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Friday, June 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 8

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-22


1 Samuel 8-31


Establishment By Samuel Of The Israelitish Kingdom Under The Rule Of Saul. 1 Samuel 8-12

The Preparations. Chapters 8–9

I. The Persistent Desire of the People after a King conveyed through their Elders to Samuel

1 Samuel 8:1-22

1And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over 2Israel. Now [And] the name of his first-born was Joel , 1 and the name of his [the] 3second Abiah2; they were judges in Beersheba. And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre,3 and took bribes, and perverted judgment.

4Then [And] all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to 5Samuel to Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk 6not in thy ways; now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But [And] the thing displeased Samuel when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel 7prayed unto the Lord [Jehovah]. And the Lord [Jehovah] said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee,4 but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.8According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken [forsaking]5 me and served [serving] other gods, so do they also [om. also] unto thee [ins. also]. 9Now therefore [And now] hearken unto their voice; howbeit [om. howbeit] yet protest solemnly unto [solemnly warn]6 them, and show them the manner7 of the king that shall reign over them.

10And Samuel told all the words of the Lord [Jehovah] to the people that asked 11of him a king. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen [put them in his chariot and on his horses8], and some [they] 12shall run before his chariots [chariot]. And he will appoint9 him captains over thousands and captains over fifties, and will set them [some he will set] to ear [plough] his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war and [ins. 13the] instruments [equipment] of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries [perfumers],10 and to be [om. to be] cooks, and to be [om. to be] 14bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, 15even [om. 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 16servants. And he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your 17goodliest young men [oxen],11 and your asses, and put them to his work. He will 18take the tenth of your sheep; and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which [whom] ye shall have chosen you, and the Lord [Jehovah] will not hear you in that day.

19Nevertheless [And] the people refused to obey [hearken to] the voice of Samuel. 20And they said, Nay, but we will have a king over us; That [And] we also may [will] be like all the nations, and that [om. that] our king may [shall] judge us, 21and go out before us, and fight our battles. And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord [Jehovah]. And the 22Lord [Jehovah] said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.


1 Samuel 8:1-3. Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abiah, associated with him as judges over Israel.—The reason here given, why Samuel made his two sons judges, is his age, for which his work, as sketched in 1 Samuel 7:15-17, had become too hard. The two sons, Joel and Abiah, are also mentioned in 1 Chronicles 6:13 [Eng. A. V. 1 Samuel 8:28], where, however, in the masoretic text, the name of the first has fallen out.12 [These names may be taken as indications of the father’s pious feeling. The first, Joel, “Jehovah is God,” was, not improbably, a protest against the idolatry of the Israelites. Hebrew names thus frequently serve as historical finger-signs, pointing out prevailing tendencies or modes of feeling at certain times. Comp. Ichabod (1 Samuel 4:21-22), Saul’s ’sons Meribbaal (Mephibosheth) and Ishbaal (Ishbosheth), David’s sons (2 Samuel 3:2-5), Manasseh the King, Malachi. The name of Samuel’s second son, Abiah, “Jehovah is father,” expresses trust in the fatherhood of God, an idea which hardly appears in O. T. except in proper names. “It records, doubtless, the fervent aspiration of him who first devised it as a name, and, we may hope, of many who subsequently adopted it, after that endearing and intimate relationship between God and the soul of man, which is truly expressed by the words ‘father’ and ‘child.’ It may be accepted as proof that believers in ancient days, though they had not possession of the perfect knowledge of ‘the mystery of God and of the Father and of Christ,’ or of the doctrine of the Holy Ghost, nevertheless ‘received the Spirit of adoption,’ that God ‘sent forth the Spirit of His Son into their hearts, whereby they cried, Abba, Father’ ” (Wilkinson, Personal Names in the Bible, page 169 sq.).—Tr.].—They acted as judges in Beersheba, “Well of the seven (that is, lambs), or of the oath” (Genesis 21:28-33), the spot consecrated by the Patriarchal history (Genesis 22:19; Genesis 26:23; Genesis 28:10), in the extreme south of the country, on the border of Edom, now Bir-es-seba [“Well of the seven, or of the lion”] (Robins. I. 337 [Amer. Ed. L., 204 sq.]).13 Josephus (Ant. VI., 3, 2) adds, “in Bethel” after “judges,” thus intimating that one son acted in the North, the other in the South, both together comprising the whole country in their judicial work, according to which Samuel had wholly retired; but against this is the previous statement that Samuel exercised his office “all the days of his life,” and therefore his sons could only have been appointed by him assistants in the performance of duties which his old age rendered too arduous for him. Ewald’s opinion that this addition of Josephus “suits so well,” that “he must have gotten it from a still better account in the histories of the Kings,” is a mere surmise, over against which we may put with equal right the opinion that Josephus was indebted for this addition (Nägelsb.) to his “very lively fancy” (Then.), and that the Masoretic text fits in so well with the whole historical situation, that the integrity of the passage cannot be assailed. Since, on the one hand, our attention is directed to Samuel’s age,14 which compelled him to make his sons judges, while yet he did not lay down his office, and, on the other hand, the desire after a firm and energetic royal power was based on the dangerous condition of the country by reason of foreign enemies, it appears that Samuel, in order to lighten the burden, set his sons as judges in a part of the land, and in the part which occasioned the greatest difficulties and exertions, that is, the southern. 1 Samuel 8:3 affirms that this measure was a failure. In consequence of the division of the judicial power between the father and the sons, the authority of the office was so debased in the eyes of the people by the crimes of the latter, as the sacerdotal dignity was by the sons of Eli, that the desire for a higher authority to guide the people found utterance.—They took bribes and perverted judgment.—They thus transgressed the law of the Lord (Exodus 23:6; Exodus 23:8; comp. Deuteronomy 16:19), and destroyed the foundation of the judicial office as the office for the administration of right and justice. Their official unfaithfulness is contrasted with their father’s walk: they walked not in his ways.—This fact or judgment alone is given, and Samuel is not, like Eli, charged with the blame of his sons’ misconduct. The words: they inclined or turned aside (namely, from the ways of their father15) after lucre, exhibit the roots of their wicked official procedure in a mind directed to gain. Luther gives the correct sense: “they turned aside to covetousness.”

