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II. The Monarchy of Saul from His Election Till His Ultimate Rejection - 1 Samuel 8-15
The earthly monarchy in Israel was established in the time of Samuel, and through his mediation. At the pressing desire of the people, Samuel installed the Benjaminite Saul as king, according to the command of God. The reign of Saul may be divided into two essentially different periods: viz., (1) the establishment and vigorous development of his regal supremacy (1 Samuel 8-15); (2) the decline and gradual overthrow of his monarchy (1 Samuel 16-31). The establishment of the monarchy is introduced by the negotiations of the elders of Israel with Samuel concerning the appointment of a king (1 Samuel 8). This is followed by (1) the account of the anointing of Saul as king (1 Samuel 9:1-10:16), of his election by lot, and of his victory over the Ammonites and the confirmation of his monarchy at Gilgal (1 Samuel 10:17-11:15), together with Samuel's final address to the nation (1 Samuel 12); (2) the history of Saul's reign, of which only his earliest victories over the Philistines are given at all elaborately (1 Samuel 13:1-14:46), his other wars and family history being disposed of very summarily (1 Samuel 14:47-52); (3) the account of his disobedience to the command of God in the war against the Amalekites, and the rejection on the part of God with which Samuel threatened him in consequence (1 Samuel 15). The brevity with which the history of his actual reign is treated, in contrast with the elaborate account of his election and confirmation as king, may be accounted for from the significance and importance of Saul's monarchy in relation to the kingdom of God in Israel.
The people of Israel traced the cause of the oppression and distress, from which they had suffered more and more in the time of the judges, to the defects of their own political constitution. They wished to have a king, like all the heathen nations, to conduct their wars and conquer their enemies. Now, although the desire to be ruled by a king, which had existed in the nation even from the time of Gideon, was not in itself at variance with the appointment of Israel as a kingdom of God, yet the motive which led the people to desire it was both wrong and hostile to God, since the source of all the evils and misfortunes from which Israel suffered was to be found in the apostasy of the nation from its God, and its coquetting with the gods of the heathen. Consequently their self-willed obstinacy in demanding a king, notwithstanding the warnings of Samuel, was an actual rejection of the sovereignty of Jehovah, since He had always manifested himself to His people as their king by delivering them out of the power of their foes, as soon as they returned to Him with simple penitence of heart. Samuel pointed this out to the elders of Israel, when they laid their petition before him that he would choose them a king. But Jehovah fulfilled their desires. He directed Samuel to appoint them a king, who possessed all the qualifications that were necessary to secure for the nation what it looked for from a king, and who therefore might have established the monarchy in Israel as foreseen and foretold by Jehovah, if he had not presumed upon his own power, but had submitted humbly to the will of God as made known to him by the prophet. Saul, who was chosen from Benjamin, the smallest but yet the most warlike of all the tribes, a man in the full vigour of youth, and surpassing all the rest of the people in beauty of form as well as bodily strength, not only possessed “warlike bravery and talent, unbroken courage that could overcome opposition of every kind, a stedfast desire for the well-being of the nation in the face of its many and mighty foes, and zeal and pertinacity in the execution of his plans” ( Ewald), but also a pious heart, and an earnest zeal for the maintenance of the provisions of the law, and the promotion of the religious life of the nation. He would not commence the conflict with the Philistines until sacrifice had been offered (1 Samuel 13:9.); in the midst of the hot pursuit of the foe he opposed the sin committed by the people in eating flesh with the blood ( 1 Samuel 14:32-33); he banished the wizards and necromancers out of the land (1 Samuel 28:3, 1 Samuel 28:9); and in general he appears to have kept a strict watch over the observance of the Mosaic law in his kingdom. But the consciousness of his own power, coupled with the energy of his character, led his astray into an incautious disregard of the commands of God; his zeal in the prosecution of his plans hurried him on to reckless and violent measures; and success in his undertakings heightened his ambition into a haughty rebellion against the Lord, the God-king of Israel. These errors come out very conspicuously in the three great events of his reign which are the most circumstantially