During the period of the judges, the people had grown increasingly corrupt, where “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17.6). Rather than submitting to God in repentance, Israel demanded “a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8.6).
Even though God would ultimately be the one who would appoint and ordain Israel’s king, God responded to their request by warning them that their request was an act of rebellion against God and His government.
The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. – 1 Samuel 8.7
In the verses which follow, Samuel gives Israel a description of what a human government would do for the people. In so doing, God gives a clear description of what human governments do for all people.
Human Governments Oppress
Samuel warned the people that with a king,
- War would become a way of life.
He will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen, and they will run before his chariots. – 1 Samuel 8.11
- The king would then use this army for his own enrichment.
He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. – 1 Samuel 8.12-13
In making their request for a king, the people were hoping that the king would rule for their benefit. They had hoped that the king would provide safety, justice, and a well-ordered society. In reality, God warned that the king would rule for his own enrichment.
- This enrichment would come at the expense of the people.
He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks – 1 Samuel 8.14-17
Rather than providing more justice, their human government would actually use their power to remove justice. Property would be taken. The fruits of their labor would be used to pay for political favors. The king would steal the possessions of others in order to increase his own power and influence over the people.
- The people would become slaves
You yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day. – 1 Samuel 8.17-18
Every human government uses the resources, the time, and the labor of their subjects resulting in the enrichment of those in power. Since human governments are not themselves producers, everything they have must be taken from others. This is the same with every form of human government ever invented; even in democratic and socialistic forms of government. In democracies, the people choose between two or three potential rulers who, in turn, take the resources of their subjects to accomplish their goals. In socialistic forms of government the rulers may hide behind of veil of doing good works for the people, but in reality, it is the ruling class that is enriched at the expense of the people. Every socialistic “gift” which is promised must first be stolen from someone else, and those gifts are distributed only in ways that continue to ensure the continued power of the rulers. To have a human government is to have oppression and servitude.
This is the key point of difference between God’s government and human government. God rules for the benefit of His people, while humans rule for their own benefit at the expense of the people. Jesus himself pointed to this difference when He said:
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant. – Matthew 20.25-26
God Will Give People What They Ask For
Samuel taught the people that to ask for a king was, in reality, a rejection of the rule of God (1 Sam. 8.7). But we also see that God will sometimes give people what they ask for, even if what they are requesting is in rebellion to God.
In spite of being warned what a human king would do for the people. They continued in their insistence:
No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles. – 1 Samuel 8.19-20
To which the Lord responded:
Listen to their voice and appoint them a king.- 1 Samuel 8.22
God ordained a king for Israel, not because He thought it would be best for them to ensure justice and safety, but to punish them. In the years that followed, the kings of Israel continued to lead Israel deeper and deeper in to sin and idolatry, ushering in continual warfare and poverty.
Years later, in looking back on this foolish request, Hosea would write:
It is your destruction, O Israel,
That you are against Me, against your help.
Where now is your king
That he may save you in all your cities,
And your judges of whom you requested,
“Give me a king and princes”?
I gave you a king in My anger
And took him away in my wrath. – Hosea 13:9-11 (Emphasis added)
Israel had provoked God’s anger. In response, God ordained for them a human government in his wrath. In ordaining a human government, God also ordained the warfare, theft, and servitude that would accompany such a “gift.”
Not every institution ordained of God is good. God never approved of their request, but He gave them what they had asked for. As long as men reject God’s rule, God ordains that they will be ruled by governments and will suffer the consequences of their rejection of God.