1 Samuel 8:4-9.The demand for a king

1 Samuel 8:4-5, how it was made, 1 Samuel 8:6, how it was received by Samuel and carried before the Lord, 1 Samuel 8:7-9, how he, and through him the people, was instructed concerning it by the Lord.

1 Samuel 8:4-5. “All the elders of Israel” assemble in Ramah, Samuel’s judicial seat. Thus the whole nation is in motion against the existing condition of things; it appears before Samuel officially and formally in the body of its representatives. Two things they adduce as ground of the demand which they wish to make: 1) Samuel’s age, that is, the lack of vigor and energy in the government, which, with his advancing age, made itself perceptible to the whole nation, and was not supplied by the assistance of his sons, which he had for that reason (1 Samuel 8:1) called in; 2) the evil walk, the misgovernment of his sons, the moral and legal depravation which they produced. The demand is: Make us a king (Acts 13:21); and two things are added: 1) in reference to his judicial work: he was to judge; the royal office was to take the place of the judicial, and so the meaning of the demand is a complete abrogation of the hitherto existing form of government under Judges 2:0) in reference to the royal-monarchical constitution of the surrounding nations: the Israelitish constitution is to be like that (כְּ). After the words “as all the nations,” we must supply “have such a one.” Israel will not be behind other nations in respect to the splendor and power of royal rule. The accordance of the last words: “like all the nations” with Deuteronomy 17:14 is to be noted.—In 1 Samuel 8:6 two things are said of Samuel’s conduct in reference to this demand. First, that he received it with displeasure (וַיֵרַע, properly: “the thing was evil in the eyes of Samuel”). But the cause of his displeasure is expressly said to be, that they made the demand: “Give us a king to judge us.” He did not, therefore, take it amiss that they blamed the wrong-doing of his sons, nor that they referred to his age, and thus intimated that he was no longer able to bear the whole burden of the office, while his sons did evilly. What displeased him was the expression of desire for a king as ruler. How far and why this demand was the occasion of his displeasure appears from the connection. From the words of Samuel (1 Samuel 12:12) we see 1) that the people, pressed anew by the Ammonites, demanded a king who should give them the protection against enemies, which was not expected from the aging Samuel; 2) that, in this demand, they left out of view the kingdom of God in their midst, turned away their heart from the God who had hitherto as their almighty king so often saved them from the power of the enemy, and put their trust in an external, visible kingdom as means of safety and protection against their enemies, over against the invisible royal rule of their God, whose instrument, Samuel, they rejected. The same thing is expressed in the words of Samuel, 1 Samuel 10:18-19. In both passages, however, Samuel’s discourse is an echo of the word of God Himself, imparted to him in answer to the question which he had asked God in prayer. This, namely, is the second important factor in Samuel’s procedure: He prayed to the Lord. Deeply moved by the sin which, in this demand, the people committed against the Lord as their king (and this was the real occasion of his displeasure and unwillingness in reference to the desired revolution in the political constitution, which was connected with the rejection of himself as representative and instrument of the divine government), he carried the whole matter before the Lord in prayer, and, in this important crisis also of the history of his people, who would no longer be guided by him, showed himself the humble, consecrated man and hero of prayer.—In 1 Samuel 8:7-9 we have the declaration, in which the Lord instructs Samuel as to the question of his prayer, and at the same time decides on the demand of the people. Prayer was the best means by which Samuel could learn the purpose and will of God in reference to this demand of the nation. The words: Hearken to the voice of the people, express the divine fulfillment of the people’s request. Here a discrepancy might be supposed to exist between this statement and Samuel’s reception of the request in 1 Samuel 8:6. But the appearance of such a discrepancy vanishes before the following considerations. An earthly-human kingdom could not at all, merely as such, stand in opposition with the revealed theocratic relation of the covenant-God with His people, in which the latter (Exodus 19:5 sq.) were to be His property and a “kingdom” of priests, and He was to be their king (comp. Exodus 15:18 : “Jehovah is king forever,” with Psalms 44:5; Psalms 68:25; Psalms 74:12; Psalms 10:16). For, if hitherto under the Theocracy chosen instruments of the Lord, like Moses, Joshua and the Judges, were the leaders of the people, governing them by His law, in His name and according to His will, then also a leader and governor of the people, depending solely on God’s will, governing solely in His name, and devoted to His law, intended and desiring to be nothing but the instrument of the invisible king in respect to His people, might rule over them with the power and dignity of a king. A