Be Careful What You Wish For
Listen to audio version
Bible Passage: 1 Samuel 8
Last week, I told you that chapter 7 was the high point for Israel so far. It was the best of Israel. Humble… prayerful… dependent on God. The people pleaded with Samuel to pray to God to deliver them in battle. Some thirty years later, they forgot all that. They forgot that they already have a King to fight their battles.
1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel.
If you’re keeping up with the story, then this should bother you. Samuel has been a complete hero of the faith until this verse. But this is a failure. Hereditary leadership had never been done before in Israel. Gideon had rejected the idea for good reason.
After the good news of chapter 7, this verse is a major letdown.
2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba.
Beersheba was at the extreme southern border. It was a small community, which means that Samuel’s sons were only given a minor appointment. But they still do a bad job.
3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.
In other words, they were terrible leaders. They abused the little bit of power Samuel gave them. They had an obvious love for money. And Samuel bears some of the responsibility. This is a failure of discipleship and that has been a pattern for Israel.
Remember, not even Moses left a lasting legacy. His grandson started the first Jewish cult!
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 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.”
Hey, old man, we’re done with you. But pay close attention to those last four words – “like all the nations”. Those words are important to understanding this story, but let’s keep reading.
6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 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. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
Notice that God takes personal offense to their request for a king. He calls it rejection. What’s interesting is that God had actually promised Israel a king already. Deuteronomy 17 makes provisions for the time when Israel was ready for a king.
So, the problem is not their choice of government. The problem, from God’s perspective is their trust in government. This isn’t a political problem, but a spiritual problem. This is an indictment of the people’s lack of faith.
And God lets it happen anyway. He lets them have a king, but first He wants Samuel to give them the fine print.
10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
This reminds me of the movie Aladdin. The moral of the story was “be careful what you wish for”. Sometimes the things we want have unintended consequences. At the end of the movie, Jafar, the bad guy, wishes to become a genie, thinking it will make him the most powerful creature in the world, but he forgets that genies get stuck in a lamp. They become slaves to whoever owns the lamp.
And that is the point of Samuel’s speech. You want a king, but there are unintended consequences. Look at his emphasis on taking. The king will take, take, take, take, take from you. He will be a “taker” and give nothing in return that God hasn’t already promised or provided.
But Israel refuses to listen.
19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”
Lack of knowledge was not the problem. They hear the facts and still reject them.
It was their opinion, and the facts did not matter. Does that sound familiar to us? That’s the world we currently live in. Our own opinions and biases and stories matter more to us than reasonably presented facts. If the last year has taught me anything, it is that people are going to believe what they want to believe.
But what do we do with this story? What can we learn?
First, it shows us that we have a tendency to reach for physical solutions to spiritual problems.
The people were restless. They didn’t feel safe. They didn’t feel well-governed. They were unhappy with their leadership. But instead of turning to God and trusting Him, they decided on a human solution.
The issue is an incomplete diagnosis of the problem. All of the physical problems we see in the world have an underlying spiritual component. But if we ignore the spiritual component, we will be fooled into thinking we can solve those problems on our own.
As an example, I want to use the issue of poverty – which is the subject of the book “When Helping Hurts”. Look at this chart:
The book goes on to explain that poverty is much more complex than any of these things alone, and if we focus exclusively on one solution, we will be disappointed in the results.
It’s not that any of these efforts are bad. Israel’s request for a king was reasonable, but it didn’t come from a place of dependence on God. It was not motivated by the glory of God. Ralph Davis said it like this: “Reasonable solutions can sometimes be godless solutions.”
As Christians, we want our efforts to begin with God’s view of the world. We want to stay anchored to His evaluation of our need and His solution.
Underneath each of these factors is a fallen world. Sin and death, shame and guilt – they are all under the surface. Real, lasting change depends on reconciliation between God and man. He’s not going to let us solve our problems without Him. That might make us uncomfortable, but it’s true.
Second, I think we see that God will sometimes give people what they want to their own peril.
They asked for a king and God let them have a king.
I have to agree with Garth Brooks on this one. I’m glad God didn’t give me everything I thought I wanted. Those unanswered prayers were a blessing, am I right?
But sometimes God will let people have what they want – even though He knows it’s not what they need. There are two Biblical reasons why God would do that. Sometimes He does this with unbelievers and sometimes He does it with His children.
When God lets unbelievers have what they want, it is a form of judgment. The Bible describes it as giving someone over to their sin. He lets people have their way to their own destruction.
Romans 1: 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity…
In other words, man abandoned God, so God abandoned man. He let us have our rebellion.
In the end we all do what we want to do, what is in our hearts to do. Born in sin and apart from the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, this is what we do. We reject God. And unless that changes, He will reject us. He will let us have our way and it will destroy us. That’s the ultimate path of the unbeliever.
But sometimes God even lets his children have their way, for a season, not as judgment but as discipline.
We’re going to see this later on in David. He’s going to let David fall into serious sin and there will be major consequences for it. But it also humbled David and it showed us what true repentance looks like.
Here in chapter 8, God let’s the people have their way – but He’s not abandoning them. They meant it for evil, but God intended it for good. He will use it to raise up David’s dynasty.
Finally, we need to go back to that phrase “like the other nations”. 21st century Americans have a lot more in common with the ancient Israelites than we think.
They were “ashamed to be different”. They became slaves to the culture around them. They no longer wanted to be Israel. They want to be like the other nations and that was the exact opposite of God’s desire for them.
God wanted his people to be different, but that’s not what they wanted. They wanted to fit in. They wanted to create a new identity for themselves.
And I want to tell you, I believe that so much of the conflict we are witnessing right now in America is about this… it’s identity shame. We don’t want to be the person God created us to be. We want to be someone else. We want to decide our own identity and we want everyone else to adjust.
The irony, of course, is that God created us in His image. Every single one of us. We are already as special as we could possibly be. Every person is worthy of respect and dignity and love because God said so. We bear His image.
But it’s not enough for us. We want more.
What have you made the king of your life? What has your allegiance? It will take, take, take until you have nothing left to give.
But there’s an alternative. His name is Jesus and He is the only King that gives.
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
But His kingdom is not of this world… He’s not like the other kings, not like the other nations.
The call to repentance and faith is, in part, a call for us to walk away from the identity we are trying to create alone. Let go of the pride and follow Jesus.