Conformity and Kingship (I Samuel 8)
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 8:1–8:22
Crying for a King
I. Only a King
“Organ music thunders through the stone cavernous basilica of Saint Denis on the northern outskirts of Paris. More than 800 people have gathered here, not just to pay homage to King Louis XVI, but to mourn the death of the French monarchy.” So begins a news story I heard a few months ago.
The story continues: “The Royalists are deeply divided over who is the legitimate successor to the French throne. But that question is not pertinent, for now anyway, says Dominique Emele, the director of the Alliance Royale, the monarchist political party. The Royalists have practically no political support and no members in parliament, but Emele believes that one day the Party will be able to convince the French to restore a constitutional monarchy.”
“One of the biggest problems in France today,” says Emele, “is that our president is the head of a political party. So he doesn’t represent all the French. Only a king can truly represent the people, unify the nation, and solve the long-term problems of France.”
Now that’s not typically the political solution we hear offered today, is it? Only a king can solve our problems? But it certainly echoes what we will read this morning in I Samuel chapter 8. Turn there with me. I Samuel 8, verses 1-22.
II. The Passage: "Appoint for Us a King" (8:1-22)
Let me do three things here to get us going this morning: 1) Let me briefly remind you of the back-story, 2) let me read the entire chapter straight through, and 3) let me give you four reflections on some of what we see in this chapter. After doing those three things, then we can spend some time thinking about the main point of this chapter and how it should impact us today.
First, the back-story: you might remember this is a period in the history of Israel call the time of the judges. Judges were temporary leaders that God would raise up from time to time to meet specific needs for this nation of people that He rescued from Egypt hundreds of years before this.
So at this point, the people are in desperate need of spiritual leadership and the man Samuel is serving as both judge and prophet. Chapter 3, verse 19 says this about Samuel: the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.
So with that in mind, just sit and listen to I Samuel chapter 8...
When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of 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 orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 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.” 21 And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”
So as a way of tackling some of the issues that have popped up here, let me give you four reflections on some of what we just saw in I Samuel 8:
Reflection #1: When God pours out His blessing on you, don't try to grab the bucket.
If you look at verses 1-3, you see that Samuel, who is slowing down because of his age, Samuel, who was raised up by God to be a judge, just like every judge before Him was raised up by God, Samuel has decided to raise up his own sons to be the next judges.
God poured out his blessing on Samuel, but now Samuel wants to grab the bucket and pour out God's blessing on his two boys. He wants to turn this whole judge thing into a family business.
But verse 3 shows us how well this plan is working. Just like the sons of Eli, the high priest whose story is told in chapters 1, 2, and 4, Samuel's sons are worthless leaders. And the people know it, because their the ones have to pay the bribes to these two losers. When God pours out His blessing on you, don't try to grab the bucket.
Reflection #2: Even when God says it's okay, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. Verse 4-10 shows us how the people, who were fed up with Joel's and Abijah's corruption, they demanded that Samuel give them a king instead. Like the French royalists we heard about a few minutes ago, these guys are saying, only a king can solve our problems?
Now up to this point, Israel never had a king, but way back in the book of Deuteronomy, God, through Moses, had made provision for a king. In chapter 17, verse 15 we read: you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose.
And in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, we find all of the requirements for this king that God would choose. And not surprisingly, all of the requirements for the king were designed to make sure that the king would be a spiritual leader, not just a political leader or military leader. The king needed to lead the people in living for God, and not living according to ways of the nations that surrounded Israel.
But here in I Samuel 8, the people want Samuel, not God, they want Samuel to appoint a king, precisely so they can be like nations that surround them. Not a smart move. Even when God says it's okay, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons.
Reflection #3: God's wisdom + loss = gain. Human wisdom + gain = loss. The people according to their wisdom wanted to gain a king. But God, through Samuel, wanted them to understand exactly what price they would pay for having the kind of king for which they were pleading.
Verse 11: He will take (the king will take!). Verse 13: He will take. Verse 14: He will take. Verse 15: He will take. Verse 16: He will take. Verse 17: He will take...your sons, your daughters, your fields, your crops, your servants. He won't simply tax you. He will take the best of everything that is most valuable to you. Human wisdom plus gain always equals loss.
When we live for God through Christ, yes, we will suffer loss. But according to God's wisdom, He is always using that loss to bring us greater gain. We don't always see it, but its there.
Reflection #4: If we ask in our wisdom, the worst answer God can give us is “yes”.
In light of verses 19-22, in light of the people's persistent demand for a king, even though they heard everything this king would take from them, in light of God's response, like to how one commentator on these verses summed up the situation:
“Yahweh [the name of the God of Israel...Yahweh] will sometimes give us our request to our own peril. God granting our request may not be a sign of his favor, but of our obstinancy. Sometimes God’s greatest kindness is not answering our prayers exactly as we desire.” (Dale Ralph Davis)
Consider carefully why you are praying the way you pray and for the requests you make.
Like these Israelites, sometimes, even after God's word warns us, sometimes we persist in praying for foolish things. If we ask in our wisdom, the worst answer God can give us is “yes”.
III. Perspective: “That We Also May Be Like” (7:12)
So when we back up here and think about the big message in this chapter, how does God want to use this story in our lives, those of sitting here, not in the 11th or 12th century BC, but in the 21st century AD.
Well, first, He wants to change our perspective. So how should all this change our perspective? Well to answer that question, whenever we study the Bible, we always need to ask, how did the writer want to change the perspective of the original readers way back when?
Well, it's quite obvious from this chapter that the main issue here is 'kingship'. And from a purely political perspective, maybe a king is a good idea?
