New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary

1Sa 8:1 When Samuel was old he made his sons judges over Israel-
Samuel was not that old; he died well into the 40 year reign of Saul and judged Israel all the days of his life, overlapping the kingship of Saul. So this was an exaggerated statement, made because they were making excuses to have a king. God's comment was that they had rejected Him as their king. But we have here possibly the only negative incident in the record of Samuel's life. He was indeed a fine man, but in his attitude to his sons he failed. His actions provoked Israel to demand a human king; but God doesn't blame Samuel for that, instead He sees that the people were using Samuel's misjudgment as an excuse. We also again observe that two men can commit the same sin or make the same misjudgment [think of Uzzah compared to others who touched the ark], but be judged differently. Because the heart position is all important.

Samuel was in his 50s or 60s at the time of 1 Sam. 8:1 when he made his corrupt sons judges over Israel. Eli had become judge of Israel at age 58 (1 Sam. 4:15,18). It seems that Samuel's later life had unfortunate parallels with that of Eli. Eli may well have had his sons Hophni and Phinehas in his 50s, because his daughter in law was pregnant at the time of his death at 98. It would seem that when Samuel was about the same age as Eli, he also had sons, who turned away from God just as had Eli's sons. And the people likewise complained (1 Sam. 8:4 = 1 Sam. 2:23). The fact Samuel made them judges despite their immorality would suggest he had gone the way of Eli in turning a blind eye to them. So although Eli's bad example to Samuel was apparently ignored by him and Samuel's spirituality was commendable, finally in later life it seems that example did rub off upon him. 

1Sa 8:2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba-
1 Chron. 6:28 gives the name of the firstborn as Vashni, meaning "weak", rather than Joel as in 1 Sam. 8:2, meaning "Jehovah is God". But this could be a scribal error. If we stick with "Vashni", we have an example of how character and personal history became reflected in the names by which men were remembered by. We note they were judges in Beersheba, a long way from Ramah and the small circuit of towns judged by Samuel.

"Abijah", 'Yah is my father', probably reflects how Samuel found Yahweh to be his father, seeing his own two father figures somewhat failed him. Elkanah was passive and left the whole 'Samuel' project to Hannah, and agreed to Samuel being abandonned at the temple as a toddler, only visiting him once / year. And his de facto father, Eli, was corrupt. But spiritual experience of a father can't be passed on to his sons. Yah was indeed as a Father to Samuel, but he got to that through his own hard life experience. Abijah presumably had a good father in Samuel- so he was a son of God in name only. This is all so psychologically credible- for a father who had hard times but came to God through them, to want to unload his experience onto his son.

1Sa 8:3 His sons didn’t walk in his ways, but turned aside after money, taking bribes and perverting justice-
This is described in terms of breaking the law of Moses (Ex. 23:6,8; Dt. 16:19). To "pervert justice" was to break the covenant (Dt. 27:19 s.w.). So for Samuel to make them judges was a big sin on his part [although it could be argued they only did this after he appointed them as judges]. But the fact they took bribes and perverted justice says much about the general state of spirituality within Israel. Unlike Eli, Samuel could declare his personal innocence (1 Sam. 12:4); and his own personal "ways" are declared here to be of integrity. Nor was there any abuse of the sanctuary, for the sons were operating in Beersheba (:2), quite far from Samuel in Ramah and the surrounding towns where his ministry was focused. We note from 1 Chron. 6:33 that Heman, an active servant of the Lord as a temple singer, was in fact Samuel's grandson. So faith skipped a generation.

1Sa 8:4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel to Ramah-
"Israel" was far larger than the small circuit of towns around Ramah where Samuel judged, and Beersheba where his sons judged. So it could be argued that the "elders of Israel" were using the local situation in Beersheba as a pretext for demanding Samuel's blessing upon their idea of having a human king.

