“Give us a king to lead us!” And they got Trump.
We must remember that the ancient nation of Israel cannot be seen as comparable to today’s United States (as those who mistakenly believe God created America as a Christian nation and thus we should “return” to God’s intention of a theistic government). The best application of Old Testament Israel is to the New Testament people of God, Christians in every nation, seeking to follow and honor the one true King, Jesus Christ.
Back around 1050 BC, in the days of the prophet Samuel, Israel was extremely unique as a nation. They were ruled directly by YHWH, the one true God. He would appoint prophets and judges to carry out some tasks of leadership, but YHWH was their king. Samuel was the great prophet who helped the people know the will of God their king. But he was getting old, and Israel certainly couldn’t depend on his sons who were, um, to put it mildly, jerks (1 Samuel 8:5).
The people were afraid for their future without Samuel’s leadership. What were the people of God afraid of?
They were afraid of the threats that they perceived all around them. The people said to Samuel, “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20). Their fear drove them to wanting what human beings often want in times of huge uncertainty:
An authoritarian leader that will fight their battles for them. Like all the other nations.
Even though they are YHWH’s chosen nation, they’re frightened. Even though this is the rescuer who “brought them up out of Egypt” (v. 8), they’re frightened. Even though God warns them that a king would take things away from them because he will claim them as his rights (vv. 10-18), they are so frightened it doesn’t matter. They want a king to rule over them.