king, as God’s instrument, chosen by God the royal ruler of His people out of their midst, could no more stand opposed to the fundamental idea of the theocracy, than all the former great leaders and guides of the people, who were chosen by Him for the realization of His will. This conception of the absolute dependence of an earthly-human kingdom in Israel on the invisible King of the nation is expressed in the so-called law of the king in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. As to the theocratical idea of a king, comp. Genesis 17:6; Genesis 17:16; Genesis 35:11; Numbers 24:17. There is little occasion to suppose a contradiction between this idea of a theocratically-conditioned Israelitish kingdom and the Theocracy in Israel, when we consider the need of a unifying power for the whole national life within and without, as in Gideon’s time against the Midianites (Judges 8:22-23), and now, in the time of the aged Samuel, both against the arbitrary rule and legal disorder of his sons, and against the Ammonites (1 Samuel 12:12) and the Philistines (1 Samuel 9:16). If Israel’s desire for a king had been in itself opposed to the theocratic principle, Samuel would not have carried the matter to the Lord in prayer, but would have given a decided refusal to the Elders, and the divine decision would not have been: “ Hearken to the voice of the people, make them a king” (1 Samuel 8:22). But the reason of Samuel’s necessary displeasure at this desire clearly appears from the judgment passed on it in the divine response: they have not rejected thee; but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.—In their request for a king, they did not assume the attitude of heart and of mind to the Lord, which was proper for them as His people, towards Him as their sole and exclusive ruler. They put out of sight the divine rule, to which, in view of its mighty deeds in their history, they ought to have trusted implicitly, that it would extend to them the oft-verified protection against external enemies and maladministration of the office of Judge; this protection they expect from the earthly-human kingly rule, instead of from God; instead of crying to God to give them a ruler according to His will, they demand from Samuel that a king be made according to their will and pleasure; instead of their holy civil constitution under the royal rule of their covenant-God, they desire a constitution under a visible kingdom, as they see it in the heathen nations. This was a denial of that highest truth which Gideon once (Judges 8:23), in declining the royal authority offered him, held up before the people: “The Lord is your king.” In rejecting Samuel’s government, they rejected the rule of God, and, straying from the foundation of covenant-revelation to the stand-point of the heathen nations,, they put themselves in opposition to the royal majesty of God revealed among them, and to the high calling which they had to maintain and fulfil in fidelity and obedience towards the holy and almighty God as their king and ruler. In 1 Samuel 8:8 is shown how this disposition and conduct had been exhibited in the history of the people from God’s first great royal deed, the deliverance out of Egypt, till now, and how this new demand addressed to Samuel was only the old sin showing itself, the faithless and apostate disposition which had exhibited itself again and again up to this time. “With such a disposition the desire for a kingdom was a despising and rejecting of Jehovah’s kingdom, and no better than forsaking Jehovah to serve other gods” (Keil, in loco). (It is not necessary to insert a Pron. “to me” after “they have done” (Thenius), since this is involved in the following words: “they have forsaken me”). In 1 Samuel 8:9 Samuel is again expressly instructed to yield to the desire of the people; but there is added the twofold injunction: 1) bear witness against them, that is, attest and set before them their sin and guilt against me, and 2) announce to them what kind of right the king, who according to their desire shall rule over them like the kings of the heathen nations, will claim, in the exercise of unlimited and arbitrary power, after the manner of those rulers. By the first the people are to be made to see how, in the disposition of heart in which they demand a king, they stand in opposition to the absolute, holy royal rule of their God, and to their own theocratic calling. The fulfilment of the people’s desire after a king which had its root in an apostate and carnally proud temper, is in accordance with the same fundamental law of the Old Covenant, by which the holy God, on the one hand, judges Israel’s sin as a contradiction of His holy will, but at the same time, on the other hand, uses it as a means for the realization of the ends of His kingdom, as an occasion for a new development of His revealed glory. The other injunction, to set before the people the right [or, manner] of the king they demanded, is intended to exhibit to them the human kingdom apart from the divine rule, as it exists among the other nations, with all its usual and established despotism, as the source of great misfortune and shameful servitude, in contrast with the freedom and happiness offered to the people under the despised Theocracy. Comp. 1 Samuel 8:18.