1Sa 8:5 and they said to him, Look, you are old and your sons don’t walk in your ways; now appoint a king to judge us like all the nations-
They were hinting that the situation was Samuel's fault because his sons didn't walk in his ways. It may also have been somewhat of an exaggeration to cite Samuel's age as a reason, for he lived many years after this; and Eli had become judge of Israel at 58 and judged until his death at 98 (1 Sam. 4:15,18). The previous judges of Israel were rarely hereditary and had instead been specifically raised up by God. So their case was weak. The truth was that they wanted to be "like all the nations". This is the term used about the attitude of the Jews who were therefore taken into exile (Ez. 20:32). Again we see how the history here has been rewritten to show similarities with the exiles. "The nations" in Canaan believed that their king was the representative of their god Baal, and Israel wanted a king "like" that, on that basis. The request for a king was not therefore a total rejection of Yahweh, at least technically, although it seems connected with idolatry in :8. But they rejected the judges, 'saviours', whose role was intended to be teachers as we see from Samuel, because they wanted a warrior to be their military figurehead. They wanted a military leader and not a spiritual leader to be their judge. They were not simply asking for "judges" to now be called "kings". They wanted a different kind of structure as a nation, they wanted a leader to whom they could pledge their allegiance. Man needs a person to worship, to give allegiance to. That need is met in God, but they didn't want that. The problem, i.e. corruption of Samuel's sons, was actually unrelated to the answer they propose, i.e. a king. Injustice of judges didn't mean that a king would judge rightly. But this obvious flaw in their reasoning isn't exposed back to them. Their request is taken by God at face value and responded to. His Son likewise refrained from pointing out obvious contradictions [e.g. the rich young man claiming he had served God from his youth, the Saducees who denied resurrection asking who will be married to whom at the resurrection]. Rather did He, like His Father, reason from the statements of men, accepting them for a moment as true.

1Sa 8:6 But this displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. Samuel prayed to Yahweh-
God did "give" them a king (s.w. 1 Sam. 12:13). In essence, we often get what we ask for. But the critical thing, therefore, is to desire the right things. In the end, we get the essence of what we desire, and God's response to prayer is part of that. Our desires are therefore critical. Instead of arguing back with them, Samuel takes their request to Yahweh in prayer. And this is often all we can do in the face of bad behaviour and unreasonable demands from others.

1Sa 8:7 Yahweh said to Samuel, Listen to the people in all that they tell you; they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them-
Three times we read that Samuel was to "listen to the people" (:7,9,20). They were given what they asked for. Despite being warned of the consequences. We see the huge and even tragic extent to which God, like the father of the prodigal son, gives man what he really wants. This means that our heart desires are so critically important- because we will get them. The Psalms and Proverbs often make the simple point that the righteous will receive the desires of their heart:

"Delight yourself in Yahweh, and He will give you the desires of your heart" (Ps. 37:4); "He will fulfil the desire of those who fear Him" (Ps. 145:19); "What the wicked fear will overtake them, but the desire of the righteous will be granted" (Prov. 10:24); "The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing, but the desire of the diligent shall be fully satisfied" (Prov. 13:4).

All those who "love His appearing" will be saved; those who merely do good works and approve the Lord's teaching will not be, because "I never knew you". Our self examination should be well capable of answering the question "Do I want to be in the Kingdom more than anything else?". We should be able to say whether or not this is our dominant desire. If it is, we are assured that in the end we will have it.

"The voice of the people" is the same phrase translated "the noise of the people" in Ex. 32:17, when Moses and Joshua heard the voice of the people worshipping the golden calf. Clearly there is an association with apostacy. "Rejected" is the word for 'despise'. The other reference to Israel despising / rejecting Yahweh is in Num. 11:20, where the people despise the manna and demand meat to eat, and in saying this despise / reject Moses as their leader, blaming him for not providing a more varied diet. And again, God is angry. Their complaint now that Samuel is "old" wasn't quite legitimate; they were led by Moses until he was 120 years old. They despised him, they wanted a handsome, tall warrior to lead them, not Samuel on Yahweh's behalf. And thus they despised Yahweh, whose style it is to work through the weak and humanly weak.

