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Bible Commentaries

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1 Samuel 8

 

 

Verses 1-8

1 Samuel 8:1-8

And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.

Parental trials

The best sometimes meet with the bitterest disappointment, and their grey hairs are brought down with sorrow to the grave by the unprincipled conduct of their sons. The most exemplary home has become a place of weeping by the unexpected misconduct of those who were its brightest ornaments. Samuel was now growing old. Those in high positions are naturally wishful that their sons should sustain a father’s name and exercise a similar influence. Samuel had that laudable desire, and he made his sons judges over Israel. Nepotism has been one of the grossest scandals of most Roman pontiffs, and not a few high functionaries in every land. But there are honourable exceptions. It is not said that Samuel did wrong in appointing his sons to the judicial bench. The people never accused him of nepotism. Sons of such a sire would promise hopefully for the administration of justice. But the fairest sky may have a darkening cloud, the brightest buds may be early blighted, and a hopeful spring result in a scanty harvest; so the conduct of Samuel’s sons disappointed a father’s heart, and troubled the land of Israel.

1. They did not walk in their father’s ways. They misimproved the bright example they had before them at home, where they saw little that would tend to blind their minds or pervert their hearts. When we consider Eli’s softness and incapacity for command, we do not wonder at his sons going astray. But Samuel was so firm, yet generous withal, that it indicated great depravity in his sons to abuse the example of their father’s spotless life. Their conduct showed that they had sought no personal religion, but had trusted to what they joined in at the family altar. Hence, when they left the sacred enclosures of the domestic circle at Ramah, they had no principle of restraint. What must the eternal experience be but remorse, anguish, and despair, to those who, in time, daily beheld a Christian parent, yet never personally sought the Saviour?

2. They “turned aside after lucre, and took bribes.” The qualifications of a judge are thus specified by Jethro to Moses (Exodus 18:21). Moses thus commanded the people in the name of the Lord (Deuteronomy 16:18-19). But the sons of Samuel did not fulfil these requirements. They were led astray by the love of money. It is amazing how speedily this sin of covetousness perverts the moral faculties. Gold, unlawfully got, sears the conscience. Perhaps there was not a greater man in his own age, or in any age, than Lord Bacon. He is the father of modern philosophy, and revolutionized the inquiries of the schools. To him more than to any man is the student of nature and of science indebted. He conferred a lasting benefit on mankind by opening up the true method of inquiry. Yet, strange to relate, Lord Bacon was one of the most unscrupulous lawyers, and one of the most disreputable judges that ever sat on the English bench. His place hunting was most dishonourable; and, after having become, by the most ignoble means, Lord High Chancellor, he degraded the highest legal office in the country by taking bribes. So glaring was the evil, and so notorious, that this philosopher, who had written so much in praise of learning, virtue, and religion, was impeached by the House of Commons, and found guilty of receiving bribes to the amount of £100,000! It must have been a most humiliating spectacle to see such a man as Bacon confessing to his peers that he had been guilty of corruption. “This glimpse of the rise and fall of this great man proclaims aloud the insufficiency of all but the grace and truth of God to keep man morally erect. Not gigantic intellectual powers--had these sufficed, Bacon would have been steadfast as a rock; not worldly success--Bacon sat at the right hand of royalty, and kept the conscience of a king; not great trust--the Lord Hugh Chancellor of England was the foremost subject in that respect; not celebrity--with that Bacon might have been satiated; not greatness without goodness--that is a tinkling cymbal. What, then? The answer which experience, history, and the word of God combine to give is this--‘I am what I am, by the grace of God that is in me.’ The man who dims the light of that lamp which was kindled in heaven has already tottered to his fall.” Thus acted the sons of Samuel.

