Thinking back over your life, what were some of the things other people had that you just had to have for yourself? As a child or adult what gadget or fashion item, toy or fad made you everyone else has one or is doing it so I should too?
Bell Bottom pants or saddle shoes? Penny loafers or Air Jordan’s? Calvin Klein Jeans or a leather jacket? Big wavy hair or a Mullet? A Rubik’s Cube or a Nintendo 64? Ken & Barbie or Cabbage Patch Dolls, A Sony Walkman or a Boombox
An iPad or Apple watch the list is huge from gadgets to fashion to behaviors and choices, at some point most of us can relate to wanting something because we believe we must be the only one’s without it in the world.
Being consumers we are easily driven by material fads and as residents of 21st Century free-market America, we may find difficulty relating to the story of ancient Israel’s demand for a king because everyone else had a king, but that’s because we know or at least we’ve been told by the stories of our national history what its really like to live under a monarch.
The story of the prophet Samuel responding to the cries of his people for a king is first just that, a story, a tale of how the people whose identity was born of covenant with Abraham & Sarah and their descendants, redeemed from the hand of Pharaoh under the leadership of Moses and led into the promised land (albeit an occupied territory), a tale of how those ancient people over 3000 years ago demanded God appoint them a ruler, a king.
A story, not so much history provable by external sources of which we have none, not eyewitness accounts of which there are none as these tales precede most writing in general. These are narrated folk stories passed down over generations around the cooking fires of centuries gone by.
Period drama that would make for a great series of novels 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings & 1 & 2 Chronicles tell the story of the major characters of Ancient Israel, the prophets, the judges and the kings.
One of the uniqueness’s of this story from other’s in the ancient near eastern world is that the demand for a ruler comes from the people rather than from a deity. In other Mesopotamian religions and cultures the gods or goddesses appoint a ruler on their behalf, a king or queen to enforce the will of the deity among the people. The king was thus the puppet of the gods and the gods maintained their supremacy.
For ancient Israel, according to the story, the people demand a king from a hesitant God and an even more resistant prophet. Samuel is aging out of his capacity to lead effectively, especially in battle with other kingdoms. His sons who were the heirs apparent are both corrupt we are told taking bribes from other nations and such. And so, the people fearing the sons of Samuel would take over and squander the land promised to their ancestors demand new leadership for a new day for Israel.
Samuel we are told is saddened in heart by the request, perhaps grieving over the truth about his wayward sons, perhaps regretting his inability to lead the people effectively in battle or perhaps concerned for keeping the covenant with God.
Samuel wanted to reject the people’s cries but the storyteller says God relented and granted their request, but not without dire warnings. Be careful what you ask for warns the prophet.
The king, warns God will take your sons and daughters , your property and your goods – everything will be in service to the king, which is the big change in the identity of Israel.
When God called Abraham out of the land of Ur and promised he would become ancestor to a great nation of families, he promised and God demanded through the law to have no other gods before me, no one to fight their battles for them just God. While the Exodus generation had made it lawful to have a king (Deut 17:14-15), the king was first and foremost a servant of God, meditating on the law and serving justly, second in command to God. Deuteronomy prohibits the king from acquiring horses, amassing wealth, or selling the people into slavery.
But it is not a peaceful king the people desired, they desired a king to expand their boundaries, protect them from foreign invaders, establish Israel as a political and military power in the region.
And those are not faith in God motivators, those are not God’s vision for the world God created.
Spoiler alert! The warnings Samuel issued about the king taking everything including their sons and daughters to wag wars and build their kingdoms came to pass and the storyteller tells the tale of the rise and the fall of the kingdom of Israel.
From Saul to David and Solomon, the kings anointed by God, each abandoned God to quench their own hunger and thirsts for power, for wealth, for other people’s belongings and such. Like the modern day politician who is elected by their constituents in their home district and packs off to Washington only to be wooed by powerful lobbyist and party leaders forgetting about the people back home they were supposed to represent – at least until the next election cycle.
The tale of the kings of Israel point us to one major lesson, be careful what you ask for, you just may get it and it may not be as you hoped or expected. It may not even be what God desires for you.
Consider how your request loves God first and neighbor as yourself, how your love for God and neighbor is expressed by your need to have or do whatever it is because everyone else does. Be care-full what you ask for, full of caring love for others, full of care for God’s amazing creation.
How does what you ask for in life bring about the beloved community of God in your midst?
From my Message for Today based on 1 Samuel 8:4-20 for July 10, 2018 Central Christian Church, Bourbonnais, IL.