This morning we want to continue where we left off before Christmas – working our way through the book of Samuel. And it’s been over a month since we were last in Samuel, and so to start this morning, I thought I’d take some time to remind us where exactly we are in the bigger story of the Bible.
So far everything that we’ve talked about in the book of Samuel has happened during the time of the judges – Samuel himself being one of those judges – along with others like Samson, Gideon, Deborah, and Ehud.
And these judges were not like the judges you might think of today – sitting in a court room deciding legal matters (although some of them did seem to take on that role as well.) But these judges were really more like the generals of an army.
You see, during the time of the judges, the 12 tribes of Israel had no central government. They had no king – they had no standing army. They were really just a loose confederation of tribes that sometimes even fought against each other! But every so often, they would face a threat from a common enemy and they would unite together under the leadership of a judge who would lead them against their oppressors.
Now of course, those oppressors were usually brought on by the Israelites’ own sinfulness. Time and time again, the Israelites would rebel against God, and so God would discipline them by allowing these enemies to oppress them. Under that oppression, the Israelites would then repent of their sin and cry out to God for deliverance and God would raise up a judge who would then rescue them.
So these judges were not Kings or rulers of Israel per se, but really just temporary rescuers. They were military and spiritual leaders who would lead the Israelites to victory over their enemies and at the same time lead them back to God.
Now as you might expect, after these great victories, there were times when the Israelites wanted their rescuer to become their king! This happened to Gideon after he had rescued them from the Midianites. But Gideon very clearly told them that being their king was not the role God had for Him. If you take a look at Judges 8 verse 22, it says…
22 Then the Israelites said to Gideon, “Be our ruler! You and your son and your grandson will be our rulers, for you have rescued us from Midian.”
23 But Gideon replied, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you!
You see, Gideon understood that the Israelites already had a king. God was their King! No other nation on earth had that privilege! They were a nation unlike any other nation on earth! The Sovereign God of the universe had specially chosen them to be His people. He would be their King and they would be His people.
And so Gideon reminded the people, that although God had used Him to rescue them from the Midianites – God was the only King who deserved to be on the throne of Israel.
And so with all that in mind, we’re ready to pick up our story today in 1 Samuel chapter 8 – starting at verse 1.
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.”
1 Samuel 8:1-5
So there are a couple quick things I should point out in this passage. First of all, we see that Samuel had appointed his sons to be judges over Israel – but I don’t we should read this to understand that they were judges in the same sense that Samuel was a judge. While Samuel was a national, spiritual leader, it seems his sons had the more common role of being judges that decided legal matters. We see that his older sons were holding court in Beersheba, accepting bribes, and perverting justice – which isn’t exactly what you want to see in a judge, but none the less it paints the picture for us of them being local judges, not national leaders.
But yet it seems that the elders of Israel seem to be making some false assumptions that if Samuel’s sons had been good and just like their father, then they would one day rise to lead Israel after Samuel died. But we really have no reason to believe that would be the case.
No where else in Israel’s history do we see the role of Judge being passed down to the next generation. As I mentioned before, judges were temporary rescuers that were appointed by God for a certain time. They were never intended to be dynasty of rulers.
And so now when the leaders of Israel approach Samuel and say “Give us a king because your sons are not like you” – I don’t know that that ever would have been a real consideration anyway.
I think what’s really going on here is that the leaders of Israel are using the excuse of Samuel’s greedy sons to justify their real motives in asking for a king. And we see that motive in the final verse that we read.
“Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.”
That’s the real motivation. They want to be like all the other nations around them. Maybe it’s a pride thing – maybe they don’t want to be seen as the rag-tag tribes of Israel with no king, no government, no army… Just the occasional judge that gets them out of trouble whenever things get bad. I mean, how will anyone ever take them seriously as a nation if they don’t even have a king?
But that’s just it – they did have a king! And what a king they had! Their King was the Creator of the Universe. The all-powerful, all-knowing Sovereign Lord of all Creation!
I mean, He was the one who rescued them from slavery in Egypt. He’s the one who gave them Promised Land – leading them to victory over all the evil nations that lived there before them. He’s the one who promised to give them safety and security, wealth and prosperity – if they simply followed and obeyed Him.
But for whatever reason, the Israelites grew tired of that King – and using the excuse of Samuel’s greedy sons, they asked Samuel to give them a king like all the other nations.
And I think Samuel may have taken their request as a personal slight – because as we read in the next verses Samuel was not happy with their request. We continue reading in verse 6….
6 Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “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.”
1 Samuel 8:6-9
You really have to appreciate the godly character of Samuel. Even though He is clearly not happy with what the leaders of Israel have requested, notice how he reacts. He doesn’t immediately condemn them or lash out and give them a good scolding, but rather, His first reaction is to go to the Lord for guidance.
We’ve mentioned before how Samuel was a man of prayer. He had no doubt learned well from his mother, Hannah – who’s prayers had brought him into existence! His life was characterized by prayer. In fact, that’s how He lead the Israelites to victory over the Philistines just in the last chapter – He prayed as the Philistines were approaching and God answered and threw the Philistines into confusion!
And so it’s no surprise now, as Samuel gets this request from the elders of Israel – a request that He knows is wrong – his first reaction is to go to God for guidance.
And just something for you to think about this morning – is that your first response when trouble comes your way or when you face a difficult situation? Is your first reaction to go to God in prayer for guidance and help? I think for too many people, prayer is their last resort… When they’ve done everything they can and they’re all out of options, as a last and final resort, we go to God in prayer. But prayer should always be our first response.
Oswald Chambers writes:
“We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there is nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all.” ~ Oswald Chambers
That’s exactly what we see Samuel doing. After hearing this request from the elders of Israel and he’s no doubt boiling inside because of what they’ve asked, before He does anything all, He goes to God for guidance. What a great model for us to follow!
