In 1 Samuel 8:4-18, the people of Israel clamor for a king. The prophet Samuel reminds them that God is their king. But this isn’t good enough for the people. They want a human king so they can be like the other nations.
Here we meet the most perverse and rotten core of human ego-centricity: the desire to give up our freedom and turn our responsibility over to a Leader. The German word for “leader” is most appropriate here: Fuehrer.
There is in many of us a strong vein of authoritarianism. That is, we value conformity, crave order, want to protect social norms and traditions, and are suspicious of outsiders. When we are convinced to perceive some kind of threat, we are particularly hysterical about this. And authoritarian leaders usually insist there is some kind of threat.
God spits out a warning to the people concerning exactly what they are bringing down on themselves. It is a catalogue of abuse and exploitation that ends with God saying: “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
In other words, God says: “If you in your fear and anger insist on placing over yourselves an authoritarian Fuehrer, you’re on your own. I will not save you. You will have to suffer through to the end. Only then, when you have fully experienced the dregs of destruction you have chosen to bring down on yourselves, will I relate to you again.” After their 12-year infatuation with a strong leader, Germany was reduced to a pile of smoking ruins.
The consequences of “strong leaders” are massive and catastrophic. The Bible knows this. That’s why strong leaders are generally viewed with disgust and aversion. Think of Pharaoh, the prototypical strong leader who drives the Israelites into slavery, and brings ecological disasters down on Egypt. Think of almost all the kings of Israel and Judah, those strong leaders whose self-serving corruption destroyed the people and sent them into exile. Think of the emperors of Assyria and Babylon, who used the terror of gratuitous mass murder for conquest. Think of Antiochus Epiphanies. Think of Pontius Pilate. Even when a strong leader does emerge who receives a generally good grade, they usually have some fatal hubristic flaw for which the people have to pay dearly, like David and Solomon.
God hates strong leaders. Clearly. God gives the people a system that diffuses leadership among landless priests and local elders. Leadership in the church begins and ends with Jesus Christ; politics in the church begins and ends with discerning his will. The New Testament knows nothing of strong leaders, only good and persuasive examples of discipleship.