David had to restore Saul’s estate to its rightful owners. He also had made a covenant with Jonathan, which was fulfilled by his kindness to Mephibosheth. David was king and there was no one who could tell him he must do these things. When there was no one to make him accountable, he chose to do the right thing – to act in righteousness. Mephibosheth was lame in both feet and this would have prevented him from working in any capacity. He had lost his inheritance and could not work. This also means he would have had to be carried in to see King David. And in David’s righteousness or rightwiseness he restores to Mephibosheth all that is rightfully his, plus ensures provision of food for the future, and gives him the greatest honor by asking him to sit at the king’s table. What all of this means is that the righteousness of a king is much more than restoration and fulfilling covenants. It certainly includes that, but it is also showing compassion, kindness, and love. David would have certainly fulfilled his “obligation” by giving back the estate of Saul. But he did much more than that. The righteousness of a king is more than fulfilling the law, but also about making things right through kindness and love. Would anyone question David’s righteousness in this case? Absolutely not! David understood his purpose as king was to establish an all encompassing righteousness that lifted up the “lowest” in the kingdom.

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