I find the Old Testament view of kings fascinating. We’ve seen in the last chapters of Judges how bad things get when there is no king, no central authority to keep order and keep the nation on track together. The kings are to become key agents in the story of Israel. But it’s clear that in principle, it would be better if the people of God had no king, but allowed God to lead them through his chosen prophets as and when he chooses.
The LORD is a God of principle as well as of practicality. But there’s a hint of sadness in his answer as he grants the people’s request for a king – after all, they had said,
We are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations (8:19-20)
Israel wasn’t meant to be like other nations, with a privileged royal elite inheriting wealth, power and responsibility while everyone else waited to be told what to do. But despite his own misgivings, Samuel faithfully reports the desire of the people to the LORD, and carries out the LORD’s instruction in return, though he knows it will end badly. The people have chosen, and if they will not follow Samuel and those the LORD calls after him, then it is best at least for them to follow a king whom he has chosen.
Saul is chosen, and he’s an obvious candidate – strong, handsome, a great warrior. We know how the story will develop, but here we see a man with obvious gifts to lead and a man open to God’s leading in turn. He even shows mercy to his enemies (11:13) in thanks for the LORD’s help.
Whether in church, nation or our inidividual lives, how often do we miss out on the best possibilities God has open to us, and wind up settling for his best option within the limits that we set? How can we turn it around so that we allow God to set the limits, and to guide us and lead us within them?