Let Them Have Their King: A Short Meditation on this Election Day

When I was in seminary, I had an assignment to memorize a chunk of scripture (15 or so verses) and then deliver it in monologue fashion in front of my class. After an Old Testament class in a previous semester, I was fascinated by 1 Samuel 8. So that’s the passage I chose to memorize. And though it’s a narrative of a turning point in the history of Israel, I think it has implications for this historical election day. 

In the text, Israel had been led by Samuel, who was nearing the end of his life. None of his sons were favored to take his role, so the elders in Israel came to Samuel and asked for a king. It worked for other nations; surely it would work for them. A concerned Samuel takes it up with God.

God responds by telling Samuel to tell the Israelites what would happen if they had a king. The king “will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will also take your daughters for perfumers and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves.”

Samuel shared the message with the people who insisted that there should be a king so they could be like all the other nations and so the king “may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” He listened to the elders and took their message back to God, whose response essentially was, “Well then. Listen to them…and let them have their king.”

I woke up praying this morning that the majority of the people would not insist on having “their king” in this election. And yet, I fear that so many people want something so different in the worst way that they are asking for the person who has gone about being different in the worst possible way. On this election day, if you have not already done so, I encourage you to vote. And as you do, consider the implications of the choices you make when you fill in that ballot. Because sometimes what we think we want is exactly what we do not need.

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