Tonight’s situation: I met Mark McIntyre on Twitter, and reading his post about government and Paul, I brought up my standard point about 1 Samuel 8 and how so very many that cite Paul on government routinely ignore this particular passage. Mark asked me to explain a bit, and I pointed out that in 1 Samuel 8, God explicitly tells Israel that choosing a King is rejecting Him. Mark suggested that I was saying that the point is to not look to human government to fix what is really wrong, and to a point, he is correct. But 1 Samuel also ties to Joshua’s famous (at least in American Christianity) “choose this day” speech and even is a centuries early version of Christ’s own “no man can serve two masters”. Mark asked me if I would be willing to work up a guest post on that last bit, so here goes. (And please bear with me, it has been many years since I have written anything of this type, even though these are the thoughts that now form a part of the core of my beliefs about how everything works. I simply am very rarely asked to explain them in this manner.)
Joshua, by the time of the “choose this day” speech, had been the primary leader of Israel for several years after the death of his mentor Moses. Ever heard of crossing the Jordan and the battle of Jericho? That was Joshua. When it comes to “choose this day”, he is handing over power over the various tribes of Israelites – effectively one HUGE extended family – and in the process, he is giving them a challenge. Let’s pick up his exact words, at least so far as the New King James Version of the Bible can get them to us, via what we now refer to as Joshua 24:
And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers; and they presented themselves before God.
2And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor: and they served other gods.
3And I took your father Abraham from the other side of the flood, and led him throughout all the land of Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac.
4And I gave unto Isaac Jacob and Esau: and I gave unto Esau mount Seir, to possess it; but Jacob and his children went down into Egypt.
5I sent Moses also and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt, according to that which I did among them: and afterward I brought you out.
6And I brought your fathers out of Egypt: and ye came unto the sea; and the Egyptians pursued after your fathers with chariots and horsemen unto the Red sea.
7And when they cried unto the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them, and covered them; and your eyes have seen what I have done in Egypt: and ye dwelt in the wilderness a long season.
8And I brought you into the land of the Amorites, which dwelt on the other side Jordan; and they fought with you: and I gave them into your hand, that ye might possess their land; and I destroyed them from before you.
9Then Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, arose and warred against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you:
10But I would not hearken unto Balaam; therefore he blessed you still: so I delivered you out of his hand.
11And ye went over Jordan, and came unto Jericho: and the men of Jericho fought against you, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I delivered them into your hand.
12And I sent the hornet before you, which drave them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow.
13And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat.
14Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord.
15And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.
16And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods;
17For the Lord our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed:
18And the Lord drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the Lord; for he is our God.
19And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins.
20If ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good.
21And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the Lord.
22And Joshua said unto the people, Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses.
23Now therefore put away, said he, the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel.
24And the people said unto Joshua, The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.
25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.
26And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God, and took a great stone, and set it up there under an oak, that was by the sanctuary of the Lord.
27And Joshua said unto all the people, Behold, this stone shall be a witness unto us; for it hath heard all the words of the Lord which he spake unto us: it shall be therefore a witness unto you, lest ye deny your God.
28So Joshua let the people depart, every man unto his inheritance.
29And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old.
30And they buried him in the border of his inheritance in Timnath–serah, which is in mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill of Gaash.
31And Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that overlived Joshua, and which had known all the works of the Lord, that he had done for Israel.
32And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.
33And Eleazar the son of Aaron died; and they buried him in a hill that pertained to Phinehas his son, which was given him in mount Ephraim.
The bold piece is the most famous, but look at the entire speech – it really is quite good. Joshua gathers the elders of the tribes – and we find out a bit later on, dude is over a century old himself as he is doing this. He reminds them of their history, of everything God had done for them. And of some of the battles that had been fought against other families with other gods. And he gives them a choice, the bold part above – choose whether you want God or you want a king. Make that choice every day. That last is key, as we will see momentarily.
The people choose God and all of American Christianity cheers.
