“But all my friends have one!”
Every parent of a teenager has heard these words. And every parent remembers being a teenager who said these words.
God’s children – the Israelites – were just as whiny and just as driven to be like everyone else.
God brought his children out of slavery in Egpyt. He met every one of their physical and spiritual needs in the wilderness. Then he brought them safely into a new land called Canaan.
God was their king.
As They Saw Fit
But in that land, God’s people were surrounded by nations that worshiped other gods and were ruled by human kings.
In the book of Judges we witness Israel turning from God’s good way to the ways of their neighbors. This led them into a destructive pattern: falling into sin, oppressed as a consequence, then confessing, and finally delivered by a “judge” (a warrior/leader). When the judge died, the people repeated this cycle again: sin oppression, confession, deliverance.
This pattern repeated seven times – the number of completion or wholeness. Again and again the author of the book of Judges wrote, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” (emphasis mine)
Israel, like Adam and Eve, did not order their lives and their nation God’s good way. The Israelites ordered their society “as they saw fit,” imitating their neighbors, until they finally became COMPLETELY and WHOLLY depraved and desperate for deliverance. But instead of confessing and turning to her God and King (again), Israel replaced Him!
Give Us A New King
The last judge was a man named Samuel. The people of God knew that he was about to die…and they knew when he did they would inevitably fall back into sin and their nation would fall apart again. They’d seen it happen seven times!
So they asked Samuel for a human king to save them:
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah.5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.1 Samuel 8:4-6
They wanted a human king like all the other nations had. A king who would “lead” them. Other translations say “judge” or “administer justice.” It’s the word sapat in Hebrew, and that should look familiar to you. Sapat is the root word that mishpat is built on – that’s the word we’ve been looking at in this series that means “justice.”
The Israelites wanted a human king to decide for them what was good and what people were due. They wanted a human king to order their nation in a way that seemed good to him. Then they would be like all the other nations.
In one of the saddest passages in all of scripture God then told Samuel…
“Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”1 Samuel 8:7-9
Look at that last sentence again. Samuel was to warn the nation and let it know how a human king would reign over them and claim his “rights.” “Rights” is another way to translate mishpat. It’s the way a king thinks is good, the way he wants his kingdom ordered. That’s his mishpat or justice.
Justice Like All The Other Nations
God told the Israelites, through Samuel, exactly what their human king’s mishpat would look like:
“This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for 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 groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.1 Samuel 8:11-17
The king would send their sons to die in war. He would use them to do hard labor for him. He would take their land and give it to his friends. He would make their daughters his slaves. He would steal the fruits of their labor, tax them above what they were already giving to God, and make them his slaves for his benefit.
Hurt and scarcity. None of their physical and spiritual needs would be met. But still they said…
“No! We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”1 Samuel 8:19-20
God – seated on the Ark of the Covenant – had gone into battle before them. God, their king, had delivered them from slavery and faithfully met their every physical and spiritual need. But still they wanted a king like all the other nations. And God gave them what they asked for.
Saul was anointed the first human king of Israel. His justice was not like God’s justice. His ways were not God’s ways. And the hurt and scarcity that spilled from the Garden of Eden and into the City of Cain then filled Israel…and it became just like all the other nations.