Summary: God knew even before Israel became a nation that they would desire a king like other nations. What can we learn from their choice to reject God and apply it today?

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, a day designed to honor those who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy in our nation today. It began shortly after the Civil War as Decoration Day- a time to put flowers and other memorabilia at the gravesites of those who had sacrificed in memory of what they had done. Captain John Logan originally called for it to be a federal observation on May 30, 1868. A number of communities have claimed to be the first to observe the holiday, but it was Waterloo, NY that is officially named the first community to do so. In 1971, the holiday was moved to the last Monday of May in order to ensure federal employees would have a three day weekend.

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance- full of parades and ceremonies when many visit and decorate the graves of loved ones. It’s a holiday that calls for patriotic loyalty, which is good when observed with balance. This was a lesson that Israel learned the hard way. Hopefully, we can learn from their errors and do better today.

Last week, we mentioned that Deuteronomy records Moses preparing the people for his departure. Here in chapter 17, he gives instructions for when they decide to name a king. Notice he says when, not if. God knew the time would come that Israel would demand a king. He had brought them out of slavery in Egypt to form a theocracy- God is their king. But He knew they would stray and demand a king like all the other nations. He doesn’t tell them no.

Instead, God lays out the stipulations for the king when the time comes. He must come from Israel- no foreigner to rule. It’s like our rule that the president must be born a US citizen. He must not be about personal gain, specifically mentions gathering horses, especially if done by going to Egypt. He warns against collecting a lot of wives as they’ll lead the king astray. He also says to not collect an excessive amount of silver and gold. All of these were things the kings of neighboring nations were doing, all of these were things that are opposite of God’s ideal of an upside-down kingdom where the king is a servant- does that sound familiar?

The king was to make his own personal copy of the book of law, approved by a Levitical priest for accuracy, that he would then use for personal study. This would help ensure that he doesn’t pick and choose which laws he’ll follow. It would help the king to fear the Lord by knowing and doing all the law and statutes of God. It would help develop humility in the king and help prevent him from turning to the right or the left from what God has commanded. This will result in a long reign on the throne.

Now, let’s forward to the time of Samuel as he nears the end of his time to serve the Lord and Israel (read 1 Samuel 8:1-9). Samuel is starting to age and has designated his two sons to be judges in his place. Unfortunately, his sons are corrupt, willing to take bribes and pervert justice. The elders come to Samuel and demand to be given a king instead. Of course, this hurts Samuel and he prays to God, upset that the people have rejected his leadership. God informs Samuel that it’s actually Him that’s being rejected and that it’s been their pattern from the days of Egypt, time after time forsaking the one true God and pursuing the false gods of other nations. God tells Samuel to give them what they want.

Samuel warns them that they’ll come to regret this choice, but the people insist, they want a king (read 1 Samuel 8:19-22a). The people are going to get what they want.

Jump ahead a couple chapters. Samuel anoints Saul and prepares to present him as the first king of Israel (read 1 Samuel 10:17-24). Samuel reminds the people of all that God had done for them, how He had delivered them from Egypt and a number of other oppressive nations over the years. He had saved them from calamities and distresses, yet they still rejected God and demanded to have a king like the other nations.

Samuel tells Israel to come together and present yourself before the Lord and He will reveal their king. So they begin casting lots and from the 12 tribes, Benjamin was chosen. From the clans of Benjamin, Matrites was chosen, and from within the clan, Saul’s name was chosen. He was nowhere to be found! The people began to wonder if there was another man yet to come. God reveals that Saul has hidden among the baggage. Now, Saul already knew that he was to be king, yet, for some reason, he hid. We’re not told why- maybe nerves, maybe something else.

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