The Lord’s Day
April 24, 2009
I Samuel 8:1-22; Deuteronomy 17:14-20
“We Want to Be Like Everyone Else”
Dr. Derek W. H.
Please be seated. Now tonight we come to the last in this
current series of studies in I Samuel. We’ll be picking it up again in the fall,
in September. We’ll be doing something else on Sunday evenings: a series on
various people that Jesus encounters during the course of His ministry. These
are Sunday evening sermons designed on the whole to be evangelistic in their
import, and I would encourage you to begin to think of maybe a friend or a
relative or a neighbor that you could invite along to one of these Sunday
evening services. Several of the ministers here will be taking part in that
series, running through June, July, and August.
But tonight we come to I Samuel 8, and this is a
moment of transition. This is the point where Israel asks for a king. Samuel
has reached an old age, and his two sons have been established as judges in the
south of the land — but as we will see in a minute, the request that comes from
the people is that they might have a king just like the nations around about
them. But before we read I Samuel 8, it is important for us to catch something
that Moses writes for us in the book of Deuteronomy. Turn with me to Deuteronomy
17, and from verse 14 through to the end of the chapter. This is the stipulation
of God with respect to kingship in Israel: What kind of king must this king be,
who would rule and reign over God’s people? The point being, of course, that the
request for a king is not in itself wrong, and it is something that God
anticipates in the Pentateuch in the book of Deuteronomy.
Now before we read Deuteronomy 17 together, let’s
look to God in prayer.
Lord our God, we bow again this evening in the
majesty and glory of who You are, thanking You that You have made yourself known
to us not just in creation and providence, but You have made yourself known to
us in Your word and in Jesus Christ. And tonight as we once again read the
Scriptures, we thank You for a Bible. We thank You for a Bible that is
infallible and inerrant, a Bible that is in every part exactly what You intended
it to be. We pray tonight as we read the Scriptures that, by the strength and
ministry and illumination of the Holy Spirit, we might once again read, mark,
learn, and inwardly digest, and all for the sake of our Lord and Savior, Jesus
Now, Deuteronomy 17, and we’ll begin to read tonight
at verse 14:
“When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and
you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like
all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the
Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king
over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he
must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt
in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall
never return that way again.’ And he shall not acquire many wives for himself,
lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and
“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for
himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it
shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may
learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these
statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his
brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the
right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and
his children, in Israel.”
Well, there are some important things in that passage, and
I trust as we were reading that you were thinking how quickly things went sour
in the kingship in Israel; and at least with the many wives, Solomon of course
was to break that law and that statute immediately.
Turn with me now to I Samuel 8:
“When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his
firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in
Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain.
They took bribes and perverted justice.
“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel
at Ramah and said to him, ‘Behold you are old and your sons do not walk in your
ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.’ But the thing
displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel
prayed to the Lord. 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.’
“So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were
asking for a king from him. He said, ‘These will be the ways of the king who
will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and
to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for
himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his
ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the
equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks
and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive
orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and
of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take
your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your
donkeys, and put them to his work. He shall take the tenth of your flocks, and
you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king,
whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that
“But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said,
‘No! But there shall be 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.’ And
when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears
of the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, Obey their voice and make them a
king.’ Samuel then said to the men of Israel. ‘Go every man to his city.’”
Amen. May the Lord add His blessing to that reading of His
holy and inerrant word.
When I’m asked why it is I believe the Bible to be
the infallible, inerrant word of God, I answer that in many ways. But sometimes
I answer that question by saying, “In the way that it tells the history of
Israel, because it tells the history of Israel warts and all.” There is
absolutely no attempt here in the story of what is, after all, the foundation of
the nation of Israel, to romanticize the story.
You may not believe me, but on my desk in my study at
home is a volume by the renowned church and secular historian, Paul Johnson,
A History of the American Peoples. It’s over a thousand pages long, and a
cracking good read! And it sits there to remind me of where I now am and whom I
now serve, and my desire to learn more and more about the history of the
American peoples. And it begins this way: “The creation of the United States is
the greatest of all human adventures.” [Now you have to understand, Paul Johnson
is an Englishman telling the story of the history of the American peoples!] “The
creation of the United States is the greatest of all human adventures. No other
national story holds such tremendous lessons.” In other words, this is going to
be a wonderful tale about the creation of perhaps the most important nation in
the world, as Paul Johnson is reflecting on the importance at least for the last
200 years of the dominance of the United States in world history. And that, of
course, despite some of the difficulties in the foundation of the United States,
not least the dispossession of a native people and of course the whole issue of
Well, Samuel doesn’t attempt here to tell a romantic
tale about the beginning of Israel. Indeed, there’s something about the way
Samuel tells this story that brings shame and disrepute to himself and to his
family, and particularly to his two sons.
