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the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 8

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Verses 1-3


Here begins a new phase in the book. After the priest Eli and the prophet Samuel, a new person comes on the stage: the king.

The Sons of Samuel

Samuel has appointed his sons as judges and that is not right. Nowhere in Scripture does it appear that anyone becomes judge because his father is a judge. Judge becomes someone not by hereditary succession. A judge is given by God. Samuel appoints his sons when he is old. With this appointment he will certainly have had the interest of the people in mind. Yet his act is an independent one. Is God not able, just as He once did with Moses, to support him in his old age for his task, until God Himself has appointed a successor? We see Samuel act several times later. His age is therefore not such that he is incapable of serving and that therefore immediate follow-up seems necessary.

Our concern for the future of God’s people can also easily lead us to wrong acting. Maybe, however well-meaning we may be, we want to arrange things in the church according to our insight. However, our arrangement ensures that for the next generation we will eliminate the trust in the Lord. The hand of the creature does not need to grab the ark to prevent it from falling (2 Samuel 6:6-Judges :), for God is mighty to take care of that himself.

“Joel” means “the LORD is God” and “Abiah” means “my father is the LORD”. These names show what Samuel and his wife wanted for these sons. They hoped that their lives would bear witness to what their name means. It is possible that Samuel had this in mind when he made his two sons judges in Berseba to judge there.

Berseba is situated in the south (1 Samuel 3:20), far away from the places where he exercises his service as a judge and prophet. That means that they are judge in a limited area and not over the whole people. Most Israelites have nothing to do with them at all. Normally the behavior of Samuel’s sons would not interest them either, but now they can use it to motivate their own carnal desires.

It seems Samuel has overlooked the fact that the office of judge is not an office that can be transferred from father to son. Something else seems to have escaped Samuel’s attention and that is that his sons cannot cope with this task. He does not see the faults of his sons, while the people have an eye for it. In it he is reminiscent of Eli and his sons.

We should not compare Samuel’s mistakes with the mistakes Eli made with his two sons. Because of what Eli did, the priesthood failed completely. However, this does not alter the fact that the prophet Samuel also makes such a mistake. He too does not see the mistakes of his sons. There is always the danger that we will easily perceive the mistakes of others, while equally easily overlooking the mistakes of our own children.

We may wonder why such a God-fearing father has such bad sons. Could that be because of his many trips and therefore his long absence? God’s Word does not express itself about it. We find more often, both in Scripture and in daily life, that God-fearing parents have children who do not follow in the footsteps of their parents’ faith. It is not always clear why. In any case, let us be cautious in criticizing the education.

The sins of Samuel’s sons are threefold.
1. They turn aside after dishonest gain. God’s Word warns those who care for God’s people not to seek financial gain (1 Peter 5:2).
2. They take bribes. As a result, their jurisdiction does not become a fair one. The best-paying or most bidding person is found to be in the right.
3. As a result of the two preceding points, they pervert justice.
By this practice they show the features of an ungodly man (Proverbs 17:23; Exodus 23:6; Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:18-Proverbs :).

Verses 4-5

The People Want a King

The desire to have a king is expressed by “all the elders of Israel”. The leaders, the fathers of the people, lead the people. Wisdom is not always to be found with the older, as Elihu says: “The abundant [in years] may not be wise, Nor may elders understand justice” (Job 32:9). It is a general wish. In the wickedness of Samuel’s sons, the people found an excuse to desire a king. To give a reason for their desire for a king, the people misused Samuel’s mistake in the appraisal of his sons. It is proof that they are blind to their own failure and to the fact that a king will not do better. In 1 Samuel 8:7 the LORD says what the real reason is, and this is that they no longer want to listen to Him.

This is also the real reason for introducing all kinds of offices into Christianity. Religious man wants visible dominion. The invisible guidance of the Holy Spirit does not meet the wishes of man. Man must be able to point to a qualified pastor or a pope with his staff. The church must learn from business. The church has become a business that has to be run. There is a product that needs to be sold.

Things must be recognizable to all people, to believers and unbelievers. The unseen God is too far away and must be brought closer, made tangible, perceptible to man’s senses. You must be able to smell, hear, see, and experience Him.

The elders substantiate their request for a king with two arguments. The first is that Samuel is old, and the second is that his sons are bad. If these were real arguments, they should have complained earlier about Eli’s age, who was much older, and about the behavior of his sons, who were much worse. We do not hear that they have ever complained about that. That is why they are utility arguments. If you want something, you will always find a reason.

It has been calculated that Samuel must have been here between sixty and seventy years old. Then you are at an advanced age, but not really old. There is no evidence that he became forgetful or began to show other signs of old age. He was still powerful. This becomes clear when he later chops Agag with the sword in pieces (1 Samuel 15:33). There is a third reason why the people want a king. That will come to light later (1 Samuel 12:12).

The desire to have a king is not wrong in itself. God wants to give His people a king, they may even ask for it (Deuteronomy 17:14-Proverbs :). But the people want one according to their own taste, to be able to compete with the nations. They do not want a king who reveals to them the will of God and rules according to His will. Nor do they want to wait for God’s time and God’s choice. They want a king and they want him now. Therefore their question here is wrong and not according to God’s will. It is not only about what one asks, but with what purpose and in what mind. They want something visible, something for which they can prostrate.

Their desire stems from what they see in the nations around them. They want to be “just like all the nations”. They have a king, so they also want a king. This word must have been particularly painful for the LORD because He separated them from all the other nations to be His people, a people that proclaims His excellencies. It is their fame that they are not like the other nations (Numbers 23:9).

Verses 6-8

Samuel Must Listen to the People

The LORD’s answer in 1 Samuel 8:7 gives reason to think that Samuel’s personal feelings have been hurt and that he does not like the people’s request. Yet that is only a guess. If there is any hurt at all, Samuel does not allow himself to be led by it. He brings these things to the LORD. Samuel’s reaction is prayer. This may be the reaction for every disappointment that can happen to someone in life. He is the spiritual leader and is put aside, but he does not complain or sue the people – unlike Elijah (Romans 11:2).

He does not feel offended either. A man with his spirit and mind can bear that. He has never sought himself. He has not claimed his position either. It is the position the LORD has given him. He did not suddenly appear as a prophet but grew in this position. Everyone has been able to observe his whole life. He also did not use the death of Eli and his sons to become the leader of the people. He has always waited for God’s time and God’s command. That the people reject this man is not to be excused.

The LORD soothes Samuel’s displeased feelings by reminding him of the people’s continued ingratitude to Him Himself. God therefore tells Samuel that by asking for a king as all nations, the people in fact reject Him as their King. God is wronged more by His people than they wrong Samuel. This answer of the LORD is also an encouragement for Samuel in case he should wonder if they reject him because he somehow failed. The spiritual minded person will first examine himself in such situations.

Samuel must listen to the voice of the people. He must show them what they ask, although they do not ask in accordance with God’s will. They need to learn what it is like to have a king to their own taste. Only when they have experienced this, God gives them the king to His heart. In the book of Hosea God comes back to their request here. There we hear that God has given them a king in His anger (Hosea 13:10-1 Kings :).

Listening to the voice of the people is democracy. We find this in politics and in the church. Nothing is more unclear and fickler than the will of the people (cf. Acts 19:32; Luke 23:23). If man absolutely wants something, God sometimes gives what he demands (Psalms 106:15; Psalms 78:26-Obadiah :). Sometimes God withholds something in His love and sometimes He gives us something in His anger.

God tells how the people constantly rejected Him. Samuel is now gaining the same experience. The rebellion of the people has also proved itself in more than one occasion towards Moses and Aaron. The desire to have a king is the lowest point of centuries of dissatisfaction with the place where grace has brought them. In His grace God connects Samuel to Himself and lets him share in the reproach that the people have done to Him over and over again (cf. Matthew 10:24; John 15:18; John 15:20). Paul longed for such conformity to Christ (Philippians 3:10-1 Kings :).

