Two Lands."152 In the final paragraph the god Horus, the son of Osiris,
appears as the king of Upper and Lower Egypt, thus setting forth the identifi-
cation of the dead Pharaoh with Osiris and his successor with Horus.153
The position of Horus as the new king explains why the Egyptian Pharaohs
Re were identified with Horus. The earthly king sits upon the throne of Horus154
who is called "the good king of Egypt" and "the ruler" in the contest of Horus
and Seth.155 In celebration of the ascension of Mer-ne-Ptah to the throne, he
is said to be "great of kingship like Horus,"156 and at the ascension of Ramses
IV, Horus is proclaimed to be "upon the throne of his father Amon-Re."157
"Pharaoh, then, is an incarnation of Horus, the Great(est) God, Lord of
Beliefs about the god Osiris primarily relate to fertility and resurrection. His
identification with burial rites and especially the dead Pharaoh ultimately lead
to the place where Osiris is "considered the supreme god of Egypt."159 In
mythology, Osiris was a king after Geb his father, until he was murdered and
went to the world of the dead where he was known as the "King of the
Dead."160 The fertility aspect of Osiris related his death land resurrection to
148 ANET 261.
149 ANET 325. This text also includes the title "Lord of the thrones of the Two
32 TRINITY JOURNAL
daily rebirth of the sun.161 Osiris is called "King Wen-nofer"162 and the dead
King Unis is said to sit on the "throne of Osiris."163 Although the popular
Osiris cult challenged the solar cult of Re, the merger did not remove Re from
his position as king of the living. At times both Re and Osiris appear to be
supreme kings but the kingship of Osiris is exclusively in the realm of the
These examples illustrate the centrality of the kingship of the gods to
Egyptian thinking. These gods are called kings, they sit on thrones, rule, judge
and wear the crown and hold the scepter of a king. As representatives of
elements of the universe "they establish a bond between nature and man, and
that in the only manner in which Egyptians could conceive such a bond-
IV. THE CONCEPT OF GOD AS KING IN ISRAEL
The truth within C. T. Gadd's observation in his 1945 Schweich Lectures,
that "God and king are two conceptions so nearly coupled in the oriental mind
that the distinction is constantly blurred,"166 has been illustrated in the cul-
tures around Israel. The nature and the extent of the association between these
two ideas in Israelite beliefs varies considerably according to the hermeneutical
approach being used.
S. H. Hooke and his followers in the Myth-Ritual School, drawing heavily
from the earlier works of Frazer,167 developed a standard pattern of myth and
ritual which was allegedly present in all the Near Eastern religions. The kin,
who functions as the chief god, is at the center of this pattern in the great New
Year's festival. In the myth and ritual, the god (i.e. the king) goes through
humiliation, death, resurrection, and a sacred marriage to bring fertility to the
land for the coming year. S. Mowinckel, one of the Scandinavian scholars who
accepts a common ritual pattern, admits that this coherent "pattern" has been
misused by some and that it is really an "artificial schematization."168 This
tendency toward over-identification is also found in I. Engnell's169 study of
“royal ideology." Frankfort repeatedly criticizes Engnell's hermeneutical ten-
dency to generalize and overemphasize the unity between the concept of the
king in Israel, Egypt and Mesopptamia.170 Mowinckel carried out an extensive
163 ANET 32.
164 Breasted, Dawn of Conscience 113.
165 Frankfort, Kingship 182.
166 C. T. Gadd, Ideas of Divine Rule in the Ancient East (London: Oxford University
Press, 1948) 33.
Biblical Doctrine of the Reign of God (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1979) 7-38 summarize,
some of this debate.
169 I. Engnell, Studies in Divine Kingship in the Ancient Near East (Uppsala: Almquist
and Wiksells, 1943). See also the careful analysis of the myth-ritual school in J. W. Roger-
son, Myth in Old Testament Interpretation (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1974) 66-84.