described. When Saul was preparing for war against the Philistines, and Samuel did not appear at once on the day appointed, he presumptuously disregarded the prohibition of the prophet, and offered the sacrifice himself without waiting for Samuel to arrive (1 Samuel 13:7.). In the engagement with the Philistines, he attempted to force on the annihilation of the foe by pronouncing the ban upon any one in his army who should eat bread before the evening, or till he had avenged himself upon his foes. Consequently, he not only diminished the strength of the people, so that the overthrow of the enemy was not great, but he also prepared humiliation for himself, inasmuch as he was not able to carry out his vow (1 Samuel 14:24.). But he sinned still more grievously in the war with the Amalekites, when he violated the express command of the Lord by only executing the ban upon that nation as far as he himself thought well, and thus by such utterly unpardonable conduct altogether renounced the obedience which he owed to the Lord his God (1 Samuel 15). All these acts of transgression manifest an attempt to secure the unconditional gratification of his own self-will, and a growing disregard of the government of Jehovah in Israel; and the consequence of the whole was simply this, that Saul not only failed to accomplish that deliverance of the nation out of the power of its foes which the Israelites had anticipated from their king, and was unable to inflict any lasting humiliation upon the Philistines, but that he undermined the stability of his monarchy, and brought about his own rejection on the part of God.
From all this we may see very clearly, that the reason why the occurrences connected with the election of Saul as king as fully described on the one hand, and on the other only such incidents connected with his enterprises after he began to reign as served to bring out the faults and crimes of his monarchy, was, that Israel might learn from this, that royalty itself could never secure the salvation it expected, unless the occupant of the throne submitted altogether to the will of the Lord. Of the other acts of Saul, the wars with the different nations round about are only briefly mentioned, but with this remark, that he displayed his strength and gained the victory in whatever direction he turned (1 Samuel 14:47), simply because this statement was sufficient to bring out the brighter side of his reign, inasmuch as this clearly showed that it might have been a source of blessing to the people of God, if the king had only studied how to govern his people in the power and according to the will of Jehovah. If we examine the history of Saul's reign from this point of view, all the different points connected with it exhibit the greatest harmony. Modern critics, however, have discovered irreconcilable contradictions in the history, simply because, instead of studying it for the purpose of fathoming the plan and purpose which lie at the foundation, they have entered upon the inquiry with a twofold assumption: viz., (1) that the government of Jehovah over Israel was only a subjective idea of the Israelitish nation, without any objective reality; and (2) that the human monarchy was irreconcilably opposed to the government of God. Governed by these axioms, which are derived not from the Scriptures, but from the philosophical views of modern times, the critics have found it impossible to explain the different accounts in any other way than by the purely external hypothesis, that the history contained in this book has been compiled from two different sources, in one of which the establishment of the earthly monarchy was treated as a violation of the supremacy of God, whilst the other took a more favourable view. From the first source, 1 Samuel 8, 1 Samuel 10:17-27, 1 Samuel 10:11-12, and 1 Samuel 10:15 are said to have been derived; and 1 Samuel 9-10:17, 1 Samuel 10:13, and 1 Samuel 10:14 from the second.
1 Samuel 8:1-2
The reason assigned for the appointment of Samuel's sons as judges is his own advanced age. The inference which we might draw from this alone, namely, that they were simply to support their father in the administration of justice, and that Samuel had no intention of laying down his office, and still less of making the supreme office of judge hereditary in his family, is still more apparent from the fact that they were stationed as judges of the nation in Beersheba, which was on the southern border of Canaan (Judges 20:1, etc.; see at Genesis 21:31). The sons are also mentioned again in 1 Chronicles 6:13, though the name of the elder has either been dropped out of the Masoretic text or has become corrupt.
1 Samuel 8:3
The sons, however, did not walk in the ways of their father, but set their hearts upon gain, took bribes, and perverted justice, in opposition to the command of God (see Exodus 23:6, Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19).
