Yet another common exception to the idea of anarchism is that “it’s never been done before” and “it’s impossible”. Christians, just as much as any others, are prone to this response. Nevermind the fact that anarchism was prevalent in medieval Iceland; we will delve into that another time. Today we will take a deeper look into a historical reality that Christians, especially, often overlook when contemplating anarchism; that Israel accomplished a stateless society for 450 years.
That’s a long time, 450 years – about twice as long as the United States has been in existence. Tens of generations that grew up without a king. Well, a human king, at least; that is, the Lord was their King! Throughout the book of Judges, we learn of the fare of the Israelites during this time. In Judges 4, we are told of Deborah, a prophetess who had been acting as a dispute arbiter (similar to a Dispute Resolution Organization or DRO!). When Israel needed to be delivered from its enemies, the people went to Deborah (who was close to God) to seek her wisdom. She acted as a leader (NOT a ruler, or “queen” as it were) – and Israel was delivered.
But time and time again, after God delivered Israel, its subsequent generations would forget God and worship other idols. And without fail, they would fall into bondage because of God’s wrath. And eventually each new generation would repent and call on God, whom would again deliver them through the use of a prophet, or judge, or leader. And thus the cycle went, over and over, for centuries.
Flash forward. In 1 Samuel 8, Israel totally forsakes God; they are not content with God’s rule over them, and wish for a human king instead. The Lord talks to Samuel, their leader:
And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.
1 Samuel 8:7
We see that when the people ask Samuel for a human king, they are rejecting the Lord Himself as their King. The Lord then goes on to warn and rebuke the Israelites, but they will have none of it; they insist on a king, and the Lord eventually tells Samuel to give the people what they want. Samuel anoints Saul as king, but even Saul performs many sins and bastardizations of God’s will in his dominion over Israel, so that he loses God’s favor. Within just a few generations from that time, we see the deeper corruptions of human governance come to pass; eventually Israel’s kings become unholy and even nefarious, just as any other nation.
Throughout the books of Judges and 1 Samuel, we see God’s patience with His people as they forsake Him time and again. The Israelites write God out of their lives, and He allows it. Eventually, the Lord sends His son, Jesus, to die for the sins of all mankind and then rise from the grave; one must wonder if God grew tired of being forgotten, and in a final act of love, gave the ultimate sacrifice as if to wash His hands of our perpetual sins against Him. One must also wonder – if Israel had never chosen man over God, if the Lord still ruled over Israel personally and sovereignly, how might things be different?
This much is clear: theonomy, or rule by God alone, was God’s preferred method of governance for Israel, for a period of time comparable to or longer than the average of any other nations in history. Clearly, it happened; clearly, it worked. So to all with a knowledge of history, but especially to Christians with an understanding of the Bible and a belief in its thorough truth; stop the naysaying. We can learn a lot from Israel and its stateless society. If it’s good enough for God, why isn’t it good enough for us?
“Biblical Anarchism” by Stephen W. Carson
“The Exclusive Kingdom of God” by Paul Green