Written by Vladimir Moss



     The earliest period of man’s history saw three terrible moral falls with global consequences: that of Adam and Eve, that of Cain and his descendants, and that of Nimrod and the tower-builders. Each crime was followed by a fitting and catastrophic punishment: that of Adam by the death of him and all his descendants, that of Cain and his descendants by the universal Flood, and that of Nimrod by the scattering of the tower-builders around the world. And yet a tiny but holy remnant was preserved in each case: that of Seth and his descendants, that of Noah and his descendants, and that of Abraham and his descendants…


1. Abraham.

     The deification of the ruler of the City of Man in the person of Nimrod, and the building of the tower of Babel at his command, was, of course, a direct challenge to the truly Divine Ruler of the City of God. ”However," writes Archpriest Lev Lebedev, "not all of humanity agreed to take part in the building of the tower. Our Russian Tale of Burning Years (The Chronicle of Nestor), relying on the chronicle of George Armatoll, says that righteous Heber (‘from him came the Hebrews’) refused to take part in the undertaking. And the Armenian and some other chronicles add that certain Japhethites also refused, because of which a war took place between them and Nimrod."[1]

     It is from this tiny remnant, descendants of Shem and Japeth, that a new beginning was made according to a new principle that was racial as well as religious - although, as we shall see, this racial principle admitted of many exceptions and was always intended to be only a preparation for the re-admittance of all nations into the Church. This new beginning was made with Abraham, a descendant of Noah's first son Shem and Shem's great-grandson Eber, from which we derive the word 'Hebrew'. Abraham was therefore the father of the Hebrews. And yet he was not the father of the Hebrews only, even in a purely genetic sense. His first son Ishmael is traditionally considered to be the father of the Arabs. And his grandson through Isaac, Esau, was the father of the Edomites. In the Apostle Paul’s allegorical interpretation, Isaac represents the Church, and Ishmael – the unbelieving Jews enslaved to the Law (Galatians 3.16).

     God commanded Abraham to depart from Babylonia and go to an unknown country, where he would live “in tents, while he looked forward to a city founded, designed and built by God” (Hebrews 11.10). For the worshippers of God, who wish to be at peace with heaven, cannot co-exist in peace with the worshippers of man, who seek to “quarrel with heaven”; better to be stateless than citizens of such a state. They must build their own state that is not founded on the worship of man, but of God. Abraham did not build that state – that was the work of Moses and David. But he did build the nation, and receive the faith, that animated that state, the kingdom of Israel.

     Abraham’s story, recounted in chapters 12 to 22 of Genesis, is that of a man who obeys no man or state or institution; his only king was God. Like every true son of God, he was free of men, and obeyed them “only lest we offend them” (Matthew 17.27). So truly independent was he that we read of no priest or king to whom he deferred.

     The only exception to this was Melchizedek, the mysterious king-priest of Shalem, who blessed him on his return from the slaughter of the Babylonian kings. However, Melchizedek was the exception that proved the rule; for he was more like God than man, being both the first and the last man in the history of the People of God lawfully to combine the roles of king and priest[2]. Indeed, he was the first recorded true king and “priest of the Most High God”, who was called “Possessor of heaven and earth” (Genesis 14.18). This title shows, according to St. Paul (Hebrews 7.3), that he was the type, not of any merely human king, but of Christ God, the Supreme King and Chief High Priest.[3] Like Christ in His Divine generation, he was “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days not end of life, but made like the Son of God, remaining a priest continually” (Hebrews 7.3). Again like Christ at the Last Supper, Melchizedek offers Abraham bread and wine, which is why Christ is called “a priest after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7.17). His offering is a figure of Christ’s offering of His Body and Blood under the appearance of bread and wine.[4] So in being blessed by Melchizedek, the “king of peace” Abraham is blessed by Christ Himself, the true King of Peace.  

     The proverbial faith of Abraham, which merited for him the title "father of the faithful", was manifested, first, in his leaving Ur and setting out unquestioningly for the Promised Land. Nor was this simply a physical departure from the land of his fathers: it also involved breaking with their pagan beliefs. Even his father “served other gods” (Joshua 24.2).

     Secondly, it was manifested in his believing God's promise that he would be a father of nations, in spite of the fact that he was very old and his wife was barren 

     And thirdly and most strikingly, it was manifested in his continuing to believe in this promise even after God ordered him to kill Isaac.

     Metropolitan Philaret writes: “The journey of Abram from the land of his birth to the promised land is an image of the journey of self-abnegation, by which man must pass from the condition of damaged nature to the condition of Grace.

     “Every believer has the same commandment from God as the father of the faithful – to leave all and renounce himself. ‘He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me,’ says the Lord (Matthew 10.37).

     “Every believer is also promised ‘the blessing of Abraham in Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 3.14). ‘There is no one who would leave home, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake and the Gospel’s, who would not receive now, in this time and with persecutions, one hundred times more houses and brothers and sisters (and fathers) and mothers and children, and in the age to come eternal life'’(Mark 10.29,30) 

     “The believer who leaves his own will does God’s with the same unlimited obedience with which Abram ‘went, as the Lord told him’. God speaks to us in nature, in the Holy Scriptures, in the conscience, in the adventures of life ruled by His Providence. ‘To go, as the Lord tells’ is the rule in which is included the whole path of those seeking the coming heavenly city.

     “Like Abram, the believer comes closer to God to the extent that he leaves himself behind; and like Abram, he thanks Him for His gifts of Grace. He will receive them only so as to return them to their origin with faithfulness: and wherever and whenever he receives them, he offers them as a sacrifice to God.”[5 

     Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac is cited by the Apostle James as the paragon "work of faith", whereby "faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made manifest" (James 2.22). Moreover, it is the clearest Old Testament prefiguring of the central act of the New, in which "God so loved the world that He gave His Only-Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3.16). And it merited for Abraham the first clear foreshadowing of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity - the visitation of the three angels speaking as one God at the oak of Mamre (Genesis 18) 

     St. Gregory Palamas takes Abraham's heroic work of faith as his main illustration of the difference between philosophical or scientific knowledge and the super-rational knowledge of faith: "I believe that our holy faith is, in a certain manner, a vision of our heart which goes beyond all sensation and all thought, for it transcends the mental powers of our soul. I mean by 'faith', not the Orthodox confession, but being unshakably established upon it and upon the promises of God. For how through faith do we see those things which are promised for that unending age which is to come? By the senses? But faith is 'the basis of things hoped for' (Hebrews 11.1); and there is no way in which that which is to come and is hoped for may be seen by the senses; which is why the Apostle added: 'the proof of things not seen'. Is there, then, some mental power which will see the things hoped for? But how could there be if they 'have not gone up into the heart of man' (I Corinthians 2.9)? What, then? Do we not see through faith the things that have been promised by God, since they transcend all sensual and mental activity? But all those who from the beginning of time sought the heavenly fatherland through works died, according to the Apostle, 'without having obtained the promises' (Hebrews 11.39), but saw and greeted them from afar. There is, then, both a vision and an understanding of the heart beyond all mental activity... Faith is this supra-mental vision, while the enjoyment of that which is believed in is a vision surpassing that vision...

     "But let us dwell a little longer on faith and on the Divine and joyous contemplation which it procures for Christians: faith, the vehicle of the power of the Gospel, the life of the Apostles, the justification of Abraham, from which all righteousness begins, in which it ends, and by which 'every righteous man shall live' (Romans 1.7), while he who withdraws from it falls away from the Divine goodwill, for 'without faith it is impossible to please God' (Hebrews 11.6); faith, which ever frees our race from every deception and establishes us in the truth and the truth in us, from which no-one will separate us, even if he takes us for madmen, we who through the true faith have gone out into an ecstasy beyond reasoning, witnessing both by word and deed that we are not 'being carried away by every wind of doctrine' (Ephesians 4.14), but possess that unique knowledge of the truth of the Christians and profess the most simple, most Divine and truly unerring contemplation. Let us then leave the future for the time being, let us consider the supra-mental contemplation which faith gives of those things which have happened from the beginning: 'It is by faith that we recognize that the ages were formed by the word of God, so that those things which are seen did not come to be from those which appear' (Hebrews 11.3). What mind could take in that all this which has come to be has come from that which is absolutely non-existent, and that by a word alone? For that which is accessible to the mental powers does not at all transcend them. Thus the wise men of the Greeks, understanding that no corruptible thing passes into non-existence, and no existent thing comes out of non-existence, believed that the world was without beginning or end. But the faith, surpassing the conceptions which come from a contemplation of created things, united us to the Word Who is above all and to the simple, unfabricated truth; and we have understood better than by a proof that all things were created, not only out of non-existence, but also by the word of God alone. What is this faith? Is it a natural or supernatural power? Supernatural, certainly. For 'no-one can come unto the Father except through the Son' (Matthew 11.27; John 10.9), Who has placed us above ourselves and turned us to unity with the Father Who gathers us together. Thus Paul 'received grace for obedience to the Faith' (Romans 1.5). Thus 'if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved' (Romans 10.9). Thus those who have no seen and believed are more blessed than those who have seen and believed in Him Who lives after death and is the Leader of eternal life (John 20.29; Acts 3.15). For through the supercosmic eyes of faith they have seen and venerated those things which the eye has not believed it can see and which reason cannot conceive.

