Saying “Give Me” to God—1 Samuel 8:5
It’s generally good to ask God for the things we want. It’s a way to show our dependence on him and treat him as the loving Father he is. But as with our earthly fathers, not every request we make is a good one. We can learn from some of the bad requests in the Bible—such as the time the Israelites asked for a king.
It’s hard to say whether or not a king was a good idea. Israel had been ruled by a series of judges raised up by God. Strictly speaking, God himself had been their king since appearing at Mount Sinai a few hundred years earlier: “The Lord became king in Israel” (Deuteronomy 33:5, NLT). But God said that a human king might be allowed, too, and the people’s behavior had gone bad without strong leadership: “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25, NLT).
The people went to God, through his prophet Samuel, with their request: “Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5, NLT).
Samuel didn’t like the idea. He warned the people that kings could be harsh and would demand expensive upkeep. But the people refused to listen. “‘Even so, we still want a king,’ they said. ‘We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle’” (1 Samuel 8:19-20, NLT).
God was not pleased. Why? I can see three problems.
1. The request wasn’t godly. By coming to God’s prophet, the people acted as if they were honoring God. But they didn’t have a godly objective. They didn’t ask for a king so that he would help them repent of sin. No, they asked because they wanted to be like the other nations. God had said that they were to be different and follow his laws. But they were asking God to bless their goals of winning battles and the like. That’s much different from asking God to help them pursue his goals.
We too ought to consider whether what we ask of God is truly godly. Are we asking for something that will make us more like Jesus, or do we want to be like everyone else we admire? Are we following God’s desires, or are we pursuing our own and dressing them up to look like something from God? There is a huge difference.
2. The request wasn’t humble. The Israelites’ request had a demanding tone. Their failure to listen to Samuel showed that they weren’t really open to God showing them what was best. Rather, they had a plan for their lives, and they expected God to follow along once they invited him to do the name-the-king honors.
Often we also get demanding with God. We may not act that way overtly, but if he doesn’t give us what we ask for, we get bitter and threaten to revolt. We announce that “God didn’t come through for me,” as if it were his job to follow our plans. Yes, it’s difficult when God chooses not to give us something that seems absolutely good and necessary. But part of being a humble person with God is knowing that his good plans aren’t always the plans that look good to us.
3. The request was adulterous. That’s right, adulterous. Instead of wanting God himself, the Israelites were only interested in what God could give them. This is the biggest problem with their request, and God put his finger on it. He told Samuel, “They don’t want me to be their king any longer” (1 Samuel 8:7, NLT). Out of all the nations of the world, only the Israelites had the almighty, eternal God as their personal King. But they wanted one more like the other nations.
We do the same thing so often! We ask God for things we desire deeply—more deeply than we actually desire him. That’s why we get mad if he doesn’t come through. “What good is God if he doesn’t give me what I love?” Ah, but our deepest need is God himself. We’ve been asking him who should be the love of our lives to give us something else we love more. We ask him to help us spurn him.
What God gives
It’s interesting that God actually gave the people what they asked for. He let them have a king. Samuel’s warnings all came true, but God also used the kingship to create a royal line out of which came the Savior, Jesus. God brought good out of the people’s wrong desire. He gave them what they really needed yet didn’t even know to request.
Much of my asking is messed up. I need to train my heart to ask better: for more godly things, in a more humble way, seeking God himself first of all. As I do, my prayers will be more fruitful.
But I also know that I must keep asking God for what I want, every day, even though my requests are stained by selfishness. I remember that God has given me Jesus: “Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?” (Romans 8:32, NLT). In Jesus, my selfishness is forgiven and the true ache of my heart is heard by my Father.
Jack Klumpenhower is the author of Show Them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids and the gospel teaching resources at www.jackklumpenhower.com.