So Samuel goes to the Lord for guidance, and when He does that, it’s somewhat surprising to see how God responds. God instructs Samuel to give the Israelites exactly what they’ve asked for.
In their conversation, God explains to Samuel that this is nothing new! The Israelites have been rejecting Him as king ever since He became their king! God says to Samuel in verse 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.”
1 Samuel 8:8-9
Now to me, this passage is actually a little bit scary. It’s scary because God is giving the people exactly what they asked for – even when He know’s that it will come with heavy consequences. Of course, God will very clearly warn them of those consequences, but if the people still insist even after knowing the consequences, then God will give them what they asked for.
I wonder if that ever happens in our lives? I wonder if we ever request or even demand things from God that He knows are not best for us. I wonder if God ever reluctantly answers our prayers by giving us exactly what we ask for.
It’s a little scary to think that if we ignore God’s warnings and disregard His wisdom – and insist on having our way – God might just give us what we ask for and we will have to face the consequences of our choices.
Sadly, I think eternity will be like that for many people. Despite God’s continual warnings and his pleadings with us to turn to His Son Jesus for Salvation – many people will insist on doing things their own way. They will try to earn their salvation by ‘being good’ or they will try to serve other other gods. They will insist on living life apart from God – and sadly, in the end, God will grant them their request – and they will face the consequences of an eternity apart from God.
So I would just plead with you today, not to ignore God’s warnings. Don’t insist on a life apart from God! Chosen instead to put your trust in Jesus for Salvation and to accept God as your King!
And for those of us who have done that, we must now be faithful to pass on these warnings to others. Which is exactly what Samuel did! Verse 10
10 So Samuel passed on the Lord’s warning to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 “This is how a king will reign over you,” Samuel said. “The king will draft your sons and assign them to his chariots and his charioteers, making them run before his chariots. 12 Some will be generals and captains in his army, some will be forced to plow in his fields and harvest his crops, and some will make his weapons and chariot equipment. 13 The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. 14 He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his own officials. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and your grape harvest and distribute it among his officers and attendants. 16 He will take your male and female slaves and demand the finest of your cattle and donkeys for his own use. 17 He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will beg for relief from this king you are demanding, but then the Lord will not help you.” 1 Samuel 8:10-18
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I read all that, I sure don’t think I’d be very eager for a king! I mean, just look at the language Samuel uses. Over and over we see the words… The King will take this and the king will take that. And the “The King will demand this and the king will demand that…”
Having a king is going to cost the Israelites dearly! Remember, at this time they have no earthly king to provide for, no palace to upkeep, no army to pay, no administration or staff to pay for,… No TAXES! But all that would change with a King. And so Samuel clearly warns them – this King that they so desperately want will take their sons. He will take their daughters. He will take their fields. He will take their grain. He will take their cattle. He will take their flocks… And in the end, the people themselves will become his slaves.
As you see with every government on earth, having a king costs a lot. That’s just a political and economic reality. As Samuel so clearly states, a king will take and take and take. He will demand, demand, demand.
But what a contrast this is to the King the Israelites already had!
The kings of earth take and take and take – where the king of heaven gives and gives and gives.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed that before or not, but as you read through the Scriptures, over and over again we see how God gives!
He gives joy. He gives peace. He gives strength. He gives comfort. He gives hope. He gives life!
Jesus even said that was His very purpose – to give!
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
And then, probably the most famous verse of all time:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
In contrast to every king and every ruler and every government that has ever existed, Jesus did not come to take, take, take… He came to give, give, give.
In fact the only thing Jesus took was all the stuff we didn’t want anyway – he took our sin. He took our guilt. He took our punishment. And in exchange, He gave us forgiveness. He gave us peace. He gave us life!
And this is the same King that the Israelites had grown tired of. This is the king they wanted to replace. Can you imagine?
Well, incredibly, even after Samuel warned them of the high cost of this new king they wanted, the people of Israel still insisted on rejecting God and choosing a new king instead. It says in verse 19…
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel’s warning. “Even so, we still want a king,” they said. 20 “We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.”
21 So Samuel repeated to the Lord what the people had said, 22 and the Lord replied, “Do as they say, and give them a king.” Then Samuel agreed and sent the people home.
1 Samuel 8:19-22
God had given them fair warning. Life under this new king was going to change everything! But yet they insisted – and so in the end, God agreed to give them the new king that they requested. The days of the judges had come to an end and a new era of Kings had begun. And next week will be introduced to that new King and we’ll just see how well he does.
But for today, I just want to close with this one last thought, and that is this:
We have the same choice as the Israelites – we have the freedom to choose our king. We can choose God as our king or we can choose to serve another. Everybody serves a king of some sort. Maybe you’ll choose to serve King Success, or maybe King Popularity, King Accomplishment, King Self, King Pleasure, King Wealth… There are all kinds of kings to choose from!
But I have to warn you today, as Samuel warned the people back then – that the kings of this world will take and take and take – and in the end, those who serve them will become their slaves.
It doesn’t matter which earthly king we serve – None of them give true joy. None of them offer lasting fulfilment. None of them will provide inner peace. And certainly none of them will grant you eternal life.
All of them will take and take and take, demanding more and more – until you find yourself a slave to whichever king you’ve chosen.
But there is one King who is willing to give you everything – real joy, lasting fulfilment, inner peace, and even eternal life. In fact, there’s one king who wanted to give you that so much that He was willing to die for you.
I would encourage you today to choose to serve that King. Choose to serve King Jesus.
Don’t be stubborn like the Israelites – longing to be like all the other people around them. Choose to serve the living God – and the only rightful King of your life and mine! Choose to serve King Jesus.