Give Us a King

April 25, 2006

Great leaders have led God’s people to some of the most dramatic victories in the Bible. God chose Moses to lead the people out of Egypt. He chose Joshua to lead them into the Promised Land. But at the death of Joshua, God elected not to appoint a new central leader of his people. Instead they were led by judges in each town, with God himself as their king.

When the Israelites fell into sin, he subjected them to the surrounding nations. But when they cried out to him, he had compassion and selected a leader to bring them out of captivity. After one such rescue, the Israelites tried to make the deliverer become their king.

Judges 8:22-23 Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.”

So the local judges continued to lead as God had ordained. After several hundred years under the judges, the elders of the people came to Samuel asking for a king.

1 Sam 8:4-9 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD.
The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. “Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day–in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods–so they are doing to you also. “Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.”

Samuel warned the people, but they would have it no other way. So God relented and allowed them to have a king. But when Samuel addressed the people after Saul became king, he said:

1 Sam 12:12-13, 16-18 “When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ although the LORD your God was your king.”Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen, whom you have asked for, and behold, the LORD has set a king over you.

“Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the LORD, that He may send thunder and rain Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the LORD by asking for yourselves a king.” So Samuel called to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.

But that was not the end of the matter. After generations of unfaithful kings, God removed the kingdom from Israel. He spoke through Hosea:

Hosea 13:9-10
“You are destroyed, O Israel,
because you are against me, against your helper.
Where is your king, that he may save you?
Where are your rulers in all your towns,
of whom you said,
‘Give me a king and princes’?
So in my anger I gave you a king,
and in my wrath I took him away.

The human kings, to whom the Israelites looked for deliverance, were powerless to save them from their enemies. Instead they led them away from God, and God gave them over to their enemies. So God ultimately took away the human monarchy which Israel had insisted upon, and which had led them into devastating unfaithfulness.

From the beginning God knew that the kings would bring about the ruin of Israel. The elders and the people sinned greatly by asking Samuel for a human monarchy to replace God himself as their king. God punished them by giving them what they asked for, and they suffered the consequenses of their rebellion. They went into spiritual decay lasting hundreds of years, and leading to their captivity and exile at the hands of the Assyrians (Israel) and Babylonians (Judah). No wonder God was opposed to the idea of a human monarchy.

What does this have to do with unity?

Some people believe that unity can only be achieved by organizing all God’s people under a human leader. Such a leader would set the direction and the vision for the people, and lead them as a unified people. This idea makes sense from a human point of view, but it neglects to consider the plan and power of God.

God has organized the Christian church in a manner analogous to the judges of Israel. In each congregation, He has given us evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (Eph 4) to equip the congregation for works of service. He has placed his Holy Spirit in each Christian to empower and change us into His image. But He has provided no formal organization above the local congregation. God himself is the only king we need.

History shows us repeatedly how centralized human leaders eventually lead the church astray. That is not the path to meaningful and lasting unity. Real unity is formed in individual hearts by the Holy Spirit as a result of our mutual relationship with our Father. Let’s walk in step with the Spirt as God brings about the unity for which Jesus prayed.


  1. Some people believe that unity can only be achieved by organizing all God’s people under a human leader.Not me. If we can’t be as one as a nation with politics, we will most certainly fail in religious beliefs. Real unity is formed in individual hearts by the Holy Spirit as a result of our mutual relationship with our Father. Let’s walk in step with the Spirt as God brings about the unity for which Jesus prayed. AMEN!Good post Thank you

  2. Doesn’t this whole issue make you wonder about us humans? Why is it that we so often think we are the answer to everything? I remember when I was single (16 years ago) a brother came up to the New Hampshire ministry and I thought to myself, “Ah…here is the answer to what the ministry needs.” Why would I think that? Why was it not obvious that God was already there as the answer.But that was 16 years ago. Surely I would fall for that line of Satan again, would I?Perhaps not so blatantly. But the evil wonder is more subtle with a more experienced disciple. I know for sure that I have thought recently, “Boy, it sure is great to have Mike up here to kinda hold things together and help us through the church’s rough times.”While that may not sound as bad as the first example I gave, if that thought does not consider first that an awesome Father is ultimately watching over His earthly Family, then the thought then becomes one born of Satan and potentially causes us to look for Mike to be a king, instead of a disciple.Why was it that we were so shocked that our leadership in the ICoC and their unity fell apart a few years ago? Could it be that we (and by “we” I of course mean “me”) had made them kings? I believe to a certain extent that is true. As disappointed, hurt, and upset as I was to have seen that happen, I must look to myself first to see if my view of them was godly, or if I made them out to be more than they were: Simple men with sinful natures.It seems as though the Lord is setting us free from the nation of Confusion which has held us in captivity for the past few years.

  3. Hey Danny,I think the distributed shepherding model is far superior to the centralized model the ICOC had a few years ago–as it must be, of course, since it is the more biblical model. In the Christian era, God has given his Holy Spirit to all his people. What a revolutionary advantage we have over the Israelites during the time of the judges!

  4. I was wondering if you knew there is a denomination called Christ Unity Church in the USA? It is probably way different than your beliefs. No offence intended.

  5. hi anonymousI was not aware of that group. Based on a very brief google search, I would agree that their beliefs appear to be quite different. Alan

  6. Unity, even within the splintered Church of Christ, is a formidable task that requires unceasing prayer, mutual forgiveness, and undying love to accomplish. Your unity plan; “Real unity is formed in individual hearts by the Holy Spirit as a result of our mutual relationship with our Father.” is sound advice, and certainly a step in the right direction. The autonomous church is probably the best way to control a person who has a huge appetite for absolute control. One person with a penchant for controlling his brethren may completely ruin one church, yet thankfully not have much influence in a neighboring church.

  7. Alan, Tough subject. When looking at the circumstances leading up to the request for a king, it seemed quite reasonable. Eli’s son were a disaster and it looked as if Samual’s boys might be on the same path. Many of the previous judges had been anything but moral (Samson). There was a fear of surrounding nations gaining power from their internal unity. Israel was still operating (politically) as twelve distinct nations. Despite all this, God’s desire for unity was in the spiritual realm only. One temple, one place of worship. He even predicted (as a concession) the Israelites would one day desire a king. I would like to see caution when attempting any type of structural or “official” unity beyond the congregational level, no matter how reasonable the arguments are and the proximity of danger. There are good models out there which do not require a “king” model, but allow for cooperation in missions and benevolence. Florida Mission Council, Continent of Great Cities, Christian Relief Fund, etc… all provide needed cooperation but answer to the local congregation, not the other way around. Whatever happens, happens. I will not be a whiner, I know God can work it out whatever the path. God continued to work with the Israelites and loved them. God works through faith, not great plans and I do believe those who desire unity are faithful. Phil

  8. Larry,I agree that the unity Jesus prayed for is in a context of autonomous congregations. Phil,I don’t see a lot of momentum moving toward appointing a king. I sometimes hear scattered voices, and that is who I had in mind with this article. I don’t think it would be God’s will for us to follow that route, but even if it were to happen we would still be able to be faithful to God as individuals.Alan

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