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Why Did Ancient Israel Ask for a King?

The Bible gives us several reasons for ancient Israel’s request, and it shows not only why this desire was sinful, but also, how the fulfillment of Israel’s desire has been causing much pain and suffering for Israel and all of mankind.

To see the context, note 1 Samuel 8:1-5:

“Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel… but his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, ‘Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make for us a king to judge us like all the nations.’”

Several factors come into play here. First, Samuel should not have made his sons judges over Israel. Second, rather than demanding a king, the elders of Israel should have waited for Samuel to reverse his decision and dismiss his sons as judges. After all, Samuel was aware of the fact that Eli had not restrained his wicked sons and that, as a consequence, God made Samuel a prophet (1 Samuel 3:11-14, 20).

But the elders of Israel did not wait for Samuel’s intervention, and so, Samuel perceived this action and demand for a king as a loss of confidence in his leadership. However, God made it clear that ultimately, their demand was a rejection of God’s leadership, because God had made Samuel judge over Israel (1 Samuel 7:6, 15-17).

We read in 1 Samuel 8:6-7:

“But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ So Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.’”

God knew, of course, that ultimately, Israel would demand a king. They had already asked Gideon to rule over them as king, but Gideon had refused to do so. Judges 8:22-23 states: “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.’ But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.’”

But the time would come when Israel would be so persistent in their demand for a king that God would let them have their will. God does not prevent us from sinning, and He does not force us to live righteously. When people want to sin or lose faith in God, He does not take away their free will, but they will have to live with the consequences. Furthermore, God will use man (and even the wrong decisions of man) to bring about His purpose. For instance, He never wanted Israel to fight in war, but when they decided to become a warrior nation, He used them and their warring actions to fulfill His unconditional promise to Abraham to bring them into the land of Canaan. And so, God had already given statutes and injunctions for the king’s behavior once Israel’s demand would be fulfilled (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).

Nevertheless, God made it very clear that the demand for a king was SINFUL. One reason has already been revealed: It constituted the rejection of God’s rule over them. This desire, to be ruled by man, rather than God, has always been a major problem in man’s conduct. Christ explained that His own people (the house of Judah, John 1:11) would kill Him because they did not want Him to rule over them (Luke 19:14).

And so, God told Samuel to warn Israel of the consequences in asking for and receiving their king (1 Samuel 8:8-9):

“‘According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.’”

The picture which Samuel was inspired to paint for the people was not a pleasant one. It described the very evil of the institution of human kingship or human government in general, when it is in defiance of God’s rule. Christ later declared to His disciples: “‘You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant’” (Mark 10:42-43).

Samuel explained that the king and the human system over which he (or any human leader) would rule would take the sons and daughters of the people, as well as the best of their fields, to use them for his (or the government’s) own purposes and personal gain; that he (or the government) would make many weapons and build a great army to fight against other nations; and that he (or the government) would institute a tax system, in addition to the godly enjoined duty to pay tithe and offerings to Him. Even though Christ and Paul would make it clear, later on, that we are to pay our taxes to Caesar (Luke 20:22-25; Matthew 17:24-27; Romans 13:6-7), it remains true that the origin of the human tax system is evil, and that a country and a people are destroyed when they are taxed heavily (Proverbs 29:4, American Bible: “By justice a king gives stability to the land, but he who imposes heavy taxes ruins it.”).

God also forewarned them that the time would come when the people would complain and murmur against their king, but God would not listen to them. We read in 1 Samuel 8:18: “And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”

Nevertheless, the people did not heed the warning, but responded: “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

Rather than relying on God, they wanted to rely on man. They wanted to be like everybody else, even though God had called the nation of Israel to be different and holy—to be set aside for a separate and godly purpose (Exodus 19:6). God wanted to dwell among them (Exodus 29:46) and rule over them. They were to show other nations how a people can live under God’s rule. But they chose to reject God’s rule in order to become like all the other nations. Rather than trusting in God that He would fight their battles (Exodus 14:13-14; Deuteronomy 1:30; compare also 1 Samuel 7:8-14), they reiterated their wish for a king so that HE could lead them in battle. They wanted to follow the false god of war and human war heroes, rather than the true God of Peace.

