The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; from heaven He will thunder against them. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. “He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.” (1 Samuel 2:10)

What the prophet Samuel learned as he anointed David the next king—that God appraises the inner man over the outward appearance—we see in contrast with Saul’s self-centeredness. Character always trumps countenance. In David’s son Solomon, we see God’s wisdom and mercy, but we also see the cost of self-indulgence. Integrity always trumps ingenuity. In all the kings that followed—so many more bad ones than good ones—we see God’s faithfulness to fulfill His prophecy. Providence always trumps perniciousness. Nothing could thwart the coming of God’s Messiah. Amazingly, of all these rulers over God’s people, only David’s heart was truly God’s throne.

David was called a man after God’s own heart—not because he was perfect, but because whether he succeeded or failed, he always turned to God. He always came back to a place of worship and humility in his life because he was desperate for what God wants most with us: fellowship. Even though we should learn from David’s mistakes—and they were big ones—we should always strive to follow his example in seeking God in the best and worst of times. Furthermore, David had the heart of a shepherd, developed during his days in the fields watching over his father’s flocks. And Jesus called Himself the good shepherd, the one whose voice His sheep know as He watches over them on His Father’s behalf. David clearly heard and followed his Shepherd’s voice, and his open heart was all too rare among Israel’s leaders.

Given the poor leadership Israel experienced under so many of its kings, it makes sense to ask, “Did God really want Israel to have a king?” After all, when God told Samuel to appoint Israel a king in accordance with their requests, He said, “Heed the voice of the people…for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). It was the same pattern they had followed since they left Egypt, an inevitable pull toward idolatry. In this case, they insisted on putting a man on an earthly throne, a pale imitation of Almighty God ruling from His throne in heaven.

Even when Samuel warned the people what having a king would mean—conscripting their sons for his armies and their daughters to work in his palace, taxing their crops and taking their firstfruits to feed his officers—they still wanted to be like all the other nations and have a king to tell them what to do.

The truth is that God had always planned to set a king over His people—it just wasn’t the king they thought they wanted. Back in Genesis, Jacob’s messianic prophecy included the promise that the “scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes” (Genesis 49:10). Shiloh means “the one to whom it belongs,” a reference to Israel’s true King, the Messiah.

Now, Saul came from the tribe of Benjamin, but the king God wanted for Israel, David, would come from the tribe of Judah—as would Israel’s true King, Jesus Christ. We see that foretold in Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2, where she praised God for defeating His enemies and strengthening His ultimate King—His “anointed,” which in Hebrew is mashiach, or Messiah.

The gospel requires a certain patience—a trust that, however long it takes, God is working out all things for the benefit of His people and for His glory. When we give in to impatience and act out of fear rather than faith, we’re likely to miss what God is doing, just as Israel did in demanding a human king. God would give them what they asked for, but all of Israel’s kings were at best flawed and imperfect shadows of the great King to come. Nevertheless, God confirmed His plans for a Messiah who would be both David’s creator and his descendant.

Skip Heitzig, author of The Bible from 30,000 Feet, is pastor-teacher of Calvary Church, ministering to more than 15,000 people weekly. He holds a DD and PhD from Trinity Southwest University and has a popular multimedia teaching ministry that includes print, audio, and online resources. Skip and his wife, Lenya, reside in New Mexico and have one son and two grandchildren.

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