In 1 Samuel chapters 1 and 2, Hannah, a barren woman, is finally given a child by God — Samuel. In gratitude, she dedicates Samuel to the priesthood, with a prayer. She says,
(1Sa 2:10b ESV) “The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
Hannah is inspired to prophesy that Samuel will bring a king to the people, who will be exalted by God. It’s a true prophecy. Indeed, it’s the theme of the book.
Samuel became judge of Israel following Eli. Eli and Samuel were both prophets and judges, as well as priests. But the people were terrified that their children might serve as judges after them, and their children were corrupt.
As a result, the people approached Samuel, asking for a king. Samuel did not want to appoint a king, but God said,
(1Sa 8:7-9 ESV) 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
Obviously, God himself is not pleased with the hearts of the people. He sees their request for a king as a rejection of God as king.
Samuel then warned the people that a king would tax them and conscript them into service, but they insisted on having a king anyway.
(1Sa 8:19-20 ESV) 19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
As a result, Samuel anointed Saul as king. And he did fight the people’s battles, and greatly extended the borders of Israel — defeating the Amalekites and pushing the Philistines back. It’s really hard to argue against the anointing of Saul in military terms. He finally allowed Israel to expand beyond the infertile hill country and enjoy the Promised Land. (A task David would complete after Saul.)
Saul, however, proved to be rebellious — sinning against the commands of God and ultimately being rejected by God. As a result, God had Samuel anoint David as king.
David was anointed years before Saul left the throne. Why? Evidently, God wanted to anoint David just as soon as he was old enough, to indicate his dissatisfaction with Saul and the special nature of his relationship with David.
Shortly thereafter, God made a covenant with David –
(2Sa 7:11b-16 ESV) “Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’”
God’s covenant with David set the direction of the biblical narrative until the end of time. The Messianic overtones are obvious. God ultimately sent his Son to become the final king in the line of David — the Messiah — to rule God’s kingdom. In Ezekiel 34, Jesus is even called “David.”
Did God want a human king?
It seems hard to argue that the line of David is entirely against the will of God, when God sent his Son to earth to be a king in the line of David! Indeed, God quite literally chooses to save the world by establishing Jesus as a king, sitting on the throne of David. How can David’s throne possibly be illegitimate?
Commentators understandably struggle with this question. After all, if this were a lesson on the over-arching narrative of scripture, we might say that God always intended for Jesus to appear as the Messiah in the lineage of David to sit on his throne. But how does this make sense if God was opposed to there being a king at all? If God was adamantly opposed to Israel having a king, how does the throne of David become such a key part of God’s cosmic plan?
As a result, most commentators conclude that God was not so much displeased with the idea of monarchy — an idea that he made permanent, even eternal — but with the idea of Israel picking a king based on their own standards. See, for example, Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series), page 208.
Eugene H. Merrill concludes in his commentary on 1 Samuel —
The request for a human king was not in itself improper, for God had promised such a leader … . But the refusal to wait for God’s timing was clearly displeasing to the Lord and to His prophet. In the face of impending conflict with the Ammonites (see 12:12–13) the people wanted a king “such as all the other nations have” (8:5).
Saul was tall and a great warrior — very popular — but not a man after God’s own heart. It’s almost as though God chose for Israel the man they wanted to demonstrate the futility of Israel making its own choices, and then God chose David as a boy, someone no man would consider kingly at all, to demonstrate God’s own wisdom and the necessity of God choosing the king by God’s own standards in God’s own time.
The Davidic Kings as Under-Kings
Israel did not entirely abandon the idea that God is king when Saul and David took the throne.
(Psa 5:1-2 NAS) Give ear to my words, O LORD, Consider my groaning. 2 Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God, For to Thee do I pray.
(Psa 145:1 ESV) I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
(Isa 44:6 NAS) 6 “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel And his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me.
God can, of course, rule his people through a king just as he could rule through a judge. The biggest difference, at least it seems to me, is that God chose each judge, whereas kings inherit the throne from their fathers — and this fact often led to kings who did not honor God at all.
Ultimately, however, if you think about it, there’s no contradiction between the idea of God himself as king and the Davidic dynasty being kings chosen by God. You see, in Jesus, the two ideas merge.
With the coming of Jesus, the earthly throne of David becomes the throne of God the Son. The coming of the Kingdom through Jesus returns God’s people to rule by God as King.
This is, indeed, a pervasive theme of the New Testament, often overlooked by modern Christians because the translations and years of tradition hide this core teaching. “Messiah” and “Christ” are simply the Hebrew and Greek words for “anointed one,” which is a Hebrew metaphor for “king.” “Jesus Christ” means “Jesus the King” — particularly, “Jesus the King of Prophecy,” that is, the king promised by the Old Testament prophets to reign on the throne of David over the entire world.
In fact, Caesar Augustus, emperor at the time of Jesus’ birth, had coins issued with his image, announcing him as “lord” and “savior” — and his coronation was announced to the Empire as “good news.” He declared his father, Julius, a god, making Augustus “son of god.”
Much of the language that we interpret as meaning “second member of the Godhead” or “divine” in fact meant “king” to the early church. To confess that “Jesus is Lord” (Rom 10:9) was sedition because Caesar wished to be known as the only lord of the Empire.
When we become Christians, confessing that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” we aren’t declaring Jesus merely divine. We’re confessing that he is the King of the world. The “Son of God” is borrowed for Psalm 2, where the language is speaking of Israel’s king. “Son of God” is a reference to the Anointed One, the king of God’s Kingdom.
It’s astonishing beyond words that many in the Churches of Christ confess Jesus and are baptized and then, many years later, come to the realization that “Jesus is Lord.” We seem to sometimes unintentionally convert our children more to the doctrine of Jesus than the kingship of Jesus.
Hence, the anointing of David as king was not a step away from God as King at all. It was, in truth, a major step toward the expansion of the Kingdom of God, not just over the Philistines and Ammonites and Amalekites, but over the entire world.
As a result, when God agreed to the people’s demands for a king, he not only gave them a human king, who would secure their borders and conquer the Promised Land, he set in motion a plan to establish God himself as king over all the nations.
This is a bit long, but well worth the time to give a listen —
which leads to —
[I tried really hard to find a YouTube version of “O Worship the King” that wasn’t terribly over-produced or badly performed or recorded. I never found a version that I was entirely happy with. Too many pipe organ versions — and I really don’t like much in the way of organ music — or else the drummers overwhelm the melody. But I have to share this Portuguese swing version —
Yep … Portuguese swing.]