1 Samuel 8:10-18. The right of the king.

1 Samuel 8:10. And Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people.—This declaration of Samuel was therefore essentially an exhortation to repentance, which set before the people that, by their desire for a king, they had principially rejected God’s sole rule over them. Clericus: ‘ Therefore God declares that He was despised by the Israelites, inasmuch as they were not content with the theocracy, which had heretofore existed.”—The mishpat (מִשְׁפָּט, “right,” “manner”) is here what pertains to the king in the maintenance of courtly state, and what he claims from his subjects, according to the custom of heathen rulers and to kingly usage; for it was with their eyes on the kings of other nations that the people had demanded a king. Joseph.: τὰ παρὰ τοῦ βασιλέως ἐσόμενα, morem regis et agendi rationem [“the manner of the king”]. Maurer: id quod rex suo arbitrio vivens impune faciet [“what the king, following his own will, would do with impunity”]. Clericus: “It signifies the manner of his life (1 Samuel 2:13; Genesis 40:13; Judges 13:12),—not legal right (jus), for several unjust things are afterwards mentioned, such as were practiced by the neighboring kings, whom in fact the Hebrew kings afterwards imitated.” Sept. δικαίωμα [“legal right or ordinance”]. The words: he will take your sons… his chariot, present a single comprehensive statement of the employment of the young men of the people in the royal court. The first sing. of the text “in his chariot” is to be retained (against Then., who, after Sept., Chald., and Syr., reads the Plu., and refers it to war-chariots), and the chariot is in both cases to be understood as the court and state-chariot, the service of which is described in accordance with the actual manner of oriental courts. In this there were 1) Chariot-drivers, who are referred to in the words “he will put them in his chariot;” 2) Riders, indicated by the phrase “on his horses” (פָּרָשׁ is here “saddle-horse,” as in 1 Kings 5:6 [Eng. A. V. 1Sa 4:2616])—“he will put them on his saddle-horses,” and 3) Runners—“and they will run before his chariot.” It is a description of the usual royal equipage of chariots and horses. Comp. 1 Kings 5:6 [1Sa 4:26], 2 Samuel 15:1.

1 Samuel 8:12 refers partly to military service, partly to agricultural service. “And to set17 depends on “he will take;” the twice-used לוֹ [“for himself”] indicates his purely selfish aim. The “captains over thousands and fifties”18 represent the whole army in all its grades between these highest and lowest positions. For the charge of the “captain over fifty” comp. 2 Kings 1:9-14.—All the tillage of the royal possessions must be performed by them; it is described by its beginning and end (ploughing and reaping). To this is added the work of the royal artificers for war and peace.

1 Samuel 8:13. The daughters of the people will be employed in the service of the royal household. [Women were, in ancient times, cooks, bakers, and preparers of ointments and spices. This last work embraced the preparation of highly-seasoned food, meats and drinks, and of perfumed oils for anointing the body. The household of oriental princes is even now organized on a gigantic scale, and there are indications that a similar luxury was practiced by the nations who lived about the Israelites. All this, as well as the use of horses and chariots, though not absolutely forbidden in the Law, was contrary to its spirit.—Tr.]. 1 Samuel 8:14 sqq. describe the arbitrary dealing of the king with the property of the people in order to enrich his courtiers. סַרִים is properly “a eunuch,” then any court-officer.

1 Samuel 8:16 sqq. The king will use the serving-classes also, men-servants, maid-servants, and cattle, for himself, and will take the tenth of the small cattle [sheep, etc.]. For “young men” (בחר) we must read “cattle” (בקר) with Sept. (τὰ βουκόλια), since the young men are already included in the sons in 1 Samuel 8:11 [and the menservants in 1 Samuel 8:16.—Tr.], and here both the juxtaposition of servants and animals and the correspondence between the two clauses, men, maids—oxen, asses (comp. Exodus 20:17) would be destroyed by this inappropriate word. Small cattle are here named in addition to large cattle, to show how completely the king would claim their property for his own uses.—And you shall be his servants. These words include all that is said before; the loss of political and social freedom is connected with the kingdom which the people demand “as among the heathen nations.” Thus the folly of their reference to the example of other nations is held up before them in contrast with the freedom and blessing, which they enjoyed under the rule of their invisible king, the living God.

1 Samuel 8:18. Their painful condition under such a government will be matter of unavailing lamentation before the Lord. מִלִּפְנֵי מ׳ is not “because of your king,” but properly “from your king,” that is, to the Lord. It is herein hinted that they will wish to be delivered from the oppressive royal government. But the Lord will continue to shut His ears. Clericus: “God will not for your sake change the government of a master into the free commonwealth which you have hitherto enjoyed. The yoke once assumed you must hear forever.” The evil which their own sin has brought on them they must bear—so divine justice ordains.

1 Samuel 8:19-22. The result of the transactions between Samuel and the people.

1 Samuel 8:19-20. The reply of the people (through the elders). They “refused to hearken to Samuel’s voice.” The voice or address of Samuel contained enough to detach the people from their desire. Instead of this there follows, with a decided “no,19 the repetition of the demand: “There shall be a king over us.” The dehortatory description of the royal privilege and custom among the surrounding nations is met with the declaration: “And we also will be as all the nations.” In this there is an ignoring and denying the lofty position which God the Lord had given His people above all nations by choosing them as His people, and establishing His royal rule among them. The demand for a kingdom like that of other nations was an act of sin against the Lord, who wished to be sole king over His people, and had sufficiently revealed Himself as such in their former history. “Judging” and “leading in war” are summarily mentioned as representing the duties of the king to be chosen. Without and within, in war and in peace, he was to be leader and governor of the people.

1 Samuel 8:21 sqq. Samuel’s intermediation. As mediator between God and the people he had hitherto striven with God in prayer, and with the elders of the people in earnest dealings and warnings concerning this important and eventful question. We see him wrestling anew with God in prayer; again he carries before the Lord in prayer the whole matter, as it now stands after the unsuccessful dealing with the people. God’s answer is: Make them a king. The demand, made in sin, from a disposition not well-pleasing to God, is fulfilled. The element of sin and error must, in the history of the kingdom of God, aid in the preparation and realization of the divine plans and ends. Samuel dismisses the men of Israel to their homes. We must here read between the lines, that Samuel communicated the divine decision to the people, and, dismissing the elders of the people, took into consideration, in accordance with the Lord’s command, the necessary steps for the election of a king. Following the sense, Josephus adds to the words of dismissal the following: “And I will send for you at the proper time, when I learn from the Lord whom he will give you as king” [Ant. VI. 3, 6].


1. The demand for a human kingdom like the kingdom in other nations, and its fulfilment, is one of the most important turning-points in the development of the Kingdom of God under the Old Covenant. Historically occasioned by constant danger from without, against which there was no one sufficient leader, and by the arbitrary and illegal procedure of the judges, it was more deeply grounded in the need (felt by the people and supported by public opinion) of a sole, continuous, and externally and internally firm and energetic rule. And this rule, even if it took the shape of royalty, needed not to be in conflict with the monarchical rule of God over His people (Exodus 19:5 sq.; Judges 8:23; 1 Samuel 12:12); for 1) the human king, if his relation to God’s kingdom were rightly apprehended, need be nothing more than the instrument and representative of the theocratic kingdom; 2) from the Patriarchal time on, through the Mosaic period and that of the Judges till now, there had been defined hopes of and allusions to the rise of a mighty and glorious kingdom within the nation under the lead of the Divine Spirit Himself (Genesis 17:6; Genesis 17:16; Genesis 35:11; Numbers 24:17; comp. Deuteronomy 17:14-20; Judges 8:23; Jdg 9:22; 1 Samuel 2:10, 3:35); and 3) the existing government was no longer able to perform the duties incumbent on it. Ew. Gesch. [History of Israel, 2, 606 sq.]: “As, then, even under Samuel, in his latter years, the judicial office showed itself without and within too weak and unable to give permanent security, the time was at last come when the people must either submit to a more perfect human government, or perish irretrievably. “The unfavorable decision on the demand given nevertheless by Samuel and in the divine declaration, refers to the sinful disposition of mind out of which the demand sprang—a disposition not trusting unconditionally in God’s power, anticipating the plans of His wisdom and His chosen time, controlled by vain and proud desire to imitate the royal magnificences of the heathen peoples. “In this there was a two-fold ungodly element. 1) They desired a king instead of the God-established and nobly attested Judge Samuel …… The scheme is characterized as an injustice against Samuel, and therefore a sin against the Lord, who sent him, 1 Samuel 8:7; 1 Samuel 8:2) At the bottom of the people’s desire for a king lay the delusion, that God was powerless to help them, that the reason of their subjection was not their sin, but a fault in the constitution, that the kingdom would be an aid in addition to God. This point of view appears oftener in the narrative than the first. Isaiah 10:18-19; Isaiah 12:0. The kingdom desired in such a mind was not a form of God’s kingdom in accordance with revelation, but opposed to His kingdom.” (Hengst. Beit. 3, p. 256 sq.) Calvin: “They ought to have waited patiently for the time predetermined by God, and not have given place to their own designs and methods apart from God’s word. They ought not, therefore, to have anticipated God’s purpose, but ought to have waited till the Lord Himself should show by indubitable signs that the foreordained time had come, and should direct their counsels. Moreover, though they recognized Samuel as a prophet, they not only did not inquire of him whether they were to have a king or not, but wanted him to aid in carrying out their design. They do not think of invoking God; they demand that a king be given them; they adduce the customs and institutions of other nations.” Nevertheless, Samuel yields to the desire of the people, “because he knows that now God’s time has come; but, at the same time, he does all that he can to bring the people to a consciousness of their sin.” (Hengst. ib. 258.) The fulfilment of the demand for a human kingdom is distinctly granted by God, because, though as a human factor in the movement it is rooted in sin, yet, foreseen by God, it fits into His plan, and is to be the means of elevating and confirming the Theocracy in His people, and of laying the foundation for the further development of the nation’s history, till the preparation should be complete for salvation in the person of Him, of whom the kingdom of Israel in David was to be the prefiguration and type. Herein the law, which runs through the whole history of the development of revelation, repeats itself: by the guilt of the covenant-people God’s arrangements for salvation reach a point where they no longer serve; then their guilt is revealed most strongly in open disobedience to God; but, in permitting what the people sinfully wish, God grasps the reins and directs events to a point, of which the people in their sinful blindness had thought nothing, so that He only the more glorifies Himself by the elevation of His revelation to a higher place.” (O. v. Gerlach.)

2. We are not to think of the relation between the theocracy and the kingdom established through Samuel, as if the latter were an addition to the former “to aid it in accomplishing its task, and to supply what was lacking to the times,” as if a “mixed constitution and rule” had arisen, and “out of a divine government” had come a “royal-divine government,” a Basileo-Theocracy. Ew. Gesch. [Hist.] 3, 8. This conception of a co-ordinate relation does not agree with the governing principle of the theocracy, that God is and remains king of His people, that God’s law and truth is the authority to which the kingdom must unconditionally submit, in dependence on which it is to govern as visible instrument of the theocracy in the name and place of the invisible king. The rejection of Saul, who would not pay unconditional obedience to God’s rule, and the divine recognition of David’s government as one which was thoroughly in unison with the rule of Israel’s true king, their God and Lord, and which continued to prepare the way for its realization in the people, laying the historical basis for the future manifestation of the Messianic kingdom, confirm the view that the relation of the Israelitish kingdom to the Theocracy (as Samuel, under God’s direction, founded it) was one of unconditional subordination; it was to be the instrument of the latter. The statement that there was an encroachment on the pure Theocracy in the fact “that Jehovah could no longer be the sole Lawgiver, that the earthly king must execute his will with unrestrained authority” (Diestel, Jahrb. für deutsche Theol., 1863, p. 554) rests on an incorrect presupposition, since, according to the principle of the Theocracy, even the established monarchy was expressly subject to the legislative authority of the covenant-God, and both king and people must unconditionally conform their will to the will and law of God.

3. This history of the people’s desire for a king and its fulfilment by God exhibits the relation of the divine will to the human will, when the latter stands sinfully opposed to the former. God never destroys the freedom of the human will. He leaves it to its free self-determination, but when it has turned away from His will, seeks to bring it back by the revelation in His word. If this does not succeed, human perversity must nevertheless minister to the realization of the plans of His kingdom and salvation, and also, in its evil consequences, bring punishment, according to His righteous law, on the sin which man thus freely commits.
4. Samuel appears, in this crisis of Old Testament history, among the men of God whom the Bible represents as heroes in prayer, as Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah. Speaking to the people, he represented God as his prophet; praying to God, he represented the people as their priestly mediator. Comp. Schröring, Samuel als Beter (“Samuel as a praying man”), in the Zeitschr. für luth. Theol. ü Krit., 1856, p. 414 sq.

5. [The relation between this narrative of the demand for a king and the “law of the king,” Deuteronomy 17:14-20, requires a brief notice. It seems strange that Samuel, if he was acquainted with this law, makes no mention of it. There is no difficulty in his characterization of the demand as a rejection of the divine rule over them (Jehovah Himself (1 Samuel 8:7-8) does the same thing), for the sin was in their feeling and purpose, not in the demand per se, as Dr. Erdmann well brings out; and Samuel might have so spoken, if he had known that the Law contemplated the possibility of a regal government. The real difficulty lies in the fact that the narrative in 1 Samuel 8-12 seems to be unconscious of the law in Deuteronomy. Allowing much, it might be said, for the simple, unscientific, historical method of the times, in which quotations are rare, and things omitted which are commonly known, it would yet seem that there should be in the addresses of the people, of Samuel, and of Jehovah, some recognition of the fact that this was a thing which did not make its first appearance now, and some reference to the obligations imposed on the king in the Mosaic Law. But, is there no recognition in the later transaction of the earlier law? If we compare the two, we shall find the relation between them to be the following: the form of demand in Deuteronomy 17:14 is given almost verbatim in 1 Samuel 8:5, but the former adds “about me,” while the latter adds the ground of the desire, “that he may be judicial and military head;” for choice by Jehovah in Deut. (1 Samuel 8:15), we have choice by the people in 1 Sam. (1 Samuel 8:18); and by Jehovah (1 Samuel 10:24); the reference to horses is nearly the same in form in both, but in tone quite different, Deut. 1 Samuel 8:16; 1 Samuel 8:11; on the other hand, the mention of returning to Egypt, of wives, silver and gold, and the study of the law (Deut. 1 Samuel 8:17-20) is not found in Samuel. It will be seen from this comparison, and still more from a comparison of the whole tone and drift in the two, that the act described here was probably performed without reference to the statute in Deut.; that the desire of the people was a natural, historical growth, and the course of events was determined by the circumstances of the time. So in the history of Gideon we see a similar unconsciousness of the Deuteronomic statute (though there is recognition of the theocracy), and a similar determination of action by existing circumstances. Where, then, was the Mosaic law all this time? and was Samuel ignorant of it? The answer to these questions seems to be suggested by the statement in 1 Samuel 10:25, in which there are three distinct affirmations: 1) “that Sa muel told the people the law or manner of the kingdom, which is plainly different from the law of the king in chap. 8, and is most naturally to be identified with Deuteronomy 17:14-17; Deuteronomy 2:0) that he wrote this law in a book; and 3) that he put it somewhere in safe keeping. It seems probable, therefore, that we have here the political adoption of the essence of the Mosaic “law of the king” (which, in its prohibition of a return to Egypt, for example, has the stamp of Mosaic times). The law had been announced by Moses, transmitted through the priests, and was known to Samuel (though perhaps not generally known among the people). But it was a permission of royalty merely, not an injunction, and its existence did not diminish the people’s sin of superficial, unspiritual longing for outward guidance, nor prove at first to Samuel that the time for its application had come. He therefore says nothing about it. But when the transaction is concluded, the king actually chosen, then he announces the law, and with obvious propriety commits it in its constitutional form to writing, and deposits it before Jehovah as a part of the theocratic constitution. Thus the history seems to become natural and intelligible when regarded as exhibiting Samuel’s doubts as to whether the proper time had come for the historical realization of what Moses puts merely as a possibility. Apparently Samuel was not in sympathy with the movement, and seems to have felt after this that he had outlived his time.—Tr.]


1 Samuel 8:1-3. Starke: Even good intentions do not always turn out well, but often fall through.—Upright parents cannot always be blamed for it, if their children turn out badly.—Avarice is a root of all evils, 1 Timothy 6:9-10; earnestly to avoid it is a great part of the wisdom of the righteous.—Calvin: Parents should feel the duty laid upon them, amid great anxiety and sorrow, to pray to God for the prosperity of their children, and with earnest admonitions diligently to hold them to the task of making their life holy. They should earnestly beg God to lead and govern, by His Holy Spirit the children whom He has given them, and to let the mercy which has been their own portion pass over to their children also, and to grant them the gift of perseverance and constancy. For if so holy and exalted a prophet was not spared the having such wicked and corrupt sons, how will it be with those who are far removed from his piety.

1 Samuel 8:4-6. Starke: Even good things may sometimes be ill desired. A pious government is greatly pained when it traces among its subjects nothing but mere ingratitude.—Cramer: When something disagreeable and repugnant befalls us, we can better bring it home to no one than to God; for He consoles the lowly, 2 Corinthians 7:6.—Calvin: We ought, when anything is done or said against the honor of God, to be aroused and zealous, but not to suffer ourselves to be provoked when in regard to ourselves or ours an injustice is done us.

1 Samuel 8:7-9. Starke: What is done to servants of God, God accepts as done to Himself, Acts 19:5.—Berleb. Bible: God hears in manifold ways when we cry to Him for human guidance, and then we imagine we have obtained a great favor. But what a great misfortune it is when one draws himself off from the richly instructive guidance of the Lord, to allow Himself to be led by creatures which withdraw us from the guidance of God! Then from freemen, which we formerly were, we become mere bondmen, and can also rightly say, if only we are so happy as to forsake the human guidance: “O Lord our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us; but by thee only will we make mention of thy name” (Isaiah 26:13). An upright guide like Samuel does not appropriate to himself the souls of men, but guides them to God, and serves only the purpose of bringing them to Him.—Wuertemb. Bible: Old sins are not forgotten with God, if they are all the time kept up, and not repented of (Exodus 32:34).—Schmid: The fountain of all sins is in not fearing God; and he who fears not to sin against God, also fears not to sin against men.

1 Samuel 8:9. Schmid: If God has cause enough to punish, yet out of His long-suffering He will also have cause enough merely to chide and admonish (Hosea 11:8-9).

1 Samuel 8:15-16. Berleb. Bible: If we owe so much to the earthly king, what do we not owe to the heavenly king? O Thou King of Glory, do but come and reign over us! Let Thy kingdom come to us! Lift up your heads, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in.—[1 Samuel 8:18. Cries that will not be heard: 1) Self-will often brings us into distress. 2) This distress makes us cry to the Lord. 3) Such cries the Lord does not promise to hear.—Tr.]

1 Samuel 8:19. Schmid: Among wretched men there is no constancy save in wickedness (Isaiah 5:18).—Calvin: We learn here how God, according to His righteous judgment, blinds men and gives them up to error, when they persistently go after their foolish and perverse desires. Therefore we ought to learn from this example to be wise, that when we are entangled in sore temptations, we may not give too much room to our own plans and thoughts, as if they rested on a firm foundation and were wholesome. We will beg God to rule us by His Spirit, and not to give us over to ourselves, and not even in the least to suffer us to depart from His Word, but rather work in us that that Word may maintain its dominion over us, and we may rejoice in its guidance.

1 Samuel 8:21. Starke: A Christian should bewail and tell his need to no one rather than to the faithful God, and learn from Him how he shall rightly behave himself.

