In my Bible, the paragraph heading printed before the eighth chapter of 1 Samuel reads: “Israel Demands a King.” That is an accurate analysis of what is recorded in that chapter.
Here is how the we-want-to-be-like-everyone-else discussion began: “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, ‘Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations’” (1 Samuel 8:4,5).
When Samuel heard that plea from the elders, he was displeased and prayed to the Lord (8:6). God told Samuel to heed the people’s voice, but to forewarn them about how the king would conduct his affairs and how great changes would come to the nation when they had a human king (8:7-9). When “Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who asked him for a king” (8:10), how did they respond? “Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel, and they said, ‘No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles’” (8:19,20).
From a merely human/earthly point of view, the request of the Israelites seemed logical and even practical. From God’s viewpoint, though, their choice was a disaster. How did He describe what Israel was doing when it demanded to have a king? Jehovah told Samuel, “. . . they have not rejected you, but have rejected Me . . . they have forsaken Me. . .” (8:7,8). “Reject” and “forsake” is what God’s people were doing with Him.
In what sense was a cry for a king a rejection and forsaking of the Lord? They were rejecting Him as their king, as God Himself said: “. . . they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (8:7). Samuel later reminded the people, “. . . you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the LORD your God was your king” (12:12). The people held a referendum, so to speak, on God’s rule over them, and God was “voted out” of His role as King. The people did not say that God was doing a bad job or that He was incompetent. They simply wanted to have a new arrangement, something that was, well, like all the other nations had.
When God’s people try to supplant God’s plan or arrangement with their own, they are making a grave mistake. Prior to the anointing of Saul as Israel’s first human king, the arrangement had been for Jehovah to be their King. A new mindset had developed, however: “No, that setup will not work going forward. We have got to change and be like others.” Human reasoning can never match the wisdom of God. In fact, man’s so-called wisdom “is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19).
The Lord wanted Israel to be a distinct people. He charged them, “For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). When God’s people lose their desire to be distinct for His glory, simply because that is the right thing to do, awful consequences will follow. About 400 years before Israel’s demand for a king, God had charged His people to destroy the residents of Canaan. Instead, after Israel took control of the land, they “mingled with the Gentiles and learned their works” (Psalm 106:35). Uh-oh. What consequences followed? Israel served the Gentiles’ idols, sacrificed their kids to demons, and shed innocent blood (106:36-38). In a nutshell, “Thus they were defiled by their own works” (106:39), works which they learned and copied from others. In spiritual matters, “monkey see, monkey do” is detrimental to the well-being of God’s people, and such a course of action leads to perdition.
God’s continuous, clear call to His children today is for us come out from among the ways of men and “be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17). We are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people” (1 Peter 2:9) who “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness” (Ephesians 5:11). Not only are we to avoid sharing in the sins of others (1 Timothy 5:22), it also should be the case that we do not have even an itty, bitty desire to conduct our spiritual affairs like those who are not in the Lord.
Some congregations and individual saints seem to be obsessed with straining their necks to see what other groups are doing to draw a crowd. The Israelite-style rumblings always seem to be in the hearts of some people. While Israel’s longing was to “be like all the nations,” today some of God’s people have a craving to “be like all” the man-made religious groups. It is not a healthy appeal. If it goes unchecked, its leaven will corrupt the whole lump.
God draws lost people to Jesus through His word (John 6:44,45) and the Savior’s cross (John 12:32,33). If we want to learn about church growth, there is an outstanding manual that has been written on this timely topic . . . it is called “the Bible.” If we want to learn about how to reach out in love to those who are lost in sin, God’s word shows us how to do it. Let us learn from the Master Teacher, who taught the truth with passion and compassion. Let us learn from His ambassadors, who tirelessly taught the gospel with zeal and boldness (Acts 5:40-42).
We have no desire to be different just to say that we are different. We should, however, be committed to following the Lord’s instructions that are revealed in the Bible. Our goal is to imitate and please King Jesus, not “be like all the nations.”
— Roger D. Campbell