When I was growing up I always thought that Israel’s desire for a king was a bad thing. Obviously, it would have been better for Israel to solely trust in God as their king instead of wanting to be like the nations around them. However, when I was in seminary, one of my classes helped me see the situation from a different perspective.
That perspective came from the book of Judges when the Israelites were living without a king. They would abandon God for decades at a time, only coming back when their situation had gotten desperate enough. Throughout the book of Judges, its author seems to lament the fact that Israel doesn’t have a king. The author writes, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”
This statement feels a lot like a lament, as it usually follows a particularly disturbing story about the nation of Israel. Because the Israelites had no king, because they lived without any authority, they all simply did what they saw fit. And what they saw fit to do included idolatry, sexual assault and murder. Not an ideal situation.
So even though the Israelites should have chosen God as their king, it’s not like they were doing very well without a king. Having a king didn’t always lead to spiritual revival in Israel, but at least we have examples of godly kings like David, Josiah and Hezekiah. Without a king, without any sort of authority, the Israelites were just doing whatever seemed right to them. And when left to our own devices, because we’re broken, sinful people, we pretty much always screw things up.
That’s one of the reasons why I’m so happy to have Jesus in my life; he is my authority and he gives my life direction. Not only does he give my life direction, but he gives my life the best direction. I am free to choose however I want to live; I could pursue money, sex, possessions or power. If those pursuits were my authority, then my life would look extremely different. I’d be like the Israelites who were just doing whatever they thought was best or the most fun or felt good.
With Jesus, though, I’m not subject to all the fleeting whims and desires in my life. I can wake up every day knowing the best way to live. Jesus is my king and he is my authority; those realities remove a lot of the guesswork from life and enable me to live the best life possible.
Obviously, I don’t always live my life as a loyal subject of King Jesus. I often go my own way and do as I see fit. However, having an authority in my life means I always know when I’m straying from that authority. Even in my wanderings, God is always there, graciously reminding me to come back to him.