1 Samuel 8

God’s futile socialist pitch.

I’ve been looking forward to this chapter which I remember from the last time I read Samuel.

The people ask for a king. Samuel says to God that they don’t need a king, it’s a dumb idea. God says yes it is a dumb idea. Tell them in detail how dumb it is. But they will still want it, so let them have a king. 

Which is what happens. The pitch against a king is about the loss of freedom it involves. The king will tax, take your things, force you to war, steal your children into service. At the moment you are working for yourselves, then you will be working for him. You’ll complain to God about how horrible the king is and he won’t hear you. 

But the people say they want to be like other nations. So Samuel reports back and god says to give them a king.

One of my favourite observations of the Bible is that God is very good at plan B’s. The kingship in Israel, which produced David, which was the line of Christ, was a massive plan B. 

One thing this says about God is: never give up. He works though sub optimal situations. He says marriage, preferably between one man and one woman, is the place to make babies, but he still loves the other babies, you know. The God we just saw, of the frightening holy judgement of the ark, is sooo gentle here

Reading though vaguely chronologically, which I am, you can’t help sympathise with the people here. The ad hoc series of leaders, the judges, seems to have worked terribly. That book ends as a cesspool of corruption and depravity. They are constantly attacked and overrun by neighbours. what did god’s have in mind if not a king?

His alternative is to love and follow him. The people just can’t do it consistently. We’re already told, tragically, that years of great leadership by Samuel has ended with his sons being corrupt and abusing the religious system, just like eli before him. 

God’s plan seems impossible, just telling people to trust him and care for each other in complete autonomous freedom, like socialism.  The people can’t face that! But it would work. that is his vision for relationships and social organisation. 

And of course his plan is building in its roundabout way, diverted this way and that by having to interact with sin, towards the extraordinary solution of God taking all the failure and sin on himself and pouring out love and grace to perfect the human race. 

So he says his “chosen people” can have a king. They think it will fix everything. It won’t, he warns them, but they insist on repairing the rules of government rather than their hearts – humans are like that. 

The score rate of good kings to bad ends up even worse than the judges, from memory. 

So it’s a great chapter showing a lot about us and a lot about God.

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