Faithful to her promise, Hannah gives her son, Samuel, to the Lord’s service. Samuel grows to become a mighty prophet, a man of God recognized from Dan to Beersheba (the Israelite way of saying “from north to south”). Everyone acknowledged that God worked and spoke mightily through Samuel. The Bible says that God let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground (1 Sam. 3:19).
Toward the end of his life, after many years of leadership, Samuel is approached by the elders of Israel.
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” — 1 Sam. 8:4-7
God is king over Israel. He always has been. But the other nations have human kings to lead them into battle. And Israel is tired of being different; they want to be like the other nations.
This may have been news in Samuel’s day, but God saw it coming. Way back in Deuteronomy 17, God gave commands to Moses regarding what to do when the people demanded a king. But here is God’s primary requirement for Israel’s king:
When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law…It is to be with him and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law… — Deuteronomy 17:18-19
The king is to be God’s representative agent among the people. He is to be at the front of the line when it comes to obedience to the Word. But Israel doesn’t want to a king because they believe that will help them live more faithfully in covenant with God.
They want a king because they want to be like the other nations.
Elsewhere in Deuteronomy (7:6), the children of Israel are told, “You are a people holy to the Lord your God.” Israel was to be set apart, distinct, different because of their faithfulness to God’s commands. But rather than embracing this role, Israel wants to accommodate.
To blend in.
To be like everybody else.
Does that sound familiar?
Is one of your greatest temptations the temptation to simply blend in? To be like everyone else? Don’t want to “stand out”?
Here is a truth we struggle with, just as Israel did: You can be a light to the world or you can be like the world. You can’t do both.
As followers of Christ, God calls us to a distinct way of life. We need to respect this. It’s not about “we’re better than other people” – it’s about living set apart, holy lives that declare to the world “We belong to God!”
All of this means that I should be constantly evaluating my life and asking the question: “Where am I most tempted to accommodate?”
- Is it with regard to my speech? Is there anything distinct about your speech pattern with regard to gossip, for instance? Or is that an area that you tend to accommodate?
- Or what about my listening life? Maybe I don’t go around saying things about others, but what comments do you allow to go unchecked? How often do you give audience to those who gossip? That makes you complicit in the sin, by the way.
- Maybe it’s your thought life. Maybe that’s one area where you’re most tempted to exchange God’s will for the world’s perspective. Maybe this is one area Satan has a foothold in our hearts.
Accommodation is a constant temptation for us, just as it held real allure for Israel. But this is the gospel truth about accommodation:
Accommodation always leads to enslavement.
Israel’s desire for a king is, in essence, a rejection of the liberty that comes under God’s kingship and an embrace of a new form of enslavement. Samuel spells it out pretty clearly in the rest of ch8: he tells them that the king will take their sons and daughters and put them into his service; he will take the best of their herds and flocks. And, most chillingly, he says in 1 Sam. 8:17: “and you shall be his slaves.”
When we accommodate our values to blend in, we’re rejecting the liberty that comes from God’s sovereign rule in our lives and we are willingly embracing the very shackles He aims to demolish in our lives.
Israel rejects God’s rule in favor of the wrong thing. And we understand this, don’t we? How often do we seek enslavement to the wrong things? We’re always running toward that which is bad for us.
Instead, maybe we can heed God’s warning to Israel. Maybe we can retract our request for a king other than Jesus. Maybe we can still be a light to the world if we’d simply give up this impulse to want to be like the world.
I like to think that’s still possible.