“But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, ‘No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.’” (1 Samuel 8:19-20)
For many years, the people of Israel were ruled by judges. Each judge would arise at a critical time, deliver Israel from whatever enemy was holding them captive at the time, and then would lead the people until he died. But by the time of Samuel, the Israelites were tired of this system. Looking around, they noticed that all the nations around them had a king. It looked like a much better way to be ruled than what they themselves had. So they went straight to Samuel and demanded that they too have a king.
Samuel did all he could to change their minds. He reminded them what having a king would mean. Their sons would be drafted into the army; their daughters would be taken to work in the palace; their fields and animals would belong to the king. And on top of that, by demanding a king they were rejecting God from being ruler over them. Surely they realized that this was a bad idea.
But the people refused to listen. They wanted a king, and a king they would get. So after seeking God’s will, Samuel agreed. Saul, son of Kish, was anointed as the first king of Israel, and he immediately went to work delivering the people from the invading Ammonites. It looked like he was going to be a great king; what could possibly go wrong?
There are lots of times when we want something that looks really, really good. Maybe it’s a perfect score on your next test, maybe it’s a new dog, maybe it’s that nice, shiny car you just saw on TV… the possibilities are endless. We look at it and think, “I want that thing so badly, it just has to be good for me! Right?”
Nope. Not necessarily. Those cookies your mom just made may look heavenly, but eating every one of them certainly wouldn’t be a good idea. Just because we want something doesn’t mean it’s what we need. We hear a lot these days about “following your heart”; but according to Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” We often want something that’s bad for us; it’s only through God’s mercy that we’re not always getting what we ask for.
In the case of the Israelites, they were convinced that they needed to have a king, that all their problems would be solved if they only had a nice, steady ruler. But God knew otherwise. He warned them through Samuel what would happen if they got a king, but they simply didn’t care. They firmly believed that they knew what was best for them, no matter what God said. How often do we do the same thing? How many times do we insist we know better than God—and then learn through a painful lesson that He was right all along? The ultimate result of the Israelites demanding a king was a divided nation and Babylonian captivity. Who knows? We may be asking for something with consequences just as horrible. God knows what He’s doing; we have to believe that. Always. Otherwise, we just might end up getting what’s bad for us—that really nice thing we just had to have.