Samuel was one of my favorite leaders of Israel. From boyhood he was serving God in crazy ways, even in stark contrast to those who were supposed to be the spiritual authority.
Unfortunately, his sons didn’t follow in his footsteps. We’re told that, “his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice.” (1 Samuel 8:3). We’re not told if it was due to Samuel’s indulgence (like Eli with his sons) or just their own willful rebellion. But it was what it was.
The elders of Israel saw this as an opportunity to get something they’ve wanted for a long time. Notice the quick jump in logic: “Look, you [Samuel] are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (v. 5). I find it hilarious. “Hey, your sons are bad people. Therefore, let’s move away from the judges system (?) and go straight into getting a king (because that will…fix it?). Oh, and we want to be like the other nations.” Gotta give them points for honesty.
God saw this afar off. We have evidence as far back as Deuteronomy 17 — God even mentions that they’ll want a king in order to be like other nations, and it’ll be after they’re settled in the Promised Land. Pretty specific. Just because God knew it was coming didn’t make it okay, though. They were explicitly rejecting the idea of God being their king (v. 7).
There are two main lessons I take from this chapter of Scripture. Both require a bit more context.
Creating a Crisis
At the end of chapter 7, we learn what the years with Samuel as a judge were like:
“So the Philistines were subdued, and they did not come anymore into the territory of Israel . And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. Then the cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored to Israel, from Ekron to Gath; and Israel recovered its territory from the hands of the Philistines. Also there was peace between Israel and at the Amorites. And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.” (v. 13-15)
Chapter 8 picks up “when Samuel was old,” so there were a lot of years of peace. No fear of the Philistines. Continual faithful instruction and encouragement from Samuel. And my guess, that’s a lot of time for rebellious people to get bored.
As soon as the elders of Israel could find something (Samuel’s rebellious sons), they latched onto that as a foothold to get what they wanted: a king. Why? To be like the other nations.
So…being like the other nations was not supposed to be the goal of God’s people. In fact, the goal was the opposite: to be such an example that all other nations would want to be like them. But unsurrendered hearts can’t think like that.
It looks like they took the blessings of God (decades of peace and safety) and decided to create a crisis themselves to get what they wanted. A human king.
Rebellion Can’t Be Reasoned With
I love the persistence of God. After being explicitly rejected as the sovereign of Israel, and then comforting Samuel by saying “Look, they rejected me, not you,” God instructs Samuel to explicitly tell the Israelites what will happen with a king: “you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.” (v. 9).
And Samuel does just that. Here’s some details:
- He’s going to take your sons
- He’s going to take your daughters
- Many people of the nation will work for him. Just him.
- He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves
- He will take a tenth of what you produce and give it to his own people
- He will take your male servants and female servants
- He will take your finest working animals
He ends with: “And you will cry out in that day because of our king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.” (v. 18).
The next two verses kill me. I can’t:
“Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
Okay, first: what battles are they talking about? God through Samuel has preserved peace for them for decades. Why are they itching to go back to war so badly?
Second, they didn’t hear a word Samuel said. The overarching, all-consuming, illogical fixation for a king: to be like other nations. That’s. It.
At this point, the people had already chosen their direction. I’m glad God still shared the reasons why this was a bad idea, but it was as if He didn’t. Rebellion can’t be reasoned with. Only an open heart and mind can.
Reworded to apply to my own heart:
- Do I create crises when I’m bored? Make an issue when there isn’t one?
- Do I use the blessings of God as an excuse to go my own way?
- When God is telling me something will hurt me, am I really listening?