As already discussed in “Elders”,1 under the Old Covenant Israel had eight different leadership roles: the patriarch, the elder, the prophet, the priest, the Levite, the army commander, the judge, and the king, this was no mistake. Failure to accept the lead given by most of these leaders was punishable by the death penalty, which means those leaders had explicitly been given authority to use, since they could ‘enforce obedience’.
As also mentioned there, this points New Covenant believers to the ultimate and ever-present fulfilment of all these roles in the Lord Jesus Christ and warns us against any rejection of Him who is not only our Leader but also our eternal Life.2 No other New Covenant leader is ever given this authority over other believers. On the other hand, under the New Covenant, failure to accept the lead given by Jesus even through a child can have such dire consequences:
“Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”3
Of course, it is not just a child we are to obey but any child “in My name”, i.e. with the word of the Lord. However, we need to listen:
See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those (Israel) did not escape when they refused him (Moses) who warned them on the earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.4
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us”. And Samuel prayed to the LORD.5
Their request seems perfectly reasonable; Samuel, the prophet and judge of Israel, has grown old and there is no natural successor. However, they are not looking just for the next prophet and judge. Moses had assured them God would always raise up a prophet for them, so that Israel wouldn’t follow occultic leaders as did the nations they were to drive out.6Samuel has been one of these prophets and the people and elders know that such charismatic leadership (‘charismatic’ in the literal sense of the word meaning ‘anointed and thereby empowered by the Holy Spirit to that particular work’) can only be provided by God Himself, using any one He chooses and in His timing. They are not waiting or trusting for God to provide.
They are also not looking for a normal judge. God has already used the most unlikely people to judge Israel such as the woman Deborah or the erratic Samson. What they want is a much more mundane leadership; they want a king, just “like all the nations”. Surely that is reasonable.
WHAT’S SO WRONG WITH THAT?
Samuel knows there is something wrong, so he prays. Maybe he remembers that many years earlier, Gideon the judge and military leader had faced the same issue when the men of Israel had offered him the crown:
“Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you”7
Gideon knew the ways of God and could see that only God should be king over His people. It seems that Samuel understands that too because their request is ‘displeasing in his sight’, and now when he prays, God answers him:
“Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.”8
We must be absolutely clear about this: Israel are rejecting God as their king when they call for a human king. From the time when they left Egypt, the Lord had given them a form of national government that was, and was specifically intended to be, unique amongst the nations. They were to be a theocracy, where God alone ruled over them. They are now seeking to change that, from a theocracy to a monarchy – what is at issue is nothing less than the Kingdom of God, the actual, experiential reign or kingdom of God over every one of His people. So why do the people give this away? It certainly is not Samuel’s fault because he then proceeds to ‘solemnly warn them and tell them of the custom of the king’9 which includes a vast growth of bureaucracy and its attendant costs as well as loss of control over their own families, servants, and assets. He finishes with a prophecy:
“You will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day!”10
This prophecy was fulfilled from the reign of their first king, Saul, when God left him as king to the bitter end. David was unable to intervene as Saul did the most horrendous things to the nation, even to slaughtering eighty-five priests and the entire city of Nob for helping David11 and yet David could do nothing about it. 12 It is ironic that many today read David’s fear of ‘touching the Lord’s anointed’ as if God was vindicating Saul’s kingship when in reality He was keeping Saul in power as His punishment on the nation.
The consequences and other fulfillments of this prophecy are seen in the reigns of the kings that followed. Even in the time when Israel knew their greatest peace, prosperity, and glory, under the wisest king of them all, Solomon,13 the people cried out because of the “heavy yoke” he had put on them.14
So why do the people ignore the warnings of Samuel as he predicts this will happen? They know he is a prophet and yet they give away the actual, experiential reign of God.
“BUT IT SEEMS SO RIGHT…”
Why? Because they can see the benefits of having a human king in the world around them:
Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”15
They want a visible, human king, not the invisible King, and they want him for four very apparent benefits:
(i) They can relate more easily to someone they can see
(ii) “that we also may be like all the nations”
(iii) “that our king may judge us”
(iv) “and go out before us and fight our battles”
Each of these is considered in detail in Appendix A – Obedience cf. Spiritual Formation,16 but for now, what is God’s response?
God gives Israel their request, but He wants them to be under no illusions as to how He feels about it. Samuel anoints Saul and says to them:
“Here is the king whom you have chosen, whom you have asked for, and behold, the LORD has set a king over you…. Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the LORD, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the LORD by asking for yourselves a king.” So Samuel called to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.17
Their decision is “great wickedness” as evidenced by God’s destruction of their wheat harvest. The people then acknowledge that they have “added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king”.18 However the new order, the monarchy, is now established and they are never to be free from the consequences until Jesus comes.
ISRAEL’S SECOND CHANCE
It is important we remember that when Jesus came with His message of the kingdom of God, it was not a new message – He was giving Israel a second chance at the originally intended theocracy. He offered them the yoke of God where they were each to know Him rather than the yoke of human kings:19
“This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel… they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them…”20
“Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me…”21
While most of Israel at that time rejected the Kingdom by rejecting Jesus as their Messiah and His new covenant which offered the personal, experiential reign of God, there was a remnant who did enter His kingdom then,22 and of course many Jews, including many rabbis, have since.
