Read 1 Samuel 8
Israel Asks for a King
1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
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.”
Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”
In this chapter, Samuel, in his later years, enlists his sons to help with his duties as a judge. The problem, however, is that Samuel’s sons are corrupt. The tribal leaders of Israel decide the judge model of leadership is no longer working, and they want a king like every other nation.
Let’s take a moment to review God’s plan for the Israelites:
- God delivered them from Egypt and provided the Promised Land so they could be set apart as His people living according to His commands and worshipping only Him (see Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua).
- The Israelites struggled to follow God’s commands, reverting to the behavior and religion of those around them.
- God provided judges to serve as guides, refocusing the Israelites on God’s commands and organizing them for military campaigns when needed.
Now, Israel wants a king. God gave the Israelites every opportunity to follow His perfectly designed plan to set them apart, and they took every opportunity to be like everyone else. In His infinite mercy, God commands Samuel to warn the Israelites of the dangers of following an earthly king, but they demanded “We will have a king to rule us! Then we’ll be just like all the other nations. Our king will rule us and lead us and fight our battles” (v. 20).
Before we criticize the Israelites, let’s consider our own situation. God calls His followers to be holy – set apart. But how often do we, as Christians, find ourselves wanting to be like everybody else? Do we accumulate possessions, seeking security and acceptance? Do we join in rhetoric intentionally designed to stir anger? Do we stand by and stare while people on the margins of society suffer? Do we aspire to fit in more than we aspire to be set apart?
If we want to be like everybody else, God will let us. But just like the Israelites, we will miss the joy of God’s perfect design for our relationship with Him. Jesus came to show us how to be His people living according to His commands and worshipping only Him (John 3:16). We make a choice with our actions: to be like Jesus or like everybody else.
- In what way do you find yourself most wanting to be like everybody else?
- What warnings would God give against this desire/behavior?
- How does Jesus demonstrate God’s alternative to this behavior or desire?
By the Way
The message of choosing God’s design or choosing to be like everybody else continues in the New Testament. In John 15:19, Jesus states:
“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
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