- Revelation 19:11-21
- 1Samuel 8
You’ve heard it said, and maybe you have said it too, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have our Lord in Person with me, so I can talk to Him personally, instead of praying to the unseen God?”
If people asked about the God I worship, it would really helpful to point to where He is in the flesh. This is true more so in the face of danger and uncertainty. Wouldn’t it be better to have God in the operation theatre, or when you stand in agony when a loves one died, or when the doctor tells you that cancer has taken hold of you?
We are not like the world
A few Sundays ago we covered the principle of making a god for ourselves. The danger of making idols, or treating God like an idol, is that we would manipulate it, we would localise it (or assign a place for it to be or not be), or we can treat God as if He is a human being, or even worse, we can act as if we are He.
People who worship anything other than the living God—the Bible refers to these people as the world—indeed do want some representation of their god. This was the case when God called his people to live amongst the nations, and it is still the case today.
The people then worshipped idols, but they also had leaders who were the embodiment of those gods. One such a person was the visible king. The idea was then, if they had a king with them in person, they were sure that their god was with them.
The Israelites were different, as the church of Jesus Christ should be. God warned the people through Moses:
You must not follow the statutes [or customs] of the nations I am driving out before you … I am Yahweh your God who set you apart from the peoples. (Leviticus 20:23–24, HCSB)
Ezekiel 20:32 tells us about the sinful mind of the people:
Let us be like the nations, like the peoples of other countries, worshiping wood and stone. (Ezekiel 20:32, HCSB)
All of this sprang from a rebellious heart:
They rejected His statutes and His covenant He had made with their ancestors and the decrees He had given them. They pursued worthless idols and became worthless themselves, following the surrounding nations the Lord had commanded them not to imitate. (2 Kings 17:15, HCSB)
God’s people are different—or to use the biblical term: holy, set apart. Let’s hear Leviticus 20:26:
You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine. (Leviticus 20:26, HCSB)
God said about his people as a nation of priests:
… He will elevate you to praise, fame, and glory above all the nations He has made, and that you will be a holy people to the Lord your God as He promised.” (Deuteronomy 26:19)
John writes, “Do not love the world.” James warns:
Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. (James 4:4, HCSB)
Looking for security
When the elders approached Samuel for a king, they used as springboard the sad state of affairs regarding Samuel sons. The Bible states: “His sons did not walk in his ways—they turned toward dishonest profit, took bribes, and perverted justice.” (1Samuel 8:3).
Then there was this nagging political situation of the different tribes action as separate groups—there was no national unity. If only they had a king, they could at least point to someone who would lead them in a time of crisis.
But do not lose sight of their plea: they wanted to fix a spiritual problem with a political solution.
“Look, you are old, and your sons do not follow your example. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have.” (1 Samuel 8:5, HCSB)
It actually looked as if they wanted to blend into one the office of judge (which up to then included the offering of sacrifices, and the intercession of prayers) into one office, by adding military command (see 1Samuel 8:20). Or at least they craved for a political figure who would have supremacy.
In essence the proposal was a rejection of God’s ways and an attempt to find security in a visible leader.
This is an attitude more so in our day: the so-called cry to separate church and state is a disguised attempt to shove the church into a corner to which no-one wants to listen to. Who today would be satisfied to put his life into the hands of a so-called invisible God! If the stupid Christians want to, let them do it in their corner on Sundays; but modern reasonable people want a visible force to provide security.
Just in the previous chapter the people of God experienced how He was their King and Protector. They even had a stone as memorial to the fact: “Ebenezer! The Lord has helped us to this point.” When God thundered against the Philistines, they were utterly overcome and Israel regained territory. See, they put a full stop after Ebenezer: “to this point”. After that they wanted to take things in their hands, dethrone the God of Hosts from his position as their Commander in Chief.
They enjoyed security, but wanted to add the visible king—a human being—to unite the people as a political entity, and as such be like the nations around them. If the nations would ask them, “Who is your Commander?”, at least they could point to someone!
