1 SAMUEL CHAPTER 8
1 By occasion of the ill government of Samuel’s sons, the Israelites ask a king. 6 Samuel praying in grief, is comforted by God: 10 He telleth the manner of a king. 19 God willeth Samuel to yield unto the importunity of the people.
Verse 1 Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel.
Made his sons judges. In harmony with chapter 7:15, this statement must be understood as meaning that, upon reaching the age when he was no longer able to visit all parts of the country, he appointed his sons as assistants, placing them in Beersheba, one of the southernmost towns in the district belonging to Judah. They were never judges in their own right.
Verse 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba.
Joel. The names of Joel, “Jehovah is God,” and Abiah, “Jehovah is my father,” are indicative of Samuel’s continued delight in serving God, in spite of nationwide idolatry.
Verses 3,4 But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. 4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah,
Elders. zaqan, from a root of uncertain meaning, another of whose derivatives means “chin,” or “beard.” “Elders” were men of mature age who held positions of authority.
Samuel organized the tribes with responsible leaders in every place, who reported to the local “judge” serving under Samuel. These leaders had seen enough of the conduct of Samuel’s sons to warrant their going directly to Samuel himself.
Verse 5 and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
Do not walk in your ways. The elders’ confidence in Samuel was so great that they knew him to be in no way responsible for the wickedness of his sons. It would be better, they reasoned, to take the matter to Samuel for solution than to wait for the confusion that was sure to result after his death, when the sons would likely attempt to assert their own authority.
Make us a king. God had said through Moses that the time would come when the people would ask for a king “like as all the nations” (Deut. 17:14).
Perhaps the elders were virtually quoting this text as an excuse for their request.
It was evidently God’s plan that Israel should be distinct from surrounding nations, and through the centuries since the Exodus He had accordingly protected and guided them by judges.
Had they entered into God’s plan for them, Moses told them, the nations looking on would say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people” (Deut. 4:6).
Relying on the diplomacy of which the Oriental is capable, they now, in opposition to the will of God and without seeking His counsel, made known their shortsighted decision.
At first they stated merely that they wanted a king to judge them after the fashion of the world.
But when Samuel tried to warn them of the curse they were about to bring upon themselves, they added a second reason, “that our king, may … go out before us, and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:20).
Clarification of the circumstances under which the elders of Israel appealed for a king is given in ch. 12:12: “When ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, ye said unto me, Nay; but a king shall reign over us.”
Josephus confirms the idea that Nahash had been afflicting the Jews beyond Jordan for some time, reducing their cities to slavery and putting out the right eyes of his captives in order that they might be useless in future warfare (Antiquities vi. 5. 1)
Archeological discoveries in both Palestine and Transjordan also point to the fact that in the preceding century all the nations in this district had begun to fortify their cities and to put themselves in a position to resist the hordes of migratory Sea Peoples from the Aegean region (see page 33), who were advancing against Egypt by both land and sea.
Part of this migratory wave moved through Asia Minor, obliterated the Hittites, and then swept on southward through Syria and Palestine toward Egypt. Defeated by Ramses III, some settled in the Philistine plain.
Other nations were watching the political horizon with fear and trembling, and it was not strange that the leaders of Israel felt vital concern over the national policy and leadership.
God sought to demonstrate a unique method of coping with international problems, but Israel saw no way out other than to copy the nations about them.
For centuries they had been a seminomadic people, living mostly in tents; they had failed to drive the native inhabitants of Canaan from their cities (Judges 1:27–36).
Nevertheless, in the years between 1200 and 1050 they settled increasingly in towns. Now, in perversity of mind they saw nothing to do but to consolidate their government and fortify themselves against the invaders.
Years before, the Ammonites charged Israel with taking their patrimony from them (Judges 11:13–27). That had been in Jephthah’s day, when the 18-year Ammonite oppression was brought to a close. Now, the Ammonites were making their second attempt to regain this territory from Israel.
Verse 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord.
Samuel prayed. Israel again proceeded to do precisely what they had done for centuries—move without awaiting divine guidance.
They had been warned against drifting into idolatry, but they preferred to follow the ways of the nations about them rather than the directions of the Lord.
Moses had foretold that the time would come when Israel would ask for a king, in order to be like the nations about them (Deut. 17:14), and now they were literally fulfilling this prophecy.
