Wednesday, January 30, 2019

So you want a king? (1 Sam 8:1-22)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2019

When you pray it is important to word your petitions carefully so there is no confusion about what you are requesting.
A young boy and his grandmother were walking along the sea shore when a huge wave appeared out of nowhere, sweeping the child out to sea. The horrified woman fell to her knees, raised her eyes heavenward, and begged the Lord to return her beloved grandson. Lo and behold, another wave reared up and deposited the stunned child on the sand before her, wet but unharmed. The grandmother looked the boy over carefully. He was fine. But still she stared up toward the heavens. "When we came here," she snapped indignantly... "he had a hat!"
When you pray it is important to word your petitions carefully so there is no confusion about what you are requesting.

God's people spent the first few hundred years after their exodus from Egypt trying to establish a presence in Canaan. They eliminated many of their opponents, as God instructed, yet not all, and they recently encountered an additional challenge to the conquest. While the Israelites have been moving into the land from the west, the Philistines have been moving into the land from the east and now occupy a significant portion of the coastal plain. To this point, the judges provided good leadership, but the latest judge, Samuel—more specifically, his sons—may not be up to the challenge. It is time for a change, a radical change in the leadership of God's people.' So there would be no question about what they want, the people subscribe to this adage: Be Careful What You Ask.

I. The people desire a king (1 Sam 8:1-18).
1 Sam 8:1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel. 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 walk in 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 walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have."
To this point in the history of Israel, God is the nation's leader, a position He demonstrates most clearly by bringing the people out of Egypt and into Canaan. He operates through human agents, like Moses and the judges, but His use of the miraculous leaves no doubt that He is the one working. Unfortunately, while God designed the system, the system has broken down, because human agents are fallible. The latest examples, Samuel's sons, are very fallible, a situation that has caused some concern among the people, as well as some consideration of an alternative solution.
A. Their request is understandable.
1. The priests are dishonest.
Samuel's sons are corrupt, guilty of abusing their religious authority. They are dishonest, take bribes, and pervert justice (v. 3), all in violation of God's explicit commands; and these activities disqualify them for service in the tabernacle of the Lord. But the priests' dishonesty is part of another problem.

2. The people are dissatisfied.
The nation God redeemed from slavery in Egypt is not content with His leadership alone. They want a king like other nations have. They claim they need a king, and their petition is not without merit, because the nation is in chaos: "Everyone did as he saw fit" (Judg 17:6; 21:25). They must have a unifying figure.
1 Sam 8:6 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 do."
B. Their request is consequential.
It betrays frustration with the current national leadership under Samuel. And there is more:
1. The petition shows their discontent.
a. It is not merely a rejection of the prophet.
b. It is actually a rejection of the Lord.
Furthermore, there are unforeseen ramifications the people are simply not considering, additional expectations this new level of bureaucracy brings.
1 Sam 8:10 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 do: 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 menservants and maidservants 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, and the LORD will not answer you in that day."
The people have not thought carefully about what this transfer of power to a monarchy will entail.
2. The petition shows their naivete.
a. A king will conscript their progeny.
b. A king will confiscate their property.
Thus far, God has imposed few restrictions on what the Israelites can do with their family or their finances. A king will be more controlling. The actual liberty and security they now have will suffer some diminution under a king. That God "will not answer" (v. 18) their prayers is because of their disobedience in choosing a human king over their heavenly king. NB: The problem is not merely having a human king, for God has included that office holder in His program:
Jer 33:20 "This is what the LORD says: 'If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, 21 then my covenant with David my servant...can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne."
Ezek 37:24 "My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees."
The problem is whenever God's people prefer their human king over their heavenly king.

Application: God's people had the opportunity for infallible divine rule, with all the liberty and security that form of governance brings. But they rejected it in favor of fallible human rule, with all the restrictions that form of governance brings. Although some forms of human rule are better than others (e.g., democracy versus autocracy, capitalism versus socialism), they all impose some additional layer of authority between man and God. A true theocracy is not presently available and will not be until the Messianic Age. Nevertheless, God still offers the benefits of His rule to all who yearn for them. As He says through Jeremiah: "You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart" (Jer 29:13). In other words, the benefits God offers are only available to you who look to Him in faith that He will give them. Moreover, you must want them and be willing to commit whatever effort He requires to acquire them. Only complete surrender to God will yield comparable support from God.

II. The people demand a king (1 Sam 8:19-22).
1 Sam 8:19 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."
A. Their request is objectionable.
  • Israel ignores the prophet.
Despite the prophet's objection—more importantly, despite the Lord's objection—the people insist on having their own way. Surprisingly, God accedes.
1 Sam 8:21 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 men of Israel, "Everyone go back to his town."
B. Their request is agreeable.
  • God heeds the people.
This may be an acceptable alternative, meeting several needs, but it is not the best outcome. For any situation, the best solution is the one that represents God's perfect will, which has no down side.

Application: The solution of a king illustrates the difference between God's perfect will, that which He prefers, and His permissive will, that which he allows. It was God's perfect will that His people continue to rely on Him alone for guidance and support. It was God's permissive will that His people have a human monarch to lead them.

In hindsight, as we compare the events that depend on the Lord to events that depend on the king, it is clear which is better. For example, when the Israelites faced the Egyptians before the people have troops or a king to lead them, God intervenes and employs what will become His favorite tactic (i.e., panic and confusion):
The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. (Exod 14:23-24)
Later, even when His people have troops as well as a king to lead them, God intervenes and employs His favorite tactic again:
Panic struck the whole army—those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties—and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.... Then Saul and all his men assembled and went to the battle. They found the Philistines in total confusion, striking each other with their swords. (1 Sam 14:15, 20)
God's tactic has the advantage of saving Israelite lives! He does not, however, intervene for those who oppose Him or who are not devoted exclusively to Him:
The Philistines fought against Israel; the Israelites fled before them, and many fell slain on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines pressed hard after Saul and his sons, and they killed his sons. (1 Sam 31:1-2)
They mourned and wept...for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. (2 Sam 1: 12)
The only disadvantage of depending on God alone, if there is one, is that His tactic requires faith that doing nothing will be effective in defeating an enemy. Yet that is what He advises:
"Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes" (Ps 37:7).
"Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (Ps 46:10).
What may not seem intuitive to you (i.e., doing nothing) is actually effective with God (i.e., trusting Him).

When the Israelites look at the nations around them, they notice a difference they think is an advantage they are lacking—a king "to go out before [them] and fight [their] battles" (1 Sam 8:19). Although they are disappointed with some of their current leaders, Samuel says, "A king will not be the improvement you expect, so Be Careful What You Ask. This caution is a reminder in general to be content with what God provides, because the alternative is not necessarily better.

For the Footnotes and Bibliography see the pdf here.

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Relevant and civil comments are welcome. Whether there will be any response depends on whether Dr. Manuel notices them and has the time and inclination to respond or, if not, whether I feel competent to do so.
Jim Skaggs