Getting Who We Deserve


Israel’s stubborn desire

Perhaps the greatest commentary ever written about the post-judges period of Israel’s history is a single verse of Scripture:

So in my anger I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away. (Hosea 13:11 NIV)

Samuel was a great man, of that there is no debate. You’ll recall that his birth was an answer to his mother’s prayer, much like the birth of John the Baptist. He was raised in and around the Temple by the priest, Eli. He was called by God – personally – to the prophetic ministry and to the career of a judge, a leader of Israel.

In his old age, Samuel retired and appointed his sons as judges in his place. Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba; but they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and were very corrupt in the administration of justice. (1 Samuel 8:1 – 2 TLB)

He may have been a man of God, a great prophet of God, and an anointed leader of men, but his child-rearing skills were about as bad as Eli’s were. He raised two sons who couldn’t have been more different from himself. He learned nothing from Eli’s mistakes. Samuel’s big mistake was appointing his sons as judges. And that mistake led to Israel’s eventual downfall because of this unintended consequence:

“Give us a king like all the other nations have,” they pleaded. (1 Samuel 8:5b NIV)

Why did God’s people want a king? God was supposed to be their king, working through His surrogates, the judges. The problem was, Israel had many scurrilous judges over the years and the people became disenchanted with God’s way when they looked around at all the nations that, in their view, had it made because they had a strong, central leader: a king.

Samuel made a mistake in how he raised his sons and he made a bigger mistake in appointing them as judges. The people now had the perfect excuse to ask for a king, something God never intended for them to have. Samuel knew once they had a king, it would be downhill all the way.

“If you insist on having a king, he will conscript your sons and make them run before his chariots; some will be made to lead his troops into battle, while others will be slave laborers; they will be forced to plow in the royal fields and harvest his crops without pay, and make his weapons and chariot equipment. He will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his friends. He will take a tenth of your harvest and distribute it to his favorites. He will demand your slaves and the finest of your youth and will use your animals for his personal gain. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. You will shed bitter tears because of this king you are demanding, but the Lord will not help you.” (1 Samuel 8:11 – 18 TLB)

Chapter 8 might well be one of the saddest chapters in the Bible because it represents the absolute end of the theocracy that was Israel. The people of God wanted to be like everybody else. The problem was, everybody else was godless.

But they wanted a king, and God would give them one.

… the Lord replied again, “Then do as they say and give them a king.” So Samuel agreed and sent the men home again. (1 Samuel 8:22 TLB)

Israel’s first checkered king

From 1 Samuel 9, we leave the history of Samuel to begin the history of Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul is one of the strangest characters in Scripture. He’s strange for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that God specifically chose him to Israel’s first king and he would quickly become a disaster and a national embarrassment.

Kish was a rich, influential man from the tribe of Benjamin. He was the son of Abiel, grandson of Zeror, great-grandson of Becorath, and great-great-grandson of Aphiah. His son Saul was the most handsome man in Israel. And he was head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land! (2 Samuel 9:1, 2 TLB)

This is a brief history of Saul’s genealogy. He came from the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was one the twelve sons of Jacob. His mother died when he was born and just before she died, she named this new-born child Benoni, which means “son of my sorrow.” Why did she name him that? She named him “son of my sorrow” because, in essence, his birth meant her death. Jacob, though, quickly changed Benoni (“son of my sorrow”) to Benjamin, which means, “son of my right hand.” He was Jacob’s favorite son and he had it made; even his brothers protected him. Eventually, though, Benjamin the tribe was decimated because of a horrible sin. From the ruins of this tribe came Saul.

When we first meet Saul, we are struck with his physical attributes. The man looked like a king. If you were to go looking for a king, you’d chose somebody who looks like Saul: tall, well-built and handsome. But in reality, Saul may have looked like a king but he didn’t have the character or the heart of a king. But the people who chose Saul chose him based on what they could see with their eyes. Yet in behind the people’s ignorance and arrogance, God was working out His plan.

When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord said, “That’s the man I told you about! He will rule my people.” (1 Samuel 9:17 TLB)

God gave the people exactly what they wanted; a king like everybody else had. They saw Saul and Saul fit the bill.

Saul becomes king

The process of making Saul king took three steps. First, there was a private ceremony, which is recounted in the early verses of chapter 10.

Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it over Saul’s head, and kissed him on the cheek and said, “I am doing this because the Lord has appointed you to be the king of his people, Israel!” (1 Samuel 10:1 TLB)

The second step involved the public choice.

Samuel now called a convocation of all Israel at Mizpah. (1 Samuel 10:17 TLB)

And finally the sacred lot selected Saul, the son of Kish. But when they looked for him, he had disappeared!

So they asked the Lord, “Where is he? Is he here among us?”

And the Lord replied, “He is hiding in the baggage.”

So they found him and brought him out, and he stood head and shoulders above anyone else.

Then Samuel said to all the people, “This is the man the Lord has chosen as your king. There isn’t his equal in all of Israel!” (1Samuel 10:21 – 24 TLB)

And at last, the final coronation would take place:

Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us all go to Gilgal and reconfirm Saul as our king.”

So they went to Gilgal and in a solemn ceremony before the Lord they crowned him king. Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all Israel were very happy. (1 Samuel 11:14 – 15 TLB)

History from the lens of prophecy

I began this study of Saul with a verse from the minor prophetic book called Hosea. In Hosea 13, the prophet is preaching against Israel’s unfaithfulness but using its history. Hosea often referred to the nation of Israel as “Ephraim,” and in verse 1 he makes a sad statement.

