One cannot say the beginning of the fall of Israel was at the point they demanded a king. God pointed this out to disappointed Samuel. Israel’s “desire” for a king showed that Israel’s heart continued to not focus on God.
Samuel’s sons were a mess. In no way did they honor God or their father. Just like many of us, and the world, the Israelites were looking at humanity rather than God.
The failure of the Israelites wasn’t that they didn’t want Samuel’s sons in charge. That was actually wisdom. What they didn’t want, apparently, was a spiritual leader like Samuel. They wanted a “normal” king.
When God tells Samuel that the Israelites were against God, God makes it clear that it isn’t Samuel’s fault. The hearts of the Israelites are at fault. What happens, though, is that while they get want, they want, it does eventually become a “be careful what you wish for.”
The path of king never really ends for the Israelites. Eventually, the kingdom splits into 2. The Northern Kingdom (confusingly also called, Israel) eventually disappears. The Southern Kingdom (called Judah) remains, but over the years of exile and conquest never really stops having a king.
By the time of Jesus, the “king” (Herod) really is just a governmental flunky of Rome. The Gentiles and their quests for power (a constant theme of the Roman Empire) are what Jesus is likely referring to when he talks to the disciples. His point being who wants to live like that. Jesus had a better way.
The better way was the way of God’s love (not just generic human love) of both sacrifice and discipline. What need of worldly government and power would such a person have?
When we focus too much on worldly power, we miss the reality that Jesus turned power upside down. If we focus on the world’s ways, we succumb to the foolishness of the world, rather than living in and through the wisdom of God.
When we rely on the world, we make the same mistake the Israelites did…we choose a king (even if it’s only for 4 years).
Lord Jesus, as we try to live out being faithful citizens of this world, help us to remember our deeper and truer citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.
1) What are some reasons you think the Israelites wanted a king “like the other nations”?
2) In what ways does the US political scene look at the president as King? What does that teach us about our (and our nation’s) heart?
3) How might you live out the upside-down kingdom that Jesus brought to us?