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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 8

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-9

First Samuel - Chapter 8

Desire for a King, vs. 1-9

There were several reasons the people found for desiring a king: 1) Samuel was too old to judge them; 2) his sons were corrupt judges, not judging in the manner of their father; 3) they desired to be like the nations around them, to have an anointed king as their ruler.

As for the first, the age of Samuel at the time is not known. He might have been considered an old man at what is a relatively young fifty or sixty today. It seems certain that he lived at least thirty more years, into Saul’s forty years’ reign, for he still lived in the days of David’s flight from Saul, which was evidently in the last ten years of Saul’s reign. So Samuel had very many good years left to him, when he might have ruled, or judged, Israel as God willed.

There was more substance to the second reason the Israelites gave for wanting a king. Joel and Abiah, Samuel’s sons, had been made judges by their father in the southern city of Beer-sheba, perhaps to save their father from the long journey there to judge the people. It seems their judgment could be bought by the highest bidder. There is nothing said about the Lord instructing Samuel to make his sons judges, so this is likely a serious mistake on his part. It is sad that the sons of this good man turned out much like the sons of Eli. Yet Samuel is not censured by the Lord as was Eli, so that nature of their error is not the same. This was not sufficient reason to set aside the old prophet-judge.

The last reason the Israelites gave for desiring a king, to be like the nations around them, is the most dangerous of all. When God’s people begin trying to be like the world they will eventually produce a people who do not want the Lord, and they will be destroyed. God did not want Israel to be like the nations and had warned them not to take up the pagan practices of the nations (e.g., De 12:29-32).

A delegation of the Israelite elders came to see Samuel at Raman with their demand for a king, citing the above reasons. The prophet was much disturbed by their request, but he knew where to carry his problems. He bought the matter before the Lord in prayer. It appears that Samuel may have felt that he was no longer appreciated, that the people had cast him aside. However, when it seems the people have rejected the man of God it is never he who has been rejected, but the God he represents. The Lord soon set this straight for Samuel. He reminded Samuel that Israel was behaving true to character. The Lord had been dealing with them far longer than Samuel, and they had been continually rejecting Him, from the very time He had delivered them out of Egypt. Over and over they had turned from God to serve idols.

Now, however, the Lord is ready to grant them their wish, to give them a king. De 7:14-20 indicates that the Lord intended to grant them a king at His own time, but they got ready for a king before the Lord was ready for them to have one. Yet they are to find out the folly of their desire for a king. Samuel is to advise them of the kind of ruler their king will be, but they will not believe him.

Verses 10-18

Nature of the King, vs. 10-18

Samuel did as the Lord had instructed him, telling the people all that the Lord had said, then outlining to them the kind of things they could expect of a king. These fall into several categories: 1) the requirements of his military establishment; 2) the requirements of his palace and court; 3) the requirements of his treasury.

Every phase of the Israelite’s life and experience would have to be adjusted to the rule of the king they requested. Home life would be broken up by the draft of young men for his army and cavalry and young’ women for his domestic service. The land apportionment would be disrupted by the king’s requirement for lands to support himself and his large court.

The older and more experienced men would be taken from their lands and put to labor on the fields, orchards, vineyards which he would take from their possession. The king would not take the young people least desirable, but would choose the best and make them work for him. He would also take the finest of their animals. In addition to the tithe, they should be giving in the Lord’s service, they would now be heavily taxed to support the king’s treasury. Of everything they produced they must now share with their king. They would literally be his servants.

The most terrifying thing about the whole matter is that when the people realized their mistake and wanted relief from the despotism of the king the Lord would turn a deaf ear. It is not that the Lord would no longer bless them when they had got a king, but His meaning is that He would not heed their cry to remove their king. Once they had made to themselves a king there would be no undoing their deed. They must be content to serve their king, for the Lord would not hear them with reference to that. They should have received the Lord as their only King.

Verses 19-22

King Allowed, vs. 19-22

The elders of Israel had their minds made up before they came to Samuel. They did not intend to forego the demand for a king under any circumstances. They refused to believe Samuel’s words, adamantly insisting that they would have a king over them.

Now they prove that their real reason for requesting the king was that very dangerous one of becoming like the nations around them. Doubtless they had been embarrassed by the fact they had no king. Probably the nations around them had ridiculed them for not having a regularly established leader. So they wanted progress in their country, to have a king like the others, so he could be their judge. He could go out at the head of their armies and make them proud in leading them in their battles against the enemy. They had forgotten the lesson of Ebenezer already. Have not the Lord’s churches and His people today been weakened by wanting to adopt the secular ways of the world into their services?

Samuel was very saddened that the people would not listen to logic and reason, but again he carried it all to the Lord: Again the Lord told His faithful servant to do as they wished and make them a king. This is another example of the Lord’s permissive will. Samuel sent them home while he sought out the king the Lord would have anointed over Israel.

Lessons from chapter eight: 1) Errors by Christian leaders furnish excuses for others to commit error; 2) nothing in the world, adapted by the Lord’s people, will better His own methods; 3) the Lord often lets His children have their desires to show them His way is best: 4) when the Lord’s servants feel rejected they should remember God’s answer to Samuel.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 8". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/1-samuel-8.html. 1985.
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