In the ancient text of the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, chapter 8 introduces the modern reader to the successful, yet insecure, nation of Israel. Generations of Israelites had lived and died on the Middle Eastern sand, between the miraculous rescue at the Red Sea and their current state of national affairs. They had a great situation, albeit a unique one. Surrounded by warring nations with earthly kings of differing abilities and strengths, Israel too had a King, but you couldn’t see Him. Oh, the evidence was pretty clear, as this group of people, who were not particularly great fighters or weapon manufacturers, continued to flourish and win victory after victory, that something bigger and greater was at work in their story. But alas, although they had been promised by their loving God that He would provide and protect always, they decided that they wanted a human king of their own.
Samuel, the legendary prophet and leader of Israel, is the one who receives the news of this startling desire to alter the God-designed arrangement. The Israelites’ approach to breaking it to Samuel is both deceptive and telling. In 1 Samuel 8:4-5, they give both a lame excuse and an honest admission of their reasons. First, they give the less than transparent excuse. Samuel, they say, is too old now to effectively govern them, so they need an earthly king. The problem with this is that Samuel, while no “young buck,” was only 60 years-old and still quite capable of getting the job done. Isn’t this just like us humans? We make less than wise decisions, and then we proceed to use justifications with swiss cheese-like holes in them. We know in our hearts that we are not being honest… not even with ourselves.
Literally, the very next sentence from the Elders of Israel gives us the truth behind their desire. You see, if you listen to someone talk for long enough, the truth eventually starts creeping out, even unintentionally. In an off-the-cuff-statement, they say that they want a king so Israel can be “like all the nations.” The real reason Israel wanted a king is that they were weary of being different! Sounding more like middle school kids than national leaders, the Elders admit that they want to fit in. One too many times they had been scoffed at by other people groups due to their invisible king. The powerful current of normalcy pulled Israel away from her beautiful uniqueness.
We swim in these same currents today. At virtually every level of our lives, we are drawn to the common ground of compromise and disobedience that permeates the world around us. We have been promised by this same faithful and true God that He will never leave or forsake us, yet we run to the same feed troughs that everyone else eats from to feed our hunger. We trade the promise of Godly marriages and sexual faithfulness for the microwave versions of one night stands and quick exits from those marriages. We run after financial gain and status, rather than resting in our God-given identities, paid for by His own blood. We look to celebrities and cultural gurus for wisdom when God has given us His own Word. Like Israel, we are a people who have been offered the very best, but we continually choose such lesser things to fill up our lives.
How do we change this? Be honest. You see, Israel would take too long to realize the truth behind their self-revelatory words. They just wanted to be a little more like everyone else, and you know what? We do the same thing. What if we embrace the discomfort of different? What if we started obeying God and trusting Him with the outcomes? What if lives of radical obedience replaced lives of constant cultural concessions? Let’s dare to be different. Let’s dance to a different beat. Let’s embrace a life of obedience.