Nothing was more exhilarating to say but deflating to hear than the phrase “King me!” when playing checkers as a child. Saying the words gave me a sense of accomplishment and hope even if down several pieces, and nothing caused more apprehension than my opponent saying the words, “King Me!” feeling like they had gained the upper hand. The exact words brought a sense of victory and defeat. Turning our attention to 1 Samuel, we won’t see this same phrase on any of its pages, but we do notice the nation of Israel express their desire for God to king them by granting them a king to rule over them like the surrounding nations. We see them make this request to Samuel in 1 Samuel 8:1-5.
As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel. 2 Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba. 3 But they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice.
4 Finally, all the elders of Israel met at Ramah to discuss the matter with Samuel. 5 “Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.“
The elders asked Samuel to appoint a king to rule over them. Their request marks a significant transition in Israel’s history. Until now, Israel was a Theocracy, a nation whose Diety was its ruler. God had not instructed Joshua to appoint a successor, and after his death and that of his generation, the people did what was right in their sight and knew not of the LORD or the great things He had done for Israel. At that point in the nation’s history, God would raise up judges to deliver and guide His people. Samuel would become the last judge of Israel. The elders saw that Samuel’s sons were not men of integrity or godliness. They also recognized the need for a more centralized government and military to protect them from their enemies, the Philistines, and Ammonites. Here, they request a change to become a monarchy to a country ruled by a sovereign king.
Their request proves that they had forgotten or were at least ignoring that their differences from the nations around them were their source of success, strength, and safety. God had chosen them to be His people, He dwelt among them, and gave them His law so that they could experience life. These truths combined were Israel’s secret sauce for success and blessing by the hand of their God (Exodus 19:3-6, 33:15-16; Leviticus 18:30, 20:26; Numbers 23:9). We can applaud the elders’ concerns about the inability of Samuel’s sons to lead the nation of Israel because of their greed and lack of respect for justice that led to their request for a king. We can also relate to achieving peace through strength in a nation’s leadership and military. The elders were looking out for the country’s well-being. Still, they neglected humbly coming to Samuel out of concern with a desire to seek the LORD for His plan concerning their current situation. They instead arrogantly came to Samuel with their plan or agenda for him to take to God on their behalf. They planned to remove the crown from the King of kings and Lord of lords to a man created by their covenant God.
Bothered by the elders’ request, Samuel went to the LORD for guidance. Verse six is an excellent reminder that we can go to our God when we need advice or are troubled, and verses 7-9 show us that He will provide direction when we humbly seek Him (Psalm 55:22; Proverbs 3:5-6; James 1:5; 1 Peter 5:7).
1 Samuel 8:7-8
“Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. 8 Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. 9 Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.”
In these verses, the nation of Israel defiantly cries out, “King me!” as they reject their God as their King to have a king in His place like other nations. Yet, as you look at the Pentateuch (another name for the first five books of our Bible), there is the expectation of their being kings ruling over God’s people. Kings are promised by God to be included in the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 17:6, 16; 35:11). Before Jacob passes into eternity, he speaks words over his sons. Jacob says that Judah will be the tribe from which kings arise (Genesis 49:10). Moses prepared a new generation for a king before they entered the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).
The people’s sin wasn’t in asking for a king, for it seemed to be part of God’s plan for the nation all along, but their sin was in demanding a king immediately. God already had a king in mind, that king being a man after His own heart and a man from the tribe of Judah, David. Yet, God let the people have it their way and granted them a king at the time of their asking. Saul, who was from the tribe of Benjamin and not Judah, evidence enough to prove that Saul was never intended to establish a lasting dynasty, as the nation’s first monarch.
The LORD had given Israel His commands and presence so that they might choose life and enjoy success in the land He was giving them (Deuteronomy 30:15-20). This same principle applies to us today (John 12:50). Yet, God will allow us to choose our path, and His giving us what we desire as kings or queens of our lives can be one of the most effective forms of judgment or discipline upon our lives (Psalm 106:15; Romans 1:24). The prophet Hosea refers to this request of God’s people as evidence of the nation’s long history of rebellion against and forsaking of her God as justification for the coming judgment against the northern kingdom by the Assyrians. By using this request to crown one of their own to rule over them as an instance of their forsaking their God, we see that God granted their request in 1 Samuel 8 as His way of judging this particular sin.
“You are about to be destroyed, O Israel—
yes, by me, your only helper.
10 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?
11 In my anger I gave you kings,
and in my fury I took them away.
