Chapter 7 of 1 Samuel records an amazing repentance. After 20 years of neglecting the Lord and his ark of the covenant, the people begin to lament for the Lord. Samuel calls for repentance and intercedes for the people. God responds by defeating the Philistines and giving the land peace from invading enemies. Samuel now judges Israel and it seems that Israel is on its way to restoration. But things are about to fall apart. So we are going to see how Israel fails and what this teaches us about what we do not need.
The Problem (8:1-9)
A significant amount of time passes by and now Samuel is old. Samuel makes his sons judges over Israel. But there is a problem. His sons are not like him. His children did not follow in his ways. His sons turned away from the Lord, seeking money, taking bribes, and perverting justice. This is an important declaration. Remember that we have seen in the book of 1 Samuel that the author seems to be pointing to Samuel as the great rescuer of Israel. Samuel has been contrasted to Eli and his sons. Samuel is born to a barren woman. Samuel lives in the presence of the Lord. Samuel follows the Lord and does not seek his own way like Eli and his sons. Further, a prophecy was given in 1 Samuel 2:35 that God would raise up for himself a faithful priest who will do what is in God’s heart and mind. His dynasty will not end and he will serve before the Lord’s anointed. Everything seems to be pointing to Samuel and his lineage. But now we see that Samuel’s lineage is not going to be the hope for Israel. Further, Samuel is never declared to be the priest of God. He is the prophet of God and he is judge over Israel. The text is making it clear to us that Samuel is not the answer. In fact, Israel now understands that Samuel is not the answer.
The elders of Israel come to Samuel as recorded in verses 4-5. They tell Samuel that he is old and cannot be relied upon any longer. His sons are a problem and do not walk in the ways of the Lord like Samuel does. So Israel has an answer. They have a solution to the problem. They want Samuel to appoint a king to judge them like how other nations have a king. I want us to think about what is happening here and how different it is from what we saw in chapter 7. In chapter 7 when the people were troubled they came to Samuel and asked him to plead to the Lord on their behalf regarding the Philistine problem. But the elders do not do that this time. They do not come to Samuel and tell him that there is a problem with Samuel’s sons so plead to the Lord for an answer about who will lead us. Rather, the people have their own solution. The people are going to tell Samuel, which is ultimately telling God, what their answer is from their own desires and their own wisdom. The elders do not seek what God’s answer would be. They have their answer and they are telling their answer to God. We want a king.
The second problem about this request is that they desire for a king because they want to be like the other nations. Now it is important to note that God anticipated that the people would demand a king and even made provision for it in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. But God did not want the people to have a king who would act like the other kings of the nations. The king was to act on behalf of God and completely trust in God. The problem is that Israel did not need the kind of king the people were looking for. Remember that the book of Deuteronomy declared to Israel that if they would obey the Lord, God would repel their enemies (Deuteronomy 28). Obedience and repentance would solve their problems. But the problem is that they want to be like the nations. God had called Israel to be high above the nations (Deuteronomy 26:19), not like them. God wanted Israel to stand out and be different. But Israel did not want to be different. Israel did not want to stand out.
Samuel understands these problems and hates their request. Samuel prays to God about what the people are demanding. Listen to verse 7. The people have not rejected Samuel, but have rejected God from being king over them. God’s message to Samuel is that Samuel would not take this personally. This is not really an issue with Samuel. The first three verses make it sound like the problem is Samuel and his sons. But that is not really the problem. The problem is that the people do not want God to be their king. Rejecting Samuel is a picture of the people’s rejection of God. Rejecting God’s prophet and judge is rejecting God himself. But God will allow this decision. God tells Samuel to obey the voice of the people and warn them about this decision (8:9). God does not stop our foolishness or sinfulness. He warns us and tells us that we are not getting what we think we are getting.
