B 2.2.4 Response to Exercise

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In Psalm 101, the word ‘integrity’ is used three times1.  The main point we can take from this Psalm is that the king must have great personal integrity.  This means, among other things, that the ruler must be truthful (v. 7).

At the start of 1 Kings 3, the NAB has added the following title: ‘Early Promise of Solomon’s Reign’.  This reflects Solomon’s excellent intentions, as expressed in v. 9: “Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?”

The centrality of wise judgment in the king’s role is then symbolized in the story of the two mothers in the second half of the chapter.  But the reading from chapter 11 shows that this king’s early promise was not sustained to the end of his reign – he both used political power for sexual conquest and gave in to idolatry.

Proverbs 16:10-15 emphasizes that a king must be truthful in judgment (vv. 10, 13).  This matters because rulers have power, which means that the difference between their “wrath” and their “smile” can in practice be between “death” and “life” (vv. 14-15).

Proverbs 31:1-9 brings together the king’s ‘personal’ actions and the job of ruling justly.  The text is attributed to the king’s mother, who – with striking realism – sees the risk that giving into temptations of sex and alcohol will divert the king’s attention from addressing violations of the rights of suffering people (v. 5).  Verse 9 states his proper task succinctly: “Open your mouth, judge justly, defend the needy and the poor!”

Coming now to the prophetic passages, the biblical prophets repeatedly call upon those in authority to practise judgment in favour of the oppressed and the poor.  The ideal king of Isaiah 11 will do exactly that, not impressed by outward appearances (vv. 3-4).  The result will be an astonishing common good that includes all kinds of creature (vv. 6-9).

Jeremiah expresses the Torah’s concern for justice for “resident aliens, orphans and widows” (22:3). He condemns exploitation of workers, mere aggrandisement by rulers, and shedding of innocent blood (22:13-17).  An editorial comment on this chapter in the NAB online says, “Social injustice is the cause of much of the prophetic condemnation of kings”.2. In contrast, the good ruler “dispense[s] justice to the weak and the poor” (v.16), and therefore prospers.

The passages in Amos and Micah are very powerful, yet they don’t really add further things to the understanding of the role of rulers that we have found in the other texts.  They do make clear how much it matters.  In the case of Micah, the critique is extended to priests and false prophets.  The plea that both Amos and Micah make to rulers is summarized in Amos 5:15: “Let right judgment [mishpat] prevail at the gate”.3

END OF RESPONSE

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  1. This is twice in v. 2 and once in v. 6.  The NAB here reflects the Hebrew text exactly, in which the word tamim, translated as integrity, appears three times. 

  2. Footnote on Jer. 22:13 at http://www.usccb.org/bible/jeremiah/22, accessed 5 Dec. 2012 

  3. The NAB has ‘Let justice prevail…’ here.  As the Hebrew is mishpat, the same translation of this as the NAB has in Ps. 72.2 may be given: ‘right judgment’. 

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