1 Samuel 8:6-21
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 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. 8 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. 9 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.”
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.”
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.”
As Christians, we are a people who live beneath the Lordship of Christ, and at the same time we are waiting for God to set all things right and reign over the earth. We long for release from the tyranny of self-rule and autonomy, and desire for God to make the earth his footstool and reign as King. Or do we?
Imagine this: the people of Israel, under the leadership of Judges, went through repeated cycles of turning away from God, enduring immense difficulty, crying out for God, and God delivering them from hardship and oppression. They know what will see them through to safety on the other side of hardship! They have sat through the lesson, repeatedly, of what will happen if they turn away from God and follow idols. When the book of Samuel begins, God alone forces the Philistines to return the Ark of God’s presence, and the people enjoy a period of peace with Samuel as God’s prophet and God as King of Israel.
Make no mistake, Israel, our ancestors, claimed to be a people who followed God as their God and King. Israel had oriented themselves around the worship of God and were a lone, monotheistic people amid polytheists. They were distinct, meant to be set apart. And one of the most distinctive things about Israel was that they had no earthly King, but God. This was truly unique among the nations of the Ancient Near East, whose kings claimed to be at least representatives of the gods, and at most gods themselves. And yet, here in 1 Samuel 8, the rejection of God as King is total. The people cried out for a King, even though God, through Samuel, tells them exactly what allegiance to an earthly king would (and still does) entail.
We see that the people of Israel have lionized the idea of a King – the King will be strong! He will be mighty! He will wage war and protect Israel and accomplish his purposes through bloodshed! He will restore respectability to Israel through dominance.
We are meant to read these desires of Israel expressed here against the words of Hannah’s song from 1 Samuel Chapter 2:
“…It is not by strength that one prevails;
10 those who oppose the Lord will be broken.
The Most High will thunder from heaven;
the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.
“He will give strength to his king
and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
We Christians understand that God’s King, God’s anointed, is the Christ who is to come. Now let’s evaluate the mission Christ adopts for himself against the mission statement Israel crafted: Isaiah 61, which Christ adopts as revealing his purpose, says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…” We so often think we know how God will accomplish God’s Kingdom come, but should it really surprise us that God’s Kingdom operates differently than how we imagine it should? This King in Isaiah 61 turns the idea of the Warrior King on its head!
Let us take up anew the call to pray for “(God’s) Kingdom Come,” and to truly mean it. When we insist upon the idol of what we think God’s Kingdom should look like instead of allowing God to reign as God wills, we add misery to misery, instead of righting the wrongs we sought to remedy. We can trust God to be our King as God sees fit, and we can remove our idols from the throne of this world.
God, thank you for desiring to rule over us, in order that we might enjoy the peace of your Kingdom. Help us to identify the ways we have idolized our conception of what your Kingdom should be, and instead to pray for you to truly accomplish your purpose in this world. We ask to be included in the good work you are doing, for the glory of your name, God. In the name of Christ, the true King, we pray. Amen.