By Al R. Hodges
Retired IMB Missionary
I Samuel, chapters 8-11, provide the account of how Israel transitioned from being led by judges into a monarchy led by a king. Judges were used by God as national leaders for the 12 tribes of Israel. However, there came a time when they wanted to be like the nations surrounding them. They demanded a king.
Samuel had been a very good judge, but he was growing old. His two sons that he had hoped would replace him chose to live for personal gain, even to the point of taking bribes and perverting justice (I Samuel 8:1-3). The elders of Israel were concerned for national leadership. They approached Samuel with two problems and a proposed solution. Samuel was old, and would soon die. His sons had proven themselves unfit to succeed him. Therefore, “make us a king, like all the other nations have” (I Samuel 8:5).
The proposal displeased Samuel, so he turned to the Lord in prayer. The Lord clarified for Samuel, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me that I should not reign over them” (vv. 6-7). Here is the crux of every spiritual struggle. Who will reign over your life today? Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10). We pray daily for God to rule our lives, otherwise we will want self-rule. As the Israelite elders, we will want to “fit in” and be like the world.
Perhaps to Samuel’s surprise, God told him to “heed the voice of the people in all they say to you.” This demand for a king was in line with Israel’s historic rebellion against God’s sovereignty (I Samuel 8:7-9). God also told him to warn the people of the great personal cost each family would incur in having a king (vv. 10-18). The king would be a taker, and by having a king they would lose much more than they gained. God knew that the time would arrive when this would happen, so 300 years before in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, He provided guidance. There are times when God permits us to have what we insist on having, just to show us His way is best.
After Samuel rehearsed all the difficulties they would incur in having a king, the people refused to listen. They were insistent in their rebellion and so rejected Samuel’s warnings. “No! We want a king like all the other nations.” They demanded a king to judge them, to lead them, and to fight their battles for them (vv. 19-20). How strange they would so eagerly give the Lord’s job to a man!
Samuel prayed again. Great spiritual leaders constantly go to God in prayer. Again, God told him to do what the people wanted and make them a king. Samuel then sent the elders away, “every man to his own home town” (vv. 21-22). At this point, God had not revealed His choice of king. One might imagine Samuel sending the elders away temporarily so that in God’s time, the king would become known. Indeed, chapters 9-11 tell the story of how God worked in revealing His choice of Saul to be Israel’s first king. Let us take care in our Christian lives that each day we choose Jesus as our King!