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SAUL (CHS. 8-31).
THE great interest of the First Book of Samuel lies in the fact that we have in it the orderly consolidation of two of the main factors in the preparation for the manifestation of our Lord, namely, prophecy and the kingdom. The first seven chapters give us the history of Samuel's birth, and of the gradual development in him of those spiritual powers which finally made him not merely a prophet, but the founder of prophecy as a permanent and regularly organised institution of the Jewish Church. The whole of the rest of the book, while adding many interesting particulars about Samuel, is occupied with the establishment of the kingdom and with Saul. We have in him, both in his uprise and his fall, one of the most remarkable personages of the Old Testament. But his character for good and for evil will develop itself as we proceed. Before, however, we can appreciate his history, it is necessary for us to understand something of the vast issues that depended upon the change of government effected in his person. With Samuel, then, and Saul we have come to the time when the prophet and the king take their due place in the development of Israel. They were both essential to its progress, and the accomplishment of its Divine mission, and in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, and again Deuteronomy 28:36, the establishment of the monarchy is spoken of as a virtual necessity. It was not Israel's highest ideal, far from it. Had religion been as far advanced as in the days of Hezekiah and Isaiah, the theocracy might have existed in such a form as would have insured the national safety. But such as the people were in the centuries which followed the conquest of Canaan, it was rather a high and glorious idea than a fact capable of being realised. It was one of those magnificent thoughts which raised the Israelites so high above the level of ordinary nations, and gave such grandeur and nobleness to the long struggle of their history; but it was a thought, the value of which lay in its giving them a future, towards which their faces were ever turned, and which, by the sublimity of its conception, ever drew them onwards and upwards to all that was best and most Divine.
To be then Jehovah's own subjects, ruled directly by him, a republic with Jehovah for its chief, and its officers speaking at his command, and under his direct influence and control this was Israel's grand ideal. As a matter of fact, it did not give them peace at home nor security from foreign invasion. It did not even enable them to advance in the path of culture or morality, nor did it so work as to bind the twelve tribes together into a harmonious whole. Throughout the Book of Judges we find the record of a desperate struggle in which Israel again and again is in danger of being utterly destroyed from among the nations, and at the end of this period the Philistines are the dominant power, and Israel is disarmed and virtually at their mercy. The cause of this was that somehow or other the priests and Levites were unable to prevent the people from lapsing into idolatry, and though upon their repentance Jehovah, as their King, aid on every emergency raise men to be their saviours, yet the system was too cumbrous and exceptional for ordinary times. It was only in times of trouble that the nation roused itself to the conviction that it was Jehovah's realm, and fought with the heroism which so grand a thought must give it; at other times it sank down each day to a lower level, till all that the last judge, Samson, could do was to arouse the national spirit to a prolonged resistance and a last effort against the dangers and difficulties that were threatening Israel with gradual extinction (see on 1 Samuel 1:3).
This powerlessness in war was the inevitable result of having no settled ordinary ruler, whose business it was to convoke the national forces, and provide for the general safety; but it was by no means the worst evil attendant in practice upon the theocracy. In the three last chapters of the Book of Judges we have the history of a fearful crime, punished with equally fearful cruelty. What makes it the more remarkable is that it took place in the days of Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, at a time when the public morality still stood high, and religion had great influence over the people. Now, had there been a king he would have punished the malefactors, as a matter of course; but when it had to be done by an extraordinary gathering of the people in arms, the Benjamites, always a high-spirited tribe, imagined themselves bound in honour to resist an invasion of their territory, and a violent civil war was the result. So embittered did the feelings of the Israelites become at the brave defence of the Benjamites, that when at last they had overpowered them, they burned their cities with fire, and put men, women, children, and cattle to an indiscriminate slaughter. Repenting soon afterwards of their revolting cruelty, they treated the men of Jabesh-Gilead with almost equal violence, on the pretence of their not having taken part in the war, but really to provide the remaining Benjamites with wives. Now, both at the beginning and end of this narrative, it is carefully pointed out that all this crime and cruelty was the result of the state of anarchy which everywhere prevailed. "In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25). There was no regular administration of justice, no person whose business it was to maintain law and order, no one whose authority kept malefactors in awe, and who, when a crime had been committed, would punish it in a regular manner, and with the general approval of all parties; and so every species of villainy could be practised with impunity, until the patience of the community was exhausted, and it visited the offenders with a violence so summary as to make it repent afterwards of its own cruelty.
The position of these three chapters, immediately preceding in the Hebrew the Books of Samuel (for the insertion of the Book of Ruth is a modern attempt at a chronological arrangement), seems intended to point out that the king was as absolutely necessary for the well being of the Hebrew commonwealth as he was essential for the perfecting of the Messianic idea. It is in Christ's kingdom that the theocracy becomes a realised fact, and Christ is above all things a King. Now in Israel the King was emphatically the Anointed One, i.e. the Messiah or Christ (1Sa 2:10, 1 Samuel 2:35; 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 12:3, etc.). True it is that in Christ all offices must be united, and he must be a Priest to make atonement and a Prophet to teach as well as a King to rule; yet we find in Israel, as the type of Christ's kingdom, that priest and prophet stood at the king's beck. In Solomon we have the delineation of Israel's king in his full power and glory; and we find him thrusting out Abiathar from being high priest (1 Kings 2:27), appointing the order of service for the priests and Levites (2 Chronicles 8:14), and having the prophets in attendance upon him to record his noble deeds (2 Chronicles 9:29). To Solomon's reign the Israelites ever looked back as giving the ideal of what their "anointed one" should be, and onward they looked to the coming of One who should perfect this ideal, and instead of staining it with sin, as Solomon did, should raise it to the full and vast dimensions of Israelite thought. Most painful must it have been to the nation that each one of its first three king, though rising every one far above the level of ordinary men, yet fell so very far short of their ideal. And then came the rent in the kingdom, and an ideal king was possible no longer.
But the prophets kept the thought ever alive in the hearts of the people, and in the fulness of time the Messiah came. Meanwhile the establishment of the earthly monarchy was an essential condition for the security, the continuance, and the development of Israel. Without a king Israel could never have performed its work of preparing for Christ. Even the organisation of prophecy was delayed till there was a king, because when a nation has to fight for its very existence there is no room for a literary and educated order of men. Learning would have died out in the middle ages had there not been cloisters into which men who loved mental culture might retire. Still it was not this which made the people cling so tenaciously to the hope held out to them by Moses, but the daily vexation of Philistine misrule. And what the Philistines were to them now all the neighbouring nations had previously been in turn. Throughout the Book of Judges we find a state of things described from which all thoughtful men must have desired deliverance, and the few exceptions, as when they flourished for a time under the strong hand of Gideon, only served to bring out the contrast more clearly between times when they had a ruler and times when they had none. We need not wonder, therefore, at the persistency with which the people urged their demand, even after the dark pictures which Samuel had drawn of what a king might become if he degenerated into a tyrant. But our admiration is due to the patriotism and generosity which made this noble-minded man grant their request, though he knew that he thereby limited his own powers, and gave his sons an inferior place. So also had Moses done before. While he gave Aaron high and perpetual office, he let his own family fall back into the position of ordinary Israelites. And, moreover, the king whom Samuel chose was a grand hero, though, like so many men gifted with great powers of command, he fell through that self-will which is the besetting sin of ruling natures. Few men can endure the trial of the possession of absolute power, and least of all those endowed with an energetic and resolute temperament. It is a noble testimony that David bears to Saul and his heroic son in the "Song of the Bow" (2 Samuel 1:19-27): "mighty" they were, and "the beauty of Israel," though Saul marred his glory by great and ruinous faults. With Saul, then, the rest of the book is occupied, and it divides itself into two parts—
(1) the founding and establishment of Saul's kingdom (chs 8-15); and
(2) its gradual decay and final fall (Judges 16:1-31 -31.).
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF SAUL'S KINGDOM (CHS. VIII-XV.).
REJECTION OF SAMUEL'S SONS (verses 1-5).
