What they said seemed wrong to Samuel; they’d said “Give us a king to call the shots for us.”
So the LORD said to Samuel, “Take in what the people are saying and give them what they want - it isn’t you that they’ve rejected, they have rejected me as king over them.
Just like every single thing that they have done, from the moment that I brought them out of Egypt until this very day, they have forsaken me and served other gods - just like they’re now doing to you.
Look, just give them what they want already - just make sure that you warn them exactly what kind of shots the king who rules them is going to call.”
The Bible is just so much more fun in Hebrew. There’s a certain amount of weariness in God’s voice here that doesn’t come across in most translations, proof if proof were needed that God is Jewish.
I may have to justify this, of course, so here’s some translators notes for language geeks: יֵּ֤רַע הַדָּבָר֙ בְּעֵינֵ֣י is obviously “the word was evil to the eyes of”, so most translations go with “displeased” or whatever, but I like “seemed wrong” because it keeps the idea of making a judgement that something is evil. שָׁפַט is a tricky word at the best of times, combining the ideas of “ruler”, “leader” and “judge”, hence “someone who makes decisions.” שְׁמַע֙ בְּק֣וֹל doesn’t just mean to hear, but to hear and obey - hence “take in and do what they want.” כְּכָֽל־הַמַּעֲשִׂ֣ים אֲשֶׁר־עָשׂ֗וּ was great fun - “all of the works which they have worked”, i.e. “every single thing that they have done.” In v9, I’ve taken אַ֗ךְ to go with the preceding clause “do what they want” rather than with the emphatic “to warning warn them”, which combined with the וְעַתָּ֖ה gives a strong sense of “Oh, just give them what they want already.”
God has been patient with this nation that He has grown and built together, even as they have rejected Him and served other gods, and now, the people have shown that they completely do not want what He is offering. He has given them, in the Law, a complete set of cultural distinctives which made sure that they would know that they were not like any other nation, and guess what they want now? They want to be like any other nation.
So God compromises. He bends. He gives in to what they want. He does not give up on His people, He does not abandon them or break the covenant with them. He - wearily and sadly - gives them the freedom that they ask for.
What a weak God, who gives way for others! What a weak God, who does not assert Himself and His power in the face of disobedience! What a weak God, who wearily gives His children what they ask for even if it spoils them - and then just moans about it!
Conquering empires demand strong leadership. They want to serve strength. Our own nations are no exception, and we can be tempted to remould God into the image of a strong, triumphalist leader - or, like the Israelites, abandon Him if He does not provide the strength they require.
Because our culture worships strength, if we are to be countercultural, we especially need to recover the image which the Bible sometimes provides of a weak God, a suffering God, a wounded God - yes, even a powerless, indulgent, moaning God - who binds Himself to others even when they go away from Him, who gives up Himself for others.
We serve, after all, a God who literally makes a martyr of Himself.