170 Frankfort, Kingship 337-44, 355 n.13; 382 n.5; 405 n.l; 408 nn.66-9.
SMITH. GOD/THE GODS AS KING 33
borrow aspects of Caananite kingship, but this did not amount to a takeover of
Canaanite religion and its view of sacred kingship in an unaltered form.171
Nevertheless, Mowinckel does find a considerable interrelationship, especially
in his study of royal psalms.172
Israelite kings ruled, shepherded and governed their people, sat upon a
throne in a palace, judged important court cases, and were the commanders-in-
chief of the army just like the kings in other neighboring nations.173 But the
Israelites did not believe the human king was a mediator between God and
men, or the one who integrated and harmonized man with the natural world, as
was the case in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Israelite king was not deified and
did not serve in the cultic drama which re-enacted a divine battle in the New
Year's festival. Human kingship in Israel was introduced well after the forma-
tion of the nation, so this institution appears less significant than kingship in
cultures around Israel.
These factors draw the focus of attention to the unique character of Israel's
true king, Yahweh. This uniqueness does not deny certain conceptual or func-
tional similarities with the ancient Near Eastern ideas about the kingship of the
gods. Three primary components which unite themselves in the Israelite meta-
phor of God as king are similar to those used in other religions: (a) Yahweh
(as other gods) is Lord and king of the world; (b) Yahweh (as other gods) is a
mighty warrior who destroys his enemies; and (c) Yahweh (as other gods) is a
judge over his kingdom.174
A. The Metaphor of Yahweh the king
L. Köhler maintains that "God is the ruling Lord: that is the one funda-
mental statement in the theology of the Old Testament….Everything else
derives from it. Everything else leans upon it. Everything else can be under-
stood with reference to it and only it."175 Seeing a similar emphasis, J. Gray
and S. Mowinckel conclude that the kingship of Yahweh is the central theme
of the Old Testament.176 Martin Buber defines the Israelite religion as the
171 Mowinckel, He That Cometh 21-95, esp. 56-9. Compare this with the view of
W. H. Schmidt, Konigtums Gottes in Ugarit und Israel (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1966) 80-82.
contrast to Mowinckel is the view of Weiser who believes that the enthronement Psalms
were used at the covenant renewal ceremony: A. Weiser, The Psalms (Philadelphia: West-
minster, 1957) 30.
S. H. Hooke (London: Macmillan, 1935) 71-111; J. H. Eaton, Kingship and the Psalms
(London: SCM, 1976); C. R. North, "The Religious Aspect of Hebrew Kingship," ZA W 9
105 (1932) 8-38, T. Ishida, The Royal Dynasties in Ancient Israel (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1977)
38-40, 99-117; K. W. Whitelam, The Just King (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1979) 17-38,
Bruce, 1963) 114-16.
and Prophets," VT 11 (1961) 1.
34 TRINITY JOURNAL
binds the Old and New Testament together "is the irruption of the Kingship of;
God into this world and its establishment here."178
The word "lord" is often used of God. Lordship implies rulership (Gen
45:8; Ps 105:21), but some question the extent to which this emphasis is
present in this title of honor.179 Certainly formulas like "Lord of all the
earth" (Josh 3:11, 13; Ps 97:5; Mic 4:13; Zech 4:14; 6:5) and "God of gods
and lord of lords" (Deut 10:17; Ps 136:3; Dan 10:47) contain this element.
The frequent reference to earthly kings as "my lord, the King" in the Joseph
story 180 and throughout the historical books support the position that the
epithet was not without meaning. In Isaiah's vision, he identifies God the King,
with Yahweh of hosts (6:5) and the Lord who was sitting on a throne (6: 1).
