“Give us a king”
Sometimes we want things that aren’t good for us. Such was the case with the Israelites, when they approached the prophet Samuel and demanded that he find them a king.
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
6 ¶ But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.
8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
1 Samuel 8:4-9
- Why did the Israelites want a king? What is the problem with this reasoning?
- Why does the Lord say they have rejected the Lord with this request?
So Samuel explained to the Israelites all the reasons getting a king would be a bad idea. He had a pretty compelling list.
10 ¶ And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.
11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to aear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
13 And he will take your daughters to be aconfectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
15 And he will take the atenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
1 Samuel 8:10-18
But the Israelites would not change their minds.
19 ¶ Nevertheless the people refused to aobey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
20 That we also may be like all the anations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord.
22 And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.
1 Samuel 8:19-22
- Why do we sometimes desire things that aren’t good for us?
- How can we convince ourselves to change course when we find ourselves pursuing a bad idea?
Israel instead demanded a king who would judge them, go before them, and fight their battles (1 Samuel 8:20). Ironically, the King they rejected was the only king to fulfill this request. God had already been their Judge (Deuteronomy 32:36), gone out before them (Exodus 13:21), and fought their battles (Exodus 14:14).
But they wanted a king “the same as all the other nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). So they rejected their true King, the God of heaven and earth…
I want to be like everyone else, too. I want to look like everyone else, to be both beautiful and adorable, and so I make my appearance king. Then I find myself overcome by my obsessive eating habits and exercise routine. Turns out that king won’t provide what I need.
I want to have what everyone else has, to feel important and sophisticated, and so I make my possessions king. I spend my time, money, and energy, filling my closet with pretty new dresses. But I’ll never have enough because this king demands more and more and more.
I could go on, and I’m sure you could, too.
Our individual kings demand more from us than we’d ever be willing to give. They lie and tell us that if we could have what the world has, we would have freedom.
Second Peter 2:19 warns against this: “They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them.”
This is what happens when we, like Israel, fall prey to the desire of being like everyone else. Instead of gaining freedom, we become slaves of corruption.
—Missy Fuller, Israel’s Demand for a King, She Reads Truth
- What are some of our modern wants that aren’t good for us?
- How can we reign in our desires to pursue things we would be better off without?
“To obey is better than sacrifice”
Since the people would not relent in their pursuit of a king, Samuel complied and searched for a suitable candidate. Samuel chose Saul. Saul had qualities that were appealing to Samuel. He was the tallest man in the kingdom (1 Samuel 9:2; 10:23) and he respected Samuel’s authority as a religious leader (1 Samuel 9:5-10).
At least at first, Saul seemed to work out well. Saul prepared for his new role by communing with religious leaders as instructed by Samuel. He emerged from the experience spiritually renewed.
9 ¶ And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another aheart: and all those signs came to pass that day.
1 Samuel 10:9-10
- How have you prepared yourself spiritually for new responsibilities?
- Have you ever felt like God has given you “another heart”? What was that experience like?
Early in his reign, Saul demonstrated his competence in battle against the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11).
But Saul eventually lost favor with Samuel as a result of two separate incidents. On one occasion, Saul lost patience waiting for Samuel to arrive to do his priestly duties, so he completed the ceremonies himself, usurping Samuel’s priestly role (1 Samuel 13:8-9). Samuel confronted him and they had this conversation:
11 ¶ And Samuel said, What hast thou done? And Saul said, Because I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that thou camest not within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered themselves together at Michmash;
12 Therefore said I, The Philistines will come down now upon me to Gilgal, and I have not made supplication unto the Lord: I aforced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.
13 And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever.
14 But now thy akingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath bsought him a cman after his own dheart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee.
1 Samuel 13:11-14
- How did Saul defend his actions? What should he have said or done?
- Why did Saul’s actions disqualify Saul as king?
On the second occasion, Samuel conveyed a message to Saul, presumably from the Lord, instructing Saul to kill all of the people of the city of Amalek, along with all of their farm animals and cattle. Saul disobeyed and his armies kept the best animals as spoils of war.
We should never use stories like these, from a more barbaric time period, to justify violence as God’s will. This story demonstrates that the Israelites believed their violent actions were approved of God, not that God actually approved. From a modern standpoint, we have good reason to question whether genocide of the Amalekites was God’s will, but neither Samuel nor Saul recognized the humanitarian issues with this mission. This may have been a different kind of story—a more modern kind of story—if Saul had disobeyed this order for humanitarian reasons. But Saul did not cite humanitarian reasons for his disobedience.
In spite of the problems with the story, we can learn something about human nature from the way Saul justified his disobedience to what he believed God commanded him to do. I see parallels in this story to the way we lie to ourselves and justify our own actions when we deliberately go against our own convictions of what is right.
13 And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the Lord: I have performed the commandment of the Lord.
14 And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?
1 Samuel 15: 13-14
- Why did Saul feel the need to lie about his actions?
15 And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.
1 Samuel 15:15
- How did Saul change his story when Samuel caught him lying?
- What do you think of Saul’s rationale?
16 Then Samuel said unto Saul, Stay, and I will tell thee what the Lord hath said to me this night. And he said unto him, Say on….
19 Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the Lord, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the Lord?
20 And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.
21 But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal.
22 And Samuel said, Hath the Lord as great adelight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the bvoice of the Lord? Behold, to cobey is better than dsacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of erams.
1 Samuel 15: 16, 19-23
- What was wrong with Saul’s justifications?
- What kinds of modern “sacrifices” do we sometimes point to as evidence of our righteousness, even as we disobey God in other ways?
- What can we learn from Saul’s mistakes?
