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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
1 Samuel 8

 

 

Verses 1-22

Making a King

1 Samuel 8:5

WE have seen Israel defeated, almost destroyed, in war with the Philistines. We have seen Israel in extremity, prostrate before Almighty God, and crying unto him, in intolerable woe, for interposition in the time of torment and hopelessness. The prayer has been responded to, and Israel has been revived. A new hope has cheered the hearts of those who prayed unto the Lord of heaven. In the revival of strength Israel has become political. A new idea has occurred to the leaders of the people, namely,—that a king should be required and should be set over Israel, that Israel might be like all other nations. That seems a very reasonable request, as viewed from a certain point. It becomes us, therefore, to look at it the more carefully; because, if Song of Solomon -called reasonable requests be followed by the disasters which accrued upon the prayer before us, it becomes a matter of infinite moment that we should know the significance of the words we use and the full compass of the desires which we express. Truly this is a chapter of incident; the movement is rapid from beginning to end. Let us watch it; and let us gather together, so far as we may be able, the great principles with which this graphic chapter is so fully charged. The elders of Israel said unto Samuel, "Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." The people of Israel, it appears, were extremely particular about the morality of other people. They had facts on their side. Samuel"s sons did not walk in their father"s ways, but turned aside after lucre, took bribes, and perverted judgment. When the elders of Israel saw this apostasy on the part of the sons of Samuel, they said, "Let us do away with this race of men altogether, and have a crowned head to reign over us, that we may be like the other nations of the earth." Let us then do full justice to the elders of Israel. As a matter of public notoriety, Samuel"s sons were not like Samuel himself in their moral tone and in their moral example. This brings before us a sad and humiliating fact,—that the children of great men and of good men are not always worthy of their parentage. Few things can be more humiliating to a high nature, to a Christian philanthropist, than to find that his public work is undone in the very circle within which his own influence ought to have been most intense; that Hebrews , who is instrumental in doing so much good abroad, should actually have to come home to find what sin is in its utmost keenness, in its intolerable bitterness. Sometimes public men may be to blame for this in some degree. They may have to say, "Other vineyards have I kept; my own vineyard I have not kept." They may be more fitted for public teaching and public stimulus than for private utterance of truth and domestic control of life. This ought to be carefully understood before we venture to pronounce judgment upon such men, who in their own hearts feel a greater bitterness than it would be possible for us by our own mere reproaches to infuse into them. There are men who can speak to a thousand hearers, who are utterly weak and powerless when they come into the details of common life and have to teach a single child at home, and show the light of God upon the private paths of life. Others there may be who turn their public excitement into a temptation to go astray from plain, simple home duty. They have the ability; they are lacking in will. They can only show themselves upon public platforms, within great arenas of display; they are moved by public, rather than by intensely personal and moral considerations. Consequently, their own garden-wall is broken down, their own little flower-bed at home is all weed-grown, whilst they are busy with the great public fields and the great vineyards of the world. We should not speak harshly of such fathers: but if there be anything in these suggestions, and if any man should require a hint of the kind, tenderly, with self-restraint and brotherly forbearance, we would venture to say, Think of this; and, if you can improve, remember that now is the accepted time; you cannot too soon begin the work of family cultivation.

This brings before us the equally remarkable fact, that grace is not hereditary. When we see a good man we expect his children to be like himself. But grace does not descend in the family line. The father may be an apostle, the son may be a blasphemer. There are circumstances, no doubt, in which at the very moment that the father has been preaching the gospel, his own Song of Solomon , whom he loved as his life, has been fulfilling some profane engagement, has been blaspheming the name of the God of his fathers! This is very mysterious, inexpressibly painful, most disheartening to the man who wants to live a simple, godly, sincere, useful life. The fact is overbearing. To the son of a godly man we would say: Your father"s godliness will not save you; your father"s godliness abused on your part, disregarded by you, will augment the wrath from which you shall one day suffer. It is one of many talents given to you; and to whom much has been given, from him shall much be expected. He that had the opportunity and the privilege, and abused what he had, shall be—it is the voice of justice, common sense, and righteousness—beaten with many stripes. Why should it be thought a thing incredible, or why should it be a thing invested with tormenting mystery, that a child should not inherit the father"s piety? It is precisely the same with intellectual gifts in many cases; it is the same with physical endowments in many instances. We find, again and again, a great Prayer of Manasseh , a man of wondrous compass of mind, great and manifold ability, whose son is of a very ordinary type of intellect. It is wonderful,—but there is no occasion why we should torture it into a mystery, and look at it as one of those things which should affright us from the religious or the devotional side of life. We have not to explain these things. We may pause before them and learn much from them; but the explanation is not with us at all.