Their rejection of God meant His rejection of them; if one side rejects another then the relationship is broken. The same word is used in Hos. 4:6: "Because you rejected knowledge [i.e. relationship], I will also reject you".  God's ultimate response to this was to use this term of His rejection of Israel and Judah when they went into captivity: "Yahweh has rejected them" (Jer. 6:30; 7:29 s.w.), "my God will cast them away [s.w. "reject"]" (Hos. 9:17). He uses the same word of rejecting "Jerusalem the city which I had chosen" (2 Kings 23:37). And yet there is good reason to think that this 'rejection' actually happened at Samuel's time: "Yahweh was angry, and greatly abhorred [s.w. rejected] Israel; so that He forsook the tent of Shiloh, the tent which He placed among men; and delivered His strength into captivity, His glory into the adversary’s hand" (Ps. 78:59-61). The destruction of the tabernacle at Shiloh, where Samuel grew up, appears to have been broadly around the time the ark ["His glory"] was taken into captivity by the Philistines at the end of Eli's life. It was around this time that Yahweh "rejected" Israel- in response to their rejection of Him. And yet He gave them a king and tried to work through the monarchy, until when that failed, He articulated that "rejection" by sending His people away, out of His house and His land. Which is the language of divorce. Israel were "the wife of youth" who was "rejected" and sent away (Is. 54:6 s.w.). Again we see a gap period between the pronouncement of judgment, and the realization of that judgment. His huge patience spanned the centuries during which the monarchy existed. "Yahweh rejected all the seed of Israel... until He had cast them out of His sight" (2 Kings 17:20). And yet in allusion to this, Jer. 31:37; 33:26 protest that God will not "cast off [s.w. reject] all the seed of Israel [note the repetition of that phrase] for all that they have done". His final grace is to force the marriage through to eternal success.

The idea of :7,8 is that ‘They didn’t reject you, they rejected me, but they rejected you, in that you are with Me’. A parade example of God manifestation or representation by a man. God comes over as sensitive to Samuel's feeling that he himself had been rejected, and we feel Him as it were putting His arm around Samuel and comforting him in his rejection; by saying that it was essentially all about a rejection of Him rather than Samuel personally. We learn if nothing else that God is sensitive to a person's feelings of rejection.

1Sa 8:8 As they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, in forsaking Me and serving other gods, so they also do to you-
This connects their desire for a king with idolatry. As noted on :5, "the nations" in Canaan believed that their king was the representative of their god Baal, and Israel wanted a king "like" that, on that basis.

Israel sinned not only by worshipping idols but by thereby omitting to worship God as He required ("forsaking Me and serving other gods"). Sins of omission are our greatest temptation. So let us really realize: none of us sins or is righteous unto ourselves. There are colossal ramifications of our every sin and our every act of righteousness on others.

1Sa 8:9 Now therefore listen to their voice, but protest solemnly to them and show them what the king who shall reign over them will do-
See on :19. God's hurt at this point opens another window into His comment in Dt. 17 that Israel would desire a king to reign over them, and therefore a king should be regulated by His laws. God foreknows human failure, and yet is hurt by it. It is indeed hard to be God, foreseeing so much failure. Dt. 17 said that Israel must have a king whom God chose, and God did choose Saul- but He chose a man exactly whom they would have chosen, the tallest man in Israel, strong, handsome and a warrior. God wanted to set Saul up for success not failure, and indeed the path of monarchy was not at all doomed to failure. Yet the choice of it was a stepping back from direct relationship with God as their King. They wanted a mediator, a go between, just as they didn't want the intimacy of hearing God speaking directly to them at Sinai. And God didn't turn away from them because of this, He settled for a lower level relationship.

