Israel demands a king. 1 Samuel 8:1-22

The literary structure of 1 Samuel 8:1-22

We are back into 1 Samuel today, chapter 8 if you would like to turn. Last we saw, in chapter 7 Israel finally got it. If they repent of their sins, God will bless them and take care of them as promised. And God gave them a miraculous deliverance from the Philistines through Samuel’s prophetic leadership. And they had peace for many years.

When we come to chapter 8, however, things take a real turn for the worse, because now –

Israel wants a king

The story begins with Samuel’s attempted retirement.

1When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba.

Many years have passed and Samuel is old. He has appointed his sons to take his place. Perhaps having them down in the remote city of Beersheba (50 miles south of Jerusalem) was to test whether they could handle the job. We find out the results in v. 3.

 3Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.

So Samuel’s kids didn’t turn out to be faithful to God. (Unlike Eli and his sons, Samuel is not a part of their sin by overlooking it or even profiting from it.)  This shows once again that good people and good parents can raise children who don’t follow in their path.

In this case it presents an opportunity for the elders of Israel. 

4Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5and 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.”

What they want is to switch from having a tribal confederation led by judges, who were usually raised up by God for a specific need and often only in one part of Israel to a permanent, centralized monarchy held by one family.

They are taking advantage of Samuel’s son’s not being like their father, to make a request for a different system that, ironically is entirely built on heredity, where sons are often worse than their fathers. So this is confusing. The problem of Samuel’s sons is real, but it’s a cover for their actual reason in asking for a king, which comes out in v. 20 – they want a king with a standing army to protect them.

6But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.”

More literally, it says the thing was “evil in his eyes.” And so Samuel seeks God. v. 6 goes on to say,

And Samuel prayed to the Lord.

 He’s troubled and so he sought out God and what God would say. This is a good model for us when we are troubled, to pray and make sure we are in tune with God before we speak or act. 

7And 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. 8According 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. 9Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

The immediate question is, “Why is asking for a king so wrong?” Deuteronomy 17:14-20 predicts Israelite kingship without judgment, as do other Scriptures (Genesis 17:6, 16; 49:10; Numbers 24:17-19; Judges 17:6, 18:1, 19:1 21:25, 1 Samuel 2:10). And God works to bless and bring about this request in the stories that follow, especially with David. So what’s going on here?

I believe that God is flexible with how Israel is organized. And he might have raised up a king of his own initiative, perhaps with David, at the right time. The issue is why they ask. They think God is inadequate! This is plain and simple a rejection of God as their king, because they think God can’t take care of them properly. (That God’s adequacy to save is the issue here is confirmed in 1 Samuel 10:18-19 that talks about the rejection of God. Samuel reminds them that God has and can continue to save them, but they wanted a king. And also in 1 Samuel 12:7-11 Samuel recounts how God has saved them in the past, and in 12:16-18 the miracle confirms that God can still save them, which leads them to repentance for asking for a king.) The lack of faith in God shows that their demand for a king here is an expression of their tendency to idolatry. They want a king as an idol, something they rely on instead of or in addition to God for their salvation and security, which is why v. 8 categorizes this as “forsaking me and serving other gods.”

This must have been particularly galling to God and Samuel, because Israel has just lived many years in peace after God miraculously delivered them from the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:14). And on top of this the reason for their previous struggles with defeat at the hands of their enemies was due to them, not God! They were unfaithful to God as so God did not bless them. It was entirely and without exception their fault. But they blame God. What an insult and slander of God, what they are saying! (See similarly Numbers 14:11.)

So yeah, God’s unhappy. He grants their request, but as God says in Hosea 13:11 – “I gave you a king in my anger.” (The rest of the verse, “and I took him away in my wrath” refers to the end of kingship in northern Israel with the Assyrian conquest. The southern monarchy ended with the Babylonian exile.) (We will see why God allows a king in chapter 12.) If they wanted to ask for a king in a way that didn’t slander God it should have gone like this, “God, we are unfaithful and so we keep breaking covenant and being defeated. Can you make it easier for us by giving us a king? Can you accommodate our failings?”

This is just another in a long line of betrayals. It’s really amazing to see God’s patience with his people. And we can be sure that we also try and test God’s patience at times. What a loving God we have!

Note also here that when God’s people reject God, they reject his servants who represent him as well – their rejection of Samuel. This is still the case today. God comforts Samuel – it’s not about you, but about their rejection of me. But you can tell he still felt it.

Then we come to God’s warning about the ways of a king. As we read, notice the seven statements, where the word “take” or the phrase “appoint for himself” are used.

10So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11He 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. 12And 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. 13He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17He will take the tenth of your flocks . . . 

This is a picture of how the Canaanite kings around them operated, which seems to be what they have in mind.

Kings take things, because it takes a lot of bureaucracy to support a royal family and a royal court and a standing army. It requires things like your sons and daughters, taxes, your land and your crops. And “you shall be his slaves.”

This was a huge change for the people of God. Kings would have near arbitrary power over them. They would be in a class above the rest of Israel. The judges never had any of this.

and you shall be his slaves. 18And 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.”

God often judges by giving people just what they want. In the book of Judges, Israel wanted to serve the gods of the nations around them, and so God gave them over to the power of these nations until they cried out for salvation. (See also Romans 1). Here their judgment is giving them what they want, with the end that they will be slaves. If before they cried out for deliverance from the oppression of their enemies, now they will cry from the oppression of their king (Stephen B. Chapman). But God will have none of it. They asked for it.

Israel’s stubbornness

19But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

Their hearts are set. Even if it causes them pain, they want a king. They think a king will properly protect them.

21And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22And 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.”

Work has to be done, which starts in our next chapter. And then he will gather them together again for next steps.

There’s a lot to learn from in this passage, and I have already mentioned several themes, but surely the most important one is this –

Trust God to take care of you

Samuel was old. Things were good for many years under his leadership. But they feared with his passing that their enemies will again cause them great suffering. And since they don’t trust God to take care of them, they need something else, here a king to make up for God’s supposed lack of provision.

Where in our lives do we not trust God to take care of us? We also want peace and security. And we are afraid of suffering. So what do you do when:

  • God says, “I will give you daily bread” – but you were raised in poverty and so you want more than that, you need a full pantry and bank account to feel safe.
  • God says, “I want you to give up your career and do something different and I will bless you” – but you rely on your career to provide for you and your lifestyle choices.
  • God says, “I want you to give up your house and home and move somewhere else” – but you can’t even imagine doing this.
  • God says, “I want you to endure a time of testing a bit longer, but don’t worry, my grace is sufficient for you” – but you feel you must get out of the test now.
  • And how does this apply to our congregation and where we are?

In these situations we might even pray or demand from God, “I have to have this or this or that to keep moving forward.” And maybe God gives it to you and so you keep moving forward or maybe God doesn’t and so you stop following God. But in either case we are no different than the ancient Israelites. We are saying, “God, you are inadequate. I don’t think you can take care of me. Your grace is not sufficient for me.”And we turn something that is good and can be a blessing, into an idol because we trust in it and rely on it, more than God.

Where are you struggling in your faith this morning?

If you are struggling let me counsel you to be honest and confess it to God. Be like the man who said to Jesus, “I believe, but help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24.) Give me the strength to move forward in faith, even though I don’t have it in me.

And finally let me encourage you. God is faithful to his promises. God is more than sufficient! In the midst of your struggle, receive these words from Isaiah 41:10 as God’s words to you this morning: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s