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Thursday, May 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 8

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verses 1-22



1 Samuel 8:1-22; 1 Samuel 12:1-25 and Harmony pages 70, 74-75.

I logically connect these two chapters so as to round up Samuel’s judgeship, and the intervening chapters will be discussed later. The general subject for this discussion is, "God through Samuel establishes the monarchy, and Samuel’s vindication when he gives up the position as judge." The general purpose of this chapter is to show the steps of transition from a government by judges to a government by kings. The immediate occasion of the change was the persistent demand of the people.

The grounds alleged by the people for the change were, (1) that Samuel was old; (2) that his sons whom he made judges walked not in his way, and these allegations were strictly true. Samuel was old. He had made his sons judges, as Eli had done in the case of his sons. These sons were unworthy to hold office: "They did not walk in Samuel’s way, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment." Samuel had no right to make judges, nor to appoint his successor; that was Jehovah’s prerogative. He had retained these sons in office, though unworthy, and had so far followed Eli’s example.

Nepotism has always been repugnant to the people.

It was a compliment to the late Senator Coke when his kinsfolk complained that he had never gotten them an office on the score of kinship.

Public office is a public trust, and not for distribution of family patronage.

But their demand displeased Samuel. He did not dispute the facts alleged, nor deny their grievance against his sons, but he objected to the remedy proposed, namely: "Give us a king to judge us." It would interest us to know what Samuel would have done if they had merely demanded the removal of his sons from office and Samuel’s consent to leave to God the appointment of his successor. But it is a destructive remedy to burn a ship in order to get rid of the rats. A change in the form of the government is not always the best way to get rid of unworthy officials, although the people will always demand it if from any cause the legal methods of removal are barred. The people usually are long-suffering, and often know not how practically to get rid of an evil by legal methods. Press them too far, and a revolution comes, maybe a destructive one. Samuel evinced his wisdom by carrying the case to Jehovah in prayer; that is, before he answered the people, with the following results:

1. Jehovah shows that the plausible grounds alleged by the people for the change of government disguised their real motive. It is characteristic of fallen human nature to veil a motive in a plausible plea; for example, to defend saloons on the plea of "personal liberty," or that prohibition "injures business."

2. These people meant, by rejecting Samuel, to reject Jehovah. It was the theocracy to which in heart they objected. They wanted kings like other nations.

3. Jehovah directed Samuel to set before them plainly, in protest, the manner of a king such as other nations had; to thus force them, if they persisted in their demand, to do so with open eyes and with all of their motives unmasked. This would prove that though they had a real grievance, they were not seeking redress of that grievance, but making it a plausible plea for the dethronement of Jehovah, even though their remedy brought grievances a thousand fold worse than those from which they pretended to seek relief.

The character of an Oriental despot is given by Samuel in his protest. Let us look at that in 1 Samuel 8:11-17: "This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them unto him, for his chariots and to be his horsemen; and they shall run before his chariots; and he will appoint them unto him for captains of thousands and captains of fifties; and he will set some to plow his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and the instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your flocks; and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king whom ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not answer you in that day." I do not know anywhere in literature a better picture of an Oriental despot than is given in the language of Samuel.

The results, after Samuel showed them what it was to have a king like other nations, were as follows: (1) With their eyes open and their motives exposed, they demanded a king like other nations. (2) Jehovah directed Samuel to make them a king. "Sometimes God answers in wrath." (3) But not to establish such a monarchy as they desired, that is, like other nations, but a kingdom under a written charter which retained the theocratic idea, the earthly king to be only Jehovah’s appointee and vicegerent, subject to Jehovah’s law, and guided in all things by Jehovah’s prophets, and at all times liable to removal by Jehovah. So God does not answer their request altogether. He makes a king, but not such a king as they wanted. Concerning such a ruler Geikie uses the following language:

"Such a ruler would necessarily stand in a unique position. As only viceroy and representative of the true invisible King, Jehovah, he must be pointed out beforehand by special indications, and consecrated as to a sacred office. That be should, moreover, have commended himself to the nation by his qualities and deeds, was essential. Nor could it be permitted him to reign like other Eastern kings, by his mere pleasure; for the rights of Jehovah and those of his people, as a nation of freemen, demanded equal respect. He must, therefore, at all times, remember that he ruled under a higher King, whose will, expressed in his revealed law, was his absolute guide both in religion and ordinary life; its transgression, in any particular, being self-destruction. But such a man would necessarily be in loving sympathy with him under whom he held his authority, to be king after his heart; a man truly religious; obeying, not by mere outward constraint, but from loving choice.

"Though nominally king, it was a condition of his rule that he acted only as the prophet instructed him. Under the strange theocratic constitution enforced by Samuel, he was in fact only a puppet, moved by the prophet as he chose, and forbidden to act in anything as a free agent. The only counterpart to such a state of things in modern times, was the titular rule of the Mikado in Japan, side by side with the real Emperor, the Tycoon; the one a shadow king, the other the actual sovereign power. In antiquity, strange to say, we find parallel to Saul and Samuel among the Getae of the century before Christ. In their wild home north and south of the Danube, that people were ruled by a chief who acted only as the servant of a holy man, without whom he was not allowed to act in anything whatever. Still stranger, the result of this extraordinary custom was the same as followed the rule of Samuel in Israel. From the lowest weakness and moral degeneracy the Getae roused themselves under the leading of the holy man and the phantom king, to a thorough and lasting reformation. Indeed, they so turned themselves to a nobler life that their national vigor showed itself in a puritanical strictness and steadfast bravery, which carried their banners far and wide over new territories, till their kingdom was infinitely extended. Once recognized, such a complete subordination to the representative of the theocracy as was demanded from Saul might become more easy to be borne, but in its early years the strong, valiant warrior must have been sorely tried by finding himself king in name, but in fact absolutely subordinate in the most minute detail to the command of Samuel."

Using the word, "puppet," Geikie is mistaken, since the prophet never spoke except as God commanded, and for a man to rule under the direction of God does not make him a puppet. This kind of a kingdom was not repugnant to Jehovah’s plan, as set forth in their previous history and law, and in their subsequent history.

1. In Genesis 17:16, in the covenant which God made with Abraham, he promised that kings should be his descendants.

2. In Deuteronomy 17:14-20: "When thou art come unto the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around about me; thou shalt surely set him king over thee, whom Jehovah thy God shall choose: one from among the brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee, which is not thy brother. Only he shall not multiply horses to himself nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he may multiply horses; forasmuch as Jehovah hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way. Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold. And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write a copy of this law in a book, out of that which is before the priests and the Levites: and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life; that he may learn to fear Jehovah his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them; that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel."

We can tell whether kings of later date did this, for we remember that Solomon took only 700 wives, besides 300 concubines. Every king, in his subsequent history, who violated this kingdom charter, or who refused to hear and obey Jehovah’s prophet, was punished by Jehovah. And to the extent that when one of them respected this charter, be was blessed of Jehovah, he and the people with him.

Thus it is evident that the issue was not whether the ruler should be called judge or king, but that Jehovah ruled, whatever the title of his earthly subordinate. The lesson is a mighty one. Jehovah is King of kings and Lord of lords. His law and authority are paramount over nations as well as over individuals. His government extends over the unwilling as well as the willing. To deny his rule is not to vacate responsibility to his judgment. That it was immaterial whether the ruler was called judge or king, is illustrated by a relative passage from Pope’s Essay on Man. The third epistle of that essay line 303, says:

For forms of government let, fools contest;

Whate’er is best administered is best,

It is further evidenced that the people had to see and admit their wrong in seeking to displace Samuel as judge in 1 Samuel 12:1-25 which gives Samuel’s address and contains the following points:

1. They had to bear witness and have the testimony recorded, to the wisdom, purity, and fidelity of Samuel’s administration when he retired from the judgeship.

2. They had to admit that all great leaders in the past were appointed by Jehovah, and that they had rebelled against every one of them.

3. They had to accept this alternative, with a king put over them; that is, if they and their king submitted to Jehovah’s rule according to the kingdom charter, then well; but if they turned away from him, then condign punishment came on them as on their rebellious fathers.