Our Good Shepherd is willing to lead us down paths of righteousness. Still, He will not force us to follow Him (Psalm 23:3). God gives the people their request and allows them to travel down this path that they have chosen, it seemed right to them, but in the end, it led to a heavy burden and the nation’s downfall to Assyria (Proverbs 14:12). When we come to God demanding our way or simply spout of what we desire to see in a situation instead of humbly coming to Him, asking Him to show us which path to take concerning anything, we are at risk of God giving us what we want despite the dangers awaiting us on the other side of our desire’s door. Again, one of the ways that God disciplines us as His children is to give us what we want when we replace Him as the King of our lives with ourselves.
While God will allow us to venture off course and away from His will, He won’t let us do so blindly. He lovingly displays big flashing warning signs down our wayward paths! One can’t make a case for a bolder sign of warning that which God instructs Samuel to explain what they can expect when living in a monarchy unashamedly (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Despite everything the king would take from them, the people plowed ahead towards this government transition. Deuteronomy 28:1-14 in contrast, shows all that the LORD would give the people as their King, which included protection from and victory over their enemies (28:7). The total weight of a sovereign wouldn’t be fully realized by the nation until about 80 years later when Israel’s third king, Solomon took the throne 9 (1 Kings 4:7-28). After reigning for four decades, Solomon passed into eternity, and his son, Rehoboam, ascended to the throne. His subjects requested that he lighten the burden his father had placed on them as king (1 Kings 12:1-4) to maintain the splendor of his kingdom.
While God will allow us to rule our lives if we desire, we can be sure that if we are His children, He will discipline us because of His love for us (Hebrews 12:5-6). Sometimes He disciplines us by giving us what we want to teach us what we wrongly desired wasn’t what we needed. At other times it is through the weightiness of His Spirit’s convicting work in our lives. His correction comes in many forms, and just like I have to discipline my children differently because of who they are, our Father disciplines us in the way He knows will be most effective in our lives. Yet for all of us, James 1:13-15 serves as our giant, brightly-shining warning sign of what our removing the crown of rule from our Lord’s head and placing it on our heads instead will lead to.
And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. 14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.
The elders’ desires for national security and personal protection led them to replace their invisible Almighty God with a visible but limited king. Though not inherently wrong, these desires gave birth to sinful actions, specifically the rejection of the LORD their God as their Sovereign and source of provision and protection. Throughout the approximate 120 years of kingly reign, the effects of this sinful desire grew, leading to Israel’s divided kingdom and, eventually, the destruction of both Israel (722 B.C.) and Judah (586 B.C.) because many of these desired kings led the people away from God instead of towards Him.
We like these elders during the time of Samuel, will be tempted to call the shots, to make the decisions for life without seeking the LORD and His will. If left to grow, our sins of pride and self-reliance, as evident in our replacing God with ourselves on the throne of our lives, will lead to death and not life in all areas of our lives. I’m reminded of a story I heard in children’s church as a kid about a boy who found a baby tiger and wanted to keep it as a pet. The village’s elder instructed the boy not to keep the tiger because of the danger it would present to him when it matured into an adult tiger. Despite the elder’s warning, the boy brought the tiger back to the village, nurtured it as a cub, and kept it hidden near the town as it grew. Unfortunately, one day as the boy went to check on the grown tiger, it turned on the adolescent and devoured him. Despite the elder’s warning, the boy refused to listen and obey his ruler and kept the tiger, nurturing it until it was grown and could eat him.
This story illustrates what James warns us of in the first chapter of his letter and is seen visibly in God’s people replacing Him as their king. When we choose to stray from God’s revealed plan that leads to life and forge down a path of sinful rebellion, dethrone Him as king of our lives with ourselves, or make life decisions without humbly seeking Him, we too are trading God’s gracious abundance (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) for grave deficits (1 Samuel 8:10-18) as we continue walking right into our enemy’s watering mouth (1 Peter 5:8).
Psalm 95:3 tells us that the LORD is a great God, a great King above all other gods. After explaining why He is the King above all others, Moses instructs us on the correct way to respond to this truth in verses six and seven. Part of how we respond to God’s greatness is by listening to His voice. For the ancient Hebrews, the word translated as listening wasn’t limited to simply hearing but was connected with obeying what was heard.
In 1 Samuel, Hannah listened to God’s voice and humbly submitted her desires and concerns to Him in prayer under His lordship (1 Samuel 2:1-11). In contrast, we see how the elders put their desires and concerns over His lordship. As a result, we see that God exalted Hannah and humbled the nation at large. May we respond to God as the great King of all the earth by submitting every area of our lives under the lordship of Jesus and not by submitting the lordship of Jesus under every area of our lives. May we people who can genuinely live guided by the phrase, “King Him!” and not “King me!” When we demand that God “King us!” it is a statement of defeat though temporarily it may feel like a personal victory or achievement of freedom, yet when we cry out “King Him!” and live accordingly, there will be a surrender of our will to His, but this surrender will bring victory and blessing!