Summary: Sometimes we leave God out of our desires and plans. We must always go to God for guidance, especially when we face life’s challenges. Our desire to imitate the world may seem righteous at first, but it will result in destruction.
How many of you have wanted something that someone else has? Well, you’re not alone. Envy and coveting have been around since the beginning of time. One of the Ten Commandments even says, “You shall not covet…” It’s too bad that the Israelites and the elders in the reading from 1 Samuel 8:4-20 didn’t remember that commandment.
What is a king? A king is a barrier between us and chaos. A king is a strong wall protecting us from whatever we fear the most: marriage problems, a faltering economy, illnesses, crime, or drugs, for example. Anything that threatens to destroy us is chaos. A king promises to bring order out of chaos. Whatever we are afraid of in this world, there is a king to tell us why we don’t need to be afraid. For Christians, our king is Jesus. He came to give us the protection we need in the form of a restored relationship with God.
The Israelites wanted a king for three main reasons. First, all of the surrounding nations had kings, so the people of Israel wanted a king too. They were influenced by the world and were no longer listening to Samuel. Second, the Israelites were concerned about who would lead them after Samuel died. You see, Samuel’s sons were leaders in other parts of the country, but they weren’t very good leaders. They made crooked politicians look good! Third, the Israelites wanted a king who would represent power and security and lead them into battle.
Deuteronomy 17:14-15 gave the Israelites the right to have a king as long as they chose a king from among themselves and not a foreign king. This same passage places restrictions on the king to prevent some of the abuses Samuel outlined. The king was not to have many horses or wives or great amounts of silver and gold, and he was not to exalt himself above the people. Human nature being what it is, these restrictions were largely not observed, and sometimes they are not observed today.
The problem the Israelites had was two-fold-wanting to be like other nations and forgetting about God. God saw the Israelites’ desire for a king as a rejection of him and everything he did for them. They forgot (as we sometimes do) that God must be first and foremost in our lives. God can and does go along with demands that are not in our best interests in order to teach us a lesson.
The people were wise in that they saw an upcoming leadership void. Samuel was getting old and the people knew that his sons would not be capable of assuming the leadership role. They didn’t see a succession plan, and they certainly didn’t see God’s plan for succession. They made their decision with their hearts and not with their heads. They did not think things through. They made an emotional decision and not a logical decision.
We are the same. We often look at things through an emotional filter when we make decisions. For example, if we do not make our funeral arrangements and pay for our funerals before we die, our families have to make the necessary arrangements at a time when emotions are running high and might cloud their judgment.
Samuel might have taken the Israelites’ request as a rejection of his leadership, and perhaps they did. After all, part of their reason for wanting a king had to do with justice and good governance-something that they weren’t getting from Samuel and his sons. In his response to their request, he apparently does not recognize their concern, either by defending his sons or explaining past injustices. Or, perhaps he is deflecting their legitimate concerns by making it about him!
Samuel knew that the decision to appoint a king was a rejection of God’s authority, and the decision would lead to dire consequences for Israel. To make matters worse, Samuel knew that his sons were not fit to succeed him. God warned the Israelites that most of the kings would pervert justice, levy taxes and help themselves to the best of everything in the land. In fact, Israel had 43 kings over 450 years, and only 8 of them followed God. Most of the human leaders created more problems for the Israelites than they solved.
The same situation exists today. While we do have some good human leaders, there are leaders who start with good intentions but over time they become concerned only for themselves and their supporters and friends. We only have to look at the current Senate expense scandal here in Canada to see that this is the case.
This story is about the doctrine of free will. God gave us the ability to choose between right and wrong and then suffer the consequences. Sometimes we choose the lesser of two evils, especially during an election, and sometimes we choose between the better of two good. God limits his power to allow for us to make decisions, but he also shows his power of grace by sometimes allowing good things to happen from our poor decisions. One example was the dynasty of King David, which had a historical significance beyond measure.