Yahweh gave them a king in His wrath (Hos. 13:11). He was angry with them as was Samuel, and expressed that anger by answering their prayer for a human king: "I gave you a king in My anger, and have taken him away in My wrath". As explained on Hos. 9:15, Israel's rejection of God for a human king made God "hate" them. It was effectively a divorce from Him; this is how seriously God sees our turning to visible human help rather than to Him. God so respected human freewill decisions that even when His wife wanted to go off with another man, He "gave" her this; and even worked through the system of human kingship in order to continue some level of relationship with Israel, such was His love for them. God sees a connection between His giving of a king, and His taking away of a king. Before they had a king, they were exclusively His. So the taking away of their king was in fact not simply a punishment, but in wrath He remembered mercy, and hoped that this would in fact be the path back towards their accepting Him as their king. So often we see God's hope for restoration expressed within and next to His angry statements of judgment. His anger is therefore unlike human anger; there is always the love which seeks longer term restoration.

He allows us our freewill; and yet seeks to persuade us against our requests. But God never forces. And here we see in this 'protestation' a parade example of this. He was willing to work through a human kingship, as He was through a physical temple, which He also didn't want. And yet by making use of such Divine concessions to human weakness, we make the path of true spirituality so much harder.

1Sa 8:10 Samuel told all the words of Yahweh to the people who asked for a king-
The name "Saul" means "asked for". It is very similar to "Samuel", "asked of God" (1 Sam. 1:20). Samuel was called to be a prophet, priest and anointed king (see on 1 Sam. 2:10), but he apparently failed to live up to this potential and was potentially replaced by Saul. He too failed, as did David and Solomon later, with all the potentials only coming finally true in the Lord Jesus. 

1Sa 8:11 He said, This is what the king who shall reign over you will do: he will take your sons and appoint them to serve with his chariots and to be his horsemen, and they will run before his chariots-
Israel were told three times that Saul would have many chariots (1 Sam. 8:11,12). If they were spiritually aware, they would have realized that by multiplying horses and chariots, he was going to be a King who ruled in studied disobedience to the Mosaic Law (Dt. 17:16-21). They were given the spiritual potential to grasp this. But they were already hard bitten in their rebellion, and this potential spiritual help went unheeded (although God still gave it to them potentially, even at a time when it seemed pointless. He is so ever willing to coax His people back!).

1Sa 8:12 he will appoint them to be captains of thousands and captains of fifties; he will assign some to plough his ground and reap his harvest, and to make his weapons of war and the equipment for his chariots-
The captains of thousands and fifties were originally appointed by God; and yet now they were hearing that Saul was going to appoint them. If they were truly spiritually minded, they would have perceived that such a king and situation was not for them. And yet it seems the more the point was made, the deeper was their insistence upon the path they had chosen. This is sadly typically human.

1Sa 8:13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks and bakers-
To take a daughter is a phrase elsewhere translated 'marry... daughters' (Gen. 19:14), and whenever the word "take" is used in connection with "daughters" the reference is usually to marriage. The idea could be that like many monarchs of the time, Saul would 'marry' his female slaves. They were then unable to marry anyone else, might never have children by him, and would be condemned to a dumb life of servitude as cooks, bakers etc. "Perfumers" seems a strange example to give, until we realize that this is the word for "apothecary", the word used of how apothecaries were to work in the tabernacle making the oils and incense for tabernacle service (Ex. 30:25,33,35; 37:29; 1 Chron. 9:30). What was clearly a service to God was going to be reappropriated to Saul. For he effectively was going to replace God as the master of their devotions and service.   

1Sa 8:14 He will take your fields, your vineyards and your olive groves, even their best, and give them to his servants-
As we learn from the later incident with Naboth's vineyard, a man's fields were his inheritance from Yahweh. To sell them or be willing to give them to another was therefore a rejection of their inheritance. They were being told that God would give them an unspiritual and disobedient king. And they eagerly said yes to that. Perhaps because in their hearts they simply didn't register nor believe that Samuel was speaking God's word to them. Or this may be simply a case of how all spiritual logic is thrown to the winds in the face of a carnal course of action that the flesh has decided upon. The critical issue is whether or not we accept God's word as His word, and respond to it. Or whether our belief in Divine inspiration of His word, the Bible, is mere lip service, that crumbles to nothing in the face of group think and obsession with a carnal narrative. 

