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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 8

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-3


This is one of the most important chapters in the Bible. Right here is the very tap root of the evil that mined Israel. In this chapter, they rejected God, demanded a king like other nations, and set in motion a chain of events that culminated in the frenzied cry of the Sanhedrin before Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar.”


The big event in this chapter is Israel’s demand for a king. There were a number of reasons for this development, but the `trigger situation’ that precipitated the demand of the elders of Israel is revealed in this first paragraph.

“When Samuel became old he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his first-born son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.”

“Sons judges over Israel” This cannot mean that they replaced Samuel in any official sense, but that they were deputies appointed by Samuel and empowered to exercise authority that belonged to their father. It seems that the examples God allowed in the reprobate sons of both Eli and Samuel, and also in the instance of Abimelech the son of Gideon, should have been a sufficient warning to Israel against any system that called for hereditary succession of authority; but Israel did not heed it.

“Joel… Abijah” The devotion of their godly father is evident in the names bestowed upon his sons. Joel means `The Lord is God,’ and Abijah (or Abiah) means `God is father’(F1) The statement here that they performed their judgeship in Beersheba emphasizes the extension of Israel’s authority under Samuel to that southern landmark. Josephus states that one of Samuel’s sons judged at Bethel,(F2) but this presents no difficulty. As Samuel’s judgeships were performed at a number of different cities, his sons probably, at one time or another judged at all of them. The narrative here and that of Josephus do not necessarily refer to exactly the same time periods. We receive both accounts as true.

Verses 4-9


“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Behold, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel. “Hearken to 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. According to all the deeds which they have done to me, from the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, hearken to their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

The critical complaint that the reason for Israel’s request for a king, “Here (in this passage), is motivated by maladministration of justice, whereas in 1 Samuel 8:20 it is due to a desire for a leader in war,”(F3) is a strange complaint indeed. Apparently, the critic had never heard of multiple motivations! A more discerning scholar listed a number of motivations for the request of Israel’s elders:

“The elders gave several reasons why Israel should have an earthly king: (1) Samuel is near the end of his career; (2) Samuel’s sons do not have godly qualities; (3) a king would be a permanent judge; (4) the surrounding nations all have kings; and (5) a king would effectively lead them in battle.”(F4)

There is even a sixth motivation suggested by the elders in their use of the words of Deuteronomy 17:14, a quotation that was perhaps intended to, “Remind Samuel that they were only asking what had virtually been promised by Moses.”(F5) However, that passage from the Book of Moses may be understood not as a promise of what God would require, but a prophecy of what Israel would demand. When Israel indeed finally demanded a king, it is clear enough that God was displeased by their request.

“They have rejected me from being king over them” The sin of Israel here was not merely in the kind of king they requested, but in their rejection of the king they already had, i.e., the Lord himself.

“According to all the deeds they have done to me” What were those deeds? They are described in the last clause, “forsaking me and serving other gods.” The entire record of the nation of Israel was one long succession of doing the very things mentioned here.

Verses 10-18


“So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking a king from him. 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; 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. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your menservants and maidservants, and the best of your cattle and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 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.”

“And Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people” L. P. Smith stated that, “This chapter contains the late account of the institution of the monarchy.”(F6) How did she justify such an error? She did so on the basis that Samuel’s description of the monarchy could not possibly have been foreseen by him but was evidently written by one who had observed the monarchy for centuries! This is another example of Bible commentators who do not believe what the Bible says and whose purpose, therefore, in their writings is open to serious question.

Our text in this place ascribes this prophetic description of Israel’s monarchy to THE LORD, not to Samuel.

Furthermore, there is overwhelmingly convincing evidence that this chapter is not “a late report” but a very early one. If it had been from a `late source,’ as erroneously alleged, who could possibly have left out of the description of Israel’s monarchy the fantastic abuse of the custom of concubinage? Concubinage was the very worst of all the abuses and tyrannies of Israel’s kings. Who can forget that Solomon had hundreds of concubines? The omission of this shameful abuse in this catalogue describing the kind of kings Israel would get denies in tones of thunder that there is anything late about this chapter.

