1 Samuel 8:1-22

Today, a glimpse of what it means to have a monarchy, but from an Old Testament perspective:

Because, for a thousand years—since the time of Abraham—the people had lived and done well under God’s guidance. They hadn’t needed an earthly king. Indeed, God was their king, and from time to time he had appointed leaders to guide them. Unfortunately, bit by bit they became dissatisfied with God’s way of doing things. They wanted someone they could see and touch. They wanted continuity. And they wanted a system where they knew who would come next. And so they looked around at the surrounding nations, with their monarchies, and demanded a similar model for themselves.

Of course God, quite rightly, took this as a rejection of himself. Nevertheless, he relented to the wants and desires of his people. But before he did so, he gave them a warning; he told them the price of having a king.

And that was, that they would need to fight in the king’s army. That their sons would be appointed to the king’s chariots teams. That people would be needed for ceremonial and other occasions—including runners to go out in front of the king’s own chariot. That royal lands would be needed for cultivation—and that meant fields, vineyards, and olive orchards would be confiscated and turned over to royal officials. That people would be needed to maintain the royal lands, including men to plough the ground, harvest the crops, and maintain the king’s flocks. That people would be needed to manufacture weapons of war and equipment for the king’s chariots. That there would be a need to conscript women as perfumers (concubines), cooks, and bakers. That they would have to pay taxes. Indeed, ten percent of all grain and other produce, and ten percent of all flocks would need to be given to the king’s officials. And, furthermore, that the king would need to conscript male and female slaves, and take the best cattle and donkeys for use on his many building projects or other works. And all this would be in addition to their existing obligations regarding their religious commitments to God.

And just to put that into perspective, the demands of having a king during the time of King Solomon included having an estimated forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen. And that was what was needed for the king’s army alone.

However, despite the huge price, the people still wanted to go ahead. They wanted a king. So about 1,050 BC Saul was anointed the first king of Israel. And it must be said, he made a real hash of it.

He got carried away with his own power; he thought he was God. Indeed, he stopped talking to God; he left God out of his decision-making processes. He even usurped God’s authority by doing things that God had appointed others to do. As a result not only did Saul die in battle, but his son and heir died in battle too. And it wasn’t Saul’s son, Jonathon, who inherited the throne, but someone completely different.

Now the request of the Israelites to have a king is a pretty sad story. It’s a story of a nation who were not satisfied with trusting in God and the leaders that he sent them from time to time. Instead, they wanted a king—someone like them. Someone they could see and touch, and where there would be continuity from one king to another. Yet in doing so, they rejected God. And, not surprisingly, their first king rejected God too.

Beginning with the feeling of dissatisfaction in the way God did things, they lost God on the way. And so, their first experiment with a monarchy ended in disaster. But that’s not surprising really, because that’s what happens when people try to replace God.

As a consequence, this story should serve as a warning for us too. Because despite the fact that times have changed, in Australia we live in a society that has achieved something of which the Israelites had dreamed—a human monarch and a stable government.

Despite that, the costs of having that kind of structure hasn’t really changed. They’ve just been updated over the centuries. Nevertheless, the trap is such a structure—the danger—remains the same. After all, where is God in our system of government? Where is the need to trust in God for our daily needs? Where is the need to rely on God for leadership, and guidance? And where is God in our lives, when our leaders lead us astray?

Surely the whole point of the story, in the book of Samuel, is that the setting up of any human institution will inevitably lead to God being pushed aside and displaced. And that’s a real problem. Because we need God, and we need to trust in him for our help and salvation. Indeed, we need to keep in mind, at all times, that it is God in whom we should put our trust. And that is the lesson we should learn from the Old Testament, lest we too fall into the same trap of rejecting and replacing God too.

Posted 23rd March 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis