Pentecost 3B - 1 Samuel 8:4-20

1 Samuel 8:4–20 (NIV)

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead  us, such as all the other nations have.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. … 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

The Rev. Frederick Farrar was a privileged personal friend of Queen Victoria, though he seldom referred to this connection.

On the first anniversary of the coronation of Edward VII to the throne of England, during the service in Canterbury Cathedral, Farrer told how the Queen, after hearing one of her chaplains preach at Windsor on the second coming of Christ, spoke to the Dean about it and said, “Oh, how I wish that the Lord would come during my lifetime.”

“Why does your Majesty feel this very earnest desire?” asked Farrar. With deep emotion the Queen replied, “Because I should so love to lay my crown at His feet.”

            We don’t wear crowns, but we do have egos – a sense of self- esteem and authority over life. Have we cast our egos at the feet of Christ or do we want to be like Him and claim authority in wanting to rule our own lives?

Or like Queen Victoria, are we willing to cast ourselves and our lives at the foot of the cross and accept God’s Divine right to rule every aspect of our lives.

When we look at the history of the Israelites whom God had rescued from slavery in Egypt, we see that God was their King who ruled and governed them first of all through Moses, Joshua and then a series of Judges whom God raised up when there was a need for the 12 tribes of Israel to rally together to counter any threats from their neighbouring nations.

God’s spokesman and the last worthy Judge of Israel was the Prophet Samuel who in his old age appointed his two sons, Joel (not the later prophet) and Abijah as judges in Israel. They were not worthy seeking only after their own welfare and not the welfare of those they were appointed to lead.

As a result of the abuses of Joel and Abijah against the people of Israel, the Elders of Israel – the heads of all the clans – approached Samuel to confront him with his sons’ failures and seek for him to appoint a king over them – a king like the nations around them had.

Israel wanted to be like the nations around them – having a human king who they hoped would lead them to victory over their aggressive neighbours.

Samuel, in what is revealed as selfrighteous anger and fear of criticism thought that the Elders of Israel were criticising and questioning his leaders ship. But this wasn’t the major problem. Neither was Israel’s desire to have a human king to rule over them a major problem.

Martin Luther points out that there was a more important problem to be dealt with. Luther writes:

“Their sin was not their desire to have a king, for after all God gave them one, but rather, that they set their trust on human help and government when they should have trusted in God alone. This was a grave sin” (AE 52:187).

In Deuteronomy 17:14–20 (NIV) Moses recorded what God had said to Israel about them having a human king:

14 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite.

16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

The Judges were recognized and respected because the Lord raised them up as leaders by empowering them with administrative gifts by the Holy Spirit.

A king would not necessarily be a unifying political leader for the loose tribal federation of Israel and would not necessarily be God’s earthly representative.

God’s earthly representatives were the priests and prophets but there was a desire by the people of Israel to be like all of Israel’s neighbouring nations and have a king whom the leaders of Israel thought would rescue and save them in times of national crisis.

It’s a bit like the trend in today’s church to follow the trends of the community and popular social policy, accepting those things which God clearly tells us are an abomination to Him – thinking that with “progressive” social policy the church will grow. Thhe evidence to the contrary is actually true.

The more the church becomes like the world, the more it will become irrelevant so that instead of being a witness to God’s righteousness it becomes just another social group which shares the morality and spirituality of the world which ignores God and His Word.

With an unseemly desire to be like other nations, Israel’s elders ask Samuel for a king, their desire being a rejection of the Lord God as their King. It’s the same as when we desire to be guided by the attitudes and values of the world.

Leadership should be tempered by faith, which calls on the Lord, His guidance, and His blessing. Nothing should be as precious to us as the Lord God, who treasures us and leads us by His saving Word, the person of Jesus Christ, who is brought to us by the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament.

Whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. Our prayer should be: “Heavenly Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit, lead us to see how much we are worth to You in Jesus. Amen.”

Samuel was not called to be king, yet he was recognized as the Divine authority in Israel, so the Elders of Israel conferred with him regarding their plan for new leadership.

