From: Heaven on Earth
A long series of military rulers, or judges, leads Israel on a roller-coaster ride of moral ups and downs, typified by the words, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes,” (Judges 21:15). The judges are accountable to God for assuring justice throughout the land, but they mostly fail in this task, leading to chaos. After being settled in the land for 400 years, the people finally call on the prophet Samuel to anoint a king to rule of them, (1 Samuel 8:5).
But instead of choosing a king who meets God’s qualifications, (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), they want one of a different sort. The leaders explain to Samuel, “We are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles,” (1Samuel 8:19-20). In other words, the people want a king who will be their protector, just like the kings of the other nations. This shows a lack of trust in God to be their provider and protector.
In conveying his displeasure to Samuel, God says, “They have rejected me from being king over them…from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods,” (vv. 7-8). God charges Samuel with the task of warning the people what will happen if they choose an ungodly king.
Like many Christians today, the Israelites want to have things both ways. On one hand, they want to identify with Yahweh. That’s one reason they ask Samuel to be the one who appoints the king. On the other hand, they want to abandon their divine obligation to be a distinctive society. They desire to serve God in word and ritual but continue to live like their pagan neighbors. Their worship of God will become perfunctory and meaningless. By abandoning their call to be an alternative society (socially, economically, politically, and religiously), the people embrace an ideology of oppression.
Practically speaking, when Israel and the pagan nations are placed side-by-side, there is little difference. The Israelites might tip their hat to Yahweh, but their lifestyle does not reflect Godliness.