It is important to gather all these things together in order that the case of the elders of Israel may be turned as much to their advantage as we possibly can. What our object is in thus defending them will presently appear. The elders of Israel had a case. They were concerned for the nation; they saw the two sons of Samuel going astray from their father"s paths; they came to the man when he was old, and told him about the apostasy of his sons. They said, "Make us a king to judge us like all the nations." If ever men apparently had a simple, straightforward, common-sense case, the elders of Israel had such a case in the chapter which is now before us. Samuel heard this statement, and the thing displeased him. No man likes to see his whole life disregarded, and his tower thrown away ruthlessly. Samuel was a man in advanced life, identified vitally with the religious and political fortunes of Israel; had his hopes with regard to the future; drew out of his own life the hopes by which he was animated. Now suddenly the elders of Israel say, "We wish to dispossess all who may be supposed to have any claim upon us through your agency and instrumentality; we wish to open a new political era in Israel." No man likes to see the tower of his life thrown down in that way. We have sympathy with old ministers who have old-world notions; who view with what appears to younger men an almost ungenerous suspicion and distrust what they call new-fangled notions and methods of doing things. After all, there is a good deal of human nature and common sense in the old man"s view of the changes which are proposed to him. He started from a given point; he has worked along a certain line; a man cannot disinherit and dispossess himself of all his own learning, culture, traditions, and associations, and go back again or go forward into the infancy of new and startling movements. It would be well if men could learn this more profoundly. Young Englandism and young Americanism must be very distasteful to old Samuels, high-priests, and venerable prophets. We shall show our strength by showing our moderation; we shall be most mighty when we are most yielding!

Samuel told the Lord about it. This is very startling to those who live at a far distance from God. These old men seem always to have been living, as it were, next door to him, and had but to whisper and they were heard. These little sentences come in so abruptly. We read, "And Samuel prayed unto the Lord." Not, "Samuel ordered a high ladder to be made that he might set it up against heaven, and creep up to it round by round;" but the record is "Samuel prayed unto the Lord." It is a kind of breathing process, it is ready, spontaneous as love. Samuel turned towards the elders of Israel, heard their story, then turned his face about and told God concerning the whole thing. It is a wonderful kind of life,—God always so nigh at hand. Will he not be equally nigh at hand today? Has he still to be sought for as if he had hidden himself beyond the voice of the thunder, or is he nigh at hand so that a sigh can reach him, and a whisper can stir his omnipotence into beneficent interposition on behalf of his sorrowing, suffering people? It would be a new life to us if we knew that God beset us behind and before, laid his hand upon us, and that not a throb of our heart escaped the ear of his love!

Samuel saw the outside of the case. Samuel saw, what we now call, the fact of the case; God saw the truth of it. Many persons do not distinguish between fact and truth. There is an infinite difference between fact and truth. Fact is the thing done, the thing visible, the thing that has shape, and that can be approached and touched. Truth underlies it. We must get at the truth before we can understand the fact itself. This is ever necessary, but specially needful where matters are complicated by profoundly moral considerations. The Lord explained the case to Samuel. He said, in effect, "Thou art quite mistaken; the matter is not as thou dost view it; looked at from thy point, the elders of Israel seem to have a very strong and excellent case. But, Samuel, the elders of Israel have rejected me, they have not rejected thee. They are only making a tool of thee; thou art become to them a mere convenience, or as it were a scapegoat. They profess to be very deeply concerned about the moral apostasy of thy sons; they do not care one pin-point about it; they are extremely glad to be able to seize upon anything that will seem to give a good colouring to their case. Samuel, Israel has cast off its God. Is it wonderful, then, that Israel should cast off the servant?" What an explanation this is! how it goes to the root and core! how it cleaves open the life of Prayer of Manasseh , and holds up in the sunny universe a corrupt soul, that all men may see it and know that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked! What a subject opens upon us here! The great world of excuses, social explanations, the faces which things are made to wear, the visors and disguises which are set upon life in order to conceal its corruption, its leprosy, its death. Truly the word of God is sharp and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword! It will not let a man alone; it will not allow a man to tell his own story, and go away as if he had exhausted the case. He is permitted to state the circumstances, to make his own advocacy of given questions, to put the question before society just as he pleases. But when he sits down, this word that searches the heart and goes through the life like a flaming fire says, "Now I will tell you what it is; you have made an excuse into a reason; you have lied, not unto me, but unto the Holy Ghost, unto God! Your case looks well. But I open thee now, I cleave through thee, I pour the sunlight through every fibre of thy leprous being, and I brand thee liar and blasphemer!" It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!

