In 1 Samuel 7, which I blogged about last time, the people of Israel turned to the LORD in repentance, and He delivered them from the Philistines in an amazing victory. Chapter 8 picks up the story several years later and paints a different picture. Israel comes to Samuel and basically says, “You’re getting too old to lead us, and your sons are a wreck, so give us a king who can lead us to victory instead.”
How long this happened after the events of the previous chapter is uncertain. But it appears that several years have passed. In that time, Samuel has become “old”. The memories of the national repentance and subsequent victory recorded in chapter 7 are dulled.
Samuel’s sons have been made judges over Israel – and are doing a lousy job of it. Samuel’s story is unfortunately similar to Eli’s story when it comes to parenting. Like Eli, Samuel had two sons who were in places of authority among Israel. And like Eli’s sons, Samuel’s sons were selfish and perverted. At least Eli told his sons to stop; we don’t know if Samuel did anything.
What we do know is that the people didn’t like it. And they decided to solve the problem by asking Samuel to give them a king.
It was an understandable request. All the other nations had a king, so why shouldn’t they? Judges came and went, but a monarchy would (theoretically) always be around. And it gave a sense of security to have a physical king to lead and unify the tribes.
Why did the idea displease Samuel?
Was it because he didn’t want to admit his sons were sinful judges? Was it because he didn’t like the idea that he was getting too old to judge the people himself? Maybe that’s why God had to tell him, “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me.”
Or maybe Samuel really was angry for God’s sake. Maybe he recognized the truth, that they were rejecting the LORD’s kingship over them. Maybe Samuel thought back to chapter 4, when Israel put their trust in the ark instead of in God. Now they were putting themselves in the path to the same mistake, putting their trust in something physical and tangible, rather than in the sovereign Creator and Lord.
But in spite of that danger, God allowed it. He had known this would happen; He had foretold it through Moses years before:
“When you come to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses . . .” (Deut. 17:14-15a).
So after warning the people to make sure they really knew what they were asking for, God basically said, “Fine. I’ll give them what they ask for.” And Samuel told them not to go crying to God about it afterwards. Well, actually, he foretold that they probably would cry to Him:
“And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day” (vs. 18).
This passage is a reminder that sometimes God will give us what we ask for, even though it’s not actually the best thing for us. Just because a door opens doesn’t mean that God wants it to – it only means that He has allowed it to.
Seeking God’s will is not as simple as “I can do this, so that must be what God wants.” You don’t want to walk through a door just because it’s an open door – you want to walk through a door because it’s the right door.