As I mentioned earlier, the problem is not primarily kingship. God had already made provision for a king. The people could have humbly asked God for a king for all the right reasons.
Three words describe the real problem here: Conforming. Counterfeit. Cast Off. (yes, “cast off” is two words, but let's pretend it's one. The three C's... (repeat))
The people's problem is that they are conforming to the world by accepting a counterfeit in order to cast off God.
Do you hear the language of conformity in this chapter?
Verse 5: “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Verse 20: “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 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.”
Of course, if the people had been reading and remembering the law God had given them through Moses, they would have remembered these words from Leviticus 18:
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. 3 You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. 4 You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God.
Like a loving father who warns his child because he knows what is right and he knows the kind of kids in the neighborhood, God warns them about wanting to conform to the ways of the world around them.
But look back at verses 7 and 8. We read there:
And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you.
Did you see how God diagnoses the real condition here? He tells Samuel, “Hey, Samuel, this is just more of the same from these people. They've been doing this ever since I rescued them from Egypt.”
But notice that what they are doing is “forsaking God in order to serve other gods”. Now, we see idolatry all over the OT. Instead of worshiping the true God, God's people are bowing down to little statues of man-made gods.
But here, the substitute is not a carved image or idol, it's a king. They want a human king in place of...in place of...who?
Did you notice how Samuel is ticked off in verse 6 because he thinks that their rejection of his sons means they are really rejecting him. He's taking it personally, isn't he? But God is quick to tell him in verse 7, “[Samuel]...they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
The people's problem is that they are conforming to the world by accepting a counterfeit in order to cast off God.
If we asked them they might say, “We just don't want social chaos...OR...we just don't want to live in fear of our enemies armies...OR...we just don't want corrupt leaders like Samuel's sons.” But deep down, when all is said and done, what they really don't want is God...they don't want God as their king...they don't want God telling them what to do.
Can you relate with that? Have you ever struggled with conforming to the world by accepting a counterfeit in order to cast off God? Peer pressure isn't just a problem in High School, is it? Every day the world wants to press us into its mold. But what we desperately need to see is that every time we choose to live like them and not like Him, we are really accepting a counterfeit in order to cast off God. That's really what's happening.
We so often conform to the world in the way we speak because we reject the God who said: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36, 37)
We reject the God who said: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)
We so often conform to the world in our desire for money because we reject the God who said: But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. (I Timothy 6:9, 10)
We reject the God who said: Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. (Malachi 3:10)
We so often conform to the world in our perspective on sex because we reject the God who said: Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality...will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9, 10)
We reject the God to whom David sang: You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:11)
We so often conform to the world when it comes to how we eat because we reject the God to whom it was prayed: feed me with the food that is needful for me, 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” (Proverbs 30:8, 9)
We so often conform to the world when it comes how much time we spend in front of some kind of electronic screen because we reject the God who said: Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15, 16).
We reject that God who said: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
We so often conform to the world when it comes to beauty and fitness because we reject the God who said: Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain... (Proverbs 31:30); the God who said: ...while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (I Timothy 4:8)
And the list could go on and on and on: success, anxiety, pride, gossip, fear...in all of these things we are so often tempted to live like them and not like Him, and when we are tempted to live like them, we are really being tempted to reject Him, to reject the only true King.
Do you struggle with conforming to the world by accepting a counterfeit in order to cast off God? I think all of us do. God wants to change our perspective this morning so we can see what is really happening when we are tempted to conform.
IV. Practice: Not Conformed, But Transformed
If God changes your perspective this morning, then that change will lead to a change in your practice; a change in how you live your life. Remember what Paul said in Romans 12: 1, 2 about putting this into practice:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Okay, but how can people like us, people who are so conformed, how can we be transformed? Well, I really don't like saying this, but in principle, I think those French guys are exactly right: only a king can solve our problems.
Jesus, the very one that Revelation 19 describes as “the King of kings and Lord of lords”, this Jesus is always our only hope. Jesus is the king we desperately need. Because He is perfect and without any corruption, only He can lead us in living for God. Because He died in our place, only He can forgive us of our sins. Because He rose again from the dead, only He can give us a new life and a new heart that beats for God.
And when we trust in Jesus Christ, when we trust that what He did on the cross is exactly what we needed, when we look to Him in faith each day, then we will be able to be “transformed by the renewal of [our] minds”.
How does that practically happen? ABC: “A”, Acknowledge that you conform to the world more than you think and that such conformity is really a rejection of God.
“B”, Believe what Scripture teaches us about what’s fake and what’s real. As we grow in God's word then, through God's own powerful Spirit in us, we will be able to spot, not only all the counterfeits of this world, but we will learn from Scripture how good the genuine article really is; how good God really is.
Finally “C”, conform. Wait, “conform”? Yes, but conform to Jesus Christ.
In contrast to the Israelites of I Samuel 8, we should be praying: “O God, that we would be different from all the nations...from the world.” Different. We don't always like being different, do we? We don't always like standing out? Sometimes we'd rather just blend in. It just seems easier, doesn't it?
If you belong to Jesus through faith this morning, then God has called you to be different like Jesus was different. He has called you to be different not simply in terms of the clothes you wear or the movies you watch or the music you listen to or the charities you support or the stickers on your bumper. First and foremost, He has called you to be different by living for His glory through obedience to His word and reflecting the heart of Jesus Christ in everything you do.
Conforming to Jesus is the only conforming we should be doing.
How are you giving in to the peer pressure of this world? Do you see what it's costing you? Do you see what you're doing when you choose the counterfeit? Do you see what you're really missing, who you are really missing?
Let's ask God to help us take these things to heart this morning and be changed by them.