Israel is in a state of transition. Up until now
Israel has been a confederation of states. All of you here — well, most of you
here — should empathize now with Israel as it was in contrast to Israel as it
will become. Samuel was the first of the judges to rule and to exercise
authority over what we might call all of the various tribal communities of this
fledgling state of Israel. But from I Samuel 9 onwards, once Saul has been
chosen to be king, Israel is in many respects a very different entity. It is a
unified state. It is a federal entity with a central administration and all of
the problems that arise from a central administration.
Our story begins here, and in the first nine
verses we are given the gist of what this story is all about. It’s a sad
story. Samuel is now an old man. Presumably years of relative peace and perhaps
relative prosperity have passed by. The ark of the covenant has come home and
there is a measure of blessing, of the outpouring of God’s blessing upon His
people. God has been faithful to His covenant. God has kept His promises.
Worship is being offered in the various centers…in Shiloh perhaps no more, but
certainly in Ramah where Samuel had his headquarters. And as you see Samuel
going round the various cities of the various states, tribal entities of this
fledgling Israel, there’s a measure of great blessing.
And then Samuel appoints his two sons. His two sons
were called Joel and Abijah in verse 2. And immediately bells begin to ring in
our minds — the story of Eli and his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas in the
opening chapters of I Samuel. And it’s almost as though Samuel has pushed the
“repeat” button, because it’s a very similar tale. I don’t know (as many of the
commentators seem to know) that this was all entirely Samuel’s fault that his
sons turned out to be rascals. There’s nothing in the text that tells us this
was entirely Samuel’s fault. It may well have been Samuel’s fault, but the Bible
doesn’t actually tell us that, nor should we necessarily jump to that
conclusion. Some of the godliest people I know have rascals for sons, and that’s
entirely in the disposition of the providence of God, and it just brings extra
grief and unnecessary grief in every instance to castigate the parents for the
sins of their children. And there’s no evidence of that here. And I sort of
wished as I was reading the eighteenth commentary who suggested that this was
entirely Samuel’s fault…I drew the conclusion this must be young commentators
with children under three!
Samuel’s sons are guilty of taking bribes. Well,
there’s nothing new under the sun, is there? I’m always amazed when I read the
Bible just how modern and up to date it is. You can’t turn on the news, you
can’t read a newspaper or read news items on the internet or on your cell phone
without stories of bribery and corruption, whether it’s in this city of ours or
whether it’s in the state, or in this country, or somewhere in South America, or
wherever. There’s nothing new under the sun. And it is interesting to me that
Samuel set his two sons in Beersheba. Now you remember the aphorism in
Scripture, “from Dan to Beersheba.” Dan is the furtherest north that you can get
in Israel, and Beersheba is the furtherest south that you can get. Maybe Samuel
had an inkling of what his sons might get up to, putting them as far south as
possible. You might castigate Samuel for appointing his two sons if he had known
beforehand that they would take bribes, but again, the Bible doesn’t actually
say that. And maybe there was no indication when he appointed his two sons in
the most southern territory of the land and somewhat on the periphery of
Israel…there may not have been any indication that his two sons would have been
guilty of taking bribes at that point. And maybe this is partly the fault of old
age, and perhaps not a little bit of nepotism.
Judges were not meant to be hereditary. Now the
priests were meant to be hereditary, all of them having their lineage in Aaron,
but there is nothing in Scripture to say that the judges were meant to be
hereditary. You’ll remember from the book of Judges — is it the eighth chapter?
— the story of Gideon. And the people, you’ll remember, loved Gideon so much
that they asked Gideon to appoint his son and his future grandson as a judge.
And remember Gideon’s response: “No, the Lord will be a judge over you”… Gideon
perhaps seeing the temptation in Israel to usurp the authority of God in what
was always meant to be a theocracy, a nation governed by God, and the temptation
in the peoples to usurp that authority of God and placing their allegiance and
devotion, and placing all their hopes and dreams and aspirations in a man and in
an individual. So that’s where this story starts. It’s a failure of the judges.