     "'This is the victory which has conquered the world, even our faith' (I John 5.4). Paradoxical though it may be to say so, this faith is that which, in different ways and at different times, re-established the world which had previously fallen. Then it transformed it into a more Divine state, placing it above the heavens, and making a heaven out of the earth. What preserved the seeds of the second world? Was it not the faith of Noah? What made Abram Abraham and the father of many nations, like the sand and the stars in number? Was it not faith in the promises which at that time were incomprehensible? For he held his only-begotten heir ready for slaughter and, O wonder!, never ceased to believe that through him he would have many children. What, then? Did not the old man appear to be a fool to those who see things by reason? But the final issue showed, through the grace of God, that his faith was not folly but a knowledge surpassing all reasoning."[6]

     Thus the new beginning for the Church which God created in Abraham He created in the faith of Abraham, which is the faith in Christ. That Abraham’s faith was precisely faith in Christ was witnessed by the Lord Himself when He said: "Abraham rejoiced to see My Day: he saw it, and was glad" (John 8.56). Indeed, Abraham’s whole life is a model of the Christian life of faith demonstrated by works performed for God’s sake. Purified and strengthened through a series of trials, in each of which he is called to obey God by performing a work of faith, in Abraham we see “faith working together with his works, and by works faith being made perfect” (James 2.22). These works of faith include: exile from his native land (Chaldea), separation from his relatives (Lot), struggle against the enemies of the faith (the four kings headed by the king of Babylon), struggle against his fallen desires (Pharaoh, Hagar), reception of the sacraments (circumcision as a figure of baptism, and bread and wine as a figure of the Eucharist), charity (rescuing his brother Lot and is household, the hospitality given to the Angels at the Oak of Mamre) and, finally, the complete sacrifice of the heart to God (the sacrifice of Isaac). The supreme demonstration of Abraham’s faith was his belief that “God was able to raise [Isaac] from the dead” (Hebrews 11.19), which was a type of the Resurrection of Christ.

     Since the foundation of the Church is the faith of Abraham, for Isaac Her God is "the God of Abraham", while for Jacob He was "the God of Abraham and Isaac", and for all succeeding generations He is "the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob", or, more simply, "the God of our fathers". Thus our faith is a historical faith; we distinguish it from other faiths as being the faith of our fathers, and our God is distinguished from other gods as being the God of our fathers, and in particular the God of our father Abraham. And that is why we preserve the faith of our fathers in all its details; for as the Scripture says: "Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set" (Proverbs 22.28).

     As we have seen, Abraham believed in God’s promise that from his seed would come the Seed, in Whom all the nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 12.3). St. Paul explains that this Seed is Christ the Messiah and Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ (Galatians 3.16). In other words, as St. Theophan the Recluse writes, “the blessing given to him for his faith would be spread to all peoples, but not because of Abraham himself or all of his descendants, but because of One of his descendants – his Seed, Who is Christ; through Him all the tribes of the earth would receive the blessing.”[7] Thus while Abraham is the father of the Jewish race, the chosen people of the Old Testament, the new beginning that God made in Abraham related not only to the Jews but to all peoples of all ages. In fact, the nation which Abraham founded was not defined genetically, but by faith; it was a nation of believers, of those who believe in Christ; for, as St. Paul says, "they which are of the faith, they are the children of Abraham" (Galatians 3.7) - which faith the majority of the Jews of Christ's time did not share (John 8.33-58). 

     God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants, known as the Abrahamic Covenant, prefigure the whole future history of the relationship between the City of God and the City of Man. They are so important that they are proclaimed in at least eight different versions, or “drafts” (Genesis 12.1-3, 12.7, 12.13,14-17, 14.18-20, 15.1-19, 16.10-12, 17.1-22, 22.17-18), not to speak of their repetition to his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. Each successive draft makes the Covenant a little more precise and far-reaching, in response to Abraham’s gradual increase in spiritual stature.

     The promises relate to the two peoples who descend from the two sons of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. Isaac is the true heir of Abraham, the freeborn son of Sarah, who inherits the promises and blessings given to Abraham in full measure, being also a man of faith of whom it is also said that in his Seed, Christ, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed (Genesis 26.3-4). Ishmael is the son of a slave, Hagar, and does not inherit those blessings, although he does receive the promise that his heirs will be strong and numerous.

     Now according to the popular conception, Isaac is the ancestor of the Jews, and Ishmael – of the Arab peoples. Certainly, the description of Ishmael’s race as “wild” and warlike that is given by the Angel to Hagar (Genesis 16.10-12) appears to correspond closely, as St. Philaret of Moscow points out, to the character and life-style of the Arabs until Mohammed, who were constantly fighting and lived “in the presence of their brethren” – that is, near, or to the east of, the descendants of Abraham from his other concubine, Hetturah – the Ammonites, Moabites and Idumeans.[8 

     A similar interpretation appears to stand true for the next generation, to Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau, who are said to correspond to the Jews (Jacob), on the one hand, and the Idumeans (Esau), on the other. This fits very well with the Lord’s words to Isaac’s wife Rebecca, that “two nations are in thy womb…, and the one people shall be stronger than the other people, and the elder [Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob]” (Genesis 25.23); for the Jews, from Jacob to David to the Hasmonean kings, almost always showed themselves to be stronger than the Idumeans and often held them in bondage. It was only towards the Coming of Christ that an Idumean, Herod the Great, reversed the relationship by killing the Hasmoneans and becoming the first non-Jewish king of Israel – the event which, according to the prophecy of Jacob, would usher in the reign of the Messiah (Genesis 49.10).

     But to return to the spiritual interpretation of the Apostle Paul: the two peoples – or two covenants, as he calls them - represent, not racial, but spiritual categories: “Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar – for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” (Galatians 4.22-26).

     In other words, Isaac stands for the Christians, both Jewish and Gentile, while Ishmael stands for the Jews who reject Christ. For the Christians, - and this includes the Jews before Christ who believed in His Coming, - become through faith in Christ the freeborn heirs of the promises made to Abraham and Isaac, whereas the Jews, by remaining slaves to the Law of Moses and refusing to believe in Christ, show themselves to be the children of the bondwoman, and therefore cannot inherit the promises together with the Christians. Moreover, it can be said of the Jews, as of the men of Ishmael’s race, that ever since they rejected Christ they have become “wild”, with their hands against all, and the hands of all against them, always striving for “freedom” but remaining voluntarily in slavery to the Law (and to their own kahal).[9] It may therefore be that the age-old phenomenon of mutual enmity between the Jews and the Gentiles, of anti-semitism and anti-Gentilism, is prophesied in these verses.

     That Isaac is the ancestor of Christ and the Christians is indicated also by his choice of wife, Rebecca, who signifies the Bride of Christ, the Church. Rebecca is freeborn, being of the family of Abraham, and is an even closer image of the Church than Sarah; for she is Isaac's only wife as the Church is Christ's only Bride. Moreover, the Holy Fathers see in the story of the wooing of Rebecca a parable of Christ's wooing of the Church, in which Eleazar, signifying the Holy Spirit, conveyed Isaac's proposal to her at the well, which signifies Baptism, and gave her gifts of precious jewels, signifying the gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed at Chrismation.[10]

     Ishmael, on the other hand, receives a wife from outside the holy family – from Egypt. And she is chosen for him, not by a trusted member of the family, but by his rejected mother, the slave-woman Hagar.

