Martin Buber’s The Kingship of God was meant as the initial endeavor of a three-part journey into Jewish messianic thought. In the book, Buber sets out his interpretation of an ancient Jewish leadership model in political and historical terms. Specifically, he provides an interpretation of the Book of Judges as an intermediate stage between the divinely decreed leaderships of Moses and Joshua, and the dynastic tradition explored and realized in the Samuel and Kings. Buber suggests that Judges represents the epitome of Jewish theocracy; the direct rule of God as ultimate king/sovereign. This rule is effectively administered by persons given limited power by God.
Buber’s interpretation is not merely an exercise in political history. In fact, he says, such acknowledgement of God’s direct rule constitutes a full realization of Jewish faith. Such faith is not an intellectual pursuit or mere emotion, but a complex, dynamic whole manifested in a Jewish theocracy. Buber points out the difficulties facing those carriers of limited executive power within such a theocracy. Their authority would be paradoxical as a mere expression of human sovereignty or social neutrality. The truth value of their authority must be constantly demonstrated and contested, incessantly judged within the context of their social reality and communal history. The power of the early prophets, such as Deborah, comes not from their ability to see things hidden from the laity, but from their capability to see and speak things as they are, to create a dynamic world of context and content inhabitable by human beings. Such mediated power brings forth a community characterized by radical social justice, a social enterprise enacted multifocally and multivocally, with very few inhibitions instilled from the top down.
Buber’s conceptualization of faith highlights its relationship to belonging. One of the faithful belongs not merely to a communal group, but to a broader, more diverse and versatile system of mutually engaged vectors. While Buber’s analysis is specifically focused on ancient Judaism, his language and conclusions seem pertinent to current phenomena such as the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood or the Evangelical tide so apparent in the US and growing stronger in Africa and Latin America. It remains pertinent, of course, to the ongoing debate in Israel between Jewish and Israeli identities. Additionally, Buber’s conjunction of faith and social justice allows us to consider anew the waves of social protest sweeping the globe over the past five years. What sort of belonging is sought by protesters? Can it be supplied by liberal, capitalist democracies? What role does faith, in its historical and social realization, stand to play in the upcoming upheavals?