The main focus of this week’s Bible readings have been on the beginnings of the line of kings of Israel. The key passage to set this up comes in 1 Samuel 8:4-7.
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.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.”
Notice that the Israelites’ reason for demanding a king was that they wanted to be “like all the nations.” They reiterated this and expanded on it later in verses 19-20 after Samuel had warned them what their lives would be like living under the rule of a king.
But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also my be like all the other nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
Their desire to be like all the other nations was really a demand to be unlike what God wanted them to be – a theocracy dependent on him for leadership, judgment, and relationship.
Moses had, of course, predicted that this day would come, and the warnings that Samuel gave them were similar to the warnings Moses had given them approximately 350 years earlier (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).
So God gave them what they asked for – a king like all the other nations had. Saul was a man from the tribe of Benjamin who stood head and shoulders above anyone else (1 Samuel 10:23). He looked the part, but his heart was not right with God. Yes, God used him to lead Israel for a time, but he continued to choose his own way in preference to God’s way. Consider the following statements:
You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you. (1 Samuel 13:13-14)
And it was told Samuel, “Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.” (1 Samuel 15:12)
And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, “Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.” Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord? And Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:18-23)
Saul was marked by three characteristics:
- He acted presumptuously, determining what he should do for himself without consistently seeking the guidance of the Lord
- He had a high opinion of himself and his decisions, setting up a monument in his own honor
- Saul confidently stated that he was obedient to the Lord while simultaneously admitting that he had changed and reworded what God had directed.
Samuel rightly pointed out that God is more pleased by obedience than by sacrifices. This points forward to the work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus died for our sins, the only completely acceptable sacrifice allowed by God. What we do with that (repenting of sin, believing in the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice, trusting that his victory over death enables our ultimate victory as well) is how God looks at us – not according to what we do but according to our faith in what Jesus has done for us!