1 Samuel 8:1
When Samuel was old. As Samuel lived for very many years after this time, till towards the close of Saul's reign, he was probably not more than sixty when this happened. The dates are all very uncertain, but he was probably between twenty and thirty when Shiloh was captured, and no doubt, according to Israelite custom, had married as soon as he arrived at manhood. Then came the most important and active period of his life, during which the ark rested for twenty years in the house of Abinadab, and Samuel was traversing every part of the country, preaching repentance, and preparing the people for a revolt from the tyranny of the Philistines. Upon this followed the victory at Mizpah, and the establishment of Samuel as judge. Now some considerable time would elapse before Samuel so felt the weight of increasing years as to delegate a part of his authority to his sons, and more again before the national discontent at their covetousness became general. The Talmud, however, represents Samuel as being at this time only fifty-two years of age, while Abravanel says seventy, and the latter number is by no means impossible; for as a Nazarite Samuel would lead a life of perfect temperance, and his predecessor Eli lived to be ninety-eight, and died then by an accident. Still, probably, Abravanel's calculation is too high, and we must remember that besides the misconduct of Samuel's sons, there was the growing danger of the re-establishment of the domination of the Philistines to quicken the people's movements. They had garrisons again in Israel when Saul was chosen king, and it was this which made the nation long for a change, but. their choice would probably have fallen upon one of Samuel's sons had either of them been worthy. A king they had long wished for; it is only when they saw that none of Samuel's race would give them internal peace and security that they took public action for the appointment of some one else.
1 Samuel 8:2
The name of his firstborn was Joel. The names of Samuel's sons are pledges of his faith—Joel meaning Jehovah is God, and Abiah Jab is Father. The name given in 1 Chronicles 6:28, Vashni, is a mistake. It means, "and the second," the name of Joel the firstborn having somehow been omitted. The names of Saul's sons, and even of Jonathan's, unlike those in Samuel's family, bear witness to their religion having been of a curiously mixed character. In Beer-sheba. Not, therefore, in any of the places to which Samuel went in person, and which were all near Ramah, his home. Beer-sheba was in the extreme south of the tribe of Judah (see on Genesis 21:31), on the Philistine border, and his being able to place his sons there in authority proves, not merely that his rule was acknowledged throughout the whole country, but also that the Philistines did not interfere much with the internal arrangements of the Israelites. Josephus ('Antiq.,' 6:3, 2) represents only one son as placed at Beer-sheba, and says that the other was judge at Dan, but it may be doubted whether the northern tribes were sufficiently under control to submit to be governed by a southern judge.
1 Samuel 8:3
His sons …took bribes. This sin was expressly forbidden in Exodus 23:6, Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19, and it marks the high spirit of the nation that it was so indignant at justice being thus perverted. They walked not in his way (singular—so the written text); for Samuel's own administration of justice had been most upright (1 Samuel 12:4), nor is it laid to his charge that he connived at the misconduct of his sons. On the contrary, after remonstrance indeed, not for his sons' sake, but for the honour of the theocracy, and that the people might be on their guard against a despotic exercise of the power with which they were about to intrust a single man, he superseded not them only, but also himself. His conduct in this trying conjuncture was most admirable, and few commentators have done justice to the man, who, possessed of what was virtually kingly power, yet gave it over for the nation's good into the hands of another.
1 Samuel 8:4, 1 Samuel 8:5
The elders of Israel. Here, as elsewhere (1 Samuel 15:30 :2Sa 1 Samuel 5:3; 1 Kings 8:3, etc.), we have traces of a popular assembly, representing the Israelite nation, and composed probably of the chiefs and heads of fathers houses. Already in Egypt (Exodus 3:16, etc.) we find stone such body in existence, and it seems to have lasted throughout the whole history of the nation; for it outlived the monarchy, gained increased power after the exile, and continued down to New Testament times. The demand, therefore, for a king, though a sort of revolt against Samuel's authority, was at least made in a constitutional manner, and came before him with all the weight of a formal decision on the part of the representatives of the nation. They put it also in the form of a request, for which they give two reasons. First, the decay of his physical powers—Behold, thou art old. Wise and vigorous as his rule had been, yet with increasing years there was less of energy; and the events recorded as having occurred at the beginning of Saul's reign show, that in order to check the increasing power of the Philistines, a leader was needed who was at once daring, resolute, and skilful in war. But there was a further reason—Thy sons walk not in thy ways. These words show that the elders had the most perfect confidence in Samuel. They felt that he would not connive at the .wickedness of his sons, but would do what was right by the nation. Thus they had everything to hope from the father's justice, while if they waited till his death the sons might resist what was virtually their deposition. That the sons of a judge possessed considerable power see Judges 9:2. Make us a king to judge us like all the nations. I.e. just as all the heathen nations have a king. The words are those of Deuteronomy 17:14, and were probably intended to remind Samuel that the nation was only asking what had virtually been promised.
1 Samuel 8:6
But the thing displeased Samuel, and justly so. For, in the first place, they had determined to have a king without consulting the will of God. Granting that it would give them the security necessary for the nation's welfare and progress, yet so weighty a matter ought not to have been decided without an appeal to Jehovah. Samuel did make it a matter of prayer; the elders were actuated solely by political motives. And, secondly, they undervalued their own religious privileges. They wanted a king such as the heathen had, whereas something far better and higher was possible for them, namely, a king who would be the representative of Jehovah, as the shophet had hitherto been. The nation's real need was not a new power, but the permanent organisation of what up to this time had been a casual authority. And it was Samuel's high office to give the nation this, while he also changed the outward form of prophecy, and made it too into an orderly institution. A king to judge us. I.e. to govern us, as the shophet or, judge had done, only in a more regularly constituted manner. And Samuel prayed unto Jehovah. There had been no such submission to the will of God on the part of the elders; but deeply as Samuel must have been hurt by this determination of the nation to take the government out of the hands of himself and his sons, yet he leaves the decision to Jehovah. Moreover, we must note that it was as prophet that he thus acted as mediator between the people and God; and he gave them his services in this his highest capacity as faithfully when the question was one injurious to himself as he had ever done on more pleasing occasions.
1 Samuel 8:7
In prayer then the answer came to him that the request of the people must be granted, however wrongly it had been urged. In itself it was wrong; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. As we saw above, they wanted no theocratic king, whose first duty would be to maintain the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 17:18, Deuteronomy 17:19), and protect the priest and prophet in the discharge of their legitimate functions; all they wanted was a soldier who would put an end to their state of anarchy, and enable them to cultivate their fields without the danger of seeing the produce swept off by marauders.
1 Samuel 8:8, 1 Samuel 8:9
According to all the works, etc. They showed in this the same want of respect and affection for their own institutions and religious privileges which had marked all their history since the day when Jehovah brought them up out of Egypt. And therefore Samuel was to protest solemnly unto them, and show them. The two verbs do not mean different things, but the same. "To protest" is to testify, to bear witness, and warn them of the danger they were incurring. And as they were asking not for the development and perfecting of their own institutions, but for a government modelled upon the institutions of the heathen round them, Samuel shows what are the dangers inherent in the establishment of a despot such as the kings of the heathen were. As a rule the kings of Judaea did not resemble the picture drawn by Samuel, but in spite of many blemishes remained tame to their allegiance to Jehovah as the supreme Ruler of the nation, and confined themselves within the limits marked out for them by the Mosaic law. Now therefore, at the beginning of the verse, is in the Hebrew simply "And now." There is no inference implied in it.
1 Samuel 8:11
This will be the manner of the king. On the meaning of this word see 1 Samuel 2:13. Here also it signifies not so much the legal right itself, as the way in which that right was exercised. His chariots. The word is singular, both here and at the end of the verse, and though it may be taken, as in the A.V; for a collective noun, "his chariotry," yet the singular is better, because this verse does not refer to war, but to the personal magnificence and grandeur of the king. Instead of the old simplicity in which the judges had lived, he would have a state chariot (see 2 Kings 9:21), and go forth escorted by horsemen and runners on foot. To be his horsemen. Rather, "upon his homes." The whole clause should be translated, "And he will set them for him (i.e. for his service) upon his chariot and on his horses; and they will run before his chariot."
1 Samuel 8:12
Captains over thousands, and captains over fifties. The largest and smallest divisions respectively of an Israelite, army. However objectionable the king's personal state might be, this would fall in with the people's wishes, for it would give them the promise of a well organised army. Not so the next clause, to ear i.e. to plough—his ground. Forced labour was one of the most unjust, oppressive, and wasteful exactions of absolute governments, and was the chief cause of the revolt of the ten tribes from Rehoboam. And yet it was the universal rule in ancient times, and in some countries it has continued even to the present day to be the law that the peasants must at certain seasons give their labour unpaid either to the proprietors or to the state. Naturally, for a nation of agriculturists to have to leave their own fields just when their presence at home was most needed to plough the king's ground and reap his harvest would be a bitter annoyance, because to the loss would be added a sense of wrong. How determinately a high-spirited nation like the Jews did resist this injustice we gather not merely from the indignation felt against Solomon's levies, but also from the reproach cast in Jehoiakim's teeth by Jeremiah, that "he used his neighbour's service without wages, and gave him not for his work" (Jeremiah 22:13). To make his instruments of war. Such work must be done; but in well organised states it is paid for by means of taxes, i.e. by a money compensation in place of personal service. In semi-barbarous states forced labour is used, and the national arsenals furnished at the greatest possible expense and vexation to those compelled to labour, and loss to the national resources.
