Give Us A King? No, Just A Pastor

Is ICC seeking a pastor comparable to the Israelites seeking a king towards the end of Samuel’s watch (in 1 Sam 8)?

Samuel is one of the most revered characters in the bible. One gets the sense that he was chosen and especially loved by God and God must have held Samuel in a really special place in God’s own heart. Samuel’s story of being the well loved son of Hannah – the promised son – is always a heart warming one and the story of how when Sam was a little boy God called out to him in the middle of the night is a story my ex-boss Mr Chooi often recounted with affection. Eli’s counsel that young Samuel should say “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” is advice I have sometimes heeded and applied in my own life in the middle of some nights.

Samuel was the last of the Judges of the Old Testament. He preceded Saul and kings who came after him. God chose judges such as Gideon, Deborah, Samson etc to be the bearer of God’s message, protect the Israelites and restore (somewhat) the kingdom of God.

Many of the passages which dealt with the exploits of the judges start with the words “Israel had no king” and they are followed by texts which suggested everyone did as they pleased as a result. At these times, the kingdom of God ebbed and flowed and God’s people went through phases of disobedience and suffering interspersed by periods of victory when lead by these judges.

These judges were clearly instructed by God and they obeyed Him (Gideon’s famous woolly wobbles aside). Without these judges the Israelites suffered at the hands of their tormentors (such as the Philistines). The Israelites relied on these judges for salvation and deliverance from God. They knew salvation and deliverance come from God, but they nevertheless looked to these judges to lead them towards such salvation and deliverance. Unfortunately when the Philistines leave them alone they tend to forget God and become unfaithful again, giving their allegiance to other gods (e. g construction of the Asherah poles)

Even Eli who comes across as a long suffering patriarch of some sort, had to wrestle with rebels in the form of his own sons! Samuel suffered the same problem. It reached a stage where the Israelites probably became fed-up that they could no longer rely on these judges to protect them from their tormentors.

It was in such immediate context that the Israelites began asking for a king. It was in such context that the Israelites’ demand for a king was considered rebellious and ungodly. God said to Samuel that their demand for a king was rejection not of Samuel but of God.

One should take note of Deuteronomy 17:14-20 where it says (way before Samuel’s time):

14When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us," 15be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. 16The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, "You are not to go back that way again." 17He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

So it isn’t the act of asking for a king which displeased God – God had already told them this was going to happen. In fact the bible said it was Samuel who was displeased. There are things God said was important when they appoint a king (verses 15ff). The Israelites weren’t disobeying God and doing something which displeased God when they appointed a king, it was when they disobeyed God and rejected Him, choosing instead the gods of the land as their gods, that God is displeased. God’s displeasure was also (maybe) due to the fact that the Israelites had not yet taken possession of the land as witnessed by the constant wars they still had to fight with the likes of the Philistines. So they weren’t ready yet for a king in the manner set out in verse 14 (see above).

In considering this lesson, is ICC really asking for a king?

Of course not – instead of rejecting God and choosing other gods, ICC has been seeking instead to know God better and serve Him better. ICC considers that with a pastor, it will be better able to systematically understand the word of God and apply that knowledge and understanding in better ways and therefore be better placed to be disciples of Jesus and help others to also become disciples of Jesus. By seeking to have a pastor, ICC is in fact seeking to be better equipped to acknowledge Jesus’ kingship and allow God to be truly God and Lord. It may be said therefore that the context between the Israelites asking for a king and ICC seeking a pastor is entirely at opposite ends to each other.

I used the word “pastor” loosely, in the sense of a full time worker amongst a local church, identifying and ministering to the spiritual needs of members. I make no comments or discourse on the imports of Ephesians 4:11ff, and acknowledge the person we conveniently label a “pastor: could well be a servant in other capacity instead. That however is for another day.

If seeking a pastor is to be likened to Israelites seeking a king during Samuel’s watch, does that mean the vast majority of churches – which have pastors – are not obeying God, somehow “doing church” in a manner which displeases God?

When 1 Sam, in Chapter 8, said the Israelites were asking for a king they did so to be “like the other nations”. “The other nations” refer to the likes of the Philistines – ie non-believers, so ICC seeking a pastor is again very unlike the Israelites’ request. One may say ICC seeks to revert to type and seek a model that a vast majority of churches adopt but that in no way can be said to be ICC wanting to be “like the other nations”. The Israelites were wanting to be like other ungodly peoples; ICC is wanting to be closer to God, not like other ungodly people.

I am confident that we are not displeasing God by seeking to have a pastor. It is in no way akin to the Israelites seeking a king in the manner of 1 Sam 8. As always, we need to be clear in our minds when we seek to draw lessons from the Bible. The better approach is to seek the bible as a starting point and not arrive at a position first and then seek biblical support for our position.