Text: 1 Samuel 8:1-22
“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, ‘Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.’” (1 Samuel 8:4–5)
We took the kids shoe shopping last summer before school started. I thought it was going to be a breeze. We’ll just find a pair of sneakers that fit their feet, and the kids will be happy. But as we walked up and down the aisles of the store, we soon discovered it would not be that simple. “How about these,” I suggested, holding up a box that happened to be on sale. “No way,” my daughter quickly replied. “I need a pair of Sketchers, because that’s what everyone else wears.” I was amazed. She wasn’t even in kindergarten yet, but already knew what brand of tennis shoes was popular. She hadn’t learned how to read yet, but she knew what the logo looked like, and the box that I was holding didn’t have it. I tried to convince her that these were just as good. “They are like Sketchers,” I said. “They are bright and colorful, and there’s a picture of a pony on the side.” But she wasn’t impressed. Her mind was already made up, she wanted the same kinds of shoes all her friends were wearing, so we kept searching. Eventually we found the right shelf, where the Sketchers were stacked. Fortunately for her, they were also on sale, so she got her wish.
Maybe you have felt pressure, at different moments in your life, to be like everyone else… to blend in… to go along with the crowd… do what everyone else is doing… to conform.
We think of young people, in junior high and high school, who imitate those around them: wearing the same brand of shoes, or listening to the same type of music, watching the same shows on television, because everyone else is doing it.
We may continue to struggle with this even as we get older. We live in a world that does not honor God, or follow his ways. Our goal is to become a positive influence on those around us, but if we’re not careful we can allow the world to influence us. You tell yourself: “all of my friends think this way, maybe they’re right,” “everyone at work is doing it, so it must be okay,” “this is how my neighbors live, why shouldn’t I?” Little by little, we find ourselves thinking like the world, talking like the world, acting like the world. But God doesn’t want us to imitate the world. We’re called to imitate Him.
The people of Israel were struggling with this, in 1 Samuel 8. They didn’t want to be different. They wanted to be just like everyone else. So they approached the prophet Samuel with a request: give us a king to rule over us, like all of the other nations. The Philistines have a king. The Egyptians have a king. The Phoenicians have a king. The Ammonites have a king. Why can’t we have a king just like them?
Now the idea of a king was not necessarily wrong, in itself. Earlier, in the book of Genesis, God had promised the patriarchs that kings would descend from their lineage. And in Deuteronomy, Moses described the qualities of a godly king. The problem was their motive. Israel was no longer content to follow God, but they want wanted to be like the rest of the world, with an earthly king ruling over them.
Christian writer, Randy Frazee writes,
“…all the other nations surrounding Israel had kings, but the Israelites had priests and prophets leading them. Kings wore regal robes and jeweled crowns; but priestly garments were quite simple and drab by comparison. Kings could make decisions on the spot; but religious leaders checked in with God first. Kings commanded massive battalions of horse-drawn chariots that carried warriors dressed in armor and brandishing swords and spears; but religious leaders told their men to blow trumpets and shout [as they marched around fortresses]… Why can’t we be like everyone else? Simple. In God’s story, he wants something better for us.” (“The Story,” p.99)
And God wants something better for you and me. He doesn’t want us to follow the world, because he knows that’s not the path of blessing. We should follow Christ, because he is the King of kings and Lord of lords. God gave the people of Israel a warning in these verses, and it continues to apply to believers today, in this dispensation.
When we follow the world, we lose our distinctiveness.
Look at verse 4.
“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, ‘Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.’”
Samuel was a godly leader. It was very sad his two sons did not follow the example he set for them. I’m sure he was hoping they would seek God’s wisdom in their positions of leadership, but instead they took advantage of their authority and used it for their own personal gain. Samuel’s home was nearly 60 miles from where his sons were living. It is possible that Samuel was unaware of their corruption. So the people were right to bring the matter to the prophet’s attention. But the problem was their attitude.
Give us a king, so we can be like all the other nations! They had forgotten who the Lord called them to be. Israel had been set apart, as God’s holy people. They were to be different from all of the other nations. The people around them worshipped idols, but Israel served the one true God. Other cultures were full of injustice, but Israel was governed by God’s law. The rest of the world turned its back on the Lord, but the Israelites were called to be a kingdom of priests pointing the way to God.
God wanted his people to stand out from the rest of the world. He made them unique so they would be able to influence the people around them. Sadly, it was the children of Israel who allowed themselves to be influenced by their neighbors, embracing pagan religion and practices, forgetting who they were called to be.
God’s people today are also called to be different from the world around us. We have a different understanding of right and wrong from others, based on God’s Word. We have a different purpose that drives us, to share the message of God’s love and grace. We have different priorities, wanting to please God in all that we do. But how can we make a positive difference in this world, if we start acting like everyone else and lose sight of what makes us unique?
Picture a teenager who idolizes a certain movie star. He wants to be just like that famous actor. He hangs posters in his room, and watches his films over and over. He tries to imitate the actor in every way: learning to walk like him, talk like him, even combing his hair like him. In the process, the young man forgets what makes him special. He is no longer acting himself, but is trying to be somebody else.
God doesn’t want us act like somebody else. He wants us to be the people he created us to be. As those who follow Christ, we are called to be holy, because he is holy. We are to resonate with his love and reflect the character of our Savior. But we’re not able to do that if we’re acting like the world. Romans 12:2 tells us, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” It’s not easy to be different. It’s take courage to stand out, and march to different beat. But that’s the life God calls us to pursue.