1Sa 8:15 He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage to give to his officers and his servants-
As noted on :13, the king was to replace Yahweh to them. Instead of tithing to Yahweh, they would be tithing to their king.

1Sa 8:16 He will take your male and female servants and your best young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work-
The repeated stress upon "the best" recalled how "the best" was to be given to Yahweh, both specifically as the firstfruits, and also to fulfil the spirit of the entire law (Num. 18:12,29). Indeed "the best" was to go to the Levites (Num. 18:30). But to give "the best" to a human king, who was not a Levite, was going to preclude serving Yahweh with "the best", and the Levites also would suffer. They were therefore being told that effectively, this king was going to 'play God', and not merely be His representative on earth. Knowing this, their persistence in their choice was indeed a rejection of Yahweh.   

The king was to take away their donkeys (1 Sam. 8:16), and the narrative of the call of Saul in 1 Sam. 9 begins with his almost obsessive desire for donkeys. Saul is presented as the exact fit to the prophecies of the awful king the people would be given if they wished to go the path of kingship. Yet Saul's failure was far from inevitable. The predictions about him could have been voided by his own freewill. Like Nineveh, he lived in the gap between the statement of judgment and its fulfilment. In the context of donkeys, he is told not to "set his heart on the donkeys", 1 Sam. 9:20 Heb. He is being invited not to be like the awful king he potentially could be. But like so many, he wasted that potential. Samuel never stole a donkey (1 Sam. 12:3), whereas Saul was to steal the donkeys of Israel (1 Sam. 8:9,11). Israel consciously chose a king who would take their donkeys, and rejected God's judge, Samuel, who never took their donkeys. The way Samuel protests this fact in 1 Sam. 12:3 suggests he felt some bitterness and resentment about his rejection by Israel. And God comforts him that He feels the same.

1Sa 8:17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his servants-
Again, the king was to replace Yahweh to them. Instead of tithing to Yahweh, they would be tithing to their king. These warnings were only perceptible by those who were aware of the law of Moses and were already tithing as required. And so it is that people are confirmed in the path they wish to go; if they are ignorant of God's word or not already practicing it, then in situations like these they are confirmed further down the path to spiritual disaster.

1Sa 8:18 You will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen, but Yahweh will not answer you in that day-
Now it was as if Samuel on Yahweh's behalf was crying out to the people, and they were refusing to listen (:19). And so their later crying out to Him would likewise go unheard. His response to us is related to our response to His word. If His word abides in us, we therefore will ask what we will according to that word, and be heard (see on Jn. 15:7). We may also note that although the people cried out at the abuses of Saul, many of them still preferred him to David and were fiercely loyal to him. Just as people are to abusive spiritual and secular leaders. These historical records help us see our human nature in the mirror. Samuel is alluding to Dt. 17:15, "You shall set him king over you, whom Yahweh your God shall choose". The same word for "choose" is used. Despite their desire to choose their own king, and God disagreeing with it, He and not they chose the king. He intervened to as it were make them obedient, even in this wrong choice they had made. We marvel at His grace. For Saul's choosing was totally of God and not man.

By insisting on their request for such a king, the people were asking for their own condemnation. Because Saul is presented as a judgment upon them, making them cry to Yahweh because of his oppression just as they did when ruled by Pharaoh. All condemnation is ultimately self inflicted, just as in the Lord's parable those who refuse the call to the Kingdom say "I beg you, have me excused / rejected". Here we read that they chose their king, but God chose Saul. But He chose according to how they would've chosen, so in effect, they chose. We marvel at God's deep attention to the essential desires of people on earth, and how He gives us what we really want. Therefore it is of paramount importance to desire the right things, to want His Kingdom above all, to love His Son's appearing; and all who do shall have their heart's desire.

