Christianity 201

August 7, 2017

Give us a King

NIV 1 Samuel 8:1   When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

This passage is significant in many ways.

First of all, we see a transition from from theocracy to monarchy. To this point, God’s people were guided by prophets and priests. But they have always had one eye on God and one eye on the surrounding nations. The other nations have kings. Those kings no doubt had a certain charisma. They were the resident celebrity. Israel wanted in on that political system. In the two chapters that follow, they get King Saul.

But it’s also significant in that we see God’s desire in all of this, and it is probably best summed up in the modern phrase, “You’ll be sorry.” In the verses that follow, God explains why. There will be taxation. There will be confiscation of land. There will be a military draft, as well as a draft for skilled workers to serve  the royalty. A closer look at how the monarchy functions in other nations would have revealed this. But Israel is looking from a distance. The grass is greener over there.

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

Plus, it’s not God’s desire. This is key. God’s ‘Plan A’ for Israel is to be a distinct people. The book of Leviticus is full of the ways in which this nation will distinguish themselves from those around. But God is seen as capitulating to their wishes.

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”

In the general, we know that God has already foreseen everything that will take place. We know that he is sovereign and therefore in control of the situation. But from their perspective, in the particular, it would appear that God has changed his mind. That he has given in to their request, like the parent who, after having been nagged for 30 minutes, decides to take the little girl out for ice cream after all, even when he had previously stated it was too close to mealtime. In the lists of ‘the names of God’ is there one meaning ‘the God who gives in?’

There clearly isn’t, and for reasons too long to get into here. But many times we do see God listening and granting requests even after his ‘Plan A’ has been clearly stated. The Reformation Study Bible notes,

The Lord’s concession to the people’s sinful request is, at this point in the account, perplexing. If their desire for a king is sinful, amounting to a rejection of God as king (vv. 7, 18 and notes), how can God grant it? One answer lies in the standards of acceptable kingship that the Lord will establish. God is graciously willing to give the people a king and even to bless him, although not the sort of king they envisage (10:1, 7, 8 and notes). At the same time, because they adopted kingship in unbelief, they came to suffer under kings like those of the nations.

There are many modern applications here as well. On the same day this devotional is posted, I posted a review of a book dealing with the election of the latest U.S. President. It’s a story about the faith-factors which led to his victory; the intersection of Christianity and party politics. Again, this is too long to get into here, but I must repeat that God’s ‘Plan A’ desire would be that his people would be a distinct society even in the middle of a foreign land; even when in exile.

No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. – 2 Timothy 2:4

He wants us to focus on being the People of God.

As Christians, we already have a King.


1 Comment »

  1. Really enjoyed this post. Also currently working through Samuel 1 and 2. This is my first time really reading it straight through. Fascinating how the people God appoints to lead are often so flawed that they can only carry out part of the plan. Saul gets them to a monarchy, but not a good one. David improves the monarchy and gets the ark to Jerusalem, but has been too violent to build the temple. Solomon builds the temple, but …

    Comment by JJS — August 8, 2017 @ 11:18 am | Reply

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