Why Did Israel Demand a King?

Five Reasons Given In 1 Samuel 8:19-20

Israels history with God is sketchy. It often amazes us (on this side of the experience) why they would do the things they did in the Bible.

One of the questions I’ve often asked is, ‘Why did Israel demand a king?

1 Samuel 8:19-20 gives us five reasons. There are tremendous lessons we can learn from this. Remember, the Apostle Paul said, ‘these things are written for our admonition.’ (1 Corinthians 10:11)

This is probably more relevant than we even realize…So, Let’s dive in.

Before we get going, let me explain ‘how’ I want to address this. First, I will tell you what they said.  I’ll use their words.   Second, I’ll give a little insight into their statement – sometimes back story information, sometimes just personal observation. Then, I’ll drop the bomb and give you my ‘big take-away.’.

Why did Israel demand a king?

Ok…Now let’s move on.  Here’s what they said:

1) We Will Have A King Rule Over Us (v19)

Wanting a king is not a bad thing…Is it? I mean, what could possibly be offensive to God about their desire for a king?

After all, wasn’t David and Solomon both ‘types’ or ‘foreshadows’ of the King who would come and bring ultimate deliverance?  Even God describes His heavenly realm as ‘a kingdom.’

Why was it such a big deal with God? I mean, the period of the Judges was chaotic, right? Maybe it was time for them to get organized and develop a centralized government. What’s wrong with that?

I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few thoughts:

A: Maybe it just wasn’t the right time. We’ve all heard the cliche ‘Timing is everything!’ Maybe the timing was just off.

Sure, God was going to raise up a Leader/King, but maybe the stage wasn’t set for a new era to be inaugurated.. Perhaps there were lessons God wanted them to learn before He set up the earthly prototype of His heavenly rule.

We can get a glimpse of this methodology with God when He talks to Abraham about the timetable for Abraham’s children (the nation of Israel) to inherit the land of promise. The story is found in Genesis 15. God told him that the ‘iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full.’ This meant that until a set of events (or better said, ‘a climax of evil’) occurred, His plan for Abraham’s seed would have to wait.

There were things that needed to be in order so God could get His plan rolling.

This gives us a clue to the fact that God operates on a specific timetable and agenda. Perhaps Israel was ‘pushing God’s hand,’ so to speak, when they demanded a king. ‘

A Quick Example.

For those of you who are married and have children…You know what it’s like when your kids want to do something, but you are not quite there yet? They want a cell phone, but you are not quite ready for them to experience that liberty, simply because they are not ready for the responsibility?

Maybe that is what is going on in the background. Could be! Anyway…Makes sense to me.

B. It could be that they were fed up with previous judges.

Maybe they were tired of the way things were playing out under the reign of various judges.

In the immediate context of the story, Samuel’s sons ruled after Samuel; they were ‘continuing in their father’s footsteps. However, they did not have the character and integrity of Samuel.

Here’s how 1 Samuel 8 puts it:

8 And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.
2 Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beersheba.
3 And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
5 And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.

It’s obvious that the behavior of Samuel’s sons triggered their request for a king. It may not have been the only factor, but scripture makes it clear that it was an important component in their decision..

C. I think the real issue is found in God’s response to Samuel in verse 7 of chapter 8:

7 And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

The issue wasn’t so much what they wanted; maybe it was more of what they didn’t want – namely, God to rule over them.

God told Samuel that the people were not rejecting him (Samuel) but God Himself.

This statement is a huge indictment against them. Just look at Samuel’s warning:

10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots.12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men[a] and your donkeys, and put them to his work.17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

I won’t take the time to itemize this list, but you can tell by my highlights this is a serious warning of what to expect when THEY get the king they were demanding. God is calling it ahead of time. ‘Israel, this is what you can expect…’

In spite of everything Samuel warned, they chose to have an earthly king, they still said, “Nay, but we will have a king rule over us!” I can just hear the inflection on the word ‘will have’ as they protest the words of Samuel.

So, What’s The Big Lesson?