Samuel reiterated his warning in 1 Samuel 10:19: “But you have today rejected your God, who Himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and you have said to Him, ‘No, but set a king over us!’”

Samuel gives an additional reason for their immediate demand for a king in 1 Samuel 12:12:

“‘And when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, “No, but a king shall reign over us” when the LORD your God was your king.’” It was the fear of an approaching enemy which prompted them to ask for a king at that time, thinking that a powerful and visible human warrior could save them, while in their mind, the invisible great God could not accomplish this. The demand for a king was an example of complete and total lack of faith in God. Samuel made this very clear when he continued that God would work a visible sign to show them their sinfulness: “‘…I will call to the LORD, and He will send thunder and rain, that you may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking a king for yourselves’” (1 Samuel 12:17).

When God performed this miracle, “…all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves’” (1 Samuel 12:19). But their “remorse” was too late, because in the meantime, Samuel had already received and followed God’s command to anoint Saul as the king of Israel (As it turned out, Saul, who was at the beginning a humble man and little in his own sight, became proud and wicked, so that God forsook him and asked Samuel to anoint David as king instead.)

Responding to the people’s “regret,” Samuel stated: “…‘You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart… serve Him in truth with all your heart… But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king’” (1 Samuel 12:20, 24-25).

The rest is history—and prophecy. The nations of Israel and Judah did live wickedly so that God expelled them from their land. First, the house of Israel was enslaved by the Assyrians, and later, the house of Judah was enslaved by the Babylonians. The nation of Judah was subsequently re-established in the Promised Land, but the house of Israel never returned. Modern descendants of the house of Judah can be found today in the state of Israel and elsewhere, while modern descendants of the house of Israel can be found in the United Kingdom, the United States, and in other English-speaking nations.

The Bible shows us that due to their wickedness and rebellion against God, both modern houses will again be led into captivity. No king or ruler will save them from this pre-determined fate which has been proclaimed because of their continuing sins. They still believe that human beings should lead them and will save them and bring them deliverance and peace; that God is not to be considered; and that His Word is not to be kept.

They still follow their god of war and live with the delusion that their elected rulers need to lead them in their wars with terrible, destructive weapons and huge armies. Even though God had told them that He was to choose their king whom they desired (1 Samuel 10:24), they later even rejected that command, as Hosea 8:4 tells us: “They set up kings, but not by Me; They made princes, and I did not acknowledge it.” But of course nothing can be accomplished against God’s Will, even though man may think otherwise. But overall, this is not God’s world, and Satan rules it and brings people to power whom he wants. God only intervenes in this day and age in the political affairs of this world, when He needs to in order to bring about His desired purpose.

Ancient and modern Israel and Judah did not learn what God is telling all of us in Psalm 146:3: “Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.”

The ancient and modern houses of Israel and Judah were meant to show the world how to live righteously, by trusting in God and not in their human leaders or their weapons and armies (Psalm 44:6-8). Instead, they have been following the ways of the world like all the other nations.

But God is telling them today what is going to happen to them very soon:

“‘I have destroyed you, Israel, who is there to help you? Where now is your king that he may save you, in all your cities where are your rulers? “Give me a king and princes,” you said. I gave you a king in my anger, and in my wrath I took him away’” (Hosea 13:9-11, Revised English Bible).

When Christ returns, human rulers and human kings will end (Daniel 2:44). Wars will cease (Psalm 46:9). Trust in God will be taught and practiced. Taxes will be abandoned, and only God’s tithing system will continue to exist. One bad choice of Israel’s demand for a king had terrible consequences for them and the entire world. But thankfully, God will reverse this bad and evil decision, when His righteous God Family will govern this planet. Then we will experience a world of peace when all nations, including Israel and Judah, will learn to rely on God, rather than on man, and abandon the way of war (Isaiah 2:1-4).

Lead Writer: Norbert Link