From the time that Joshua died until Saul took the throne of Israel, the Hebrew government was not a monarchy like most surrounding nations. Theologians refer to it as a theocracy—”God-rule.” The Lord ruled over Israel, issuing His decrees and governing through prophets and priests. Each major region looked to a judge for what most other cultures would expect from a king. He (occasionally, she) led the people in battle, decided civil cases, and enforced God’s laws.
Samuel judged all Israel with God reigning as king over the Hebrew people. In this way, the Israelites were like no other nation on earth in that they could claim God as their leader, the invisible Creator, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Almighty One who crushed Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and conquered Canaan. But, much in the same way that the wandering generation tired of manna, the people grew tired of the theocracy. Three factors drove their desire for a king.
First, Samuel was old and no longer able to keep pace with the demands of the nation. Second, his sons had disqualified themselves by losing the respect of the people. And third, “we want to be like all the nations.”
Before we move on, let’s not bypass an important point of interest. On previous pages we observed the failure of Eli to guide his sons. Now we see little evidence to suggest that Samuel did any better. Scripture doesn’t offer as detailed information about his parenting, but the remarkable similarity between Samuel’s sons and those of Eli leaves us with little else to conclude. Eli was a great priest and a faithful judge, but a lousy father. Samuel, sadly, followed in his footsteps. His sons became unfit as leaders like those of Eli.
This was a pivotal moment in the life of Israel. Take special note of the Lord’s assessment of their decision. “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them [8:7].”
In effect, the Lord said, “You are determined to go down this path—one that will certainly cause you sorrow—and I will not stop you. You have rejected My way for your own. Therefore, you will lie in the bed you have made.”
Excerpted from Charles R. Swindoll, Great Days with the Great Lives (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.