There is no historical record of Israel ever crying out to God [for that is how the word for "to cry out" is usually used] because of their king. We can deduce that God by grace didn't judge them as severely as He now threatens. In wrath He remembers mercy.

1Sa 8:19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, No; but we will have a king over us-
"Refused" is related to the word for "reject" in :7. Their rejection of God was essentially a rejection of His word through Samuel. Our attitude to God's word is our attitude to Him. "Refused to listen" is literally 'refused to obey'. Most texts add "the voice of Samuel". So we have an obvious connection with :9, where God tells Samuel to hearken / obey the voice of the people- because they refused to hearken / obey His voice to them through Samuel. So we are left with the conclusion: If we don't obey God's voice, then He will obey our voice. And our voice is that of our natural desires, obedience to which is the path to destruction. So by obeying God's voice, we are strengthened not to obey our own voice, the voice of the flesh. The same contrast is found in 1 Sam. 15:1,24: Saul is asked to hear the voice of Yahweh, instead of hearing the voice of the people. It's a case of the voice / word of man [including our own voice and the voice of men around us]- or the voice / word of God.


According to Hos. 13:10, they also asked for a new system of princes to replace the judges: "Where is your king now, that he may save you in all your cities? And your judges, of whom you said, ‘Give me a king and princes?". Often in Hosea, God appeals to Israel to let Him be their ‘king’. But there is a Hebraism whereby a husband is called the ‘king’ of his wife. God’s appeal was reflected in Hosea’s desire for Gomer to as it were re-marry him, to let him truly be her king / husband. And yet she felt like Israel: “What then should a king do [for] us?” (Hos. 10:3). She was so selfish that she didn’t see anything in it for her… when so much love was being offered to her. We will note on Hos. 9:15 that Israel's desire for a human king was a rejection of God as their king / husband, and had been tantamount to adultery. Israel's demand for a king as recorded in 1 Samuel graciously omits to record that they also asked for "princes", even though they had already had "judges" raised up by God. They wanted a king and a royal family, to be the equivalent to the Divine "judges" or saviours whom He had raised up. So often the Divine record reflects God's grace.   

1Sa 8:20 so that we may be like all the other nations, and so that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles-
They may be alluding to the appointment of Joshua to "go out before" the people (s.w. Num. 27:17). Quasi spiritual or Biblical allusion is typical of people in this situation. They are blind to reason because the flesh has hardened their hearts, and they are confirmed in that by God's Spirit acting upon them. The people wanted a king to "go out before us and fight our battles" (1 Sam. 8:20), but they were disappointed in Saul ultimately. For it was effectively David who went out before the people to fight their battles (s.w. 1 Sam. 18:13,16). And David was only successful because he recognized that it was Yahweh who 'went out before' to fight his battles (s.w. 2 Sam. 5:24), rather than any human king or leader. 

Their desire for a king to judge them would have made Samuel redundant as their judge. But Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life (1 Sam. 7:15). So even under Saul's kingship, there was still recourse to God's man.

1Sa 8:21 Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he repeated them before Yahweh-
Samuel hereby acts as a mediator after the pattern of Moses. Yahweh of course knew the words spoken, so the repeating or mediating of the words of the people was therefore perhaps in the form of intercession for them. Or perhaps he was simply sharing them with Yahweh, just as David shares his situation with Yahweh in prayer, as Hezekiah did, and as we should. This openness before God, sharing our situation and the words we have heard, is for our benefit; it serves as a reminder that indeed God hears every word.

1Sa 8:22 Yahweh said to Samuel, Listen to them and give them a king. Samuel said to the men of Israel, Every man is to go back to his town
It could appear that Samuel didn't immediately tell them God's agreement. Perhaps this was because he still hoped they might yet repent of their choice. There is a strong manifestation of Yahweh in Samuel at this time. Samuel was to give them a king, but that was on behalf of Yahweh, for it was He who at this time gave them a king in His anger (Hos. 13:11).