1 Samuel 8:13
Confectionaries. Rather, "perfumers," makers of ointments and scents, of which Orientals are excessively fond. It is remarkable that Samuel does not mention the far worse use to which Solomon put their daughters (1 Kings 11:3), and to a less extent David and some other kings.
1 Samuel 8:14
Your fields. The history of the seizure of Naboth's vineyard shows that the kings were not able to exercise this arbitrary power. Jezebel had to use great art and falsehood before she could get possession of the coveted plot of ground. But throughout Samuel describes a despot ruling after the fashion of heathen kings such as the people had desired.
1 Samuel 8:15
The tenth. i.e. the king will cost you as much as all the ordinances of religion. Still national security would be cheaply purchased at this, or even a greater cost, if the money were well spent; but Samuel says that the king would lavish it not on his officers, but on his eunuchs, those miserable creatures, so cruelly wronged, and generally so hateful, who ministered to the pleasures of Oriental kings.
1 Samuel 8:16
He will … put them to his work. Again the hateful forced service, but here not, as in 1 Samuel 8:12, of themselves, but of their households. Instead of your goodliest young men the Septuagint reads, "your best oxen," which requires only the change of one letter, and is in agreement with the rest of the verse. Samuel would scarcely place their choicest young men between the female slaves and the asses. But while the ass was used chiefly for riding, the ox was, as he still continues to be upon the Continent, man's most faithful and valued friend and fellow labourer.
1 Samuel 8:17
His servants. Literally, "his slaves." Under an absolute monarchy no one is flee.
1 Samuel 8:18
Ye shall cry. In despair at this cruel oppression ye shall appeal to Jehovah, but in vain. The king was given them at their own request, persisted in even after warning, and they must abide by their choice. It is worth noting that in the northern kingdom a majority of the kings more or less fulfilled Samuel's evil forebodings, and there they were much more completely the product of the temper condemned by the prophet than they were in Judah. The ten tribes roughly snapped the tie which bound them to Jehovah; they discarded the ark and all the services of the sanctuary, and were content with so poor an imitation of them that all piously disposed men were compelled to abandon their lands and migrate into Judaea (2 Chronicles 11:16); and so the majority of their kings, not being held in check by religious influences, were tyrants. At Jerusalem, on the contrary, most of them were content to remain within the limits of the Mosaic law, and were upon the whole a series of men far superior, not merely to the judges and the monarchs in old time, but to any European dynasty.
1 Samuel 8:19, 1 Samuel 8:20
The people refused to obey—literally, to hearken to—the voice of Samuel. The words of Samuel were no doubt formally considered by the elders, and we may be sure that there would not be wanting men to urge attention and obedience to his warning; but when the decision had to be made, whether by vote or acclamation, the majority persisted in their choice, and for a reason which completely justified Samuel's displeasure; for they say—That we also may be like all the nations. Their wish was not to develop and perfect their own institutions, but to revolt from them, and escape from the rigour of the Mosaic law. It is remarkable that their nearest neighbours and most inveterate enemies, the Philistines, had no king, but an oligarchy of five princes. Probably it had been argued, in the assembly of the elders, that if the whole power of Israel were gathered into one hand it would be more than a match for the Philistines, whose energy must often have been diminished by discords among its rulers. That our king may judge—i.e. govern (1 Samuel 7:17)—us, and fight our battles. Here the people had reason on their side. Both the internal administration of justice and the defence of the country would be better managed under a permanent and regular authority than under the judges, whose rule was extemporised to meet difficulties, and had no inherent stability.
1 Samuel 8:21
All the words. The elders had of course reported to Samuel all the arguments used in the assembly, and just as previously he had carried his own distress at the national discontent with his government to Jehovah's footstool in prayer (1 Samuel 8:6), so now, in his mediatorial office as prophet, he carries thither the nation's petition.
1 Samuel 8:22
Hearken unto their voice. The Divine consent is now given for the third time to their request (see 1 Samuel 8:7, 1 Samuel 8:9). For the will of God ever leaves the will of man free, even when overruling it to the carrying out of some higher and fore ordained purpose. Everything was ripe in Israel for the change, but it was due to the moderation and disinterestedness of Samuel that the revolution was made without bloodshed or armed struggle. Ordinary rulers too often resist a popular demand, and stem back the flowing current of thought till it breaks through the opposing barrier, and sweeps with resistless violence all opposition away. Samuel yielded, and the nation trusted him so thoroughly that they left the choice of the king entirely to him, permitted him to settle the terms and limits of the monarchy, or, as we should say, to give the nation a constitution (1 Samuel 10:25), and treated him throughout the rest of his life with the deepest respect. He was deprived neither of his prophetic rank nor of his judicial functions, for "Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life" (1 Samuel 7:15), i.e. he remained to the last a coordinate power by the side of a king so self-willed and energetic even as Saul. Go ye every man unto his city. Prudence forbade a hasty choice. It would be well to let the agitation subside, or otherwise some busy intriguer among the elders might have managed to get himself selected by the popular voice. We gather from 1 Samuel 10:27 that there were leading men who felt aggrieved when the choice fell on none of them. But how wonderful is the confidence reposed in Samuel by the nation, when thus it left to the ruler whom virtually it was setting aside the choice of the person to whom he should cede his powers.
1 Samuel 8:1-9
Discontent with God's methods.
The facts are—
1. In Samuel's old age his sons, being judges over Israel, abuse their office by accepting bribes.
2. This fact is adduced by the people as a reason for asking Samuel to make them a king.
3. Samuel in his grief seeks counsel of God.
4. Samuel is instructed to yield to their request, while protesting against it.
5. The conduct of the people is declared to be an expression of the perverse tendency characteristic of their history. The order of government under which Israel was living had received the special sanction of God, and had, also, grown naturally out of their circumstances. Though often sinful and foolish, it had never before entered into their minds to seek, apart from God, a change in the political settlement inherited from the times of Moses. The deputation which waited on Samuel, asking for a king, was not the expression of a sagacious patriotism, or of profound concern for the spiritual interests of the commonwealth, and ultimately of the world; but of a restless desire for what God would give in his own time, mingled with a dissatisfaction with the system which God then was sanctioning (1 Samuel 5:1-20, 21). Practically, to Samuel; it meant, We can suggest and we demand now a course more agreeable to our views of life and our aspirations than that you represent. Samuel's pain was acute and natural, and the concession made to the discontented, though apparently a breach in the Divine order, was in keeping with God's usual treatment of men.
I. DISCONTENT WITH GOD'S METHODS AND TIMES IS VARIOUSLY SHOWN. Men can detect and condemn faults in others which they either do not see or condone in themselves. It is possible for us, in the light of history, to dilate on the sin and folly of Israel while the same temper may be manifested by us in other forms. Discontent with God's methods and times may appear in various relations.
1. The general government of the world. It is not often said that God has made a mistake in constituting the moral and material universe in such a way that so much sin and suffering should be possible; but the feeling is often entertained that it would have been well if some other course had been instituted. There is more of this feeling lurking in some hearts than is supposed. Men dare not face certain of their mental operations. How far the feeling affects theology, philosophical theories, personal rest in God, and fitness for doing the best Christian work, demands serious consideration.
2. The manner and form in which revelation has been conveyed to man. Many attacks on the Bible proceed from a discontent with what is conceived to be inadequate to the wants of the world; and in some this feeling has generated the supposed discovery of reasons for discarding the book as a revelation from God at all. The very primitive biographical notices; outlines of tribal history interblended with singular personal experiences; genealogies of uninteresting names; crude ideas and antique customs of strange people—all this in connection with a favoured people, and relieved by streaks of light suited to men of later times, does not seem to be a mode of revelation most likely to survive the advancing intelligence of the world. It is also not the most satisfactory thing for so precious a boon as a revelation to be given in detached portions, to be conveyed originally to men of one country, and to be characterised by a series of supernatural events. Men feel that God has imposed a hard task on them to have to defend and justify what seems open to assault from so many sides. They wish it had been his will to have given his light so unmixed with an ancient human history that the most keen antagonist would be compelled to recognise its presence. To some it really seems as though the form and origin of the contents of the Bible were a misfortune. Of course this discontent, silent or expressed, springs from an imperfect consideration of the real nature and purport of the revelation given, as well as of the inevitable conditions of any revelation that has to be coextensive with the wants of both the first and last ages of the world; and that, moreover, has to be concentrated and verified in a Divine person duly attested by a contemporary evidence harmonious with a chain of antecedent proof. It would be useful to the Church if some one, dissatisfied with the way in which God is affirmed to have made known his will to succeeding ages, would prescribe the right way.
