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The lessons to be learned from Israel's request for a king
Following the great historic battle when the Israelites regained military supremacy over the Philistines, the inhabitants of Israel began to look around at the other nations. Simultaneously, we learn that, even though Samuel was a godly man, his sons were ungodly. Verse 31 says they "turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment." Samuel cannot be held totally accountable for the fact that his sons were ungodly. It just might have been that he found himself so busy with his circuit, which revolved around Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpeh, from his dwelling place in Ramah, that he did not spend the time with his sons that he should have.14 However, this is real speculation. What we do know is that it was because of the reputation of his sons, and because Israel began to look around at other nations, that they decided that they were weary of their Theocratic government. They wanted a king like the nations round about them. Their demand for a king broke the heart of Samuel. They said to him (v5): "Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." The key to their demand was "like all the nations." They wanted to be like everybody else. God had clearly told them during the wilderness wanderings, and emphasized it in the book of Deuteronomy, that they were not to be like the other nations. But God comforted Samuel saying (v7): "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them."
There is a huge lesson here for all Christian churches today, for the combination of unchecked immorality and doctrinal corruption in Samuel's family, the leadership that could have continued if it had not become corrupted, helped turn the hearts of the people away from God and His ways, for they looked at the old prophet and considered that he had little time left and observed the behaviour of his sons. Their conclusion, that the ways of the surrounding nations would be preferable to allowing the sons of Samuel to judge over them, speaks volumes to those who have seen thousands desert the God of the Bible and turn to other religions based on the occult and the vain reasoning of men. People have stayed with the denomination that their family have worshipped within for generations, despite the influx of "doctrines of demons" and "strange fire," and the result has been a weakening to the point of near death for the group, until eventually they are forced to consider amalgamation with another similar group, or one they originally broke away from because of these very errors many years before. We see this in denominations such as the Methodists, who broke away from the Church of England over two hundred years ago, in the days of John Wesley, but have now drifted away from the truth and are re-uniting themselves with the errors they seemed to have left behind.
Although God provided for the time when the Theocracy would become a monarchy, the Israelites were not even willing to wait for His program and timing and, in their haste to be like the nations around them, they insisted early on that they be given a king. They insisted God granted their request, but we can see that God knew they would reject Him because, back in Deuteronomy 17 in the year 1406 B.C., He detailed the provisions for a king, and in doing so, used the language that Israel would use 350 years later (1055 B.C.) in making their demand. Verses 14-15 give God's earlier provision:
When thou art come unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me; Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.
God had laid down rules and regulations in anticipation of the time when the people would ask for a king. The rules continue in verses 16 and 17:
But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
With the possible exception of David there was never a king in Israel or Judah who came near to meeting the criteria established for the monarchy. All the kings either multiplied horse, or wives, or money - despite the fact that God had established that these things were not to take place because in v20 He says: "His heart must not be lifted up above his brethren." It had always been God's plan for the king to be a servant of the people and this was perfectly fulfilled in only one man, the Servant King, the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 2:2; 20:28; 21:5). When we examine examples of pagan kings and leaders, such as Alexander the Great, we find he rode a huge white stallion to Lord it over others so that all would know who they had to bow down to - and anyone who stepped in his path would be decapitated. In a similar manner the Roman Caesars considered themselves gods and they rode between numerous horses and would run down anyone who stepped in their path. So we find God clearly warning the kings of Israel not to "multiply horses" and behave in this way. But no king ever met the criteria established here, except one, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! The Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey. He did not Lord it over His brethren as the King of Kings (Revelation 17:14; 19:16), but came to serve (John 13). When He rode in triumph into Jerusalem, riding a tiny colt of a donkey, the people recognised him as King and the spiritually discerning ones recognised that He was meeting the criteria that had been established for the monarchy by Moses in Deuteronomy 17. While we thank God for our King the majority of the crowd rejected Him with shouts of: "Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar." (John 19:15) Just as they demanded a king like the other nations in Samuel's day, they wanted a king in Jesus' day to drive out the Romans so they could rule over the other nations. So the demand for a king in the time of Christ was exactly the same as the request for a king in 1 Samuel 8 with identical motivation and reasoning.