Take-Away: We will always look to man to lead us when we reject the rule of God over our lives.

2) (That We) may be like all the nations (v20)

This is an interesting statement. Israel frequently compared themselves to the nations surrounding them. Nations, by the way, they were suppose to drive out.

Yet, instead of driving them out, they tended to venerate them.

Do you know how many times God told them he didn’t want them to be like the other nations?

Here are just a few mentions.

Jeremiah 10:2 New Living Translation
This is what the LORD says: “Do not act like the other nations, who try to read their future in the stars. Do not be afraid of their predictions, even though other nations are terrified by them.

Deut. 12:30
Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.

Deut. 14:2
For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.

Deut. 26:19
And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the LORD thy God, as he hath spoken.

Israel was to be a unique expression of God’s rule and authority on earth. The plan was that as they lived under the dominion of Yahweh, the nations around them would desire their life, their God, their blessings.

Instead, Israel continually lusted for what the other nations had, and disregarded what God had given them. They turned God’s plan on its head. They flipped it upside down. Instead of being the envy of the world; they envied the world.

Take-Away: They minimized their uniqueness in favor of assimilation.

Here’s another crucial factor…

Their decision to be like the nations is significant because ‘the nations’ were closely tied to ‘the other gods.’

The reason Yahweh was so adamant about them NOT being like the other nations, had to do with the gods that those nations served.

Here’s the back story…

I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible; but it is so important to understand the Old Testament worldview. For a deeper study into this topic check out my article, ‘The Supernatural World of the Old Testament.’ So here are the bullet points…

  • The ancient Hebrews believed in a hierarchy of supernatural beings that comprised Yahweh’s Divine Council (See Psalm 82). These members were called Beney Elohim – Sons of God.
  • They assisted Yahweh in carrying out His will and plan for the nations.
  • Some of these council members rebelled against Yahweh.  It is theorized that the serpent in the garden of Eden was one of these. Genesis 3.
  • Some Sons of God (Beney Elohim) came to earth and defiled God’s creative order. One way they accomplished this was by ‘taking for themselves wives.’ Genesis 6
  • Mankind continued to forsake Yahweh, rebelled against Him and chose to established a one world government structure without God. Genesis 11
  • At this point, God (Yahweh) assigns the nations to the Beney Elohim so they can rule over them, and He sets aside a future nation (Israel) for himself. His plan will be to bless them and show the other nations what it’s like to live in relationship with Him. Deuteronomy 32:8-9 (ESV)
  • He calls Abraham and the journey begins.  A new nation is born.

I think it is evident by now where I’m going with this. The reason God did not want them to be like the other nations was because the other nations were controlled by God’s enemies, the rebelled Beney Elohim.

God chose Israel to be His own special people. They were never to be like the nations of the world. The opposite was the case. They were to demonstrate to the other nations what it was like to be in the kingdom of God. What it was like to belong to Yahweh.

Can you see how their rejection of God and His rule was so offensive?

Take-Away: Life is far more spiritual than physical.

Take-Away: It was always about God vs the other gods throughout Old Testament history.

This culminated in the New Testament with Jesus casting out demons and finally completely destroying the campaign of the enemy through the Cross.

Colossians 2:14-15
14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities[b] and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

BIG Take-Away: Jesus Won!

PS: This is what world evangelism is about; rescuing people out from under those failed, defeated spiritual regimes of darkness.

Let’s move on with our study…the next three will be brief.

3) (That) Our king may judge us (v20)

These final three on the list really amplify the first two. But it’s worth unpacking them so we get the true picture of what was going on in their heart.

First…What was a ‘judge’?

We think of a judge as someone who presides over a court of law. While this was part of the role of a judge in the Old Testament, they were actually more of a military leader to lead the nation in war against their enemies. They were to institute the judgment of God on the nations.

Why would their request be an offense to God?

It has more more to do with the fact that they were not depending on God, and instead trusting in ‘the arm of the flesh.’

We see this playing out in the political arena today. You never would have convinced me 20 years ago that a large segment of our country would be entertaining and flirting with the political ideology of socialism.

