On 7 August I preached at my home church, Becontree Avenue Baptist Church in Dagenham.
I chose to preach from 1 Samuel 8: 3 – 22 which deals with the time when Israel wanted to have a king. Prior to that Israel had been led by the Judges who followed on from Moses and Joshua.
The passage I chose is rather long and can be found here.
I think that if we are honest at sometime we’ve all wanted what someone else has got.
As small children it may be a toy that a friend or a sibling has been playing with. Or you see another child with an ice cream and you think I’d really like that.
As we grow up it becomes “I’ve got to have a PlayStation or an Xbox.” “Mum can I buy Grand Theft Auto? I know its rated 18 but all the boys at school are playing it and they’re only 10”.
As a parent I know how mean I must have seen, saying no to numerous requests from my sons.
I am sure its the same with girls and fashion and make up. “But mum all the girls are wearing it…..”
“Everyone’s going to the party. Why can’t I go?”
The trouble is, as children we do not always know what is good for us, or indeed what is bad for us. But that is also true for us adults.
I used to love a pizza. But since I became lactose intolerant I know that the brief enjoyment of pizza would be followed by hours of discomfort, to say the least.
Similarly since early childhood, I have had a nut allergy. And I know that I dare not go anywhere near brazil nuts or walnuts or pecan nuts. Carrot cake is absolutely wonderful except for me. I could land up in hospital seriously ill because of the walnuts it contains.
So what is ok for some people is not okay for me.
A wise loving parent will do whatever they can to keep their children safe from danger even if the children don’t appreciate it.
Sometimes we are persistent in our requests for certain things. And maybe the parent reluctantly gives in, though often with the comment “It will all end in tears”.
So lets have a look at what is happening in our Bible reading.
The Jews were God’s special people. They were a unique nation. They had made an agreement with God. He will be their God and they would be his people, They would have no other god but him. He would lead them and they would follow.
However whilst God is faithful and kept his word, his people were not always faithful. And if you read the book of Judges you will find how the Jews kept going their own way, till they got into serious trouble. Then they would come running back to God for help.
They really didn’t learn. In fact it took 70 years exile in Babylon to cure the Jews of their desire to go and follow false gods and idols.
The people of Israel didn’t have a king. They were led by God who spoke to them through the judges and the prophets. They were a theocracy.
However all the surrounding countries had kings and the Israelites didn’t. They didn’t like being different. They wanted to be like the other countries and have a king. In my minds eye I have a picture of Israel being a little child whining and complaining “It’s not fair!” as children often do when they feel they are missing out on something everyone else has got.
The trouble was that most kings of that time were absolute rulers. Many were not nice people and some thought they should be worshipped as if they were gods. You can read through the book of Genesis to see examples of how kings treated their subjects, or you can read in Exodus about the Pharaoh who had to deal with Moses.
This is what Samuel told the Israelites would happen if they had a king, 1 Samuel 8:11 – 17:
11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plough his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.
In other words it will cost you dearly to have a king. We can see that today in many countries where the rulers claim the wealth of the country as their own and spend it on lavish projects or stash billions of pounds away into Swiss bank accounts whilst they people suffer and starve.
But the people don’t take on board the warning given by God. They want a king. In 1 Samuel 8:19 & 20 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “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.”
Finally God allows the people to have their king. Sometimes, the only way people learn is through their own mistakes. We can all be so stubborn that, we hear what we want to hear, and read what we want to read, and we insist on getting our way like some child with the “terrible twos”.
The first King of Israel was a man called Saul. He was to start with quite a good king and he listened to the prophet Samuel who told him what God was saying.
But the power of being king got to him. It has been said by 1st Baron Acton that “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” .
We read of Saul not wanting to wait for Samuel to arrive before a battle and offering the sacrifice to God himself, despite knowing that was wrong.
Saul and his army had to fight some really horrible people called the Amalekites and God had instructed that everything the Amalekites owned was to be destroyed. The Amalekites had been attacking Israel ever since the people came out of Egypt several hundred years previously. But Saul decided to save the best sheep and cattle for himself. He also had built a monument in his own honour, to commemorate his victory over the Amalekites. When Samuel catches up with Saul, he is assured that everything has been destroyed 1 Samuel 15: 13 & 14 “When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.” But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”
God declared that he had had enough of Saul and later told Samuel to appoint another King. In due course David became king and we will talk about him next week.
To be honest David was the best king that Israel had.
Solomon, David’s son, is described in the Bible as the wisest man who ever lived. Sadly in his later years he lost his way, marrying foreign wives who brought with them their foreign gods. Solomon even built temple to these false gods.
After Solomon, Israel split into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom was called Israel and the southern kingdom was known as Judah and comprised only two of the 12 tribes: Judah and Benjamin.
As time went on we read in the Bible that with a few exceptions the kings of both kingdoms got worse and worse. They worshipped false gods and idols and ignored God’s prophets. In fact they often killed the prophets because they didn’t want to hear what God had to say.
The kings made alliances with other countries who proved to be untrustworthy and the two kingdoms got into all sorts of troubles.
The Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians who took away all the people and sent them to other countries never to be seen again.
Judah was over run later by the Babylonians who destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and took away many people to Babylon where they stayed for 70 years before being allowed back to their country by the Persian empire who had attacked and conquered the Babylonians.
God had warned the Israelites what would happen if they had a King. They only had themselves to blame.
How often do we ask for things that won’t be in our best interests?
A long time ago when I was in the Church of England our then organist had thrown a strop and had resigned. We needed another organist. So on the vicar’s instructions we prayed for an organist. And in due course a young man was appointed who was suitably qualified. This was just as the vicar left the parish. Sadly we hadn’t prayed for a Christian organist. During the time he was with us he caused all sorts of problems the greatest of which was that he was no longer entitled to stay in the country, his student visa having expired. Finally he just disappeared one night owning the church money.
We have to be careful what we ask for, or pray for. And certainly we should listen to God, particularly when he says “no” , otherwise we should be prepared for it all to end in tears.
Like a kind wise loving parent, our God truly knows what is good for us. So we should not only seek his guidance but then follow what he tells us to do.