Some have argued that God never wanted to establish a human king even back in the Old Testament time. Was it so? I think the answer is more than a “yes” or “no”. Here are my two cents: establishing human kings was part of God’s sovereign will to fulfill His eternal plan that, as Acts 13:23 writes , “Of [David’s] offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised.”. In other words, the line of human king leads to the “Son of David”, the true “King of kings”, Jesus Christ. But it all began as an evil human desire,
“As Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel. Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba. But they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and perverted justice. Finally, all the elders of Israel met at Ramah to discuss the matter with Samuel. “Look,” they told him, “you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. ‘Do everything they say to you,’ the Lord replied, ‘for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment.‘ “ Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:1-9)
Many, however, would argue that the following passage from Deuteronomy shows God’s permission for Israel to set up a king, and therefore Israel’s desire to have a king was not evil. Some may even claim that it was also God’s desire to have such a king to be set up. I respectfully disagree, since God’s permission doesn’t equal to approval, and God’s will is different from God’s desire. A close examination on this passage would lead us to the conclusion that this text is more of a prophecy rather than God’s approval on Israelites setting up a king for themselves.
“When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us’, you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulatelarge amounts of silver and gold. When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.” (Deuteronomy 17:14-20)
“and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’ ” – “and you say”. It was the Israelites who said to themselves “let us set a king over us like other nations”, and God clearly foresaw that coming. Had he himself wanted the Israelites to set up a king, He would have issue the command Himself. But He did not. His permission of this act does not mean He approved of it. The Old Testament is full of examples of such.
“The fact that something is prophesied is not proof that what is foretold is something good and righteous. The betrayal of Judas is foretold, as well as Israel’s rejection of her Messiah. This does not mean that Judas, or the unbelieving Israelites, were right to do what they did. It only means that God wants us to know it was a part of His eternal plan.” – Bob Deffinbaugh
“Given that God foreknew this, this passage presents him as acquiescing to give instructions ahead of time about the kind of king they should appoint and the kind of safeguards they should place around.” – Greg Boyd
Rejection of God
In the passage of 1 Samuel 8, God spoke clearly to Samuel that that the Israel’s demand for a king was nothing but a rejection of Himself, “‘for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods.”.
God Himself was to be the King of the Israelites. When God delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt into the Promised Land while giving them His law, He was essentially establishing Himself as their King.
But they served other gods even after God had delivered them from Egypt. And then they saw what the nations around them had. And they started lusting for a human king to rule over them. They forgot the faithfulness of God.
In the book of Judges, it was repeatedly written that, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). When you combine these readings, it can be understood that 1) It was not because there was no “king” but rather, the Israelites did not see God as their king, that every man did whatever they wanted; 2) Therefore a human king needed to be set up, yet as we shall see later, all men have fallen short of God’s glory, and therefore the line of human king would eventually lead us the ultimate perfect human king, Jesus Christ. It’s all part of the plan.
They Were Looking For A Political King
Both of these passages in 1 Samuel and Deuteronomy state clearly that Israel wanted a king like “all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5). They longed for a political and a military supreme leader and government to rule over them as (by the way, even today, we should always ask ourselves: are we doing the same thing – seeing our political leaders or parties as our “saviors”?). But our God is not a king as such, instead, He ruled “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6).
David Guzik, a prolific Bible commentator, raised an interesting point that in a way, Israel’s rejection of God as their king is prophetic, “When Jesus stood before Pilate the Jewish mob declared, ‘we have no king but Caesar’ (John 19:15). Jesus was a rejected King.”, wrote Guzik.
They Did Not Wait for God’s Timing
But it had always been God’s plan to raise up David to be a human king of Israel. He had to be anointed and reign as a type of Christ, who would form the royal line all the way to Jesus Christ, the “Son of David”. But the Israelites ran ahead of time. They demanded a king before God set up David. So in return, God gave them Saul. Interestingly, the name “Saul” means “asked for”. But as shown in 1 Samuel 8:10-18, Israel was given all the warnings what this king, Saul, would do to them. All the warnings made it crystal clear that Saul would not be a king that fulfill God’s criteria for a human king as that recorded in Deuteronomy 17:14-20.
If the Israelites had listened to God, they would have recognized that Saul was not fitting for the role of king.
David, Not Saul
David, as a type of Christ the Messiah (meaning “The Anointed One”), was anointed when he was a boy. But it was not until Saul had passed away did he become king. And unlike Saul, who came from the tribe of Benjamin, David was born of the tribe of Judah. In David, we find a “partial fulfillment” of the true kingdom.
Even though David has committed many sin, God still regarded him as “a man after my own heart”. However, as we continue to learn from the line of human kings, we can see that none is perfect – every human king, including David, just as all of us, “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The only perfect and righteous king is the God-man Jesus Christ.
You Meant Evil, I Meant Good
Although it started as an evil desire, God used it to accomplish his eternal plan: to redeem humanity and restore the kingdom through the only perfect king, Jesus Christ. “After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’ From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised.” (Acts 13:21-22).
As many teachers would agree, this is a perfect example of “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20).
“When Israel sought a king, as God said they would, to be like the other nations, they did a great evil. God planned for that evil. And through it he brought great good to the world.” – John Piper
All These Points To Christ
Having abandoned God as the true King, Israel ran through many troubles and eventually suffered from divisions. Their “kingdom” was divided into the northern and southern kingdoms. The northern kingdom faced Assyrian captivity while the southern kingdom faced Babylonian captivity.
Just as law, exposing sin, points us to grace, the failure of human kings in the history (well, not just in the history of Israel, for not one human king in the entire human history has been perfect.) points us to the fact that both human and divine, the Lord Jesus Christ is the one and only perfect king that is to reign forever and ever. May we manifest His already-but-not-yet Kingdom by living under His rule as His one dwelling place while await for the full Kingdom to come.