1 Samuel 8:4-20 & 11:14-15
This weeks story gives us some interesting insight into the beginning of the monarchical or kingship era of Israel’s history. Israel has a very interesting history because from the time that Moses brought them out of Egypt and their society really began to form they didn’t have kings. They had no monarchy or great ruler.
Instead they were ruled by more of a theocratic style of governance. God was their king. Now God chose judges and prophets who experienced a close connection with God and implemented God’s will within society, but often times they only popped up when God felt like they were needed. They were not a constant in society at that time.
God anointed prophets like Moses, Joshua, Samson, Elisha, Elijah, and even Samuel. However, we see that this was not the way that the elders of Israel wanted to be ruled. They wanted a human authoritative figure to rule over them. To pass down laws and edicts. To give them direction and form them around the leaders will. This is something that they did not see as true under their current sociological structure. In their society they had to wait for God to respond. Which might take time. However, with a king things could happen more quickly.
Diving into our scripture we read, “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, ‘You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.’” (1 Samuel 8:4-5)
So the scene is set that elders of Israel are not happy and want things to change. They express their distrust in Samuel’s sons and call for a king. As we break down these first couple verses we see that this is a conversation between the elders and Samuel. God does not come into the equation until Samuel seeks out God counsel. So when the elders say in verse 5, “appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” (1 Samuel 8:5b) They are not asking for God to do that specifically. They are essentially saying “by whatever means necessary get us a king.” It seems they have very little care for God’s opinion in the matter or even Samuel’s opinion for that matter too.
Well Samuel is very hesitant about this. He does not see this as a good idea. Samuel therefore, being timid dismisses himself to talk to God and seek authority as to what to do. So Samuel prays to the Lord and the Lord responds, “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. 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. 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” (1 Samuel 8:7-9)
So for God this is nothing new. Apparently the people of Israel have pretty much been doing what they have wanted for centuries. They still followed God and his prophets, but also had their own gods that they followed and prayed to. Now this displeased God and we see that through the prophets and judges God has tried to get them to listen and pay attention, but in a lot of ways that people just were not paying attention.
Now it is not that God is giving up on the Israelites, because if you read on into both 1 and 2 Samuel you will see God never gives up on the Israelites. In fact God seeks to still bless Israel through the kingship trough David.
However, in all of this God has instilled in us the ability to choose. To choose between right and wrong, or good and evil. This is known as free will. Because of free will God allows us to choose. God gave us free will because God wanted our love to be authentic and genuine. Therefore, God gave us the ability to choose.
That is the nature behind the elders choice, and God does not say no, because God has given the people free will. We can gather that God is disheartened, but God does not want to take away this ability for humans to choose.
However, God does do one thing to help dissuade them against getting a king. God tells Samuel, “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.” (1 Samuel 8:9) Next Samuel recaps to the elders and people of Israel exactly what it is going to be like to have a king, and you want to know the worst part? It was pretty much spot on to what actually happened under the monarchy. Instead of saying No God tries to convince them not to get a king.
But do the people listen? NO!!! Here is v. 9
“But the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us. 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.’” (1 Samuel 8:19-20)
The Israelites are so focused on being like the other nations that they won’t even listen to God and what God has to say. In fact when what we hear from the couple of verses we read in the 11th chapter tells us how much they wanted a king.
“Then Samuel said to the people, ‘Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.’ So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.” (1 Samuel 11:14-15)
The Lord does not even anoint the king. If we look at the manner in which this verse is written God is not doing the anointing. The people do the anointing. Now lets give them credit they do it in the presence of God, but it seems in a manner in which the people are showing God that they can do what they want.
This story hits us in so many ways because we can read the next two books and see all of the bad things that happen through the monarchy. However, this story hits right down at the heart of free will, and our use of it. Because God gave us the ability to choose because he wanted our love to be genuine, and with that decision there are always the options to right and the options of wrong.
From this chapter we learn ways in which we make our decisions, how they make God feel, and that there are consequences for these decisions. The main point though is that we are the ones making these decisions. We are the ones who cause the outcome. None of this is God. In fact we hear how this causes God heartache or pain, and so God tries to warn them it the elders. Have their mind set.
So what is the Israelites biggest blunder in this situation? What is the bad decisions?
It is not necessarily that they want a king. Rather it is that they want to be like the other nations. Israel was not meant to be like other nations. They were meant to be different. Listen to these words from Exodus 7 v. 16 in an exchange between the Lord and Moses, “Say to him [Pharaoh], ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me [God] in the wilderness.’” (Exodus 7:16)
So the entire reason behind Israel becoming a nation is so that they can be different, so that they can be like God. Much like in the same way we are called to be non conformed to the world today as well. When we allow our urgings to be like the world drive who we are we begin to disassociate ourselves with who God wants us to be.
The nature of the wrong decisions in our free will is that we will choose to not be like God, and this makes God sad when we do not choose to be like him. God creates this species who has the ability to love and even gives them the choice as to whether or not they choose to love him. Then continually over and over again we choose to be like the world. To be like the other nations who have already chosen not to be like God, and we choose to be like them. We choose to be like them because their rulers physically lead them into battle. They have a human who sends down edicts and doesn’t have to wait for some high up God to tell them what to do.
We can look back at the choice by the Israelite elders and see that their biggest blunder was choosing to be like the rest of the world instead of listening to who God wanted them to be. They wanted it their way. They didn’t want to listen to God. It was all about what they wanted.
How do you do the same thing. How do you diverge off of the path of who God is calling you to be? How are you going off to be who the world is calling you to be? Or just as bad how often do you try and set the standards of who you are? How often do you try and create your own path?
God wants our genuine and authentic love. God wants us to be like him, but God gave us this free will so that our love would be genuine. However, in that there is the inherent risk that we will choose wrong. The idea that we might reject God’s love or choose to live life on our terms and not God’s.
How often do you take advantage of the free will that God has given to be more like who you want to be rather than who God wants you to be?