3. The method of saving men by atonement. That God does save souls by means of an atonement bearing, in some way, an objective relation to his government, as well as a moral relation to men's lives, is so clearly the natural teaching of the Bible that it can only be eliminated by the adoption of a forced, non-natural interpretation of fact and statement. The discontent which some feel with the atonement is the reason for what is manifestly a forced interpretation of language. Entertaining the crude notion that the atonement is a transaction affecting three distinct beings, forgetful of the pregnant fact that it was God in Christ who, by sacrifice, effects redemption, and not considering well that all the pain and suffering, supposed to be imposed for the benefit of another, abide on any theory for the benefit of some one, they prefer a system in which pardon is based on the merits of a moral change brought on by a display of love in the shame and agonies of the cross!
4. The means of perfecting holiness in character. The long and tedious process by which often the soul advances from one degree of purity to another awakens dissatisfaction and fretfulness. Why should so blessed an issue as sanctification be insured by sometimes loss of property, friends, and health? Is it not possible to secure elevation of character apart from tribulation?
5. The means used for the conversion of the world. There is not a more common form of discontent than this. The Apostle Peter had to contend with it when he reminded his readers of the thousand years being with God as one day. That a religion demonstrably Divine, destined to be supreme, so entirely conducive to the temporal as also spiritual interests of all men, should be slow in progress and skill is a puzzle to many. Indolence, wild interpretations of prophecy, and latent scepticism are often but indications of a wish that God had not so ordained the constitution of things.
II. The PLEA FOR DISCONTENT IS PLAUSIBLE. The plea of the Israelites was that Samuel's sons were untrustworthy—the sources of justice were corrupt. The argument urged seemed to indicate a love of purity, concern for the moral welfare of the state, a fine sense of national honour, a real advance from the degradation which had acquiesced in the vices of Eli's sons, and an appreciation of Samuel's own character. But men often pay homage to conscience by creating delusive arguments Wherewith to set aside the behests of conscience. This reference to the sons of Samuel was only a pretext; for the evil could have been remedied by demanding their removal. It is clear that the plea was only a cover for a deep aversion, a predetermined plan to get rid of the present system, whether the prophet of God approved or not. Nor is the discontent of men with other of the methods of God without apparent reason. As in Samuel's time, so now, men who cherish or express uneasiness with respect to God's ways in the government of the world and revelation seize hold of some incident, some human aspect, some partial truth that really does not touch the main issue, and make it the cover for an aversion of deeper moral origin. An everlasting universal government has only had time to exhibit its first principles, and yet some transitory phenomenal inequalities are seized on as grounds of dissatisfaction with what must be of immeasurable range and ceaseless development. From scattered incidents of which the circumstances are not fully known, and from forms of representation suited to men not blessed with full gospel light, the discontented draw a plea for a revelation to the individual man apart from Scripture. To a plain, unbiassed mind an objective revelation and an objective atonement are as truly facts as was God's government by judges, and as is his present government of the world in spite of apparent inequalities; but earnest desire to see the world blessed with "true ideas" and "beneficent influences" are pleas for explaining away what is very clear. The plea sounds well; but if men will look deeper it may be found to cover a settled aversion to submit to a ruling not chosen by self. No revealed truth is in moral antagonism with our true nature.
III. The EFFECT OF THIS DISCONTENT ON THE LOYAL IS TO AWAKEN THEIR DEEP SYMPATHY WITH GOD. Samuel was deeply wounded, not by the allusion to his sons, but by the people's evident aversion to God's ways and time. That any one should dare to suggest a variation from what God had approved was to him incomprehensible. He felt that God's method and time must be wisest, best, safest, because they were his. As a true man of God, he naturally seeks counsel from on high. In Samuel's displeasure there was an element of surprise, but his dominant feeling was sympathy with all that was of God. Sympathy with God is one of the natural fruits of piety. It was seen in Caleb and Joshua when the people were averse to the Divine procedure. Jeremiah knew it when wishing that his head were waters and his eyes a fountain of tears. In Not my will, but thine be done" received its highest expression. In proportion as it is strong does the resistance of men to the ways of God cause wonder, shame, and anguish. To such a soul all the works of God are excellent; they shine with supernal glory. Providences dark and painful are even welcomed as parts of the Father's blessed discipline. What men call imperfections are felt to be only dim intimations of some glorious, loving purpose. "Whatever is is right," comes from the heart when the intellect is baffled. This blessed sympathy with God! This belief which no argument can shake! This glorious optimism resting on the fact that the all-wise and loving One cannot but do right! It is not any so called Christian that attains to it. Yet it is the truest philosophy; for it is rest in God, content with his will. "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints."
IV. The DIVINE TREATMENT OF DISCONTENT IS CHARACTERISED BY WONDERFUL PATIENCE. No sudden vengeance came on the rejecters of God. Consolation is poured into the heart of the sorrowing prophet; a reference of their conduct to their ineradicable perversity is made, and they are to have their way under protest (verses 7-9). This patience is in keeping with the record of God's treatment of Israel in the seventy-eighth Psalm. "He remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again" (Psalms 78:39). The same is seen still. As Christ once "endured the contradiction of sinners," so does God constantly suffer men to raise their voice against his appointments. He is "slow to anger." Calmly he allows men even to deny his existence, to criticise his government, to reject the light of his revelation, to invent ways of their own for securing future blessedness, and to murmur at his means of subduing the curse of sin. In their folly men interpret this patience of God as evidence of the correctness of their position, forgetting that "the day of the Lord" is coming, when men shall reap the fruit of their ways. To the successors of the prophet there is still consolation in the assurance that their prayer is heard, and their honour covered by the honour of their God. Hence the calmness, "the patience of the saints." They often can do little more than "protest" against the unbelief and waywardness of the world. A whole nation on one side and a Samuel on the other does not convert error into truth and folly into wisdom. But none of these things shake the confidence of the few who, in critical seasons, are in deep sympathy with God; for they know, by a varied experience, his vast patience, and are assured that some day feeble men will learn the lesson, perhaps bitterly, that his ways are best.
1. The inconsistencies of men in office furnish occasion for developing the latent evils of their fellows (verses 3, 4).
2. The deceitfulness of the heart is seen in the eagerness with which men endeavour to justify what dare not be plainly avowed (verse 5).
3. Human history shows how utterly incompetent man is to form a correct estimate of the ways of God (verses 5, 8).
4. It is possible for our theologies to be framed more after what we prefer than after what is actually the fact.
5. When the Church of God is distressed because of the aversion to what is revealed, patience and prayer should be combined.
6. The most sore trial to those in deep sympathy with what Christ has approved is to witness, on the part of his professed people, a desire to escape his appointments for something more congenial to unsanctified ambition.
7. Every heresy and departure from God's ways is plausible to many, and may seem to be unchecked, but God never vacates his seat of authority.
1 Samuel 8:10-22
Permitted, not approved.
The facts are—
1. Samuel points out to the people that their desired king will aggrandise himself at their expense, and that, once entering on their course, there will be no deliverance.
2. The people, nevertheless, decide to have a king, and assign the motive of their preference.
3. Samuel, on laying the matter before God, receives a command to make them a king. The question at issue was not whether this or that form of government was intrinsically best, nor whether at some time in the near future God might or might not cause judgeship gradually to develop into kingship; but whether, at this juncture, it was God's will to introduce a monarchy. The references in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 were probably a forecast of the events now brought to pass. At all events, God's time for monarchy in Israel was not yet come; the people's had come. The historian sets forth the bearings and result of the controversy. The instance is unique, but the principle involved is of frequent exemplification in human affairs.
I. THERE ARE SPHERES OF ACTION IN WHICH GOD ALLOWS MEN TO TAKE THEIR CHOICE OF THE METHODS BY WHICH HIS PURPOSES ARE TO BE WROUGHT OUT. Israel was a nation working out a spiritual issue. The day must come when in the "seed of Abraham" all nations shall be blessed Thus far, politically, this issue was being reached by a peculiar arrangement with as much success as the perverse spirit of the people would allow to any system. When "Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king" (Deuteronomy 17:10), it was understood that, though they were not at liberty to set aside recognition of Jehovah, the institutions of worship, and the moral law, they were free, if they so willed, to adopt political methods of their own. They would not cease to be Messianic in purpose, but they would work toward the goal by a new method unusually characterised by human frailty. There is a marked distinction in the accomplishment of Divine purposes through irrational and rational agents. The one is a channel of necessity; the other the free organ of controllable actions. Every stone falls because it must; every will acts because it wills. The marvel and mystery is that the eternal Will should in the end get its own through, or in spite of, the free action of other wills. Yet so it is. Likewise there are differences in the ruling of rational creatures. In one sense every free being can, and is left to, take what course he pleases. He may sin or not sin; he may love God or not; and this, too, while the obligation is most binding. But, nevertheless, God enforces some things and in others allows option. It is essential that God be loved; that Christ be the Medium through which saving mercy comes to all, infant and adult; that repentance and faith be exercised by all who bear the gospel call; and that certain duties to man be discharged. These are conditions of safety, purity, and bliss. But it is not essential to the same degree and in the same sense that men should pursue their calling in one way only. There is an option left as to how men shall obtain and use their knowledge; what methods shall be followed in pursuit of life's calling; what means taken to promote spiritual culture and material advantage; what social and national arrangements may best subserve the common good. Having laid down the broad lines of faith in Christ and righteousness of principle in all things, God seems to have left a margin for the exercise of our discretion. It is as though the Eternal would thus mark his estimate of the great prerogative of freedom. He educates the individual and the race by the accumulation of varied experiences, the outgrowth of freedom.
II. Any CHOICE OF MEN, AS TO METHODS of pursuing their course, is ATTENDED WITH INCONVENIENCE IN SO FAR AS IT DEVIATES FROM THAT WHICH GOD CLEARLY APPROVES. Samuel declares to the people that the choice of a monarchy would impose on them inconvenient burdens, and rob them of much of the happiness they enjoyed under the form of government already approved of God (Deuteronomy 17:11-18). Personal pomp and splendour would mean taxation and regal aggrandisement. The sense, therefore, of this warning is that Israel might yet be God's chosen people, subject to Mosaic law, guided in great affairs by prophets, and working to a Messianic goal; but the form of government chosen by man would be more costly and hindering than that at present approved by God. The teaching is true generally. There are clear lines of conduct laid down by Providence indicative of the way in which God would have us fulfil our purpose in the world. The man of business will not realise the end in view in so far as his methods are precisely contrary to the teachings of Providence. Statesmen may take a course of their own, heedless of what God prefers; their troubles will be proportionate. It is God's method of developing the full manhood of Christian life that, while walking humbly with him in private, we do not "forsake the assembling of ourselves together." Men who chose a different course may do so, but must bear the consequences of a dwarfed Christianity.
III. NOTWITHSTANDING A CLEAR STATEMENT OF THE PERILS OF DEVIATING FROM GOD'S METHODS, MEN, UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF A MASTERFUL PASSION, WILL SOMETIMES TAKE THEIR OWN COURSE. In vain did Samuel warn the people of the disapproval of God, and the costs of their desired monarchy; they refused to obey his voice, and said, "Nay; but we will have a king to reign over us" (Deuteronomy 17:19). It was not whether God approved or not; it was not a question of promoting righteousness; it was not a desire to see the Messianic purposes more speedily realised; but a longing to be like other nations, and consequently a desire to be less in direct connection with God as Ruler. The strength of this passion is obvious; for it disregards personal loss, the prophet's aversion, and the declared disapproval of God.
1. The overpowering influence of a passion may be felt by the individual Christian. It is possible for Christian men, when piety is at low ebb, to hanker after the mode of life pursued by the Christless. The prayer of Christ that his people may "not be of the world" is sometimes either forgotten or freely interpreted. "Come out from among them, and be ye separate" may be admitted as a general duty, while its execution is sadly deficient. It is only when the soul has, in unguarded hours, come under the spell of the world passion that the clear lessons of Scripture and of experience are set aside for the paltry gratification of being like other men.
2. The same passion may lay hold of the Church. History shows that the Church has not been free from the spell which once laid hold of Israel. The simplicity of Christ has sometimes perished in the attempt to reproduce in the Church the formalities and pomp of the Philistines. "How far the Church can safely conform to the world" is a dangerous question, and should be substituted by "How may the Church best fashion the world to its own pure and lofty standard?"
IV. MEN DEGRADE THEMSELVES in so far as the METHODS THEY ADOPT DO NOT HARMONISE WITH THE SUPREME OBJECT FOR WHICH THEY LIVE. The ordinary reader feels that Israel was self-degraded in preferring to live like heathen nations when another course was open. The ends of Israel's existence were highly moral; the mere love of pomp and splendour had no congruity with this end. What had grand military and regal parade to do with the righteousness which alone exalts a nation, and which was the peculiar qualification for advancing Messianic issues? It would not save them from the disasters consequent on loss of righteousness—rather it would aggravate them (Deuteronomy 17:18); nor would it make the practice of righteousness more easy. There is an intellectual and moral debasement in choice of means for an end not congruous with it, and in face of warning. The individual Christian and the Church profess to live for spiritual purposes. They degenerate when, from sheer self-will and hankering after the outwardly sensational, they seek to promote private or public ends pertaining to their Christian calling by anything not spiritual in character and tendency.
V. The CHOICE OF METHODS NOT APPROVED BY GOD IS NO BAR TO THE FINAL REALISATION OF THE DIVINE PURPOSE. As when men from discontent with God's provision sought flesh, he sent them quails in abundance, so now he allows their freedom and gives a king. The quails and manna were only means of subsistence. "The life was more than meat." So the government by judges or kings was only method of training the people for their ultimate purpose in life. Men might sicken and die with excess of flesh, but the nation would live on. Trouble and sorrow might arise from a change of form of government, and the people might morally sink in the choice, yet God would overrule all and effect his purpose. The Church may suffer much from her perverseness, and comparatively tedious advance will be made in the world; yet Christ will at last subdue all to himself, albeit his foolish people have to learn many a bitter lesson. Likewise personally the image of Christ will some day be more perfect in the soul, though late in life, and after many a sorrow induced by our own self-will in deviating from his methods of perfecting character.
HOMILIES BY B DALE
1 Samuel 8:1-3. (BEERSHEBA.)
Ignoble sons of an honoured father.
Nearly all that is known of Samuel's household is here stated. He had at least two sons, Joel (Jehovah is God) and Abiah (my father is Jah), whose names were indicative of the devout spirit in which they were given (1 Chronicles 6:28 : "And the sons of Samuel, the firstborn, and the second Abiah;" 1 Chronicles 6:33 : "Heman a singer, the son of Joel;" 1 Samuel 15:17; 1 Samuel 25:5 : "Heman, the king's seer"). During the period of his judgeship they grew to maturity, and toward its close he made them judges over Israel, and sent them to administer justice in Beersheba, in the southern limit of the land. His influence as judge as well as prophet extended "from Dan even to Beersheba" (1 Samuel 3:20), and with advancing age he needed assistance in his labours. "It may be doubted whether Samuel acted wisely in making this appointment, especially if, as seems to have been understood, the nomination in his lifetime of his sons to fulfil the functions he had hitherto discharged alone was an intimation that he meant them to be regarded as his successors in such government as he exercised. Nothing of this kind had been done before. And thus, almost unconsciously, perhaps, he was led to give a kind of sanction to the hereditary principle of government which was soon to be turned against himself" (Kitto). He acted according to his judgment of what was best, and doubtless with disinterestedness. There is no reason to suppose that he failed to train his sons in the right way, or that he was aware of their conduct at Beersheba "and restrained them not." He is not, therefore, to be blamed. No man is infallible. The plans of the wisest men are often marred by the misconduct of others. And this appointment was, in its result, disastrous.
I. THEIR ADVANTAGES WERE GREAT. They were sons of one of the most faithful and eminent servants of God, had the benefit of his instruction and example in private and public, studied perhaps in a school of the prophets, were well acquainted with the law, held in honour for their father's sake, placed in responsible positions. All these things, we might have expected, would have made them circumspect, just, and devout; and they should have done so. How, then, can we account for their defection?
1. Goodness is not hereditary. "The sinner begets a sinner, but a saint doth not beget a saint" (M. Henry). Hereditary relationship exerts a powerful influence on the mind and disposition, but nothing but Divine grace can change the heart.
"Rarely into the branches of the tree
Doth human worth mount up: and so ordains
He who bestows it, that as his free gift
It may be called" (Dante, 'Purg.' 7.).
2. Education is not omnipotent. When children of a good man turn out badly, it may generally be traced to some defect of training, through attention to other duties, absence from home, inconsistency at home, unwise methods, excessive strictness, unjust partiality, undue indulgence, maternal carelessness, intimate association with evil companions (in some cases unknown and unpreventable). We do not know enough of Samuel's household to say that it was wholly free from such influences. But the most perfect education is limited in its power over character.
