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Without a King

No one really talks about 1 Samuel 8. They never talk about the implications of it and how much forms a foundation for understanding much of Israel’s history post-Judges. At least, I’ve never heard anyone really talk about it. Except to mention it in passing. I would guess that most self-proclaimed Christians don’t even know this about God and His interactions with Israel. Probably most of my readers do though. Sadly, my words only seem to attract those who have an above average understanding of the Scriptures. This is going to be a lot of Scripture because I think this concept is relatively unread about.

Anyway, here is the story of 1st Samuel 8:4-22

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you; je will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be 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.” And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated then in the ears of the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.”

This idea, that God never wanted Israel to have a king, generally isn’t talked about when we talk about the history of Israel. We talk about Abraham, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, and the Kings as important figures in Hebrew history. How often do we talk about the kings in light of God’s desire that they never were? We don’t really. We should. At least some. I think it illuminates the histories of Kings and Chronicles.

If you have read through these books, you know what I mean. The stories within them are much more complex than I’m about to talk about them and there are beautiful truths about God and His people that are contained within these books, but sometimes the flow of the books feels repetitive. Here is King A, and he walked in the ways of David and feared the Lord and then he disobeyed God. His son King B was arrogant and did not obey the Lord and he did really bad things. His son King C also disobeyed YHWH and really messed things up. His son King D disobeyed YHWH and led his people into sin. His son King E feared the Lord and walked in his ways, but he didn’t destroy the idols… blah blah blah. When I read these stories, I’m overwhelmed by how messy and horrible it is. It seems like a terrible plan for a people set apart for God. And it is. And it was never God’s.

It was the Israelite people who begged for a king. They wouldn’t take no for an answer. They wanted to be like the other nations. They wanted a person, a face, someone they can see and follow and blame to be in charge of them. The desires to be like other nations and for a human leader plagued the Israelites since the time of Moses. I don’t think it’s a stretch, and I think its implied in the above passage, to say that the desire for a king comes from the same desires that drive the Israelites constant turning to idols. They want to be like the other nations. They want something that is more physically tangible than YHWH to follow, worship, and blame. It’s why they had idols. It’s why they had kings.

Why didn’t God want them to have a king? He answers it in his words to Samuel. “they have rejected me from being king over them.” God wanted more intimate leadership. God wanted to be the one to guide their steps, their actions, their disputes, and the one to lead them in battle. It was not the plan of YHWH to try to work through another individual who was the political ruler with dictator power over the people. He wanted to be closer to them than that. But, God gave Israel what they wanted anyway. And He stayed with them anyway.

There are a few things about who YHWH is that I extract from this passage. God’s humility shows itself in so many of our Scriptures. The fact that He would create us is humble. The fact that He would even interact with us is humble. The fact that He would compromise with us as we are rejecting Him is humble beyond what I can understand.* God wants to be close to us. He wants to be more than a leader of our leaders, He wants to be our king directly. Our being set apart from the world around us is about more than getting rid of sin and loving people well. Loving God well, and being set apart in that way, also includes the ways that we perceive and follow our leaders, political rulers, and judges. The Israelites want something between them and God. They want something corporeal before them that is between them and God: idol, king, priest, leader, temple, etc. They want a mediator. More on this later. Hope you learned something.


*I wonder how much God compromises for us now. I wonder how we can change it so He doesn’t have to. I wonder how much of the Bible is about God compromising. And I wonder if there are many places in Scripture where God is compromising to be with us and Scripture doesn’t actually tell us, it’s simply what God is doing, not because He is a compromiser, but because his humble love is boundless.

Categories: Miscellaneous
  1. Joel Morgan
    July 26, 2011 at 7:36 am

    King, golden calf, stone or wood idol, our nationalistic zeal for democracy and the American way….

    All idols?

  1. August 8, 2011 at 11:09 pm

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