The term theocracy is not a biblical word, but it is the expression of a thoroughly biblical idea as found in the passages 1 Sam. 8:7, “They have rejected Me that I should not reign over them;” 1 Sam. 12:12, “Ye said Nay, but a king shall reign over us: when the Lord your God was your King;” Deut. 33:5, “He was King in Jeshurun when the heads of the people and the tribes of Israel were gathered together.”
In general we may characterize this theocracy as the state where God was Father-King and as such the sole law-giver and also avenger of that law.
Now this may seem to raise the objection that thus we have only the kingly office spoken of whereas in the nation of Israel there were three offices which all had a part in the life of Israel as a people and nation, and the objection continues that two of the offices thus hang on in an unintegrated way. But we have rightly always taught that the offices are a tri-unity of official function in a rational being. However this apparent aloneness of the royal office is harmonized with the well-established unity of the three by the fact that the royal is the pre-eminent and the other two are subordinate.
It is undoubtedly true that in man as God’s image bearer the three offices appear and the pre-eminence is given to the priest-hood (I Pet. 2:9; Rev. 1:6, 5:10) since he is prophet to know and declare the will of God: king to execute that will in God’s name; priest to offer the fruits of his dominion as an offering of worship.
However the offices in the theocracy are seen as applied to God, and then In the following order: He is Prophet as revealer of His will and good pleasure; He fulfills the function of priest in that He Himself supplies all that is demanded in that will (Isa. 54:17, Hosea 14:9) and thus, because of this He is King whose dominion is undisputedly established in righteousness.
In order now to answer the question whether Israel’s Theocracy was a model state, we may undoubtedly begin by saying that the theocracy is a perfect state. Everywhere Scripture teaches us that the perfect state shall have come when God shall manifest His Kingdom of grace (Dan. 7:14; 1 Cor. 15:27; Rev. 21:3, 4) in its complete dominion.
Now of this kingdom, Israel’s theocracy until Christ was a type. In it as a kingdom of salvation, God as Father-King ruled in distinction from His dominion of power in the world. And although it might seem that the desiring of a king in Samuel’s day was a destruction of the theocratic type, yet in reality it was not so, for the human king in Israel became precisely the type of the Messianic King, the Incarnate. He was one taken from the midst of the brethren and lived in the most intimate contact with God.
When now we come to the transition from the Old to the New Dispensation we must be on our guard. It is hardly safe to say as is so often done that the difference between Old and New is that in the first the church and state are one, whereas in the New they are separate. The truth is rather that in the old dispensation the kingdom of God was existent in Israel mediated by types and shadows and at the same time forming type and shadow of better things to come. And in the New this theocratic principle is not at all abandoned and dismissed but is appreciably advanced. It is precisely in the Church that that God through Christ rules by His Word and Spirit in His Kingdom. This Scripture testifies repeatedly (Heb. 12:22; Jer. 31:31-36; John 6:45). Indeed both church and state, if we may so express it, is now found in the church, for it is there that God by His Word and Spirit touches and orders the whole and every phase of the life of the citizens.
This becomes still clearer when we remember that in the Old Dispensation the civil state corresponding to that of today was found outside of Israel in heathendom, whereas even the typical aspect of the theocratic state continued into the New Dispensation, before it died out. It appeared namely in the infallible guidance which He lent to the Apostolical founding and administration of the New Test, kingdom, and it even appeared in the Divine vindication of His authority in such cases as that of Ananias and Sapphira, and Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8) Elymas (Acts 18:6-12) and in line with this are all the signs and wonders of the Apostolic age.
From this it appears clearly that Israel’s theocracy was not meant as a model for the civil state of today; on the contrary it is in principle realized in the N. T. Church.
