1 Samuel 8 is an interesting passage of Scripture because both Samuel and God seem displeased Israel asked for a king (1 Sam 8:6-9). The reason this is initially surprising is that God had promised Abraham that kings would come from him (Gen 17:6), and that same promise is repeated to Jacob (Gen 35:11). Furthermore, God’s revelation to Israel foretold a king who would come from Judah (Gen 49:10; cf. Num 24:7, 17).
Not only was there to be an expectation of a king of Israel, but in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 God had given Moses specific guidelines about installing a king once Israel was in the land of Canaan. So, Israel had prophecy creating the expectation of a king, and they also had laws given by God to help their king govern. So, why was God upset that Israel asked for a king? Why did both Samuel and God view this request as a rejection of God’s kingship?
I think the answer lies in the motivation for why Israel asked for a king. In the context of 1 Samuel 8:1-3, it is clear that Samuel (the protector of Israel at that time) was fading from the picture. His sons were worthless and unable to protect Israel (1 Sam 8:3). Samuel had been the figurehead of Israel’s success against the Philistines (1 Sam 7:10-13), but with him passing from the picture, the people of Israel seem to have desired continued security and safety.
Importantly, their request was, “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Sam 8:5). I think this qualifying phrase, “like all the nations” reveals their true motives. They were not interested in trusting God to provide and care for them. Rather, they wanted the semblance of strength they see in the other nations.
God acquiesced to Israel and gave them what they wanted, but not what they needed. Because of Saul’s kingship, Israel suffered in many ways. I always try to remember this lesson while praying. It can be a form of judgment for God to give us what we ask for! I never want to find out God gave me something I asked for, even though it was not what He wanted, or what I really needed. So we must pray, not my will, but Yours be done.
Even though Saul ended up being a selfish, proud, dishonoring representative of Yahweh, he has an important role in the books of Samuel. In God’s sovereign plan, Saul functions as a foil to David, the man after God’s own heart. Where Saul was a man of stature, and looked like a leader (1 Sam 10:23), David did not have the look of a leader (1 Sam 16:7), but his trust was completely in Yahweh (Ps 13:5).
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