Bible · Culture · Culture & Society · God

The Story of Israel’s Demand for a King

AN EXPOSITION OF

FIRST SAMUEL 8

1030 BC

     1 AND it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.

Probably not less than twenty years had passed during which time Samuel grew old in the service of the Lord as Judge over Israel. The years were full of national blessing and prosperity. The traditional enemies of Israel, the Philistines were subdued. The cities which the Philistines had taken from Israel were restored. There was peace in the land (1 Sam. 7:13-14).

Now, Samuel was old and it was time to appoint successors to guide the nation of Israel. To fulfill this important position, Samuel made his sons judges. There was nothing to prohibit Samuel from making his sons judges in Israel. It is natural that a parent would want to advance the career of a child, or children, and Samuel was an ordinary parent. That this was nepotism did not seem to bother Samuel. Ethics and morality are often excused, or abandoned, when it comes to advancing a person’s friends, or family members. A bad political judgment bore predictable poor results.

     2 Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beersheba.

Beer-Sheba (a well of an oath), refers to a town on the extreme southern frontier of Judah. It was located between the Mediterranean and the S end of the Dead Sea. In Beersheba Abraham and Abimelech, king of Gerar (in Philistia), once made a covenant (Gen. 21:31). Despite being placed in a place that had a rich spiritual legacy, Joel and Abiah, the sons of Samuel, would tarnish the glory of Beer-Sheba.

     3 And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.

No amount of religious rituals, or training can instill the spiritual graces of a parent into the soul of a child. The sons of Samuel were as bad as Samuel was good. Specifically, Joel and Abiah were willing to take brides, and pervert justice. This was a clear violation of the Law of Moses. “Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous” (Deut. 16:19).

Unfortunately, the sons of Samuel did not care for the Law of Moses, nor were they concerned about the reputation of their father. Joel and Abiah were greedy men who had been spoiled by privileges in life. Because of their willingness to take money and to abuse righteous judgments, the people of Israel began to demand of Samuel a king. The year was c. BC 1030.

     4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,

Ramah (height), of Ephraim, was the birthplace, the home, and eventually the burial place of the prophet Samuel. It was in Ramah that Samuel ruled as Judger over Israel. It was in Ramah that he built an altar unto the Lord. No mention is made of the location of the Tabernacle, but it seems unlikely that Samuel, who had been brought up from infancy in the service of the Tabernacle, would leave it behind. Perhaps the Tabernacle, removed from Shiloh, was nearby Ramah. It was in Ramah that the Elders of Israel came to reason with Samuel, and to make a demand.

     5  And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.

Two rational arguments were shared with Samuel about the concerns of the Elders of Israel, leading to an irrational solution. Usually good arguments lead to a rational conclusion, but not this time. The reason can be identified. The Elders of Israel were no longer thinking from a Divine perspective. They were engaged in thinking from a human viewpoint. There is a tremendous difference between a Divine Point of View, and a Human Point of View. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isa. 55:8).

The Elders of Israel looked at the political future of Israel, and they were alarmed. The sons of Samuel were not morally qualified to be Judges over Israel. It was obvious to all they were corrupt men. They were known to take bribes, and to pervert cases that cried out for justice. What was the solution? The Elders of Israel thought the solution was to find a strong leader, trusted by all, who was not part of Samuel’s family. But then, the Elders of Israel went too far, because they proposed that this political personage be recognized as the king of Israel, like other nations. It was this final part of the proposal by the Elders of Israel that displeased Samuel.

     6 But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.

Samuel was not angry when the Elders of Israel pointedly told him that he was old. That was obvious to all. Samuel was not angry when the Elders of Israel boldly told him that his sons were not walking in his holy and just footsteps. There was too much public evidence to deny the facts. What displeased Samuel was when the Elders of Israel said, “Give us a king.”

Because he was a good man, and zealous for the Lord, Samuel was offended on God’s behalf. Samuel knew that the Lord was the ultimate Ruler of the nation of Israel, and that made Israel distinct from all the nations on earth. Egypt had Pharaohs. The Philistines had kings. Israel had God. Now Israel wanted to move from a theocracy to a monarchy.

The Elders of Israel wanted to walk by sight, and not by faith. They wanted to be like other nations on earth,with a visible king they could exalt and honor. By making this choice the Elders of Israel were rejecting God. They would not have admitted that, but that was exactly what they were doing.

Because Samuel did not initially know what to say to the demand by the Elders of Israel, he prayed. When a person is angry, or upset, prayer is a good solution. Talk to God. E. M. Bounds was right when he wrote, “What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use–men of prayer, men mighty in prayer.” It is in prayer that the will of God is made known.

