Best of Daily Reflections: God Isn’t Grumpy and Annoyed with YouDaily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, "You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations."
1 Samuel 8:4-20
We have so much to learn—and unlearn—about the true character and behavior of God. Consider the transformational moment in Israel’s history described in 1 Samuel 8. The survival of Israel’s loose confederation of twelve tribes was threatened by the hostile nations growing and growling around them. They decided that they needed to unite into a monarchy led by a king “like all the other nations.” From the beginning, it had been expected that Israel would one day have a king: "God said to Abraham, 'I will bless Sarah, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her' " (Gen. 17:15-16).
Asking for a king wasn’t the problem. Insisting on "a king like the other nations”—that was the problem. Until Samuel’s day, God had been King of Israel, and a series of judges had been God’s representatives. Samuel, the latest judge, was old, and his sons were losers. So the people asked for new leadership—“a king like the other nations.” Samuel is skeptical, but God instructs him to give the people what they want with a warning. If they choose a king “like the other nations,” they may not like it. These other kings were “takers.” They take sons, daughters, slaves, crops, and land. They don't fight battles for the people; the people fight for the king. Israel pictured a mighty king, conquering adversaries and forcing into submission the nations of the earth. They couldn’t imagine a servant-king who would honor the reign of God and sacrificially rise above the perversions, temptations, and corruptions that come with power.
For the next thousand years, God allowed Israel to choose its kings, some better, some worse—some way, way worse. None was better than David, who was himself a deeply flawed leader. And this is where we are given a profoundly important glimpse of God; through it all, God remains faithful. Israel fails and fails and fails again—a thousand years of failures—but God remains faithful.
We need to unlearn the idea of a cold, glaring, grumpy God who spends most of his time annoyed with his miserable, small-minded, crusty-hearted, faux followers. The truth of God is nothing like that. The truth of God is his full-bodied, unfailing delight in us. Even when we've failed for a thousand years, God still binds up our wounds, brushes us off, and sends us out again saying, “What have you learned? What will you do next time? Remember, I am with you, ALWAYS.”
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, "You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations." But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to govern us," Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, "Listen to 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. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them."
So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 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 plough 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 courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-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 day." But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, "No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles."
1 Samuel 8:4-20
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Describe some of the areas of your life where growth in faithfulness has been especially slow. What are you learning about yourself and about God through all your efforts? What does it mean to you that "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak"?
PRAYER: Eternal God, break the evil spell that tells me you are cold, small, terrifying, and depressing. Even when I fail you for the thousandth time, remind me that your steadfast love for me stretches from everlasting to everlasting. Amen.