What The King You Want Will Do (8:10-18)
Verse 10 is important. Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people. Samuel tells them that they are rejecting God. Then he tells them what the king that they want will do to them. Your king will take your children as slaves and workers for him (8:11-13). The king you want will take your best fields for himself (8:14). The king you want will take taxes from you, taking a tenth of your grains and giving it to his officers and servants (8:15). The king you want will take your best servants and best animals and put them to work for himself (8:16-17). The king you want will enslave you (8:17). The king you want will distress so that you will cry out to the Lord because of this king, but the Lord will not answer you (8:18). The Lord will not answer you when you cry out about what your king is doing. In short, Samuel tells the people that they do not understand what they are asking for. You do not want what you think you want.
We need to hear this message. We do not want what we think we want. We think that our wisdom will lead to exactly what we want. God is constantly telling that our wisdom will lead to our destruction and not our joy and happiness. God tells us what we are pursuing is going to hurt us, not help us. The scriptures are filled with pictures and declarations from God that the direction we are going in this life is disaster, not rescue or satisfaction.
Stubborn Refusal (8:19-23)
Even after Samuel gives all of these warnings, the people reused to listen to Samuel. They do not care about the warnings because they so desperately want to be like the nations. I want us to see the insult of verse 20. The people not only want a king to be like the nations, but they want a king to go out and fight their battles for them. God was the one who would fight their battles. We just observed God doing this for Israel in chapter 7. We see God doing this in the whole book of Joshua. The people want a king who will fight for them like the nations have. God was not enough for the people. The people do not think they are rejecting God but this is exactly what they are doing. So the people stubbornly plow forward against all of the warnings. The people reject God’s words and demand a king to be like the nations.
So what do we learn from Israel’s failures? I want to observe two points from the text. First, we should consider that being like the world is not going to make your life better. Going with the crowds is not the answer for your life. We are easily tempted to think that if we could just act more like the world, share the values of the world, and think like the world then our lives would be better. But God tells us that our lives will not be better but worse. You do not want to follow your desires. You do not want to listen to your heart. You do not want to put your hope in this world. In the same way, Israel seemed to think if they had a different leader that this would make all their lives better. Samuel did not do the job that we want and neither have his sons. But if we had a king then things would be better. We do this every four years in our country where we think a different president is going to make everything so much better in our lives. Every new president is presented as our savior who will either rescue us from the prior administration or continue to a greater degree the prior administration’s policies. This time, this president will make everything better. We need to see that this is never true. Our lives are not so dramatically better or different every four years. But worse than this, we are rejecting God as our king in our lives when we look to our political leaders in this light. This is true especially now. If we are looking to our president, to our governor, to our county, to our health department, to our mayor, or to any other human for this crisis we face, then we are rejecting God as our king. God is our king. God is our help. God is our only savior. Being like the world and turning to the world is not going to help. What is even worse is God will turn us over to the desires of our hearts (Romans 1:25). God will give us what we want. If we want this world to save, then see what that will look like. God will turn us over to our desires, despite his warnings, so that we will experience and see the disaster of our decisions. We must listen to God who calls us to look to him and not look like the world or turn to the world for help. Worldliness is a rejection of God as king.
Finally, we need to see the picture of God’s king. The king that the people will want will only hurt them. But think about the king that God will ultimately give to us in Jesus. Jesus is the king who takes nothing but gives everything. Jesus is the complete opposite of the picture presented by God regarding the earthly kings Israel would experience. Jesus is the king you need. Jesus is the king who will give you everything that you truly need. Think about Jesus as our king. Jesus takes nothing from you. He asks you to give from the heart. But he does not take. Not only does Jesus not take but asks you to give, he asks you to give only after he has given to you. God does not say, “Give to me and then I will give to you.” God always gives first, takes nothing, and then asks us to give back to him. Our King Jesus is the king we need. What we do not need is another physical leader. What we do not need is to conform to the world. What we do not need is to look to the world for answers. What we need is to listen to God who gave us the king we need so that we can enjoy this life and the life to come.