Samuel was the last judge. 1 Samuel 8 And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel. 2 Now the name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judging in Beersheba. 3 His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice. The people demanded a king “to be like the other nations”. You can understand their condemnation of Samuel’s sons, but God told Samuel that they were rejecting Him (God) as their king. The nation of Israel was a theocracy with God as its king from the very beginning. There was no earthly king or else God would have anointed one. Why do you think they would want a king? The bottom line is that they were continually disobeying God. God would send an enemy to punish them (that was the cycle over and over in the book of Judges). God would raise up a judge to deliver them, but they would just worship the gods of the Canaanites and repeat the cycle. So they are trying to come up with the best plan to defend themselves against enemies instead of just repenting and obeying God, their king. Other nations had kings who formed great armies, so Israel decided that they wanted a king to be like the other nations. Why did God give them a king if He was opposed to the idea? I am speculating here.
1) I think God felt that the best way to control this disobedient nation in the future would be with a king. The period of the judges was anarchy. In the appendix (Judges 17-21), it makes the comment: 6 In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6). God started the nation in order to bring the Messiah through that nation, but if the anarchy seen in the Judges period continued, there would be no nation to bring the Messiah through. A king would often be a bad thing. God told Samuel to warn the people that a king would be such a burden on them that they would regret wanting a king. A king would take their sons for his army, their daughters for servants, take their lands, and take a tenth of their produce. Solomon did all these things and 10 of the tribes rejected him a king, although they continued having kings in their newly formed northern kingdom of Israel. 2 tribes, Judah and Benjamin, formed the southern kingdom of Judah. Judah would have 19 kings, most of them bad just like Samuel predicted. But several of them were good and did things that brought the nation of Judah back into obedience to God’s laws. For example, Hezekiah had the people celebrate the Passover in a way they had not done in a long time. Josiah finds the book of the Law while restroing the temple, and has the people read it throughout the land. Asa gets the people to make a covenant to obey God or die. The bad kings, like Manasseh, will bring the nation down into terrible sin. He himself offered his sons to the foreign gods and practiced witchcraft over his 55 year reign. But in spite of the bad kings, what would have happened if there were no kings at all, if the anarchy of the judges period continued. The kings would have armies as Samuel predicted, and God would even use those armies to defeat their enemies. God made Uzziah the king of Judah very strong militarily. He gave Asa’s army a victory over a million Ethiopians. Again, I am speculating, but I think God knew that the best way to keep the nation together until the Messiah would come would be to let them have their kings. If they would have obeyed God as their King, that would not have been necessary, but He knew they would always be rebellious.
2) God would use this earthly king as a type of His Messianic King Jesus in the distant future. After all, did Jacob not predict that the rightful kings would come through the tribe of Judah? Genesis 49 10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
[k]Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. A scepter imply a king. Shiloh is most likely Jesus. All the kings from Judah would be preludes to God’s king Jesus that He would set over His eternal spiritual church kingdom. The kings of the northern kingdom did not come from Judah (neither did the first king Saul. The kings of Judah did come from Judah (as did David and Solomon). Judah would have kings until the captivity in Babylon (586 BC). There would be about 600 years with no king in Judah. Then Jesus would come to fulfill Genesis 49:10. Daniel 7 had predicted that God would make Jesus an eternal king over his eternal spiritual church kingdom: 14 “And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and [k]a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every[l]language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed. This would be God’s eternal kingdom as predicted in Daniel 2:44 44 In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be [av]left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. It was that kingdom that both Jesus and John the Baptist predicted, “The kingdom is at hand” during the Roman Empire (the legs of iron on the statue that Nebuchadnezzar saw in a vision). It was that kingdom that Jesus predicted would be established in the lifetime of those listening to his voice. Mark 9:1 And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” Most of the Jews expected an earthly kingdom and a king that would defeat their enemies and restore the kingdom to the power it had under David. But God wanted a spiritual kingdom. He told Pilate in John 18: 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom [k]is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not [l]of this realm.” 37 Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. Jesus would give the apostle Peter the “keys to the kingdom” in Matthew 16 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Peter would use those keys to open the door to entrance into that spiritual kingdom, the church, by preaching the gospel and telling them how to be saved and added to that church kingdom. Paul said in Colossians 1 13 [t]For He rescued us from the [u]domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of [v]His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus gives an insightful parable in Luke 19:11-27. Some thought the kingdom would be established (even though they misunderstood the nature of it) “immediately”. Jesus had predicted that it was “at hand” and would be established before some of them died, but it would not be established fully the day he died or even in Acts 2 when Peter opened the door to enter the kingdom. In that parable in Luke, Jesus said that nobleman would go off to a far country to “receive a kingdom for himself, and then return to reign in that kingdom. That fits what Daniel 7 predicted to a tee. The Son of Man would go to the Ancient of Days to receive an eternal kingdom, and then return to reign in that kingdom. There was a transition period between the choosing of the king and his coronation. There was a transition period between the old kingdom and the final government of the new kingdom. That transition period would be from the beginning of the church in Acts 2 to the return of Jesus in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The book of Revelation predicts that destruction of Jerusalem (and the temple) in 70 AD, and says in Revelation 15:11 “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His [j]Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” Again, this fulfills Daniel 7 to a tee. It fulfills Genesis 49:10 also. So, God gave the nation a king as a prelude to his eternal king that he would send in Jesus over a thousand years later. I think he also wanted them to see the contrast between all their evil kings and His eternal righteous king Jesus. He wanted them to see that an earthly kingdom depending on earthly power was not the best way to go. Jesus said in Matthew 11 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven [n]suffers violence, and violent men [o]take it by force. Instead, a spiritual kingdom made up of only humble believers (not power seeking citizens) with Jesus as their king. A kingdom where the citizens would “turn their swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2).
Aside from my speculation, I hope that my points are valid. I don’t pretend to know the mind of God or why He does what He does. Maybe Paul said it best in Romans 11:33 Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! But we have the advantage of looking back at the finished plan of redemption, the finished mystery. Revelation 10 7 but in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then the mystery of God is finished, as He [b]preached to His servants the prophets. We are not inspired like the apostle Paul, but we have his insight into the mystery (Ephesians 3 4 [a]By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight [b]into the mystery of Christ) plus the fulfilled predictions of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. We get the best of both worlds, as they say.