4. They had still to submit to Samuel as a prophet. The words of Samuel were confirmed by this miracle: He called their attention to the fact that it was harvest time when in ordinary cases it never rained. Then lifting his face, he spoke to Jehovah for a sign, and instantly the heavens were blackened, loud thunder rolled, lightning gored the black bosom of the cloud, and a windstorm came up to testify that God was speaking to them.

The result was that they felt and confessed the sin of their demand, and implored Samuel’s intercession that they might be forgiven, to which he gave the following reply:

1. He encouraged them not to despair on account of their sins – that God was merciful – but to repent and do better in the future.

2. That God, for his own name’s sake, would never forsake that people.

3. That he himself would not sin by ceasing to pray for them that their sins should be forgiven.

4. That he would, as prophet, continue to instruct them in the good and right way.

5. That in view of the great things that God had done for them, they should fear him and serve him in truth with all their hearts; otherwise they would be consumed. With other great events in their history, 1 Samuel 12 may be compared thus:

1. With the farewell address of Moses, (Deut. 29:1-31:5)

2. Joshua’s farewell address (Joshua 24:1-28)

3. Paul’s farewell address to the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:18-38)

4. On the score of patriotism, we may include Washington’s farewell address, when he announced he would no more be president. I once went to the city of Annapolis to see a great picture, or painting, representing the scene of Washington tendering his sword back to Congress at the close of the war, retiring from the office of commander-in-chief. It is a marvelous painting. Supposed but far-distant relatives of mine are in the picture – Charles Carroll and his daughters. In a glass case to the right is the very suit of clothes Washington wore on that day, including his spurs. My old teacher made me memorize Washington’s farewell address. Two doctrines in Samuel’s address need to be emphasized:

1. The ground of God’s not forsaking his elect nation: "Not on your account, but for his own name’s sake," and in this connection you must read Ezekiel 36:22-36, and the whole of Romans II. They both talk about God’s saving in one day the whole Jewish nation.

2. It is a sin not to pray for the forgiveness of sinners, of which the following is a Texas illustration: There was a certain man, preaching in many counties, taking the position that no Christian was justifiable in praying for the forgiveness of the sinner. I joined issue publicly, in the pulpit and in the press, citing Samuel’s doctrine: "God forbid that I should sin in ceasing to pray for the forgiveness of your sins." In that great discussion I referred to what is called the "mourner’s bench," stating that I had no particular fancy for what is called the "mourner’s bench;" that a man could find Christ on the bench, on the floor, behind the barn, or in the field, unless he made this point: "I will do anything that God wants Die to do to be saved, except a certain thing;" that if he reserved any one point on which he would not surrender to God, then he did not surrender at all; and I insisted that in leaving out the "mourner’s bench" they would not leave out the mourning. I did not object to leaving out the bench if they wanted to, but if they did leave it out, I hoped they would not cease praying for sinners.


1. What is the general purpose of this chapter?

2. What is the immediate occasion of the change?

3. What are the grounds alleged by the people for the change?

4. What can you say of these allegations?

5. Why, then, did their demand displease Samuel?

6. In what did Samuel evince his wisdom?

7. What are the results?

8. Describe the character of an Oriental despot as given in Samuel’s protest.

9. What were the results after Samuel showed them what it was to have a king like other nations?

10. Prove that this kind of a kingdom was not repugnant to Jehovah’s plan, as set forth in their previous history and law, and in their subsequent history.

11. If then it was immaterial whether the ruler was called judge or king, cite a relative passage from Pope’s Essay on Man.

12. What further evidence that the people had to see and admit their wrong in seeking to displace Samuel as judge?

13. How were the words of Samuel confirmed?

14. What was the result?

15. Analyze Samuel’s reply.

16. With what other great events in their history may 1 Samuel 12 be compared?

17. What two great doctrines in Samuel’s address need to be emphasized?

18. What Texas illustration of the second doctrine?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 1 Samuel 8". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/1-samuel-8.html.
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