See, for example, an individual who has a most excellent case. He goes to his minister, and says to him in a whine, which soft men may mistake for earnestness, "I really cannot remain here any longer, sir. I have seen so much inconsistency in the members of the Church; I have seen so much that has pained me; I have felt grieved at the inconsistency of professing Christians; therefore, I am going to turn over a new page, and I must withdraw from the Church." He was pained! What that poor creature carried in the way of other people"s immoralities, no arithmetic can ever calculate, no poetry can ever dream! When he has told his tale, and impressed the poor minister, who believes well of everybody, in proportion as he does not know human nature, God says to him, "This is the case. That man would not care one farthing if all the Church were to prove traitorous to-morrow; that Prayer of Manasseh , who has suffered so much pain, who has been so troubled about the inconsistencies of professing Christians, is now planning sin secretly in his soul; if I could show thee by taking off, fold after fold, thou wouldst see in his heart what he has never said to his wife or mother or child or friend; thou wouldst see there a determination to enjoy sin under some disguise. He wants to get clear of moral restraint, of social discipline; he wants to evade public opinion, that he may, in concealment and under such defence as secrecy may set up, enjoy sin as he has never enjoyed it before. Mark him, going away yonder, bearing the inconsistencies and immoralities of other people! He is now going to carry out the very first step of his plan—to enjoy the works of iniquity, sources of forbidden pleasure as he never partook of them before." So there are two judgments in the world. Man makes out his own case, God comes with the explanation. Man cheats man with outside appearances; afterwards God holds the light over the case. All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do!

Here is a minister of the Gospel, who says he is going to withdraw from the ministry and retire into private life. He has been so annoyed by circumstances which have arisen around him; he has been so fretted and chafed by a multitude of things, that he can no longer endure them; and now he is going to enjoy the retirement of private life. That is his statement. What does it amount to? He is going to run away because there are some difficulties in life. As if he ever could get into any sphere in this world where difficulty would not call upon him, and force its attention upon his reluctant soul! Has he told all the case? Has he not kept back part of the price? Is he not rather arranging his circumstances so that he can sin with larger license,—that he can do things in private life which he dare not do under the responsibilities of a public position? These words cut like daggers and search like fire! God forbid they should have any application to us!

The Lord told Samuel to make the people a king. "Hear them; do what they ask; hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them." This is an instruction that we should do well to carry out in all life. There are times when we are pressed into certain courses; when all we can do is to protest. Sometimes when a man is weak then is he strong. The lifting, the half-lifting of a tremulous hand means—when interpreted by God"s wisdom—battle, battle to the bitter end, protest, vehement opposition! It is a feeble sign: but the meaning of that poor, broken hand being lifted up Isaiah , that if the man could do that which is in his soul he would stem the torrent of the popular will and set up righteousness in the earth! The Lord instructed Samuel what to say. Here is the speech which was made to the elders of Israel:—

"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; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to car his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, 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 servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day" ( 1 Samuel 8:11-18).

Observe, man can have his way. There is a point at which even God withdraws from the contest. "My Spirit shall not always strive with man." If we be so minded, we can force our way through all solemn warning, all pathetic entreaty, all earnest persuasiveness on the part of friend, wife, husband, teacher, preacher, God the Father, God the Song of Solomon , and God the Holy Ghost! We can go to hell if we will! So do not be discouraged, you can get there! Do not be discouraged, there is nothing before you but love, grace, mercy, tenderness, God. That is all. There is a grim ghastly cross,—hew it down! There is a way round it, a way through it, a way over it,—you can get there! Fool, coward!

See the childishness of the reasoning by which they supported their case. "That we," said the elders of Israel, "also may be like all the nations; may be like other people." That is what the young man says when he is hard pressed. When he wishes to throw off family restraint, when he wishes to get away from family prayer, family reading of the Bible and domestic superintendence, he says, "I want to be as other men are; other young men of my age have this privilege and that privilege, and I just want to be like other men." That sounds very reasonable, but is that all? Be true to thyself, O young man; do not tell lies to thyself. If thou hast lies to tell, why not tell them aloud—tell them to other people; why tell lies to thine own heart? To say it is only this you want; whereas thou knowest well, in thy heart of hearts, that it is some terrible wickedness to which thou wishest to give way.

Where the disease is vital, the remedy must be vital too. Nothing will reach this disease but the mediation of God the Son. It is not a speck of dust which any hand can rub off. The disease is in the heart, the poison is in the blood. The death is in the life—this is no paradox, but an awful, grim, terrible truth. What, then, will reach it? The blood of the Son of God, the agony of Gethsemane, the atonement of Calvary, the wondrous, unspeakable, glorious work of Jesus Christ, Son of God, God the Son! Nothing else can reach it. Every other remedy is cutaneous, is transitory. The remedy of Christ"s cross, Christ"s atonement, is vital, and is therefore eternal!

Selected Note

The mustering of the Hebrews at Mizpeh on the inauguration of Samuel alarmed the Philistines, and their "lords went up against Israel." Samuel assumed the functions of the theocratic viceroy, offered a burnt-offering, and implored the immediate protection of Jehovah. He was answered with propitious thunder. A fearful storm burst upon the Philistines, who were signally defeated, and did not recruit their strength again during the administration of the prophet-judge. The grateful victor erected a stone of remembrance, and named it Ebenezer. From an incidental allusion ( 1 Samuel 7:14) we learn, too, that about this time the Amorites, the inveterate foes of Israel, were also at peace with them—another triumph of his government. The presidency of Samuel appears to have been eminently successful. From the very brief sketch given us of his public life we infer that the administration of justice occupied no little share of his time and attention. He went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpeh, places not very far distant from each other, but chosen perhaps, as Winer suggests, because they were the old scenes of worship (Real-Wört, sub voce).

In Samuel"s old age two of his sons were appointed by him deputy-judges in Beersheba. These young men possessed not their father"s integrity of spirit, but "turned aside after lucre, took bribes, and perverted judgment" ( 1 Samuel 8:3). The advanced years of the venerable ruler himself and his approaching dissolution, the certainty that none of his family could fill his office with advantage to the country, the horror of a period of anarchy which his death might occasion, the necessity of having some one to put an end to tribal jealousies and concentrate the energies of the nation, especially as there appeared to be symptoms of renewed warlike preparations on the part of the Ammonites ( 1 Samuel 12:12), these considerations seem to have led the ciders of Israel to adopt the bold step of assembling at Ramah and soliciting Samuel "to make a king to judge them." The proposed change from a republican to a regal form of government displeased Samuel for various reasons. Besides it being a departure from the first political institute, and so far an infringement on the rights of the divine head of the theocracy, it was regarded by the regent as a virtual charge against himself, one of those examples of popular fickleness and ingratitude which the. history of every realm exhibits in profusion. Jehovah comforts Samuel by saying, "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me." Being warned of God to accede to their request for a king, and yet to remonstrate with the people, and set before the nation the perils and tyranny of a monarchical government ( 1 Samuel 8:10), Samuel proceeded to the election of a sovereign. Saul, son of Kish, "a choice young man and a goodly," whom he had met unexpectedly, was pointed out to him by Jehovah as the king of Israel, and by the prophet was anointed and saluted as monarch. Samuel again convened the nation at Mizpeh, again with honest zeal condemned their project, but caused the sacred lot to be taken. The lot fell on Saul. The prophet now formally introduced him to the people, who shouted in joyous acclamation, "God save the king."

Prayer

Almighty God, may the hour of worship be exceeding precious to the souls whose desire is towards thee. Come down upon us as a light above the brightness of the sun, as the cooling dew upon the parched grass, and as showers that water the earth. Bring to our memory the bitterest recollections of our sins, and then show us the cross of redemption, that our sorrow may be swallowed up in unspeakable joy. Show us thy name plainly written on every daily mercy. May our bread and our water remind us of God. May the light be a Revelation , and the darkness a shield of defence. May joy be as an angel sent down from heaven, and sorrow as a cloud which shall hasten us home. Pity us in hours of weakness: save us when strong billows go over our heads. Let thy pardon be given to us, guilty helpless men, and it shall be well with us evermore. Amen.


