As I write this, I am reeling from the news of Judge David Fowler passing away. Judges don’t always get the credit in America, in history, or religion. But in a study my Sunday School class last year revealed how judges are better than kings, then and today.
Growing up, and reading the Bible a lot, I would come across tales of “Judges,” who were the real heroes of the Israelites. I could tell you all about Gideon, Samson, Deborah and Samuel. Nearly every judge is honored in the Bible. And sure, there are some good kings like David, Solomon and Josiah. But over and over again, in the Book of Kings (1 & 2) or Chronicles, I would read about Israeli and Judean Kings who “did evil in the sight of the Lord.”
Over last summer, we had a guest speaker who had us read in-depth about how Saul became the first king. We learned that Samuel had his reservations about the idea of a king, but the Israelites demanded one, so they could be more like the powerful empires in the region. Even God seemed reluctant to go along with the idea. But the people demanded it, and God believes in free will.
So Saul was picked. He was the dream candidate on paper: big, tough, and good-looking. But we found that he was vain, jealous, and insecure, quick-tempered, and fearful of potential candidates who would replace him, like David, who he conspired to kill for being successful.
Even good kings had their sins, but the bad ones were far worse, conspiring with Israel’s enemies, who were kings themselves, rather that the Bible and God’s word. It was a disaster.
I had our Sunday School research the kings in the Bible. Of the 40 Israeli and Judean kings between David and the exile of the Jewish people, there were 30 evil kings, and 10 good ones. As for the results, the tribes of Israeli were carried off by the Assyrians, never to be seen again. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, and dragged off the Jews in chains into exile.
Even after the Jewish people returned home, thanks to God and an assist to the Persians, we had the Herod kings, butchering babies in Bethlehem or mocking Jesus before turning him over to the Romans for his torture and execution.
Throughout history, we’ve seen kings and emperors of all types, most of them as wicked as those of Biblical days. Thankfully, American patriots decided we didn’t need a king…we could make our own political and economic decisions. Our Founding Fathers created a Constitution which accorded a lot of power to the Judicial Branch, understanding its importance. Americans cherished our free market, political rights and civil liberties then, and I pray we still do today.
Judges today are different than kings, because they get involved in the community, volunteering for civic service, interacting with the people, making a difference on the bench and in the boardroom as well as in the public. Kings, who look down upon the “common folk” don’t dare mingle with such low-born individuals, who lack the “breeding” of the “better sort.”
Judge Fowler knew and respected the law, as well as his students at LaGrange College. They, in turn, repeatedly emailed me or messaged me to tell me what I already knew: how much he was a mentor to them, and encouraged so many to aspire to a career in law. Like their Biblical counterparts, it is our American judges who work hard to assure our freedoms, more than the modern-day authoritarians who flatter their audiences but govern in a most arbitrary fashion.