3. They “perverted judgment.” This was the natural consequence of the course they pursued. It was not justice, but profit which they sought. Their decision was not what the law of God demanded, but what they were best rewarded to decree. Their conduct was most offensive to God: “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15). Samuel was a disappointed father. He had evidently hoped that his sons might fill his place when his days were ended. There is nothing that distresses a parent more than the misconduct of a son. It was the grief of Isaac when Esau associated with idolaters, and despised the patriarchal birthright. It made many of Jacob’s years a perennial sorrow. It was Aaron’s trial soon after the priesthood had been settled on his house, when Nadab and Abihu went drunk to the altar, and offered strange fire to God. It was Eli’s calamity and punishment, as his reckless sons, whom he had never restrained, rushed on the ruin of his house, It was David’s sorest wounding, when one of his sons after another wrought folly and wickedness in Israel. Sons should consider the necessity of a personal religion, by means of which the best wishes of a parent may be realised, and the individual happiness of a soul secured. Without this you may be drifted by every wind, like a boat without a rudder; you may be borne along a current of evil. (R. Steel.)

The minister’s family

The minister’s family should be an example to all his congregation. It cannot fail to give high value to his exhortations. It did so in the case of the devoted Alleine, of whom this testimony is given, that, “as he walked about the house, he would make some spiritual use of everything that did occur; and his lips did drop as an honeycomb to all that were about him.” Cotton Mather is renowned for his admirably managed family, and his children rose up to call him blessed, while his ministry was largely owned of God Philip Henry’s domestic life is well known; and his son Matthew, the commentator, ascribes with gratitude his own Christian character to godly parental training. Nor are these solitary examples. Many more might easily be adduced in illustration of pious training. Eli neglected this, disobeyed the Lord, and injured his sons. (R. Steel.)

But turned aside after lucre and took bribes.

Political corruption

From the earliest periods of the world’s history corruption among public men has brought on political troubles and national ruin It is wide-spread--it is everywhere. This deplorable state of things may be remedied:--

I. By filling the subordinate offices with men whose fitness has been proved by competitive examination.

II. The candidates for office should be chosen because of character and qualifications.

III. Monopolies, whether corporate or individual, should be regulated so as to protect fully public rights. (Homiletic Review.)

Bribery

My charge is to you, in all departments of life, steer clear of bribery, all of you. Every man and woman at some time will be tempted to do wrong for compensation. The bribe may not be offered in money. It may be offered in social position. Let us remember that there is a day coming when the most secret transaction of private life and of public life will come up for public reprehension. We cannot bribe death, cannot bribe sickness, we cannot bribe the grave, we cannot bribe the judgments of that God who thunders in my text, “Fire shall consume the tabernacles of bribery.” “Fire?” said Cardinal Beaufort, “fire? Can’t Death be hired? Is money nothing? Must I die, and so rich?” You can tell from what they say in their last hours that one of their chief sorrows is that they have to leave their money. I break that delusion. I tell that bribe-taker that he will take his money with him. God will wrap it up in your shroud, or put it into the palm of your hand in resurrection, and there it will lie, not the cool, bright, shining gold at it was on the day when you sold your vote and your moral principle; but there it will lie, a hot metal burning and consuming your hand foreverse Or, if there be enough of it for a chain, then it will fall from the wrist, clanking the fetters of an eternal captivity. The bribe is an everlasting possession; you take it for time, you take it for eternity. (T. De Witt Talmage.)


Verses 1-22

Verse 4

1 Samuel 8:4; 1 Samuel 8:20

Make us a king to judge us like all the nations.

Making a king

As a matter of public notoriety, Samuel’s sons were not like Samuel himself in their moral tone and in their moral example. This brings before us a sad and humiliating fact--that the children of great men and of good men are not always worthy of their parentage. There are men who can speak to a thousand hearers, who are utterly weak and powerless when they come into the details of common life and have to teach a single child at home, and show the light of God upon the private paths of life. Consequently, their own garden wall is broken down, their own little flower bed at home is all weed grown, whilst they are busy with the great public fields and the great vineyards of the world.

