“And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”1 Samuel 8:18
Governance has always been a problem for God’s people. They chaffed under the cruel hand of Egyptian taskmasters, the divine guidance of Moses, the wisdom of God’s judges, and the rule of their own kings. After Moses and Joshua died, God used judges to govern his people. While there was a judicial-like function to the judges (Judges 4:4, 5), they were largely military leaders and deliverers. Even under the laissez-faire, decentralized governance of the judges, Israel was unruly, and “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). There was no respect of God, nor was there a concern for their fellow countrymen.
Israel settled in Caannan and soon began to seek a better way of governing. They thought they were wiser than God. The told priest, prophet, and judge Samuel that they wanted a king so they could be like all the nations (1 Samuel 8:5). Samuel was angry as he prayed. God revealed the shocking truth: “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). This is a pivotal moment in human history. Israel has repudiated God’s sovereignty over his people. The consequences of this decision would plague Israel for the remainder of its existence.
Surprisingly, God permitted their choice. He told Samuel to warn them, but allow them to have a king.
He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.
1 Samuel 10-17
Their desire would not be good. A king would bring conscription into the king’s service, taxation to support the king’s appetites, and effective servitude to the king. It was not a pleasant future for Israel. Any government which rejects God is bound to fail. As Paul wrote, “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). He speaks of a spiritual foundation that either will or will not bring one to salvation. But it is an appropriate reminder of what will happen when we reject God as our leader.
Israel would learn that there were even darker ramifications to their demand for a king. Because of their kings, they would divide into two nations, undergo long periods of wickedness in the palace and their own homes, be taken into slavery by pagan nations, see God’s temple destroyed, and watch the once-powerful empire become a footnote in history. One can only ponder what might have been if Israel humbled themselves under the hand of God.
The moment of 1 Samuel 8 marks the beginning of a slow decline into oblivion for the nation. Just 40 years after Jesus died, Israel would cease to exist. The Israel of the Bible was never restored and never will be. The Lord’s kingdom, the church, does exist and will not be overthrown.