When Israel demands that Samuel find them a king, they have a mixture of good and bad intentions. Samuel’s sons are not worthy to rule, so Israel rightly expects Samuel to refuse passing leadership to his children. Yet in diagnosing this leadership problem, Israel chooses a faulty remedy by demanding a king immediately. If God had not spoken to Samuel against Israel’s longing for a king, the astute student of scripture might see little problem with Israel desiring a king to establish law and order. After all, God promised Abraham centuries before that some of his descendants would be kings (Genesis 17:6). But Israel’s problem does not arise from desiring good or godly leadership, or even from hoping that God would fulfill promises about kings. Israel’s error is desiring to choose the first king themselves. The people believe they need a person to lead their wars, a king like the nations that surround them. The worst part of their desire for a king is the mistaken notion that such a king would “go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20), the very thing God has done and promised to do time and time again (e.g. Deuteronomy 31:8, Exodus 13:21, Exodus 14:14). It becomes clear that Israel doesn’t just want a king, but God’s promise of a king without needing to trust God alone. In short, Israel wants to replace God.
God will grant Israel their wish for a king, but not before warning that this ruler would use Israel for personal gain at great expense to them (1 Samuel 8:10-18). Reflect on these questions: How do you attempt to replace God with other rulers? What are the costs?