Two places in the often-neglected book of 2 Chronicles, the Bible records electoral behavior by a group of people known as “the people of the land.” Some question remains as to the identity of the people of the land, though it seems most straightforward to assume that this is some sort of assembly of representatives of the people of Judah. 1st and 2nd Chronicles focuses on the priests and Levites, and the fact that representative assemblies are mentioned in the context of a religiously focused book would seem to suggest that the role of representative assemblies (and of voting, in general, the way that representative assemblies choose between alternatives) itself has legitimacy from God. Obviously, the implications of such legitimacy would be immense as it would show divine favor on the process of voting, making republics and democracies a type of government that has legitimacy in the eyes of God.
Let us therefore examine these passages. 2 Chronicles 33:21-25 reads: “Amon was twenty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned two years in Jerusalem. But he did evil in the sight of the Lord, as his father Manasseh had done; for Amon sacrificed to all the carved images which his father Manasseh had made, and served them. And he did not humble himself before the Lord, as his father Manasseh had humbled himself; but Amon trespassed more and more. Then his servants conspired against him, and killed him in his own house. But the people of the land executed all those who had conspired against King Amon. Then the people of the land made his son Josiah king in his place.”
2 Chronicles 36:1-4 reads: “Then the people of the land took Jehoahaz the son of Josiah, and made him king in his father’s place in Jerusalem. Jehoahaz was twenty-three years old when he became king, and he reigned three months in Jerusalem. Now the king of Egypt deposed him at Jerusalem; and he imposed on the land a tribute of one hundred talents of silver and a talent of gold. Then the king of Egypt made Jehoahaz’s brother Eliakim king over Judah and Jerusalem, and changed his name to Jehoiakim. And Necho took Jehoahaz his brother and carried him off to Egypt.”
The knowledge of representative democracy during ancient history, particularly ancient Israel, is somewhat rudimentary. In the Bible, we have a few representative assemblies (1 Samuel 8, 1 Kings 12) who were leading and respected people in their villages and towns and villages and cities and who had the God-given power to choose the leaders over Israel, and who worked in collaboration with priests and prophets and who appear to have weighed leaders in light of legal limitations of monarchs and other leaders (see, for example, Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Only the first two of these assemblies show the electoral behavior of Israel’s representatives. In the first assembly, there was no obvious leaders, and so God’s chosen monarch was selected by lot. In the second assembly, there were two possible leaders and the leader was chosen based on their political platform based on what they would do as far as lowering the government burden of taxation and labor on the common people of Israel, a political campaign that would not be alien today.
In light of these biblical precedents, we can interpret the two assemblies in 2 Chronicles as showing these elements. In both cases, though, the legitimacy of representative assemblies and political behavior on the part of the common people is granted within scripture. After the death of the wicked young King Amon, there was no obvious successor to the throne. Perhaps Amon had a few young children, any of whom could have been crowned as the next king. It would seem likely in such a circumstance that a lot was chosen to show God’s will in light of the youth of the contenders and their lack of an obvious political program or obvious fitness for authority. In this particular case, Josiah was chosen by the assembly of the people of the land, and he became one of the three superlatively righteous kings of the history of Israel and Judah (along with David and Hezekiah). Additionally, this assembly not only chose one of the most righteous kings of biblical history, but also put to death the assassins of the wicked previous king, showing that the treacherous murder of even wicked kings is ungodly. Tyrannicide is still murder according to the bible, and representative assemblies are capable in God’s word of not only choosing leaders but also executing judgment on the ungodly, acting as a grand jury as well as an assembly.
The situation is somewhat different in the case of the second assembly of 2 Chronicles. Here, Josiah died while still a vigorous king, but with several adult sons from which a king could be chosen. It would appear that in this assembly of the people of the land, a more political decision was made, where the would-be kings themselves would have sought to appeal to the concerns of the people. In light of the behavior of the king of Egypt, it would appear likely that Jehoahaz promised a pro-Babylonian, anti-Egyptian platform to continue his father’s efforts (which would explain why Pharaoh Necho removed him from power and imprisoned him in Egypt) and that his brother Eliakim had a more pro-Egyptian or moderate aim which was unacceptable to the assembly of the people of the land but more amenable as a puppet ruler for Pharaoh Necho. This can be inferred from scripture, even if the Bible does not discuss political behavior explicitly in ways that would be familiar to modern readers, but rather imbeds its political arguments in religious language that shows the ultimate authority of God working through various means to carry out His will.
If the people of the land discussed in 2 Chronicles 33 and 36 is an assembly of Israel’s local leadership like that of 1 Samuel 8 and 1 Kings 12, then there are several implications. One of these implications is that it gives a couple more examples of the legitimacy of representative assemblies in the eyes of God, as such examples are rare both in history and in scripture. Granting legitimacy to ancient representative assemblies also provides strong support to the legitimacy of assemblies and voting as a means of selecting leaders for people today. That which was right for people in the time of Josiah can hardly be wrong today. Likewise, the further involvement of the assembly of the people of the land in the time of Josiah in executing the assassins of evil King Amon would demonstrate that the involvement of common people in juries executing the death penalty is also legitimate, making it legitimate here and now as well. Perhaps it might be one more factor that rids the world of the mistaken belief that the death penalty is hostile to the sixth commandment, as is falsely believed by many. These assemblies deserve to be better known, and better understood for their political implications.