The frequent use of "lord" in prayers, parallel to the usage in other religions,
suggests a relationship of a servant to a master. The term does not require king-
ship imagery (only a higher power who has authority), but when lordship
terminology like "my Lord God" or "the Lord God of hosts"181 are inte-
grated with other epithets, an emphasis on the dominion of God results.182
Although "lord" is used more frequently, kingship terminology more
precisely identifies the Israelite metaphor which describes God. Psalms contains
the praise of God who is "King of all the earth. ..[who] sits on his holy
throne" (Ps 47:2, 8), the King of Zion (Ps 48:2). He is worshipped as “my
God, my King" (Ps 68:24; 84:3; 145:1) and Zion rejoices in her King (Ps
149:2) for "the Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his
sovereignty rules over all" (Ps 103: 19).
The kingship of Yahweh relates to all the earth, for the Hebrews like the
other nations connected kingship to creation.183
God is my King from of old, who works deeds of deliverance in the
midst of the earth. Thou didst divide the sea by thy strength, thou
didst break the heads of the sea-monsters in the waters….thine is
the day, thine is the night, thou has prepared the light and the sun,
thou hast established all the boundaries of the earth (Ps 74: 12-17).
He is "King at the flood, yes, the Lord sits as King forever," (Ps 29:10), for
just as "the world is firmly established…thy throne is established from of
old" (Ps 93:2). These all point to the fact that "the Lord is a great God, and a
great King above all gods, in whose hands are the depths of the earth...for it
was he who made it" (Ps 95:3-5), for "The earth is the Lord's and all"
contains" (Ps 24:1).
The kingship of Yahweh is established in the present because "He rules over
the nations" (Ps 22:28), "is the King of all the earth, ...God reigns over the
177 M. Buber, Kingship of God (New York: Harper and Row, 1967).
178 W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961) 26.
179 Ibid. 203.
180 Gen 40:1,7; 42:10, 30, 33; 44:5,7,8,9,16,18,19,20,22,24,33,45:9; 47:25
181 A designation which is related to the concept that God is a warrior.
182 ANET 3-4.
183 G. yon Rad, "melek und malkut irn Alten Testament," TWNT 1 (1933) 563-5.
SMITH. GOD/THE GODS AS KING 35
"Yahweh has become King" (Ps 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1),184 but Maag denies'
Mowinckel's emphasis and interpretation and suggests the translation "Yahweh
(and none other) is King."185 Either way, these Psalms relate the kingship of
God to his just rule (Ps 96:10;97:1-2;99:4).
Both Yahweh and earthly kings attempt to establish justice; and being a
judge was part of the function of a king. The Psalmist in trouble cried out for
help to "my King and my God…thou dost hate all who do iniquity. Hold
them guilty, O God" (Ps 5:2, 5, 10). Yahweh, who is pictured as a king, "dost
sit on the throne judging righteously…hast rebuked the nations…des-
troyed the wicked" (Ps 9:4), for "he has established his throne for judgment,
and he will judge the world in righteousness" (Ps 9:7). In parallelism to "The
Lord reigns" in Ps 96:10 is God's judgment of the peoples with equity which is
further emphasized in v 13. A parallel concept is found in Ps 98:6 and 9.
Because Yahweh rules and carries out his judgments against his enemies,
God is the Divine Warrior who functions as the King of the earth (Psalm 2), for
"the Lord is King forever and ever, nations have perished from his land" (Ps
10:16). The "King of Glory" in Ps 24:7-10 is "the Lord mighty in battle…
the Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory,"186 and the Psalmist prays: because
"Thou art my King, O God; command victories for Jacob" (Ps 44:4). "He is a
great King over all the earth, he subdues peoples under us, and nations under
our feet" (Ps 47:2-3).
B. Similarities and Comparisons
The metaphor of Yahweh as King, found in the Psalms, correlates kingship
with component ideas which show harmony as well as contrast when they are
compared to statements concerning the kingship of the gods in Egypt, Mesopo-
tamia, Ugarit and the Hittite Empire. Harmony of terminology and function
appear in varying degrees from country to country. These technical similarities
relate to a common feeling of inferiority before the powerful chief gods/God
and a common anthropomorphic way of describing the gods/God with socio-
political metaphors.187 The functional similarities derive from common expec-
tations and responsibilities which are placed on chief rulers (i.e. defence,
settling disputes, governing justly). These similarities are human responses
which do not require a theory of borrowing, for these factors are represented
and understood differently in different cultures.
