Kings? Why Kings in Israel?
Moses led the tribes of Israel out of Egypt in the Book of Exodus, and they were very loosely organized by 12 tribes with a large number of family clans in each tribe. The tribes were named after the twelve sons of Jacob. Remember that Jacob’s name had been changed by God in Genesis 32 to Israel, so the nation of Israel was named after Jacob who had been renamed Israel. The sons of Jacob all moved with their families to Egypt at the end of the Book of Genesis to escape the famine. Four hundred years later the population had exploded to several million, and after the exodus from Egypt, God led them to Mt. Sinai to give them a constitution of sorts. The covenant or contract they made with God there was the basis of the formation of a theocracy (God rule) that they agreed to live under. God would go before them and give the land of Canaan. God would supply all their needs, and they would live under His authority.
At Mt. Sinai, God spoke directly to the people in giving them audibly the 10 Commandments. It is the only time that I am aware of that God ever spoke audibly directly to the entire nation of people. It was certainly a moving experience to the people as was witnessed by the people’s reaction afterward to Moses, “the people trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us again lest we die.” As all the people had gathered in the plains at the foot of Mt. Sinai, loud thunder and lightning struck around the people, and the Lord descended in a thick cloud on the entire mountain. They saw the intense glory of God in the giant cloud, and the whole area shook like an earthquake. After incredibly loud trumpet blasts, they heard God speak the Ten Commandments and His voice was like thunder. This was not something their mortal bodies could stand up under on a regular basis so God set up a priesthood through which the people could approach Him, and receive regular instruction.
Therefore, after Moses and Joshua passed away, and new generations lived in the theocracy, they were governed by the Law God had given through Moses. It was administered and taught by the priesthood. Israel was perhaps the only major nation at that time that was not ruled over by a king or groups of kings. As long as they were obedient to the first command, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”, they lived in peace and prosperity. But a study of the Book of Judges reveals that the next generation, after Joshua and all the people that originally came into the land, turned away from God. As Judges 2:10-11 makes clear, “there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals (idols).” As a result, God did exactly what Moses had predicted He would do by disciplining them as Judges 2:14 says, “He gave them into the hands of plunderers who plundered them”. Throughout the rest of Judges, you have at least six cycles where God allows Israel to be plundered and oppressed by outside nations. Initially the children of Israel responded with repentance, but progressively got worse so that at the end of the Book of Judges, there is very little repentance. As people are prone to do, they rationalized and thought up excuses. All the nations that oppressed them had kings with professional armies, so they decided that was the problem, and they longed for a king to rule over them.
A Really Bad Idea
At the end of the period of the Judges, God raised up the prophet Samuel to guide and speak to the nation. His message is best seen in 1 Samuel 7:3, “If you return to the Lord with all your heart, remove the foreign gods from among you and direct your hearts to the Lord and serve Him alone, then He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” At that point they actually did, with very positive results, as the bad guys were routed by Israel. Nevertheless, as Samuel grew older, and the people saw what immoral crooks his sons were, they grew uneasy again, and wanted to place their faith in a man. In 1 Samuel 8:6, the people demanded a king. Samuel took this very personally as a rejection of his teaching and leadership. God comforted Samuel by telling him that they had not rejected Samuel, but they had rejected God from being king over them. That this is a very bad idea was made obvious in the rest of the chapter. God always gives fair warning to His people, and so He sent Samuel to solemnly warn them about the potential problems of having a king.
The obvious downside of giving a king absolute power is that he will become selfish and corrupted by his power. Samuel told them that a king would take their sons and send them to war, and take their daughters and put them into service. A king would confiscate the best fields and vineyards for himself. He would tax them heavily. At the end of the day when it would be too late, they would cry out for relief from the king. Nevertheless, the people stubbornly demanded a king like all the other nations. You might expect God to deny their request because you know they are wrong, but that is not how God works with stubborn people. God basically said, “OK, if that is what you want you can have it, and we will just see how that works.” We the students know it will not end well.
How Did Moses Know ?
Almost 400 years before Samuel, Moses wrote the Book of Deuteronomy. Although Moses set Israel up in a theocracy without a king, in Deut.17:14-20, Moses anticipated that in the future they would demand a king. In Deut.17:14, Moses said, “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, you will say, ‘I (the people) will set a king over me like all the nations around me.” Moses knew that a theocracy could only work if the leaders and people were committed to following the Lord. God had already let Moses know that future generations would fall away from the Lord. Moses anticipated their failure and subsequent request for a king by setting forth principles for choosing a king, and laws the kings were to obey as kings. Verse 15 sets the qualifications for a king. He should be a godly Jewish man, chosen by God. Verse 16-17 speak to his behavior. He should not accumulate wealth or possessions as the Egyptian rulers were obsessed by. Kings were also prohibited from taking multiple wives. This was a bad habit that kings have always been involved in just because they could. Neither should he accumulate silver and gold. Any of these prohibited activities would serve to “turn his heart away” from the Lord and his duties to serve. In addition to these, verses 18-20 command that the kings should copy the law down and learn it well. He should read it constantly that he may learn to fear the Lord, so that he would not become arrogant or begin to think that it was all about him.
You should be thinking that none of the kings of Israel adhered to these laws, and that is kind of the point why Samuel warned them against demanding a king.
Saul, a Man after the People’s Heart
If we were to go out looking for king candidates, who would get our attention? Typically, the most attractive looking men would catch our eye. In a nation in the midst of several wars, we would want a tough guy who looked like he could win a fight. In Israel about 1040 BC, there was a mighty man of valor named Kish of the tribe of Benjamin. This tribe was known for its tough guy warrior types. Kish had a son named Saul who was the prototype for the type of king we would all be looking for. Saul was the most handsome man in Israel with the broadest shoulders and tallest stature. If you were doing choose up for a “no rules” sandlot football game, Saul would be chosen first. When Samuel saw Saul, God impressed him that Saul would be the king the people had asked for, and in 1 Samuel 10:24, Samuel crowned Saul as the first King of Israel. In the ceremony it is important, and bodes ill for Israel, to pay attention to what Samuel said in 1 Sam.10:17-19, “Thus says the Lord, I brought you from the hand of the Egyptians, and from the power of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you. But you today rejected your God, who delivers you from all your calamities and your distresses; yet you have said, ‘No, but set a king over us!” Samuel, speaking God’s words, was telling Israel that by choosing Saul as their king, they were rejecting God from ruling over them. I know this isn’t going to turn out well! Saul is going to be just what they asked for.
Sure enough, Saul blew it big time, and many times, such that God replaced him. God had given the people a man after their own heart , but his successor would be a man after God’s own heart. After we are told in chapter 12 that Saul’s wickedness was great, and the people’s wickedness was great for wanting a king, Samuel says to the people in 12:13 referring to Saul, “here is the king whom you have chosen”. Then in chapter 13, Samuel told Saul, “now your kingdom shall not endure. The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after His own heart.” When the Apostle Paul told this story, he confirmed in Acts 13:22 that God had said, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do my will.”
In 1 Samuel 16:7, we read that God sent Samuel to the home of Jesse to find the next king of Israel. When Samuel saw the oldest son Eliab, he said to himself that this tall handsome man must be the next king, but God corrected him saying “Do not look at his appearance or at his height or stature because I have rejected him; for God sees not as a man sees, for man looks at his outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Thus God chose David who would be the father of a line of kings through whom eventually the KING OF KINGS would be born, Jesus of Nazareth.