I spent a big part of the night with a bunch of folks wrestling with the books of Samuel and Kings. For those who haven’t spent a couple days checking out the scope of these stories, the two books document the rise and fall of the monarchy in Israel. Throughout these books we learn about the demand from the people of Israel that God appoint a king, a demand that was granted reluctantly. Then we follow the rise and fall of the major kings — Saul, the tortured first king; David, the main after God’s own heart who was tortured as well; and Solomon, who was filled with wisdom but let political expediency get in the way of worshipping God.
What was most interesting was to recognize why the people of Israel demanded a king. It seems that they were longing after security. The Philistines, those strange people from the sea, where threatening the kingdom. Major changes were happening in the world, and the old ways of fighting off invaders (the loose confederation of tribes led by a judge) no longer seemed adequate. “We need a king,” folks shouted. “Everyone else has one, and that’s the only way we’ll be secure.”
“You don’t know what you are asking,” God replied through Samuel. “Kings are trouble. Kings like to tax folks. Kings conscript folks to do their bidding. If you follow a king, you are putting your dependence in him and not me.” But you know how folks get when they are feeling unsecure. They will give up any a bunch of self determination to feel secure, so they wouldn’t take no for an answer and demanded that they needed a king.
The problem was, as we learn through these books, the king never meets up to the ideal standards we hold for him. Saul was tormented with self doubt and paranoia. David was unscrupulous in opposing Saul, working with the enemy to gain power, then finding himself vulnerable to the whims of the flesh and the torments of his children. Solomon was perhaps the most mighty of the kings, but he did exactly what God had warned — taxing the poor and conscripting folks into slavery to build the temple and his palace. By the end of Solomon’s reign, the whole enterprise imploded upon the weight of itself, and the unified kingdom created for security was split in two. It wasn’t long until both were overrun and the life of security that the Israelites had sought was destroyed.
It seems pretty clear that we have to be careful what we wish for. There is a lot of language of the “chosen” floating around today. There are many folks who are looking to a strong leader as a source of security. Yet, if we read Samuel and Kings, we come away with the knowledge that security doesn’t come through the gift of one person. It requires a community of accountability, looking to God as a source of strength, and recognizing that the chosen must surely fail.
May we with the ears to hear listen to what God has said in the past.