Socialism is always favorable when people fail to take responsibility for their lives and want someone else to give them something for which they did not create, earn, secure or make for themselves.

Socialism, at its foundation, is the ultimate choice for man to rule over us. Communism is the force of man’s rule; socialism is the choice of man’s rule (as opposed to self government). The more biblical concept is that every individual takes responsibility for their decisions and outcomes. Every person has to find, discover and fulfill God’s will for themselves.

This is one (I have plenty) of the reasons I am opposed to socialism. It always leads to further decline; but the main reason is that it strips man/woman of their responsibility. It minimizes freedom and exalts the elite who rule over people.

This is the heart of Israel’s choice for a king: They didn’t want ‘self government’ under the authority of God. They wanted someone else to do it for them (as we will see in more detail later).

Take-Away: Centralized Control vs Personal Responsibility

4) (That He Would) Go Before Us (v20)

Whenever we read this statement ‘go before us’ it generally has to do with going into battle. It is a term that indicates leadership.

Israel wanted a king who would go before them. There is nothing wrong with needing leadership; it’s even a gift in the body of Christ (see Romans 12).

Israel’s sin was the dismissal of the spiritual. They desired human king as opposed to an invisible one.

It is often easier to follow a man than it is to follow God!

Why? Because we can touch, feel, see, hear and yes, even smell a human being; but we can’t do any of those things with God. We know our world around us through our five senses; but we can only know God ‘by the spirit.’

This forces us to cultivate and develop our inner life. Again, it puts the responsibility on us to know God. He has already done His part; now it is our turn. We must (even under grace) give ourselves to develop spiritual communion with God.

For many people, this is unacceptable. They would rather depend on something physical they can see – experience with their five senses – than develop their faith and spiritual life so they can know and experience God’s best.

This seems to be the plight of Israel. They chose the natural order over the spiritual.

They opted for a flesh life over a spirit controlled life.

Take-Away: Flesh will always seek answers through the five senses – see, hear, touch, taste and smell! Faith will always connect with God through His word to determine reality.

Does that make sense? I hope you get my point…

Israel chose the way of the natural; “Let’s let a king do this stuff for us. It’s too much trouble to be spiritual.’

5) (To) Fight Our Battles (v20)

The first thing that rings in my ears is…did they really think THEY wouldn’t have to fight once they had a king?

Again, the issue was one of abdication of authority.

Take-Away: The human tendency is to say, ‘You Do It For Me!’ so I don’t have to.

Here’s how it plays out in our world….

When someone encounters a situation they want to change; for example, the doctor diagnoses you with some type of physical disease. What do you do?

Do you…

Go to every body in the church to pray for you?
Hit all the healing services within 100 miles of your house?
Get the prayer chain going so you are ‘covered’?
Let all your Facebook friends know so they can pray for you?

Now…these things are not wrong IF…

IF…you are digging in God’s Word to hear God speak to your spirit what He has already accomplished at the Cross for you!

You see, all of those ‘spiritual things’ can actually facilitate carnality if you are not connecting with God first.

I don’t know about you, but those are powerful lessons. And they apply just as much for us under the new covenant as they did Israel. Being under grace doesn’t provide us the opportunity to abdicate our responsibility.

Here’s the Big Lesson…Ready?

Every Time You Give Away Your Responsibility,
You Give Away Your Authority.

I want you to read that again. Very slowly. Let it soak in. Because if you get this wrong, you will miss a lot of what God has for your life.

We see a generation today that is abdicating responsibility, yet complaining when they lose their authority.  Responsibility is the handle that wields authority.

That’s it for this article…

[Side note: I’ll deal with two big questions in upcoming articles: ‘Is everything that happens in life God’s will?’ and the even bigger question, ‘If it is God’s will for something to happen to/for/with/through me, won’t it just happen?’ ] Case in point: It wasn’t God’s will for them to have a king (at least not at that point), but He allowed them to have THEIR will. Should tell us something about how God operates.

Tell me what you think. I would love to get your feedback.


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