Augustine 2020: The Kings of Israel
Updated: Sep 26, 2022
Last week, we saw how the promises to Israel in the Old Testament apply to the Kingdom of Christ and cannot apply to any other earthly kingdom . This week, we turn our attention to the kings of Israel and observe how the promises to Israel’s kings are fulfilled in Christ.
Augustine begins with Israel’s first king, King Saul. Despite his failings, Augustine presents him as an image of Christ. He is anointed as king . The name “Christ” means “anointed one” . Saul’s anointing points ahead to THE anointed one, Jesus Himself. David, the regular victim of Saul’s jealousy, refused to raise a hand against him because of this anointing . “Such great reverence, then, was shown to this shadow of the future, not on account of itself, but on account of what it prefigured” . After Saul disobeyed God, the prophet Samuel declared to him God’s words that the kingdom of Israel would not remain with him or his descendants. “You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you. The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, but now your kingdom will not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart; and the Lord has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you” . Augustine argues that Saul’s kingdom would not have endured forever anyway, but that it had prefigured “the eternal kingdom” . That kingdom remains, but no longer with Saul and his descendants.
Augustine also argues that Saul’s loss of the kingdom prefigures Israel’s loss of the kingdom when Christ claimed it in His death and resurrection. When Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this very day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you” , Augustine argues that he is not merely speaking of David, but of David’s descendant, Jesus. The Kingdom of Israel belongs to Christ . Now, too often in Christian history, Christians have argued that the kingdom has been taken from Israel and given to Christ means that God has rejected the Jews. Christians have used that argument too often to justify numerous persecutions of the Jews. That is not what Augustine means. He is arguing that the kingdom Israel prefigured has come in Jesus and, now that we have seen the true King in the flesh, the earthly city of Israel does not need to serve as an image of that heavenly kingdom. The people of Israel face the same exact choice we all face: to join the heavenly kingdom by faith or remain in the earthly city . We all have that same choice to make: “One must pass over from the intention which hopes for a false bodily happiness of the flesh in a material kingdom to the intention which, through the new covenant, hopes for the truest happiness of the spirit in a heavenly kingdom” .
Augustine then turns to the promises made to King David: “I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house” . The longest peace experienced under the kings of Israel was a 40-year period during the reign of Solomon, but the longest period of peace Israel had since the beginning was an 80-year period under the judge Ehud . The peace of Solomon did not fulfill God’s promise to David . Since that peace never appeared in the earthly Jerusalem, it must be fulfilled in the heavenly. “Therefore, that place which is promised to be such a peaceful and secure dwelling is eternal, and is owed to the eternal ones in Jerusalem, the free mother. In that place will dwell those who are truly the people of Israel, for the name Israel is understood to mean ‘seeing God.’ In this journey full of hardships, the pious soul must be led, through faith, by a longing for that reward” . The Kingdom of Israel was a shadow of that heavenly city made up of true Israel, Jew and Gentile alike, who have seen and know God .
The kingdom of Israel was marked by the prosperity that pointed to Christ’s Kingdom, but also adversity as part of the earthly city  until the people of Israel were exiled . Even after the people returned, they were under foreign governments and, even at the time of Christ, were under the hand of Rome . As we listen to the story of Israel, we must do so in humility. We must be cautious in how we see the Kingdom of God in our politics or describe ourselves as a Christian nation. The kingdom of Israel was established as a symbol of Christ’s Kingdom, but it was susceptible to war, defeat, and sin so present in the earthly city. Not even Israel was able to completely fulfill the promises of the Kingdom of God. Only Christ can do that. If Israel fell short, we can only look at our own nation in humility and recognition of just how far short we fall.
 See Scott Carr, Jr. “The Nation of Israel,” October 2, 2020, https://www.reimaginefaith.org/post/the-nation-of-israel.
 1 Samuel 10:1
 Augustine, Augustine: Political Writings, trans. Michael W. Tkacz and Douglas Kries (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1994), p. 123.
 1 Samuel 24.
 Augustine, p. 124.
 1 Samuel 13:13-14 NRSV.
 Augustine, p. 124.
 1 Samuel 15:28
 Augustine, p. 125.
 Ibid. pp. 125-126.
 Ibid. p. 127.
 2 Samuel 7:10-11.
 Judges 3:30.
 Augustine, p. 127.
 Ibid. p. 128.
 See Romans 11 and Galatians 3:28.
 Augustine, p. 128.
 2 Kings 17, 25.
 Augustine, p. 129.