Why Did Israel Want an Earthly King When They Had God?

As Christians today, we need to make sure we do not reject the Lord as being the King of our life. Jesus is the only perfect King, and He will reign evermore. Thus, Israel rejected God by crying out for an earthly king.

Rusted crown

In 1 Samuel 8:4-22, the Israelites declare that they want to have a king because all of the surrounding people groups had their own kings. The people of Israel declared to Samuel, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5).

This request deeply troubled, angered, and upset Samuel (1 Samuel 8:6). Out of his troubled heart, Samuel prayed to the Lord (1 Samuel 8:7).

Israel Rejects God

It is without a doubt that Israel’s request for a king displeased Samuel (1 Samuel 8:4-6). After praying, the Lord tells Samuel, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day, I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you” (1 Samuel 8:7-8).

He also warns Samuel by adding, “Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights” (1 Samuel 8:9).

From the Lord’s response, we can know that by Israel asking for a king meant they were rejecting God as their king. God had already proven Himself to be the best king by redeeming them from Egypt; however, Israel wanted to be like the surrounding people groups.

In other words, Israel did not want God as their king. They wanted to have an earthly king in order for them to indulge in idol worship of false gods just as the surrounding pagan people groups did. Israel did not want to follow God or obey His rules.

They would rather be like the surrounding people groups and worship false deities and follow their own rules. After the Lord had given this response to Samuel, Samuel told the people of Israel. Samuel also included the weighty information of what this earthly king would claim as his rights.

He told the people of Israel, “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. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots” (1 Samuel 8:11-12).

In addition to these drastic “rights,” this earthly king would also take the women to be bakers and perfumers, he would take the best of each person’s crops, he would take a tenth of each person’s grain, and he would take all women and male slaves for his own use as well as he would confiscate each man’s cattle (1 Samuel 8:13-16).

Samuel also tells the people that this earthly king would take a tenth of each person’s flock and most severely, every person of Israel would become the earthly king’s slave (1 Samuel 8:17).

With words of warning, Samuel ends his message from the Lord to the people of Israel by declaring, “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day” (1 Samuel 8:18).

Despite these drastic, dreaded, and horrible “rights” of the earthly king, Israel insisted on having an earthly king. The people of Israel proclaimed, “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).

After Samuel had heard Israel’s response, he took it before the Lord. In reply, the Lord said, “Listen to them and give them a king” (1 Samuel 8:21). We cannot know the degree of pain and hurt the Lord felt when Israel rejected Him as their king, ruler, and leader.

The people of Israel wanted to have an earthly king because they wanted to be “like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:20). God had already been fighting their battles; however, it seemed to be Israel had forgotten this crucial piece of information.

The Lord had been guiding, protecting, and giving victory to Israel ever since their exodus from Egypt. Israel had clearly forgotten that they would have never even left slavery from Egypt if it wasn’t for the Mighty Hand of God.

Nevertheless, God was giving the people of Israel free choice to make their own decision on their form of government and kingship. Saul became the first king of Israel and he proved to be a terrible king. Israel did not flourish under Saul’s rule.

The second king of Israel, David, was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). David did come across struggles with sin during his kingship; however, he always repented and turned back to the Lord.

Throughout the time of the kings of Israel, there has been a mix of good and bad kings. Some would follow the Lord and obey Him; whereas other kings rejected the Lord and participated in worship of false gods.

In the future, we will have the perfect King — Jesus. He will rule as King over the entire earth and there will be no boundaries to His rule (Isaiah 9:7; Psalm 72:8).

Application to Our Daily Life

Just as Israel rejected God as their king, we too can fall into the trap of seeing other things, people, or accomplishments as being our king rather than God. Israel wanted an earthly king even though they already had God because they wanted to be like the other surrounding nations.

Similarly, we may want to conform to the people around us and establish things as “king” or “god” in our lives when they are not. Money, appearance, or accomplishments can all sneak into our lives as being “king.”

Even though Israel rejected God as King does not mean we have to reject Him. Whatever may be the “king” or “god” in your own life, you need to surrender it to God. Do not conform to the people of the world who establish false gods and deities in their lives.

The Lord our God is the only God, and we must worship Him alone. He will guide us, comfort us, and protect us (Psalm 23). We should not be like Israel, who always seemed to be rebelling or going against God. Israel will forever be God’s chosen people; however, they made many bad decisions that went against the Lord.

As Christians today, we need to make sure we do not reject the Lord as being the King of our life. Jesus is the only perfect King, and He will reign evermore (Hebrews 1:8). Thus, Israel rejected God by crying out for an earthly king.

Rather than seeing the greatness of God as their King, they wanted to be like the surrounding people groups. Israel had free choice to make their own decisions and in the same way, we do too. We have to choose if we will be like Israel and reject God or will we choose to accept God as our righteous and perfect King.

For further reading:

Who Was King Saul in the Bible?

Why Do We Say, ‘Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen’?

Why Did Kings Believe That They Were Ordained by God?

How Did a Man after God’s Own Heart Fall So Far into Sin?

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Vivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Christian Ministry and is currently working toward her Master’s Degree. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is probably embarking on an adventure.