The First King of Israel
Almost every nation in the world has, at one time or another, had a King ruling over it. The titles varied, with some called King, others Emperor, Tzar or Sultan. And other nations would even sometimes have a reigning Queen, but effectively the titles referred to the same kind of person: the sovereign head of the nation, with powers, rights and responsibilities above all others in the land.
In many nations, the King ruled by Divine Right, meaning that they believed that God Himself granted that person the authority to rule. While mostly a medieval concept, this idea has also been practiced in countries in Asia as well. A variation of this even existed in other countries, where the king was thought to be a god, or descended from the gods. In those cases, the king claimed right to rule because of his proclaimed divinity.
Before The King
In the time before the nation of Israel had its first king, this was the situation with the nations around them. Not only did these other nations worship false gods, each was ruled by a king who likely either believed he was a god or descended from them, or believed he was appointed by a god. And each of these nations were hostile to the nation of Israel.
Despite their lack of a king, however, God did not abandon them. God continued to guide them through his Prophets, and continued to defend them through his Judges. And while they seemed to lack unity because there was no one king to govern them, the twelve tribes continued to thrive in the land God gave them.
Israel Asks For A King
In Samuel 8, the elders of Israel sought to change the fact that they had no king. Concerned that the sons of Samuel, the most prominent Judge and Prophet of his time, were not righteous as Samuel was, they decided that it was time to ask Samuel to appoint a king among them.
According to the Bible, this displeased Samuel, but The Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” (1 Samuel 8:7, New International Version) God saw to the heart of the matter.
Despite the fact that He could see their rejection of Him – and I can only imagine how disappointed the Lord was – His heart was still filled with concern for His people. He told Samuel, “Now Listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (1 Samuel 8:9, NIV) But despite Samuel’s warning, the elders of Israel continued to ask for a king.
So the Lord told Samuel to give them a King.
The Qualities Of A King
While it is obvious that neither Samuel nor the Lord wanted a king for Israel at that time, God had seen this day coming. And before His people had even claimed the Promised Land, he had set rules in place on the qualities that a king of Israel should have.
We can find this in Deuteronomy 17: 14-20. The king must be from the tribes of Israel. The king must not own great numbers of horses, or have the people return to Egypt to get more of them. The king must not take many wives. The king must revere the law of the Lord. The king must not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites.
Saul Son Of Kish
Samuel prayed to the Lord to guide him in choosing a king for His people. And one day, God told him that He would send a man from the tribe of Benjamin, and that man would be the king. The very next day, Samuel met a man named Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin.
By the very description of his appearance, Saul had the look of a king. He was considered a handsome young man, and he was taller than anyone else was. And the day he met with Samuel, he was on a task appointed him by his father, so obeyed the law at least in the part where he was a dutiful son. And when Samuel told praised him and his family, he showed some humility, in effect saying he wasn’t worthy of such praise.
Despite the show of humility, however, Saul did not decline the honor, and Samuel anointed him in secret as king of Israel. And some time later, Samuel gathered the nation of Israel together at Mizpah, Saul was chosen publicly to be king of Israel. But not without incident. When he was chosen by lot, he was, at first, nowhere to be found. And the Lord told them that he was hiding among the supplies.
Whether this was some sort of humility or shyness, or some plan of Saul’s is left unexplained. But for better or for worse, Israel now had a king.
First Act As King
What would the first act of a king be? Newly appointed as king over Israel, anointed by the Prophet of God, blessed by the hand of God, what could he not do? At the end of the 10th chapter of 1 Samuel, we see Saul return to his home in Gibeah, “accompanied by valiant men whose hearts were touched by the Lord.” Surely good things were to follow!
And yet in the next chapter, when men are looking for their king, we expect to find him planning his reign talking to his advisers. Or perhaps rallying his people to create a military in order to protect Israel from its enemies… and yet they found him returning from the fields, behind his oxen. A king working the fields; not exactly the kind of king one would normally expect. Then again, Deuteronomy 17 did say that the king should not consider himself above the other people of Israel. So why shouldn’t the new king still be working his father’s fields?
However, as humble and shy as he first appeared, as normal as he seemed, when he heard that his people were in danger, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. God’s righteous anger filled him right there and then, and he called out to the people of Israel to join him. Three hundred thousand men of Israel and thirty thousand from the tribe of Judah answered his call. And with him in command, they rescued the city of Jabesh Gilead.
Celebration As King
With a victory under his belt, and the people rejoicing the Lord for giving them a king, Saul could easily have had those who had doubted him in the beginning put to death. In fact, the people with him had exactly that idea, but he himself did not want that done. Together, the people renewed the kingship, and they celebrated and sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord.
What an amazing way to start his reign! A victory granted to him by the Lord, his people rejoicing in his appointment and his success.