3. Power is a perilous trust. It presents temptations which are sometimes too strong for men who under other circumstances might not have fallen. It is a severe test, and a sure revealer, of character (Luke 12:45). Power shows the man.
4. Each man is responsible for his own conduct. He is endowed with the power of choosing or refusing good and evil, and no external circumstances can fully account for the choice he makes. "Every man shall bear his own burden" (Galatians 6:5). "As the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son," etc. (Ezekiel 18:4).
II. THEIR CONDUCT WAS BASE. "His sons walked not in his ways" of truth, integrity, self-denial, and true godliness; but "turned aside" from them to—
1. Covetousness, or the undue love of earthly possessions. "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:17-19). "Covetousness is idolatry" (Luke 12:15; Colossians 3:5). "It is the idolatry of the heart, where, as in a temple, a miserable wretch excludes God, sets up gold instead of him, and places that confidence in it which belongs to the great Supreme alone." It was one of the necessary qualifications of judges that they should be "men of truth, hating covetousness" (Exodus 18:21). Nothing is more corrupting than "the narrowing lust of gold."
2. Bribery (Exodus 23:6, Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:18, Deuteronomy 16:19).
3. Perversion of justice (Proverbs 17:15).
4. Their conduct in all these things was so persistent and flagrant that it was known to "all the elders of Israel." They openly abused their power for selfish ends, trampled on the law which they were appointed to "magnify and make honourable," and wrought against the purpose which Samuel spent his life in effecting.
III. THEM INFLUENCE WAS PERNICIOUS. Not only did they bring misery upon themselves, and occasion bitter sorrow to their aged father; but they also—
1. Inflicted grievous injury on those with reference to whom they "took bribes and perverted judgment."
2. Set a bad example to all men (Psalms 12:8).
3. Brought their high office into contempt.
4. Contributed directly to a national revolution. How true it is that "one sinner destroyeth much good!"—D.
1 Samuel 8:4-22. (RAMAH.)
Israel's desire for a king.
"The old order changeth, giving place to new
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world" (Tennyson).
Introductory.—The desire of Israel for a king, as expressed by their elders to Samuel,was a turning point in their history.
1. This desire was not new. It existed long before (Judges 8:22; Judges 9:9). But new circumstances had arisen,—the greater order and unity resulting from the labours of Samuel, the misconduct of his sons, the threatening attitude of surrounding nations,—causing it to become stronger and more general, and to issue in a definite and fixed determination. The elders simply gave expression to what the heart of the people was set upon.
2. The object of their desire was not essentially wrong. It had been foretold that kings should arise in Israel (Genesis 17:6, Genesis 17:16; Genesis 35:11; Numbers 24:17). Provision had been made in the law of Moses for the choice of a king, and directions given concerning the manner in which he should govern (Deuteronomy 17:15-20); and, more recently, intimations had been afforded that the time for his election was at hand (1 Samuel 2:10, 1 Samuel 2:35). His appointment was only in apparent contradiction to the fundamental principle of the theocracy, that "God was their King," for it was not intended to supersede the Divine authority; he was to be the viceroy or deputy of Jehovah, as the judges had been; and he might be better adapted than they to the present condition of the people. Nevertheless, the transition was in one aspect from a higher to a lower order of things, from a direct to a mediate theocracy; it tended to set the invisible Ruler in the background, and it was fraught with imminent peril.
3. The sinfulness of their desire consisted in the sort of king they sought and the spirit they manifested; whereby they, in effect, rejected the Lord as their King. "If they had simply desired a king to be given them according to the law of God (Deuteronomy 17:15), that should govern them in equity, and such an one as feared God, they then had not offended; but now they do ask a king of a preposterous desire only that they might be like unto other nations; yet God, having purposed to erect among his people a kingly throne, and to raise unto them a king of whose seed Messiah should come, took this occasion to accomplish his purpose, so turning their evil and inordinate desire unto a good end, as God can convert the evil thoughts and actions of men to serve for his own glory" (Willet).
4. Their desire was fulfilled, and the transition peaceably effected through the agency of Samuel, who yielded to their request because he perceived the good which was hidden therein, and that in the providence of God the time was come for a king to be appointed (1 Samuel 9:16). "Israel was in the position of a boat which has been borne down in a swift stream into the very suction of the rapids. The best would be that she should put back; but if it be too late for this, then the best is that there should be in her a strong arm and a steady eye to keep her head straight. And thus it was with Israel. She plunged down the fall madly, rashly, wickedly, but under Samuel's control steadily" (Robertson). "He had to guide the difficult transition of Israel's political organisation from a Divinely ruled republic into a regularly constituted monarchy." "To mediate between the old and the new was, indeed, the peculiar position of Samuel. He was at once the last of the judges, and the inaugurator of the first of the kings. Take the whole of the narrative together—take the story first of his opposition, and then of his acquiescence, in the establishment of the monarchy. Both together bring us to a just impression of the double aspect in which he appears; of the two-sided sympathy which enabled him to unite together the passing and the coming epoch" (Stanley). His calmness, moderation, breadth of view, practical adaptation, and lofty devotion to God and his people were herein exhibited in an eminent degree. "Samuel is one of the few great men in history who, in critical times, by sheer force of character and invincible energy terminate the previous form of a great existing system—at first against their own will, but afterwards, when convinced of the necessity, with all the force and eagerness of their nature; and who then initiate a better form with the happiest results, though amidst much personal suffering and persecution" (Ewald, 'History ').—D.
1 Samuel 8:4-22. (RAMAH)
The popular desire for a king.
"Make us a king to judge us like all the nations (1 Samuel 8:5). This narrative teaches us—
I. THAT THE POPULAR DESIRE, ALTHOUGH IT MAY BE PLAUSIBLE, IS OFTEN REPREHENSIBLE (1 Samuel 8:4, 1 Samuel 8:5).
1. Its alleged grounds were insufficient.
(1) The old age of Samuel. But due respect to him and gratitude for his past services should have prevented their desire to set him aside; and the prosperity that attended his rule during many years should have led them to wish for its continuance as long as possible. They were inconsiderate, forgetful, unthankful, hasty, and unjust.
(2) The misgovermnent of his sons. But they might have been removed from their office without the office itself being abolished. It is better to try to mend an institution than to destroy it.
(3) To be like other nations. But Israel was designed to be unlike them, and superior to them (Le 1 Samuel 20:26); and most of the miseries they had suffered arose from conformity to their ways. The wish to be like others is a fruitful source of sin and woe. The cause of truth and righteousness in the world is greatly damaged when those who should be the guides of the ignorant and the wicked become their servile followers. "Palestine in ancient times was pre-eminently a land of kings. Every district, nay, every considerable city, had its king and its court. In most cases the king was an autocrat, absolute and irresponsible, lawgiver, judge, and executor, the source of all honours, offices, and emoluments, the commander of the army, the dispenser of favours, the awarder of punishment. The rights, claims: and prerogatives of royalty extended to every person, and to every relation of life. The king was the master, the people were his subjects, nay, slaves—his property. In a better sense he was the common father of the community, they his children, with all the kindlier duties and obligations implied and included in this most sacred of human relations. Royalty thus constituted and administered was selected by Jehovah as the synonym and exemplar of his special relation to the Hebrew people" (Thomson, 'Bibliotbeca Sacra,' vol. 30.).
(4) The threatening attitude of the Philistines (1 Samuel 9:16) and the Ammonites (1 Samuel 12:12), which was doubtless referred to in the interview of the elders with Samuel. But the Lord of hosts, who had hitherto delivered them, was able to do so still; and to rely upon a new institution for safety instead of upon him was to lean upon a broken reed. "Instead of seeking for the cause of the misfortunes which had hitherto befallen them in their own sin and want of fidelity toward Jehovah, they searched for it in the faulty constitution of the nation itself" (Keil).
2. Its real grounds were blameworthy.
(1) Dissatisfaction with the government which had been Divinely appointed and sanctioned. When the hearts of men are right with God they are not disposed to complain of his ordinances.
(2) Distrust of the presence and might of their invisible King. "God was not sufficient for them without a creature prop." "Their demand of a visible earthly sovereign was in disparagement of that extraordinary Providence which had distinguished them from the nations of the earth, and taken them by a privilege under an immediate theocracy. Their sin was founded in a revolt from God, in the abdication of a perfect trust and reliance upon his providential government in that method in which with respect to them he had ordered it. But their fault, though uncommon in its form, is not at all in its principle. Something to see and nothing to believe is the wish and propensity of more than the, Israelites" (Davison 'on Prophecy ').
(3) Impatience, presumption, and self-will. God gave them judges … and afterwards they desired a king" (Acts 13:20, Acts 13:21). Instead of first seeking to know the will of God, and then waiting his time for a change, if it should seem good in his sight, they thought that they knew what was best, took counsel of their own hearts, and, having chosen their course independently of him, proceeded forthwith to follow it up, and resolved to have their own way. They were thus disloyal to their Divine King, to whose direction and control they were bound to submit.
(4) The love of worldly pleasure, power, and glory. They desired a king not merely
(a) that he might judge them without interruption, by the law of hereditary descent; but also
(b) that "he might go out before them and fight their battles" (1 Samuel 8:20); and, still further
(c), that he might hold a splendid court, and gratify their ambition and lust of shining or making a boastful display. They wished to be thought in no respect inferior to the surrounding nations. It was a result to which prosperity too often leads. The worldliness from which the misconduct of Samuel's sons proceeded was but a symptom of a widespread evil. "The secret spring of their rebellion was the ambition of their leaders, who could live no longer without the splendour of a regal court and household. 'Give me' (say they, as the prophet Hosea makes them speak, 1 Samuel 13:10) 'a king and princes,' where every one of them might shine a distinguished officer of state. They could get nothing, when their affairs led them to their judge's poor residence in the schools of the prophets, but the gift of the Holy Ghost (1Sa 10:10; 1 Samuel 19:1-24.), which a courtier, I suppose, would not prize even at the rate of Simon Magus, or think it worth the bribing for a piece of money. This it was, and only this, that made their demand criminal" (Warburton, 'Div. Leg.,' Book V.). How often has their sin been repeated in the history of nations! "All the tragical wars of the Greeks or barbarians, whether civil or foreign, have flowed from one fountain—from the desire either of riches, or of glory, or of pleasure; for in pursuit of these things the human race brings on its own destruction".
II. THAT THE POPULAR DESIRE IS NOT UNFREQUENTLY AN OCCASION OF GREAT TROUBLE TO A GODLY MAN (1 Samuel 8:6-9). "The thing was evil in the eyes of Samuel." He saw that it was wrong, felt disappointed and grieved, and was at first altogether opposed to it, and disinclined to listen to those by whom it was expressed, "because," says Josephus, "of his inborn sense of justice, because of his hatred of kings, as so far inferior to the aristocratic form of government which conferred a godlike character on those who lived under it." "For kings are many, and the good are few" (Dante).
1. As a good man has no greater joy than to see the people seeking what is right and good, so he has no greater sorrow than to see them "going after vain things which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain" (1 Samuel 12:21). Abraham (Genesis 18:23), Moses (Exodus 32:18, Exodus 32:31), Elijah (1 Kings 19:10). The Psalmist (Psalms 119:158), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1), Paul at Athens (Acts 17:16).
2. The grief he feels is of the noblest kind.
(1) Unselfish. Samuel did not resent or complain of what was said concerning his old age or his sons' misgovernment; and if he was not absolutely indifferent to the injustice done to himself, yet his trouble arose chiefly from other and higher considerations.
(3) Divine. He was concerned, above all things, for the honour and glory of God. His own loyalty to him made him quick to resent the disloyalty of others, and his sympathy with his purposes filled him with holy jealousy lest they should be defeated or in any way hindered. He felt in some degree as God himself feels.
3. His resource in trouble is prayer to God. "And Samuel prayed to the Lord" (verse 6); probably all night, as on a subsequent occasion (1 Samuel 15:11). Such had been the resource of his devout mother in her distress. Nor is there any other so effectual (Psalms 55:22; Philippians 4:6).
4. In communion with God he finds abundant consolation and help. God takes upon himself the burden of his servant who has laboured and suffered for his sake (Psalms 69:7). "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me." He assures him that it is "no strange thing that has happened unto him." "According to all the works which they have done," etc. (verse 8). He removes his perplexity, tells him what to do, and gives him strength to do it. "Hearken unto their voice," etc. (verse 9). All questionings cease when the Divine voice speaks, and, with the morning light, Samuel goes forth humbly, fearlessly, and cheerfully to deliver his message to the elders.
III. THAT THE POPULAR DESIRE, WHEN IT IS WRONG, SHOULD BE REBUKED, AND ITS EVIL EFFECTS DECLARED (verses 10-18). It may not be allowed to pursue its course without warning on the part of those who feel that it is wrong, and to whom a Divine message comes.
1. This message consists of—
(1) A testimony against its sinfulness. "Hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly (testify) unto them" their sin, and the displeasure of Heaven.
(2) A declaration of the evils involved in its fulfilment. "Show them the manner (mishpat) of the king that shall reign over them," i.e. his regal rights, claims, privileges, and prerogatives; not what might be de jure, according to "the manner of the kingdom" (1 Samuel 10:25; Deuteronomy 17:14), but would be de facto, according to the custom of the kings of the heathen nations whom they wished to resemble. We have here a picture of "the dark side of the institution" in contrast with the theocracy:—
(a) Its ruling motive—personal aggrandisement and indulgence. "He will take for himself, his chariots, his horses, etc; whilst for your welfare he will care nothing.
(b) Its arbitrary and oppressive character. "He will take your sons" to be his personal attendants (verse 11) for military and agricultural service (verse 12), your daughters for domestic service (verse 13), your land to give to his attendants (verse 14), a tenth of your corn and wine to reward his officers (imposing heavy taxation—verse 15), your servants and cattle "to put them to his work" (verse 16), and a tenth of your sheep; "a great retinue, a great table, a standing army, great favourites, great revenues" (M. Henry); and you yourselves will lose your political and social liberty, and become his slaves (verse 17).
(c) Its helpless and hopeless misery (verse 18)—brought upon.yourselves, causing you to cry out to God for help, "and the Lord will not hear you in that day." "The yoke once assumed you must bear forever" (1 Kings 12:4).
2. The message must be declared faithfully and fully, whether men will bear or forbear. "And Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people" (verse 10).
3. The purpose of such declaration being to lead them to consideration and repentance, and, if they still persist, to throw the responsibility for the result upon themselves alone. The watchman who warns the wicked, even if they turn not from their way, "hath delivered his soul" (Ezekiel 33:9); and the faithful minister is "unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish" (2 Corinthians 2:15).
IV. THAT THE POPULAR DESIRE IS SOMETIMES EFFECTUALLY CORRECTED BY BEING GRATIFIED (verses 19-22).
1. In spite of every admonition, men can and do persist in their sinful desire. "Nay; but we will have a king over us." Their self-will appears more plainly than before. Expostulation only makes it stronger. They will have their way. And God, who coerces not whom he has endowed with moral freedom, permits them to do so.
2. By their persistency they even obtain of him the fulfilment of their request. "Make them a king," is his final response to Samuel, who "rehearsed the words in his ears," and now dismisses them "every man unto his city," to await the speedy accomplishment of their desire. The evil which would have resulted from its refusal is thus averted. The principle of the theocracy is preserved. Jehovah continues to rule over Israel; and they recognise his authority in so far, at least, as to leave the selection and appointment of a king in his hands. His sovereign will encircles and controls their purposes. But he does not, by granting their request, sanction their sin. On the contrary—
3. In its fulfilment he inflicts upon them a just chastisement, and teaches them, by the experience of its legitimate results, the folly of their devices. Their first king is a man after their own heart, reflects their sin, and brings overwhelming calamity on himself and them. "I gave thee a king in mine anger" (Hosea 13:11; Psalms 106:15). "God, when he is asked for aught amiss, showeth displeasure when he giveth, hath mercy when he giveth not. The devil was heard in asking to enter the swine, the apostle was not heard when he prayed that the messenger of Satan might depart from him."
4. He prepares them thereby to receive as their ruler" a man after his own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14), who shall conduct them to power and honour, and foreshadow him who is higher than the kings of the earth. How wonderfully are the Divine purposes fulfilled in and through the errors and sins of men! "In a very remarkable sense the vox populi was the vox Dei, even when the two voices seemed most utterly out of harmony ....The Jews were asking for heavy punishment, without which the evil which was in them could not have been brought to light or cured. But they were asking also for something besides punishment, for that in which lay the seeds of a higher blessing. Beneath this dark counterfeit image was hidden the image of a true King reigning in righteousness; the assertor of truth, order, unity in the land; the Helper of the poor, who would not judge after the sight of his eyes, nor reprove after the hearing of his ears; but would smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips would slay the wicked" (Maurice).—D.
1 Samuel 8:6
The benefit of prayer.