1. This brings before us the equally remarkable fact that grace is not hereditary. When we see a good man we expect his children to be like himself. But grace does not descend in the family line. The father may be an apostle, the son may be a blasphemer. There are circumstances, no doubt, in which at the very moment that the father has been preaching the gospel, his own son, whom he loved as his life, has been fulfilling some profane engagement, has been blaspheming the name of the God of his fathers! The elders of Israel had a case. They were concerned for the nation; they saw the two sons of Samuel going astray from their father’s paths; they came to the man when he was old, and told him about the apostasy of his sons. They said, “Make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” If ever men apparently had a simple, straightforward, common sense case, the elders of Israel had such a case. Samuel heard this statement, and the thing displeased him. No man likes to see his whole life disregarded, and his power thrown away ruthlessly. After all, there is a good deal of human nature and common sense in the old man’s view of the changes which are proposed to him. He started from a given point; he has worked along a certain line; a man cannot disinherit and dispossess himself of all his own learning, culture, traditions, and associations, and go back again or go forward into the infancy of new and startling movements. It would be well if men could learn this more profoundly. Young Englandism and young Americanism must be very distasteful to old Samuels, high priests, and venerable prophets. We shall show our strength by showing our moderation; we shall be most mighty when we are most yielding! Samuel told the Lord about it. This is very startling to those who live at a far distance from God. These old men seem always to have been living, as it were, next door to him, and had but to whisper and they were heard. It is a kind of breathing process, it is ready, spontaneous as love. Samuel turned towards the elders of Israel, heard their story, then turned his face about and told God concerning the whole thing. It is a wonderful kind of life--God always so nigh at hand.

2. Samuel saw the outside of the case. Samuel saw what we now call the fact of the case; God saw the truth of it. Many people do not distinguish between fact and truth. There is an infinite difference between fact and truth. Fact is the thing done, the thing visible, the thing that has shape, and that can be approached and touched. Truth underlies it. We must get at the truth before we can understand the fact itself. This is ever necessary, but specially needful where matters are complicated by profoundly moral considerations. The Lord explained the case to Samuel. He said, in effect: “They are only making a tool of thee; thou art become to them a mere convenience, or as it were a scapegoat. They profess to be very deeply concerned about the moral apostasy of thy sons; they do not care one pin point about it; they are extremely glad to be able to seize upon anything that will seem to give a good colouring to their case. Samuel, Israel has cast off its God. Is it wonderful, then, that Israel should cast off the servant?” What an explanation this is! how it goes to the root and core! What a subject opens upon us here! The great world of excuses, social explanations, the faces which things are made to wear, the visors and disguises which are set upon life in order to conceal its corruption, its leprosy, its death Truly the word of God is sharp and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword! So there are two judgments in the world. Man makes out his own case, God comes with the explanation. Man cheats man with outside appearances; afterwards God holds the light over the case. All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do!

3. The Lord told Samuel to make the people a king. “Hear them; do what they ask; hearken unto their voice; howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.” This is an instruction that we should do well to carry out in all life. There are times when we are pressed into certain courses; when all we can do is to protest. What then? When they heard the speech they said, “Nay; but we will have a king over us.” Observe how men can fight their way, when so determined, through all the warnings that even God can send. Observe, man can have his way. There is a point at which even God withdraws from the contest. “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” If we be so minded, we can force our way through all solemn warning, all pathetic entreaty, all earnest persuasiveness on the part of friend, wife, husband, teacher, preacher, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost! We can go to hell if we will! There is a grim, ghastly cross--hew it down! There is a way round it, a way through it, a way over it--you can get there! Fool, coward! (J. Parker, D. D.)

