Being Like Others
1 Samuel 8[i]
The people of Israel had a problem.
Samuel, who had been their judge and leader for many years, had appointed his sons, Joel and Abijah, to be judges. However, Samuel's sons were greedy and wicked men. Israel had a history of such men. Samuel had been the one who pronounced God's judgment on Eli and his sons for the same problem. In addition, during the time of the judges, Israel had been repeatedly oppressed by the surrounding nations. The Moabites, the Midianites, the Ammonites and the Philistines were a few of the nations that overran and oppressed Israel.
Judges chapter 2 makes it clear that the reason these nations were able to overrun Israel is because the Israelites rebelled against God and God turned them over to their enemies.
Therefore, between evil greedy descendants of good judges and strong, powerful nations surrounding them, the children of Israel were ready for change. The elders of Israel gathered to talk with Samuel. They were not really seeking a solution. They had a solution. They saw the strong nations around them and saw that those nations all had kings. They had determined that a King was the solution to their problem.
Judges 2:21-22 says, “I will no longer drive out the nations that Joshua left unconquered when he died. I did this to test Israel—to see whether or not they would follow the ways of the LORD as their ancestors did.”
The solution to Israel's problem was to follow the ways of the Lord. The answers they were seeking could have been found by seeking the Lord.
They expressed three things that they wanted from a King: 1) someone to judge them, 2) someone to lead them and 3) someone to fight their battles. These three things reflect a desire for peace and prosperity. They wanted to be strong. They wanted justice enforced. They wanted protection from the strong nations around them. They saw the solution as having a strong powerful leader in the person of a king.
However, the answer was to call upon and rely upon the name of the Lord. All these things God had promised to provide if they were but faithful to his covenant.
Proverbs 14:12 tells us, “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.” We are all prone to do this. As the old hymn said, "Prone to wander Lord I feel it."[ii] The things that happened to Israel happened as an example to us. We can learn much from them.
Jeremiah 17:5 says, “This is what the LORD says: "Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.”
In the next part of the story of 1 Samuel 8, we see this curse played out. This would be 1 Samuel 8:10-18. The results are predictable. Israel had a problem. They tried to solve it in their own way without God and so the results were predictable.
A rough outline of these verses would be: 1) a King will take your sons, 2) a King will take your daughters and 3) a King will take your property. This of course describes slavery. The king would take for his own benefit without regard to the cost to the people he was ruling. This could have been seen and understood simply by looking at the nations around them. This could have been understood from Israel's own history and experience with Egypt. The prediction given in 1 Samuel 8 does not require the foreknowledge of God to understand. A good look at history would teach all the lessons here.
This is how we are when we want something. We become blind to the predictable consequences.
God describes the situation from his point of view in Isaiah 65:1-2.
The LORD says, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on my name. All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people. But they follow their own evil paths and their own crooked schemes.”
The book of Proverbs chapter 8 (It is best if you turn to Proverbs for yourself on this one) personifies wisdom calling out to everyone and says:
1Listen as Wisdom calls out!
Hear as understanding raises her voice!
2On the hilltop along the road,
she takes her stand at the crossroads.
3By the gates at the entrance to the town,
on the road leading in, she cries aloud,
4“I call to you, to all of you!
I raise my voice to all people.
5You simple people, use good judgment.
You foolish people, show some understanding.
Then in chapter 9 verse 12 it says, “If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.”
This predictability in life applies to so many different situations. I will list just a few as examples. The Bible warns us against so many things, but we want what we want and so we end up in slavery because we refuse to listen. We refuse to learn from history. We refuse to learn by observing those around us.
Example 1. Sex outside of marriage. God warns us against sex before marriage and sex outside of marriage. The consequences are many, varied and far-reaching. Psychological issues like trust and self-worth are involved. Social issues such as children, parenting and family are involved. Health issues such as disease and addiction are involved. I could go on, but I have other examples.
Example 2. Alcohol. God warns us about the abuse of alcohol. Proverbs 23:29-31 says:
Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks. Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down.
One only has to look at the consequences of alcohol abuse in the world around us to know that it is a very serious problem. And yet, our world tends to mock teetotalers.
Example 3. Homosexual relations. God warns against it. God warns that a man should not look at a woman with lust in his heart. We are expected to turn our eyes. This applies to all sexual desires. God warns men and women against letting lust control them and/or acting on sexual desires outside of marriage. Sexual desires whether homosexual or heterosexual are to be under submission to God. The consequences for homosexual relations are much the same as for sex outside of marriage. However, we want what we want, and are blind to the consequences.
I could go on with examples. Should I talk about gluttony, greed, envy, malice, jealousy, gossip or strife?
On the other hand, perhaps I should talk about tithes and offerings. God encourages us to test his generosity, and see if he does not pay us back much more than what we give to him. Perhaps none of these examples speak to any issue in your life. However, I am certain that there are areas where your obedience to God is tested. There is a way for every person that seems right to that person, but it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12)
We all face problems. We all want peace and prosperity. However, seeking to get these things our own way leads to predictable results. Going our own way leads to slavery and death. Moreover, if we insist, God is very practical. He will let us have our way.
This is what we see in 1 Samuel 8:19–22. In verse 22, God says, "Do as they say, and give them a king." As a background to this, we should say that God had told Samuel, "They don't want me to be their King any longer." (1 Samuel 8:7)
It is enlightening to hear what God has to say about this incident at the end of the time of the kings. Hundreds of years later, God speaks of this incident and says:
Now where is your king? Let him save you! Where are all the leaders of the land, the king and the officials you demanded of me? In my anger I gave you kings, and in my fury I took them away. (Hosea 13:10-11)
Notice especially that God says, "In my anger I gave you kings." The people got what they wanted. They may have even thought of that as a blessing. When they got their king, they celebrated and rejoiced. However, it was just as God said. Predictably, they ended up calling out to God for deliverance from the very king they had wanted.
God is very practical. He does not enslave us - he delivers us from slavery. He does not force himself on us - he invites us to himself. If we refuse him, he lets us have our own way.
Romans 1 teaches clearly on this subject. Romans 1:21 says, “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused." In the following verses, it says three times, “God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired.” These are found in verse 24, verse 26 and verse 28 of Romans 1. In summary, verses 29 through 31 say:
Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.
As we said, the things that happened to Israel happened as examples to us. To avoid their fate, it is such a simple thing. God tells us that we are blessed if we just put our trust in him. In John 14:1, Jesus told his disciples, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me."
This really is the answer. It is not in having a king. It is not in getting what we want. The good, acceptable and perfect way is the will of God.
Are you trusting Jesus for everything today?
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
[ii] “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” Robert Robinson, 1757.