A king like the nations – part 2 (1 Sam 8)

Yesterday, we began a series in 1 Samuel. We saw that our three day journey through 1 Sam 8 can be summarised in one sentence: The desire to be like everyone else will enslave us, but God will let it if that’s what we really want.

Yesterday we looked at the first part of this sentence, starting with Israel’s desire for a king like all the other nations had. It was a slap in the face to God’s kingship, and tragic, since they had something far better on offer than a human king like everyone else. But Israel, like we often are, was ruled by her desire to be like everyone else.

Today, we look at how that desire can enslave us.

The desire to be like everyone else will enslave us (1 Sam 8:9-18)

God warned Israel that they would end up enslaved. He warned them of the consequences of being like the nations around; of having a human king; of setting for an inferior copy rather than the real thing. He told them that they would end up becoming enslaved by it:

8:9-18 [God speaking to Samuel] “Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.” Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plough his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day. ”

By the time we get to Israel’s third king, Solomon, this is exactly what had happened: compulsory military service; heavy taxation; and an expanding royal court that chewed up more and more resources. Solomon may have made Israel a great military power, but at what cost to the people? (Take a look at the record from 1 Kings 4:22-28 and 1 Kings 10:14-29.)

How often does our desire to be like everyone around us end up backfiring? Our idols don’t deliver on what they initially promise. They don’t set us free; they enslave us all the more.

We take on mortgages for houses bigger than we can truly afford – and so the focus of the better part of our life becomes the task of paying it off. A lifestyle like ‘the neighbours around’, but at what cost?

We chase after ‘purchase highs’ – the good feeling we get when we buy something new. Particularly something that makes us like everyone else. And so we’re satisfied for a little while, but quickly start looking again for our next fix.

It might not just be products. We envy the experiences of others, and chase after them. Always needing to find an experience bigger and better than the last one. Feeding our minds on images from the lifestyles of the rich and famous. But at what cost to our souls?

This is what happens when we accept the kind of substitute king like all the nations and people around us. We would do well to learn the lesson Israel failed to do: there is no substitute for God’s kingship.

Jesus came to set us free from slavery to our desires; slavery to being like everyone else; slavery to sin. He offers a radically new rule-of-life:

Matt 6:31-33 ‘So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the nations chase after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’

To think about

Do you find yourself enslaved by the desire to be like everyone else? If so, what areas in particular?

What steps can you take to free yourself from these desires, in order to pursue the infinitely better things that God has in store for you?

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