Saul’s loss of the kingship is really a loss of dynasty, in which his son would become king after him, since he personally remains king until he dies.
—Dr. Jo Ann Hackett, 1 and 2 Samuel, Newsom, C. A., Ringe, S. H., & Lapsley, J. E. (2012). Women’s Bible Commentary, Third Edition
“The Lord looketh on the heart”
Since Saul has lost his right to pass on his dynasty to his sons, Samuel began to search for his replacement.
1 And the Lord said unto Samuel, How long wilt thou mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to aJesse the bBeth-lehemite: for I have provided me a cking among his sons…
6 ¶ And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on aEliab, and said, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.
7 But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lordaseeth not as bman seeth; for man looketh on the outward cappearance, but the dLord looketh on the eheart.
1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7
Samuel was clearly biased toward tall people, and his first instinct was to choose another big guy like Saul to be the next king. Note that Samuel was not a bad person, and yet, he had biases, like we all do. We should not assume that biases are only found among bad people. This belief prevents us from recognizing our own biases.
- How can we recognize our own biases?
- Do we still overemphasize outward appearance in our modern society? In what ways? How can we combat this tendency?
- What does it mean to look “on the heart”?
- How can we learn to see the way the Lord sees?
When we look at someone right now, we can’t see all of them. We can’t see the things that make them happy or the things that make them sad. Neither can we see their intentions or their desires. But God can. And when we are judged, those are among the primary things that God will look at.
Let’s have beautiful hearts. And loving hearts. And strong hearts. And brave hearts. And tender hearts. And firm hearts. And intelligent hearts. And every other good kind of heart. Not because we hope others will sense it somehow, or even because we know that God will, but because it is nice to have a nice heart, and will help make us a more Godlike people, a more Zion people–with one heart.
—Rachel Hunt Steenblik, Relief Society Lesson 8: “Search Me, O God, and Know My Heart”, The Exponent
- How can we focus more on our hearts, and less on our outward appearance?
Samuel continued interviewing Jesse’s sons, and found the right candidate in David, the youngest and smallest son (1 Samuel 16:10-13).
Take a look at this classic Mormon Ad with Samuel 16:7 inscribed below.
- How do you feel about the daisy in the center?
- Would you prefer to be the daisy or one of the roses? Why?
- How can we be more comfortable with ourselves and each other, regardless of how alike we may or may not be?
“Let no man’s heart fail”
David proved his potential for kingship when he fought a Philistine named Goliath, who was described as a giant. Goliath challenged the Israelites to select a champion to fight against him to settle their war. David was the only Israelite who volunteered. Like Samuel, Goliath underestimated David because of his youth and small size.
42 And when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him: for he was but a youth, and ruddy, and of a fair countenance.
43 And the Philistine said unto David, Am I a adog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
1 Samuel 17:42-43
The events of 1 Samuel 17 are summarized well in this video:
The David and Goliath story is often portrayed as a miraculous win over impossible odds, but in his book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcom Gladwell argues that the David and Goliath story is often misinterpreted. David won because he refused to give Goliath the hand-to-hand duel Goliath wanted, and instead changed the terms of the fight to his advantage as a skilled projectile warrior. Goliath’s heavy armor was actually a disadvantage in this kind of fight, since he could not move quickly in it, and he had not even brought any distance weapons. He was a clear loser under these new rules.
We consistently get these kinds of conflicts wrong. We misread them. We misinterpret them. Giants are not what we think they are. The same qualities that appear to give them strength are often sources of great weakness. And the fact of being an underdog can change people in ways that we often fail to appreciate: it can open doors and create opportunities and educate and enlighten and make possible what might otherwise seem unthinkable.
—Malcom Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, 2013.
His book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, is a great read for anyone wanting modern examples of perceived underdogs winning battles for their causes because they rejected battle rules that weighed against them and adopted a strategy that played on their own strengths.
Which brings us to another classic Mormon Ad:
Well might we look carefully into our own lives and judge our courage, our faith. Is there a Goliath in your life? Is there one in mine? Does he stand squarely between you and your desired happiness? Your Goliath may not carry a sword or hurl a verbal challenge of insult that all may hear and force you to decision. He may not be ten feet tall, but he likely will appear equally as formidable, and his silent challenge may shame and embarrass.
One man’s Goliath may be the stranglehold of a cigarette or perhaps an unquenchable thirst for alcohol. To another, her Goliath may be an unruly tongue or a selfish streak which causes her to spurn the poor and the downtrodden. Envy, greed, fear, laziness, doubt, vice, pride, lust, selfishness, discouragement—all spell Goliath…
The battle for our souls is no less important that the battle fought by David. The enemy is no less formidable, the help of Almighty God no farther away. What will our action be? Like David of old, “our cause is just.” We have been placed upon earth not to fail or fall victim to temptation’s snare, but rather to succeed. Our giant, our Goliath, must be conquered.
David went to the brook and carefully selected five smooth stones with which he might meet his enemy. He was deliberate in his selection, for there could be no turning back, no second chance—this battle was to be decisive.
Just as David went to the brook, well might we go to our source of supply—the Lord. What polished stones will you select to defeat the Goliath that is robbing you of your happiness by smothering your opportunities? May I offer suggestions.
President Thomas S. Monson, Meeting Your Goliath, Ensign, Jan. 1987
President Monson suggested choosing the stones of courage, effort, humility, prayer, and love of duty.
- How would these tools help you win your personal battles?
- How would you obtain these tools?
- What other tools do you think you would want to seek?
- Does anyone have an experience they would like to share in which the Lord helped you resolve a Goliath-sized problem?