Included in Israel’s history are many colorful stories that teach timeless lessons. In approximately 1050 BC Israel was ruled by two judges named Joel and Abijah. These two judges were the sons of Samuel who was a very honorable man; however, these two sons didn’t take after their father. They took lightly the word of God, sought personal gain, interpreted the law to promote their personal agendas, and even accepted money from special interest groups.
“Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice.” I Samuel 8:1-3
Now all of this caused uproar among the people. They went to Samuel to voice their concerns and demanded change! They complained to Samuel that his sons were not fit to rule and things couldn’t continue as they were. They demanded that the very way in which they were governed be changed from a theocracy via judges to a king where governance would be vested in one man. The people were demanding to abandon the role of God in their political lives. They didn’t want to be a special people “under God,” rather they wanted to be like all the other nations.
“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel… and said to him, ‘Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’” I Samuel 8:4-5
This really upset Samuel who inquired of God as to what to do. The reply was that the people were really rejecting God and their demands had nothing to do with Samuel’s leadership. The people did not want God to interfere and get in the way of the pursuit of their own goals.
“But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ So Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel…‘They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt…they have forsaken Me and served other gods…’” I Samuel 8:6-8
Surprisingly, God told Samuel to give the people what they thought they wanted. He told him to let them have their way. He also told Samuel to tell the people exactly what it would be like to be ruled by a king so they would be totally knowledgeable as to what they were getting into and what to expect.
“Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you…however, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.” I Samuel 8:9
Well, Samuel followed God’s instructions and forewarned the people in great detail what it would be like if the changes they asked for were enacted, i.e. if they were ruled by a king. He told them they would lose many freedoms at the expense of supporting the king, his staff, and followers. He warned them that many free enterprises would be taken over by the king and then managed by appointed czars. He further warned them the government would take from those that had and reallocate it for the support of the king’s activities.
“So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people…‘This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you…He will appoint captains…to make his weapons of war and equipment…he will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots…he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards…and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants…He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants.’” I Samuel 8:10-17
The people were also forewarned that the day would come when they would be sorry for their demand for “change” but the LORD would tell them they would have to live with their choices.
“And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day.” I Samuel 8:18
But the people ignored all the warnings and pressed forward.
“Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, ‘No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations…’” I Samuel 8:19-20
So the people got their king, a man who outwardly made an impressive appearance.
“There was a man of Benjamin…and he had a choice and handsome son whose name was Saul. There was not a more handsome person than he…From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people” I Samuel 9:1-2
Well, the history of King Saul is well known and can be summarized succinctly in the words God spoke to Saul’s successor David through the prophet Nathan.
“But my mercy shall not depart from him (David), as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you.” II Samuel 7:15
There is a New Testament passage that places this story in perspective.
“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition…” I Corinthians 10:11