From Israel's perspective, what were the advantages of being a monarchy "just like other nations" (1 Samuel 8:5)? What negative effects during the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon did Israel experience by being a monarchy?
Some students of the Bible may be quick to judge Israel for her desire to conform to the nations around them by asking for a king, and perhaps their negative judgment is at least partially deserved. In Israel's favor, however, is that the prophet Samuel's sons did not walk in the ways of their father and his God. First Samuel chapter 8 tells us they
turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice (v.3b).
"Then," the following verse begins, "all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel . . . and they said to him, 'Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations" (vv.4-5).
As good a prophet and judge as Samuel was, his fathering skills may have been lacking. The Scriptures do not tell us one way or the other. From the elders' perspective, perhaps they were justified, in a sense, in asking for a king to rule over them. On the other hand, during Samuel's day there was a school of prophets which provided a pool from which God could select a suitable candidate to replace Samuel when he died (see 10:5 and 10). The elders, however, were evidently not willing to wait.
To Samuel's credit, the first thing he did after hearing the request of the elders was to pray to the LORD for guidance (v.6). God then said to Samuel,
Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them (v.7; cf.10:17-19).
Furthermore, in obedience to God, Samuel laid out for the people exactly what they could expect from a king, and it wasn't all good (which is an understatement!). The phrase Samuel iterated again and again in the hearing of the people was, "He [the king] will take . . . he will take . . . he will also take . . ." and so on (vv.10-18).
In other words, an earthly king asks a great deal of the subjects of his kingdom, since he needs to raise an army from the pool of eligible young men, hire (or impress into service) staff to serve him and his family, confiscate the best fields to provide for the needs of his family and staff, and the list goes on and on.
Did Israel heed Samuel's advice? No. Instead they said,
No, but there shall be a king over us that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles (vv.19b-20).
After talking things over again with the LORD, the LORD said to Samuel,
"Listen to their voice and appoint them a king." So Samuel said to the men of Israel, "Go every man to his city."
An unspecified time later, the prophet Samuel
took the flask of oil, poured it on [Saul's] head, kissed him and said, "has not the LORD anointed you a ruler over His inheritance?" (10:1).
The rest of the story, as they say, is history. Saul started out his reign well enough. God gave him the gift of prophecy, at least initially (10:9-12). As Constable observed, God also gave Israel in the person of Saul,
a man with great personal strengths: wisdom, humility, sensitivity, physical attractiveness, and wealth. His gift of Saul was a good gift, as are all God’s gifts to His people (Luke 11:9-13). God did not give Israel a time bomb just waiting to explode. Saul failed because of the choices he made, not because he lacked the qualities necessary to succeed.
Constable also quoted G. Coleman Luck, author of “The First Glimpse of the First King of Israel,” (Bibliotheca Sacra 123:489 (January-March 1966):51):
It remains very clear that God did not choose this king for Himself, but rather for the people. In other words, though God actually appointed Saul, Saul did not in the final analysis represent God’s choice, but the people’s choice.”
The old saw about being careful what you ask for is apropos. Israel (not to mention Samuel) would live to rue the day she asked for a king. King Saul, unlike his successor King David, was not a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22), and though Saul did manage at times to lead Israel in victory against their oppressors, he wound up disobeying God, consulting a medium for guidance, and falling on his own sword in battle.
In conclusion, there were no advantages for Israel to have a king. The advantages were purely imaginary, and at the heart of their vain imaginings was a spiritual stupor which caused them to forget that God and God alone delivered Israel from the hand of the Egyptians and from the power of all the kingdoms that were oppressing them. Evidently, optimistic and confident-in-their-God visionaries like Joshua and Caleb were not to be found in Israel during this dark period in the history of Israel.