Summary: Israel's desire for a king is used to illustrate the temptation we face to be more like the rest of the world. But even though the world's view of us often chafes, it is God's plan that we be conspicuously different.
I) After Moses brought the nation of Israel out of Egypt, they did not have a king for many years.
A) Unlike the nations around them, they were led by men and women, judges, who were direct intermediaries between God and man.
B) Early on, the people tried to make one of those judges, Gideon, into a king. Judges 8:22-23 tells us, “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.’ But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you’” [NKJV].
Gideon reminded Israel that they already had a king. They didn’t need a king because God looked out for them and led the nation. In both this and the Law that they lived by, Israel was distinct from the rest of the world.
Deut 4:5-8 reads, “Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” Verse 6 says that the people who hear about Israel’s system of laws, so different from the rest of the world’s, would say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” And verse 7 points out that no other nation has God so near as does Israel. In this Israel stood out from the nations about them.
C) The last of God’s judges for Israel was Samuel, who was both the last of the judges and the first of the prophets after Moses. In 1 Sam 8:1-22 The people decide that they want a king. Let’s read the account of their actions. [Read 1 Sam 8:1-22.]
This is a decision that will have a dire impact upon the nation. There are times in each of our lives when we realize that things could have been so much better, so much easier, but for a poor decision that we made in the past. That realization is always a very bitter pill to swallow. Let’s see what we can learn from Israel’s experience in order to avoid the consequences of an unwise decision in our own lives. The temptations facing us today are really the same as those faced by Israel.
II) The people come to Samuel with excuses for their desire for a king.
A) First, they tell him as recorded in 1 Sam 8:5, “You are old.” Samuel had been a good leader for the people. Had given his life to the nation. But the people basically say, “You aren’t up to the task anymore. We need someone with more energy. Someone with fresh ideas. Someone more vibrant.”
B) And then they go on to tell him, as 1 Sam 8:5 continues, “And your sons do not walk in your ways.” It helps here to know a bit about Samuel’s history. Samuel had been a prophet since he was a very young man. He had been dedicated to God by his mother as a baby and then raised in the home of a priest, Eli.
Eli’s own two sons were wicked, for which Eli shared the blame. We see this in 1 Sam 3:11-13. “Then the LORD said to Samuel: ‘Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. In that day I will perform against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them.’” God destroyed Eli’s family, but raised up Samuel as prophet, judge, and leader.
The people were now saying that Samuel hadn’t done any better than Eli in raising up his own sons. We see in 1 Sam 8:3 that his sons were certainly wicked leaders. “But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice.” But notice we are told that they “did not walk in his [Samuel’s] ways.” Samuel had raised them right; they simply chose to reject his values. They probably saw their father as someone who had failed to take advantage of the financial opportunities that came with leadership. So they took bribes to enrich themselves.