Israel was set up as a Theocracy. This is a type of government whose leader is God. Though God did not come down and sit on a throne, He always led the country by speaking through a designated person. A clear start for this type of leadership is seen in Moses when he was told by God to help free Israel from Egypt. Later the spokesperson was Joshua. Yet God had been leading Israel in this way for centuries.
After Joshua died the people of Israel preferred not to listen to God’s leadership and they went their own way. God sent various men and women in the book of Judges to lead the nation back to a better relationship with Him. However, one of the common phrases in the book of Judges is “they did that which was right in their own eyes.” They did not want to seek God and His leadership.
Samuel, as priest, became the spokesperson for God. When he was old the people rose up and said that they wanted a king to rule over them so that they would be like all the other nations around them (1 Samuel 8:5). They began to look at the world and imitate their leadership style. Israel had grown tired of God.
Samuel went to God to tell what was going on (like God didn’t already know). The old priest was pretty disheartened. But God assured Samuel that it wasn’t Samuel’s leadership they were rejecting, they were rejecting God (1 Samuel 8:6-9). They wanted a finite, fallible man and not an all knowing, perfect and holy God leading them. Man could be bought and controlled. God wasn’t going to change no matter how much they tried to bribe Him.
God said that they could have a king, but He also warned them through Samuel what a king would mean. A king would take many of their children to be slaves and servants as royal guards, military leaders and field workers. Their daughters would also be taken as servants to cook and bake for the king. Their best fields would be seized by the king as his own land. And then, on top of all the king took (not purchased or hired) he would then enact a 10% tax on everything they had (1 Samuel 8:11-18).
Even after this full explanation they said they still wanted a king. For what purpose? “That we also may be like all the nations…” They were tired of God leading them and they wanted to be like the world.
We don’t live in a theocracy in any government today. However, as individual Christians we have a God who wants to live and reign in our lives. He requests not just 10%, He wants our whole lives. Yet He doesn’t do it by force. He allows us to choose to serve Him. He gives great blessings and guidance in return for our service. But how many of us are like Israel and choose to reject God as sovereign and want to have the same type of leadership the world has?
One of my favorite stories in the Bible comes at the end of 1 Samuel 15. This is a few years after a king was chosen and “old Samuel” was even more advanced in age. The people had said they didn’t want an old man ruling their nation who was not able to go out to war and fight. Yet in the final verses of chapter 15 Samuel chops up an enemy king with a sword. Though I have never done that, I can’t imagine that it would be an easy task. Samuel sounds like a pretty spry young man to me.