Samuel becomes the leader for Israel; they listened to his advice and rid themselves of the idols that filled their homes.
On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah. 1 Samuel 7:6
The Philistines heard the Israelites were gathered together they devised a plan to attack them. From a military perspective this makes good sense, but not when God is involved! (ok, that sounds a bit weird…God is always involved). Anyway, they attack the Israelites, but God threw them into confusion and the Israelites chased them away, killing many as they fled.
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12
And so we understand the verse in the old hymn Come Thou Fount, “Here I lay my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I come.”
Samuel was a good and effective leader for Israel, but some bad news:
But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. 1 Samuel 8:3
More than bad news, this is sad. As a father, it makes me sad to read about children wandering far from their father’s ways. Surely Joel and Abijah saw the favor with which the Lord looked upon Samuel, let alone all of Israel. Yet somehow, in their minds, they wandered.
Give Us A King!
The Israelites know Samuel’s sons can’t be heirs, they are simply not worthy. Since Samuel is getting old, they approach him and ask him to appoint a king. Samuel asks God for advice and he tells Samuel to give the people what they ask for with a warning to ensure they fully understand. A king means taxes and much more. It changes their organizational structure for sure, but it reveals their inability to trust fully in the Lord.
Samuel warns the people, gives them a long list of problems they can expect by having a king rule over them, but the people insist.
We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles. 1 Samuel 8:19-20
“Then we will be like all other nations…” Exactly what God was teaching them NOT to become. The narrative of the Old Testament to this point has been about making Israel God’s people, set apart from the rest, distinctively different. The Israelites keep resisting–they want to fit into society, to be like those around them.
We are set apart.
It’s not that we are special in and of ourselves, but as Paul tells us,
Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. Romans 8:17
We are the children of God. We don’t need an earthly king, but the Israelites have chosen a path that will take them on a new journey in a very different wilderness.
And so we begin to see kings of Israel.