Be Careful What You Wish For - God Might Allow You to Get It
Leadership is essential, and we admire those who lead well. That’s been true throughout history, as we see in the Bible’s account of the first two kings of Israel, David, and Saul.
Although some of us have been taught that God did not want His chosen people to have a king, this is a misunderstanding. We read in Deuteronomy 17 that God was willing for Israel to have a king — but the right kind of king.
The Lord told Moses the king was not to rely on military prowess or dally with pagan nations. “He must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses.” He was to be a moral example: “He shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.” Infidelity and greed and, with them, the temptation to follow false gods, were to be foreign to Israel’s king.
Instead, the king was to be a man of God, whose first duty was to “write for himself in a book a copy of [the] law” and keep it with him so that he might “read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law.” This would prevent pride, from “lifting his heart above his brothers.” The king of Israel was to love and honor the Lord and always remember he was to be the servant of the people, not their master.
As time went on, the people of Israel moved away from their “first love,” the God Who had selected them from all other nations and delivered them from bondage. They observed the leaders of the lands around them and began to pine for a king they could show off to their neighbors. Their yearning for the trappings of national power overrode their desire to follow their loving and omnipotent God.
So, instead of getting someone who would make wise decisions, a righteous judge, God judged the people by giving them exactly the kind of king they wanted. “And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them’” (I Samuel 8:78).
He then led the prophet Samuel to the Benjaminite Saul. Benjamin was a tribe known for its debauchery and violence. It was in that atmosphere of disgrace that Saul was raised. Yet, he was what the people desired: I Samuel 9:1-2 tell us that Saul came from a family of wealth, that he was handsome, and was “taller than any of the people.” In other words, he was a king directly out of central casting. He looked the part so very well.
Saul proved to be a disastrous choice. He was so unsure of himself that when called to be king, he hid among a pile of baggage (I Samuel 10:17-24). Although initially faithful, he rapidly collapsed into erratic behavior to the point of rage. He sought counsel from a witch and even tried to commit murder. When Israel was threatened by the Philistines, Saul sat immobilized with his army, listening to his enemies issue irreverent taunts and watching his men tremble with fear.
So, God displaced Saul with a young shepherd named David. David’s failures are documented throughout the historical records of the Old Testament. Yet unlike Saul, David was “a man after God’s own heart” (I Samuel 13:14). David fell, badly, a number of times but always returned to his Lord (see, for example, Psalm 51).
David’s reverence for God created humility and reliance on the One he knew was the ultimate King. David’s son Solomon, perhaps mindful of his father’s predecessor, wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). Saul — impulsive, fitful, unreliable, and disobedient — so failed to revere the Lord that whatever wisdom he had was lost in a morass of immorality, fear, and slaughter.
We are no different than the people of ancient Israel. Many of us feel the tug to elect a strong leader, someone who can help us realize our cherished goals, at home and abroad. As America declines, some might be prepared to accept leaders of low character and dubious sincerity. Fearful of a post-Christian future and fed up with the increasingly extreme policies of the Left, they’re ready to support those who for whom virtue is an unknown word.
God might just give America what some of His followers want. A leader who seems fearless and strong, who does what they like and fights back at the Left. But at what cost? The believability of our claims about the centrality of integrity and honor? The credibility of our assertion that we trust God more than man? The short-term gain of political victory for the long-term loss of our respect in the eyes of a world so needing the Savior we proclaim?
We need a David, but must never settle for a Saul. The eternal Son of David, the King we profess to serve, requires, and deserves greater loyalty than that.
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.