Anyone in here ever find out how true that statement is? I want to share with you a story about some folks who found out just how true that statement is! We know all about Creation. We know about Noah, Abraham and even Moses! From the time we were children, we heard about King David and Solomon’s Temple. But after the Temple is completed, we usually start looking around for Jesus! Because let’s face it, after the Temple is built, Israel’s history gets a bit confusing! It’s just a long list of names! And that common refrain: “Israel did what was evil in the eyes of the LORD.” I mean, who wants to read all of that?
Many of you have been reading through the Bible with us this year. Be honest, some of you arrived at the middle of I Kings and just gave up! We know names like Gideon and Deborah and Samson. But what about Omri, Jehoiachin, and Jehoiakim? After Solomon dies, there is still over 1,000 years before Jesus arrives on the scene. The prophets tell us those stories. And II Kings and II Chronicles tell us those stories. But let’s face it: it is not a very uplifting story. So, I don’t blame you for not wanting to read it.
But here is what I want you to hear: Right before that 1,000 year dead period, there was a moment when things went dreadfully wrong for Israel. Yes, they had always sinned. They had always made mistakes. They were human, just like we are! But there was a moment when the wheels to the wagon that had been slowly moving along—they just fell off! And it was just at the time when Israel finally received what it had always wanted!
So all the Israelite elders got together and went to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Listen. You are old now, and your sons don’t follow in your footsteps. So appoint us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” It seemed very bad to Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” so he prayed to the Lord. (I Samuel 8:4–6 CEB)Israel asked God for a king. Now, first, let’s not be too harsh on Israel. I mean, after all, who could blame them? Things were not going well for them and to some extent, that could be Samuel’s fault. Samuel was old, and he was about to die. His plan was not to initiate a preacher search! He simply appointed his sons as the next leaders of Israel. Israel had never had hereditary judges, in fact, Gideon rejected that idea outright. But that was Samuel’s plan. But there was a hitch in his plan: His sons were crooked! The people knew their leadership would be a disaster and they were probably right! So, all of the elders came to Samuel and they demanded a different plan. Now, I don’t believe there was anything wrong with that request, I really don’t. In fact, perhaps we should applaud their rejection of corruption. They didn’t want to be led by corrupt leaders! So, where did they go wrong?
We know they went wrong somewhere, because this episode in Israel’s history is referred to again and again as the time when things fell apart. So, if their request for different leaders was not all that bad, where did things go wrong? The answer comes to us in the verses we just read and in the one right after it. Israel’s elders said to Samuel: “Appoint us a king to judge us LIKE ALL THE OTHER NATIONS HAVE.” And then, look at the very next verse (verse 7):
The Lord answered Samuel, “Comply with the people’s request—everything they ask of you—because they haven’t rejected you. No, they’ve rejected Me as king over them. (I Samuel 8:7 CEB)What was the problem? Their problem was their desire to be like everyone else, a desire that eventually pulled them away from God. Sometimes we do the wrong things for the right reasons. Israel may have been justified in looking beyond Samuel’s sons for their next leader. But their decision to ask for a king was a complete rejection of the God who had always been their king.
You know I think Israel probably wanted what all of us want in our leaders. They wanted someone who could protect them. They wanted someone who could provide stability. They wanted a leader that would make their nation strong! The problem was: Instead of realizing that God had always provided for those needs, they looked for that protection and safety and security and power from an earthly king, a human institution that is flawed and potentially corrupt, all because . . . everyone else is doing it! We have a tendency to do that don’t we.
We accuse children or teenagers of being the only ones susceptible to peer pressure, but teens, you are not alone! Sports fans around the world can rely on one fact about their sport: the home team wins more often than the visiting team. A 2011 Sports Illustrated article concludes:
Home field advantage is no myth. Indisputably, it exists. . . . Across all sports and at all levels, from Japanese baseball to Brazilian soccer to the NFL, the team hosting a game wins more often than not.But what explains this fact? The real answer might surprise you! For instance, according to this study, thousands of cheering or jeering fans do not change a team's performance. On a number of statistics, pitch velocity in baseball, or free throw percentage in basketball, home field advantage didn't make a difference! Their research also eliminated other likely theories; like the rigors of travel for the visiting team, or even the home team's familiarity with their field, rink, or court. So what drives home field advantage? Anyone know? According to the authors of the article, "Officials' bias is the most significant contribution to home field advantage." In short, the refs don't like to get booed. So when the game gets close, they call fewer fouls or penalties against the home team. Or they call more strikes against visiting batters. Larger and louder crowds really do influence the game, but not the players, the officials! The refs naturally, and often unconsciously, respond to the pressure from the crowd. So, as football season kicks off, remember that!
But this is true about all humans, not just officials, it makes us feel good to be like everyone else. And we hate to be different. Even when being different is right. You know, there is something else true about us humans, and it is kind of related to our insatiable desire to be like everyone else. We want what other people have.
In his book Brandwashed, Martin Lindstrom tells us about a fascinating experiment. Researchers asked several hundred volunteers to take their seats in a room, purportedly to fill out a survey. But that was only a distraction from the real purpose of the experiment. A large glass jar of cookies stood prominently on a nearby desk. "Would you like a cookie?" one of the researchers asked the survey takers. Approximately one-fifth of the volunteers took him up on his offer. In the second stage of the experiment, the research team secretly removed most of the cookies from the jar. So, it looked as though others had already taken one. Still, only about one fifth of respondents reached for a cookie.
In the final stage of the experiment, however, a researcher sat behind a desk beside a large glass cookie jar. But this time, before the researcher could ask volunteers if they wanted a cookie or not, a stranger ambled into the room, removed the glass lid, and took a cookie in front of everyone in the room and walked out again. This time, when the survey takers were asked if anyone wanted a cookie, nearly every single person took one. This experiment suggests something that advertisers and marketers have long been instinctively aware of: humans want what other humans want. In the cookie jar experiment, people didn't want more cookies when they thought that others might have taken a cookie, but when they actually saw another person take a cookie, they had to have one! Maybe that is why Israel said to Samuel: “Give us a king!”
Brothers and sisters, can you think of ways we might follow in their footsteps? I can think of a few. In the coming weeks, two candidates are going to try and persuade us that they will provide us everything we need. They will protect us, they will give us stability, they will make us a strong nation. And many folks in our world will get swept up in that kind of rhetoric. And because we are human, because we don’t want to be different, because we want what other people have, it’s tempting, especially around election time, to fall in with the rhetoric, isn’t it? It’s tempting to believe that one candidate will solve all of the world’s problems. And if that other candidate is elected the whole world might just implode.
This second half of the Old Testament, the part so many of us skip over, it teaches us some valuable lessons. One of them is this: No matter what politicians might say, no matter how much we might believe them, God is still the sovereign leader of this world. And only God is going to provide the things this world really needs. Only God is going to bring lasting peace. Only God is going to bring real security. And only God is going to fill the voids in your life. I pray we remember that in the comings weeks.
Do you remember that game show, Family Feud? Contestants are asked to guess how 100 people responded to various survey questions. On a 2012 episode, a contestant had to provide the top answers to the following survey question: "When someone mentions 'the King,' to whom might he or she be referring?"
Here were the four top answers:
- 81 people said "Elvis Presley"
- 7 people said "God or Jesus"
- 3 people said "Martin Luther King, Jr."
- 2 people said "The Burger King"