And the people come to Samuel — Samuel is about to
expire. His two sons are rascals, so the people come to Samuel and they ask for
a king. They ask for a king “just like the nations” all around them. It’s a
testing time. It’s a testing time for Samuel. Samuel is an old man, but God
still puts him through a testing time. Just because you are relatively old
doesn’t mean that God won’t put you through another test. It’s a testing time
for the people of God. You’d think, wouldn’t you…you’d think that they have
learnt their lesson. You’d think that following the whole debacle with the ark
of the covenant–putting all of their trust in the ark, in what was essentially a
gold box, using it as a kind of talisman, using it as a kind of lucky charm in
the midst of battle–you’d think that they had learnt their lesson when 34,000 of
their own had been slain by God because of the error of their ways.
Well, a generation has passed, and whatever lesson
had been learnt at that point has now altogether been forgotten. And the testing
time is this. You notice in verse 20 there’s a little hint as to what’s coming:
“…to fight our battles.” Yes, on this Memorial Day, there’s always the rumor of
war lurking on every page, as much in our time as it evidently was in Samuel’s
time. And what the people did not want to do was to trust God in their battles.
“So appoint for us, then, a king.”
Now I want to see two lessons in this first
section (verses 1-9), and then I want us to see another lesson in the remaining
I. We want to be like the other
The first lesson revolves around this request.
They ask for a king so that they might be governed just like the nations…just
like the nations. What is that? Do you know what that is? That’s worldliness,
that’s what that is. They looked to their neighbors. They looked to the
surrounding nations and what they concluded was, ‘If we are going to be
successful, we must be like them.’ Isn’t that an astonishing thing? Isn’t that
something that we live by day after day after day?
I was reading this week…at the turn of the century in
London there were errand boys who apparently as they went about their work were
whistling. They were whistling tunes. But the tunes that they were whistling
were out of tune just ever so slightly. And it wasn’t just one errand boy, but
all of the errand boys all seemed to be whistling out of tune. And some research
was done and what they discovered was that the bells of Westminster were also
slightly out of tune. And what these boys who lived and worked every single day
within the sound of these bells had learned, they had picked it up from the
environment in which they lived. They had learned to whistle out of tune.
We learn to whistle out of tune all the time. I was a
child of the sixties, and I actually do remember —though it may surprise some of
you, but I actually do remember “The Kinks.” [Laughter.] But I actually
do remember the song that I think they both wrote and sang: I’m a Dedicated
Follower of Fashion. [Now everyone who’s under 35 is looking completely
blank, but the rest of you, I can detect you can remember just about that song!]
I’m a Dedicated Follower of Fashion. It was an entirely horrid song, but
it’s an enormously important truth. We are dedicated followers of fashion,
whether it’s Britney Spears or Madonna. Ask our youth staff how much the
fashions of the world around them affect the lifestyle of our young people. Oh,
you parents know all about it! But all of us to some degree are dedicated
followers of fashion.
Do you see what lies behind this? They didn’t want to
be different. They did not want to be different. They wanted a king just like
the nations around them. We are called upon, dear people, to be holy. That means
to be set apart. That means to be different, to be different from the world, to
be different from all of those around us. The agenda that we follow is not the
agenda of the world. The lifestyle that we follow is not the lifestyle of the
world. We follow a different King, and we march to the beat of a different
II. In wanting a king, they are
But there’s a second thing I want us to
learn, and it’s something more sinister. Because the thing that they ask
first of all displeased Samuel, and we can certainly understand that Samuel took
it personally. And it seems to be that when God says to Samuel, you remember,
“It’s not you they’re rejecting, it’s Me,” that the Lord himself understood that
Samuel may well have taken this personally as a kind of judgment on his own rule
and administration in Israel. But God puts His finger on what the real trouble
is. The real trouble for their worldliness was because they were actually
rejecting God himself. They wanted to put their trust in someone else.
Now what is that? It is idolatry. It is idolatry. It
is what Calvin writes in The Institutes, that man’s mind is a perpetual
factory of idols. Will you trust in tihe Lord, or will you put your faith in
princes? And the people decided, ‘We will put our trust in princes. We will put
our trust in kings.’ They were following, God says, an age-old pattern. And
didn’t your heart begin to rend just a little as we read verses 7, 8, and 9,
when God almost, as it were, opens His heart to Samuel and says to Samuel, ‘This
is what these people have been doing ever since I brought them out of Egypt.
