Full Disclosure: The Cost of a King

“And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”” (1 Samuel 8:7–9, ESV)

A holy God must punish a sinful people. But how specifically? God uses several different methods depending on the needs of a people at the moment, but let us consider one of his frequent choices and see how God punishes a people by giving them what they want.

The Israelites were headstrong. As such, they ran headlong toward destruction. In general terms, the human heart is sinful, so allowing people to pursue all that is in their hearts will often result in a natural punishment, the fruit of sin. This is the curse of volition. Now, most of us understand that some sins are considered “fun” by some people. Why else would they be so popular? But just as trees take time to produce fruit, so does sin. Oftimes we must wait for it to ripen to taste of its bitterness.

For example, drunkenness can be “fun,” but there is often a bitter cost. Go to an AA meeting. Go through a depressed urban area. Go sit in court. Go pay your bills, swollen by the defaults of others. Drunkenness is sin, and its tree yields the fruit of ruined lives — physically, emotionally and economically — and since we live in community, the sober suffer too. In like manner, Israel desired to leave God’s vineyard and to drink the wine of wild grapes. The wine turned bitter, of course, but it remained their drink of choice.

I find it helpful to see certain parts of the Old Testament as God’s ledger for the nation Israel because I see “red ink” all over the place. Israel — in spite of its godly history, in spite of the great miracles of deliverance and in spite of the nation’s theocratic purity — looked over at the godless nations and said, “We want kings, too.” (…and we would post that kind of utterance in the debit column.) But God heard them say, “We no longer want our unique relationship to God. Instead, we want to be like everyone else in the world.”

Let me ask you, which was the bigger insult? The rejection of his person — the one who has proven himself faithful in all of Israel’s theocratic history — or the notion that the heathen nations might have had more to offer them than God? At some point, the Jews stopped looking up and started looking sideways. They liked what they saw, and the red ink flowed.

The people were emboldened to broach this topic because of a personal failure in the life of the judge Samuel. Like Eli, his spiritual father, Samuel failed as a natural father, and the people used this failure as a wedge to argue for a king. They noted that there were no more judges on the horizon, no holy men of God on-the-rise and Samuel’s sons did not follow in his ways. In this, we see where Samuel, too, reaped his own bitter fruit. Although he was a faithful servant of God, he did not make God’s case to his children — and they chose wrongly. Everyone knew it, too, and now, he was stuck… and the nation would reap the whirlwind. O Israel! Hear the cost of your kings.

Taxes! Your stuff will no longer be your stuff because the king will require a lot of maintenance; he’ll need soldiers, servants, food, money… and previously, all you had to pay were tithes! And you, who were formally efficient as a theocracy, now desire another level of management. Well, guess what? There is another level of expense involved with that, and this, too, will grow and not shrink until the eschaton. Why so? Because, all that is not omnipotent (that is, all that is not God) has a will-to-power (cf. Satan). Therefore, the aggregate of government will continue to grow until Christ returns.

Nevertheless, the people insisted upon a king, and this gave voice to one of the saddest utterances in Israel’s history: "Give us a king...so that we can be like the other nations." With that horrible statement ringing in our ears, let me ask, where are you looking? Upward or sideways?

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