1 Samuel 8:4-5
These circumstances (viz., Samuel's age and the degeneracy of his sons) furnished the elders of Israel with the opportunity to apply to Samuel with this request: “ Appoint us a king to judge us, as all the nations ” (the heathen), sc., have kings. This request resembles so completely the law of the king in Deuteronomy 17:14 (observe, for example, the expression כּכל־הגּוים ), that the distinct allusion to it is unmistakeable. The custom of expressly quoting the book of the law is met with for the first time in the writings of the period of the captivity. The elders simply desired what Jehovah had foretold through His servant Moses, as a thing that would take place in the future and for which He had even made provision.
Nevertheless “ the thing displeased Samuel when they said,” etc. This serves to explain הדּבר , and precludes the supposition that Samuel's displeasure had reference to what they had said concerning his own age and the conduct of his sons. At the same time, the reason why the petition for a king displeased the prophet, was not that he regarded the earthly monarchy as irreconcilable with the sovereignty of God, or even as untimely; for in both these cases he would not have entered into the question at all, but would simply have refused the request as ungodly or unseasonable. But “ Samuel prayed to the Lord,” i.e., he laid the matter before the Lord in prayer, and the Lord said (1 Samuel 8:7): “ Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee.” This clearly implies, that not only in Samuel's opinion, but also according to the counsel of God, the time had really come for the establishment of the earthly sovereignty in Israel. In this respect the request of the elders for a king to reign over them was perfectly justifiable; and there is no reason to say, with Calvin, “they ought to have had regard to the times and conditions prescribed by God, and it would no doubt have come to pass that the regal power would have grown up in the nation. Although, therefore, it had not yet been established, they ought to have waited patiently for the time appointed by God, and not to have given way to their own reasons and counsels apart from the will of God.” For God had not only appointed no particular time for the establishment of the monarchy; but in the introduction to the law for the king, “When thou shalt say, I will set a king over me,” He had ceded the right to the representatives of the nation to deliberate upon the matter. Nor did they err in this respect, that while Samuel was still living, it was not the proper time to make use of the permission that they had received; for they assigned as the reason for their application, that Samuel had grown old: consequently they did not petition for a king instead of the prophet who had been appointed and so gloriously accredited by God, but simply that Samuel himself would give them a king in consideration of his own age, in order that when he should become feeble or die, they might have a judge and leader of the nation. Nevertheless the Lord declared, “ They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. As they have always done from the day that I brought them up out of Egypt unto this day, that they have forsaken me and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.” This verdict on the part of God refers not so much to the desire expressed, as to the feelings from which it had sprung. Externally regarded, the elders of Israel had a perfect right to present the request; the wrong was in their hearts.
(Note: Calvin has correctly pointed out how much would have been warrantable under the circumstances: “They might, indeed, have reminded Samuel of his old age, which rendered him less able to attend to the duties of his office, and also of the avarice of his sons and the corruptness of the judges; or they might have complained that his sons did not walk in his footsteps, and have asked that God would choose suitable men to govern them, and thus have left the whole thing to His will. And if they had done this, there can be no doubt that they would have received a gracious and suitable answer. But they did not think of calling upon God; they demanded that a king should be given them, and brought forward the customs and institutions of other nations.”)
They not only declared to the prophet their confidence in his administration of his office, but they implicitly declared him incapable of any further superintendence of their civil and political affairs. This mistrust was founded upon mistrust in the Lord and His guidance. In the person of Samuel they rejected the Lord and His rule. They wanted a king, because they imagined that Jehovah their God-king was not able to secure their constant prosperity. Instead of seeking for the cause of the misfortunes which had hitherto befallen them in their own sin and want of fidelity towards Jehovah, they searched for it in the faulty constitution of the nation itself. In such a state of mind as this, their desire for a king was a contempt and rejection of the kingly government of Jehovah, and was nothing more than forsaking Jehovah to serve other gods. (See 1 Samuel 10:18-19, and 1 Samuel 12:7., where Samuel points out to the people still more fully the wrong that they have committed.)
