Wanting to replace the true king. Studying 1 Samuel 8:1-9

I’m a sports fan. It can be easy to be disappointed in your teams. At the end of the season, there’s always only one champion. 

More often than not, that’s not your team. Some teams wait years or decades to win titles. Some never even have. 

Maybe your team has had a down year or a few down years, and you start to think about the coaches, and to think “this guy is terrible! What we need is a new coach.” 

But sometimes the coach isn’t the issue. 

Wanting to get a new coach can be an easy fix. You can’t get rid of the whole team. But you can fire a coach. 

But so often, the new coach doesn’t seem to do much better than the old coach. Because sometimes the issue isn’t the coach. Sometimes the issue is the entire organization and a poor culture and an owner who won’t spend money and a front office that’s inept, and when everything else is bad, there’s only so much a good coach can do. 

We can do that in life sometimes too. We can be reactionary and constantly changing things. 

You look around a bookstore and one of the biggest sections are the self help books For a person who is not rooted in anything, they can be susceptible to drifting around and going from one philosophy to another. One life coach to another. One guru to another. All the while, just spinning the wheels. 

I’ve seen people do that with faith. Someone grows up and maybe they have a nominal church background, but they’re not particularly religious. And then they start following the ways of the world and they end up disillusioned and unhappy. And they meet some Christians or start going to church. And they like it. For awhile. 

But then something happens. Maybe they were misguided and thought that everything should be easier because they’re a Christian. The false gospels of the world can be appealing and the church becomes less and less appealing. I’ve sen people go full circle from not being Christians to being active in the church to not considering themselves Christians again. 

And they keep searching. Onto the next thing. 

When things aren’t going well spiritually or when life isn’t going the way you feel like it should, we can face this temptation to think we need to make a change with who’s leading our lives.

In 1 Samuel 8, the Israelites decided that they wanted to make a change. God was on the throne. The glorious and gracious Lord. But Israel decided that he wasn’t what they wanted, and they asked instead for an earthly king to rule over them. They thought that taking God off the throne would somehow lead them to better results. 

Teams can change coaches. That may or may not go well. But when people go away from God, that will always lead to misery and death. 

Understanding First Samuel 

By the time we come to 1 Samuel 8, Samuel is getting on in years. He’d served as a prophet and judge in Israel. His sons were set to replace him but there was a problem. They were wicked and the people did not want them. 

While Samuel had been a great and Godly man, verse 3 says:

 “but his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and prevented justice.” 

So Samuel is a great man. His kids aren’t. I’m sure you’ve seen that story play out before.  

So we have an issue. 

Trying to dethrone the true king

The Israelites want a king but the issue is that they already have a king. The Lord God is their king. 

God had ruled over Israel. He had led them in victories, he had miraculously led them out of slavery in Egypt. He had done the impossible. He had provided for his people as they wandered in the desert, he had brought them to the land. Everything the Israelites had in life was because of what God had provided for them and done for them. 

Beginning in verse 4, a counsel meets to review the situation. They looked at Samuel’s sons who were going to replace him and they see how rotten they are and they don’t want them to have influence. 

And they ask Samuel to give them a king, just like all of the other nations, as verse 5 will tell us.

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.”

It’s almost like the stereotypical conversation that almost every teen has had with a parent, “but all my friends are doing it.” 

But God hadn’t chosen Isarel, he hadn’t brought them from slavery, he hadn’t given them this land, just so they could be like all of the other nations. 

It’s the same way with us and the gospel.

We are desperately sinful and when we come to faith in Jesus, we come to him in a desperate need. He is gracious to forgive us. God shows his love in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). 

But Jesus doesn’t save us just so we can continue to have the same struggles, just so we can look, live and act like everyone else around us. He transforms hearts and minds and souls and lives. 

The Israelites were a people who had fallen into idolatry, they had worshiped other gods. They had been disobedient, they had repeatedly violated the laws of God. And here they have a desire to change the system.  They want a king to rule over them. 

And again while the idea of a king wasn’t inherently sinful, we will see in this text that Israel’s motivations for wanting a king were sinful. 

The people say, “But all of the other kingdoms are doing it. They all have kings.” But their kings are all corrupt! They’re pagan nations! 

In verse 7, when Samuel has prayed to God, the Lord tells him that the people haven’t rejected Samuel, they’ve rejected God.  

And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.

And again, God’s people are called to be different. During the exodus wanderings, the word of the Lord comes to the people and God says in Leviticus 20:26:

You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

But here the Israelites want to be like all the other nations.

I think we too can sometimes want something that isn’t inherently bad or sinful. But WHY we want it shows a heart that is sinful. 

Why people buy the Prius

Sometimes people can want something but the motivation isn’t great. Perhaps you’ve done something nice for a person before, but the reason wasn’t really altruism. The reason was because you wanted them to owe you. Or perhaps you’ve said nice thing to a person before but it was to try to butter them up.

Something that’s good but for the wrong reasons. 

In 2007, the New York Times did a survey on owners of the Toyota Prius, the Hybrid car with low emissions that can get upwards of 50 miles to the gallon!

In the survey, they tried to find out the biggest reason why people were buying the Prius. What was the number one reason? 

Was it lower emissions? No that was the fifth most popular answer. What about the amazing gas mileage? That was just third. There had been different incentive and tax credits for buying the efficient car. That was the second most popular reason. 

Number one reason, according to the article “makes a statement about me.” 

So the number one reason wasn’t that people cared about the efficiency of the car. It was that they cared about people THINKING they cared about the clean running car. 

If that isn’t the spirit of our age! Not actually caring. Just caring about people thinking you care. 

Nothing wrong with the car. But wanting it because it’s a status symbol is a bit silly. 

We can be fickle. We can care about our image and what others think of us. We can want certain things which aren’t inherently bad but for bad reasons. 

I know when a person is single and wants to be married, marriage can become an idol. Marriage is a good thing. It’s given to us by God. But if we look to it as something that will totally fulfill us and give our lives meaning, we can make an idol of it. It’s not a bad thing, but we can distort it. 

People can do it with accomplishments. Maybe a certain degree someone is striving for. Maybe a certain job someone has spent years working for. Again, those aren’t bad things. Ambition isn’t bad. 

But it’s wanting a good thing for bad reasons when we think that we’ll finally be happy when we get it.

For the Israelites, they began with a desire. They want a king to rule over them. That was their vision of flourishing. They thought a king would be the one to make their lives better. 

But they wanted that over the true king, the Lord. 

Even today, sometimes we do this. We put trust in a person over trust in God. Most prominently, we do that in the world of politics. We can look to people being as being our hope. 

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with taking an interest in politics or what’s happening in our society. But it is a problem when we make people out to be our hope. When we trust in men. 

But God is still the king. 

In the Old Testament, we constantly see God sovereignly working through the nations and through time to achieve his will. God moves the kingdoms of the world at his pleasure. 

We might not covet a king the way the Israelites did, but far too often we can look at a leader as though they are the key. 

And they’re not. 

God did not stop being God between the time of these ancient Israelites and today. 

Wanting someone in office because you think he or she has policies that are good is one thing. But it’s entirely different from thinking we need that person. That becomes idolatry. There is no man or woman who is our hope. 

The Lord is our only hope. And it is He who is the king and who sits on the throne. Don’t look to earthly kings when we have a heavenly king.

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