Since they wanted a king like the other nations, God said, "I will give you a king. I will give you a king who looks like a king." We remember the choosing of leaders, such as Ehud, Shamgar and Deborah, in the time of the book of the Judges, and how the one who looks like the ideal leader in the eyes of men may not necessarily be the right person in God's eyes. Now, following the warning of Samuel, God was going to give them a man who met their own criteria, recognizing that they did not want a spiritual man. They wanted one who could "do exploits" and who was chosen for personal reasons - to bring glory to them! I Samuel 8:20 informs us of this truth: "That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles."
The criteria established here for the children of Israel for their king are similar to the criteria established by many churches today for the pastor they call to fill the pulpit. In the west today we see many "charismatic" leaders called because of their apparent dynamic personality and magnetic presence in the pulpit and community. The number of hours that the pastor spends on his knees to find the will of God is rarely a factor in the equation because a godly man would not even reveal this to his people (Matthew 6:5-6) so it could not be a factor in choosing the leader! In fact the only leaders we regularly hear bragging, about their own hyper-spirituality, great "anointing," and personal encounters with God, are the men who quickly prove themselves to be heretics or cult figures. James was spot on when he was inspired to remind Christian congregations that it is the works you do that prove whether you have pure motives and real faith (James 2:14-18; Matthew 25:35; Luke 3:11; Galatians 5:6) It is sad to find that the "magnetic personality" that causes these men to be chosen is not a product of their spirituality and holiness, but of their desire to Lord it over people and to be noticed. The first clear sign that all is not well with the leadership in a fellowship is the result of what has been deceptively called "heavy-shepherding." The leader who is a true pastor will demonstrate God's love towards the body of Christ and will lovingly keep the flock together, whereas the ego-tripper will trample on the Word of God and teach people to treat it in a similar manner. The flock will then be divided by Satan as they leave the fellowship, either because they find the teachings and behaviour unacceptable (as the people would not accept Samuel's sons), or they become like the leader (e.g. Eli and his sons, Hophni and Phineas) and begin to behave in the same manner. Savaged by the wolf (Matthew 7:15-23; Acts 20:28) they begin to savage each other. Thus "doctrines of demons" (I Timothy 4:1) replace the Word and fellowship is replaced with a demonically inspired dictatorship which "Lords it" over the flock and seeks other spiritual guidance when God withdraws his spirit. We see the ultimate precursor of this kind of behaviour in Saul, who descended gradually from his anointed position as envy gripped him (I Samuel 18:6-9) and was even tormented by an evil spirit sent by God (v10), and sought to kill his obvious successor, David (v11), for "Now Saul was afraid of David, for the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul" (v12). We see that Saul descended to the point where God would not answer his enquiries, or speak to him "either by dreams or by Urim or by prophets" (I Samuel 28:6) and he chose to consult the Witch of Endor (v7-25), despite the fact that he had earlier obeyed God's commands and cut off the mediums, spiritists and diviners (v9) from the land! Samuel was sent from the dead by God to confirm that His Spirit had departed from Saul (v16) and the king's downhill spiral continued until he died at his own hand (31:4). Word-Faith heretic Benny Hinn may have started his ministry as a servant of God but he has now, by his own admission, descended into consulting "the spirit" of Kathryn Kuhlman in necromancy remininscent of the fall of Saul!
We see how the foolish action of the children of Israel in rejecting their God, and establishing criteria which were bound to result in failure, will still fail today when they are used to choose leaders who are tempted to follow the expectations of the crowd rather than the leading of God. There is no substitute for the Word of God and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit in prayer and fasting and determining that one will not contradict the other!
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