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 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 judged 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.

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). 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.

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. 

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-
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-
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.

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.   

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.

1Sa 8:19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel; they said, No; but we will have a king over us-
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. 

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).