A king like the nations – part 1 (1 Sam 8)

Today, we begin a new series through 1 Samuel 8-17, looking at the beginning of the monarchy in Israel: the rise and fall of Saul, and the start of David’s ascendancy. Although it may seem like a world far removed from our own, you might be surprised at some of the similarities. C.S. Lewis’s incisive comment on the human condition is as applicable now as it was in his day, and even back in ancient Israel:

‘We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at  the sea. We are far too easily pleased.’

Most Christians – myself included – don’t come anywhere near taking hold of all that’s offered to us in Christ. We’re offered the ‘infinite joy’ of a relationship with our Creator, but most of the time we go on making our mud pies instead. We’ve been given access to the treasure-house of God’s riches, but too often we stay focused merely on counting the coins in our own piggy bank. We don’t want to let go of the inferior sources of pleasure – at least not all of them. Why is that?

I think one of the main reasons is our desire to be like everyone else. To be like the world around us. To be doing what everyone else is doing. To experience what everyone else is experiencing. To chase after what everyone else is chasing after.

And so, reluctantly, with heavy heart, God lets us. If you want to sum up where we’re heading over the next three days in one sentence, it’s this: “The desire to be like everyone else will enslave us, but God will let it if that’s what we really want.” We’re going to unpack the three parts of that sentence over the coming days.

The desire to be like everyone else… (1 Sam 8:1-8)

Firstly, the desire to be like everyone else: it starts young. Very young. Kids wanting to have what everyone else has; to do what everyone else is doing; to be what everyone else is being. I’m sure you’ve all participated in the following conversation either as a child or a parent (video courtesy of my kids 6 years ago):

In 1 Samuel 8, this scenario is played out between God and his people Israel. Like your typical child, Israel comes up to Samuel – God’s representative – and says ‘All the cool kids have a king. Can we get one?’ Have a listen:

8:4-5 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

We want a king, just like everyone else! And then a little later in the chapter, when Israel asks again, they expand on this a little bit:

8:20 “Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

A king to fight their battles. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Unless you’ve just read the previous chapter. Chapter 7 is the story of how God delivered Israel a miraculous victory against the Philistine army. Basically, he scared them off with a spectacular display of thunder, so much that they never came back. Isn’t that a thousand times better than a human king?

So their request, then, was pretty much a slap in the face to God and his kingship. After all he’s done for them – choosing them to be his special people out of all the nations of the earth. They end up wanting to be just like everyone else. We want a human king – all the cool nations have one!

You can imagine how God must have felt. As a parent, I feel a fraction of that when I get the ‘I’m bored, I want someone to play with me’ when I’ve just spent the past hour playing and I’m now busy doing their laundry.

In fact, Samuel feels pretty miffed, too. He takes it personally. Although God reminds him that it’s really God they’re rejecting:

8:6-8 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.”

Isn’t this nothing short of tragic? Israel had the opportunity to be a true theocracy. That is, to have God – the creator of the universe – as their king. The choice between God or a politician – come on guys, is it that hard to get this one right? But instead, they wanted a human king. To be like all the other nations around. To fit in. To be normal, even though there was something infinitely better than normal on offer.

How often do we just want to be like everyone else around us, even though we have everything in Christ?

And so we end up experiencing a substandard Christian life. Why? Not because God or his gospel is ineffective. But because we want to blend in and be like everyone else. Because we choose being ‘normal’ over being sons and daughters of the living God.

Even for someone like me, who gave up pretending to be normal at a young age (sometimes you’ve got to accept that you’re beaten), it’s no different. I still make subconscious and sometimes conscious choices to be different in ways that are still ‘normal’. To be different in ways that are conditioned not by my new status in Christ, but by the messages of the culture around me. As Christians, we can be freaks – but still not Jesus freaks.

How is your desire to be normal and fit in – to be like the nations and the neighbours around – stopping you from taking hold of all the riches of your new life in Christ? How is that stopping you from having Jesus as your king?

Jesus told us that it wouldn’t be easy. That his followers would be different. Sure, he offered us something of infinite, eternal worth – but the cost would be the fact that we won’t blend in.

John 15:19 ‘If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.’

We are not like the nations around! We are no longer of this world! Like Israel, God has chosen us out of the world to be different! And not just different by degree; we are completely different in nature. God is our ruler, not our passions, our desires, our peer group, our culture. God is our king! Christianity is not just an add-on lifestyle choice. Following Jesus is radical, it’s life-transforming, and it makes us anything but like the nations around.

Don’t be ruled by your desire to be like everyone else. Because, as we’ll see tomorrow,  it will enslave you.

To think about

How is your desire to be normal and fit in – to be like the nations and the neighbours around – stopping you from taking hold of all the riches of your new life in Christ?

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