In 1 Samuel 8:5 the Israelites ask Samuel to appoint a king, saying, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” Was this wrong? The following verses make clear that it was. Samuel was displeased and prayed to the Lord concerning the matter. God answered, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you” (1 Samuel 8:7–8). God said the Israelites’ request was a rejection of Him, that they had forsaken Him and were serving other gods.
Later, Samuel gave a farewell speech that would also address this issue, saying, “I will call on the Lord to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the Lord when you asked for a king” (1 Samuel 12:17). In verse 19 the people responded, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”
Interestingly, God had already predicted that the Israelites would one day ask for a king. In Deuteronomy 17:14–15, for example, God said, “When 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,’ be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses.”
Other passages also predicted that the Israelites would one day ask for a king. For example, God promised Jacob, “A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants” (Genesis 35:11). Similar references to future kings can be found in Genesis 36:31; 49:10; Numbers 24:7–9; and Deuteronomy 28:36.
Why was asking for a king wrong? The Lord was to be the ruler of Israel. God led the people through Moses and Aaron, and then through priests and judges raised up to govern the people. In Samuel’s time, the people began to worry about who the next leader would be, since Samuel’s sons did not follow the Lord. Their request for a king was a rejection of God’s way of leadership over them.
Another reason it was wrong to ask for a king is that the Israelites did so in order to be like “all the other nations.” God had created Israel as a unique people. He was their leader. When the Israelites wanted a king like other nations had, they were rejecting their unique, set-apart position as God’s people. The nation whose God was to be the Lord alone was envious of the nations who followed false gods.