Verses 9-18

The Conduct of the King

God wants Samuel to present to the people the full responsibility of what they desire. He did the same at the Sinai, when the people said they would do everything He would ask. In response He has given His people the law. As a faithful and obedient prophet Samuel transmits all the words of the LORD to the people. He proposes to the people, what the king they desire, will ask of them, what they will have to give to him. How else could the splendor of the kingship they desire be preserved? In the days of Israel’s greatest prosperity, the burdens become unbearable, so that we hear them say to Solomon’s son: “Your father made our yoke hard” (1 Kings 12:4).

Their king will ask all of them, he will take from them. They will lose their personal freedom and will no longer possess their goods or their children. Taking the fields and so on means that he will claim the income from them. The land remains in the possession of the inhabitants. We see that as Ahab wants to have the vineyard of Naboth (1 Kings 21:2-Leviticus :). Their sons and daughters will serve him. All kinds of burdens will be imposed on the people. They will only have duties and no rights. And what will the first king do with all that the people had to give him? He uses everything against the man to God’s heart. Saul is anything but the king God wants to give.

Six- or seven-times Samuel tells them that their king will “take”. This is a great contrast to Gods king, who will give them everything for their well-being. When the Lord Jesus has satiated a crowd, it is not surprising that they want to make Him king (John 6:15). This is a blessing for man after centuries of living under royal greed and oppression. In Christ he found Someone Who does not take but gives. However, Christ does not want to receive the kingship from the hands of men or from the hand of Satan. He takes it only from the hand of God. When that moment comes, the longtime of prosperity and peace will begin.

Samuel also tells them how they will wail over their king. Not much later will they say that they have sinned by coveting a king (1 Samuel 12:19). Then it is too late, and they must continue with the king they have coveted. In Christianity it has been the same. They have chosen themselves leaders, people who speak what they like to hear. With this, God has been put aside, that He will not have the say. This choice will find its lowest point in the antichrist. Saul is a picture of the antichrist who persecutes the man of God, David.

God gives leaders, pastors in the church (Hebrews 13:17; Hebrews 13:7). We must acknowledge them (1 Thessalonians 5:12-1 Chronicles :) and be grateful for them. Whoever raises himself to this task or functions according to human choice will in many cases be a plague for God’s people. The pope is such a leader, but also many humanly appointed pastors. God can give a certain blessing through such people, for example as a dam against evil. Yet that is no justification whatsoever for the position of these people.

Christianity is not satisfied with the invisible guidance of God through the Holy Spirit. God can bless through things that completely contradict Him. It is sad that the prophet Samuel is being replaced by Saul because of the choice of the people. Do we want only those leaders who have been given to us by God or do we make leaders ourselves?

Verses 19-20

The People Stick to Their Choice

The people stick to their choice and express themselves more strongly. What started with a request (1 Samuel 8:5) has now become a demand. They feel safer towards a visible enemy with a visible leader than with an invisible leader. Saul has not been able to work this safety. He himself becomes a victim of the enemy he must fight. No judge has ever been killed in the fight against the enemy he has to fight.

Verses 21-22

The Choice of the People Is Confirmed

Samuel goes again with everything he hears from the people to the LORD. Later Hezekiah does something similar with letters from the king of Assyria, about which he also speaks with the LORD and spreads them out for Him (Isaiah 37:14). Samuel does not speak like Moses of “rebels” (Numbers 20:10) but remains gentle.

The LORD answers Samuel for the third time that he must listen to the people (1 Samuel 8:7; 1 Samuel 8:91 Samuel 8:22). It seems to indicate that Samuel has great difficulty to do the will of the people. Samuel then sends the people home without a word of accusation. The matter has been settled so far that Samuel is from now on waiting for the LORD.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Samuel 8". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-samuel-8.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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