The Israelites had been led by a series of judges and prophets for generations, but as they turned their gaze toward the nations surrounding them, they noticed that the nations were all led by kings. So they wanted this too—to be led by a king—and that was where they made their tragic mistake. The problem was not necessarily in wanting a king—God had said they would have kings (Gen. 17:6,16; 35:11; 49:10; Num. 24:7,17-19)—but in taking their eyes off of God and placing them on the nations around them.
The root reason why their demand for a king displeased God was because the people chose the pagan nations around them as a template for their lives rather than God and His word. They rejected their call to be a holy nation serving a holy God and instead sought to blend into their surroundings. God did not call His people to be cultural chameleons but countercultural lions who followed His lead and timing and looked forward to “the Lion of the tribe of Judah”—Jesus Christ (Rev. 5:5; see Gen. 49:8-12), and He has called us to be the same.
In what ways might you be tempted to blend in instead of stand out for your faith in God?