But perhaps we should not be too quick to judge them. Don’t we do the same? How much to we lean on political leaders for our security and success. Even as a church we stand guilty. Many operations of churches today stands and falls on the financial support of the state. Aged care facilities, hospitals, youth centres, and even schools, can only run for as long as tax money flows in. The result: they pay and have the say! They play the tune and we have to dance. They determine policies of who can be hired, when and where we can read the Scriptures and we should or should’t pray.
Isn’t it time that we once again begin to trust to Lord for his work? This was the case when Christians started hospitals and aged care facilities: it was run by people who really cared, really loved, and really trusted God.
How much have we become reliant on the military and other uniform personnel as the only source for our safety!
Be careful what you ask for
Samuel had seen all of this once before: the priests did not know God, and the people used God as a lucky charm—God, as their Commander and Protector, was not in the picture in the time of old Eli. So he personally rejected with their request, but as a faithful mediator between God and the people, he took their request to Him.
What he suspected was confirmed; God said:
They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to Me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning Me and worshiping other gods. (1 Samuel 8:8, HCSB)
That’s the heart of the issue. One cannot fool God! He looks right into your heart and knows your thoughts even before they become words. They didn’t really wanted a king; they wanted to substitute their King with a fallible human being!
Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it.
Samuel had to warn the people clearly about the “ways”, or “justice” of the king they wanted. The word in Hebrews is justice, which can mean custom, orders, rules and regulations—ordinances and decrees he would use to secure his position and to rule over the people.
Without going into the detail of the things mentioned, there is one word which stands out: “take!” Up to that point in time this word is connected with evil: Eli’s sons took which belonged to God, the Philistines took which belonged to God, Samuels sons took bribes. This king will take—the sons and daughters God gave you as a gift of his love and care, the king will take. The lands and the crops which God freely gave, the king will take; your income he will take.
Nothing has changed! It is still ongoing. It’s just become worse. The more we move into becoming a totalitarian state the more we will see that what is precious to us, are taken from us: our children are stolen from us. They control what our children think, what they speak about, what freedoms we have, and how much we will spend, as long as we feel safe under their so-called protection. This is the price one pays for not trusting God, and with governments who play God.
Moses ends with this warning: they will become slaves of the king they ask for.
Verse 18 is poignant:
When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you’ve chosen for yourselves, but the Lord won’t answer you on that day.” (1 Samuel 8:18, HCSB)
Be careful what you ask for, God may grant you your prayers.
The warning was spoken, but rebellious hearts were in motion.
“No!” they said. “We must have a king over us. (1 Samuel 8:19, HCSB)
They asked for justice, and justice they received.
We are not propagating anarchy—national life without any ruler or government. The idea of kingship as such was actually something foreshadowed in the Law. Deuteronomy 17 speaks about it. The future king was to be God’s chosen one, not chosen to be like the nations, he had to live under God, he had to study the Law of God, so that his heart would not be exalted over his countrymen. That was the will of God.
Christians are not rebellious over and against governments. Paul wrote to the Romans,
Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. (Romans 13:1–3, HCSB)
But our hope should never be in mere fallible human beings. Our hope is in our King, Jesus Christ. Only He should reign our minds and our hearts. Paul writes:
Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2, HCSB)
And when principle calls for it, we should add our voices to those of Peter and John:
“Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19–20, HCSB)
Who is King?
There is another King. He did not take, but He gave: He gave away his heavenly splendour to become like us; He gave his life, so that we would not die; He gave eternal life—all free. He gave us real justice. Listen to this verse:
We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified [this is God’s justice!] by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in King Jesus.… This was to show God’s justice.… It was to show his justice at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (A paraphrase of Romans 3:23-26)*
*(Woodhouse, J. (2008). 1 Samuel: Looking for a leader. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.)
If He is your King, come, eat and drink of his body and blood, and be nourished for the battle ahead. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D.Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 6 August 2017