The contrast between ideas of kingship in the ancient Near Eastern cultures
around Israel, which use expressions and statements which resemble one
another, can only be obtained by defining the precise content given to kingship
ideas in each nation. The identification of kingship and the gods is total in
Egypt, for the Pharaoh is a real god who has absolute power over life, justice,
1978) 43; Gray, "Kingship," VT 12 (1962) 2-12.
36 TRINITY JOURNAL
fertility and life after death. In Mesopotamia, the major relationship between
the king and the gods was understood in terms of adoption; this maintained a
distinction between the human king and the gods who were kings. The human
king was elected or chosen by the gods according to their wise plans in Meso-
potamia.188 Thus the gods who are kings have the real powers in Mesopo-
tamia; the human kings are servants of the gods. The cultic worship became the
vehicle by which the Mesopotamian king maintained his close relationship to
the gods in order to bring prosperity and harmony between the nation and the
forces of nature. Because of these differences the focus of kingship is directed
toward the Pharaoh in Egypt, but to the gods who were kings in Mesopotamia.
Not enough is known about the conceptual framework of the Hittites to
differentiate their way of thinking. Phraseology similar to both Egypt and
Mesopotamia is found.189 The Ugaritic material appears to be more like
Mesopotamian thinking but there is only minimal information on the exact
interrelationship between the king and the gods.190
The biblical concepts relate more closely to Mesopotamian ideas where the
gods are the true sovereigns of the world. Both include the adoption of the
human king as the son of the gods/God (1 Sam 7: 14), both make the human
king the servant of the gods/God and both recognize that the real power of the
universe rests in the hands of the god-kings, not the human kings. But the con-
trast between the two cultures is possibly more striking than the similarities.
The biblical concept of God, the relationship of man to God, and the
relationship of the king to God are unique in Israel. This peculiar way of
thinking was due to Israel's alteration of Mesopotamian ideas inherited from
the environment of Abram's youth. Mesopotamian polytheism identified the
gods with the innumerable powers within nature. These were organized into
socio-political and family structures which sometimes destroyed other gods to
gain dominance. The biblical concept of God, especially that found in the
Psalms which relate to the kingship of Yahweh, distinguish clearly between the
Creator and the forces of nature. Nature has no power except Yahweh's for
"The Lord of all the earth" established the sea and earth and regulates their boundaries (Ps 74: 15-17). When the power of a thousand nature gods is cen-
tralized in the power of one God, he becomes the king in a way which was
foreign to Mesopotamian thinking.
A second major contrast between Israelite and Mesopotamian thinking was
the distinctive relationship which existed between man and this one true God
srael's relationship was defined by the word of God and the acts of God on
behalf of Israel. Religion was not the means by which one integrated oneself
with the forces of nature, but the integration of man's will with the will of God
