Asking For A King

The people of Israel were desperate for peace. Oppressed and wearied by the constant attacks from neighbouring nations, Israel considered their future and asked for a king.

Samuel, the son of Elkanah, of the tribe of Ephraim, had judged Israel all the days of his life, making a circuit every year which included Bethel, Gilgal and Mizpah and then returning home to Ramah. During his lifetime the Philistines were subdued, the cities from Ekron to Gath, and the land occcupied by the Philistines had been restored to Israel, and there was peace between Israel and the Amorites. (1 Samuel 7:13-14)

Samuel's sons, however, were not like their father. " . . . his sons did not walk in his ways . . . " (1 Samuel 8:3). The elders of Israel considered a future under the rule of Samuel's sons, and so approached Samuel with a plan.

"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." (1 Samuel 8:5)

Samuel protested but the elders insisted, "Give us a king to judge us." (1 Samuel 8:6)

The plan had striking similarities with a number of incidents from Israel's past, when there were attempts to replace or challenge the leadership God had appointed.

In the sin of the Golden Calf, the children of Israel demonstrated a tendency to take matters into their own hands. Keen to leave for the Promised Land, the children of Israel thought that they had delayed long enough at Mt Sinai. It had been forty days, Moses had not returned from the mountain, and they concluded that it was in their best interests to press on without him. And so, the children of Israel approached Aaron insisting that he make them a leader to replace Moses. "Come, make us gods, that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." (Exodus 32:1)

Then on another occasion, Moses' leadership was challenged when "Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman he had married . . . " (Numbers 12:1). However, Moses was vindicated as God's spokeman. He would lead and teach the people of God. God spoke with Moses face to face, not in dreams or visions.

And again Israel's leadership was the issue during the rebellion led by Korah. At that time, Moses and Aaron were blamed for Israel's failure to take possession of the Promised Land. Korah and his colleagues were men of renown, highly respected among the children of Israel, and though they were blinded by their own ambitions and goals, they had gained much support and sympathy from the community. Note how the day after the earth opened and swallowed up Korah and his co-rebels, the children of Israel came to Moses and Aaron accusing them of killing the Lord's people. "On the next day all the congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, saying, 'You have killed the people of the LORD.'" (Numbers 16:41)

And it was only after another demonstration of God's power that the children of Israel were convinced that Moses and Aaron were His chosen leaders.

Samuel the prophet was confronted with similar leadership issues. He had successfully judged the people of Israel since his youth. Israel had defeated their enemies during his administration, even land and cities which were previously occupied by the Philistines had been restored to Israel. Now the people wanted to replace him with a king.

One problem, however: Samuel had not been appointed by the people. He had not been elected by the people, nor voted into office. The God of Israel had chosen Samuel and had raised him up to teach and to judge, in response to Israel's pleas for help.

It was during the days of the Judges that neighbouring nations invaded and oppressed the people of Israel, subsequently the people cried out to the Lord for help. In reply, the Lord gave them judges, Saviours/Deliverers, not a king.

Perhaps in view of the passage of Scripture in Deuteronomy, they thought that the time had come to request a king, someone who could fulfil both functions, namely, a judge to rule the people of Israel, and a leader who could fight their battles.

"When you come to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, 'I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me . . . '" (Deuteronomy 17:14)

Significantly, Israel's king would be chosen by specific criteria and be governed by certain rules, that would identify him distinctively and uniquely as a king of Israel, the people of God. (see Deuteronomy 17:15-17)

He would be chosen by the LORD, Israel's God. He would be a son of Israel. He would not be a foreigner, who was not a son of Israel. He would not multiply horses. Neither would he cause people to return to Egypt to multiply horses. He would not have multiple wives. He would remain faithful to the LORD. He would not greatly multiply his personal wealth. When he reigns as king he would write two copies of the Torah, one for himself and the other for the Priests. "And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel." (Deuteronomy 17:19-20)

The rule of Israel's king would be uniquely different from any other nation. Kings of other nations were not bound by the law of the common people. Indeed, many initiate laws according to their own pleasure and whims. Israel's king, on the other hand, was subject to the Torah in all matters. He was not above the law. The same law was for everyone, whether rich or poor, old or young, ruler or servant. The king was not only subject to requirements of the Torah, but as the king, he was required to conduct himself as a student of Torah and a disciple of the King of the Universe. In asking for a king, this was the type of king to seek.

But instead of a uniquely different king, the people of Israel asked Samuel, " . . . make us a king to judge us like all the nations." (1 Samuel 8:5)

By asking for this type of king, the people of Israel were choosing a path of pain and suffering. To be judged like the nations is to be governed by laws and customs other than the Torah. This type of king would allow unjust laws and customs based on myth and legend, which in turn would cultivate unfaithfulness and disobedience toward the Lord their God. Indeed, this type of king could turn out to be an evil tyrant, who does not behave in the same manner that Israel's uniquely different king was required, as Samuel warned.

"This is the behaviour of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them for his chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots.

"He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.

"He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, 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.

"And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work.

"He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants.

"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." (1 Samuel 8:11-18)

There is no mention that this type of king would write his own copy of the Torah, or would be devoted to studying God's commandments. Indeed this type of king appears to be gathering resources, from his subjects, for his own gain and personal achievements, without consideration for his subjects, or the God of Israel.

"Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, 'No, but we will have a king over us.'" (1 Samuel 8:19)

By choosing a king whose rule would be like the other nations, the people of Israel were throwing off the yoke of the kingdom of God. As on occasions in the past, the people of Israel were again taking matters into their own hands, determining their future and how they should live among the nations.

Samuel was grieved. He had faithfully nurtured the people of Israel to be a nation following after the Lord. He was displeased that they would ask to replace him, and then for a leader who would not lead the people in the ways of the Lord. Nevertheless, "Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, 'Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.'" (1 Samuel 8:6-7)

When the children of Israel were led out of Egypt, the land of bondage, they were set free to serve the King of the Universe. On the banks of the sea they sang, "The LORD shall reign for ever and ever." (Exodus 15:18). Indeed, out of all the nations of the earth, only the children of Israel were redeemed. Only Israel would become His special people. Through them His light would shine to the nations. As their King, He brought them to Himself, at Mt Sinai, and gave them His Torah–the way, the truth and the life. As King, He would reign over His people, to instruct them in His love, and to bless them with His goodness so that they would be a blessing to other nations. In the end, all nations would glory in Israel's King, and praise Him for His wondrous works, and learn of His ways, and walk in His righteousness.

In contrast, by requesting a king like the other nations, the people of Israel, in Samuel's day, were rejecting the King of the Universe and His Law. Simply, if they were to have a king like any other nation, the people of Israel would become just like any other nation.

At King Saul's coronation, Samuel chastised the people for asking for this type of king. "I will call to the LORD, and he will send thunder and rain, that you may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking a king for yourselves." (1 Samuel 12:17)

Rain in Israel during the wheat harvest is not common; how much more then are thunder and rain? When the thunder and rain came the people realized their sin. "And all the people said to Samuel, 'Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves.'" (1 Samuel 12:19)

The thunder and rain were also illustrative. At the right time of the year, thunder and rain can be a blessing, So too, there is a time to ask for a king. Like thunder and rain at wheat harvest, this was not the time to ask for a king.

Is it possible for the people of God to ask for a king when the time is not right? Is it possible for the people of God to have a king, a leader, who is not devoted to the ways of the Lord, who is not a disciple of Torah, and one who is given to govern them according the demands and dictates of the nations?

Sadly, this is true. It was true in the days of Samuel, and it happened again when the Anointed One came. Consider the following Jerusalem scene, concerning the King of Israel.

"Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Yeshua, and said to him, 'Are you the King of the Jews?' Yeshua answered him, 'Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning me?' Pilate answered, 'Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you to me. What have you done?'

"Yeshua answered, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now my kingdom is not from here.'

"Pilate therefore said to him, 'Are you a king then?' Yeshua answered, 'You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.'

"Pilate said to him, 'What is truth?' And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, 'I find no fault in him at all. But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?' Then they all cried again, saying, 'Not this man, but Barabbas!' Now Barabbas was a robber.

"So then Pilate took Yeshua and scourged him. And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe. Then they said, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' And they struck him with their hands.

"Pilate then went out again, and said to them, 'Behold, I am bringing him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in him.' Then Yeshua came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, 'Behold, the man!'

"Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw him, they cried out, saying 'Crucify him, crucify him!' Pilate said to them, 'You take him and crucify him, for I find no fault in him!' Then the Jews answered him, 'We have a law, and according to our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.'

"Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Yeshua, 'Where are you from?' But Yeshua gave him no answer. Then Pilate said to him, 'Are you not speaking to me? Do you not know that I have power to crucify you, and power to release you?'

"Yeshua answered, 'You could have no power at all against me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered me to you has the greater sin.'

"From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out saying, 'If you let this man go, you are not Caesar's friend. Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar.' When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Yeshua out and sat down in the judgement seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.

"Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, 'Behold, your King!'

"But they cried out, 'Away with him, away with him! Crucify him!' Pilate said to them, 'Shall I crucify your King?' The chief priests answered, 'We have no king but Caesar!'" (John 18:33-19:15)

Pontius Pilate's interrogation confirmed that Yeshua is the King of Israel. But then when Pilate turned to ask the religious authorities, they replied, "We have no king but Caesar!" Strange that these highly respected men, those on whom the community of Israel relied to point to the Messiah, would point to a Gentile as their king. Sad, that they would choose a Gentile leader, over one of their own. Sad, that they would choose a Gentile despot who trampled justice and promoted debase laws, over one who showed himself a devoted follower of Torah; one who was the living word of God, the Promised Messiah.

What does a non-Jewish ruler have to do with the kingdom of Israel? What does a ruler of a kingdom of darkness have to do with the sons of light? Caesar was a king, but he was not Israel's uniquely different king. Just as in the days of Samuel, the people of Israel chose a king like the nations. Sadly, the people of Israel again rejected the LORD to reign over them.

At best, Caesar was a king like any other. On the other hand, Yeshua, the son of David, of the tribe of Judah will return to fulfil all the requirements of Israel's uniquely different king. He is Israel's Redeemer and Promised Messiah. Yeshua is the King of Israel. As the messenger Gabriel said before Yeshua's birth, "He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the LORD God will give him the throne of his father David." (Luke 1:32).