Israel had the most perfect government but didn’t know it. God was their king, offering all the rights and protection that any king can possibly offer, and more.
But even when they have it good, people want more. Blessed though they were with God as their king, they wanted to be like the nations around them and have an earthly king sitting on a throne ruling over them. "Appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have," Israel told the prophet Samuel (1 Sam. 8:5).
"Samuel, just go tell those people what having a king will be like. Dispel their erroneous notions and perhaps they’ll give up their quest to be like the nations around them," God told the prophet. Samuel obeyed and delivered a stirring message that should have raised a some doubts and put the skids to this movement.
"You think you want a king? Do you know what having a king will be like? He’ll take your sons for military service, whether they want to go or not. He’ll use the strength of your sons to plow his own fields, not yours. Your daughters will be called to serve as his perfumers, cooks and bakers. Your fields and vineyards you have worked so hard to maintain and bear fruit will be confiscated by the king and given to his officials. Taxes will deplete you of cattle, crops and even your servants. When the grip of government control tightens around your necks and you cry out for relief, no one will help you in that day. Care to rethink your request for a king?"
"No, no!" the people answered back. "We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles" (1 Samuel 8:19-20). Freedom isn’t something you can force on people. God realized that, so he told Samuel to give the people the restrictive measures they requested. Only the grip of unlimited control will make them realize the safety and protection they thought they wanted from an earthly power was but the forerunner of oppression.
Freedom requires levels of personal responsibility and integrity that many people are not willing to muster. It is easier to be told when to plant and when to harvest. It is easier to be told how much to turn over to money handlers to set aside for our retirement (Social Security). It is easier to trust that the earthly powers to whom we submit seek our peace and safety. It is easier, but it is often delusional, too.
In a letter to Colonel Carrington, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "The natural progression of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground." He added that the great confidence people have in President Washington could put them sleep, and that "after him, inferior characters may perhaps succeed, and awaken us to the danger which his merit had led us into." (Jefferson: Magnificent Populist, p.85). Jefferson feared that the trust the people of America put in the integrity of President Washington would cause them to lose the vigilance of studying, thinking and assessing the moral and political decline of the country. A very good leader makes a very lazy populace.
Israel could not have had a better leader than they did in God. But that wasn’t enough, and soon they were saddled with leaders who bled them dry economically, politically and morally. Young farmers raised to worked the land bequeathed to them by their fathers were driven from the land. Young widows, who should have at least had the comfort of knowing that the land was theirs, had even this resource ripped from their possession. "You drive the women of my people from their pleasant homes," Micah railed against the leaders. "You take away my blessing (the land) from their children forever" (Micah 2:9).
Government is ordained of God, for sure (Romans 13:1). But no government was ever meant to supplant our primary devotion to God. Nor was any government ever meant to override our own responsibility to work and provide, by the grace of God, for our needs. No matter how appealing government may seem, remember the warning of Samuel that one day "you will cry out for relief" from the very government you begged to have rule over you.