Verse 6

"Samuel prayed unto the Lord."1 Samuel 8:6.

This showed great self-control on the part of Samuel, seeing that he was "displeased" by the demand of the people for a king.—Rarely do we find prayer and displeasure linked together in the same sentence.—When men are displeased they pour malediction upon the head of those who occasion the displeasure; but in this case the man who was wounded turned his attention to heaven and poured out his sorrow before the Lord.—The best and noblest men may be deposed from office by the caprice of the people.—The reasons of such deposition do not appear on the surface.—There are reasons within reasons.—It required the Lord himself to explain to Samuel how it was that the people had become disaffected towards him,—it was not a case of rejecting Samuel, it was a case of rejecting the Lord himself.—When met get wrong religiously they necessarily get wrong socially, and oftentimes the cause is not inquired for beyond the social line: so we speak of discontent, disloyalty, rebellion, and we look for political causes, and we try political remedies, whilst all the time we have not gone deep enough, or we should have found that the rebellion is at the root of religious disaffection.—"For they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them." When we accept the Lord"s sovereignty we are quite willing to receive the under-sove-reigns whom he may appoint, and who vindicate their appointment by wisdom and beneficence: but when we reject the Lord himself all that comes below that title necessarily falls in the first overthrow.—The process takes the same course, only inversely, in reference to social reclamations; we must begin religiously rather than politically, or if we begin politically it must be that we may get a stronger hold upon the people to affect them religiously.—The supreme lesson is that no reform is worth undertaking or consummating that is not founded upon the eternal principles of religion.—We must be theological in the best sense before we can be philanthropical in any sense that touches reality and effects permanent healing.


Verse 22

"And the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king."1 Samuel 8:22.

A most awful communication this to make on the part of the living God.—There are some compliances which indicate the deepest of all differences.—God gives men the request of their heart, and sends leanness into their soul.—They who rejoice in answers to prayer should recall the nature of the prayer itself, and ascertain thoroughly that the prayer was founded in wisdom and expressed a real necessity of the life.—Where our prayer expresses nothing but whim, prejudice, passing taste, or changeful mood; or where it is inspired by a spirit of selfishness, the answer to it is the most tremendous condemnation which even God can inflict upon the suppliant.—Answered prayer is in itself nothing; we must first know what the prayer Isaiah , and having discovered the nature of the prayer we should be able to estimate the value of the answer.—All king-making is child"s play.—The people asked for a king as they might have asked for an idol; it was no spirit of loyalty that was rising in them towards monarchical institutions; it was simply the play of a fickle spirit, the action of a soul that was devoid of all moral permanence in its elections and pursuits—A king elected so easily and so superficially may be thrown off with equal facility.—It is the same with the election of friends.—They who make their friends easily, dispose of them easily.—It is the same with learning, with discipline, with all manner of high pursuit; "easy come, easy go," is a proverb which may apply very fittingly to them.—The king was made at God"s command, in the sense of God"s permission being given.—It does not therefore follow that the king was of God"s choice.—A fatal thing it may be for a man to have his own way; for the moment it is pleasant, for the moment the man may congratulate himself upon the happy issue; but all things are to be tested by the end.—When once the heart goes roving after new sovereigns, it is impossible to tell how the fickleness may culminate.—The love of change grows by exercise of choice.—He has attained the highest point of discipline who accepts the highest ordinations of providence and waits for God himself to open new doors and create new opportunities.—Whatever we change, we must never change the kingship of Jesus Christ.—All other kings whom he may send to reign over us intermediately must be left to his control and discipline; he sets up and he puts down, and all his providence is an exertion on behalf of the fullest and deepest interests of his kingdom.—Man is fond of creating institutions.—Such creation gives an opportunity for the exercise of his inventive faculties to make a new toy, to establish a new order, to invent a new decoration, to bring about the setting up of a new throne; all these are the infantile exercises of the human mind.—He only is right who says, The Lord reigneth, and by virtue of his sovereignty he will control all under-reigns, and bring all the forces and ministries of life to co-operate in the outworking of a divine dominion.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 8:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/1-samuel-8.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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