Old, Old Story: King

Sunday’s Scripture:  1 Samuel 8:1-20

For many years after entering the Promised Land, the Israelites were governed by warrior-judges and God served as their king.  But when the last judge, Samuel, was old in age and his corrupt sons were poised to take over his duties, the elders of Israel accurately perceived a problem.  So they make a demand to Samuel using the basic argument of teenagers everywhere:

“…appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (1 Sam. 8:5).

Yes, the infamous – and generally ineffective – “But everyone else is doing it!”  After all, what parent would be convinced by this line of thinking?

Our Father God appears to be so convinced.

“Listen to them and give them a king,” God told Samuel (1 Sam. 8:22).

What?  This is just bad parenting.  Clearly the Israelites need to be asked, “If all the other nations were jumping off a cliff, would you do that, too?”  Clearly they are making a bad choice and need more than just a warning of what happens when you get a king (1 Sam. 8:11-18).

God is committed to this “free will” thing, even to the extent of being de-throned.  God allows the Israelites to make this bad choice… and then to live with the consequences.

After a mediocre reign by their first king, Saul, things went really well under King David.  Israel flourished and became a mighty nation under the leadership of the one who stayed 100% in love with God.  But after David came Solomon, and his wives who turned to other gods.  And after Solomon came a rapid succession of kings who, for the most part, were increasingly unfaithful to God.

Then things start to fall apart…

  • 922 BC:  Israel divides into Northern and Southern kingdoms
  • 722/721 BC:  Fall of Samaria (Northern Kingdom) to the Assyrian Empire
  • 587/586 BC:  Fall of Jerusalem (Southern Kingdom) to the Babylonian Empire; destruction of the Temple and exile into Babylon

Many of the later Old Testament passages are written during this exile, when the Israelites had essentially lost the land God promised to them.  One of my favorite Psalms is about longing to return to Jerusalem and the Temple:  “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (42:1).

God allows Israel to get a king “like other nations,” and God lets them live with the consequences.

Some people think God punishes us after we do something bad.  I disagree.  For starters, I believe Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross.  But more to the point here, my personal experience has been that God doesn’t need to punish me for my stupid mistakes.  I am plenty punished just by lying in the metaphorical bed I made for myself.

Maybe you find yourself in this situation today:  you made a mess for yourself, and you’re living in it.  Maybe it’s even a really big mess, the kind that keeps you awake at night.

If so, there is good news.  (In Christ, there’s always Good News.)  Your mess will not have the last word in your life.

In the case of the Israelites, God never totally left them.  Eventually, in 538 BC, the Persian Empire allowed them to return to their Promised Land.

But there’s more.

The Israelites asked for a king, and God gave them the kind of king they asked for.  One “like other nations.”  But in the fullness of time God would send the kind of king we really need.  One who came to serve rather than be served (Matthew 20:28).  One who came not as a warrior, but as a sacrifice.

A King who would bring forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

And because of that King, no mess is ever beyond God’s pardon and redemption.



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