In order to show them wherein they were wrong, Samuel was instructed to bear witness against them, by proclaiming the right of the king who would rule over them. בּהם תּעיד העד neither means “warn them earnestly” (De Wette), nor “explain and solemnly expound to them” (Thenius). בּ העיד means to bear witness, or give testimony against a person, i.e., to point out to him his wrong. The following words, והגּדתּוגו , are to be understood as explanatory, in the sense of “ by proclaiming to them.” “ The manner ( mishpat) of the king ” is the right or prerogative which the king would claim, namely, such a king as was possessed by all the other nations, and such an one as Israel desired in the place of its own God-king, i.e., a king who would rule over his people with arbitrary and absolute power.
In accordance with the instructions of God, Samuel told the people all the words of Jehovah, i.e., all that God had said to him, as related in 1 Samuel 8:7-9, and then proclaimed to them the right of the king.
1 Samuel 8:11
“ He will take your sons, and set them for himself upon his chariots, and upon his saddle-horses, and they will run before his chariot; ” i.e., he will make the sons of the people his retainers at court, his charioteers, riders, and runners. The singular suffix attached to בּמרכּבתּו is not to be altered, as Thenius suggests, into the plural form, according to the lxx, Chald., and Syr., since the word refers, not to war-chariots, but to the king's state-carriage; and פּרשׁ does not mean a rider, but a saddle-horse, as in 2 Samuel 1:6; 1 Kings 5:6, etc.
1 Samuel 8:12
“ And to make himself chiefs over thousands and over fifties;” - the greatest and smallest military officers are mentioned, instead of all the soldiers and officers (comp. Numbers 31:14; 2 Kings 1:9., with Exodus 18:21, Exodus 18:25). ולשׂוּם is also dependent upon יקּח (1 Samuel 8:11), - “ and to plough his field ( חרישׁ , lit. the ploughed), and reap his harvest, and make his instruments of war and instruments of his chariots.”
1 Samuel 8:13
“ Your daughters he will take as preparers of ointments, cooks, and bakers,” sc., for his court.
1 Samuel 8:14-17
All their possessions he would also take to himself: the good (i.e., the best) fields, vineyards, and olive-gardens, he would take away, and give to his servants; he would tithe the sowings and vineyards (i.e., the produce which they yielded), and give them to his courtiers and servants. סריס , lit. the eunuch; here it is used in a wider sense for the royal chamberlains. Even their slaves (men-servants and maid-servants) and their beasts of draught and burden he would take and use for his own work, and raise the tithe of the flock. The word בּחוּריכם , between the slaves (men-servants and maid-servants) and the asses, is very striking and altogether unsuitable; and in all probability it is only an ancient copyist's error for בּקריכם , your oxen, as we may see from the lxx rendering, τὰ βουκόλια . The servants and maids, oxen and asses, answer in that case to one another; whilst the young men are included among the sons in 1 Samuel 8:11, 1 Samuel 8:12. In this way the king would make all the people into his servants or slaves. This is the meaning of the second clause of 1 Samuel 8:17; for the whole are evidently summed up in conclusion in the expression, “ and ye shall be his servants.”
1 Samuel 8:18
Israel would then cry out to God because of its king, but the Lord would not hear it then. This description, which contains a fearful picture of the tyranny of the king, is drawn from the despotic conduct of the heathen kings, and does not presuppose, as many have maintained, the times of the later kings, which were so full of painful experiences.
With such a description of the “ right of the king ” as this, Samuel had pointed out to the elders the dangers connected with a monarchy in so alarming a manner, that they ought to have been brought to reflection, and to have desisted from their demand. “ But the people refused to hearken to the voice of Samuel.” They repeated their demand, “ We will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and conduct our battles.”
These words of the people were laid by Samuel before the Lord, and the Lord commanded him to give the people a king. With this answer Samuel sent the men of Israel, i.e., the elders, away. This is implied in the words, “ Go ye every man unto his city,” since we may easily supply from the context, “till I shall call you again, to appoint you the king you desire.”
The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 8". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany