Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 8

Introduction

THE DEMAND FOR A KING, 1 Samuel 8:1-22.

Samuel’s declining years, and the perversion of justice sadly manifest in the administration of his sons, were the immediate occasion of Israel’s demand for a king. Possibly there were suspicions abroad that Samuel meant to make his judgeship hereditary. But there were other and deeper reasons for the demand for a king. Repeated attacks from the Philistines, who were loth to lose their power over Israel, and a knowledge of warlike intentions on the part of the king of Ammon, (1 Samuel 12:12,) made them anxious for a military chieftain like the kings of the neighbouring nations. Their ideal king seems to have been a mighty warrior, of great physical powers, and skilled in all manner of strategy. They would have him judge the people, and at the same time be ever on the watch against hostile invasions.

But there were deeper, though more remote, reasons for a modification — a revolution even — in the form of the Israelitish government. We do not understand that it was the purpose or desire of Jehovah to have his people permanently governed by a class of rulers like the Judges, who had no constitutional authority over all the tribes. These officers, as we have shown in the Introduction to the Book of Judges, were extraordinary ministers, raised up by the special providence of God to meet existing emergencies, but formed no permanent part of the machinery of the Hebrew government as contemplated in the Laws of Moses. The Law prescribed no specific form of government, but was full of suggestive principles, which should have guided the people long before the time of Samuel into the adoption of a constitution that would have secured them national unity. It was surely no design of the Lord for the Israelitish nation to continue a loose confederacy, racked with sectional feuds and tribal jealousies, as was largely the case during the period of the Judges. This state of things was both a national weakness and a sin. The Law made it very prominent that there should be a central seat of worship — a place which the Lord should “choose out of all the tribes to put his name there.” Deuteronomy 12:5; Deuteronomy 12:11; Deuteronomy 12:14; Deuteronomy 17:8, etc. It was also clearly intimated that there should be a supreme civil and executive authority, having the same seat and centre — a supreme court of appeals. Deuteronomy 17:8-9.

Besides this, there were to be “judges and officers” in all the gates of Israel. Deuteronomy 16:18. The provision suggested by Jethro, (Exodus 18:21,) and adopted by Moses, for selecting able and God-fearing men out of all the people, “to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens,” contemplated also, by necessary implication, a supreme judge and national executive, and it needed no additional revelation from God to inform Israel that such a national executive would be required just as much after Moses’ death as before. God never meant to rule Israel any more than other nations without the instrumentality of human agency. Absurdly have some writers seemed to assume that the Israelitish Theocracy was a government in which Jehovah was the sole and immediate governor, and that this form of government came to an end after the election of Saul. But Jehovah governed the Israelitish nation after the establishment of the monarchy just as truly as he did before. He always governs among the nations, so far as civil government extends, by means of human agents. And yet he never prescribed for any nation, not even for Israel, a specific form of civil government. He has plainly shown that the “powers that be,” whether represented by Saul, or David, or Solomon, or Cesar, “are ordained of God.” He has revealed certain great principles of truth and justice which all nations are bound to observe, but his dealings with ancient Israel have made very plain and prominent this lesson — that to nations themselves is left the responsibility of choosing the form of government by which they will be ruled.

The elders of Israel were, doubtless, aware that, according to God’s own word, kings were to proceed from Abraham. Genesis 17:6; Genesis 17:16. Balaam also had prophesied of a sceptre yet to rise in Israel. Numbers 24:17. Moses had made provision in the Law (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) for the appointment and guidance of a king in Israel, should the people choose to establish a monarchy. So we are not to blame these elders for the choice of a monarchical form of government, for they might have naturally inferred from the ancient prophecies that God intended that a monarchy should rise in Israel. Their sin in asking for a king is to be seen in the spirit of disaffection with which they asked, and their implied reflection on Jehovah’s mercy and care in raising up for them deliverers when they were about to sink under the bitter oppression of foreign powers. It was for this culpable ingratitude, and their tendency to heathenish customs, manifest in the demand for a king like all the nations, that Jehovah, with abundant reason, declared, (1 Samuel 8:7,) “They have rejected me.”

None can properly question the right of a nation to modify or change its form of government. Such a revolution, when it becomes a desire of the great body of the people, and can be effected peacefully and by general consent, as was the case in Israel, should always result in good. So it did in Israel’s case. Saul’s reign was indeed a failure, for God gave that king in his anger to scourge his people for their ingratitude, and desire to be like the heathen. But David’s reign, and the greater part of Solomon’s, were the greatest triumph and glory of Israelitish history. Under them the kingdom became a mighty civil and religious power, and made an indelible impression of its worth and excellency on all the contemporaneous nations of antiquity.

The sins of Solomon’s old age, and the wickedness of subsequent godless kings, brought sorrow and calamity on the nation, but that was not the fault of the form of government. God himself declared at the time of Saul’s election that obedience and virtue would insure the divine blessing on both king and people. 1 Samuel 12:14. But when the wicked are in power the whole land must mourn; and sin and forgetfulness of God, who should ever be duly recognised as Supreme Ruler, will ruin any nation, whatever its form of government.

Verse 1

1.Made his sons judges — Not with authority equal to his own, but assistant judges, who might attend to judicial matters in remote places, to which Samuel’s age prevented his going. “As we do not find that either God or the people censured him for making his sons judges in Israel, we may infer that he had properly educated them, and that they appeared well qualified for the office, and were appointed to it for the good, and by the approbation of, the people.” — Scott. At the same time there is not sufficient reason to believe that Samuel designed to make the judgeship hereditary, and expected his sons to succeed him in the government of Israel. See on 1 Samuel 12:2.

Verse 2

2.In Beer-sheba — Their chief seat was there, as Samuel’s was at Ramah. Probably the recovery under Samuel of many cities from the Philistines (1 Samuel 7:14) made it expedient to have some kind of magistrates appointed in the southern part of the country.

Verse 3

3.Turned aside after lucre’ took bribes’ perverted judgment — Three evils which cannot be too strongly reprobated in a judge. The Hebrew word בצע, here translated lucre, means properly ill-gotten gain — that which is obtained by violence or fraud. The judge who covetously puts his hand on ill-gotten gain will be easily overcome with bribery, and he who takes bribes will necessarily pervert judgment and truth.

Verse 5

5.Make us a king — What higher tribute of esteem and confidence could a people show their governor than to submit entirely to his hands the reorganization of their government, and the selection and appointment of a king? They probably wished to follow the law of Moses, (Deuteronomy 17:15,) “Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee whom the Lord thy God shall choose,” and they knew no other way of ascertaining the Lord’s choice than by this holy prophet. But this action seems to have been attended with a clamorous and mandatory spirit which was displeasing in the sight of God and of Samuel.

Like all the nations — Perhaps their heathen neighbours had taunted them as being a nation without a king, and therefore they aspired to rival these nations in the appearance of worldly power and grandeur. “The Eastern mind is so essentially and pervadingly regal that to be without a sovereign is scarcely an intelligible state of things to an Oriental, and the Israelites must have had occasion to feel that the absence of a king gave them an appearance of inferiority in the eyes of their neighbours, incapable of understanding or appreciating the special and glorious privileges of their position. Even good men, able to appreciate the advantages of existing institutions, would eventually become weary of a peculiarity which the nations would obtusely persist in regarding as discreditable.” — Kitto.

Verse 6

6.The thing displeased Samuel — The elders presented the matter very skilfully to Samuel, implying (1 Samuel 8:5) that they would be quite content if they could always have him for their ruler, or be sure that he would have a worthy successor; yet Samuel felt personally affronted, and could not but see that there was among the people a growing disaffection with the manner of their government.

Verse 7

7.They have not rejected thee, but’ me — These words imply that in his intercourse with Jehovah, Samuel had complained that the people had rejected him, and were dissatisfied with his administration; but it was rather against the Theocracy itself that their disaffection lay. They failed to understand or acknowledge that their misfortunes came not from lack of power and care on the part of Jehovah, but because of their own sins. Had they humbly and devoutly inquired the will of God in the matter, and asked for a governor after his own heart, and not after the model of the heathen powers, a most propitious change might have been effected in their form of government. To punish them for their ingratitude and disaffection he gave them a king in his anger, and took him away in his wrath. Hosea 13:11.

Verse 8

8.According to all the works — All their rebellions and murmurings since the time of the exodus had been provocations to their Divine King, and now they add to all these offences by demanding the government of a human king. This being the case, Jehovah cannot now grant the desired change, except after solemn protest.

Verse 9

9.Protest solemnly — Their ill-judged notions of a monarchy needed rebuke, and a monarchical form of government has its peculiar dangers. Israel must not take the responsibility of adopting that form of government without solemn warning as to the possible, and even probable, consequences.

The manner of the king — The powers and privileges which a king will think it his right to exercise. See next verse.

That shall reign over them — If we render this, as is equally proper, that may reign over them, the sense will be more plain. The Lord would fully warn his people of the possible dangers of a human monarchy, but he does not say that the king must necessarily, or would certainly, exercise despotic power and purposely afflict the people. It is clear from this passage that Jehovah did not favour Israel’s adoption of a monarchical form of government. But his wisdom and power did not interfere with their free action. The nation had long suffered from the neglect to fix upon a central place of worship, and the lack of a strong national government, whose proper authority should be heeded in every part of the land.

Verse 11

11.This will be the manner of the king משׁפשׂ, judgment, right, claim. The judgment or manner of the king is what he would claim as his prerogative and right. 1 Samuel 8:11-17 contain a statement of what an eastern king, like those of the nations around Israel, would claim. The items of his claim (which extends both to the persons and properly of his subjects) may be classified thus: 1. Over their persons; to seize them arbitrarily for his court-servants and attendants, (1 Samuel 8:11,) and appoint them to his military, agricultural mechanical, or domestic service, (1 Samuel 8:12-13.) 2. Over their property, whether it consist in lands, harvests, slaves, or beasts. 1 Samuel 8:14-17. Here are presented the main features of an absolute monarchy; but observe, they are set forth as the possible manner or judgment of the king himself, not as divine or God-given rights which every king must claim. In Deuteronomy 17:16-20, we learn that the king of Jehovah’s choice must in divers ways be limited in his power.

Verse 18

18.Ye shall cry out in that day — By this dark picture of regal prerogative Samuel hopes that the people will withdraw their request for a king like those of the nations.

Verse 19

19.The people refused to obey — They had counted the cost, and were willing to submit to regal exactions for the sake of having a government like the nations around them. “On this Samuel sorrowfully dismissed them to their homes, that he might have time to take the necessary measures for effecting this great change.” — Kitto.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 8". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-samuel-8.html. 1874-1909.