“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 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.'” (ESV – Read the chapter)
These two verses mark the end of the era of the judges in the history of Israel and the beginning of the era of the monarchy. This is both a sad and an interesting transition. It gives us an object lesson in how God can use our failings and still accomplish His plans in spite of them. In fact, He can even incorporate our failures into His plans such that it appears later they were always part of them even though they weren’t. Let’s look at how this is.
When Israel came to Samuel and demanded a king, they dealt a huge blow to Samuel. He had been judging them for years and very likely had visions of his sons following in his footsteps. But, they didn’t have the integrity and character necessary for such a position. The people had seen how this particular story ended before with Eli’s sons. They wound up losing the Ark and being dominated by the Philistines for a season. They weren’t willing to risk that happening again so they took action.
When Samuel got the news he took it as a personal rejection. He was mad and hurt. Rather than doing anything rash in his anger and pain, though, he immediately turned to the Lord to have a conversation about it.
(As a side note here, this is a good picture of how we should handle our own times of being angry and hurt. That’s a sermon for another time.)
God assured Samuel that they are not primarily rejecting him, but rather God Himself. They are announcing that they don’t want to be ruled by God directly any longer. They want a king. Specifically, they want a human king, not a divine one.
What’s interesting in all of this is that the whole book of Samuel is pointed toward showing the rise of King David and establishing his legitimacy as king as well as the legitimacy of his lineage. And yet, here at the beginning of the monarchy, when the people first ask for a king, the text presents it as a sinful, foolish desire on their part. They were rejecting God and even though He was going to give them what they wanted, they were going to live to regret it.
Yet give them what they want is exactly what God does. And He does this because He has bigger plans in place and He knows He is going to be able to use this sinful desire on their part to achieve these bigger ends.
When we fail and sin before the Lord, this is never a good thing. Israel’s asking for a king and in particular demanding one so that they can be like all the other nations which did not follow Yahweh as their God was not a good thing. But God took this folly and redeemed it to be an integral part of His bigger plans for not only the people of Israel, but all of the world as well.
This should give us the hopeful confidence that even if we blow it, we are not derailing God’s plans for us. In fact, although we should never view our failures as a good thing in and of themselves, we can celebrate the fact that God can bring good out of them. Indeed, when Paul much later wrote that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purposes, He wasn’t introducing some new, radical teaching, He was merely looking back at the bigger picture of Israel’s history and describing how God had always operated with the people. He takes our broken things and makes them beautiful. That’s a God who is worthy of our devotion.