     The relationship between Isaac and Ishmael is almost exactly mirrored in the relationship between Isaac’s two sons, Jacob and Esau. Thus St. Philaret comments on the verse: “The Lord hath chosen Jacob unto Himself, Israel for His own possession” (Psalm 134.4), as follows: “This election refers in the first place to the person of Jacob, and then to his descendants, and finally and most of all to his spirit of faith: for ‘not all [coming from Israel] are of Israel’ (Romans 9.6). The two latter elections, that is, the election of the race of Israel, and the election of the spiritual Israel, are included in the first, that is, in the personal election of Jacob: the one prophetically, and the other figuratively.

     “The reality of this prefigurement in Holy Scripture is revealed from the fact that the Apostle Paul, while reasoning about the rejection of the carnal, and the election of the spiritual Israel, produces in explanation the example of Jacob and Esau (Romans 9), and also from the fact that the same Apostle, in warning the believing Jews against the works of the flesh, threatens them with the rejection of Esau (Hebrews 12.16, 17).

     “And so Jacob is an image, in the first place, of the spiritual Israel, or the Christian Church in general, and consequently Esau, on the contrary, is an image of the carnal Israel.

     “Esau and Jacob are twins, of whom the smaller overcomes the larger: in the same day the spiritual Israel was born together with the carnal, but, growing up in secret, is finally revealed and acquires ascendancy over him.

     “Isaac destines his blessing first of all to Esau, but then gives it to Jacob: in the same way the carnal Israel is given the promises from the Heavenly Father, but they are fulfilled in the spiritual [Israel].

     “While Esau looks for a hunting catch in order to merit his father’s blessing, Jacob, on the instructions of his mother, to whom God has revealed his destinies, puts on the garments of the first-born and seizes it before him. While the carnal Israel supposes that by the external works of the law it will acquire the earthly blessing of God, the spiritual Israel, with Grace leading it, having put on the garments of the merits and righteousness of the First-Born of all creation, ‘is blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ’ (Ephesians 1.3).

     “The sword of battle and continuing slavery is given to the rejected Esau as his inheritance. And for the carnal Israel, from the time of its rejection, there remained only the sword of rebellion, inner enslavement and external humiliation 

     “The rejected Esau seeks the death of Jacob; but he withdraws and is saved. The rejected old Israel rises up to destroy the new; but God hides it in the secret of His habitation, and then exalts it in strength and glory…”[11]     

     As for the wives of Jacob, they also, like Isaac and Ishmael, and Jacob and Esau, signify the spiritual Israel of the Church and the carnal Israel of the non-believing Jews. Thus Leah, whom Jacob married first, signifies with her weak eyes and fertile womb the weak faith of the carnal Israel and its abundant offspring. (It is precisely blindness that “shall befall Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in” (Romans 11.25)). But Rachel, whom he married later but loved first and most strongly, signifies the New Testament Church, which the Lord loved first but married later. For the Church of the Gentiles, that of Enoch and Noah and Abraham before his circumcision, existed before that of Moses and David and the Old Testament Prophets. Moreover, Rachel brought forth her children in pain because the New Testament Church brought forth her first children in the blood of martyrdom, and is destined to inherit spiritual blessedness only through suffering – “we must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14.22).

     Christ recognized that the unbelieving Jews were from a genetic, physical point of view, the children of Abraham, saying: “I know that you are Abraham’s seed” (John 8.37). And yet only a few moments later He denied them this honour, saying: “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill Me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God. This did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father… Ye are of your father, the devil” (John 8.39-41, 44). Ultimately, therefore, it is not physical, genetic descent that constitutes sonship from Abraham, but faith, the faith of Christ, and the good works that demonstrate that faith.

     Thus only Christians belong to the chosen people. As St. Justin the Martyr writes in the second century A.D.: “The seed is divided after Jacob and comes down through Judah and Phares and Jesse to David. Now this is surely a sign that some of you Jews are surely the children of Abraham, and that you will share in the inheritance of Christ; but… a greater part of your people… drink of bitter and godless doctrine while you spurn the word of God.”[12]


2. Joseph.

     The distinguishing mark of the Hebrew nation and state was its claim, quite contrary to the claims of the Babylonian and Egyptian despotisms, that its origin and end lay outside itself, in the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It took its origin, as we have seen, from a direct call by God to Abraham to leave his homeland, the Sumerian city of Ur, and go into a land which God had promised him. The God of Abraham was different from the false gods of polytheism in several ways.

     First, He revealed Himself as completely transcendent to the material world, being worshipped neither in idols nor in men nor in the material world as a whole, but rather as the spiritual, immaterial Creator of all things, visible and invisible. Secondly, He did not reveal Himself to all, nor could anyone acquire faith in Him by his own efforts, but He revealed Himself only to those with whom He chose to enter into communion - Abraham, first of all. Thirdly, He was a jealous God Who required that His followers worship Him alone, as being the only true God. This was contrary to the custom in the pagan world, where ecumenism was the vogue - that is, all the gods, whoever they were and wherever they were worshipped, were considered true.

     The nation of the Hebrews, therefore, was founded on an exclusively religious - and religiously exclusive - principle. In Ur, on the other hand, and in the other proto-communist states of the ancient world, the governing principle of life was not religion, still less the nation, but the state. Or rather, its governing principle was a religion of the state as incarnate in its ruler; for everything, including religious worship, was subordinated to the needs of the state, and to the will of the leader of the state, the god-king.

     But Israel was founded upon a rejection of this idolatry of the state and its leader, and an exclusive subordination to the will of the God of Abraham, Who could in no way be identified with any man or state or material thing whatsoever. It followed that the criterion for membership of the nation of the Hebrews was neither race (for the Hebrews were not clearly distinguished racially from the other Semitic tribes of the Fertile Crescent, at any rate at the beginning, and God promised not only to multiply Abraham’s seed, but also that “in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22.18)), nor citizenship of a certain state (for they had no such citizenship at the beginning), nor residence in a particular geographical region (for it was not until 500 years after Abraham that the Hebrews conquered Palestine). The foundation of the nation, and criterion of its membership, was faith, faith in the God Who revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - and acceptance of the rite of circumcision. At the same time, the very exclusivity of this faith meant that Israel was chosen above all other nations to be the Lord’s: “in the division of the nations of the whole earth, He set a ruler over every people; but Israel is the Lord’s portion.” (Wisdom of Sirach 17.17).

     Some half a millenium later, in the time of Moses, the Hebrews were again living under another absolutist regime - this time, Pharaonic Egypt. And God again called them out of the despotism - this time, through Moses. He called them to leave Egypt and return to the promised land.


     The Early Kingdom of Egypt was founded in about 3000 BC, with the earliest of the pyramids being built between 2700 and 2400 BC. This is consistent with the date of the Flood according to the Septuagint text of the Bible that is accepted by the Orthodox Church: 3289 BC. Egypt therefore represents, with Babylon, the oldest urban civilization in world history since the Flood.


     Now all the major States of antiquity were absolutist monarchies, or despotisms. The defining characteristic of such a State is the concentration of all power, secular and religious, in the hands of one man. In pagan societies this is combined with worship of the ruler as a god. Insofar as the worship of a created being is a blasphemous lie and places the state under the control of “the father of lies”, Satan, such a state can be called a satanocracy. Israel was the opposite of this State system insofar as it worshipped no man as God, and had no ruler but God; and as such it can be called a theocracy.

     However, pure theocracy is an extreme rarity and cannot in practice be sustained for long: the only true theocracy in history has been the Church of Christ – which is not, and cannot be, a State like other States, since its essence and heart is not of this world, being in essence the kingdom that is not of this world. If, therefore, the people of God are to have a State organization, a system of government that comes as close as possible to rule by God must be devised. The form of government that is closest to theocracy is what Lev Alexandrovich Tikhomirov called “delegated theocracy” – that is, autocracy, whose essence consists in a division of powers between a king and a high priest, with both recognizing the supreme lordship of the One True God.


     The very first, embryonic example of autocracy is to be found, paradoxically, in Egypt – the Egypt of the time of Joseph. For the formal ruler of Egypt, Pharaoh, had placed virtually all power in the hands of Joseph, a servant of the True God. As Joseph himself said: “God has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and ruler throughout all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45.8). The Egyptians also, following Joseph’s example, showed great honour to his father, Jacob. This honour was particularly manifest at the burial of Jacob, when “all Pharaoh’s servants and the palace dignitaries, joined by all the dignitaries of the land of Egypt” (Genesis 50.7), went up with Joseph and his family to bury the patriarch in Canaan.

