One of my favorite things about the Bible is that it is a book full of stories. God could have simply made the entirety of His work a rule book (as people often presume it to be). Instead, He chose to teach us about Himself by means of stories. In the Scriptures, we hear stories about all sorts of figures from every walk of life. Whether it’s a slave turned prince with Moses, or princes turned slaves as we see in Daniel. In short, God teaches us eternal truths by means of these stories.
One of the most important stories in Scripture is about Israel’s first kings. Christians have often presumed that kings were not part of the plan of God, but merely the outworking of His people’s sin. However, the rhetoric in Judges actually leads us to think that the wickedness of Israel’s stems from their lack of a godly king: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6 ESV). This common refrain occurs repeatedly throughout the end of the book of Judges as a reminder that the growing wickedness in Israel is immediately related to the lack of a godly king in Israel.
But the yearning for a king was not inherently evil. God Himself has ordained civil government and Paul even wrote that our civil magistrates are “God’s servant for your good.” (Romans 13:4 ESV) The issue was not a king, for even the Christ is a king and He is certainly not evil. The problem laid in the fact that Israel desired a king “like all the nations.” (1 Samuel 8:5 ESV) They did not desire a king like Scripture demanded. They wanted a culturally acceptable, popular leader.
In Deuteronomy 17:14-20 Moses taught that God was never opposed to a monarchy and indeed prescribed particular instructions for whomever would lead His people. The king was to be born an Israelite, he must not rest in his riches, nor in many wives, but be literate so that He might write out his own copy of God’s Word and daily commit himself to reading it. By these means, this king would fear the Lord and lead the nation by God’s commandments.
The coming of a king to rule over Israel was ultimately the outworking of the plan of God. Moses recorded, “When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose.” (Deut. 17:14-15 ESV) This king would function under the kingship of the LORD God. Though Israel instigated this pursuit by their wicked, selfish, spiritually adulterous ends (see 1 Samuel 8:6-7) God nonetheless planned to utilize this means for His glory. As is His custom, what mankind meant for evil, God meant it for good (cf. Gen 50:20).
This promise was first echoed through Jacob to his son Judah in the promise of a perpetual royal throne. We read in Genesis 49:10, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor a lawgiver from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” (NKJV) John Calvin understood this passage in this manner, “It is certain that the Messiah, who was to spring from the tribe of Judah is here promised.”
In short, the Israelites were always going to have a king. It was part of God’s great story of redemption whereby the seed of the woman would one day crush the head of the serpent (cf. Gen. 3:15). Every earthly king was truly flawed, but only some of them were the recipients of God’s grace. Additionally, only three of them were ever granted the opportunity to reign over Israel when it was united: Saul, David, and Solomon. In the weeks to come we shall consider each of these men in greater detail and look most specifically at David, and how he foreshadowed the coming of the Lord Jesus, the King of Kings.