We flash forward a few hundred years, through the time of the Judges. These were singular leaders who rose up during times of great peril for the Israelites and led them through – a modern equivalent might be the Toruk Macto from James Cameron’s Avatar. Except over a period of time, the Israelites go through this several times. Finally, along comes a man named Samuel, the last of the Judges. Why is he the last? Because the People are about to make a different choice. Remember, Joshua told them to choose daily to serve God or to serve a king. But Joshua by this point has been dead for quite a while, and everything about him and the battles he helped wage have faded into legend – similar to the state we see the Jedi in during Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
Except here, we’re going to be waiting quite a while for the Jedi to come back on the scene, and things are going to get very, very dark.
By the time we get to 1 Samuel 8, Samuel is already getting old. The elders know he won’t be around much longer, and apparently his sons can’t be trusted to take his place. So let’s pick things up with the very text in question, 1 Samuel 8:
And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.
2Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beer–sheba.
3And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.
4Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
5And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
6But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.
7And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
8According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
9Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.
10And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.
11And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
12And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
13And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
14And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
15And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
16And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
17He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
18And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.
19Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
20That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
21And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord.
22And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.
So Samuel is old, his kids are idiots that can’t be trusted, so the elders demand a king to be like the other nations around them. They’re afraid. Those other guys have standing armies, and all they have is a Judge who may or may not be able to lead them. And in their fear, they demand a king. God sees exactly what they are doing – they don’t trust Him to provide for them anymore, and this is a direct rejection of His ability to provide. He even calls them out on it. Not only that, He explicitly warns them that they really don’t know what they are asking Him for. A King, they are warned, will steal their kids for his purposes. The king will steal their food and money for his cronies. And he will tax them all to pay for his every whim. And eventually, they will get sick of this king they have demanded and beg to God to take him away from them. At which point God pretty much says “You asked for it, you got it – now you deal with the consequences.” But the elders still chose to reject God and demanded a king anyway. So God instructs Samuel to select one, and they wind up with Saul, then David, then Solomon. King David you’ve likely heard of – a very famous hotel in the modern state of Israel bears his name to this day. Dude is *that* well liked among the Israelis even now. (And as a brief aside: If you think the two primary people many think of as running for President of the US in 2016 are bad… as much as those three are respected now, let’s just say that they were pretty bad people that the two modern people don’t really have anything on.)
Now we’re going to flash forward a bit longer though. We’re going to skip over all kinds of Israeli captivity at the hands of the Babylonians and the Persians (Iraq and Iran, for those keeping score with the modern areas we’re speaking of). Again the history here is somewhat interesting, but it is a constant state of Israel screws up, gets taken captive, plays nice, gets set free, rinse and repeat. For hundreds of years. Finally, the Romans come around, and by the time our time warp ends, they’ve already held the area we now call the modern state of Israel for at least a century.
Then these dude everyone called Joshua the Carpenter, of Nazareth shows up. You may know him better as Jesus Christ, but they didn’t. At least not yet.
Then one day, Joshua is giving a speech, one that would become arguably the most famous, defining speech of his life. One that would have scholars debating about for millenia – literally. And there is a LOT to discuss in this speech. Many, many, MANY volumes of tomes have been written about this speech alone, and I’m sure at least that many will be written about this same speech in particular. We now call it the ‘Sermon On The Mount’.
In the Sermon On The Mount, Joshua basically tells every Jew ever that they have no idea what they are talking about. Considering that the local government of his time was run by the era’s equivalent of the Moral Majority at the height of their power… not necessarily a good thing if his intent was to live into old age. (It wasn’t, and he didn’t – for those who may not know that.)
But one bit of this speech in particular sticks out, at least as far as connecting to Joshua and Samuel. Because at one point, in what we now refer to as Matthew 6:24, Joshua explicitly says:
In other words… “choose who you will serve”. Or, “choose this day whom you will serve”. Or “are you really sure you want this King dude?”
Here, in this moment, the man we now know as Jesus Christ echoes men from centuries before his time: Choose.
Choose to trust God. Or choose to trust government. But realize right now that you cannot choose both. You will hate one and love the other, or you will serve one and despise the other. There is no other way. You will make this choice, and you will make it daily. You will trust God to provide for your needs, or you will bow down to government and do whatever it takes to make government happy so that it will fulfill them.