Who do we confer with when making important decisions and plans in our lives? Do we go to the Lord in prayer or do we seek only the wisdom of the world? Who do we confer with in regard to the numerical and financial viability of our congregation?

There is always a cost when we neglect the Lord God as our King – when we fail to acknowledge Him and His will for our lives. In chapter eight verses 11 to 17 God tells His people that their choice, which omits God as king, will have a huge cost which they have not perceived.

The king, like those kings of the nations, will extract funds from the people and conscript their sons and daughters for service. Government taxation, nearly unknown among the Israelites, would become exorbitant. An additional 10 percent would be levied on top of the tithe already required for the Lord.

Within two generations, King Solomon’s rule would prove to be a real burden for the people and they would be oppressed. Royal archives discovered at Alakakh, Ugarit, and Mari in the Middle East show similar problems under kings in neighboring regions to Israel.

The prophet Samuel demonstrates an awareness of regional politics and the consequences of choices which ignore the authority of God. People become slaves to the new authorities they have chosen to follow.

The Israelites saw only positive reasons for having a king. It’s like we are told only the positive reasons for accepting a change to the Biblical teachings of church about who can be ordained or who can be married.

In accepting such changes we change our allegiance from God and His Word to allegiance to secular social policy which betrays the intent of God in the order and structure of creation and we have to wonder why marriage is devalued, children are fatherless and the world sees the church as irrelevant because it is the same as the world, so why bother participating in the life of the church?

Samuel describes the true relationship which comes about when we reject God as our King and authority in our life and decision making. God does hand us over to the consequences of our rejection of Him if we insist on having our own way.

There is a point at which God says, “If you want it so badly you can have it – but remember there is a cost which you may not be able to bear.” God warns the Israelites that their cries for deliverance will go unheeded because they chose another king over against the Lord God and His will for them.

           The Lord tells Samuel to agree to the Elders of Israel’s request for a king, but also to warn them about what a king will do.

‘Like the people of Israel, our actions often say to God, “Not Your will, but mine be done,” as we insist on things that may not be good for us. God is surprisingly flexible and generous. He often gives us what we want, but even more graciously, He gives us what we need—forgiveness, life, and salvation.’

We can pray, ‘Dear Jesus, help me to see the blessings in my life, even when I do not get what I want. Strengthen me to join You in praying, “Not my will, but Yours be done.” Amen.’

The request for a king by Israel is based on two false, almost childlike theories.

  1. They thought the king would act as a substitute agent who would cost them nothing to fight for them, despite God’s promises in Deuteronomy 1:30–31 (NIV) 30 The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, 31 and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, …”
  2. The Israelites wanted to be more like their pagan neighbours, having a king to symbolize desired unity. Yet, they were breaking covenant with the Lord, who was their King. The promise of a king that God had made in the wilderness (Dt 17:14–20) is fulfilled, not by God’s initiative as Samuel expected, but by the people themselves.

            Why should God defend His people when they depart from His stated will for them and where is the unity when parts of the church neglect to listen to the Lord and instead listen to the world in regards to policy and practice, theology and living?

The Israelites insisted on a king, and God told the prophet Samuel to go along with them. The notes in the Lutheran Study Bible tell us that:

“Some of those who seem most successful in the world refuse to acknowledge God or to follow His Son, our Lord. Even in the Church are those whose plans and teachings go against our Lord’s revealed will. Nevertheless, like a chess master, the Lord sees the larger picture and achieves His objectives even through human error. Similarly, Jesus’ death on the cross was brought about by human intrigue, yet it accomplished the very thing that God desired, the redemption of the world.”

This does not mean that we should flout God’s revealed Word and will for His people. How many people will lose their faith because we become like the world around us and become irrelevant. It’s said that “the church that falls for everything stands for nothing.”

Who and what do we stand for?

Whom shall we trust but Thee, O Lord?

Where rest but on Thy faithful Word?

None ever called on Thee in vain:

Give peace, O God, give peace again.

                        (LHS hymn #572 v.3 by Henry William Baker (1821-1877))

Amen.

Help us, Lord God, to honour you as our one and only King and to seek Your will for our life together and as witness to Your righteousness in the world. Amen.