     7 And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.

Perhaps Samuel was astonished when the Lord said to him, “Samuel, listen to the voice of the people in all that they are saying to you.” The Lord, who knows the hearts of every person, provided Samuel a reason to listen to the people. “For they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.”

The heart of Samuel must have ached when that insight came to him by the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. Was it possible? Can a nation reject God Himself? Indeed people can, and do reject God. It does not matter if a people have the Law of God. It does not matter if a people have seen miracles performed. It does not matter if a people have heard the voice of God. Religious people can reject God.

Herein is a strong word of warning. If the nation of Israel can reject God from ruling over them, so can the church. The church is designed to be a Theocracy, whereby God rules His people by His Spirit, through His Word, administered by His servants. But what happens when a local congregation rejects the plain teaching of the Bible, the Word of God, and substitutes another document to rule over the church in the form of another book, such as Robert’s Rules of Order, or, Congregational By-Laws and Constitution?

Does this happen? Indeed it does, more often than not. And God lets it happen for a reason. He has some lessons of life to teach His people which can only be learned through disobedience, rebellion, and rejection.

This is understandable. A parent can tell their teenage children the dangers of sexual sins in dating and courtship. A Guidance Counselor can warn young people about drug addiction. But what happens? Sometimes, the lessons are not comprehend, or learned, until there is participation in the very thing that will hurt, and ruin a person’s life.

God understood better than Samuel what was churning in the hearts of the Elders of Israel. The leadership was in open rebellion against Him. They did not want God to reign over them any longer. They wanted to be free, as they understood freedom.

The rebellion that was now open was going to be allowed by God.

     8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.

The Lord reminded Samuel that the rebellion against the Theocracy had been long in the making. After being delivered from Egypt, the Exodus Generation forsook the Lord, and served other gods. In like manner, Israel was forsaking the spiritual counsel of Samuel to embrace worldly wisdom and worldly ways.

     9 Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.

Continuing to speak to Samuel, the Lord gave him specific instruction. First, Samuel was not to oppose the will of the Elders of Israel representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Samuel was to warn the people, and show them the type of king that would come to rule over them. This was done so that there would be no excuse.

A divine principle is established. Before there is judgment, there is warning. Grace always precedes judgment. It is in grace that Samuel was to warn Israel of the danger they faced by rejecting a Theocracy, and embracing a monarchy.

     10 And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.

    11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.

     12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.

     13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.

     14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.

     15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.

     16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.

     17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.

     18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day

Using simple words, and plain language, Samuel detailed the type of king which would come to rule over Israel. It is not a flattering portrait of a monarch that Samuel foretold. The coming king will act as a selfish, and oppressive dictator, and for this reason. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

There will be national military conscription for the sons of Israel (v. 11-12).

There will be national mandatory service for the daughters of Israel. They will be forced by the king to make fragrant perfumes, incense, and anointing oils as confectioneries (v. 13).

There will be an illegal government takeover of the means of production, and redistribution of the nation’s wealth based on patronage (v. 14).

There will be forced provisions made for military personal, and government servants (v. 15).

There will be forced labor for the government. Individual freedom will be lost. Private employment will cease (v. 16).

All that a person holds dear will be confiscated, and given to others (v. 17).

When the oppressive government becomes so unbearable, when the citizens of Israel become discouraged, and cry out to God for relief, “the Lord will not hear you in that day.” Prayer will be ineffectual. God’s heart will be hardened against His people, as they have hardened their hearts against Him.

     19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have 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.

It is a realistic, but terrifying forecast Samuel presented to the Elders of Israel. However, it did not go, and a lesson is learned. Knowledge is not enough in matters of morality and wisdom. Knowledge is important, but it does not in and of itself, make people wiser, or more righteous. Only an exercising of the will can do that. However, if the will is bent towards self-centeredness, then knowledge will be set aside, wisdom will be abandoned, and God will be forsaken.

The response by the Elders of Israel was to tell Samuel, “We will have a king over us. We will be like all the nations. We will have a king to judge us. We will have a leader to fight our battles for us.”

When Samuel heard the words of the Elders of Israel and discerned the hardness of their hearts, he returned to the Lord, and prayer, where he received final instruction. Samuel was to listen to the voice of the Elders of Israel, and give them what they wanted. Samuel was to make them a king.

     21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD.

     22 And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.

The Story of Israel’s Desire for a King ends with the rejection of a Theocracy, the rise of a monarchy, and a dark, but certain future for the people of Israel who would come to live in fear and with unforgiven regret.

A final lesson is learned. Sometimes, God will not have mercy on the nation, or the church, that rejects Him. It is a fair word of warning.

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