In a way, we can’t blame Israel for wanting a king. They had gone through hundreds of years of anarchy. The book of Judges which precedes 1 Samuel historically started off on a good note but progressively deteriorates into periods of captivity because of their sine alternating with God raising up a judge to deliver them when they repented. They would soon forget the lesson as well as the Lord and go into captivity again. There is a downward spiral in that book which degrades to violent leaders, intertribal war, genocide, and utter moral depravity. The book ends with the stark words: “In that day there was no king in Israel. Everyone did that which was right in their own eyes.” Calvin makes a sage observation that an evil government is better than no government at all, which is anarchy.
The book of Ruth in the canon precedes 1 Samuel as a welcome rest from an utterly depressing history. It is a parallel development to both Judges and 1 Samuel and shows that God who foreknows all was already anticipating Israel’s desire for a king who would fit His own greater predestined purpose. The Messiah, Jesus, would descend from this king David whom God was already in process of setting up. In the midst of Israel’s misery, God was gracious to them. Despite the failure of Israel to keep the covenant, God was still at work.
The beginning of 1 Samuel picks up where Judges left off. The priesthood was utterly corrupt. The High Priest’s own sons were seducing and raping the women who came to the Tabernacle. God was so angered that He cursed the children of the High Priest Eli and marked them for death. In their place, God raised up a new leader, Samuel, who was both a prophet and priest. He would become a judge over Israel, but not a king. These three offices would become united later in Christ. Israel eventually found some deliverance from their enemy, the Philistines, but not until another catastrophic episode which involved the Philistines seizing the Ark of the Covenant.
When we look at the text this morning, we see Samuel as a faithful judge in Israel. However, Samuel was getting old, and his children were evil. The people of Israel were tired of the anarchy and disunity. They did not want to repeat the downward spiral one more time. So they came to Samuel at Ramah and demanded a king be set up to rule over them. They had seen all of the nations around them, especially mighty Egypt. They seemed to be more united and stable than their tribal confederacy. Surely if they had a king, they would be better able to stand against their enemies. They would be united. By a worldly perspective, it seemed like a sensible request. So they asked for a king to rule over them, just like all the other nations around them.
But it was the Lord’s intention that Israel be different than everyone else. This is why He chose them. He had led them out into the wilderness and taught them there for an entire generation in isolation from worldly culture. The Law was meant to set them up as a peculiar people who marched to the beat of God’s plan. They were led by the fiery pillar by night and the cloud by day. These are in a sense the feet of God. They followed Him in the wilderness in the way He led. God was to be their king, their inheritance, their everything.
So Samuel was upset by Israel’s request. From an earthly point of view, their request could be understood as a repudiation of Samuel’s leadership, especially because he had failed to inspire his own children. It is true that Samuel was human, just like all of this. However, I feel that Samuel as a prophet saw this as being a rejection of the leadership of the Lord. Whatever may have motivated Samuel, the Lord makes this rejection explicit to Samuel in verse seven. He tells Samuel to accept their request and tells Samuel that the people of Israel had not rejected, Samuel. Rather they had rejected the Lord. It was God’s will that He would be Israel’s king. It is God who made Israel, Israel. Israel’s identity was tied up in their covenant relationship with Yahweh. If they were to revert back to where they came from, it would be national suicide. By wanting a king like the other nations, Israel was taking the first step into a downgrade into apostasy and death. Indeed this would eventually happen to ten of the tribes of Israel. They disappeared into the greater Assyrian world, worshiping their gods and losing their identity. The same would have happened to Judah except for God’s preservation so that the promised King would be born in Bethlehem of Judah.
Samuel went back to the people of Israel and warned them of the consequences of having a king. The king would become a despot who would tax them heavily and oppress them, just like the kings of all the other nations. God had freed them from Egyptian bondage, and to Egyptian bondage they would return. Their desire for unity based upon worldly wisdom would be a unity of slavery. They would be united into national death. In spite of Samuel’s plea, Israel chose death and a king just like everyone else.
The people of Israel would soon get a king according to their expectations of a king. Saul was a tall good-looking man who stood head and shoulders above his people. This is the type of king people would choose. He would unite Israel like they desired. And as long as he followed the Lord, things went well. However, when he disobeyed the Lord, things started to go bad for Israel. He became oppressive over his subjects. But as re mentioned before when we talked about the Book of Ruth, God was already at work with his replacement, a smallish boy named David, who was the least of many brothers. When Samuel had the others pass in review, he as a human was impressed with David’s brothers. Surely, one of them would be chosen. But none were chosen by the Lord, prompting the question to Jesse whether there was not one more son. Jesse told him yes, but he is the runt of the family. Yet this is the one God had chosen.
David was the king after God’s heart. God exalted him to be a great king in his day. Yet David was shown not to be the ultimate fulfillment of what God wanted in a king. David had many faults as we well know. The promise was given that he would be the ancestor of a far more famous son. But Solomon in all his wisdom was not that son. We know as Christians that the king in the line of David who was promised was Jesus Christ. This Jesus was more than a mere earthly king ruling over a worldly kingdom. He is the very Son of God who came to earth as a human being by the virgin Mary. God had kept the tribe of Judah in spite of its apostasy for this day.
Yet when this king after God’s own predestined election was presented to the Jewish people, they rejected him. It was no Samuel who presented Him before them as king. Rather it was the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate who beckoned out to them: “Behold your king!” And what was their answer? “We have no king but Caesar!” “Crucify Him!” Instead of choosing the king the Father had chosen, they chose Tiberius, who was then the Emperor. This man was a vicious pervert of a man, a true tyrant. Instead of choosing the man who called Himself “The Truth”, who was the one who sets people free, they chose someone who would keep the nation in chains. The Jews said they wanted a pagan king to rule over them, rather than Jesus. This was to choose death over life. In trying to save the nation, the nation would soon die. Another Roman Emperor would soon come and destroy the illusion of the Jewish state. Hundreds of thousands would be slaughtered by the very king they had chosen and many others made slaves. The city of the great king would be burned down. If only they had known that the very Lord who had made the covenant with Moses was standing before them.
What does this teach us? The church today is facing a crisis. The multiplication of denominations and sects is causing anarchy and disunity among those who consider themselves to be Christians. There is considerable pressure to come to unity to avoid disintegration. Some are going back to Roman Catholicism to try to recover this sense of unity. There is a sense that many in the Church see the Pope as being a sort of visible presence of Christ in the world. Others who see the disintegration of what was once called “the Christian West” are looking to some political solution to restore lost fortunes.
We need to be very discerning at this point. We must not jump at human solutions. The problems I have described are true in the church today. It is very confused. We seem to be living in the age of the Book of Judges all over again. The answer is not to look at any earthly leader, whether spiritual or political. This is the way of death. The real problem with the church today is that it has taken its eyes off its real king. It is more concerned with what people think about them than it is with being faithful to the Lord.
To be a Christian is a call to walk in a different path than the world. The world is on Broadway which leads to destruction rather than the straight and narrow. The broad way appears to be the more promising choice, but God’s way is the only one that leads to heaven. Hear now the words of the Apostle Peter: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (NKJV). The King James calls us a “peculiar people” which in a way is a good translation. The world will indeed think the Christian way is odd. They will laugh and mock, but we must embrace God’s way of the cross. We are not to be like everyone else.