Scripture: 1 Samuel 8:4-20
We were fortunate over the last week that as a family we got to go Disney World. One of the things this really reminded me of is just how much Disney is obsessed with royalty. In the Disney movies that do not feature animal characters, two thirds of the female leads are either a princess or end up a princess by the end of the movie, and princess is their primary occupation. Even the Disney movies without fairy godmothers like Robin Hood, the Lion King, and the three Mouseketeers still heavily feature or deal with the idea of royalty. Disney kind of created the whole concept of “princess culture”, where every little girl wants to be a princess. In recent years, there have been a lot of criticisms of this idea of pigeon holing little girls into being the princess but if anything Disney has only doubled down on promoting princesses. All little girls might want to be a princess, but in general as Americans we are not too keen on the royalty thing. We honestly find the idea to be revolting. The idea of a person having power and authority as a birth right goes against the rugged individualism, self-determination, and emphasis on choice that is at the core of our cultural identity. The idea of a leader that we do not get to some say in picking is so foreign to us that we would probably be surprised at how many kings and queens are left in the world. Not counting former British colonies, there are 29 countries that still have a monarchy. In most of those the ruler is a figurehead of sorts, but believe it or not there are still five countries in the world that have absolute monarchies. These are places where the king’s decrees are law. Again, that is so foreign to us. We live in a place where on some level we choose the people who lead on every level. From the smallest county office to the most powerful position in the world, we all get a vote. Democratic ideals like this are so ingrained into our way of thinking, that it can make it hard for us to really connect with scriptures like this morning. However, this morning’s scripture points out to us that the kingdom of God IS a kingdom. It has an absolute monarch, a king, and his name is Jesus. As we reflect on this morning’s scripture it causes us to ask ourselves, do we also reject the Lord as king?
This morning’s scripture comes from a transitional time in the history of the ancient Israelites. They had been freed from captivity in Egypt and they had claimed the Holy Land generations ago. Yet the monarchy of ancient Israel, the kingdom of David and Solomon, had yet to be established. This morning’s scripture really points out that it was God’s ideal plan that the Israelites were not to have an earthly king. The intended set up was that through the law, God would act as the ruling power of the Israelites. The idea to the law of the Old Testament is that if the Israelites followed it they would live in right relationship with one another and with God. God would be their God and they would be God’s people. They would need an earthly ruler because God’s law, their commitment to one another, and their mutual admiration of God would provide all of the rule of law that they would need. Unfortunately, it never quite worked the way it was supposed to.
For several generations, they ancient Israelites did live in the promise land without a king, bound together by their mutual language, culture, and faith. However, there is no evidence they ever fully lived out some of the most radical and grace-filled parts such as the year of Jubilee where all debts were canceled and sold lands were given back to their ancestral owners. This time in the land without a king is recorded in the book of Judges, and the last verse of Judges sums up really well how the Israelites were doing at following the law and honoring God as their sovereign ruler. Judges 21:24 states, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”
This morning’s scripture records when the community of the ancient Israelites rejected the plan that God had put before them, a plan to be God’s people and follow God’s rule. Separated by time and culture it can be easy for us to read this morning’s scripture and shake our head in disappointment and judgement at how the Israelites could so callously turn their back on God. However, as we consider the reasons why the ancient Israelites may have rejected God’s rule for an earthly king, we will find that perhaps we are not all that different. We may find those reasons hit uncomfortably close today, and they might be some of the same reasons why we sometimes stumble in following the king of kings today.
There are three reasons why the ancient Israelites rejected God’s rule and wanted a king instead. Two of those reasons are plainly stated in this morning’s scripture in verse 19. One of the reasons stated in those verses is they wanted a king to lead them, go out before them, and fight battles. The ancient Israelites were surrounded by potentially hostile enemies, and they wanted a king to have the authority to organize them to defend themselves. In the system without a king, the Israelites were to trust God to do that. Again, Judges shows this to be the case. When the people call out on God, then God without fail raised up a judge to deliver them. However, it seems the people never went to God immediately. Things had to always go from bad to worse before they would finally resort to calling out to God. One of the primary reasons why God is rejected in this morning’s scripture is because they did not trust God.
