Now when Samuel got old, he appointed his sons to serve as Israel’s judges. The name of his oldest son was Joel; the name of the second was Abijah. They served as judges in Beersheba. But Samuel’s sons didn’t follow in his footsteps. They tried to turn a profit, they accepted bribes, and they perverted justice.
So, all the Israelite elders got together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So, appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” It seemed awfully bad to Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” so he prayed to the Lord.
The Lord answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected me as king over them. They are doing to you only what they’ve been doing to me from the day I brought them out of Egypt to this very minute, abandoning me and worshipping other gods. So, comply with their request, but give them a clear warning, telling them how the king will rule over them.”
Then Samuel explained everything the Lord had said to the people who were asking for a king. “This is how the king will rule over you,” Samuel said:
“He will take your sons and will use them for his chariots and his cavalry and as runners for his chariot. He will use them as his commanders of troops of one thousand and troops of fifty, or to do his plowing and his harvesting, or to make his weapons or parts for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, or bakers. He will take your best fields, vineyards, and olive groves and give them to his servants. He will give one-tenth of your grain and your vineyards to his officials and servants. He will take your male and female servants, along with the best of your cattle and donkeys, and make them do his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and then you yourselves will become his slaves! When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you chose for yourselves, but on that day the Lord won’t answer you.”
But the people refused to listen to Samuel and said, “No! There must be a king over us so we can be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”
Samuel listened to everything the people said and repeated it directly to the Lord. Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Comply with their request. Give them a king.”
Samuel then told the Israelite people, “Go back, each of you, to your own hometown.” (Common English Bible)
In the days of the prophet Samuel, the people asked for a king. They had never had one before. Samuel, and others before him, served as Judges, leading the people in special times and acting as intercessors between the people and God.
Samuel was quite displeased that the people asked for a king. Ever the wise and discerning leader, Samuel understood there were two realities behind such a request:
- Israel wanted to be just like all the other nations in having a king.
- Israel was rejecting God as their rightful king.
The ancient Israelites wanted from an earthly king what God was really supposed to do for them. Whereas an earthly mortal king can only rule partially and temporarily, the eternal sovereign God reigns supreme over everyone and everything.
It is impossible for an earthly king to provide the totality of everyone’s needs within a geographical realm. Yet, even in this present day and age, all kinds of people still look to earthly politicians, pundits, presidents, prognosticators, pastors, and/or people in charge to meet their every need. That’s likely why so many people get upset and have strong visceral reactions to politics and the church – far too many of them expect a human authority figure to do for them what God is supposed to do.
No other human being can fight your battles for you. No other person can do your relational and spiritual work for you. We must all take charge of our own lives and be responsible to develop and cultivate spiritual and relational practices which connect us with the God who is in charge of the universe.
We can then ask God for what we need and want according to divine purposes, and not ask for what everyone else has that we don’t. God ended up giving Israel a king, even when it was not the best of ideas on their part.
Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.
All-wise God, I look to you for the discernment to even know what I ought to be asking for in prayer. Guide me into truth and grace so that in everything I will make wise decisions that reflect your sovereignty over the church and the world. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
**Above art comes from the Morgan Picture Bible, c.1250. The aging Samuel is approached by four elders representing the people of Israel who ask him to anoint a King so that Israel will be powerful like other nations. Samuel warns them of the dangers a king would pose to the liberties of the Israelite people.