1 Samuel 8:22. S. Schmid: God’s forbearance should not confirm men in wickedness, as if it were well done, but should lead them to repentance, that they may at last recognize their unrighteousness (Psalms 50:21).


[1][1 Samuel 8:2. That is “Jehovah is God”—the only God (יַהְוְ = יְהַו = יְהוֹ = יוֹ for יַהְוֶה Jahveh), a name borne by several persons in O. T., and said by Schrader to occur on the Assyr. inscriptions as name of a king of Hamath, Jalu, borrowed, no doubt, from the Israelites.—Tr.]

[2][1 Samuel 8:2. That is, “my father (or, simply, father) is Jah, Jahu, Jahveh, Jehovah.” The word מִשְׁנֵהוּ means the “second,” not of Samuel, but of Joel.—Tr.]

[3][1 Samuel 8:3. בצע is sometimes “profit” in general, as in Genesis 37:26, but usually “unjust gain,” as here. The Targ. renders “mamon (mammon) of deceit,” see Luke 16:9. In Talmud and Targ. mammon moans “money,” “riches.” and Augustine (Quœst. Evan. 34) says that it was the Punic word for “money.” It is not found in Heb., and its origin is obscure.—Tr.]

[4][1 Samuel 8:7. Better: “not thee have they rejected, but me have, etc.”—Tr.]

[5][1 Samuel 8:8. Literally: “according to all … they have done … and have forsaken me and served, etc.” The ו consec., according to Heb. usage, introduces an appositional explanatory phrase, properly rendered by Eng. particip. On the Sept. insertion of “to me” after “have done,” see Exeg. Notes in loco.—Tr.]

[6][1 Samuel 8:9. אַךְ is restrictive-adversative, “yet,” “nevertheless;” כִּי is the subst. conjunct. “that,” introducing the following affirmation. The verb means literally “testify to them,” the word “solemnly” well expresses the force of the Inf. Abs.—Tr.]

[7][1 Samuel 8:9. מִשְׁפָט is “judgment,” then “law,” then “right, privilege,” but also “manner,” and this last is preferable here, because Samuel states what the king will do, not what he will have the right to do. His “manner” will be the “law” as determined by himself—Tr.]

[8][1 Samuel 8:11. The word signifies either “horses” or “horsemen;” the former better suits construction and context.—Tr.]

[9][1 Samuel 8:12. Lit. “and to appoint,” Inf. dependent on the verb “take” in 1 Samuel 8:11. The vss. vary greatly in the designation of the officers here mentioned, and some critics would read (with Sept.) “hundreds” instead of “fifties,” as being the more usual and natural. This is, however, a ground of objection to the change (from the harder to the easier), and there is no sufficient reason for abandoning the Heb. text.—Tr.]

[10][1 Samuel 8:13. The word רקח is used to express the preparing of fragrant ointments (Exodus 30:22-35), and the noun is here best rendered “ointment-makers,” so Sept., Vulg., Erdmann, Philippson, and others. The Syriac renders “weavers” (websters) as if it read רקם, and the Chald. has the general designation “servants” (comp. Arab. raqaha, “provide for”). The Heb. text is to be maintained. The Eng. word “confectionary” (=confectioner) formerly included the making of ointments and spiced preparations, see Exodus 30:35, Eng. A. V., but would now convey an incorrect idea here.—Tr.]

[11][1 Samuel 8:16. The reading “oxen” instead of “young men” (בקר for בחר) seems required by context, and is given by Sept., and adopted by Erdmann and others. Maurer admits the bearing of the context, but keeps the text on the ground of the טוֹבים; but טוֹב is applied to oxen in Genesis 41:26, and to flesh of beasts in Ezekiel 24:4 (in 1 Samuel 8:5 Ezek. uses בחר of the flock), and may be here understood of oxen.—Tr.]

[12][The Vashni in 1 Chronicles 6:13 (28) is the same word as that rendered “second” in this passage.—Tr.]

[13][Beersheba (a mere watering-place in the Patriarchal time) was probably at this time a place of some importance from the trade between Egypt and Asia. It was re-settled after the exile, was a large village with a Roman garrison in Jerome’s time, and now exhibits only scattered ruins. Two large, and five small wells are still to be seen. The name does not occur in the New Test. See Robins. ubi sup., Smith’s Bib. Dict., s. v.—Tr.]

[14][If Samuel was born B. C. 1146, he would be sixty years old at the third battle of Ebenezer, 1086, and now, say ten years later, seventy years old. This would leave twenty years for Saul’s reign up to B. C. 1056, when David was made king in Hebron.—But it is possible that these dates may have to be put forward some years.—Tr.]

[15][Or, from the ways of truth.—Tr.]

[16][Eng. A. V. has here, not so well, “horsemen.”—Tr.]

[17][This is the literal translation. Eng. A. V. gives the sense more freely.—Tr.]

[18][On the variations in the vss. as to these numbers, see “Text. and Gram.” in loco.—Tr.]

[19]On the doubling of the ל in לֹא see Ew. Gr., § 91 d.

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 8". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/1-samuel-8.html. 1857-84.
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