     The relationship between father and son in Egypt was similar to that of the “symphony of powers” in Byzantium; for just as Joseph recognized the spiritual leadership of his father Jacob, so Jacob recognized the royal dignity of his son in his bowing down to his cross-like staff. As the Church says: “Israel, foreseeing the future, did reverence to the top of Joseph’s staff [Genesis 47.31], revealing how in times to come the most glorious Cross should be the safeguard of royal power.”[13]

     It follows, according to St. Ignaty Brianchaninov, that it was the Hebrew Joseph, and not any of the pagan Pharaohs, who was “the founder of autocratic (or monarchical) rule in Egypt”[14], transforming it from patriarchal simplicity to a fully organized state with permanent citizenship and a land tax, which Joseph instituted to prepare for the years of famine, and which lasted, essentially, for hundreds of years. Records show that there were dramatic fluctuations in the level of Nile flooding, and therefore of the harvest yield, during the reigns of the 19th- and early 18th-century BC Pharaohs. One of those Pharaohs was Senwosret III, in whose time, as Ian Wilson writes, “uniquely in all Egyptian history, the great estates formerly owned by Egypt’s nobles passed to the monarchy. They did so in circumstances that are far from clear, unless the Biblical Joseph story might just happen to hold the key: ‘So Joseph gained possession of all the farmland in Egypt for Pharaoh, every Egyptian having sold his field because the famine was too much for them; thus the land passed over to Pharaoh’ (Genesis 47.20). So could Senwosret III or Amenemhet III, or both, have had an Asiatic chancellor called Joseph, who manipulated the circumstances of a prolonged national famine to centralise power in the monarchy’s favour?”[15]

     Of course, Egypt remained a pagan country, and on Jacob’s and Joseph’s deaths the embryonic “symphony of powers” that existed between them and Pharaoh disappeared, being replaced by the absolutist despotism of the Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1.8) and hated Israel. It was in the fire of conflict with this absolutist ruler that the first real autocracy based on a symphony with the One True God, Israel, came into being. 


3. Moses. 

     The new, God-pleasing kind of kingdom, which we have called autocracy, would emerge after a long process lasting hundreds of years. Its embryonic beginning was created under the leadership of Moses, of whom the Church sings: “Thou, O Moses, didst preserve the order of sacrifice precious to God, and the kingdom and the priesthood.”[16] This embryonic state finally acquired a territorial base and stability in Israel under Kings Saul and David…

     The first battle between Church and State in history was Abraham’s battle with the Babylonian kings. The second took place between the people of God led by Moses, on the one hand, and the Egyptian Pharaoh, on the other. For Egypt was another totalitarian society that rose up against the True God; its apex was the cult of the Pharaoh, the god-king who was identified with one or another of the gods associated with the sun. The book of Exodus tells us how he was defeated in the first “war of national liberation” in history. (However, the Egyptians did not record the fact of his defeat, since gods, according to the Egyptian conception, could not fail.)[17]

     At the beginning of the Exodus, God revealed His name for the first time in the vision of the Burning Bush to Moses on Mount Horeb. The bush that burned without being consumed was a type, or forefiguring, of the Incarnation of Christ from the Mother of God, whose flesh was not consumed by the fire of the Divinity that was in her.  God sent Moses to the people of Israel to announce to them their coming deliverance from slavery through the Exodus, and when Moses asked for God’s name so that he could identify Who it was said sending him, “God said unto Moses, ‘I AM THAT I AM’, and He said: ‘Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, “I AM hath sent me unto you’.’’ (Exodus 3.13). Up to that point, God had referred to Himself only as “God Almighty” or “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” – that is, without a specific allusion to the Second Person of the Trinity or His role in the salvation of mankind. But now that salvation was being brought to the Hebrews it was necessary to point to the Saviour, that is, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, by the name by which He is known in the Old Testament - Jehovah, “I AM THAT I AM”, or “He Who Exists” (in the Greek translation of the Septuagint). For it is the unanimous witness of the Holy Fathers that Jesus Christ the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, is indeed Jehovah, “He Who Exists” from all eternity, Who saved the Israelites from Egypt and later the whole of humanity from sin, death and the devil on the Cross.

     This is confirmed a little later, when “God spake unto Moses, and said unto him, ‘And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty; but by the name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. And I have established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, wherein they were strangers.’” (Exodus 3.2-3).

     The name “He Who Exists” points to the complete independence of God from everything created. For He does not exist in dependence on any other existing thing, which is the case of every other being, but is absolute being, being itself. This was in sharp distinction from pagan religion – of which Egyptian religion was the most developed kind in that period – which could never conceive of God as wholly independent of created beings, but always identified God or the gods with a part or the whole of created being. The name also points, according to Archbishop Theophan of Poltava, to the fullness of life, which cannot be identified with any created condition, but only with the life of God Himself.[18] Being absolute being and the fullness of life, God wishes to save mankind from the false life that identifies itself with created being. Thus God manifests Himself as the Saviour for the first time in the Exodus from Egypt.


     Now Egyptian religion was a very complicated mixture of creature-worship and ancestor-worship. Thus Diodorus Siculus writes: “The gods, they say, had been originally mortal men, but gained their immortality on account of wisdom and public benefits to mankind, some of them having also become kings; and some have the same names, when interpreted, with the heavenly deities… Helios [Re], they say, was the first king of the Egyptians, having the same name with the celestial luminary [the sun]…”[19]

     “Although Egypt had a pantheon of gods,” writes Phillips, “the principal deity was the sun god Re (also called Ra), for whose worship a massive religious centre had grown up at Heliopolis, some fifty kilometres to the north of Memphis. It was believed that Re had once ruled over Egypt personally but, wearied by the affairs of mankind, had retired to the heavens, leaving the pharaohs to rule in his stead. Called ‘the son of Re’, the pharaoh was considered a half-human, half-divine being, through whose body Re himself could manifest.[20] However, as the falcon god Horus was the protector of Egypt, the king was also seen as his personification. By the Third Dynasty, therefore, Re and Horus had been assimilated as one god: Re-Herakhte. Depicted as a human male with a falcon’s head, this composite deity was considered both the god of the sun and the god of Egypt, and his incarnation on earth was the pharaoh himself. Only the king could expect an individual eternity with the gods, everyone else could only hope to participate in this vicariously, through their contribution to his well-being.”[21]

     The Egyptian Pharaoh was, according to John Bright, “no viceroy ruling by divine election, nor was he a man who had been deified: he was god – Horus visible among his people. In theory, all Egypt was his property, all her resources at the disposal of his projects”[22] – and these, of course, were on the most massive scale. “The system was an absolutism under which no Egyptian was in theory free,… the lot of the peasant must have been unbelievably hard.”[23] Thus according to Herodotus, the largest of the pyramids, that of Pharaoh Khufu, was built on the labour of 100,000 slaves. It is far larger than any of the cathedrals or temples built by any other religion in any other country, and it has recently been discovered to contain the largest boat found anywhere in the world. This indivisibility had important practical consequences. In Mosaic legal theory, all breaches of the law offend God. All crimes are sins, just as all sins are crimes. Offences are absolute wrongs, beyond the power of man unaided to pardon or expunge. Making restitution to the offended mortal is not enough; God requires expiation, too, and this may involve drastic punishment. Most law-codes of the ancient Near East are property-orientated, people themselves being forms of property whose value can be assessed. The Mosaic code is God-oriented. For instance, in other codes, a husband may pardon an adulterous wife and her lover. The Mosaic code, by contrast, insists both must be put to death…

     “In Mosaic theology, man is made in God’s image, and so his life is not just valuable, it is sacred. To kill a man is an offence against God so grievous that the ultimate punishment, the forfeiture of life, must follow; money is not enough. The horrific fact of execution thus underscores the sanctity of human life. Under Mosaic law, then, many men and women met their deaths whom the secular codes of surrounding societies would have simply permitted to compensate their victims or their victims’ families.

