A king like the nations – part 3 (1 Sam 8)

The desire to be like everyone else will enslave us, but God will let it if that’s what we really want.

That’s what we’ve learned so far in 1 Samuel 8. Israel wanted a king like the nations around her, despite God’s warning that it would enslave them. But as we saw in Solomon’s lifetime (1 Kings 4, 10), that’s what happened. God had something far better on offer – himself as their king – but Israel chose to be like the other nations instead.

In our final look at this chapter, we look at the final part of the sentence: God will let it enslave us, if that’s what we really want.

…but God will let it (1 Sam 8:19-22)

After all, that’s what happened to Israel. They didn’t heed the warning. They still rejected God and wanted a human king. They chose the copy over the real thing; the mud pies in the slums over the holiday at the beach (see Monday’s post). So God (graciously) allowed them to have what they asked for.

8:19-22 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 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.” When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Everyone go back to his town.”

The rest of the history of the people of Israel is simply the outworking of this choice to reject God as their king. Particularly the history of the monarchy, from Saul through to the mostly corrupt and evil kings of the divided kingdom. It didn’t have to be that way. But it’s what Israel chose, so God gave it to them. And then they had to live with the consequences: a substandard existence as the people of God – when it could have been so much more!

Is God giving you what you asked for? How is it working out? Maybe the fact that you feel in a rut in your Christian life, that it’s not living up to expectations; maybe God is letting you reap the consequences of your choice to be like the nations around. Your choice to settle for substitutes that end up enslaving rather than bringing freedom. Your choice to try to live in both worlds: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world.

Don Carson writes:

‘No-one is more miserable than the Christian who for a time hedges in his obedience. He does not love sin enough anymore to enjoy its temporary pleasures, and he does not love Christ enough to relish holiness. He perceives that his rebellion is iniquitous, but obedience seems distasteful. He does not feel at home any longer in the world, but the memory of his past associations and the tantalizing lyrics of his old music prevent him from singing with the saints. He is a man most to be pitied’.

Is now the time to repent, and ask God instead to give you what he knows you need? That is, to give you himself – in place of the substitutes you’ve been settling for. To repent of not wanting him to be king?

Now at this point you might be thinking: but I do want God as my king, deep down. When it comes down to it, I don’t really want to be like the nations around. But how serious are we about that? How serious are we about taking hold of all that God brings to us in him? Ross Gittins (Sydney Morning Herald, Aug 6, 2008) wrote this:

‘I’ve always been taken by the catch-cry of the great American con man, Bernie Cornfeld: “Do you sincerely want to be rich?” Most of us would like to be rich, but only a very few of us – and certainly not me – sincerely want to be rich.

To be fair dinkum about getting rich you have to be prepared to make the sacrifices involved: to find an occupation that’s lucrative rather than satisfying, to give up your leisure, and neglect family and friends as you work day and night to amass and reinvest your fortune. Above all, you need to want to be rich for the sake of being rich, not for the sake of being a big spender. No, most of us don’t want to be rich that badly.’

Although the average person might say they want to be rich, most aren’t prepared to back that up with the level of commitment that’s required. Although the average Christian might say they want to be rich in Christ, how many want it that badly that they’ll make the sacrifices involved? How many of us are prepared to give up being ruled by our desire to be like everyone else?

So again, I ask: Is now the time to repent of asking for a king like the other nations? Of wanting to have Jesus and remain at home with the rest of the world?

For good reason, the Apostle Peter addresses his first letter to God’s people, calling them ‘foreigners and exiles ’ (1:1).

For good reason, the Apostle Paul reminds the Philippians that our citizenship is not of this world; ‘our citizenship is in heaven’ (3:20)

For good reason, James, the brother of Jesus, tells his readers they can’t be friends of God and friends with the world (4:4).

That doesn’t mean we don’t have friends who are in the world; it doesn’t mean we run away from being in the world. It’s where we live, for the time being. It simply means we stop sharing its values. We stop chasing after the things that everyone else chases after. We decide to be different. Different because we are God’s people, and we have something far better than the nations around.

We have God himself. Who wants a human substitute, anyway?

To think about

Is God giving you over to your choice of inferior substitutes – of “mud pies in the slums”?

Of what do you need to repent, in order to experience the “holiday at the sea” God offers?

‘We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at  the sea. We are far too easily pleased.’ – C.S. Lewis

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