Samuel Addresses Israel at Inauguration of King Saul
Prophet Samuel explained the principle of separation of state and worship in his formal address at the inauguration of Saul as first king of Israel. He explained God delegated state functions and authority to government but expects every individual to relate to him directly based on the covenant. He will be God to every person that lives up to the covenant but will turn his back against those that don’t. Government is not an intermediary and does not have authority to regulate worship.
Samuel spoke to Israel at the inauguration of King Saul to explain their relationship with God in the new era that includes “a king as your leader” [1 Samuel 12:1]. He explained that hitherto God had been both God and king to them but from now on has delegated to the king the state functions and authority to perform the functions (see previous bible study under Authority of Government—Israel Asks for King). However, he remains their God and holds everyone by covenant to worship and serve him. He will be God to those that “fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart” [1 Samuel 12:24] but will turn his back to those that “persist in doing evil.” Every person including the king is individually responsible to live up to the covenant. Thus, every person has opportunity to relate to God directly. The government (king, in this case) is responsible for state functions but is not an intermediary and does not have authority in the people’s relationship with God.
Thus, Samuel defined the principle of separation of state and worship. The government has responsibility for state functions and authority to perform the functions but does not have authority to regulate worship. Instead, every person is individually responsible and free to choose a relationship with God based on his covenant (conditional promise) to be God to those that worship and serve him. Also, Samuel used the occasion to illustrate accountability of state leadership to the people by inviting public examination of his record of service before God, the new king, and all people [1 Samuel 12:3]: “Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”
We discuss Samuel’s formal handover of state functions to Saul and declaration of the principle of separation of state and worship. He performed both functions as part of his formal address during the inauguration of Saul as first king of Israel.
Handover of State Functions to Saul
Samuel used the first part of his address as formal handover of state functions to Saul. In the handover speech, he explained to Israel that God had hitherto managed every aspect of their life by working directly with leaders he chose to accomplish whatever they needed. For example, he sent Moses and Aaron to lead their ancestors out of Egypt to their current home. Also, he sent “Jerub-Baal, Barak, Jephthah and Samuel” [1 Samuel 12:11] at different times to deliver them from enemies that had conquered them during a time of disobedience to God. Samuel added that the people of Israel from then on will be ruled by a king of their choice (government of their choice) and God had delegated authority over state functions to the king: “Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the Lord has set a king over you” [1 Samuel 12:13].
As part of the handover of state functions to the king, he invited the people to bear witness against him regarding any wrong-doing during his tenure as judge over them. He invited them to testify in public if he was unfair to any person or performed any act of corruption, extortion, or bribery. The people acknowledged that he was fair to all and did not engage in corruption, extortion, or bribery. He confirmed their testimony of his clean record by declaring: “The Lord is witness against you, and also his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand” [1 Samuel 12:5].
This interaction with the people during the address illustrates transparency of government accountability. Transition from one leadership to another needs to include clear transfer of records to ensure both the previous and succeeding administrations are accountable to the people. The implementation of the transfer appears much simpler then than in modern-day governments, but the guiding principle has not changed: Government must be accountable to the people and transparently so.
Individual Relationship with God Based on Covenant—
Not Regulated by State
In the second part of the address, Samuel explained the basis for individual relationship with God in the era of delegation of state functions and authority to government.
He explained that every individual is and remains under covenant to worship and serve God. As we discuss in The Covenant under Husband-Wife Blessing Revealed to One, the covenant is God’s conditional promise to be God to every person that will worship and serve him. He will protect them, provide for them, and guide them: that is, relate as God to every individual that lives up to the covenant. In the address, Samuel explains the relationship as follows [1 Samuel 12:14]: “If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good!” However, as Samuel added, God will turn his back against any person that does not live up to the covenant: “But if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors” [1 Samuel 12:15].
The covenant defines a direct relationship between an individual and God, without any intermediary. Therefore, an individual’s relationship with God is independent of government. The government is not an intermediary and does not have authority to regulate worship.
Samuel’s address implies that every individual is the same before God and has opportunity to develop a personal relationship with him based on the covenant. The opportunity applies the same way to government leaders and other people. The king, queen, president, prime minister, governor, mayor, or any other government leader: each has an opportunity to develop a personal relationship with God as an individual. He will judge them the same way that he will judge every other person [1 Samuel 12:24–25]: “But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.”
Thus, every individual or group of individuals can worship God directly based on personal relationship with him as defined in the covenant. Individuals could decide whether to worship as a group, such as through a church, and how to organize themselves to accomplish their worship objective. The government does not have authority to pass any law to regulate worship. Government authority is limited to performing and regulating the state functions but does not extend to worship.
Summary of What We Learned
Prophet Samuel explained the principle of separation of state and worship in his formal address at the inauguration of Saul as first king of Israel. He explained God delegated state functions and authority to government but expects every individual to relate to him directly based on the covenant. He will be God to every person that lives up to the covenant but will turn his back against those that don’t. Government is not an intermediary and does not have authority to regulate worship. Government authority is limited to state functions.