It was the monarchy that totally ruined Israel. As the Lord himself expressed it, long afterward when the monarchy had run its evil course:

I will destroy you, O Israel;

Who can help you?

Where now is your king to save you?

Where are all your princes to defend you? -

Those of whom you said, “Give me a king and princes.”

I have given you kings in my anger, and

I have taken them away in my wrath.

- Hosea 13:10-11

The great Cambridge scholar, Henry McKeating, has the following comment on this passage from Hosea:

“Hosea is not only antagonistic to the northern kings but to the monarchy as such. The monarchy is powerless to save the nation. Israel was wrong to ask for a king. Her punishment was that she got what she asked.”(F7)

We are aware that it is popular among many able commentators today to make apologies for Israel’s monarchy and to apply what the Scriptures plainly say about it to some specific monarch, Saul, for example, as did Dummelow, or to the kings of Northern Israel as did Hailey; but it is the conviction of this writer that Israel was totally and completely wrong in asking a king and that this rejection of God (that is what the text calls it) contained embryonically all of the later sorrows of the Chosen People. Throughout the whole history of Israel, there were very few monarchs who even tried to serve the Lord. Solomon was to be blamed for the division of the kingdom under his son, because the people simply rejected the excesses of Solomon; and yet, even after God took the monarchy away from them, the nation wanted nothing in heaven or on earth as much as they wanted the restoration of that scandalous Solomonic empire. It was this, more than anything else, that motivated their rejection of God Himself, finally and irrevocably, in their rejection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ the Holy One.

Go down the list of Israel’s kings, David, the very best of all of them, was an adulterer and a murderer; and he also corrupted the worship of God by two sinful things: (1) his initiating the events that led to the building of the temple (the den of thieves and robbers in Jesus’ times); and (2) his introduction of instruments of music into the worship of God. We do not have the space here to outline all of the misdeeds of Israel’s shameful monarchy, but it is clear enough that God’s disapproval of the monarchy was no late thing, applicable only to the phantom kings of Ephraim’s final years, but it rested upon the monarchy from the very beginning of it as outlined in this chapter. If God had ever approved of it, He would never have taken it away from them!

Nevertheless, God accommodated to the sinful conduct of His people and in many specific instances blessed the kings of Israel,

There is another word on this subject which we must include.

“They have set up kings, but not by me” James Luther Mays, writing in 1969, commented on this verse from Hosea, writing: “Hosea here says that God had no part in Israel’s king-making. God had no responsibility for Israel’s kings, and all that His people could receive from God through them was His anger.”(F8)

Verses 19-22


“But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; and they said, `No! but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.’ And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, `Hearken to their voice, and make them a king.’ Samuel then said to the men of Israel, `Go every man to his city.’“

“That we also may be like all the nations” How natural it is for people to SUPPOSE that what seems to be “successful” in the world of unbelievers would also be helpful among the people of God. Willis believed that the principal sin of Israel was precisely in this matter of their wanting to be like the nations around them.(F9) Of course, this also was sin on the part of Israel.

“He repeated them in the ears of the Lord” Fred Young has an interesting comment on this. “The word `repeated’ here is also translated `rehearsed’; and the word comes from Old French word “rehercier” meaning `to harrow over again.’ Samuel once more went over the matter as a farmer harrowing again a plot before planting it.”(F10)

“Go every man to his city” The abbreviated nature of this narrative is conspicuous here. Samuel evidently told the elders that their request would be granted, and he may have requested on his own behalf that he be allowed some time in which to pray and consult the Lord concerning the man who would be appointed king of Israel.

There is a marvelous lesson in prayer in this chapter. When the request of the elders for a king came as a severe stroke of disappointment and grief to Samuel, he took his sorrow to the Lord in prayer. And when, despite all the warnings, Israel’s elders said, “No! we will have a king,” once more, it is stated that Samuel repeated all the words of the people in the ears of the Lord (1 Samuel 8:21). This is the great example for all believers, “Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 8". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/1-samuel-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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