Judges revealed that Israel’s sin problem was tied to the lack of a king (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). But when the Israelites asked for a king, the request was treated as a rejection of Yahweh (1.8:7; 10:19; 12:12, 17). This is at first difficult to account for given the previous revelation that God intended for Israel to have a king (Gen. 17:6, 16; 35:11; 49:8-12; Num. 24:7, 17; Deut. 17:14-20; also 1.2:10).
Part of the difficulty lay in the Israelites’ motive. The motive behind their request was a desire to be like the other nations. Though, the terminology “like all the nations” is found in the Deuteronomic legislation about the king (Deut. 17:14-20), Deuteronomy 17:14 should probably be interpreted as a prophecy of what Israel would say rather than instruction as to what the people should say (see Merrill, Deuteronomy, 265; Bergin, 1, 2 Samuel, 112f.). The regulations that follow were designed to distinguish the Israelite king from those of the surrounding nations. In other words, Deuteronomy predicts that Israel will want a king to be like the nations and counters with instructions that prohibit that kind of king. Samuel predicts Israel’s kings will disobey the Deuteronomic instructions and will be kings like those of the surrounding nations (1.8:11-18).
Furthermore, Israel wanted a king to defeat their enemies (1.8:20). This may sound innocent enough, but the invasions of Israel came as a result of Israel’s sins. Yahweh their king was able to defeat all their enemies. The book of Judges looked forward to a king that would prevent the Canaanization of Israel; the Israelites in Samuel’s day desired a king in order to be like the other nations. The book of Judges looked forward to a king to solve Israel’s sin problem; the Israelites in Samuel’s day desired a king to evade the consequences of their sin. Truly their request for a king was a rejection of Yahweh as their king (1.8:7; 10:19; 12:12).
In this world of sin, Hannah sang a song that proclaimed the transformation that Yahweh intended (1.2:1-10). She sang of the exaltation of the humble and the humiliation of the mighty. The entire world as it existed would need to be transformed. Hannah realized that Yahweh alone could effect that kind of exaltation and humiliation (1.2:3-10). For this reason, Hannah closed her song with an appeal for Yahweh to “give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed [מָשִׁיחַ]” (1.2:10). Once again God reveals that setting the world right will involve a God-appointed king.
Merrill, Eugene. Deuteronomy. New American Commentary. Edited by E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville, B&H, 1994.
Bergin, Robert D. 1, 2 Samuel. New American Commentary. Edited by E. Ray Clendenen. Nashville, B&H, 1996.