“Beware What You Ask For”Dr. Marion D. Aldridge I Samuel 8: 4-22. Year B: Third Sunday after Pentecost
“So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, ‘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.’
But when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: ‘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. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.’
Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, ‘This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: he will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.
Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plough his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.’
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us. Then we shall be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.’
When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, ‘Listen to them and give them a king.’”
Don’t you suppose that most prayers of ordinary humans are instructions to God? We tell the Almighty what we want and ask God to give us something to promote our own well-being.
I want to get out of this foxhole alive.
I want to come through this operation safely.
I want my political candidate to win.
I want a new luxury recreational vehicle.
You don’t have to be a Christian to know the phrase, “Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.”
The high school cheerleader who wanted to date and marry the football captain—who, it turns out, gets drunk every weekend for the next twenty years.
The woman who prays she will get a certain job—no other job will do—until she gets that job and it turns out to be a disaster, a mistake from the first day.
In a movie titled Bedazzled, a man wishes he was rich and that he had a beautiful wife. He wakes up and he is rich and he is married to a beautiful wife. The trouble is he’s rich because he’s head of a Latin American drug trafficking gang and everyone is trying to kill him. And, his beautiful wife hates him.
A Yiddish curse says, “May you get what you wish for.”
The Israelites want a king. Until about 1000 years before Christ, we are told that God has ruled the Jewish people through a series of prophets and judges. They were as varied as Moses who led them out of Egypt to the impressive female judge named Deborah who judged Israel for forty years. Other judges with familiar names to most of us include Gideon and Samson.
These leaders didn’t pass the power from parent to child. They were not selected democratically. They were situational or charismatic leaders. Think in terms of Native American tribes and chieftains rather than the Queens and Kings of Europe. A problem would arise and a leader would also rise up to lead the Israelites to resolve the crisis.
The rank and file thought this system of God’s was a bit too hit-and-miss. Samuel had been a good judge. Chapter 8, verses 1-3, tell us Samuel tried to pass off his leadership to his sons. But his sons were a mess.
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
It was time, in ancient Israel, for a new leader. The people didn’t want a spiritual leader. They wanted a military general, someone who would lead them in war, who would make them secure.
It is a theme of scripture that, ultimately, we cannot be made secure by military might. Zechariah 4: 6 is typical of such Bible passages: “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord Almighty. Our attempts to control our environment are not limited to matters of national security. Many people try to run their households by bluster and bullying, by manipulation and control: “My way or the highway. This is my house and these are my rules.”
This is a delicate balance for Christians to walk. We are called to be stewards and managers of some things. My reading of the Bible tells me that we are to be discerning, that we are to live our lives in an orderly fashion (1 Corinthians 14: 40)
Bible texts, especially this passage from the Hebrew Scriptures, also remind me that I am not God, and that no other person is God. After we have done what we know to do prayerfully and reasonably, we can let go of our need to control the outcome.
I saw a cartoon years ago in which a parent had punished a child by making him sit in the corner. The thought bubble over the child’s head read, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.” How many parents have won the battle and lost the war?
There are many prayers that are surely better than the “I want, I want, I want…” petitions of childhood. The best one is the Lord’s Prayer taught by Jesus, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven.” It’s the same prayer Jesus prayed on the evening before his crucifixion, “Not by will, but Thine be done.”
It’s a similar prayer to the one we know as the Serenity Prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Our hymns declare this desire, “Have Thine Own Way, Lord…Thou Are the Potter, I am the Clay.”
Add to those prayers and hymns the dozens of proverbs from religious and secular saints around the world that say something like this: “Happy people are not those who get what they want; but are those who can be content with what they get.” You would think that with this drumbeat sounded in every culture in every generation, sooner or later we would get the point. But the Israelites didn’t get the message and wanted what they wanted. No exceptions. Most Americans haven’t gotten the message either. We want what we want.
How much our political systems look like a lot of families: two people trying to be in control and neither are!
There’s a huge difference in, on the one hand, seeking wisdom, the attempt to be discerning, and, on the other hand, trying to be control. I have a cousin who jokes, “I’m not bossy. I just know what you should be doing.”
For the Israelites, having God on the team, guiding, instructing, and leading wasn’t good enough. They wanted a king.
There are a lot of reasons for being careful about what you wish for.
Adam and Eve thought that forbidden fruit looked really really really good.
Samuel tells the Israelites to consider unintended consequences. They are real. If they select a king, the monarch will want tribute paid, in other words, taxes. He’s going to want the best bottomland for his own farms, and he will need citizens to work on those farms. He will appropriate the finest wine and the fattest beef for himself. The king will want the sons of other Jewish parents to form an army and their daughters to provide many services no one has even thought of yet.
Unintended consequences. Whatever it is you think you want, and are so desperate to get, you’d better believe that those desires, when fulfilled, come with a cost.
Have you ever thought about backlash? You may accomplish, for a while, what you intend, but then there will be a backlash. Someone has a different idea, and brings more money and more power and more resolve to get an outcome utterly different than what you had hoped for.
Whatever you think you need, maybe you do and maybe you don’t. If there is any lesson in this Bible passage today, and there is, it is that you don’t need to hold onto your own opinions and your own effort to control so tightly. Let it go. Maybe God has a better idea.
There are seven and a half billion people on the planet. When you are a young single person and you tell God you will be happy only with this one person, your romantic ideal, you have dramatically eliminated several billion other options.
Jobs. When you tell God you will be happy only with one career, one certain employer, then you have eliminated countless other options.
I have a friend, Dave, who says that he’s figured out that what he controls is whether to have soup or salad for lunch, and he’s not always in charge of that.
Dave gets it.
The Israelites wanted a king. The people of Israel told Samuel they wanted a king, just like the neighboring nations or tribes. God uses even our mistakes. In fact, God, in this instance, told Samuel to listen to the people.
Insisting on a particular path, inflexible, forcing your will, is seldom the best idea or the most fruitful path. Instead, try this: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”
Otherwise, be careful what you wish for.
About the Writer; Dr. Marion D. Aldridge was born in Savannah, GA and raised in North Augusta, SC. He is a graduate of Clemson University with a Bachelor of Arts degree and received Master and Doctoral degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He was recently awarded the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest civilian honor.
Marion has written several books, the most recent Overcoming Adolescence, a book for grown-ups who have not yet grown up. (http://www.helwys.com/sh-books/overcoming-adolescence/ )
He has also written hundreds of articles for South Carolina Wildlife magazine, Tennis Magazine, Sandlapper and others. He is married to Sally and has two adult daughters, Jenna and Julie. Marion especially enjoys fishing and baseball games with his grandson, Lake.
Scripture and Music:
1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15)
2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1
Day by Day
For the Beauty of the Earth
Take My Life, and Let It Be
When in Our Music God Is Glorified