First Mennonite Church
November 28, 2021
“Be Careful What You Wish For!”
Text 1Samuel 8:1-22
What we saw happened with the children of Eli was also repeated with the children of Samuel. They did not follow the way of their father. The difference this time was that Samuel’s children were not serving together with him at Ramah. He had appointed the two of them as judges in Beer-sheba, some 70 miles to the south of Shiloh. Both, Joel and his brother Abijah, sons of Samuel, loved easy money. They took bribes and perverted justice (v. 3).
It is very important for us to take notice of the flow of this story. It is after the writer states the problem there was with the sons of Samuel of perverting justice that all the elders of Israel came to Samuel with their request.
In response to the dire situation in the judicial system under the sons of Samuel, the elders of Israel joined together with a specific request. Thus, they came to Samuel and said, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”
Samuel’s immediate response was displeasure at the request. It makes us wonder, why was Samuel so displeased at the request? Did he see it as a rebuke because of corruption of his sons? Setting up a king would have certainly put an end to the dynasty of Samuel’s prophetic and priestly ministry. Therefore, the prospects of Samuel’s lineage ending up like Eli’s was a hard truth for Samuel to accept. Another problem there is with Samuel displeasure was that he should have known what Moses had told the Israelites even before they entered into the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 17:14-17, Moses told the Israelite that time will come when they will want to have a king to rule over them. There, Moses gave specific limitations about the reach, wealth, and demands of the king they should have. Therefore, Moses’ forewarning about the institution of an Israelite monarchy tells us that Samuel’s displeasure about the idea of setting up a king, was more so because he saw the request as a personal rebuke and rejection. That very same idea of personal rejection will be brought up when God speaks to Samuel.
When I read this story, about Eli’s and Samuel’s children, I cannot help but remember the many times I have heard pastors lament the behavior of their children. Just recently, the wife of a pastor was telling the story of her son, whom they have bailed out of prison many times and who just don’t seem to care about anything, but having children here and there. Dear brothers and sisters, pray for me and my family. My children are still young and in need of guidance. I greatly appreciated hearing Bud’s Sunday school praying specifically praying for me and my family.
Samuel takes the people’s request to God. From the way God responds to Samuel, it seems the people’s request was indeed an action of rejection of Samuel. God said to Samuel, “Listen to 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.” This response came as a surprise to Samuel. God conceded the people’s request. God instructed Samuel to appoint the people a king. However, God asked Samuel, “only—you shall solemnly warn them” that their king will be a “taker in chief.”
He will take your sons to be chariots, to fight wars, and to manufacture the implements of war.
He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards
He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle
He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and
He will take you to be his slaves.
What was worse, God said, was that when you get sick and tired of being oppressed by your king and you call to me, but I will not hear your cry.
But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us,so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles” (v. 19, 20). It is only when the people reiterated their request that they clearly revealed the true reasons for their request. They wanted a king to lead them to “fight their battles.” They wanted a leader to fight those whom the people saw as a threat to their security. They were not humble about their ambitions of having a king. In other words, the elders’ request for a human king to defend them from their adversaries was a clear statement that God’s protection and provisions were not good enough for them. They were telling God, “We prefer the kind of liberators the other nations have.” The elders were telling God, “We cannot trust you to protect us, to give us peace, and to provide for us. We want to keep up with the Joneses. We want to be like those around us.”
My dear brothers and sisters, I cannot help but tell you that this story, this passage in the Holy Scriptures speaks directly to the dilemma and futility about one of the most divisive issues in the American society and even among us Christians. And that is the issue of partisan politics. This story is the most overt political passages in the Hebrew Bible. The desire of having a human leader to fight the wars of the people is at the center of this story and all kinds of politics. The need of having someone to ease the people’s fears about their perceived threat to their sense of identity and security is what leads to the establishment of kings, dictators, chiefs, demagogues, and all types of leadership categories. Of course, I am not here to expound on this issue or about the consequences of it, but will leave it there for us to think about it.
Today, is the first Advent Sunday. That means, we are anticipating the celebration of the birth of a King, King Jesus. Therefore, as we consider this passage today about Israel wanting a king in the manner of the other nations, let us ask ourselves, what are the reasons we have for the choices we make? What fears have we had that lead us to the choices we made? Let also us ask ourselves, what kind of a king have we enthroned for ourselves? Is Christ Jesus our Lord and our only King? And, how do we reflect his lordship over our lives?
I want to believe Jesus is the only King we have enthroned in our heart. And as we begin to anticipate the celebration of his birth, let us ponder about the ways in which we have made his Lordship over our lives visible this year. Or, let us acknowledge to him our fears that have led us to desire being like the other people around us. Let us pray to him to take over our lives and to make of us that distinct people, that peculiar people of God he intends us to be in this world.
Shall we bow before our King in prayer?