Although the elders were probably moved solely by political motives, Samuel showed them the better way—seeking the Lord in prayer.
They had undervalued their high religious privileges and had not realized that the nation’s real need was not a new power but a permanent organization of the theocracy to meet the confusion that resulted from their own restlessness and perversity.
They were unwilling to submit the case to God to know His will, and Samuel exercised his official prerogative by insisting that they leave the decision in so weighty a matter to the Lord, who had always been ready to deliver them in times of perplexity.
Deeply as Samuel must have been hurt by such a demand on the part of the people, he made available to them his services as prophet, as faithfully when the question was one injurious to himself as upon more pleasant occasions.
His attitude seems to have been much the same as that of Christ centuries later when He cried, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), and of John as he said concerning Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Verse 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.
Heed the voice. Here is the best evidence possible that nations as well as individuals are free moral agents. Had they come seeking His counsel, God would have given it; when they came with an ultimatum, He accepted their choice.
They have rejected me. Under the judges Israel experienced numerous advantages that would be lost under the rule of kings. For example:
Under the judges God had made each tribe virtually independent. Taxes were extremely low. Although the tribes worked together as allies, “there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
This was, of course, not an unmixed blessing (see Deut. 12:8). But the elders rejected the independence of a tribal confederacy, and chose instead an authoritarian form of government that within a few decades brought with it exorbitant taxation.
2. God had given every Israelite considerable individual freedom in earning a livelihood, in choosing his own form of worship, and in administering his own affairs in general.
But the elders rejected this freedom for serfdom under a king who exercised the power of life and death over his subjects, and who could execute those who disagreed with him.
3. For several centuries the Spirit of the Lord came upon men in the various tribes, under whose leadership Israel enjoyed rest and a measure of peace and security in which to pursue their chosen vocations.
There was no such thing as hereditary succession; judges were raised up by God from time to time, on the basis of personal qualifications. But now the elders rejected such divine assistance and chose a hereditary monarchy.
4. Over and over again when Israel had sought the Lord for counsel, He miraculously protected them from the attacks of the enemy (see 1 Sam. 7:10; Joshua 10:11; etc.).
In their rejection of God as supreme Lord of the theocracy the elders were, in reality, opening the way whereby Israel became the pawn of international intrigue.
They demanded tribute from their defeated foes and gloried in their martial prowess. In turn, they fell under the domination of more powerful nations.
They wrongly attributed their military reverses and periods of oppression to the form of government rather than to their own evil course of action.
5. It was God’s plan to change valleys of Achor into doors of hope when His people turned in surrender to Him (Hosea 2:15). Under God’s guidance mistakes could become steppingstones to a greater knowledge of God and His plan of salvation.
6. God had scattered the Levites throughout the tribes that the children might be educated, particularly in the things of God.
On account of their selfish unwillingness to carry out this plan, Israel failed to support the Levites and remained in illiteracy and ignorance.
The majority of the people did not wish to be trained to think for themselves. They were perfectly content to let their leaders do their thinking for them, so long as these leaders did not demand their possessions or disturb their selfish ease.
From the time the great controversy began in heaven (Rev. 12:7–9), down to the present day, God’s great plan for the universe has been misunderstood by some of the beings He created.
Professing themselves to be wise, they questioned the reliability and desirability of His guidance and set out to follow what, in their ignorance, appeared to be a better course—only to find they had entered upon a dead-end road.
God has always permitted opportunity for men to prove His ways to be best. But He sometimes yields to their wishes and permits them to pursue the course of their own choosing, in order that their failures, though severe, may finally lead them to bow the knee and acknowledge the superiority of God’s eternal plan (see Phil. 2:10, 11; PP 605, 606).
Verses 8,9 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also. 9 Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.”
Solemnly foreworn. Literally, “protesting, thou shalt protest unto them,” or better, “warning, thou shalt warn them.”
As a free moral agent man must decide, from the evidence at hand, what it is he wishes to do with himself.
He has two ways of obtaining this evidence—by a careful study of the counsels, statutes, and judgments of God as applicable to his case, and by experimentation with other suggestions in an endeavor to satisfy himself as to their value.
A parent may say, “Son, you’re making a mistake. If you feel you must go the way you propose, you will have to abide the consequences.”
But, after warning against the proposed move, God virtually says, “If you feel that is the right thing for you to do, try it out. Even though I know your plan will not succeed, you must learn from your own experience that it will not work. Only then will you be satisfied to follow My counsel.”
