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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 most godly men in the entire Bible. He is never specifically said to sin. Yet, this 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 in appointing his sons judges over Israel.

i. "But they were never judges in the proper sense of the word; Samuel was the last judge in Israel, and he judged it to the day of his death. See 1 Samuel 7:15." (Clarke)

b. His sons did not walk in his ways: This is why Samuel was wrong to appoint his sons as judges over Israel. This kind of nepotism is a common, but harmful mistake many leaders in ministry make, especially as they grow older.

i. Probably, Samuel just could not look objectively at his sons. He would excuse sins in them that he would see more clearly in others. This is a common mistake people make with their family, especially with their children.

c. They turned aside to dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice: This was bad enough, but what many of our leaders do today seems worse! We almost wish for leaders "only as bad" as these sons of Samuel!

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

i. In and of itself, the desire to have a king was not bad. God knew that one day Israel would have a king. Four hundred 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). The church struggles with the same issue today, too often wanting to be like the world.

iii. We may also get into trouble when we want the right things for the wrong reasons. In those situations, God may give us what we want, and then deal with us regarding the reasons.

iv. Morgan on Israel's request to be like the other nations: "This is the revelation of the supreme wrong. They had been chosen to be unlike the nations, a people directly governed by God."

c. What was the 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 just went back to doing what he was doing 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. In addition, a judge would not have a "government." He was there to meet a specific need in a time of crisis. A king would establish a standing government, with a bureaucracy, which is 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 even 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. "Things do not always turn out as we had hoped, and we get displeased for our own sakes and God's. We had planned in one direction, but events issued in another; and the results have threatened to become disastrous. There is but one resource. If we allow vexations to eat into our heart, they will corrode and injure it. We must rehearse them before God - spreading the letter before Him, as Hezekiah did; making request like Paul; crying like Samuel … 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 was going to teach Israel through this. Sometimes, when we insist of having something bad, God will allow us to have it, and then learn the consequences.

i. Again, in many ways, this was a matter of timing. God knew Israel would one day have a king, but He wanted to give Israel that king in His own timing. Because Israel was demanding a king out of bad, carnal reasons, God will give them a bad, 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 trusting in the LORD. Now, Israel is rejecting this plan of God, and declaring that 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 is saying "Samuel, don't take it personally. They are not rejecting you, but Me." It is easy for God's servants to take such rejection personally when they should not. Jesus warned His disciples, he who rejects you rejects Me (Luke 10:16). As long as we are not being personally offensive or obnoxious, we shouldn't take such rejection personally.

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

i. This strikes us as simply unfair. Had not God shown 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 assembled Jewish mob declared, we have no king but Caesar (John 19:15). Jesus was a rejected King also.

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 in this verse is that Israel will not change their mind, and this isn't Samuel's goal. His goal is to simply forewarn them. If this was the course Israel would choose, God wanted them to make an informed choice. So, the LORD tells Samuel to show them the behavior of the king who will reign over them.

b. Of course, information creates responsibility. In telling Israel this, Samuel was not only helping them to make an informed choice; he was increasing 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 bring other problems also. They should carefully weigh the benefits against the problems.

i. Many people fail to do this properly today. When a problem come up, they think up an answer that brings worse problems with it. But they don't maturely look at the situation and anticipate the problems the solution will bring. Others will never do anything unless they can come up with a "perfect" solution - one that has no problems. There rarely is a perfect solution, but that doesn't mean we should do nothing. It means we should maturely look at, and measure the good and the bad, pray for guidance, wait on the LORD, and step out in faith.

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, through the prophet Samuel, is giving 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). Paul carried the same thought: Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

ii. 1 Peter 2:9 calls us a royal priesthood. If we are royalty, let us be like our King Jesus: a giving King, not a taking king.

c. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen: Why would Israel cry out? Because they wanted a king for unspiritual, 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 had waited for God's king, they would not have needed to cry out unto the LORD.

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: Israel demanded a king, and as it will work out, this is exactly what happens. God gives Israel "their" king: Saul. Later, after "their" king fails, God will give Israel "His" king: David. Because we know God ultimately wanted Israel to be a monarchy, we might even guess that if Israel had not forsaken the LORD here, God would have made David the first king of Israel, and spared the nation (and David!) all the trouble Saul caused.

b. The heart of the nation of Israel is reveald by their reasons for wanting a king.

i. That we also may be like all the nations. God never wanted this to be the 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! Poole says of this, "woeful stupidity! whereas it was their glory and happiness that they were unlike all other nations … that the Lord was their only and immediate King and Lawgiver."

ii. And that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles. What? Had the LORD God never won a battle for Israel before? God had just won a spectacular battle for Israel in 1 Samuel 7. Israel did not want 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 to look at with their own eyes that 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." In a sense, this almost funny. They are rejecting 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!

i. "There is no compulsion to accept the rule of God, yet ultimately there is no escaping it, for he appoints the king." (Baldwin)

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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