"And Samuel prayed unto the Lord." The blessings obtained in answer to prayer are real and manifold. Some of them are outward and material—daily bread, health, safety, life. God is "in all, above all, and through all," the personal and free Ruler of the universe, and able to grant our petitions for temporal good in harmony with the established order of nature. The mind and will of man can produce changes in the material world without disturbing that order; much more can the eternal mind and will do the same. Other blessings are inward and spiritual—wisdom, righteousness, peace, and joy. The "Father of spirits" has access to the human spirit, interpenetrates it as light the atmosphere, holds communion with it, and disposes it to holiness. Spiritual blessings are incomparably more valuable than material. What we are determines our relation to surrounding objects. And beneficial changes wrought within are followed by similar changes in the world without. "In prayer we make the nearest approaches unto God, and lie open to the influences of Heaven. Then it is that the Sun of righteousness doth visit us with his directest rays, and dissipateth our darkness, and imprinteth his image on our souls" (Scougal).
"Speak to him, thou, for he hears, and spirit with spirit can meet.
Closer is he than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet" (Tennyson).
In illustration of the spiritual benefit of prayer let us consider how Samuel, who "prayed unto the Lord" in his trouble, and "rehearsed all the words of the people in the ears of the Lord" (1 Samuel 8:21), was comforted and helped in time of need. What a different man he was when he came forth from communion with his Almighty Friend to speak to the elders of Israel from what he was when he went from them, "displeased" (1 Samuel 8:6) and distressed, to pour out his heart before the Lord! "What profit shall we have if we pray unto him?"
1. Relief for a burdened heart. It is often a great relief to tell our trouble to an earthly friend; much more is it to pour it forth into the bosom of God. "No other God but the God of the Bible is heart to heart" (Niebuhr). "They went and told Jesus" (Matthew 14:12).
2. Sympathy under bitter disappointment. Samuel seemed to have "laboured in vain and spent his strength for nought." But God sanctioned his work, identified himself with him, shared his disappointment, and took his burden on himself. In rejecting his faithful servants men reject the Lord. "Why persecutest thou me?" (Acts 9:5). He sympathises with them (Hebrews 4:5); and one smile of his more than compensates for apparent failure and the frowns of the whole world. "By degrees two thoughts calmed him. The first was the feeling of identification with God's cause. The other element of consolation was the Divine sympathy. Atheism and revolution here, as elsewhere, went hand in hand. We do not know how this sentence was impressed by the infinite mind on Samuel's mind; all we know is, he had a conviction that God was a fellow sufferer" (Robertson).
3. Guidance in great perplexity. The will of the Lord, it may be, is at first hidden or obscure, but in fellowship with him the mists and clouds that prevent our seeing it are cleared away, the sun shines forth, and our way is made plain. We see "the light of this world" (John 11:9). "The vocation of man is the sun in the heavens of his life." "The secret of the Lord" (the counsel or advice, such as a man gives to his friend) "is with them that fear him" (Psalms 25:14). God tells his secrets only to his friends. "The meek will he guide in judgment: the meek will he teach his way" (Psalms 25:9). "He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13).
4. Submission to the supreme will. That will is always wisest and best; it cannot be altered or made to bend to ours; and one of the chief benefits of prayer is that thereby we receive grace which disposes us to accept humbly and cheerfully what at first appears evil in our sight. We are made of one mind with God.
5. Strength for painful duty. It may be to "protest solemnly" (1 Samuel 8:9) against the course resolved upon by others, to alter our own course and expose ourselves to the charge of inconsistency, to face opposition, danger, and death. But, God never appoints us a duty without giving us strength to perform it. Habitual prayer constantly confers decision on the wavering, and energy on the listless, and calmness on the excitable, and disinterestedness on the selfish" (Liddon).
6. Composure amidst general excitement. Whilst the elders clamour, "Nay; but we will have a king over us," Samuel is unmoved. He calmly listens to their decision, takes it back to God in secret prayer, and then comes forth and says, "Go ye every man to his own city." "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee" (Isaiah 26:3). Hurricanes revolve around a centre of perfect calm. Outside the charmed circle the tempest may rage furiously; within it all is peace. Such is the heart and mind kept (garrisoned) by the peace of God (Philippians 4:7).
7. Confidence in a glorious future. "The Lord will not forsake his people for his great name's sake" (1 Samuel 12:22). He works out his purposes by unexpected methods, overrules human perversity, and makes the wrath of man to praise him (Psalms 76:10). "What will the end he?" it was said at a time of great and general anxiety to an eminent servant of God (Dr. A. Clarke), who replied, with a beaming countenance, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."—D.
HOMILIES BY D. FRASER
1 Samuel 8:22
The unwise demand granted.
The government by judges fell into discredit. Samuel, indeed, was without reproach; but when advancing age made the burden of public affairs too heavy for him, his sons, to whom he naturally delegated his authority, proved unrighteous rulers. They do not seem to have been licentious, like the sons of Eli, but they were covetous, and corrupted the fountains of justice by taking bribes. What a persistent thing sin is! How it repeats itself! How hard it is to eradicate it! Samuel's lifelong example of integrity was lost upon his sons. The terrible fate of Eli's family was lost on them too. To the dignity of justice, to the honour of truth, they were indifferent for filthy luere's sake. Then the elders of Israel asked Samuel to set a king over them.
I. THE IMPROPRIETY OF THE REQUEST.
1. It followed a bad precedent. The experiment had been tried about 150 years before. The people asked Gideon to be their hereditary prince, and that hero declined the proposal, as inconsistent with a pure theocracy. After his death Abimelech was king for three years; but his career began in cruelty, ended soon in disaster and death, and no one from that time had sought the royal dignity.
2. It proceeded on a wrong principle. The desire to be as the other nations round about was in fiat contradiction to the revealed purpose of God that Israel should be separate as a people unto him. The wish to have a king to lead them out to battle betrayed a thirst for war unworthy of a holy nation, and a mistrust of the Lord's power to defend them. Here, indeed, is the point in which they departed from the permissive law regarding a king recorded in the seventeenth chapter of Deuteronomy. A regal government was not to be reckoned inconsistent with the theocracy, provided the king was not a foreigner, and was chosen by Jehovah, whose vicegerent he should be. The elders asked for a king not after the mind of the Lord, but after the pattern of the heathen round about.
II. REASONS OF THE DIVINE CONSENT.
1. A headstrong people must learn by experience. The elders and people of Israel were warned of the risk they ran. A king such as they desired would restrain their ancient liberties, and subordinate all their rights and interests to the maintenance of his court and army. They heard Samuel's warning, and persisted in their demand. So the Lord bade his servant make them a king. If men will not take advice, let them have their way. Wisdom seldom comes to wilful men but through sharp lessons of the results of folly.
2. The way must be prepared for the king and the kingdom that God would choose. It is important to remember that Divine purposes are accomplished on earth not by direct fiats of authority or exertions of power, but through long and complex processes of human action and counteraction, by the corrections of experience, the smart of suffering, and the recoil from danger. It was God's design to constitute Israel into a kingdom under a sure covenant—a kingdom which should furnish the basis for glowing prophetic visions of the kingdom of Christ; but this design was not to be fulfilled abruptly, or by a sudden assertion of the Divine will. The way was prepared by the failure of all other devices for holding together the Hebrew people. First the government by judges lost credit; then the kingdom as set up by popular desire failed; so that the tribes, seeing the ruin of their own devices, might be ready to receive the kingdom as God would have it, and the man whom he would choose to "feed Jacob his people and Israel his inheritance."
III. ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE SAME PROCESS.
1. Men have set up their own devices in the administration of the Church; and with what result? They have not been content with an unseen Lord and King. The early patriarchates may be described as a government by judges; but men were not content therewith, and Latin Christianity set up an ecclesiastical and spiritual supremacy on earth, a Saul-like kingship at Rome. Those parts of the Western Church which broke away from this doomed kingdom at the Reformation, for the most part gave power to secular princes in exchange for their protection. All such arrangements are temporary devices; but they are witnesses and preludes to something higher and more Divine. They prepare the way for the reign of Jesus Christ, as the broken, confused reign of Saul prepared for the strong kingdom of David.
2. Inward Christian experience can tell a similar tale. What plans have to be tried and found wanting, what thrones of confusion in the heart to be subverted, before the Lord alone is exalted! We are permitted to have our own way that we may learn how small our wisdom is, how vain are our devices. We exalt our own righteousness, our own will, our own religious confidence. It is our Saul; and the issue is confusion and disorder, till we renounce our pride and vainglory, and receive the Son of David Jehovah's true Anointed, to reign over and rule in us. Self religion starts thus—"Nay; but we will have a king." The religion which is taught of God says, "Blessed be the king that cometh in the name of the Lord!"—F.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 8". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany