“Where now is your king, that he may save you in all your cities, and the rulers you demanded, saying, “Give me a king and leaders”?” (CSB – Read the chapter)
I am not a perfect parent. I am a human one, though. On occasion, one of my boys will want to do something a certain way that I know will not be wise. On these occasion I tell them it won’t be wise. Sometimes, though, they are insistent they want to do it that way. So, I let them. Do you know what happens next? It proves to be unwise. Guess what I say then? Kind of the same thing God says here.
Because I am a human parent and not a perfect parent, rather than giving much sympathy, I observe that if they had taken my advice rather than insisting on their own way they might not be in the situation they are now in. Now, perhaps a more gentle response would be better from me, but can I say I feel at least a little justified by what God says here?
God’s complaint against the people is rooted firmly in their present, but He goes out of His way to show how they were merely continuing in the sinful habits of their ancestors, some of them ancient. It goes to show you that our sin or our righteousness will live beyond us, and we do well to give careful consideration to the kind of legacy we want to leave for those who will follow us. That’s a sermon for another time.
In this instance, Israel as a united kingdom came about because of sin. Specifically, it came about because of the sin of wanting to be like all their neighbors. Living as a loosely organized group of tribes led by God-ordained judges had not gone well. The character of the judges had gradually eroded and the people’s character with them. And, starting with Eli, the reins of judgeship were beginning to be handed down nepotistically. This would have worked if Eli’s sons had been men of character. They weren’t. At all. And Samuel may have been a wild improvement in their wake, but he followed the pattern of his mentor and his sons weren’t any better.
Out of all this chaos and with their neighbors increasingly threatening their national sovereignty, the people wanted a leader who could unite the whole nation under a single banner. This, they thought, would enable them to stand against the dangers facing them. In all of this, though, they forgot about God. They were rejecting His leadership in favor of being like everyone else. Even when Samuel warned them what having a king would be like, they were incorrigibly set on that path.
And so, though Samuel complained to God about their rejecting him, God assured him that they were really rejecting Him. He would give them what they wanted because it fit in His overall plans for the world, but they would come to regret it.
Once the nation split into two, the northern kingdom lifted up their kings even more after the pattern of their pagan neighbors. Remember God’s accusing them of multiplying palaces? They consistently trusted in human authorities and powers instead of Him, and now look where that had gotten them. They were being threatened by powers they could not overcome. Assyria was waiting in the wings to swallow them up. God’s response? Where are the kings you trusted in to save you? In other words, “I told you so.”
Okay, well, this falls a bit short of a full-fledged “I told you so,” but there is definitely some sarcasm here. My question—and perhaps yours as well—is: What do we do with this? You may be wondering why this caught my eye sufficiently to warrant writing about it. I think there are two things worth gleaning.
First, this is just a reminder that we serve a God who has a full range of emotions just like we do. We were created in His image and part of that image is His emotional range. This kind of wry frustration is an emotion and God is experiencing it here.
The God we serve, the God revealed in the pages of Scripture, is not some stoic automaton who just passively observes the passing scene. He is emotionally invested in what is happening, in how we are doing on our journeys through it. Like a passionate sports fan watching his team’s championship game, God cheers us on wildly when we succeed, and drops His head dejectedly when we fail. This is all a reflection of how much He cares for us.
When we really blow it on something His teaching to the contrary is explicitly clear, sometimes God lets that emotion out. Because He is emotionally invested in our outcome, when we veer off course He gets frustrated. Sometimes frustration expresses itself through sarcasm and God’s not above that.
The second thing here is this: When we insist on doing something in a way God has explicitly told us not to do, we shouldn’t expect a whole lot of sweetness and softness from Him. He will give grace, but He is going to correct as well.
The fact is, things other than God do not have the power to save us. If we try to look to them for that power, we are going to come up disappointed every single time. Depending on how much weight we shifted onto them, we may experience a rather epic crash.
So stay on the path of Christ. Don’t make dumb wrong decisions. Don’t make God shake His head in frustration. Stick with Him and experience the life that is truly life; receive the power of the one who actually can save you. You’ll be glad you did. So will He.