Thus Samuel was instructed to warn Israel as to the outcome of their plan; nevertheless God would go with them and help them make it a success.
Study carefully Ps. 139, especially verses 7–13, in this connection.
Verses 10,11 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king. 11 And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots.
The behavior of the king. Literally, “the judgment of the king.” The word mishpaṭ, “judgment,” describes the act, or decision, of the shopheṭ, “judge.”
The decision of the king is to be accepted as legal and binding. If he feels the need of assistance in the carrying out of his responsibilities, he has the right to commandeer it, whether for civil or for military duty.
Verses 12,13 He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers.
Perfumers. Literally, “spice mixers”. 1 Chron. 9:30 uses the words from the same root in referring to the work of certain sons of the priests who “made the ointment of the spices.”
Samuel might also have mentioned the fact that many of their daughters would enter the king’s harem as concubines (1 Kings 11:3).
Verse 14 And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants.
To his servants. Literally, “slaves.” The same word is used in speaking of Egypt as a “house of bondage” (Ex. 13:3; Deut. 5:6; etc.).
The king had the power of life or death over his subjects, and in, most of the nations of the Near East the people existed primarily for the benefit of the king, who could do with them as he wished.
Not only did the people supply the needs of the king’s household, but they provided him with means by which to enrich his favorites, whether wives and concubines or civil and military officers.
Verses 15-18 He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. 16 And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. 18 And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.”
Will not hear you. Literally, “will not answer.” The verb ‘anah appears 35 times in 1 Samuel, and is only twice translated “to hear,” in this instance and in ch. 7:9.
In the latter instance God answered Samuel’s plea by a thunderstorm. In the present text it is not the thought that God is unable to hear, but rather unable to answer because of Israel’s willful rejection of Him.
All this is completely in harmony with the context, for ch. 8:7 affirms that it is not God who planned a change in the government, but the leaders in Israel.
Therefore when they later became dissatisfied with conditions they were to remember that in requesting a king they had set in motion a new regime that was certain to change their way of life materially.
New temptations, new relationships, new problems, would all affect the nation.
They had by their own choice sowed the seeds of obstinacy, and in so doing had placed the Lord in a position where it was necessary for Him to let this seed produce its own harvest.
He would not interfere with the universal law that seed sown produces a harvest after its kind.
Thus God often permits man to have that of which He does not Himself approve. He grants that which He has previously, in mercy, withheld.
In questioning God’s word Adam brought into existence a new regime, which must run its course to demonstrate to the full satisfaction of men and angels that no other plan than that ordained by God can bring life and happiness to all.
Future events in the history of Israel show that though God often permitted Israel to reap the harvest they had sown, He never forsook them.
He was ever with them, ready to help. Furthermore, the prophets testify that in the midst of such an environment any individual who so chooses may turn from the ways of the multitude to be guided by the Lord (see Eze. 18:1–24).
Verses 19,20 Nevertheless the people srefused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, 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.”
Like all the nations. During their residence in Palestine, the Israelites had witnessed the concerted efforts of the Sea Peoples and other nations to conquer all the lands of the Near East, overcoming all resistance and spreading fear to every heart.
But Israel knew nothing of the fear that had made the blood of the Canaanites run cold as Joshua led God’s people in the conquest of Palestine (see Joshua 2:9–11).
Foolishly, their elders believed the tribute levied on conquered peoples would make Israel rich. They forgot that true riches come through a better way of life.
Disgusted with the greed and graft of priestly leaders such as the sons of Eli and of Samuel, they thought the solution rested in submitting to the judgment of one king, such as the other nations had.
They were oblivious of the fact that a king would find even more opportunities for favoritism and the gratification of selfish desires than had the dissolute priests.
At the beginning of his judgeship Samuel had shown the people that the real solution of their troubles was not a change of administration but rather a change of heart, a contrite turning to the Lord.
Verses 21,22 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he repeated them in the hearing of the Lord. 22 So the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed their voice, and make them a king.” And Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Every man go to his city.”
ELLEN G. WHITE COMMENTS
1–22 PP 603-607
3–5 PP 604
5 Ed 50; 6T 249
7, 8 PP 605
10–18 PP 606
19, 20 PP 607
20 PP 614
22 PP 607