(This post is taken from a recent sermon on 1Samuel 8)
Having grown up in the US, I’v never lived under the reign of an honest to goodness, earthly king. I’ve never been a subject to a monarch. We choose leaders through an electoral process. And thanks to a culture of 24hr news that not only feels the desperate need to let ANYONE talk about SOMETHING for all 24 of those hours EVERY SINGLE DAY, but also feels the pressure to make the endless drivel sound exciting, our electoral process feels like it is wrapped in useless minutiae to the point that by the time we go to the polls, we’re somehow exhausted and annoyed at having exercised our constitutional rights.
But it’s always nice when the homestretch is in view. (Just think only 8 more months… sigh)
My practical knowledge of monarchy is limited, so in my Monty-Python-esque daydreaming, I kind of wish real-life monarchy would work like the game of checkers… or Draughts, if you embrace the game’s British roots.
Imagine with me, if you will, ancient kingdoms lining a battlefield. Men moving across the battlefield in a series of diagonal maneuvers, jumping OVER the opposing soldiers along the way. As opposing soldiers are leapt OVER, they recognizes the athletic prowess of their opponents and lay down their arms. But one brave man finally reaches the far side of the battlefield, he shouts, at which point one of the previously defeated men climbs on TOP of his shoulders, instituting the monarchy which comes with no particularly special powers other than the ability to move, and continue jumping over men, this time whilst backwards.
THEY say (you know you can trust what they say, because they are they.) that it is more difficult to master the game of checkers than it is to master the game of chess. Who would’ve thought?
This post is a reflection upon our relationship to God as KING. I really do believe it’s hard for us to practically understand what it means to have a sovereign reigning over us, because our cultural context is not exactly comparable. We can chase book smarts, but in our context, we rejected monarchy centuries ago, choosing instead to allow the people hold the power collectively – which has its merits and flaws in a sinful and broken world.
You need to know that it was always God’s revealed plan to provide a king, a sovereign who would reign over the earth with justice and peace. This king would come as a man in fulfillment of a promise. A long time ago, God told Abraham (Genesis 17:6) that, in addition to blessing all the families of the earth through his family, kings would also come through his line. This promise was often renewed to the Israelites, ultimately leading to a narrower vision of one True king, the blessing for the earth who would sit on the throne forever.
Trouble springs when the people, in sin, try to wrestle the plan out of God’s hands, demanding the right thing for the wrong reason. This story is from Israel’s past. The heart behind it is as old as the garden of Eden, and the implications stretch to the cross of Christ and to you, to us today.
In 1Samuel 8, the nation of Israel asked God to provide a human king. Until this particular moment in history, the nation had lived under the kingship of God. As needed, in the midst of trouble wrought by their own sinfulness, our good and saving God would raise deliverers, called judges, who would restore freedom from oppression according to the will and the work of the Lord. But the judges were temporary. The day to day affairs of the nation knew YHWH, the God of the Exodus, as sovereign King. Samuel, the man after whom the book is named, served the Lord by leading the chosen people. Samuel had been good to the people of Israel. He served faithfully as a prophet and judge. The people love Samuel. But his kiddos are rotten. The people fear for the future in a land surrounded by enemies. They fear life under poor leadership. So they ask for a king… it seems reasonable.
And I’ve already told you this was God’s plan. So why all the trouble? Why is it such a big deal that the people are asking for what God has promised them?
Sometimes asking for the right thing is, in fact, the wrong thing, when desired for the wrong reason.
Israel didn’t want God’s king. They wanted a king. They wanted this king to do what kings do. But their heart’s desire was to be just like everyone else. That we may be like all the nations. (1Samuel 8:5, 20)
The heart problem here is that God’s call upon his people is to be holy. Be holy as I, the LORD your God, am holy. To be holy is to be set apart. Consecrated. Different. To be holy unto the Creator of the universe is to stand out as belonging to the One who is distinct from this world in all the best ways. To be holy unto God is to be unlike any nation, any people, by virtue of faith according to his grace. Here the people of God ask God to make them just like everyone else. Plain. Fallen. Broken.
God recognizes the brokenness of their request when he acknowledges that it’s not Samuel that they’ve rejected. In fact, they’ve rejected God himself – because until this time, there was no human king in Israel. Only God occupied the throne. But these people flatly and boldly told their God that he was not enough – he was not what they had in mind.
Even after Samuel tells the people just how selfish and corrupt their king would be, the people will not relent. They iterate their demands for a king. This king would not just pronounce judgment on the people. This king, requested in sin, would be judgment on the people. And from an historical perspective, this was true of the first human king of Israel – a man named Saul. Saul would exhibit very few admirable moments. Through his continual sinfulness, his favor in the eyes of God would disappear almost as quickly as he was anointed. He becomes a picture of everything that happens when we, in our sinfulness, are given the reins of a kingdom.
If you read the story of Saul, don’t fall into the trap of believing that he is a bad guy and you are somehow better. Saul is we. He is a for real man who lived a for real busted life that stands as a stark reminder of what our fallen nature looks like if given a throne. His sin is our sin. His darkness is our darkness. I know this because the heart of Saul, the heart of the people’s request for a king, was born long before, in the garden, when Adam ate the fruit and told God he thought he’d make a better king.