     “But the converse is also true, as a result of the same axiom. Whereas other codes provided the death penalty for offences against property, such as looting during a fire, breaking into a house, serious trespass by night, or theft of a wife, in the Mosaic law no property offence is capital. Human life is too sacred where the rights of property alone are violated. It also repudiates vicarious punishment: the offences of parents must not be punished by the execution of sons or daughters, or the husband’s crime by the surrender of the wife to prostitution… Moreover, not only is human life sacred, the human person (being in God’s image) is precious… Physical cruelty [in punishment] is kept to the minimum.”[27]


     A major part of the Mosaic law concerned a priesthood and what we would now call the Church with its rites and festivals. The priesthood was entrusted to Moses' brother Aaron and one of the twelve tribes of Israel, that of the Levites. As St. Cyril of Alexandria writes: “Moses and Aaron… were for the ancients a fine forefigure of Christ… Emmanuel, Who, by a most wise dispensation, is in one and the same Person both Law-Giver and First Priest… In Moses we should see Christ as Law-Giver, and in Aaron – as First Priest.”[28]   

     Thus already in the time of Moses we have the beginnings of a separation between Church and State, and of what the Byzantines called the "symphony" between the two powers, as represented by Moses and Aaron.

     That the Levites constituted the beginnings of what we would now call the clergy of the Church was indicated by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow in his polemic against the attempts of the tsar to confiscate church lands: “Have you not heard that God said that any outsider who comes close to the sacred things will be given up to death? By outsider here is understood not only he who is a stranger to Israel from the pagans, but everyone who is not of the tribe of Levi, like Kore, Dathan and Abiram, whom God did not choose, and whom, the impious ones, a flame devoured; and King Uzziah laid his hand on the ark to support it, and God struck him and he died (II Kings 6.6,7).”[29] 

     As Moses lay dying on Mount Pisgah in Moab (modern-day Jordan) he stretched out his eyes over the Promised Land on the other side of the Jordan (which not he, but his Joshua (Jesus) was destined to enter and occupy), and prophesied to Israel: “When thou shalt beget children, and children’s children, and ye shall have been long in the land, and shall do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord thy God, to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon perish from off the land whereunto you go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall be utterly destroyed. And the Lord shall scatter you among the peoples, and ye shall be left few in number among the nations, whither the Lord shall lead you away. And from thence ye shall seek the Lord thy God, and thou shalt find Him, because thou shalt search after Him with all thy heart and soul when thou are in tribulation and all these things are come upon thee. In the latter days thou shalt return to the Lord thy God, and hearken unto His voice: for the Lord thy God is a merciful God, He will not fail thee, neither destroy thee, not forget the covenant of thy fathers which He sware unto them” (Deuteronomy 4.25-31).

     Here the great prophet and God-seer lays out in summary form the whole history of the Jews after they would have been “long in the land”: their falling away from God, followed by their expulsion from the land (first in the exile to Babylon, then more terribly and long-lastingly in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and the dispersal of the Jews all over the world), and finally their conversion to God “in the last days”. The last part of the prophecy has yet to be fulfilled, although it is confirmed by several Old and New Testament prophets and apostles. But the first two parts have been confirmed with exactitude, providing yet another testimony that the central thread of human history, that illumines all the rest of it, consists in the history of Israel – both the Old Testament Jews and the “new” Jews, “the Israel of God, the Church of Christ” (Galatians 6.16).


4. Saul and David.

     We have seen that under Moses there was the beginning of a separation of Church and State in Israel. However, it is important to realize that there was no radical separation of powers in the modern sense. Israel was a theocratic state ruled directly by God, Who revealed His will through His chosen servants Moses and Aaron. The Church, the State and the People were not three different entities or organizations, but three different aspects of a single organism, the whole of which was subject to God alone. That is why it was so important that the leader should be chosen by God. In the time of the judges, this seems always to have been the case; for when an emergency arose God sent His Spirit upon a man chosen by Him (cf. Judges 6.34), and the people, recognizing this, then elected him as their judge (cf. Judges 11.11). And if there was no emergency, or if the people were not worthy of a God-chosen leader, then God did not send His Spirit and no judge was elected. In those circumstances "every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21.25) - in other words, there was anarchy. The lesson was clear: if theocracy is removed, then sooner or later there will be anarchy - that is, no government at all.

     The unity of Israel was therefore religious, not political - or rather, it was religio-political. It was created by the history of deliverance from the satanocracy of Egypt and maintained by a continuing allegiance and obedience to God - the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God Who appeared to Moses and Joshua and the Judges, - as their only King.

     Neither Abraham nor Moses was a king. Rather it was said to Abraham by God: "Kings will come from you" (Genesis 17.6; cf. 17.16, 35.2). And Moses was a lawgiver, a priest and prophet rather than a king. Early Israel was therefore not a kingdom - or rather, it was a kingdom whose king was God alone. As Tikhomirov writes: “According to the law of Moses, no State was established at that time, but the nation was just organized on tribal principles, with a common worship of God. The Lord was recognized as the Master of Israel in a moral sense, as of a spiritual union, that is, as a Church.”[30]

     Ancient Israel, in other words, was a Theocracy, ruled not by a king or priest, but by God Himself. And strictly speaking the People of God remained a Theocracy, without a formal State structure, until the time of the Prophet Samuel, who anointed the first King of Israel, Saul. Early Israel before the kings had rulers, but these rulers were neither hereditary monarchs nor were they elected to serve the will of the people. They were charismatic leaders, called judges, who were elected because they served the will of God alone.

     And they were elected by God, not the people, who simply had to follow the man God had elected, as when He said to Gideon: “Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the Midianites: have I not sent thee?” (Judges 6.14). That is why, when the people offered to make Gideon and his descendants kings in a kind of hereditary dynasty, he refused, saying: "I shall not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you: the Lord shall rule over you" (Judges 8.23).

     Nevertheless, it was God’s plan that Israel should have a “delegated theocracy”, a king who would be in all things obedient to Himself. But the fulfillment of that plan would have to wait until the Israelites had permanently settled a land. For"a king is an advantage to a land with cultivated fields" (Ecclesiastes 5.8).

     However, to ensure that such a king would be a true autocrat, and not a pagan-style despot, the Lord laid down certain conditions to the people through Moses: “When thou shalt come unto the land which the Lord thy God shall choose, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, ‘I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me’, thou shalt surely set a king over thee whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother... And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel” (Deuteronomy 17.14-15,18-20).

     Thus God blessed the institution of the monarchy, but stipulated three conditions if His blessing was to rest on it. First, the people must itself desire to have a king placed over it. Secondly, the king must be someone “whom the Lord thy God shall choose”; a true king is chosen by God, not by man. Such a man will always be a “brother”, that is a member of the People of God, of the Church: if he is not, then God has not chosen him. Thirdly, he will govern in accordance with the Law of God, which he will strive to fulfil in all its parts.

     In the period from Moses to Saul, the people were ruled by the Judges, many of whom, like Joshua, Jephtha and Gideon, were truly God-fearing, charismatic leaders. However, towards the end of the period, since “there was no king in Israel; everyone did what seemed right to him” (Judges 21.25), and barbaric acts, such as that which almost led to the near-extermination of the tribe of Benjamin, are recorded. In their desperation at the mounting anarchy, the people called on God through the Prophet Samuel to give them a king. God fulfilled their request, but since the people’s motivation in seeking a king was not pure, He gave them at first a king who brought them more harm than good. For while Saul was a mighty man of war and temporarily expanded the frontiers of Israel, he persecuted true piety, as represented by the future King David and the prophet Gad, and he disobeyed the Church, as represented by the Judge and Prophet Samuel and the high priests Abiathar and Ahimelech. 

     Some democrats have argued that the Holy Scriptures do not approve of kingship. This is not true: kingship as such is never condemned in Holy Scripture. Rather, it is considered the norm of political leadership, as we see in the following passages: “Blessed are thou, O land, when thou hast a king from a noble family” (Ecclesiastes 10.17); "The heart of the king is in the hand of God: He turns it wherever He wills (Proverbs 21.1); "He sends kings upon thrones, and girds their loins with a girdle" (Job 12.18); "He appoints kings and removes them" (Daniel 2.21); "Thou, O king, art a king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given a powerful and honourable and strong kingdom in every place where the children of men dwell" (Daniel 2.37-38); "Listen, therefore, O kings, and understand...; for your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High" (Wisdom 6.1,3).

