There is a temptation that is common to all Christians and that is the temptation to conform to the world and its mindset. This has been a problem since mankind fell into sin. The world calls on us to be more compassionate and not so old fashioned. Paul told the Roman Christians,
12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.(Rom 12:1–2).
Much earlier in the history of God’s people, we see this same problem raising its head when the leaders of Israel asked Samuel for a king, they wanted Israel to be like the other nations, rather than being distinct as God’s people, under God’s government. We can learn quite a lot from the way Samuel handled this whole Situation. We might have some sympathy with the Israelite leaders as they describe the problem, but their solution only makes things worse because they left God out of the solution. Let us look at ho the Bible describes the situation.
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (1 Sa 8:1–5).
Samuel’s sons were not at all like him and they had turned after ungodly ways but the solution proposed by the leaders of Israel was one that meant turning its back on giving God the highest place in government instead they had their own solution that meant a revolution in the way they thought and acted because they wanted to deny their uniqueness as God’s people and become like the other nations. At that time the notion of having a powerful king to lead the nation was a popular one, but for Israel this should not have been an option because the Lord was their king. They should have found a way forward by seeking God’s will but instead they went their own way. Samuel’s response is instructive for us,
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. (1 Sa 8:6).
Samuel was displeased, but he didn’t go to his friends for advice or to any other person, the first thing he did was pray. He needed to know what the Lord had to say in the midst of his own feelings of rejection. When the Lord speaks he shows Samuel that it was not Samuel that the nation had rejected but himself. We could avoid many problems in the Church and in Christian organisations if we were to follow Samuel’s example. We so often go to other people and rally support for our perspective without seeking the Lord in prayer. Samuel knew that he needed clear guidance from the Lord as to what to do and how to do it, In Baptist circles we often say that the church meeting is to seek the mind of the Lord, but in reality it often is reduced to seeking the mind of the majority. Democracy does not come into the matter when considering the work of God, the question should always be what does God want? Samuel knew this and therefore in his displeasure he turns to the Lord for his guidance. Samuel receives very clear guidance as to what to do and this is not going to be an easy task.
And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”(1 Sa 8:7–9).
The Lord clearly shows that the root of the problem is not rejection of /Samuelbut rathe that they have rejected the Lord. And this is only to be expected because of their continued rebellion since the days of the Exodus, the very action of appointing a king shows distrust in the Lord and an inclination to follow after other God’s. Samuel is also to show them the consequence of this decision and the injustice that it will herald. A move away from the Lord is also a move away from his standards. The nation had been founded in such a way that there was to be a measure of economic justice incorporated into law, but this would bring an end to all of that. The next part of the chapter shows very clearly the consequences of having a king.
Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for 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 groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”(1 Sa 8:10–18).
This is not a pleasant picture but despite this clear warning the people decided to go against the warnings, they are even told that when they find the oppression too much they will cry to the Lord but he will not answer them. The Lord’s warnings are not taken seriously because the people want to go their own way.
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”(1 Sa 8:19–22).
The people refuse to listen to Samuel and are determined to have their own way, they want to keep up with the other nations, they want a strong leader who will lead them into battle. But Samuel takes all of this back to the Lord in prayer, The Lord sees the peoples desires and he grants them the desire to have a king but he has already warned them of the consequences so they would not have any reason to complain when this was fulfilled.
Samuel boldly stands for truth and God’s purposes in the midst of a generation that did not want to hear the word of God, will we do the same?