Israel’s Demand for a Political King

Why did the people of Israel demand a political king?

1 Samuel 8:4-22: So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 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.”

But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “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. 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. 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.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “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.

18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “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.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”

remb_saul-david_grt

King Saul and David by Rembrandt (1655-1660)

In this painting by Rembrandt David has returned to Jerusalem after defeating the Philistines. The superstitious King Saul considered David a threat to his position as an unpopular ruler and desired for young David, now a popular hero, to die in battle. The spear in his hand could be used against David in a moment of uncontrolled anger. At the same time, he is moved to tears by David’s harp playing and Rembrandt illustrates this with Saul drying his eyes with a curtain. Leaders are human – sinful, incompetent, arrogant, and in need of God’s help and the grace of Jesus Christ!

Luther: Israel will have three kings, Saul, David, and Solomon before it is divided into two separate political states or northern and southern Israel. For Luther, this story revealed that God is truly the master and in control of every situation. He based this on the Scripture verses that stated Saul was chosen and anointed while looking for a beast of burden (1 Samuel 9-10) and when he lost half of his army in a battle with the Philistines. Luther understood the need for rulers to be repentant, humble, and trusting in God. In his time Luther warned rulers against being too clever especially when they lacked experience in warfare by citing the story from Cicero of Phormio, a Roman philosopher, who lectured Hannibal on how to conduct a war.

Luther writes in his commentary on 2 Samuel 23 of the special joy that King David had when he knew that one of his descendants would sit at the right hand of God!

“The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.

The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me: ‘When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of  morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’

“If my house were not right with God, surely he would not have made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part; surely he would not bring to fuition my salvation and grant me my every desire.

But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns, which are not gathered with the hand. Whoever touches thorns uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear; they are burned up where they lie.”

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

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