You may be familiar with Joshua’s famous speech addressing the nation of Israel and challenging them to choose, choose that day who they would serve, Yahweh or the gods of the surrounding culture (Joshua 23-24, main verses 24:16-18). That day the people chose Yahweh. Chronologically the book of Judges follows the events of Joshua where we see the people of Israel vacillating back and forth between that choice and the gods of the surrounding cultures. In 1 Samuel we come to a key turning point in the following statement. The context is the leaders of Israel asking for a king like the nations/cultures around them.
7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. 8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day – with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods – so they are doing to you also.” 1 Samuel 8:7–8 (NKJV)
In reading this we do well to ask ourselves how asking for a king is connected to rejecting Yahweh and serving other gods. The answer comes in understanding something about the surrounding Ancient Near East (ANE) culture and how their kings were seen. If we go back to Pharoah, he was considered a god. If we go forward to Caesar, he was considered a god. This was the culture of the area, kings were god-men representing divinity on earth. Some of the gods of the surrounding ANE culture were Baal, Ashtoreth, Dagon and Molok. This god-king motif is also seen in the prophetic passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel rebuking Satan.
In Isaiah 14:4-14 we have Isaiah prophesying doom for the king of Babylon, shifting to a description of how Lucifer/Satan fell, and then returning to the king of Babylon. The characters were intertwined and the spiritual being was seen as the power behind the king. In Ezekiel 28:1-19 we see the same thing. The king of Tyre sees himself as a god and Ezekiel rebukes and denounces his arrogance, then in verse 12 turns to denouncing the anointed cherub (Satan) who dwelt before Yahweh’s throne in the garden on the holy mountain.
Now back to Samuel. In essence when the elders of Israel came to Samuel asking that they have a king like the surrounding nations the people were saying Yahweh, we can’t see you so we reject you, we want a king to be/represent our god, we want a visible god. We may think this is merely interesting ANE history, yet there is an application for our lives. In their expressed desires the people were trying to serve two masters, the king god-man and Yahweh. They didn’t trust the One they could not see so were seeking a physical embodiment of Yahweh through the king.
In our culture we may not see spiritual or political leaders as an embodiment of God, yet we need to ask what we are actually serving and what takes priority in our lives. If we are looking for a certain leader or authority to rise up and make things better our heart may have shifted. As per the verses below we are called to pray for our communities and for civic and national leaders and seek to influence them toward righteousness. We are called to trust Yahweh.
11 By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. Proverbs 11:11 (NKJV)
7 And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. Jeremiah 29:7 (NKJV)
1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. 1 Timothy 2:1–2 (NKJV)