1st Samuel picks up the story of Israel where the book of Judges leaves off. Israel has lived in chaos; they have repeatedly rejected God and tried to live life their own way. They fall into captivity, cry to God for help, and God comes to their rescue. A little time passes, Israel forgets their deliverance and again rejects God. Rinse and repeat, and repeat, and repeat… Then Samuel comes on the scene. He is a priest and a judge, but most of all, he’s a righteous man. But, he doesn’t break the cycle. In 1st Samuel 8:1, when he gets old, Samuel sets up his sons to succeed him as judges, but the apple has fallen far from Samuel’s tree. His sons accept bribes, and pervert justice for their own gain and the people’s demise. So the people ask Samuel for a king.
This is where Saul comes on the scene. Samuel, the last judge, instates Saul as the first king of Israel. Well… not exactly the first king… I Samuel 8:7-8 sheds light on the heart of the issue. “The Lord told him [Samuel], ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.’”
The first striking thing about Saul’s reign? He’s the first recognized king of Israel, but not the first real king. Imagine that for a moment. You come on the scene at your work as the new CEO, store manager or district supervisor. Everyone calls you the first, even though you’re not really, but only you and your right hand man seem to realize that. The one who came before you was perfect in every way. Every decision was made carefully and deliberately, everyone’s best interest was always in mind, no one got fired unjustly, no one got promoted out of selfishness or greed. The only problem? No one wanted to follow them. Doesn’t matter who they were or how well they led, everyone refused to even acknowledge them as their leader.
Imagine for a moment how the history of Israel could’ve been different if, instead of looking for a man to lead them, they acknowledged their first king, God, and followed him. As we saw as we worked through the book of Judges in our last preaching series, the book is certainly full of violence and struggle as the fledgling nation floundered and tried to find its way. But reading Ben’s post below, I can’t help but wonder, “What if?” What if they hadn’t given up? What if they hadn’t taken the easy way out? What if they had chosen to continue to struggle to flesh out what it meant to be a nation with no human king, a nation that followed the one true God, and God alone? Instead of a 1st & 2nd Samuel and 1st & 2nd Kings, would we have a 1st, 2nd, 3rd Judges and so on? Would we be able to look back at their history and, rather than the pattern of rejection, failure and moving away from God (which Chuck illuminated in his sermon on Sunday) would we see a pattern of growth, increased faithfulness and greater intimacy with God?
It’s clear that God desires this for Israel. He desires to live among them, to be with them, to serve and love them as they serve and love Him. God even warns the people of the consequences of their choice. We’re not always that lucky, we rarely get to know the results of our choices before they are made. But Israel, knowing that they’ll be giving up their sons to die in wars (v.11-12), knowing that they’ll be giving up their daughters to serve in the king’s palace (v.13), knowing that they will give up the best of everything they own (v.14-17), and knowing that their king will oppress them viciously (v18) until they cry to God for mercy from their own king like they’ve cried for mercy from foreign oppressors… even with all this fresh in mind, Israel still rejects God. And they get exactly what they asked for: more distance between them and God, and a king to oppress them.
What are you asking for?