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The occasion for requesting a king 8:1-3
The people would probably not have pressed for a king at this time had Samuel’s sons proved as faithful to the Mosaic Covenant as their father had been. However, Joel ("Yahweh is God") and Abijah ("My [divine] Father is Yahweh") disqualified themselves from leadership in Israel by disobeying the Law (Exodus 23:6; Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19). Eli’s sons had done the same thing. Parental influence is important, but personal choices are even more determinative in the outcome of one’s life. Whereas the writer censured Eli for his poor parenting (1 Samuel 3:13), he did not do so with Samuel. Evidently he did not consider Samuel responsible for his son’s conduct, or perhaps he did not want to sully the reputation of this great judge. Some commentators have faulted Samuel for his sons’ behavior. [Note: E.g., Wood, The Prophets . . ., p. 160.]
1. The demand for a king ch. 8
The Israelites had pressed their leaders for a king at least twice in their past history. The first time was during Gideon’s judgeship (Judges 8:22), and the second was during Abimelech’s conspiracy (Judges 9:2). Now in Samuel’s judgeship they demanded one again.
The reason for requesting a king 8:4-9
God had made provision for kings to rule His people in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 17:14-20; cf. Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 17:6; Genesis 17:16; Genesis 35:11; Genesis 49:10). The request in itself was not what displeased Samuel and God. It was the reason they wanted a king that was bad. On the one hand, it expressed dissatisfaction with God’s present method of providing leadership through judges (1 Samuel 8:7). On the other, it verbalized a desire to be "like all the nations" (1 Samuel 8:5). [Note: Idem, Israel’s United . . ., pp. 21-76, provided helpful background material on Israel’s fear of enemies, her developing desire for monarchy and rejection of pure theocracy, the political and ideological world of Samuel’s day, and the Israelite elders’ request for a king. He reviewed the types of kingship that existed in the ancient Near East at this time, what the Israelites wanted and did not want, and what they got.] God’s purpose for Israel was that it be different from the nations, superior to them, and a lesson for them (Exodus 19:5-6). God saw this demand as one more instance of apostasy that had marked the Israelites since the Exodus (cf. Numbers 14:11). He acceded to their request as He had done many times before-by providing manna, quail, and water in the wilderness, for example. However, He mixed judgment with His grace. [Note: See J. Barton Payne, "Saul and the Changing Will of God," Bibliotheca Sacra 129:516 (October-December 1972):321-25; J. Carl Laney, First and Second Samuel, pp. 36-37; and Gordon, p. 109.]
God purposed to bless all other nations through His theocratic reign over Israel. This was a rule that God chose to administer mediatorially, through divinely chosen individuals who spoke and acted for God in governing functions and who were personally responsible to Him for what they did. These vice-regents were people like Moses, Joshua, the judges (including Samuel), and the kings, but God remained the real sovereign down to the end of this kingdom in history (1 Chronicles 29:25). The Shekinah cloud visibly represented God’s presence as the divine ruler. This glorious cloud entered and filled the tabernacle at the inception of the kingdom (Exodus 40:34-38). It led the nation into the Promised Land and stood over Solomon’s temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-2). Finally it departed from Jerusalem spectacularly as the kingdom ended at the Babylonian captivity, when governmental sovereignty passed from Israel to the Gentiles (Ezekiel 11:23; Daniel 2:31-38). God will restore this mediatorial kingdom to Israel when Jesus Christ returns to earth in power and great glory. Christ will then (at His second coming) serve as God’s vice-regent and reign over all the nations as the perfect mediatorial king (Micah 4:1-8). This earthly kingdom is different from God’s heavenly kingdom, over which He reigns directly from heaven. This heavenly kingdom includes all objects, persons, events, activities, natural phenomena, and history (Psalms 103:19; Daniel 4:17). The earthly kingdom is a part of this larger universal kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 15:24).
"The rejection of Samuel was the rejection of godly leadership; the choice of Saul was the choice of ungodly leadership. In many ways Saul was the foil for the godly David, just as the sons of Eli were a foil for Samuel." [Note: Heater, p. 139.]
Samuel experienced rejection by the people he led just as Moses, Jesus Christ, and so many of God’s faithful servants have throughout history (cf. Luke 19:14). One writer suggested that the end of 1 Samuel 8:8 should read, ". . . so they are also making a king." [Note: Scott L. Harris, "1 Samuel VIII 7-8," Vetus Testamentum 31:1 (January 1981):79-80.] Even though this translation minimizes what seems to some to be a contradiction between 1 Samuel 8:7-8, it is inferior, I believe.
The consequences of requesting a king 8:10-22
Samuel explained what having a king similar to all the nations would mean. The elders were interested in the functions of monarchy, but Samuel pointed out the nature of monarchy. It meant the loss of freedoms and possessions that the people presently enjoyed. In 1 Samuel 8:11-17, Samuel did not define the rights of a king but described the ways of most kings. [Note: G. Coleman Luck, "Israel’s Demand for a King," Bibliotheca Sacra 120:477 (January-March 1963):61.] There is evidence that Israel’s neighbor nations really did suffer under their kings exactly as Samuel warned. [Note: See I. Mendelsohn, "Samuel’s Denunciation of Kingship in the Light of the Akkadian Documents from Ugarit," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 143 (October 1956):17-22.] Note the recurrence of the words "take" and "best" in these verses.
"By nature royalty is parasitic rather than giving, and kings are never satisfied with the worst." [Note: Youngblood, p. 614.]
The people would also regret their request because their king would disappoint them (1 Samuel 8:18), but God would not remove the consequences of their choice. Their king could have been a great joy to them, instead of a great disappointment, if the people had waited for God to inaugurate the monarchy. As becomes clear later in Samuel, as well as in Kings and Chronicles, David was God’s choice to lead the Israelites from the beginning. If the people had not been impatient, I believe David would have been their first king. Saul proved to be a "false start" to the monarchy. [Note: David Payne, p. 1.]
In the argument of Samuel, this chapter serves to introduce the reason Saul became such a disappointment to the Israelites, and such a disaster as a king. Nevertheless, his reign was not totally unsuccessful, because at its beginning he sought to please Yahweh.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 8". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany