1 Samuel 8
8:1-3 The Sinful Sons of Samuel
8:1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.
Samuel’s two sons acted as judges also, but they were wicked and did not follow Samuel’s ways. Like Eli’s sons, they were more interested in money and were corrupt. Their corruption caused the Israelites to be dissatisfied with the leadership of judges.
In addition, if you look over in chapter 12, it appears a military confrontation was looming. In that chapter, in verse 12, Samuel speaks of Israel seeing Nahash, the king of the Ammonites, come against them.
8:4-6 Israel Demands a King
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord.
Israel still regarded Samuel as the ultimate judge or leader, and as God’s representative. So, they came to him for relief. They do not want to suffer under the leadership of Samuel’s sons, so they demand a king. Notice also that they asked for a king “like all the nations”. They wanted to be like everyone else.
Moses anticipated this demand and set forth the rules for a king in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. He said:
14 “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.
Some would argue that, since Moses said they could have a king if they asked, it was not wrong for them to ask for a king at this time. But, God clearly treats it as wrong, as we will see in the next passage.
I try not to “moralize” the Old Testament stories. I do not think they are there just for us to tell a story with a moral. I believe the Old Testament tells us the story of God’s work of redemption. Still, here, we see the great temptation of the Believer. We often want to be like everyone else.
This is not what God called Israel to do. They were not to be like everyone else, they were to be different, a nation holy to God. In Exodus 19:5-6, God said:
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
They were to be set apart to God, or holy, and, as priests, his representatives to the world. He made a covenant with them to do this, including the law they would live by, and circumcision as a sign of the covenant. He promised to protect them and provide for them as long as they obeyed the covenant.
God calls us, as Believers, to come out of the world and to be different than the world. Paul constantly refers to Believers as those who were called, as in called out of the world and into the kingdom of God. Peter said, in 1 Peter 1:9 :
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Again, in 1 Peter 2:11-12, he said:
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
In 1 Peter 1:14-16 14, he said:
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Paul also called for holiness in God’s people. In Ephesians 4:1, he said: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called”.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:7, Paul said “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”
Just as God called Israel out of Egypt to be his people, he has called us out of the world to be his people. We are to be holy and pure, both to please Him who is holy and to witness his holiness to the world.
8:7-9 Rejecting God
7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
Israel’s request for a king was a rejection of God as their king. This idea is repeated in 1 Samuel 12:12. They were seldom able to live as God’s people, obeying him, worshipping him and accepting his protection. From the time God brought them out of Egypt, they had rebelled against his direction, forsaken his worship and conformed to the world around them.
We have also seen previously in this book how Israel has reacted to crises. In the first battle with the Philistines, they brought out the ark as a good luck charm to win the battle, but did not call on the Lord. They were defeated. In the second attack, they called on the Lord and repented and the Lord protected them. Now, they are reverting to their old ways seeking something other than the Lord to protect them. This time it is a king.
So, God is going to give them what they ask for. But it is not a blessing, it is a judgment.
Psalm 118:8-9 says 8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 146:3 says 3 Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
8:10-18 Samuel's Warning Against Kings
10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 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 his grace and forbearance, God instructed Samuel to warn Israel of the burdens of living under an earthly king. Samuel warned them, listing all the things a king would take from them and all the privileges he would demand. Over and over he says “he will take”. That is what kings do. In verse 18, he prophesied that they would cry out for relief from the king, but God would not answer.
8:19-22 The Lord Grants Israel's Request
19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”
Israel did not listen to the warning. They demanded a king. Here again you hear them say they want to be like the nations. They want to fit in with the world.
So, God said he would give them a king. My mother used to say “be careful what you ask for; you just might get it.”