God gave his perfect system of government to Moses (voluntary judges applying his law). Allowing Israel to have a king was a serious compromise, because having a king proved disastrous for Israel.
This should not have been a surprise, as the king idea was copied from the evil nations that surrounded Israel. Good cannot spring from evil. Samuel warned that kingship would be a disaster, would rob their wealth, divide their families and steal their freedom.
The problem is that political power corrupts even a good heart. Saul was a good humble man, but political power wrecked his life.
David had a beautiful heart as a youth. He loved God and worshiped him with a humble and contrite spirit.
Yet David turned out be a terrible king. He copied the nations around him and went to war each spring. That was never God’s plan.
David committed adultery with the wife of a loyal friend. That was bad, but he had her husband murdered by a devious use of state power.
He had broken four of the Ten Commandments.
- You shall not kill
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You should not covet your neighbour's wife.
- You should not bear false witness.
David appointed a taskmaster to seize the surplus wealth from his subjects . He appointed another to run forced labour gangs (2 Sam 20 24). There was no justification for this harshness in the law (where all government isvoluntary). Slavery was used to build the temple. What a contrast with the tabernacle which was built gladly with voluntary labour.
At the end of his reign, David made another mistake and took a census of the people. God gave him a choice of consequence. He chose a punishment that would hurt the people, but leave him untouched. This was an ugly thing to do. Only when thousands of people had died in the plague, did he change his mind and chose a different option, but it was too late.
David was by far the best king that Israel ever had. Yet he committed all the evils that modern despots are condemned for.
David was a skilled fighter and very successful in war. He would have a great temporary military leader. If he had gone back to being a sheep breeder and poet after defending Israel, he would have been a great man.
All the other kings of Israel were worse than David.
Solomon committed adultery and idolatry. He used forced labour and slavery. Many other kings followed idols. Most were violent and fostered injustice.
Israel was not kept safe, (the reason they wanted a king) but were continuously invaded and impoverished by foreign armies. The kings’ mistakes eventually led the nation into exile.
For the people of Israel, the kingship was a massive mistake. This was not surprising. Attacks by their enemies were the natural consequence of forgetting God. They thought that a king could protect them, but that would be impossible, while their forgetfulness continued.
For modern people, placing their hope in a political leader is the same mistake.