Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. (1 Samuel 8:1-6)
Give Us A King
After the conquest of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua, the people of God were ruled by judges. There was no central government such as a king for nearly three centuries. When the people would do wicked in the sight of the Lord, they would be delivered to the oppression of an invading army who subjugated them for many years. In a continual pattern of rebellion, repentance, and restoration, the children of Israel lived under judges who first delivered them and then ruled over them. The last great judge of Israel was Samuel, son of Elkanah and Hannah. He was an old man when he gave leadership to his two sons, Joel and Abijah. As great a judge Samuel would be remembered, his sons did not walk in his ways. Joel and Abijah were greedy for money, took bribes, and perverted the law of God to their own gain. Finally, the people had enough and told Samuel they wanted a king to rule over them. All the nations around Israel had the pomp and circumstance of a kingly leader, and the people of Israel wanted to be like the nations around them.
The request for a king came as a disappointment to Samuel, but it was not a surprise to the Lord. When God gave the law to Israel, He had told them one day they would desire a king to rule them like the nations around them. The desire of the Lord was for the people to always trust in Him to win their battles, provide all their needs, and protect them from harm. Canaan was conquered by the power of God. The land of Canaan was a place flowing with milk and honey by the provident hand of the Lord. When peace came across the land, it was by the will of God. Everything the people needed, God would provide. He promised to bless them without measure if they obeyed Him. As a nation, Israel was the most powerful, prosperous, and protected people on earth, but it was not enough. Time and again, God delivered them from their enemies, and they soon forgot. After many years of judges, the people demanded a king.
God granted the request for the people to have a king. Three kings ruled over a united kingdom for one-hundred-twenty years. And then the wheel came off. After the death of Solomon, the kingdom was divided into ten tribes to the north under the leadership of Jeroboam and the remaining tribes ruled by Rehoboam. Over two hundred years later, the Assyrians would capture Samaria, and the ten tribes disappeared completely. Three hundred forty-five years after the death of Solomon, Nebuchadnezzar would burn Jerusalem and destroy the temple. It took less than five hundred years for the people to demand a king and then watch as the nation of Israel enter bondage that would span seven hundred years. The Babylonians would enslave the people of God for seventy years. Then the Persians, Greeks, and Romans would keep the nation of Israel in a subservient role of slavery until the final blow in 70 A.D., when the Roman general Titus would destroy the temple and effectively end the Jewish nation.
The people wanted a king, and God gave them what they wanted. Their first king was an enraged despot who spent most of his resources to chase after a shepherd boy. Saul would die in battle by his own hand. David and Solomon would raise Israel to a rich and powerful nation, the marvel of the world. During the divided kingdom, the kings that ruled the northern tribes were all evil – without exception. Only in the southern kingdom were there periods of peace by those who walked in the way of the Lord. This did not keep the nation from being destroyed and taken captive. If the historian would have reflected upon the history of Israel leading up to the Babylonian conquest, he would well observe the decision to have a king was not a wise choice. It did not bring joy to the people as they thought. They would become like the nations around them, but like the nations around them, they fell into disfavor with the Lord. When the people of God become like the nations around them, they become like the people of the nations around them. This led to their downfall and eventual destruction.
Israel wanted a king, and God gave them many kings. The challenge for the Christian is to trust in the King of Kings and Lord of Lords with no desire to have the kings of the world lead them. So often, the kings of materialism, self-gratification, indulgences, pride, arrogance, and human wisdom rule the hearts of God’s people. Seeking to be like the people of the world, the child of God submits to the failed view of the sensual pleasures thinking that joy and happiness can be found apart from God. The people of Israel desired a king and were destroyed. When the heart of the Christian tries to serve God and be like the world, there will be no happy ending. It is sad to watch souls seeking kings in their lives without serving King Jesus. There is only one king that will bring joy and happiness, and His name is I AM. Seeking after other kings will never bring what is desired. Read the history of Israel and decide if wanting a king was a good idea. Examine your life and see how well the kings of this world are serving your needs. If the answer is not clear now, it will be when you die. The eternal question will be: which king did you serve?