We see from the very beginning of the scriptures that God’s vision for the world was theocracy. In Genesis we see that Adam and Eve are God’s appointed ruling image-bearers in his cosmic temple, the garden.
What is also clear from the early pages of the scriptures is that proto-human could not handle this responsibility. Through rebellion and lack of trust Adam and Eve decide they want to rule like God instead of ruling under him. They userp God’s rule and as Scot McKnight acknowledges, “The sin they commit is the sin of wanting more than the responsibility of governing on God’s behalf.”
So what does God do with a broken humanity in a broken world? Well, his vision is still theocracy. From Adam to Abraham and Moses to Samuel we see that God rules the world through his elected people who rule for him. God is the one and only king and he chooses to use humans to rule under him.
Now we open the pages of 1 Samuel and see that the tide seems to be changing. God is king of Israel, a people he has called out for himself, yet by 1 Samuel 8 the people have grown weary of God’s leadership and they want a human king like the other nations around them. The funny thing is that God foresaw this happening. All you have to do is turn to Leviticus 17 in the law to see that there would be a day where Israel would grow unsettled with God’s leadership and cry for a human king.
In 1 Samuel 8 it happens.
Israel’s cry for a king is met with God’s response through Samuel that human kings will at times be unjust, unfair and far from perfect rulers (1 Samuel 8:10-22). Even after hearing this the people want a human King.
Not with this said, this is the point where all of us need to do a little inner reflection. Because as we look at Israel it is easy to point the finger and question why they would ever want a human ruler, but we often forget that we do exactly the same.
“There is something inside all of us that longs for someone to make things right.”
In other words, we are all looking for a king.
This manifests itself in all sorts of ways from political leaders, to messiah head coaches coming to the Toronto Maple, to celebrities and even celebrity church leaders.
This is the longing in all of us and we need to all be confronted with the question: are we looking in the right place?
Just like Israel we are looking for someone to put the world to right.
And here’s the thing. Israel wanting a king wasn’t in and of itself bad. It was wanting a king for all the wrong reasons. They didn’t want a king under God. They wanted a king instead of God.
Even with the first king of Israel, king Saul, God wanted a ruler under him. Samuel says to Saul in 1 Samuel 10:1, “Has not the Lord anointed you ruler over his inheritance?” This word ruler in Hebrew is nagiyd. It can be translated leader, prince and even one translation is “prince-overseer.” The root of this word is nagan, which means to tell or to make known.
Why does this matter? It matters because God still wanted to be king. He was looking for someone to work and lead on his behalf.
The same remains true today. God is looking for people who will live under his authority and make him known in the world.
Plan A was that God would rule the world through his elected people who would rule under him and he would still be king. A human king for Israel was Plan B in God’s eyes.
So do we just leave it at that? Human kings take over and here we are?
The story is much better than this because we see that God’s plan was Plan A revised. “Plan A was ruling through Israel, Plan B was David and the kings of Israel, and Plan A Revised is the messiah – Jesus.”
As McKnight says, “God returns to Plan A because in Jesus God now rules one again.” We see this in Mark 1 as Jesus declares that the kingdom of God is at hand. We see it in his ministry, healing, life, death, burial and resurrection. Ultimately we see it in Acts 1 at his ascension, which is Jesus’ crowing moment over heaven and earth.
So as we look into the life and leadership of the early kings of Israel over the next few months we don’t simply respond by pointing fingers or scoffing at their failures. We respond by acknowledging that our king is better! Every bit of jealousy, pride or infidelity points us to the better, true and perfect king.
Every hint of bad politics, bad leadership at work or where you volunteer, sign of corruption and injustice like we have seen with FIFA, future scandal in a church or faith community, whatever it is, we have a better king and his name is Jesus.