Through the Old Testament in a Year

Today's Reading – 1 Samuel 8 – The people ask for a king

What kind of king will we have to rule over us? What kind of kingdom will we serve?

Read Bible Passage Bible Passage English   ... in New Testament Greek Bible Passage Greek   Greek Notes Greek Notes on Reading for Today

The family of Eli had been rejected because of the ungodly behaviour of Eli's sons; now Samuel's sons seem to be going the same way – "they turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice" (1 Samuel 8:9). They were not fit to succeed Samuel as judges in Israel. How can this cycle of corruption be brought to an end? The elders of Israel put their heads together and thought that they had a solution. They came to Samuel and asked for a king to be appointed to rule over them.

The response of both Samuel and of the Lord may, at first sight, seem puzzling. The Book of Judges had pointed forward to the necessity of a king to end Israel's anarchy and to bring peace and order. Why then should this request grieve Samuel and provoke the Lord to say that the people had rejected him, the Lord, as their king?

The answer to this lies in the nature of the people's request; they ask for a king to lead them just like the other nations have (8:5). Their model for leadership is taken from the nations around them. They want a military leader, one who will rule by his own might and power and who devote his efforts to maintaining that power. Samuel is told to warn the people of what such a leader will be like. He will raise an army from the best young men in Israel. It will become a military machine which will devour the resources of the land. He will prop up his own power through an elaborate hierarchical structure of officials. He will raise taxes to support this machine and maintain his own lifestyle. This is the model of kingship and of government in the nations round about. This is what the Israelites are asking for – they want to "be like all the other nations" (8:20). And if this is the character of their king, they will indeed be like all the other nations; they will lose their distinctiveness as the people of God – a people over whom the Lord is their king.

This is the model of government that prevails among the nations to this day (see Matthew 20:25) – even those nations which do not have a leader whom they call a "king".

But this is not the model of kingship which God had purposed for his people. He is their king, and any human king appointed to rule over them must reflect the character of God himself and mediate God's rule. This alternative model, very different from the kings of the nations, is glimpsed in an admittedly imperfect fashion in David, the shepherd king, a man after God's own heart. It appears in all its fullness and perfection only in the Lord Jesus Christ, the servant King.

What kind of model of leadership do we want in our churches? What kind of leadership do we want in our homes and in our workplaces? What kind of leadership do we look for in our nation? In times of crisis we often hear the call for strong leadership. But think for a moment of the strong leaders of history who have established empires in their own name and crushed all opposition. Is this really what the world needs more of?

Sovereign God, thank you for the Lord Jesus, the Servant King. Keep us from hankering after the patterns of power that predominate in this world. Help us rather to follow King Jesus in devoting ourselves to a life of grateful service whether in the church, in our society or in the world. Keep us from seeking glory and praise for ourselves, for the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen.

Peter Misselbrook