     The tragedy of the story of the first Israelite king, Saul, did not consist in the fact that the Israelites sought a king for themselves - as we have seen, God did not condemn kingship as such. After all, the sacrament of kingly anointing, which was performed for the first time by the Prophet Samuel on Saul, gave the earthly king the grace to serve the Heavenly King as his true Sovereign. The tragedy consisted in the fact that the Israelites sought a king "like [those of] the other nations around" them (Deuteronomy 17.14), - in other words, a pagan-style king who would satisfy the people’s notions of kingship rather than God’s, - and that this desire amounted to apostasy in the eyes of the Lord, the only true King of Israel.

     Thus the Lord said to Samuel: "Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should rule over them... Now therefore listen to their voice. However, protest solemnly to them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them" (I Kings (I Samuel) 8.4-9). And then Samuel painted for them the image of a harsh, totalitarian ruler of the kind that was common in the Ancient World. These kings, as well as having total political control over their subjects, were often worshipped by them as gods; so that "kingship" as understood in the Ancient World meant both the loss of political freedom and alienation from the true and living God.

     God allowed the introduction of this despotic kind of kingship into Israel because the religious principle had grown weak. For the history of the kings begins with the corruption of the priests, the sons of Eli, who were in possession of the ark at the time of its capture. Thus for the kings' subsequent oppression of the people both the priests and the people bore responsibility.    

     However, God in His mercy did not always send such totalitarian rulers upon His people, and the best of the kings, such as David, Josiah and Hezekiah, were in obedience to the King of kings and Lord of lords. Nevertheless, since kingship was introduced into Israel from a desire to imitate the pagans, it was a retrograde step. It represented the introduction of a second, worldly principle of allegiance into what had been a society bound together by religious bonds alone, a schism in the soul of the nation which, although seemingly inevitable in the context of the times, meant the loss for ever of that pristine simplicity which had characterised Israel up to then.

     And yet everything seemed to go well at first. Samuel anointed Saul, saying: “The Lord anoints thee as ruler of His inheritance of Israel, and you will rule over the people of the Lord and save them from out of the hand of their enemies” (I Kings 10.1). Filled with the Spirit of the Lord, Saul defeated the enemies of Israel, the Ammonites and the Philistines. But the schism which had been introduced into the life of the nation began to express itself also in the life of their king, with tragic consequences.

     First, before a major battle with the Philistines, the king grew impatient when Samuel the priest delayed his coming to perform a sacrifice. So he performed the sacrifice himself without waiting for Samuel. For this sin, the sin of the invasion of the Church's sphere by the State, Samuel prophesied that the kingdom would be taken away from Saul and given to a man after God's heart. “For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart” (I Kings 13.13-14). That man, of course, was David, who, by becoming the ancestor of Christ, would become the founder of an eternal Kingdom.

     The example of Saul was quoted by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow: “Listen to what happened to Saul, the first king of Israel. The Word of God said to Samuel: ‘I have repented that I sent Saul to the kingdom, for he has ceased to follow Me.’ What did Saul do that God should reject him? He, it is said, ‘did not follow My counsels’ (I Kings 15.10-28)…This is the Word of God, and not the word of man: ‘I made you ruler over the tribes of Israel and anointed you to the kingdom of Israel, and not to offer sacrifices and whole-burnt offerings,’ teaching for all future times that the priesthood is higher than the kingdom, and that he who wishes for more loses that which is his own.”[31]

     Saul’s second sin was to spare Agag, the king of the Amalekites, together with the best of his livestock, instead of killing them all, as God had commanded. His excuse was: "because I listened to the voice of the people" (I Kings 15.20). In other words, he abdicated his God-given authority and became, spiritually speaking, a democrat, listening to the people rather than to God. And so Samuel said: "Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, the Lord also shall reject thee from being king over Israel" (I Kings 15.23)… It was no accident therefore, that it was an Amalekite who killed Saul at Mount Gilboa and brought his crown to David…

     To modern readers Saul's sin might seem small. However, it must be understood in the context of the previous history of Israel, in which neither Moses nor any of the judges (except, perhaps, Samson), had disobeyed the Lord. That is why Samuel said to Saul: "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness as iniquity and idolatry" (I Kings 15.22-23). For even a king can rebel, even a king is in obedience – to the King of kings. Only the absolutist despot feels that there is nobody above him, that there is no law that he, too, must obey. His power is absolute; whereas the power of the autocrat is limited, if not by man and the laws of men, at any rate by the law of God, whose independent guardian and teacher is the priesthood of the Church.

     To emphasize the truth that disobedience to God “is as the sin of witchcraft”, Saul then falls into the most serious sin of consulting a witch on the eve of his last battle against the Philistines. Thus he asked the witch of Endor to summon the soul of Samuel from Hades, although he himself had passed laws condemning necromancy. It did him no good: the next day, at Gilboa, he lost the battle and his life…[32] “So Saul died,” according to the chronicler, “because of his transgression which he committed against the Lord… by seeking advice from a ghost… Therefore He slew him and gave the kingdom to David…” (I Chronicles 10.13, 14).

     The falling away of Saul led directly to the first major schism in the history of the State of Israel. For after Saul's death, the northern tribes (Ephraim, first of all) supported the claim of Saul's surviving son to the throne, while the southern tribes (Judah and Benjamin) supported David. Although David suppressed this rebellion, and although, for David's sake, the Lord did not allow a schism during the reign of his son Solomon, it erupted again and became permanent after Solomon's death...

     David was anointed for the first time by the Prophet Samuel when he was still a young man. But he had to prove himself as a great warrior and faithful to the will of God over many years in disgrace and in exile before the people finally saw in him God’s choice: “Then came all the tribes of Israel to David unto Hebron and spake, saying, Behold, we are thy bone and thy flesh. Also in time past, when Saul was king over us, thou wast he that leddest out and brightest in Israel, and the Lord said to thee, ‘Thou shalt feed My people Israel, and thou shalt be a captain over Israel. So all the elders of Israel came to the king to Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel” (II Samuel 5.1-3).

     The greatness of David lay in the fact that he represented the true autocrat, who both closed the political schism that had opened up between north and south, and closed the schism that was just beginning to open up between the sacred and the profane, the Church and the State. Indeed, according to the author of the two books of Chronicles, it was David’s solicitude for the Church and her liturgical worship that was the most important fact about him. As Patrick Henry Reardon points out, nineteen chapters are devoted to David, and of these nineteen “the Chronicler allotted no fewer than 11 – over half – to describe the king’s solicitude for Israel’s proper worship (I Chronicles 13; 15-16 and 22-29). This material includes the transfer of the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, the organization of the priestly and Levitical ministries, preparations for the sacred music, and David’s lengthy instructions to Solomon with respect to the temple.

     “According to the Chronicler, David not only made all the arrangements for the consecration of the temple and the organization of the worship (I Chronicles 28.19), he did so by the Lord’s own command (II Chronicles 29.15). Even the musical instruments used in the worship are credited to David (II Chronicles 29.17; cf. Nehemiah 12.36).”[33] Thus when the Lord tells David to “feed My people Israel”, this feeing is spiritual as well as material – a responsibility accepted by all later Christian autocrats.

     “Like Gideon,” notes Paul Johnson, David “grasped that [Israel] was indeed a theocracy and not a normal state. Hence the king could never be an absolute ruler on the usual oriental pattern. Nor, indeed, could the state, however governed, be absolute either. It was inherent in Israelite law even at this stage that, although everyone had responsibilities and duties to society as a whole, society – or its representative, the king, or the state – could under no circumstances possess unlimited authority over the individual. Only God could do that. The Jews, unlike the Greeks and later the Romans, did not recognize such concepts as city, state, community as abstracts with legal personalities and rights and privileges. You could commit sins against man, and of course against God; and these sins were crimes; but there was no such thing as a crime/sin against the state.

     “This raises a central dilemma about Israelite, later Judaic, religion and its relationship with temporal power. The dilemma can be stated quite simply: could the two institutions coexist, without one fatally weakening the other?”[34 

     The reign of David proved that State and Church could not only coexist, but also strengthen each other. In a certain sense, the anointed king in the Israelite kingdom could be said to have had the primacy over the priesthood. Thus David appears to have ordered the building of the temple without any prompting from a priest, and Solomon removed the High Priest Abiathar for political rebellion (I Kings 2.26-27). 