When Ephraim spoke, people trembled; he was exalted in Israel. But he became guilty of Baal worship and died. (Hosea 13:1 NIV)

That’s the history of Israel almost from their inception. When Israel served God, God exalted it, but when Israel began to chase after and worship Baal – false gods – Israel died. Their idol worship began very early in their history, so their death was a lingering one; it took generations for their spiritual death to actually kill the nation in reality.

Just how bad had things become is Israel? The people piled sin upon sin upon awful sin:

Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of these people, “They offer human sacrifices! They kiss calf-idols!” (Hosea 13:2 NIV)

Back in Samuel’s day, things hadn’t gotten nearly that bad. But the root of Israel’s idolatry can be traced back its desire for a king. God never intended for Israel to be ruled a human king. He alone was to be their king. Saul became their first king, but his was a disastrous reign. David came along and was an imperfect man of God. His son Solomon followed, and while he was a wise man and a good king, the spiritual decline of the nation sped up.

Thus Solomon did what was clearly wrong and refused to follow the Lord as his father David did. He even built a temple on the Mount of Olives, across the valley from Jerusalem, for Chemosh, the depraved god of Moab, and another for Molech, the unutterably vile god of the Ammonites. Solomon built temples for these foreign wives to use for burning incense and sacrificing to their gods. (1 Kings 11:6 – 8 TLB)

Rarely does a nation rise above the moral, ethical, and spiritual level of its leaders. Still, there was no one to blame for their sin but themselves:

You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your helper. (Hosea 13:9 NIV)

This verse can be translated a couple of different ways, but no matter which version you prefer, it’s a pathetic one.

It destroys you, O Israel, that you are against me, against your helper.

If I destroy you, O Israel, who will be your helper.

Hosea’s thought is that Israel would suffer destruction because it lived in continual opposition to God’s will. Nobody, not even a king, could help them. And that brings us to the Lord’s stunning declaration:

So in my anger I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away. (Hosea 13:11 NIV)

Israel demanded a king, and the Lord gave them what they wanted. It all started with Saul. This verse is chock-full of theological significance for us today. God allowed – allowed – each and every king, good or evil, to rule over His people. This fact illuminates the old saying,

We get the government we deserve.

When we go to vote every so many years, most of us think that our vote will help determine who will be our next president, for example. However, from the Biblical perspective, that’s not entirely correct. In addition to what Hosea said, Proverbs tells us this:

In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. (Proverbs 21:1 NIV)

Or, as we might say in a less poetic way, whether the king or president is good or evil, his heart is in God’s hands. Paul in the New Testament echoes what was taught throughout the Old:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1 NIV)

When you accept the truth of what the Scriptures teach on this issue, you’ll realize two things.  First, regardless of the outcome of an election, the Christian has an obligation to obedient to God, first and foremost, and then to the elected authorities.  Romans 13:1 makes this painfully clear.  But, there is a caveat –  a qualifier.  Note carefully what Paul wrote a couple of verses earlier, in chapter 12:

Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible.  (Romans 12:18  TLB)

There may be times when, as a Christian, you can’t be at peace with your government.  Then you must “obey God, rather than man” and face the consequences, if there are any.

Second, our sovereign God is in control, and in spite of all the millions of dollars spent on campaigning, we get the leader(s) God wants us to have; the leader(s) we deserve.

The people of Old Testament Israel went to Samuel demanding he give them a king like all the other nations had. When Samuel took their request to God,  he was rightfully upset, but God told him the people weren’t rejecting him, Samuel; they were rejecting Him.

So God honored their request and gave them Saul as king. Saul looked the part physically, but he lacked moral clarity. His first loyalty wasn’t to God. Rather he was constantly trying to please the people instead. Eventually, he became so spiritually blinded by his own inner demons and ambition that the people truly got exactly what every other nation had – a king.

Israel certainly got the very leader they deserved.

Today, our country is a morally, ethically, and spiritually confused one. On the one hand, some of the largest churches and seemingly influential churches in the world are here. The Christian sub-culture in America is billion dollar a year business. Americans are interested in spirituality and in the things of God. Our political leaders often quote Scripture, host prayer breakfasts, and invoke God’s blessings on the country.

Yet on the other hand, many of our largest churches and “Christian” ministries are built on greed and pop-psychology, not on Scripture. Our governments routinely break “the law of the land” while imposing illogical and unconstitutional laws and regulations on its citizens, all the while exempting themselves from those laws and regulations. Our families think nothing of handing over their children to government agents at younger and younger ages to be indoctrinated in politically-correct thinking, government-approved thinking.

As a society, we reward sloth and laziness.

As a society we have murdered over 50 million American citizens since 1973.  Abortion is as commonplace in America as today as getting a tooth pulled.

Islamic radicals have declared war on the West, yet many Americans have bought the lie our former president told us that we’re all worshipping the same God. Ironically enough, our current president, who has a Muslim-sounding name, famously declared that America “is not a Christian nation” but is “one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.”  Huh?

About 86% of Americans claim to be Christian, yet many of our churches are empty and those that are full have virtually no influence in the public square.  Abortion is out of control. Over half of all Christian marriages end in divorce. Christians are easily led astray because they don’t know what they believe.  Sadly, most of those 86% of Americans can’t even read well enough to understand the NIV, a translation of the Bible eighth graders should be able to understand.

And now we have the leader we deserve.

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