We Gentiles may marvel that the ancient Jews were so slow to learn but have we done any better? Sadly, no.
OUR REPEATING OF ISRAEL’S MISTAKE
I have been in ministry since 1975, both as an interdenominational itinerant evangelist and teacher and in pastoral work, so I am devoted to the church of God in all of its forms and structures. Accordingly, none of what follows is partisan or condemnatory but aiming only at faithfulness to God – I ask you to exercise loving discernment, seeking His kingdom and His righteousness in everything that we do.
Let us consider briefly how the largest, and one of the oldest, Gentile church denominations demonstrates this perfectly: the Roman Catholic Church. Let me make it immediately clear that I am not anti-Catholic – I sent my sons to a Catholic school. I simply want to start with the most visible and populous group of professing Christians since it is over a billion strong. I would also point out that most Protestant, Evangelical and Pentecostal groups have faithfully adopted the Catholic model of leadership, only changing the names of the positions. As Milton once wryly noted: “New presbyter is but old priest writ large”. So there is no profit in recriminations between us, but there is in learning from the mistake being made by so many, whether Jew or Gentile, ancient or modern, in ignoring the word and purpose of God.
Roman Catholicism claims a direct line of apostolic succession from the apostle Peter, and therefore the overall leadership of all Christendom, through the office of the modern-day Pope:
He (Jesus) established the one true Church to carry on His teachings until the end of time. We believe that this Church established by Christ subsists in the Catholic Church today, that Church which is governed by the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him.23
The most salient feature of the Roman Catholic Church’s leadership is that it is based on the authority of the Pope. Although he is ‘the first amongst equals’, that is amongst the cardinals and bishops who are ‘the princes of the church”‘ he is ‘the first’ and the position of Pope is the highest authority in that church.
Let me add here that I am not criticising Pope Francis – I think he and his recent predecessors have accomplished much since the Second Vatican Council, opening up to the Holy Spirit and in trying to put right their church’s historic sins against Israel and reformers such as Hus and Luther. However, we must examine in the light of the words of Jesus exactly how the Pope leads in what is claimed to be the leading role of the one true church of Christ (we look at this claim elsewhere, in “Upon This Rock” – Which Foundation?)
Many years ago, in about 1974, I watched on television a ceremony involving the Pope and a gathering of cardinals. In order to out-work the teaching of Jesus that the greatest is to be the servant of all, the Pope was to wash the cardinals’ feet. They were all seated in a semicircle with the Pope in the middle and for him to do this, he had to get down from his throne and kneel at the feet of each of the cardinals as they remained seated. He went around the semicircle, with a bowl of water and a towel, removing each man’s slip-on shoes and carefully washed and dried their feet. It was a very moving sight and I watched with great interest as I had just become a believer and had read how Jesus had washed the feet of His disciples.24 After some time the Pope finally finished, having performed the work of a first-century servant, but then he resumed his throne.
At that moment the Holy Spirit spoke gently in my heart that I should learn from what I had just seen. The Pope hadn’t become a servant but had role-played servanthood. He had left his throne for the time of the ceremony before returning to his throne. Throughout the whole time he had remained the highest authority in the church; even though he had acted as a servant, he hadn’t become a servant. The role of Pope is that of a king.
Just like Israel of old, the largest group of professing Christians today is still looking for the benefits of a visible king. The Pope has all the outward appearances of the kings of the nations in the crowns, the robes, the ring, the palace, the bodyguards, and servants, even sending ambassadors to the other nations of the earth. The office of the Pope has always made the hard and final decisions, as in our day on contraception, speaking ex kathedra (lit. from the throne). In the Dark Ages, the Popes were responsible for the Inquisitions and the armies of the Crusades literally fighting to “free” Jerusalem, believing that they had the right to physically enforce obedience on the city’s Jewish and Muslim inhabitants. What more perfect example can there be of us Gentiles misunderstanding the kingdom of God?
Leadership in the Kingdom – Pt 5 Closer to Home
Well, look in our own home church or assembly. Have we appointed a king? Someone has said that at least in the Catholic Church there is only one Pope for the millions whereas in the Protestant and Pentecostal churches there is often a pope for every assembly. Read more>>
- We will put this on-line soon.
- 1 John 5:11-12
- Luke 9:48
- Heb 12:25
- 1 Sam 8:4-6
- Deut 18:14-15)
- Jud 8:22-23
- 1 Sam 8:7
- vv. 9-10
- 1 Sam 8:18
- 1 Sam 22:18-19
- 1 Sam 26: 9-11
- 1 Kings 4:20-25, 29-34
- 1 Kings 12:4
- 1Sam 8:19-20
- To be added soon
- 1 Sam 12:13, 17-18, emphasis added
- v. 19
- 1 Kings 12:4, Isa 14:25, Jer 28:2
- Jer 31:33-34
- Matthew 11:22
- John 1:11-12, Rom 11:5
- Answers to Questions Most Commonly Asked about the Catholic Church, Imprimatur P.L. Murphy, D.D., V.G., Wellington, N.Z., 1 December, 1981
- John 13:1-17