Have you ever wondered why God has often chosen not to rule over people without their consent? He has always thought it was important somehow for us to choose Him back–like we were accepting an offer from Him, though He could have mandated our obedience so many times. In the desert, the people of God again forgot to trust and so rejected the authority of God, just as Adam and Eve did in the garden, when their fear won out over their faith. Ironically, it turns out, fear, discontentment, and the desire for security we can see, hear, and touch, leads us into rejecting our only true source of security–Jehovah, the One able to fight for us and give us peace.
Joshua gave the choice again to the people this way in the desert, 14 “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
They chose Him.
Throughout the Old Testament God continually “owned” the battles of His people. He fought alongside them and for them over and over. And the people let Him…for a while. And because He fought for them, God the warrior was, Himself, their peace. (Want proof? Check out this list of battles he fought as their king: Numbers 21:21-35; Deut 3:1-6; Numbers 14:39-45; Exodus 17:8-15; Joshua 6; Josh 10:1-13, 28-43; Judges 6-7; Judges 10-11)
When God fought with them, victory was assured. When the people fought without God’s help, they got slaughtered. You would think this would be amazing for them—the God of the universe, communicating with them and directing them, fighting battles in their favor. How exhilarating! How mind-blowing! So where did the people of God go so wrong? How did their relationship of shalom with God, where He was fighting their battles, get broken to the point that God sent them into exile? Didn’t they rely on Him for their food and water and even guidance into the promised land? Didn’t they watch Him fight for them?
Or maybe they were offended by the discipline of God when He re-payed their disobedience with loss on the battlefield? Maybe they were disappointed in the manna or the water from the rock…why wasn’t it wine?! Maybe God’s provision wasn’t actually enough in their book. Maybe, by their criteria, He was not taking care of them at all the way they thought He should.
But the real rejection, the moment of breach between God and His people in the Old Testament was when they asked for a king…a “real” king. This is the communal choice of Israel to choose human power and strength over God’s strength. And it is a full out rejection of His authority in their lives.
Here’s the context…Samuel, a prophet, had sons who were not good leaders, so the people took this opportunity to demand a king (1 Samuel 8:2-3). Read what follows and see if you can hear the fear and pride in the people:
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” 6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle[c] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.” –1 Samuel 8:1-21
What do you think the people were feeling? Why did they want a king (verse 20)?
Their choice led them build their armies, set up their own defenses, and make battle plans to fight their enemies. Can you sense God’s heart breaking as He watches the people choose a human king over a mighty God—choosing a political system for their refuge instead of the hand of the creator and sustainer of the universe?
Choosing to forge our own security leads us away from reliance on God’s ability to manage our lives and tells us to plan, build, and defend ourselves. We are afraid that He won’t follow through the way we need or want, and that fear matures into the resistance of peace and the rejection of God. In other words, we sabotage our peace by trying to create our own, submitting to the enemy’s cyclical attacks of fear, pride, and shame.
If God is good, why did He give them what they asked for if He knew it would lead to pain? Why do you think He operates this way?
Peace comes through trust. We have to choose our King.