This still happens today, and this is especially happen in the American church. Our rugged American individualism often gets in the way of us trusting God. IN general, we pride ourselves on the ability to pull ourselves up by bootstraps, and we tend to insist we can get by on our own without anyone help. We do not want handouts or even hand-ups if we are being honest because we like to insist that we are fine and we can handle it on our own. Except, often we can’t and it really isn’t fine. We pass off pride as a virtue and this often gets in the way of us trusting God. When the ancient Israelites called out to God, he provides a judge to lead them. God’s help came in the form of a person that God raised up to provide the needed help. When trouble comes our way, we call out to God, how likely are we to dismiss God’s provision if it comes in the form of a person. How likely are we to tell the person God has raised up to help us in our time of need, that “we are fine” or “we do not want to be a bother” and in doing so we reject God’s provision. We choose to trust in our own power instead of God’s power at work in the world.
The second reason listed in verse 19 is that they wanted to be like all of the other nations. Compared to the ancient Israelites they were the odd people out. They were the only people group who did have a king and they wanted to fit in with those around them. While we are not clamoring for a king, we still face the desire to fit in with those around us. It becomes very easy for us to adopt the outlook of the people we are around, and when we do that it is easy us to bend how we understand God than allow God to transform how we live. Presbyterian pastor and author Tim Keller summed this up when he once wrote, “If your God never disagrees with you, then you might just be worshipping an idealized version of yourself.” To follow God should set us apart from the world around us. As we seek to be more like Jesus our King, we should grow in holiness, righteousness and compassion. This growth and transformation should be ever pushing and challenging us. If our idea of God is in complete agreement with everything that makes us most comfortable, then it is likely that it is not God who sit on the throne in our life. Just like the ancient Israelites to fit in with the world around us, we have settled for a lesser king.
I think the final reason why the ancient Israelites did not fully accept the sovereign reign of God is that they just did not want to. The law spelled out in great detail how to live in a way that fully honors God and how to radically in relation with others in a way that puts grace and mercy first. To live in the way laid out in the law required putting God and others above themselves, and perhaps one of the reasons why the ancient Israelites never fully implemented this is because it is hard work. It required putting others first. It required following God’s way instead of the way we might want to go. Instead of following God, everyone wanted to go their own way. Instead of following God, everyone did as they saw fit. I do not need to tell you how prevalent that attitude is today, how prevalent it has always been throughout human history.
The ancient Israelites had the opportunity to follow God as their king, but they rejected that option. I think one of the things that is most encouraging in this scripture is even though the Israelites had rejected God as their king, God did not reject them. God continued to honor the covenant and continued to be their God. This is encouraging news for us, because as Christians as followers of Jesus, he is supposed to be our king. He is supposed to be the one who is lord of are whole life. Yet so often we find ourselves like the ancient Israelites. We do not give Jesus lordship over every facet of our being because either we lack trust, we desire to be like everyone else, or in our prideful sin we just do not want to submit to Jesus’ sovereignty over our life. The good news of this morning’s scripture is that even when we fall short of following our King, Jesus does not give up on us. The grace of that saves us is still there for us to return to again and again.
Our cultural background can sometimes hinder us from following Jesus as Lord. As Americans we have no understanding of what it means to have a king. A King is not a President that we re-elect. A king does not need to earn votes. A king is king for life, or in Jesus case for all eternity. Because Jesus is not an elected official in our lives that we hold accountable. Jesus is King. Jesus is the sovereign Lord we submit ourselves to, and who holds us accountable. Perhaps we can learn from looking back to the times when kings were much more common. Much like the ancient Israelites never quite lived up the ideal of the law, the people of the middle ages never quite lived up to the ideals of chivalry, but the ideal can teach us a bit about what it means to have a king. When someone, usually called a vassal, swore to serve a king they did so through a ritual called homage. In Homage the king would promise the vassal that he would care for the vassal, always look out and act in the vassal’s best interest, and consider the life of the vassal equal to his own. In return the vassal would get on his knees, put his hands between the king’s and promise that the will of the king would be greater than his own, and that his life was entrusted into the hands of the King. In homage, the vassal was willing to follow the will of the king over his own desires. While we were still sinners Christ dies for us. This proves that Jesus is willing to care for us, it proves that Jesus will act in our best interest, and it proves that Jesus considers the giving of his life worth ours. Who is your king? Do you swear homage to Jesus? In your life is he a king of convenience or the Lord of all?
In this morning’s scripture, God says to Samuel the sad reality: “they have rejected me as their king.” May that not be so for us. May we fully follow our Lord and Savior. May he be the king of our life, not just the parts we are comfortable releasing-but our whole selves. Even if it does not come naturally to us because of our American cultural heritage, may we be willing to bend the knee to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, Jesus of Nazareth-Christ the King. Our King is risen, long live the king.