For me one of the most memorable phrases in the Old Testament is when the Israelite leaders and people go to Samuel, their elderly judge and prophet, and demand: “We want a king”. Samuel was upset because he saw it as them rejecting him and his family, and indeed the Bible text tells us that his sons were unworthy of the position Samuel was grooming for, and that the people knew it (cf 1 Samuel 8:4,5)
However, when Samuel goes to complain to God, the answer he gets could almost be paraphrased as “Now you know how I feel”. God tells Samuel that the rejection he is feeling is ultimately a rejection of God Himself. The Jews are once again claiming independence from God’s authority and are agitating to follow someone/something else.
The replacement of God’s ultimate authority with something or someone else is effectively idolatry. It has been happening continually throughout human history. Whatever we put greatest stock in, the thing we invest most energy in, that which we give the highest priority, is what we ultimately worship. The Bible is very clear that God alone is to be worshipped. There is no other that deserves such adoration (cf Deuteronomy 10:21). The Israelites craved a king because they desired to follow anything/anyone but God.
That is part of the problem with their attitude. It was so ingrained and stubbornly held to that even when Samuel, at God’s command, warned them that the king would lord it over them and take their children, their servants, their produce and their land from them, they were still unwilling to change from the course their hearts were set on.
1 Samuel gives a further motive to their request: They wanted to be like the other nations around them (cf 1 Samuel 8:20). They had been warned against becoming like these nations, and also against enviously looking at what others have. In fact the very last of the 10 commandments specifically warns against this (cf Exodus 20:17).
It is easy to think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. It is tempting to be jealous of those whose ‘gods’ allow them to live as they please, but we must resist this. Only our Lord saves us from sin, and will deliver us safely into His everlasting presence.