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The First Book of Samuel (18)

J Riddle, Cheshunt

Chapter 8.1-22 GIVE US A KING (Cont)

2. The demands of the king (vv.7-18)

God answered Samuel’s prayer in two ways. A McShane points out: "There are occasions when even the best of men cannot stop what they feel to be wrong, but faithfulness to God and His truth compels them to so speak, that no doubts can be left in the minds of wrong-doers about the seriousness of their crimes".

God strengthened Samuel (vv.7-8)

Samuel was to accede to their request. At first glance, this is rather surprising. Some commentators have deduced from this that it was the will of God for Israel to have a king, although this was not the right time and, in any case, their motives were wrong. This is certainly not the case in 10.19 and 12.17! It seems more feasible to suggest that God allowed His people to have a king to prove that human arrangements, however attractive and logical, are only second best. As a result of their choice Israel would suffer. "And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day" (8.18). Compare Psalm 106.14-15: Israel "lusted exceedingly (for flesh to eat) in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul". The nation even suffered under Solomon (1 Kings 12.4). Let us make it our aim to go for God’s best in our lives. Remember Isaiah 55.8-9: "…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts". Aim high! There was, however, another reason for allowing Israel to have a king (see 9.16).

Samuel learnt that there was a cost in serving God. It meant sharing the reproach of His will and His word. "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them." The Lord Jesus made this lesson clear: "Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also" (Jn 15.20-21). If you intend to serve God expect trouble from the world, and, in particular, trouble from the religious world.

Samuel learnt that God understood his position. This is the other side of the coin. "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them." In rejecting Samuel, Israel rejected God Himself. Saul of Tarsus learnt this lesson on the Damascus road (Acts 9.4). When we are under pressure, it is heartening to know that "we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 4.15).

Samuel learnt to be longsuffering. God had "suffered…their manners in the wilderness" for forty years (Acts 13.18), and it hadn’t ended there. It continued "even unto this day". Now it was Samuel’s turn! "So do they also unto thee."

God warned Israel (vv.9-18)

C E Hocking sums these verses up as follows: "In His grace and mercy, God made them aware of the consequence of their choice. The change would prove for the worse, not the better. The outward majesty of the royal state would be matched by the despot’s will. Absolute submission would be demanded by ‘the king that shall reign over (you)’". In this connection, we must notice the repeated expression, "He will take" (vv.11,13,14,15,16,17). It was "taking" rather than "giving" (compare Lk 12.32). It would be a profitable study to contrast the demands of the king with the blessings and benefits bestowed by God. For example, "He will take your sons", but God has given His Son, and we are made "sons of God". The appointment of a king would bring bondage. He would make appointments, against which there could be little protest, and create a vast organisation. As A McShane observes, "the simple dwelling and living habits of Samuel would not be acceptable to the monarch of the nation, and would not be in keeping with the stately palaces of the surrounding kings. If they wanted to be like the nations, they would have to pay the high price entailed by their demand". In this connection, it is significant that Israel’s great leaders of the past, such as Moses and Joshua, lived amongst the people and shared their simple lifestyle. This is the pattern for leadership today amongst God’s people (see 1 Pet 5.1-3). Compare Acts 20.28 (JND): "Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, wherein the Holy Spirit hath set you as overseers".

A McShane points out that the court of Israel’s king would be a replica of the courts of Egypt. We have only to read the Bible narratives for confirmation. Chariots and horses, claims on the land, servants and slaves, all remind us of Egypt. It is equally obvious that Christendom has copied the world, and continues to do so. God faithfully warned Israel of the consequences of making "a king...like all the nations", and it is, equally, a warning to us. But their warning was all to no avail.

3) The determination for a king (vv.19-22)

The expressions, "the people refused to obey" and "we will have a king over us", strike a chilling note (see 15.22-23). We must look at the implications of their reasons for desiring a king.

It meant loss of separation

"That we also may be like all the nations." They had already made this clear (v.5). It was a far cry from the way Balaam described them: "Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations" (Num 23.9). It is always regrettable when "the wisdom of men" and "the wisdom of this world" (1 Cor 2.5-6) become the wisdom of God’s people. Remember, we are not to be "conformed to this world" (Rom 12.2).

It meant devaluation of priesthood

"That our king may judge us." When there was a matter too difficult for local settlement, the parties concerned were to go "into the place which the Lord thy God shall choose; And thou shalt come unto the priests the Levites, and unto the judge that shall be in those days, and inquire; and they shall shew thee the sentence of judgment" (Deut 17.8-12). The priest is described there as a man "that standeth to minister there before the Lord thy God". It was God’s purpose that His mind and will should be conveyed by priestly men (Mal 2.7). This is precisely what will happen in the Millennium (Ezek 44.24). But today, religious leaders debate and decide without even mentioning the name of God! When was the last time that the leaders of the so-called Established Church in this country opened their Bibles, prayed for divine guidance, took note of God’s will, and thundered, "Thus saith the Scripture"?

It meant displacement of faith

"That our king may...go out before us." They wanted a visible head. Godly kings made it clear that the people should look beyond them for leadership. Jehoshaphat is an example: "We have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee. And all Judah stood before the Lord" (2 Chr 20.12-13).

It meant diminished responsibility

"That our king may...fight our battles." Once again, this represented a transfer of faith from the Lord to the king. It is all very different from their last encounter with the Philistines, when "the children of Israel said to Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the Lord for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines" (7.8). While, obviously, the people did not expect their king to ride out alone against the enemy, they were more than happy to let him take the responsibility. Some Christians are rather like that. Why should we concern ourselves? After all, what do we have leaders for? It’s all down to the "oversight" isn’t it? But shouldn’t we all be "valiant for the truth?" (Jer 9.3). Aren’t we all deeply involved in the spiritual conflict described in Ephesians 6.10-12? Shouldn’t we all "stand up and be counted"?

In the final analysis, the king would only be as good as his own character. It was a poor exchange for the Lord who says, "I am the Lord, I change not" (Mal 3.6). "And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city." We now wait to see what happens next.

To be continued.

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