Yesterday evening I was reading 1 Samuel, a book that I don’t jump to like I might Psalms, James, or Philippians. I admit I was reading through quickly, scanning for the stories and not taking it in verse by verse. 1 Samuel 8 finds the Israelites losing their faithful spiritual leader, Samuel. Because Samuel’s sons did not follow in the Lord’s ways the Israelites did not have a natural choice for their next leader, so they conclude that they want a king. This disturbs Samuel. He knows the tyranny and conflict that a king could bring to the Israelites and he advises them against the idea, warning them of the rights the king may take away, the wars he will engage them in, and the freedoms they could lose. Still, the Israelites will not hear of it. They want a king.
I’ve heard this story countless times--even back in Sunday School, in a storybook with watercolor illustrations or maybe with the help of paper figures on popsicle sticks. But this time verses 19-20 grabbed my attention and pulled me out of my lazy scanning,
‘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.”’
The Israelites were insistent and so the Lord gave them what they wanted: a king. The Israelites were never good listeners. Their disobedience sent them wandering for 40 years in the desert, but that wasn’t enough. The judges that God sent tried to lead the Israelites in His ways and yet “everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Even with God’s relentless love and faithfulness they continued to walk in their own evil ways.
The Israelites couldn’t even recognize that in all of their incredible feats, from the walls of Jericho crumbling down as they marched, to just 300 men and Gideon defeating the enormous Midianite army, God had been their leader. They still seemed to think that they needed a king to fight their battles for them.
The cries of the Israelites struck me because they sounded like my own. They sounded like when I said to God,
“No, God! I don’t have time for you today. I want to be successful like everyone else. I really need to stay this busy and be involved in these committees to do well in my job and my classes so my status can help me fight my own battles.”
“No, God! I don’t want to go there. I want to be like everyone else, with nice things surrounding me and comfort to help me fight my own battles.”
“No, God! I’m not going to say that. I want everyone else to like me, I need friendship and approval to help me fight my own battles.”
“No, God! I have my own idea for my future. Everyone else tells me this is what leads to happiness, I need to listen to what culture says so it can teach me how to fight my own battles.”
These excuses sometimes sound so reasonable, in my own mind it seems like they make a lot of sense--until I realize that my excuses only echo the Israelites’ foolishness thousands of years ago. It’s easy for me to scoff at them and wonder how they couldn’t see how faithful God had been to them, how he had provided for them at all times, how no king could ever lead them like God could. Even in the hard times, even when they were slaves in Egypt and wanderers in a vast desert, He didn’t leave them. How could they have thought they needed a king?
Yet God has always been faithful to me, he has provided for me at all times. Even in the difficult seasons he has provided perfectly. And I still fill my life with “kings.”
How often do we let our “kings” get in the way of our relationship with God? How often do we place our “kings” above Micah 6:8’s challenge to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” How often do we keep our mouths shut when we should speak up for the oppressed because we’re worried about how others will react? How often do we turn away to one who deserves mercy because we’re too consumed with our own obligations? How often do we become too obsessed with our appearances, our material possessions, our reputations, our goals, and forget that God doesn’t call us to comfort but rather humility?
The Israelites weren’t the only ones who let kings take priority over their relationship with God. What do you see as the “kings” in your life or in our culture? How has a “king” influenced your actions?