“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted.” Judges 21:25.
In the period of time after the Israelites entered and settled the Promised Land, they were governed by people called Judges. The Judge was not a king, rather he or she was selected by God to lead the people, in just the same way Moses and Joshua had done. In times of peace, the Judge would ensure that the people remained loyal to God and keeping His Law, and were not out worshiping false gods. In times of war, the Judge would unite all the tribes of Israel into one fighting force.
But this was a lot of work for one person to do. At this time, Israel was not a unified kingdom; it was a loose confederation of twelve tribes, each one being independent of the other–in much the same way the thirteen American states were following the American Revolution. Though the tribes were connected and related to one another, they were each sovereign. Instead of being one kingdom, it was more like twelve independent kingdoms. One can imagine how difficult it must have been for the Judges to try to enforce God’s Law throughout the twelve tribes.
Then why didn’t Israel have a king? Because God was supposed to be their King. It was God who had freed them from slavery in Egypt. It was God who had chosen them to be His people. It was God who sustained them in the desert. It was God who the people were supposed to seek and serve. He had made a covenant with Israel: He would be their God and they would be His people. They needed no earthly ruler, they needed only God. This does not mean that God wouldn’t raise up a righteous leader, like Deborah, Gideon, or Samuel, because He did. But these leaders were humble servants of the Lord; they were merely His agents on Earth. They were anything but kings. That is the key to remember.
But as the twelve tribes grew and interacted with other people, the people of Israel quickly turned away from God. They no longer heeded the teachings of the Judges and they no longer cared about serving God. The tribes continued to grow and became more estranged from one another, even to the point of going to war amongst themselves. The lessons of the Exodus had been disregarded, the Law of God ignored. The only thing the people cared about was satisfying their sinful desires. The people did whatever they wanted to, whether it was right or wrong, good or bad. Though there was a small number of people who remained loyal to God, they were in the minority. The Judges were outdated and impractical. Though God would eventually allow Israel to have a king, this did not prohibit Israel from wandering away from God in the future. For every good king Israel had, like David and Hezekiah, there were many, many more wicked kings who did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and they took His people further away from Him.
The world we live in today is not terribly different from the way Israel was in the time of the Judges. The majority of people do not care about being God’s servants or seeking to do His will. There are many who are audacious enough to claim that they seek God, but their behavior speaks to the contrary. Despite all the advances in technology and other aspects of life, humanity is still the same. Mankind is still sinful and its only concern is the satisfaction of that sinful nature. Society still pushes us to seek after our own wants, needs, and desires. The world wants us to think that the religious institutions of our day–churches, ministers, pastors, and the like– are just as outdated and irrelevant as the Judges were in their day. But the world is wrong. God is still in control and He is still with His people. Though we may be in the minority, there are still many people with us who have remained loyal and faithful to God. We must continue to place our faith and trust in Him, regardless of what is going on in the world around us. We don’t need another king, we need God. Our hope is in Him. We must remain faithful to Him. Do not seek to do whatever you want, seek to do what God wants. God will continue to raise up righteous men and women out of every generation to lead His people–are you ready to serve if called upon?