Commentary on I Samuel 8
Samuel was old. He had made his sons judges over Israel. There is no indication that he inquired of the Lord regarding this succession plan. Why not? The question of fatherhood comes to the forefront. Did not Samuel raise up his boys in the fear and admonition of the Lord? While there are not guarantees how our children will turn out, there is a responsibility of fathers to train up their children in the ways of the Lord. It causes me to wonder how much impact Samuel’s mentor, Eli, had as a poor example to Samuel with regard to raising his own sons.
Samuel’s sons turned aside after money by taking bribes, thereby perverting justice. The backlash to this perversion of justice was a cry from the people wanting a new system of governance (which was even more man-centric). The elders came to Samuel as representatives of the people with this legacy concern. They did not want the unfair injustices of Samuel’s heirs to replace Samuel when he died…a reasonable concern. But, instead of asking Samuel to inquire of the Lord about this dilemma, they demanded their own solution: MAKE US A KING. They did not ask for a just seer to succeed Samuel, but they wanted to be like the other nations around them. A seer/prophet was one who gained his counsel from the Lord, while a king would gain his counsel from men. All the kings of the nations around Israel had their own prophets in the pocket who were dependent on the king for their livelihood. They ate at the king’s table by abiding in his pleasure. Samuel’s whole life consisted of eating at the Lord’s table, declaring what God had to say to his people.
The people were demanding civil governance devised by the limitations of man. They were rejecting heavenly governance from the ONE true king. The Lord instructed Samuel to give them what they demanded. Yahweh made it clear to Samuel that the people were rejecting Him and His governance. Moses had prophesied this would happen when He wrote of the curses upon Israel. (Deut. 31:16 “…this people will rise up and go astray after the foreign gods of the land, whither they go to be among them, and will forsake ME, and break MY covenant which I have made with them.”) In asking to have a man-king, Israel was wanting to embrace a governing model of the nations among whom they dwelt which was, in effect, throwing off the covenant Yahweh had made with them at Sinai.
Yahweh continued to instruct Samuel what to say to Israel just as He had instructed Moses hundreds of years earlier. The Lord reminded Samuel this had been the modus operandi of Israel since coming out of Egypt. This propensity to serve other no-gods instead of being faithful to the ONE who delivered them from slavery. The Lord told Samuel to give them their request to break their covenant vow with the Lord. However, Samuel was to (prophesy) forewarn them about the manner of the king that shall rule over them.
This God-appointed judge of Israel told all these elders of the people the response of the Lord. He explained to them the ramifications of asking for an earthly king:
- He will take your sons (even though the first born of Israel belonged to the Lord, Yahweh had set up a redemption program whereby the Hebrew fathers could redeem their first-born via sacrifice and offering to a priest).
- Conscripting them into his military service
- Conscripting them into his supply chain services
- Conscripting them to make instruments of war
- He will take your daughters to be:
- He will take your best fields, vineyards, olive yards to give to his servants
- He will take a tenth of your seed (tax) and vineyards to give to his officers and servants
- He will take your servants and the brightest of your young me and asses (transportation system) and put them to work on his projects
- He will take ten percent of your flocks (production) and make you his servants
In essence, Israel was still wanting to return to “Egypt”- relinquishing their freedom in lieu of, once again, becoming slaves to man-governance.
Samuel was giving Israel one more chance to consider their action of breaking covenant with Yahweh. These things were going to be the result of not trusting God to fight their battles for them, as He had done ever since leaving Egypt. They wanted a man to fight their battles for them. Samuel went back to the Lord with this report that Israel was determined to break covenant with Yahweh, desiring an earthly king, instead. The Lord told Samuel to go ahead and give into their demands for this divorcement from Yahweh.
Separating themselves from His rule assured the continual slide to full blown idol worship, public and civil, not just private and individual. Now, a new error of slavery and taxation to the state begins. Until this time, Israel was charged with the taxes of supporting the spiritual leaders of the Levitical priesthood who tended to the Lord and His governance over Israel. This additional layer of service and taxation would further impede the freedom of Israel to live by the sweat of their own brow, established from the time of Adam. Israel was willingly entering into a servitude to man which was never Yahweh’s intent.
The goodness of His governance was being rejected because His people did not want to be unlike the world and its nations. For some reason, they wanted to ne “on par” with the other nations even when the Lord had declared that He “…will set thee on high above all the nations of the earth” (Deut. 28: 1). What a powerful deception to desire mimicking this world, thus forsaking their distinct identity of being Yahweh’s people. Israel had been breaking the provision of the Sinai covenant throughout their history, but this culminating event with Samuel was the official presentation by the people of a writ of divorce from Yahweh. Israel had chosen to marry another. Samuel had just outlined for them the terms of their new relationship. Israel had been so fully corrupted, internally, by this time that their addiction to lesser gods had set in. They were no longer dabbling, but decided to embrace full-blown addiction, throwing off any residue of restraints of the Sinai covenant. This ensured the fulfillment of Moses “prophetic curses” on Israel.