     Thus there were two spheres, “the king’s matters” and “the Lord’s matters”. If the king ventured to enter “the Lord’s matters”, that is, the sphere of Divine worship in the temple, he would be punished. We see this clearly in the case of King Uzziah, who was punished with leprosy for presuming to burn incense before the Lord…

     The central act of David’s reign was his conquest of Jerusalem and establishment of the city of David on Zion as the capital and heart of the Israelite kingdom. This was, on the one hand, an important political act, strengthening the centralizing power of the State; for as the last part of the Holy Land to be conquered, Jerusalem did not belong to any of the twelve tribes, which meant that its ruler, David, was elevated above all the tribes, and above all earthly and factional interests. But, on the other hand, it was also an important religious act; for by establishing his capital in Jerusalem, David linked his kingship with the mysterious figure of Melchizedek, both priest and king, who had blessed Abraham at Salem, that is, Jerusalem. Thus David could be seen as following in the footsteps of Abraham in receiving the blessing of the priest-king in his own city.

     Moreover, by bringing the Ark of the Covenant, the chief sanctum of the priesthood, to a permanent resting-place in Zion, David showed that the Church and the priesthood would find rest and protection on earth only under the aegis of the Jewish autocracy. As John Bright writes: “The significance of this action cannot be overestimated. It was David’s aim to make Jerusalem the religious as well as the political capital of the realm. Through the Ark he sought to link the newly created state to Israel’s ancient order as its legitimate successor, and to advertise the state as the patron and protector of the sacral institutions of the past. David showed himself far wiser than Saul. Where Saul had neglected the Ark and driven its priesthood from him, David established both Ark and priesthood in the official national shrine.” [35]

     The Ark was a symbol of the Church; and it is significant that the birth of the Church, at Pentecost, took place on Zion, beside David’s tomb (Acts 2). For David prefigured Christ not only in His role as anointed King of the Jews, Who inherited “the throne of His father David” and made it eternal (Luke 1.32-33), but also as Sender of the Spirit and establisher of the New Testament Church. For just as David brought the wanderings of the Ark to an end by giving it a permanent resting-place in Zion, so Christ sent the Spirit into the upper room in Zion, giving the Church a firm, visible beginning on earth.

     Only it was not given to David to complete the third act that was to complete this symbolism, the building of the Temple to house the Ark. That was reserved for his son Solomon, who consecrated the Temple on the feast of Tabernacles, the feast signifying the end of the wanderings of the children of Israel in the desert and the ingathering of the harvest fruits. Such was the splendour of Solomon’s reign that he also became a type of Christ, and of Christ in His relationship to the Church. As the Queen of Sheba said to him: “Happy are thy mn, happy are these thy servants, which stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom. Blessed be the Lord thy God, which delighted in thee, to set thee on the throne of Israel” (I Kings 10.8-9).


5. Solomon.

     The reigns of David and Solomon are especially important for the history of the people of God for three main reasons.

     First, in them the Israelite kingdom attained its greatest strength, subduing its enemies and reaching its geographical integrity as that had been promised to Abraham: "from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates" (Genesis 15.18). Secondly, the covenant which the Lord had sworn to the Family Church in the persons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to the Pilgrim Church in the persons of Moses and Joshua, He now renewed with the State Church in the persons of David and Solomon. The unconditional element of this covenant - the part which the Lord promised to fulfil whatever happened - was the promise of the Coming of Christ: the Seed seen by Abraham, the Prophet seen by Moses, and now the King seen by David; for "thine house and thy kingdom," He said to David, "shall be established for ever before thee; thy throne shall be established for ever" (II Samuel 7.16; cf. Luke 1.32-33). And thirdly, the worship of the Old Testament Church reached its maturity and most magnificent development in the building of the Temple and the establishment of all the Temple services.

     The importance of Solomon's Temple as a figure of the New Testament Church can be seen in the many resemblances between the two, from the details of the priests' vestments and the use of the Psalter to the offering of incense and the frescoes on the walls. Even the structure of the Temple building, with its sanctuary, nave and narthex and two aisles, recalls the structure of the Christian basilica. But there is this very important difference, that whereas the nave of the Temple was entered only by the priests, and the sanctuary only by the high-priest once a year, while all the services were conducted in the courtyard, the New Testament Church allows all Christians to enter the Church, inasmuch as they are "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people" (I Peter 2.9), for whom Christ the Great High-Priest has made "a new and living way" into the holy of holies (Hebrews 10.19-22).

     The consecration of the Temple by Solomon may be seen the high point of the Old Testament, from which the rest of the Old Testament is a long and uneven, but inexorable fall until the Coming of Christ at its lowest point. The union of the kingship with the priesthood in the only major city of Israel not belonging to any of the tribes - for Jerusalem had been a Jebusite city until David and his men conquered it, - represented that ideal symphony of Church and State which was not to be recovered in its full glory until the Emperor Justinian consecrated the Great Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople over 1500 years later. And when the Jews looked forward to the Messiah-King who was to restore their fortunes and usher in the Kingdom of God on earth, the image they conceived was compounded of the warlike prowess of David and the peaceful splendour of Solomon.

     But in Solomon himself lay the seeds of that corruption which was to bring everything down in ruins. For this lover of wisdom whom God loved was not wise enough to heed the words inscribed in the Mosaic law: "When thou art come unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; Thou shalt set him as king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set over thee; thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not they brother. But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away; neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold." (Deuteronomy 17.14-17).

     Now Solomon was, of course, a legitimate king, a "brother" and not a "stranger" - that is, a member of the household of the faith. He was a king, moreover, whom God had chosen, giving him the great gift of wisdom. However, he "multiplied horses to himself", many of whom came from Egypt. (Archaeologists have discovered the remains of his huge stables.) And he "multiplied wives to himself", many of whom again came from Egypt and "turned his heart away" from the living God to idolatry. Finally, he "multiplied to himself silver and gold" on a vast scale. Thus with uncanny precision did the prophecy pinpoint the weaknesses of Solomon.

     It may be objected that David had many of these faults. He, too, had many wives - some, like Solomon's mother Bathsheba, acquired by unlawful means. And by the end of his reign he had amassed fabulous wealth. But David's wives, unlike Solomon's, did not draw him away from the True Faith; and his wealth was not amassed to be spent on his own pleasures, but was handed over en masse near the end of his life towards the building of the Temple. And therefore for his sake - here we see the great intercessory power of the saints - God promised that the kingdom would not be divided in the reign of his son (I Kings 11.12).

     Whereas David prefigures Christ as the Founder of the Church in Zion, Solomon, through his relationship with foreign rulers in Egypt, Tyre and Sheba, and his expansion of Israel to its greatest geographical extent and splendour, prefigures the Lord’s sending out of the apostles into the Gentile world and the expansion of the Church throughout the oikoumene. Thus David sang of his son as the type of Him Whom “all the kings of the earth shall worship, and all the nations shall serve” (Psalm 71.11). Moreover, at the very moment of the consecration of the Temple, the wise Solomon looks forward to that time when the Jewish Temple-worship will be abrogated and the true worship of God will not be concentrated in Jerusalem or any single place, but the true worshippers will worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4. 21-23): “for will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee: how much less this house that I have built” (I Kings 8.27).

     As St. Philaret demonstrates, the Israelite Autocracy is a model of God-given government for all nations in all times: “It is in the family that we must seek the beginnings and first model of authority and submission, which are later opened out in the large family which is the State. The father is… the first master… but since the authority of the father was not created by the father himself and was not given to him by the son, but came into being with man from Him Who created man, it is revealed that the deepest source and the highest principle of the first power, and consequently of every later power among men, is in God – the Creator of man. From Him ‘every family in heaven and on earth is named’ (Ephesians 3.15). Later, when sons of sons became a people and peoples, and from the family there grew the State, which was too vast for the natural authority of a father, God gave this authority a new artificial image and a new name in the person of the King, and thus by His wisdom kings rule (Proverbs 8.15). In the times of ignorance, when people had forgotten their Creator… God, together with His other mysteries, also presented the mystery of the origin of the powers that be before the eyes of the world, even in a sensory image, in the form of the Hebrew people whom He had chosen for Himself; that is: in the Patriarch Abraham He miraculously renewed the ability to be a father and gradually produced from him a tribe, a people and a kingdom; He Himself guided the patriarchs of this tribe; He Himself raised judges and leaders for this people; He Himself ruled over this kingdom (I Kings 8.7). Finally, He Himself enthroned kings over them, continuing to work miraculous signs over the kings, too. The Highest rules over the kingdom of men and gives it to whom He wills. ‘The Kingdom is the Lord’s and He Himself is sovereign of the nations’ (Psalm 21.29). ‘The power of the earth is in the hand of the Lord, and in due time He will set over it one that is profitable’ (Sirach 10.4).’