Ever since I brought them out of Egypt I’ve blessed them. I’ve showered them
with mercy after mercy after mercy, but they keep turning away from me. They
keep putting their faith and trust in someone or something else rather than Me.’
It’s a pattern of idolatry. But if we’re honest tonight we recognize it in our
own hearts and in our own lives.
II. God gave them their
request, and it turned them away from following God.
But there’s a third lesson here, too. It’s
the lesson of Psalm 106:15: “He gave them their request, and He sent leanness
into their soul.” Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it
and regret it. Be careful what you ask for. Is it worldliness that you ask for?
Do you want to be just like the people around you? Do you want to find your fun
and your satisfaction and your pleasure and your wholeness in the things that
other people find their fun and pleasure and wholeness in? And be very careful,
my friend, because God just may grant you your request, and you will rue the day
that you ever asked for it.
You have to smile a little in that section from verse
10 all the way down to verse 18 when Samuel gives it to them. ‘Let me spell it
out for you,’ Samuel says, ‘what it is that you’re asking for. When you’re
asking for a king just like the nations around you, it’s not the kind of king
that is spoken of in Deuteronomy 17, a king that God chooses, a king that loves
the Scriptures and writes the Scriptures in a book and meditates on that book
day and night; a king that doesn’t amass for himself wives and gold and
treasures and possessions. No, if you want a king just like the peoples around
you, this is the kind of king that you will get.’ And he describes big
government, and he describes multi-layered bureaucracy, and multi-layered
administration, and conscription into the civil service and into the armed
forces, and an entourage of people to surround him, and easement of property and
land, and confiscation of individual rights and privileges, and taxation, and
taxation, and more taxation! It’s death and taxes, is what they’re asking for.
France, at the turn of the 18th-19th
century, fell in love with Napoleon Bonaparte. They were in the midst of their
revolution — a humanist revolution, an abandonment of their Christian past.
Bonaparte had had some success, you remember, in Italy. He was the charming
leader of the time, and he was appointed as a kind of commander in chief for a
ten-year office. And it all went so horribly wrong, because they ended up with a
leader who crowned himself a sovereign monarch of France and got France into all
kinds of trouble, and into wars in Switzerland and beyond, and even brought the
United States in the War of 1812…into what was a pointless war. They’re asking
for a king, and what they’ll end up with is a Napoleon Bonaparte, someone who
actually will take them back not just decades, but centuries into their past.
What kind of king? What kind of king should they have
asked for? “Who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with
God, but made himself of no reputation.” The King of Kings and Lord of Lords,
King Jesus…the King of which that text in Deuteronomy 17 was in fact a pointer
to; a king of God’s own choosing; a king who would love God’s word. But what
kind of king would he be?
Do you remember Pilate’s question? “Are You the King
of the Jews?” Do you remember Jesus’ answer? “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Pilate couldn’t understand it — a King who would lay aside his glory, veil his
glory, be born in a stable in Bethlehem, of whom it would be said that the birds
of the air have their nests and the foxes their holes, but the Son of Man has
nowhere to lay His head; a King who would lay down His life on behalf of sinners
like you and me; a King who would bear our sins in His own body upon the tree; a
King who would die the accursed death of a covenant breaker, and would leave
this world with no possessions whatsoever; stripped of all His garments; hoisted
from the ground onto a cross. And we worship Him, and we love Him, and we adore
You see, there is one of two options tonight. We can
say with those in the Gospels, ‘We will not have this Man to reign over us,’ or
we can bow at Jesus’ feet, at the King of God’s own provision, and worship Him.
What you see in I Samuel 8 that will lead to the
decision to elect Saul as the first king of Israel was a decision and a desire
born in worldliness and idolatry, because the people wanted to be just like the
people all around them. But to every Christian tonight, every believer tonight,
our idea of a king is altogether different, epitomized in the very person and
the very face of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Let’s pray together.
Father, we thank You for this period of history
that warns us of issues that lie in our own hearts that we know all too well: a
desire to mimic the world; a desire to be a dedicated follower of fashion… and
it is a road that leads to ruination and damnation. Teach us, O Lord, more and
more to bow at the feet of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and to say to
our Lord Jesus Christ, “We are Yours entirely.” Hear us; bless us; write this
word upon our hearts, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand; receive the Lord’s benediction.
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and the
Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
© First Presbyterian
Church, 1390 North State St, Jackson, MS (601) 924-0575
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This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.