Summary: God is to be trusted to bless our nation, even when there are problems in the world.
It might seem that nothing could be less relevant than a chapter from an ancient book, describing a transition in political power of a nation half the world away, which occurred over 3000 years ago! But the events of that day and time include:
• Corrupt politicians taking bribes;
• Conflicts and confusion over the relationship between God and government;
• Excessive taxation; and
• Messianic political leaders who would make the state into a “cradle to grave” director of people’s lives.
It sounds like USA Today instead of the Bible! But God has preserved, in this honest assessment of the fears and foolish choices of the people of Israel, a prescription for what every country needs. I will read 1Samuel 8, then we will ask the Lord of all nations to teach us from his Holy Word.
[Read 1Samuel 8.1-22. Pray.]
We feel secure when we perceive no danger, and most of us appreciate that as a good feeling, one we hope to promote.
Some of us feel secure when we are confident of our ability to pay for future needs – so we are sensitive to the rise and fall of our retirement portfolio or prospects for continued employment. Others perceive a lack of danger when we fit in with our peers – so we can be pretty sensitive as to how we are received by those around us. A great many Americans want to feel secure about air travel – so the threat of terrorism has lead us to give up a number of freedoms and conveniences to accommodate increased airport security. Charles Schultz popularized the phrase “security blanket” for small children when he pictured Linus hugging his blanket, but people young and old want objects and circumstances which give us that good feeling of security.
It is not wrong to seek safety instead of feelings of vulnerability; but like most desires of the heart, the quest for security can lead us away from God and toward idolatry. 1Samuel 8 reveals that very problem ruling the hearts of God’s people at this critical juncture in Israel’s history.
For several generations, the people of Israel lived as separate clans with local judges deciding matters difficult or controversial. But Samuel grows old, their connection to God weakens, and his sons are well-known as irresponsible, even reprobate men. If you have read 1Samuel, you may remember that the book begins with the Priest Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. Eli refused to discipline his sons, so God removes their household from the Priesthood. He says, “Those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.”
Shortly thereafter, Israel goes into battle, where the Philistines capture the Ark of Covenant and Hophni and Phinehas are killed. When Eli hears the news, overcome with grief, he falls out of his chair, breaks his neck, and dies.
Samuel is then appointed priest and judge, and he leads Israel back to God with a time of peace and prosperity. The Ark is restored and God’s blessing again returns to his people.
But chapter 8 begins with Samuel’s two sons judging Israel poorly and we feel our anxiety rising. Samuel is old (like Eli) and his sons are corrupt (like Eli’s) and we sympathize with the elders who say, “This system is broken. We need stability, a way keep the nation moving in the right direction, a new system which avoids the up-and-down stress of you judges and your corrupt sons. We need a king, Samuel. Your way of doing things is old-fashioned, and it does not work. Look at the results of Eli and you as judges and priests – we are left in the hands of your sons who take bribes and pervert justice! The other nations are doing it right – they have a king, a dynasty which unites them and keeps them strong and focused. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the other nations.”
We might think, from a cursory reading, that their great sin was requesting a king. We might suppose that the people of God should not desire a monarchy (rule by royalty), but a theocracy (government by God or priests like Samuel who speak directly with and for God). But there is good reason to conclude that the problem is not the king, per se. Listen to what Moses wrote 400 years before these events, his description of the future of the nation of Israel:
Deuteronomy 17.14-17: “When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.”