     “A non-Russian would perhaps ask me now: why do I look on that which was established by God for one people (the Hebrews) and promised to one King (David) as on a general law for Kings and peoples? I would have no difficulty in replying: because the law proceeding from the goodness and wisdom of God is without doubt the perfect law; and why not suggest the perfect law for all? Or are you thinking of inventing a law which would be more perfect than the law proceeding from the goodness and wisdom of God?”

     “As heaven is indisputably better than the earth, and the heavenly than the earthly, it is similarly indisputable that the best on earth must be recognized to be that which was built on it in the image of the heavenly, as was said to the God-seer Moses: ‘Look thou that thou make them after their pattern, which was showed thee in the mount’ (Exodus 25.40). Accordingly God established a King on earth in accordance with the image of His single rule in the heavens; He arranged for an autocratic King on earth in the image of His heavenly omnipotence; and ... He placed an hereditary King on earth in the image of His royal immutability. Let us not go into the sphere of the speculations and controversies in which certain people – who trust in their own wisdom more than others – work on the invention… of better, as they suppose, principles for the transfiguration of human societies… But so far they have not in any place or time created such a quiet and peaceful life… They can shake ancient States, but they cannot create anything firm… They languish under the fatherly and reasonable authority of the King and introduce the blind and cruel power of the mob and the interminable disputes of those who seek power. They deceive people in affirming that they will lead them to liberty; in actual fact they are drawing them from lawful freedom to self-will, so as later to subject them to oppression with full right. Rather than their self-made theorizing they should study the royal truth from the history of the peoples and kingdoms… which was written, not out of human passion, but by the holy prophets of God, that is – from the history of the people of God which was from of old chosen and ruled by God. This history shows that the best and most useful for human societies is done not by people, but by a person, not by many, but by one. Thus: What government gave the Hebrew people statehood and the law? One man – Moses. What government dealt with the conquest of the promised land and the distribution of the tribes of the Hebrew people on it? One man – Joshua the son of Nun. During the time of the Judges one man saved the whole people from enemies and evils. But since the power was not uninterrupted, but was cut off with the death of each judge, with each cutting off of one-man rule the people descended into chaos, piety diminished, and idol-worship and immorality spread; then there followed woes and enslavement to other peoples. And in explanation of these disorders and woes in the people the sacred chronicler says that ‘in those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was pleasing in his own eyes’ (Judges 21.25). Again there appeared one man, Samuel, who was fully empowered by the strength of prayer and the prophetic gift; and the people was protected from enemies, the disorders ceased, and piety triumphed. Then, to establish uninterrupted one-man rule, God established a King in His people. And such kings as David, Joshaphat, Hezekiah and Josiah present images of how successfully an autocratic Majesty can and must serve for the glorification of the Heavenly King in the earthly kingdom of men, and together with that – for the strengthening and preservation of true prosperity in his people… And during the times of the new grace the All-seeing Providence of God deigned to call the one man Constantine, and in Russia the one man Vladimir, who in apostolic manner enlightened their pagan kingdoms with the light of the faith of Christ and thereby established unshakeable foundations for their might. Blessed is that people and State in which, in a single, universal, all-moving focus there stands, as the sun in the universe, a King, who freely limits his unlimited autocracy by the will of the Heavenly King, and by the wisdom that comes from God.”[36]

January 13/26, 2019.


[1] Lebedev, “The Universal Babylon”, Pravoslavnaia Zhizn’, 53, N 5 (640), May, 2003, p. 16.

[2] Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, Zapiski rukovodstvuiuschaia k osnovatel’nomu razumeniu Knigi Bytia (Notes Leading to a Fundamental Understanding of the Book of Genesis), Moscow, 1817, p. 78. Exceptions may be found in the history of the tiny kingdom of Montenegro in the Ottoman period.

[3] Melchisedek’s combining the roles of king and priest may also signify the Divine origin of both offices. See Protopriest Valentine Asmus, “O monarkhii i nashem k nej otnoshenii” (“On Monarchy and our Relationship to It”), Radonezh, N 2 (46), January, 1997, p. 4.

[4]In fact, Mar Jacob considered it to be no figure of the Eucharist but the Eucharist itself: "None, before the Cross, entered this order of spiritual ministration, except this man alone. Beholding the just Abraham worthy of communion with him, he separated part of his oblation and took it out to him to mingle him therewith. He bore forward bread and wine, but Body and Blood went forth, to make the Father of the nations a partaker of the Lord's Mysteries." ("A Homily on Melchizedek", The True Vine, Summer, 1989, no. 2, p. 44)

[5] St. Philaret, Zapiski.

[6] St. Gregory, Triads.

[7] St. Theophan, Tolkovanie na Poslanie k Galatam (Interpretation of the Epistle to the Galatians),3.16.

[8] St. Philaret, Zapiski, part 2, p. 98.

[9] St. Philaret, Zapiski, p. 100.

[10] St. Ambrose of Milan, On Isaac, or the Soul.

[11] St. Philaret, Zapiski, part 3, pp. 27-28.

[12] St. Justin, Dialogue with Trypho, 34.

[13] Menaion, September 14, Exaltation of the Cross, Mattins, Canon, Canticle 7, troparion.

[14] St. Ignaty, “Iosif. Sviaschennaia povest’ iz knigi Bytia” (Joseph. A Holy Tale from the Book of Genesis), Polnoe Sobranie Tvorenij (Complete Collection of Works), volume II, Moscow, 2001, p. 37.

[15] Wilson, The Bible is History, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999, p. 37.

[16]Menaion, September 4, Mattins, canon, Ode 7, troparion.

[17] Graham Phillips has recently claimed to have discovered traces of this defeat in Egyptian archaeology. According to his theory, the Pharaoh of Moses’ time was Smenkhkare, whose tomb was plundered and desecrated by his brother and successor, the famous Tutankhamun, in punishment for his failure to avert the catastrophe of the ten plagues of Egypt (Act of God, London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1998). However, in favour of the traditional ascription to Rameses II is the fact that Rameses’ body was found filled with seawater – which is consistent with his having been drowned in the Red Sea while pursuing the Israelites.

[18] Theophan, Tetragramma, St. Petersburg, 1905, p. 61.

[19] Quoted in Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, II, 1.

[20] Thus a typical letter to a pharaoh began: “To my king, my lord, my sun-god” (Bernhard W. Anderson, The Living World of the Old Testament, London: Longman, 1967, p. 45, note).

[21] Phillips, op. cit., pp. 35-36.

[22] Bright, A History of Israel, London: SCM Press, 1980, p. 39.

[23] Bright, op. cit., pp. 39, 40.

[24] Barbara Watterson, Ancient Egypt, Stroud: Sutton Publishing Company, 1998, pp. 18-19.

[25] David P. Silverman, Ancient Egypt, London: Piatkus, 1998, pp. 18-19.

[26] Johnson, A History of the Jews, London: Phoenix, 1995, 1998, pp. 40-41.

[27] Johnson, op. cit., pp. 33, 34.

[28] St. Cyril, in Vyacheslav Manyagin, Apologia Groznogo Tsaria (Apology for the Awesome Tsar), Moscow, 2004, p. 167.

[29] Nikon, in M.V. Zyzykin, Patriarkh Nikon (Patriarch Nikon), Warsaw: Synodal Typography, 1931, part II, p. 36.

[30] Tikhomirov, Monarkhicheskaia Gosudarstvennost’ (Monarchical Statehood), Moscow, 1997, p. 126.

[31] Zyzykin, op. cit., part II, p. 17.

[32] See St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Witch of Endor: A Letter to Bishop Theodosius, translated in Living Orthodoxy, #124, vol. XXI, N 4, July-August, 2000, pp. 24-26.

[33] Reardon, Chronicles of History and Worship, Ben Lomond, Ca.: Conciliar Press, 2006, p. 12.

[34] Johnson, A History of the Jews, London: Phoenix, 1995, 1998, p. 57.

[35] Bright, A History of Israel, London: SCM Press, 1980, pp. 200-201.

[36] St. Philaret, in S. Fomin & T. Fomina, Rossia pered Vtorym Prishestviem (Russia before the Second Coming), Moscow, 1994, vol. I, pp. 320-321.

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