In reading through the Old Testament, I’ve been intrigued with the idea of kingship. Why a king? What distinguishes a king from a leader of less formal authority, such as Moses? What sets a king apart from a judge, such as Gideon or Samuel?
In the book of Judges, after the death of Moses and Joshua, and before the reign of Saul as the first King of Israel, there are multiple references to the fact that there was no king in Israel. In each case, the statement either sets up or closes out a less than positive episode in Israel’s history. The last verse in the book gives what seems to be a statement of exasperated condemnation of the people, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25, cf Judges 18:1, 19:1).
The prophet Samuel was considered the last judge, though his faithful service to the Lord chronologically followed the events recorded in Judges. When Samual was old, the people were afraid and demanded the prophet and judge anoint a king. 1 Samuel 8:5-9 tells us:
“… appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have. 6 When they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” Samuel considered their demand wrong, so he prayed to the LORD. 7 But the LORD told him, “Listen to the people and everything they say to you. They have not rejected you; they have rejected me as their king. 8 They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning me and worshiping other gods. 9 Listen to them, but solemnly warn them and tell them about the customary rights of the king who will reign over them.” – 1 Sa 8:5–9.
In the ancient Near East, according to Gordon Fee, the king “stood in for (the people) at all times as their representative”. He also was “the representative of their deity (their god) to the people”. Formal authority gave him the legal “right” to represent the people, unlike an informal leader. Furthermore, kingship would be for a lifetime, unlike most judges who seemed to have authority for a season and as needed.
In 1 Samuel 12, Samuel chastised the people for demanding a human king like the other nations rather than following God as their King. He warned them not to turn from following the commands of the Lord and how a corrupt king would lead the people astray, placing the things of earth center stage over God.
Sadly, the very next story is of Saul’s disobedience and failure as king, choosing to do things according to his own timeline and plan. Instead of leading obediently, he decided to take matters into his own hands. His way, his timeline, his choice.
That starts to get personal … it sounds like my way, my timeline, my choice, my comfort. Like Saul, we all too frequently declare ourselves to be king of our own lives, establishing our own little kingdom where we get to pretend we’re in charge.
Kings were to represent the people in times of peace and war, physically and spiritually. They were to lead the people and eliminate active or potential threats to the kingdom, anything that would lead them astray. Ironically, and to our own detriment, we actively establish threats to our own peace and wellbeing by putting the created in front of the Creator. We make the things of this world – pleasure, money, power, the list goes on – idols of worship. These idols are hostile to the Kingdom of God. Our heart becomes a battleground of idols, each contending for authority in our lives.
But there is only One who can rightfully and righteously reign. There is only one who has stood in, as an embodiment for all people, as their sin representative. There is only one who would represent God, in all His fullness, to all people.
Following Saul’s failure, the Lord appointed David, “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), to succeed Saul as king. And, as prophesied, David’s heir would reign forever. He would be no regular king. “The government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The increase of his government and of peace there will be no end …” (Isaiah 9:6-7). Jesus is the one true King, the righteous King, the sovereign King.
So, who’s king of your heart? Is it you? Have you allowed self-created idols to sit on the throne of your heart to rule over you? Or is it Jesus, the one, true King? King Jesus made it His mission to make disciples, and He commanded those disciples to make disciples. I pray you truly submit your heart to King Jesus each and every day, allowing Him to use you for His Kingdom.