I think of a young person who graduates from high school, goes off to college, where he is on his own for the first time. As a kid, his parents brought him to church and youth group so that he could grow in his relationship with the Lord. But now he has to decide whether or not to continue along that path. As he meets new people, and makes new friends, he finds that there are many different influences, not all of them are good. Some of the people in his dorm are more into partying than studying. Very few are interested in going to church. He has to decide whether he conform to the ways of the world, or will he remain committed to Christ, allowing God’s Spirit to transform his life. Wherever we find ourselves, that’s the decision that we are called to make each day. What kind of person will I be today? …the person the world expects me to be? …or person God is shaping me to be?
When we follow the world, we rebel against our true King
But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:6-7)
Samuel was distraught. He had devoted his entire life serving as prophet and judge in the land of Israel. When they needed guidance, he was there to offer God’s wisdom. When they were in trouble, he encouraged them to take refuge in the Lord. Now, after all these years, it felt like they were rejecting him. So he went to the Lord, in prayer, and God answered him. “Samuel, I know how you are feeling right now. I know that your heart is breaking for these people. I understand what you’re going through, because I feel it too. It’s what I felt years ago when I rescued your forefathers from Egypt, but they would not trust me to lead them through the desert. It’s what I felt as the people stood at the very edge of the Promised Land, but they refused to enter. It’s what I’ve felt every time the people turned their back on my love, choosing instead to worship idols. They have been a stubborn and rebellious people from the start, and they continue to turn from me. You see, Samuel, they’re not rejecting you or your leadership. They are rejecting me as their king.” God experiences emotions too, and it brings him tremendous pain when his people rebel. It’s not that he is surprised. It’s not that he failed to see it coming. On the contrary, he knows what we’re going to do even before we do it. But it still brings him sorrow when we disobey.
It doesn’t make sense for us to rebel. Not only is God the rightful king over heaven and earth, but there no one like him in all the universe.
- Isaiah 33:22 “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; it is he who will save us.”
- Psalm 93:1–2 “The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty; The Lord has clothed and girded Himself with strength; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved. Your throne is established from of old; You are from everlasting.”
- 1 Timothy 1:17 “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
God is a good king. He is different from all the kings of the earth. In the history of the world there have been many cruel and horrible leaders. They have made life miserable for their subjects imposing harsh laws, exploiting their people, and murdering anyone who dared to challenge their authority. We think of refugees from a war torn country who try desperately to escape, crossing oceans, in search of a better life in a free land. But God is a king unlike any king the world has ever known. He is loving, and gracious, and faithful, and generous. He always has the best interests of his people at heart. Why would we ever reject his rule? It’s because our sin nature does not want to bow before him. We want to be in charge. We want to be in control. We want have the power. And so we resist him, even though it causes all kinds of heartache and misery in our lives. We need surrender. Stop fighting. Acknowledge that Christ is Lord, and for the first time in your life you will experience His peace.
When we follow the world, we may not like where it leads.
Look at verse 10.
So Samuel spoke all the words of the Lord to the people who had asked of him a king. He said, “This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
God tells Samuel to give the people what they wanted. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way. But first the prophet warned the people about what they were getting themselves into. Sure, the idea of king sounds enchanting, like something out of a storybook. All we need is a benevolent ruler, who fend off our enemies, and bring peace to the land. But unfortunately, their dreams would not live up to reality.
Samuel wanted them to realize there was a cost to having a king. Kings enjoy wielding power. They live in a royal palace above their subjects. They revel in pomp and ceremony. They take whatever they want….
- …your strongest young men will serve in his army
- …he will take the best of your flocks and produce
- …your sons will work in his fields and foundries
- …your daughters work in the palace as perfumers and cooks
- …he will give your vineyards to his nobles
- In the end, you will no longer be a free people, but will reduced to his slaves
Samuel challenged the people to consider whether or not this was a cost they were willing to pay. But they were too stubborn to listen. We don’t care what it costs. We want a king!
There is also a cost to turning away from God, and following the ways of the world. It is often hidden. We don’t see it coming. Sin has a way of blinding us to the consequences of our choices. In our mind, we think everything is going to be wonderful. We will be happy, and satisfied, and have all that we could ever want. But the reality is quite different from our imagination.
It is a lot like fishing. When the line is cast into the water, the fish does not see the hook. He does not see the line. He does not see the fisherman standing along the shore. All it can see is the colorful lure dancing through the water in front of its eyes. Without giving it a thought, the fish bites, and moments later it finds itself being pulled by some mysterious force toward the surface. The fisherman reels in the line, and nets his catch. As the fish flops around in the air, it has to wonder, “how did I end up here?” When we follow the path of this world we usually find ourselves in a somewhere we don’t want to be. We took the bait. We ignored the warning. And we are left wondering, “how did I end up in this place?”
“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)
Israel wanted a king, and so God gave them one. He guided the prophet Samuel to a young man from the tribe of Benjamin named Saul. He looked the part. Saul had broad shoulders and stood taller than other men. He got off to a good start, and it seemed like this new government was going to work out well. But before long, King Saul let the power of the office go to his head. He was proud, impatient, and decided to do things his way instead of listening to the Lord. When the prophet rebuked him for ignoring God’s commands, Saul made excuses. It was obvious that his reign would eventually come to a tragic end.
The next time you find yourself tempted to go along with everyone else, ask yourself if you would rather follow the world, or follow the Lord.
Would you blindly follow the car in front of you, as you’re trying to navigate a busy highway, trusting that he knows where he’s going? Or would you consult a more reliable source, like a map or GPS? So why would we follow along with the rest of the world in our journey through life? God’s Word is a more reliable source, and he shows us the right path.
- When we follow the world, we lose our distinctiveness, and are no longer acting as the people we were made to be.
- When we follow the world, we rebel against out king.
- When we follow the world, we end up some place we don’t want to be.
It’s not easy to go against the current, but it is worth it.