God never wanted there to be a king in Israel. Never. He was kind of forced into it, but it wasn’t his idea, didn’t think it was necessary, didn’t think it was a good idea, in fact was sure that it was a pretty bad idea and that it was going to end pretty badly. But the people thought they needed a king, they were tired of getting whipped by the Philistines, even though it was their own fault, so they whined and whined about getting a king until they just basically wore God down.
Parents, you know what that sounds like, don’t you? “We want a king, why can’t we have a king, everybody else has a king, we promise if you’ll give us a king we’ll play with him every day and give him a bath every week, brush him and poop-scoop after him and pleeeeassse!” Samuel, God’s spokesman, kept saying to them, “You don’t need a king; you’ve got God.” And they said, “We want God and a king. We want a king to fight our battles and God to make our lives easier.”
So God told Samuel, “What are you going to do? You try to tell them, but they just won’t listen. But make sure they know what they are getting themselves into, so when it all blows up in their faces, we won’t have to say, ‘I told you so.’” So Samuel went to the people and said, “Look, do you really understand what having a king means? He’s going to take your sons from your fields and your farms, and he’s going to make them serve him, and fight for him. When there’s a battle, they’ll run in front of his chariots; they’ll be on the front lines, he’ll be in back where it’s safer. Those of your sons he doesn’t make soldiers he’ll make plow his fields and reap his harvest, and others will become sword-makers and chariot-builders, and he’s not going to let this war-machine sit around, so he’s going to use it and go to war and your sons will be killed. And he’ll take your daughters to be his perfumers and his cooks and his bakers. Then he’ll take the best of your fields and your vineyards and he’ll nationalize them and give them to his attendants as patronage. And then, with whatever fields and vineyards you have left over, whatever harvest you are able to get without your sons to help you—he’ll take 10% right off the top. As his kingdom grows he will need more servants and animals, so he will take your servants and animals—your cows, your donkeys will become his cows and donkeys, all in the name of patriotism. He’ll take 10% of your sheep, and when there’s nothing left to take, he’ll take you and make you his slaves. And when you cry out for relief from this pharaoh you yourselves have chosen against God’s advice, God will not listen to your cries. Is this what you want?”
And the people said, “A king will win us battles. We want a king.” Samuel went back to God, and God said, “Look, don’t feel bad. They aren’t rejecting you as a prophet; they’re rejecting me as their ruler.” So God let them have a king. Samuel anointed Saul king. And Saul was a failure. They all were. The monarchy in Israel didn’t work out too well. The best of the bunch, David, was an adulterer and murderer. Most of the rest were worse.
It was a royal mess. God warned them what would happen if he let them have a king, but they wanted a king anyway. They rejected God because they wanted a king who would wage war, and they got everything they asked for, and more. And it was into this world and this mess that Jesus was born. He was born to be a king because God didn’t want a king in the first place. He was supposed to rule over Israel. So he sent his son rule for him.
Jesus was born a king. That’s what Matthew and Luke were both saying in their birth narratives. We say that the Jews wanted an earthly king, but that Jesus came to set up a spiritual kingdom, a heavenly kingdom, when in fact Jesus came to set up a heavenly kingdom on earth with God as king, and all peoples—Jews, Romans, Greeks, etc.—as his subjects. Read Acts, see if this isn’t what’s being done. His kingdom would be characterized by true peace, not the absence of war but the presence of reconciliation. It would be brought about, not by conquering other nations, but by recognizing that we are all children of God. There would be no illegal aliens because there would be no borders and no distinctions among peoples—neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free, all one in King Jesus. And if we reject this, either by dismissing it as pie-in-the-sky, never-going-to-happen, this-is-the-real-world kind of thinking, or by over-spiritualizing it so that it’s just about me and my personal forgiveness and relationship with God, then God will say of us what he said to Samuel of the Israelites: they haven’t rejected you, they have rejected me.
Christian worship is an act of allegiance to the kingdom of God. Every Sunday morning we pledge allegiance to King Jesus, and to the kingdom of God, for which he stands, one people, one Lord, one baptism, one faith, indivisible, with grace and mercy for all.
All Hail King Jesus.