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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 8

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verses 4-8


‘Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together and came to Samuel unto Ramah, and said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy way; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations,’ etc.

1 Samuel 8:4-8

The Book of Kings is also the Book of Samuel, not merely because the individual man was the last of the judges and poured the anointing oil upon the first two of the kings, but because he represented in his own person a power and a position which were quite different from theirs, and yet which could not be rightly understood apart from theirs.

I. Samuel was a witness that a hereditary priesthood derives all its worth from a Divine presence, which is not shut up in it or limited by it, and that without that presence it means nothing and is nothing, nay, becomes worse than nothing, a plague and cancer in the society, poisoning its very heart, spreading disease and death through it.

II. The signal downfall of the nation which took place in Samuel’s day, when the ark, the symbol of the people’s unity, was captured by the Philistines, prepared the way for great national changes.—Samuel’s reformation awakened in the people a sense of order to which they had been strangers before. But Samuel’s sons did not walk in his ways. They were self-seekers; they were suspected of taking bribes. The effect of this distrust was just that which proceeds in all ages from the same cause—dissatisfaction, a cry for change, a feeling that the fault of the person who administers implies some evil or defect in that which he has to administer. The degeneracy of Samuel’s sons made the people long for a different sort of rule, for one which should be less irregular and fluctuating.

III. The request for a king displeased Samuel, because he had a sense that there was something wrong in the wish of his countrymen.—He may have felt their ingratitude to himself; he may have thought that his government was better than any they were likely to substitute for it.

IV. God’s answer to Samuel’s prayer was a very strange one.—‘Hearken unto them, for they have rejected Me. Let them have their way, seeing that they are not changing a mere form of government, but breaking loose from the principle upon which their nation has stood from its foundation.’ The Jews were asking for heavy punishments, which they needed, without which the evil that was in them could not have been brought to light or cured. But beneath their dark counterfeit image of a king was hidden the image of a true King reigning in righteousness, who would not judge after the sight of His eye nor reprove after the hearing of His ear, but would smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips would slay the wicked.

Rev. F. D. Maurice.


(1) ‘Although Samuel’s age, and the unworthiness of his sons, were the means of forcing the question immediately to the front, it had been discussed among the people often. They believed that they would secure national unity, and would make greater headway against their enemies, if only they were ruled by some one of physical strength and beauty and daring, who would lead them in their battles. God gave them exactly what they asked for. Saul, the son of Kish, surpassed all the people in beauty of form, and in physical stature and strength; he was possessed of talent for war, and of a courage which was never broken; he exhibited zeal and persistency in the execution of his plans, and at the beginning of his reign, at least, he jealously maintained the Mosaic law, banishing the wizards, and refusing to begin war without a preliminary sacrifice. But his reign taught the nation that royalty was not of itself sufficient to secure the salvation they expected; unless the king submitted himself absolutely to the will of God, and was content to reign as the executor of Divine commands, carried out in their integrity. Human agency never will rectify evils which are caused by moral faults, whether in an individual, or in a nation.’

(2) ‘Though the king, whom they sought, was to be a misfortune and a curse, the people persisted in their request, and it was granted according to a principle in the Divine government, that man gets what he importunately seeks, though it breeds leanness in his soul. To what fatal loss, however, the people exposed themselves, when they exchanged the royalty of Jehovah for that of an earthly sovereign—the theocracy for a monarchy! O my soul, see to it that thou dost not forsake the fountain of living waters for a cistern of thine own hewing.’

(3) ‘They that are not content with their present condition are like little children upon a hill; they look a great way off, and they see another hill, and think, if they were on the top of that, then they were able to touch the clouds with their fingers; but when they are on the top of that hill, alas! they are as far off from the clouds as ever. So it is with many who think another condition would give them happiness; but, when the desired position is attained, find themselves as far off from contentment as before.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 8". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/1-samuel-8.html. 1876.
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