188 G. E. Wright, The Old Testament Against its Environment (London: SCM, 63-4.
189 Prankfort, Kingship 238-9.
190 Mowincke1, He That Cometh 51-2.
SMITH. GOD/THE GODS AS KING 37
all history; and his decisive intervention as the Divine Warrior at the time of the
exodus (Exod 15:3; Ps 74: 12-14) demonstrated both his election of his people
and his own redemptive power. Through his victory over the Egyptians and
their gods, his rulership over all the earth was established (Exod 15:18), and
through the covenant with the Israelite kingdom, Yahweh was established as
the "great Suzerain." The revelation "You are a holy people to the Lord your
God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession
out of all the families who are on the face of the earth" (Deut 7:6), sum-
marizes the unique relationship between Israel and her God. The covenant gave
Yahweh an exclusive position because of his grace, and required total devotion
and obedience to the Suzerain. G. E. Wright believes "the all-pervading sense of election and covenant, therefore, is the chief clue for the understanding of
Israel's sense of destiny….In other countries of the day, as far as we have
knowledge, there was no comparable conception."192
A third contrast involves the relationship of the king and God. In Israel, the
king was not the high priest and it was not through the king that God revealed
his will to Israel. Israelite kings were condemned and criticized by the priests
and especially by the prophets, for they were primarily servants of Yahweh,
the real King of Israel. The covenant carefully defined the king's limitation and
demanded obedience to the will of God, the Suzerain (Deut 17:14-20). God
governed and ruled the nation with his laws, defeated the king's enemies, set up
the standards for justice, and received all worship. The sanctity of human king-
ship never developed because the covenant with God, the Great Suzerain,
cemented God and the people together long before the monarchy was accepted
as normative. This depreciation of human kingship parallels a counterbalancing
emphasis on the sovereignty and kingship of Yahweh. The centrality of the
covenant relationship to the unique position of Yahweh as king supports the
premonarchal belief in the kingship of Yahweh.
When human kingship was introduced during the time of the judges, it was
seen as a partial rejection of the kingship of Yahweh (1 Kgs 8:7; 12: 12-15). An
earlier attempt to raise up Gideon to be king was unacceptable because it was
Yahweh who ruled over the people (Judg 8:22-23). Pentateuchal references to
the kingship of God are found in Deuteronomy 33:5, where God's kingship is
connected to the establishment of the covenant of Sinai, Num 23:21-22; 24:
7-8, which associate kingship with God's victories over the military enemies
of Israel, and Exod 15: 18, which proclaims the eternal reign of Yahweh.193
The evidence which has been gathered indicates that the ancient Near
Eastern people described their chief gods by using the metaphor of the king.
The use of the same metaphor in Israel indicates a similarity between the ways
191 Engnell (Divine Kingship) makes too much of the Ugaritic material as Noth main-
tains: "God, King, and Nation in the Old Testament," The Laws in the Pentateuch (Phila-
delphia: Fortress, 1967) 157-60.
192 Wright, Old Testament Against its Environment 62-3.
193 See Cross (Canaanite Myth 121-44) for extensive bibliographic notations.
38 TRINITY JOURNAL
pictured the relationship between man and God/the gods. Although Israel's
terminology was the same as the terms used in other ancient Near Eastern cul-
tures, the conceptual images which these terms represent were not always
identical. In all these nations, God/the gods who are kings represented the
highest power, the authority which had the greatest control; but the character,
number and function of God/the gods were quite different. When compared to
other gods, the distinctive authority of Yahweh, the King of Israel, goes far
beyond the dominion of Re who shared his power with the Pharaoh, or Anu
who was one of several gods who were called king. Both these factors have an
effect on our theology of God and raise several questions.
Could the centrality of kingship terminology in the religions of the ancient
Near Eastern world be an aid which enables the modem mind, which generally
looks negatively on absolute monarchs, to enter the ancient Near Eastern world
view? Could the ancient Near Eastern literature which unites the ruling, judging
and warrior concepts around the central ideology of the kingship of the gods,
be a conceptual framework which will unite the biblical functions of God into
an overarching framework? The present survey suggests that a careful compari-
tive methodology can alert the modem mind to connect and interrelate
conceptual ideas which are distinct in our thinking. This restructuring should
lead to a clearer view of Israel's concept of Yahweh because it provides a con-
textual background and thus highlights some of the similarities and differences
among these religions. It also broadens one's focus and argues against theo-.
logical systems which emphasize only one function of God or only one unique
Israelite idea. For example, the idea of the covenant is of prime importance to
Israelite theology, but it is not inclusive enough a theme to encompass the
universal activity of God. If God is only a national covenant God, the full
picture of God is blurred, limited and actually distorted. The study of the
ancient Near Eastern literature puts the concept of Yahweh into perspective,
and the biblical literature suggests that the kingship or sovereign rule of
Yahweh is of central importance in developing a biblical theology of the Old
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