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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for 1 Samuel 8

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Israel Demands a King

A. The people of Israel request a king.

1. (1Sa 8:1-3) Samuel appoints his sons as judges.

Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice.

a. When Samuel was old... he made his sons judges over Israel: Samuel was one of the godliest men in the entire Bible. Yet his action here may be a sin on his part. We never have the pattern of judges being appointed by men or of the office of judge being passed from father to son. Samuel was not right to appoint his sons judges over Israel.

b. His sons did not walk in his ways: This is why Samuel was wrong to appoint his sons as judges over Israel. Samuel probably could not look objectively at his sons. He excused sins in them that he saw in others.

2. (1Sa 8:4-5) Samuel’s sons are rejected as leaders over Israel.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”

a. All the elders of Israel gathered: It was wise for the elders of Israel to do this. They did not have to accept leaders who were obviously ungodly and unfit to lead.

b. Now make for us a king to judge us like all the nations: While it was wise for the elders of Israel to reject Samuel’s sons as leaders, it was wrong for them to say this.

i. In itself, the desire to have a king was not bad. God knew one day Israel would have a king. 400 years before this God gave instructions to Israel about their future king (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). A king was in God’s plan for Israel.

ii. Yet, the reason Israel wanted a king was wrong. “Like all the nations” is no reason at all. We often get into trouble by wanting to be like the world when we should instead be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1-2).

c. Make for us a king: There was a difference between a king and a judge. A judge was a leader raised up by God, usually to meet a specific need in a time of crisis. When the crisis was over usually the judge went back to doing what he did before. A king not only held his office as king as long as he lived, he also passed his throne down to his descendants.

i. Judges did not make a “government.” They met a specific need in a time of crisis. Kings establish a standing government with a bureaucracy, which can be both a blessing and a curse to any people.

ii. In Judges 8 Gideon was offered the throne over Israel. He refused it saying, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.” (Judges 8:23) This was the heart of all the judges, and why Israel went some 400 years in the Promised Land without a king.

3. (1Sa 8:6-8) Samuel prays about their request and God answers.

But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day; with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods; so they are doing to you also.”

a. The thing displeased Samuel: No doubt, Samuel was stung by the rejection of his sons. But more than that, Samuel saw the ungodly motive behind the elders’ request for a king.

b. So Samuel prayed to the Lord: This is the right thing to do whenever we are displeased. We should never carry such troubles with us. Instead, we should do what Samuel did when he prayed to the Lord.

i. “Surely it is the mistake of our life, that we carry our burdens instead of handing them over; that we worry instead of trusting; that we pray so little.” (Meyer)

c. Heed the voice of the people: God told Samuel to fulfill the people’s request. This was not because their request was good or right, but because God would teach Israel through this. Sometimes when we insist on having something bad God will allow us to have it and then teach through it.

i. In many ways this was a matter of timing. God knew Israel would have a king but He wanted to give the king in His timing. Because Israel demanded a king out of bad and carnal reasons, God will give them a bad and carnal king. Israel will get what they want, and will hurt because of it!

d. They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them: God had a purpose in not giving Israel a king up to that point. It was because He did not want them to put an ungodly trust in the king instead of the Lord. Now, Israel rejects God’s plan and declares they do not want the Lord God to reign over them.

i. In the words they have not rejected you, we sense God comforting Samuel. It is as if God says, “Samuel, don’t take it personally. They are not rejecting you, but Me.”

e. They have forsaken Me... so they are doing to you also: In fact, Israel forsook God by asking for a king. When the elders of Israel asked for a king, they thought that better politics or government could meet their needs. But if they had just been faithful to their King in heaven, they would not need a king on earth.

i. This strikes us as simply unfair. Didn’t God show Himself to be a worthy King? Didn’t He demonstrate His ability to lead the nation, and demonstrate it over and over again?

ii. There is a sense in which their rejection of God as their king is prophetic. When Jesus stood before Pilate the Jewish mob declared, we have no king but Caesar (John 19:15). Jesus was a rejected King.

4. (1Sa 8:9) God tells Samuel to warn the nation.

“Now therefore, heed their voice. However, you shall solemnly forewarn them, and show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.”

a. You shall solemnly forewarn them: The sense is that Israel will not change their mind, so Samuel’s goal is to simply forewarn them. If Israel chose this course God wanted them to make an informed choice. So, the Lord told Samuel to show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.

b. Forewarn them: Information creates responsibility. In telling Israel this, Samuel did not only help them make an informed choice; he increased their accountability for making the right choice. They couldn’t say, “We didn’t know.”

B. Samuel speaks to the people of Israel about their desire for a king.

1. (1Sa 8:10-18) Samuel warns the nation of the responsibilities of having a king.

So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.”

a. This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: God wanted Israel to know there would be problems connected with having a king. In Israel’s view, they had problems that would be solved by having a king. While those problems may have been solved, God wanted them to know a king would also bring other problems. They should carefully weigh the benefits against the problems.

b. He will take... He will take... he will take... He will take... he will take... He will take... And you will be his servants: The Lord gives fair warning. Most kings are takers, not givers and they come to be served, not to serve. If Israel wants a king they must realize he will be a taker not a giver, and they will be his servants.

i. Not every king is a “taking” king. The King of Kings is a giving king. Jesus said of Himself, the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28).

c. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen: Israel would later cry out because they wanted a king for unspiritual and ungodly reasons. So God will call this coming king your king, and make it clear that he is the king whom you have chosen. If Israel waited for God’s king they would not need to cry out.

2. (1Sa 8:19-22) Israel demands a king despite God’s warning.

Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he repeated them in the hearing of the Lord. So the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed their voice, and make them a king.” And Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Every man go to his city.”

a. No, but we will have a king over us: God will give Israel “their king” – Saul. Later, after “their king” fails, God will give Israel “His king” – David. Because we suppose that God ultimately wanted Israel to be a monarchy (based on Deuteronomy 17:14-20). we might even guess that if Israel did not forsake the Lord here, God would have made David the first human king of Israel.

b. That we also may be like all the nations: This was never God’s goal for Israel. God wanted to make them a special treasure to Me above all people... a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). God wanted to make Israel something special, and they wanted to be just like everyone else.

i. And that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles: God just won a spectacular battle for Israel in 1 Samuel 7. Israel did not lack a king – they had a king in the Lord God. What they wanted was the image of a king. Their desire for a king was really the desire for someone who looked like what they thought a king should look like.

c. So the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed their voice, and make them a king.” This is almost funny. Israel rejects the rule of God yet they cannot escape it, because God will appoint their king. God will never step off His throne, even if man asks Him to. Yet if we resist the rule of God, we will find that we do not benefit from it the way that we might. When we resist God, we only hurt ourselves.

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

Study Guide for Ruth 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for 2 Samuel 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for 1 Samuel 7 ← Prior Chapter
Study Guide for 1 Samuel 9 Next Chapter →
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