Think about the familiar sin of the garden. Real life Adam is faced with a choice. Obey God, receive and follow him as the sovereign of his life. Or take the fruit. Disobey. Knock God off the throne and take it by seemingly genuine but more like imaginary force.
The parallels are striking, really. But the heart of the issue is a rejection of God as king. Adam, misguided and self-centered, wanted the throne for himself. He believed the enemy of our soul. The serpent whispered to his willing ears that God was withholding something from humanity… that partaking of the fruit would somehow open a window to our full potential! Wisdom! Knowledge! Lay God aside and claim for yourself the very thing he has promised to be!
The lie of the enemy and the heart of Adam are alive and well in the people of Israel in 1Samuel 8. Take the reins. Hijack the Lord’s promise, claim it on your terms. By asking you to be holy, God is holding out on you! You’re missing the boat on the good stuff! Kick him to the curb and you’ll find what you’re looking for by being just like everyone else.
When you read the story of Adam, don’t read it like a victim. Don’t read it like you could’ve done any better, like if it weren’t for this chump in the garden I wouldn’t be so broken. The Scriptures are clear, and any honest reflection on the condition of your soul would agree – you’re just as busted as Adam, and you’re just as responsible for the sinful condition of the world. We all are.
I wish these stories represented the worst of our sinful rejection of God. But there is one worse yet. You see, God did send his king to the earth. He sent his Son. Humanity had the opportunity to meet God in flesh. Jesus Christ came to earth as the eternal son of God, stepping down from glory to visit the world created by his hand.
Jesus walked the earth as the radiance of God’s glory, the perfect representation of God’s being.
Poetic people say the eyes are the window to the soul. For the precious generation who walked the earth with Jesus, they had the opportunity to gaze upon him, to look into the eyes, and thereby the very soul, of God. God remained true to his word. All of the promises. All of the waiting came to a crescendo at the fullness of time, the very moment for which God started the hands of the clock spinning. And now God’s people, the very people who rejected an invisible God in favor of a visible, if broken, king; would have the opportunity to welcome the fullness of God’s promise in the person of his Son.
Instead Jesus was met with skepticism, anger, hatred. Many who did draw near did so for selfish reasons, attracted to the novelty of his teaching and the spectacle of the miraculous. But when they were truly challenged by his perfection, most walked away. When he started to face persecution fueled by the religious leaders, many more abandoned him. When authorities arrested him and tried him for claiming to be himself, even those closest to him turned their backs in fear. The Jewish establishment condemned him for claiming to be God. The Roman establishment condemned him for claiming to be a king.
At the height of human sin, the most damning and simultaneously glorious moment in ALL of human history, Roman governor Pontius Pilate asked the crowd a question. (John 19:12-16)
Shall I crucify your king?
The response of the chief priests?
We have no king but Caesar!
In a moment, the full and final rejection of God took place as he stood, in the flesh before them and listened to the people boldly declare that earth’s emperor, the delusional, self-declared deity, was the ruler to whom they would submit. The people declared, as Johan Herman Bavinck so beautifully states, “that they would rather have a king who takes than a God who gives.” And they handed God over to die.
The sinful heart is as old as the garden.
But… there is good news.
Good because, what the chief priests didn’t realize is that, in their moment of rejection, God was also carrying out his plan. Never doubt the brilliance of our God to enact the perfect plan, even in the face of the insurmountable problem of our sinfulness. In the NT book of Acts, Peter declares in the 4th chapter that even this sinful rejection of the people was under the sovereign hand of God. Here is a glimpse of the mystery of God’s sovereignty.
Under the old covenant, the high priest’s job was to perform sacrificial rites, destroying the life of a sacrificial animal, a lamb or a goat, as a substitute on behalf of the people. By offering the sacrifice, the priest would atone for the sins of the people, a picture of reconciliation between a holy God and his rebellious people. The wages of sin is death. Without the spilling of blood, there is no forgiveness for sins. As the chief priests and elders of the people handed Jesus over to Pontius Pilate to be executed, they were filled with sinful hatred. Yet it was in that very act that they were leading the spotless Lamb of God, the sinless Son, to become the eternal atoning sacrifice. The chief priests, blinded by sin, were completely oblivious to the fact they were, on a mysterious level, doing their job. They were setting apart a sacrifice to atone for the sins of mankind.
Ultimately, Jesus is not only the sacrifice, but also the very real and perfect high priest who willingly laid down HIS OWN life on behalf of the world. But God was at work, in the sinfulness of humanity, carrying out his plan of redemption. That as the blood of Jesus was spilled on the cross, the price was being paid for countless generations of sin. Countless generations of rejection, faithlessness and idolatry, weakness and shame. His blood paid it all.
Three days later, as our Savior was raised to life, overcoming death and delivering the crushing blow to the enemy of our souls, he was making another promise. This time, the promise is that all who grab hold of Jesus by grace through faith would experience a resurrection like his. That one day, God’s promised King, the one who is now in heaven, exalted and reigning, will return to claim his own to be with him, bodily, forever.
He is our king.
And we who have received him, have received an inheritance that cannot be shaken. Surrender to him today as king,