Bible Focus: 1 Samuel 8-15
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges over Israel. His firstborn son’s name was Joel and his second was Abijah. They were judges in Beer-sheba. However, his sons did not walk in his ways—they turned toward dishonest profit, took bribes, and perverted justice. So all the elders of Israel gathered together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have.”
When they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” Samuel considered their demand wrong, so he prayed to the LORD. But the LORD told him, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected me as their king. 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. Listen to them, but solemnly warn them and tell them about the customary rights of the king who will reign over them.”1 Samuel 8:1-9 CSB
Parents often field difficult requests from their children. Their difficulty multiplies when their child asks for something that is not, in itself, a bad thing. Even if the thing is good, maybe the child isn’t ready for it. Maybe they want it for the wrong reasons. Maybe it’s not worth the time, the trouble, or the expense. Besides, when the child asks for something that’s beyond their experience or maturity, the parent knows the child has no idea whether or not that thing will actually be good for them.
But parents also know the difficulty of explaining such things to their children. The child whose heart is set on a particular thing will say they are ready for it. They will argue that their motives are pure. They will promise they won’t tire of it, and they will enthusiastically care for it, and they will follow through on whatever is needed for them to have it. The child’s own desire for the thing overrides all those concerns and becomes their primary reason for action. “I really, really want it,” they might say to their parents, as if that fact proves the wisdom of giving them what they are asking for. They know the desires of their heart. They just can’t quite comprehend that their heart might lead them astray.
We all have that problem to some degree, no matter how many years we have lived or how mature we have become. We know the desires of our heart, and we tend to listen to our heart even if we know that our heart can lead us astray. To keep our heart in the right place, we must trust in the One greater than our heart, who is watching over us for our good in ways we cannot even comprehend.
Samuel was the last great judge of the nation of Israel. One day, a delegation of Israel’s elders came to Samuel and pointed out that his sons were turning toward corruption and therefore not fit to rule. They then asked Samuel to appoint a king to rule over them, just like all the other nations. Samuel felt this was wrong, but he took their request to God anyway. God explained to Samuel that the people’s motives for having a king were wrong, but then he told Samuel to let them have a king anyway.
God led Samuel to anoint Saul as king. Saul seemed like a great choice: he was tall, good looking, and seemed humble. God used Saul in some mighty ways at first. God’s Spirit came upon Saul, and he prophesied; God’s Spirit came upon Saul again, and he led the Israelite army to victory.
However, even as the Israelites celebrated Saul’s confirmation as king, Samuel warned the Israelites that they must be sure to follow God above all else.
“Now here is the king you’ve chosen, the one you requested. Look, this is the king the LORD has placed over you. If you fear the LORD, worship and obey him, and if you don’t rebel against the LORD’s command, then both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God. However, if you disobey the LORD and rebel against his command, the LORD’s hand will be against you as it was against your ancestors.”1 Samuel 12:13-15 CSB
Soon after this, Saul began to falter. He won battles, but he also disobeyed the Lord’s commands in front of the Israelite army. The first time he publicly disobeyed God, Saul blamed his behavior on the circumstances. Samuel replied, “You have been foolish. You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. It was at this time that the LORD would have permanently established your reign over Israel, but now your reign will not endure. The LORD has found a man after his own heart, and the LORD has appointed him as ruler over his people, because you have not done what the LORD commanded” (1 Samuel 13:13-14 CSB).
The second time Saul publicly disobeyed God, Saul justified himself by saying that his actions were going to allow him to make a great sacrifice to God. Samuel replied, “Does the LORD take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? Look: to obey is better than sacrifice, to pay attention is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and defiance is like wickedness and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23 CSB).
Unfortunately, Saul’s heart led him astray. He followed his own desires and fears instead of trusting God and following him. Saul was able to accomplish some great things, but Saul didn’t really know God.
We might not sin in such a public way as Saul did, but we are all guilty of putting our own heart ahead of what we know God wants. But here’s the good news: if we admit the sin in our heart, and submit to Jesus as our Lord, then we are reconciled with God and we truly come to know him. And as we follow Jesus, we will increasingly submit our own desires and fears to him. We won’t be perfect, but we will trust God. We will want to pay attention to him, and we will want to obey him. With such things God is very pleased.
Featured image from Kent Tupas on Unsplash.