The God of Israel has always intended to be the sole King of Israel. The Torah describes a theocracy where judges ensure the people keep the laws set by God. Even in Deuteronomy 17:14, where the Torah makes room for a human king, it’s evident that the people are the instigators of the idea because they want to be like the surrounding nations. Mimicking the nations…not exactly the way Adonai wanted His priestly nation to live.
Fast forwarding several centuries to the time when the Israelites make this request in our Haftarah portion, we see God appointing the human king as He said He would. Saul is a promising choice, but Samuel reviews Israel’s history to illustrate how Adonai has been a faithful King who has defended His people more ably than any human king. Israel’s demand for a flesh-and-blood monarch is quite insulting considering how Adonai has reigned over them all this time. Perhaps they were disillusioned by how many times their enemies threatened them, a consequence of straying from God’s path.
Yet Adonai grants them what they ask (fittingly, Saul’s name means “asked”), and continues the relationship almost as it was before, now with a king who is responsible to uphold Adonai’s authority. But a king has more power than a judge, and thus is more dangerous because he has the ability to sway more of the nation into idolatry, if he is so inclined. A king can influence the majority toward obedience or disobedience.
Though Israel rejects God’s authority – not just here, but many times – God will not reject them. “For Adonai will not forsake His people for His great Name’s sake…” Samuel says in 1 Samuel 12:22 (TLV). Paul echoes and expands on this in Romans 11. Also like Samuel, Paul intercedes for Israel (Romans 9:1-14, 10:1).
Years after Samuel spoke to the nation, his warning came true: Saul’s monarchy failed. Saul did not uphold God’s Torah, like every other human who has existed. The fault was not in God’s rules but in Saul’s inability to keep them. God replaced Saul’s dynasty with the dynasty of David, a man after His own heart. David and his coronated sons were human, too, and failed to a greater or lesser extent; the most successful were the ones most dedicated to following God’s Torah.
On and on the line of David extended, through a time when no son of David reigned, until finally a Son was born who was the fulfillment of all that both Adonai and Israel wanted in a king – fully God and Man, fully righteous and sinless yet able to fully sympathize with human weakness (Hebrews 4:15).
Most of Israel rejected this King at first, having limited sight just like Israel did in Saul and Samuel’s time. But this King intercedes for them. They have not been rejected throughout the long millennia, but guarded until He comes to reign on earth in the way they imagined He would.
Finally, after the whole of history, God’s and Israel’s ideals will be united in One King – Yeshua. How blessed are those who recognize His reign even now! Fallible humans just like those who reject divine authority, we, Jew and Gentile, have been favored with opened eyes and hearts so we can enjoy Yeshua’s leadership now, before He reveals Himself to greater Israel (Ephesians 1:3-14; Romans 11:25-36).
He is far above any ruler, authority, power, leader, and every name that is named – not only in the olam ha-zeh (this world) but also in the olam ha-ba (the world to come). God has placed all things under Messiah’s feet and appointed Him as head over all things for His community – which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:21-23)
May we who accept Yeshua as our King always remember to submit our will to His, demonstrating to those around us which Kingdom we belong to and spreading its message so more may enter in.