Biblical scholars estimate that the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt took place around 1400 B.C. The entire Hebrew nation had lived and developed there for over 400 years, and during that time their social status had morphed from that of welcome guests to oppressed slaves. The only king they knew was pharaoh, a harsh, demanding racist who treated the Jews like property. That was the situation that God liberated them out of. Through His servants Moses and Aaron, He rescued the Israelites from their lowly estate and brought them into freedom. He became their king and ruled the nation through Moses’ leadership.
Next Man Up
After Moses died on the doorstep of the promised land, God’s theocratic rule remained through Joshua. Under Joshua, the Israelites conquered most of the promised land and took possession of it. They were the dominant force in that region at the time of Joshua’s death, after which God did not appoint a new central leader. Thus Israel entered what we know as the period of the judges. Without a clear authority figure, the Israelites had greater freedom to do what they wanted. More often than not this led to sin and idolatry rather than obedience to the Lord. This time was characterized by a cycle of disobedience, oppression from foreign powers, repentance, and God raising up a judge to lead and liberate the people. The last Judge was named Samuel.
Samuel was a godly leader; he presided over peace in the land. But as he neared death, something interesting happened. The elders of the land saw that Samuel’s sons were wicked, they despaired of their fate if they should have wicked rulers, and they took matters into their own hands:
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” -1 Samuel 8:4-5
The elders were right to recognize that Samuel’s sons were wicked, but their response to this problem was entirely wrongheaded. The Lord commented on their request to Samuel in verse 7 by saying, “...they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” The Israelites saw a problem and their solution was to take matters into their own hands and devise a solution according to their own wisdom. They placed their hope for the future in one of their own rather than the God who had already shown Himself to be trustworthy time and again.
Trust Over Kings
The rest of the story is somewhat predictable as it unfolds. Saul was selected as king, and looked the part: he was strong, handsome, and tall (what more do you need?). He promptly disqualified himself through disobedience. Saul is indicative of what happens when we try to contrive our own solutions rather than trusting in the Lord and seeking His wisdom. Many believers today find themselves in the same position as the Israelites of Samuel’s day. We look ahead at our candidates for leadership and we see wickedness. We rightly recognize that those who seem most likely to become our commander-in-chief are unwise, ungodly, and will surely attempt to lead us as down paths of unrighteousness.
This situation puts Christians in a predicament. How are we to respond? What can we do? These, too often, are the first questions that come to mind. Like the Israelites, we fail to ask “what is God doing?” We look to ourselves for answers to problems that are so much bigger than we are, rather than seeking the Lord and asking that according to His mercy and wisdom He would work in the mess and accomplish His will. We claim Christ, and yet bemoan our circumstances as though He is not really ruling and reigning. This mindset of pessimism and despair really amounts to a rejection. If God’s sovereignty does not overwhelm the world’s uncertainty in our hearts, then who is really reigning there?
Land of Opportunity
Those who know Christ have an opportunity in these troubled times-- an opportunity to manifest a peace and hope that defies the wisdom of this world. We are those who know the truth and can say in the face of any circumstances, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases” (Psalm 115:3). When we truly believe that, our response to the troubles of this culture is different; Jesus looks glorious and we have a chance to share Him with a culture that clearly needs Him. May we never tire of turning to Him with all our troubles and laying them at His feet.