Be Careful What You Wish For
There's an old saying that warns us, "Be careful what you wish for… you might just get it." Israel is about to learn this lesson the hard way in our reading today from 1 Samuel 8. Here the Israelites begin to pester Samuel to give them a king. On the surface, their request seems to be a legitimate one. Samuel became judge after the abject failure of Eli's sons to take over as priest and judge in their father’s place. Samuel was called by God to lead Israel as judge, but now as he gets older, there are two failures that he has to face.
- First, Samuel appointed his sons Joel and Abijah as leaders after him, but they were colossal failures as leaders as had Eli’s sons been a generation before. “They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice” (1 Sam 8:3). Israel saw a “second verse, same as the first” deal brewing with Samuels sons, and they weren’t interested.
- Second, Samuel had basically failed at being a judge. OK, Samuel was a godly and faithful man, and the failure really wasn't his fault. But the job of a judge in Judges was to destroy the foreign power oppressing Israel, and Samuel hadn't totally broken the Philistine threat (though he did put a world of hurt on them in 1 Samuel 7).
So the people of Israel saw the worthlessness of Samuel’s sons as leaders and the continued threat from the Philistines, and they came up with a solution, "You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead z us, such as all the other nations have" (1 Sam. 8:5). I’m not sure the real point is that Israel wanted to be fashionable like others nations and have a king. It was more that they thought that a strong central king was the answer to protecting them from Philistia and other foreign invaders. That is why God told Samuel, "It is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king" (1 Sam 8:7). They weren't willing to trust God to protect them; they rather put their trust in a stronger national government with a king and standing army (see 1 Sam 8:19-20).
Samuel gives Israel this warning from God, “Be careful what you wish for.” You know how parents warn their kids who want a puppy about hard it is to care for and feed and clean up after a pet? Well, God warns Israel that kings are a lot more trouble than they are worth
- The king will take your children and plow them into his war machine (8:11-13)
- The king will tax you until all of your stuff belongs to him (8:14-17)
- And kings are a lot easier to get than they are to get rid of (8:18)
Be careful what you wish for. But where did Israel get the idea that they should have a king? From the nations around them? Maybe. But maybe they also read the Bible. Ultimately the king was God’s idea and he gave instructions on the care and feeding of a king way back in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. The instructions about kings here are pretty similar to the warnings God gives in 1 Samuel 8. Do the idea of Israel having a king was God’s idea.
The problem was that Israel would not wait on God’s timing. The way this story is going to work out is that Israel insists on a king and God gives them Saul who turns out to be a huge disappointment. After Saul’s death, God raises up David, the man after God’s own heart and the precursor to the Messianic king who would come after him. In other words, God had David waiting in the wings all the time but Israel was not willing to trust Him and wait on God’s timing.
We aren't any better at waiting on God's timing than was Israel. Sure, we know about "those that wait upon the Lord" and all that stuff about eagles wings. But we want what we want when we want it. We're people who, like Joan Rivers observes, stand in front the microwave yelling, "Hurry!" We don't wait well. God interpreted Israel's unwillingness to wait and trust in him as " they have rejected me as their king." I wonder if that is how He views our impatience today?