In a nation where Yahweh was the sovereign king leading people in the ways they were supposed to walk, Israel was not content. They needed more, at least that is what they thought. They wanted to be like the other nations that surrounded them, with a physical king to rule over them and lead them to battle (1 Samuel 8:4–5). God granted their wish and gave them the king that they wished for: Saul.
Two questions are central to this article:
- Why was it important for the Israelites to remain in theocracy and not move to being a monarchy?
- How did the monarchy bring unnecessary tragedies to the people of Israel?
God always remained the ruler of Israel. He led them through battles and gave them victory over their enemies. Yahweh was always there for his people without failure. The influence of the neighbouring countries, however, made the Israelites feel as if there was a need for a physical king to lead them. They rejected God. This rejection did not necessarily mean that they abandoned Yahweh completely, but they rejected his total sovereignty in their lives. God granted them their wish and Saul was appointed as the first king of Israel. However, this was the beginning of a chain of failures by the kings that were to come starting from Saul himself, and tragically ending with the exile.
Saul sacrificed a burnt offering which was not supposed to be offered by anyone else except Samuel the prophet (1 Samuel 13). Saul’s reign was brought to a bitter end because of his disobedience of Yahweh’s will. His failure was followed by most of the kings that followed after him, including David and Solomon. Even though God gave prophets (such as Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Isaiah) to warn them about the consequences of disobedience, kings continued in their rebellion, thus leading the people away from God. This is a lesson that when humans try to take matters on their own hands, disaster strikes. We were made to live under God’s will and totally surrender to his rule.
Eventually, God gave them up to their enemies and both Israel and Judah fell. Judah’s exile is always attributed to the failure of the kings to follow what God wanted and, in the process, leading people to true worship.
King Jehoiakim is one good example of such a king. The prophet Jeremiah was sent by God to charge him to repent or Jerusalem would fall (Jeremiah 36:1-32). The king was so determined to disobey such that he burnt the scroll Jeremiah wrote him. When we are determined to disobey, God steps aside and allows us to go where we want. We should always remember that our actions have consequences. For Judah, the consequences came in the form of Babylon invading Judah and desecrating Jerusalem, especially the Temple. For Ezekiel (chapters 10–11), this meant that God had left them and they were doomed as a people.
Yet in the midst of all this, God’s prophets could see that the destiny of Israel would not end with the exile. Isaiah prophesied that there comes a time when God will bring deliverance to his people through his own chosen Messiah (Isaiah 8:19–11:9). The promise is about a king who would restore Israel to its glory and would lead Israel with a righteous hand. Whereas previous kings failed to lead with justice and righteousness, the Messiah will do all that Yahweh tells him to do. It was this hope that people in exile, and after, held in their hearts. It is this hope that sets up the context from which Jesus comes.