But we may go farther and say not only that it was not a model, but also that it could not be a model. It was itself a defective picture of the perfect, itself full of impossible and embarrassing situations and growing weaker continually as the dispensation wore on. All the immediate and terrible vindications of the divine righteousness and holiness which were so frequent in the early history, e.g., during the Exodus and under the judges become less and less frequent. In the early history every inadvertent error in the execution of the formal tabernacle-ritual is threatened with death (Ex. 28:43; Num. 4:15, 20) and Uzza, who touches the ark with devoted hand is smitten as an object lesson unto holiness. But when we come to the later kings and prophets an Ahaz builds a heathen altar in the holy place for his own pleasure and an Antiochus Epiphanes sacrifices a sow in the temple of the Lord and sprinkles the broth about the sacred precincts all with impunity. This theocratic type was waxing old and ready to vanish away.
But there is a second reason why that theocracy could not be a model of the present civil state, and that is that it was a kingdom of grace. Terrible as some of the executions and vengeance of the dispensation may have been we may never forget that essential to that dispensation was the operation and saving power of the grace of God. It is grace that made of Israel a people; grace that they are not consumed in the desert, and at Sinai; grace that David is not destroyed for his sins; grace that Jerusalem is spared from the avenging angel; grace that Israel is restored from captivity. This grace was an essential, integral part of the theocratic administration, and explains the continuation of the theocratic people.
Hence the theocracy cannot be the model for the civil state. For in the civil state as such there is no room for grace. Only in the kingdom of Christ is there a possibility of grace. Only in the kingdom of Christ is there a possibility of grace. In the civil state which arises out of nature and is limited to natural ordinances, any act of grace or pardon or amnesty is not grace or forgiveness but is only a correction of miscarriage in the course of justice. And the citizens of the civil state cannot safely be presumed to be susceptible to the methods of grace, not even the Christian citizen with his small beginning of new obedience.
Now these things undoubtedly become more intelligible and we also more easily reconcile our minds to them when we realize that all that may be desired in a state is to be fulfilled in the church and Kingdom of Christ. Even now that is so, as the apostle Paul says, 2 Cor. 10. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thing. . .and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ, and through that same Christ shall one day be reconciled unto God all things whether in earth or in heaven. Col. 1:20.
And then we must also follow out the other consequence and maintain that the state can never be restored unless it is brought completely under the dominion of grace, The state is not itself an evil, but is a phase of creation which has been brought under the dominion of sin.
To understand this we must look at the purpose of the state. It is undoubtedly wrong to say that the purpose of the state is to make human fife possible through the restraint of sin. For the state has not come into existence as an afterthought for the restraint of sin but is given with creation and serves the purpose of organizing and controlling the life of men in natural equity for a harmonious systematic development. And that for better or for worse. Let us never forget the latter. The law is good, says the Apostle, but it was precisely by the law that sin came to appear in all its sinfulness for the law entered in that the offence might abound. So it is with the state which in itself is good but which by its organization and ordering of life shows sin in all its sinfulness, “The corruption of the best is the worst.” Humanity is an organism and by far its greatest possibilities lie in harmonious organization. Thus sin does not reveal its most damnable character in a total of individuals but in the individuals organized into a smooth organism. And God will have sin to appear in all its sinfulness through the highest organization, just as He will, yea, in order that He may reveal the restoring power of grace in that highest organization of humanity which was corrupt in all its intricate ramifications. Rom. 5:20-21.
Also it is undoubtedly wrong to say that the state has its purpose in the creation of a sphere where the church may live unmolested. For surely such an elaborate apparatus was not necessary to create a peaceful sphere for the church. Does not history of the apostolic church tell us of a great fear that came upon all men so that they left the Christians unmolested? And does not Scripture tell us that it will be precisely that state that shall by its intricate organization persecute the children of God?
Therefore we conclude that Israel’s Theocracy is the model or type of the state as it is realized in the kingdom of Christ through the church; and further that the civil state, which as a creation of God is good, nevertheless has not within itself the power to arise out of the bondage of corruption and is destined to be brought concretely farther and farther under that power until it becomes the instrument of the highest possible apostasy. For not only does the natural man work the corruption of that state, but also the old nature of the Christian contributes to its destruction, since in that sphere there is no restoring grace.