Israel asking for a king

Wishing to resemble other nations, they asked Samuel to make them a king. They “were dazzled,” says John Henry Newman, “with the pomp and splendour of the heathen monarchs around them, and they desired someone to fight their battles, some visible succour to depend on, instead of having to wait for an invisible Providence, which came in its own way and time, by little and little, being dispensed silently, or tardily, or (as they might consider) unsuitably. We must notice the way in which the elders expressed their wish to Samuel. They felt it necessary to show some reason, if possible, for their action. They therefore began by reminding Samuel of his advancing years.” A Greek proverb says, “The more a good tree grows, the more shade does it give.” Samuel was not too old for service, but the wayward people whom the elders represented (v. 19) were apparently tired of his administration. Aged people should be treated very gently and not spoken to as if we thought they were in our way. The latter part of the speech of the elders was no more welcome than its beginning. Their request was an affront. But he did not resent it. Instead of at once answering them he prayed unto the Lord. Luther says, “He must be of a high and great spirit, that undertakes to serve the people in body and soul, for he must suffer the utmost danger and unthankfulness.” Samuel was “of a high and great spirit.” Instead of brooding over the personal wrong done to himself, he went quietly into God’s presence and laid the whole case before Him. Have we difficulties that we cannot solve? Let us pray. Cecil says, “No man rejects a minister of God who faithfully performs his office, till he has rejected God.” This remark applies to all spheres of life. The strict performance of duty often results in personal loss. Take the case of a young man suddenly dismissed by an unscrupulous tradesman because he refuses to take undue advantage of a customer. That young man should bear God’s voice saying, “Your master has not rejected you, he has rejected Me.” With this thought in his heart he will be able cheerfully to suffer (Psalms 69:7; Colossians 1:24). Israel’s request was granted, but at the same time the people were earnestly warned of their error. God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are here vividly contrasted. Apparently the people gained their point, but really they were making a rod for their own back (Psalms 78:29-31; Psalms 106:15). “How bitterly the nation, even in the successful and glorious reign of King Solomon, felt the pressure of the royal yoke, so truly foretold by their last judge, is shown in the history of the times which followed the death of Solomon, when the public discontent at the brilliant but despotic rule of the great king split up the people into two nations” (1 Kings 12:4). Sir William Temple says “A restlessness in men’s minds to be something that they are not and to have something that they have not, is the root of all immorality.” William Collins, the artist, very decidedly expresses his opinion “that if the Almighty were to give us everything for which we feel desirous, we should as often find it necessary to pray to Him to take away as to grant new favours.” We have read perhaps of the little stream that began to feel weary of being a simple brook. It therefore asked for snows from the mountains, water from the torrents, rain from the tempests; until, its petitions granted, it burst its bounds, and ravaged its hitherto delightsome banks. At first the proud stream exulted in its force; but seeing ere long that it carried desolation in its flow, that its progress was now doomed to solitude, and that its waters were forever turbid, it came to regret the humble bed hollowed out for it by Nature--the birds, the flowers, the trees, and the brooks, hitherto the modest companions of its tranquil course.” (M. Lucas.)

A king instead of a god

The history now moves in one great step to Samuel’s old age. Of his marriage, family life, and the gathering round him of the manifold affection for which such a nature as his must have been beautifully fitted, we know nothing. If we have any hint, it is in the naming of the two sons who are mentioned in this chapter. In the same spirit as that in which he named the place of victory--Ebenezer--Samuel called his firstborn son Joel; that is--Jehovah is God. This must have been as a protest against the idolatry, the Baal and Astarte worship, with which Israel had been infected and polluted. Samuel named his other son Abiah; that is--Jehovah is Father. This ought to obtain from us admiring and reverent regard as we think of the fragmentary suggestions of Samuel’s family life. Jehovah was truly God over all, blessed for evermore; Dagon, Baal, and Astarte embodied only the inane and foul misconceptions of man’s nature and God’s demands They were as naught before the God of gods. But more: Jehovah was a Father, tender and true to home and nation, to heathen and Jew. And this double truth it is that the naming of Samuel’s sons betokens. For the first time in the Old Testament the recognition of this foundation doctrine is announced to us, as it was many a time subsequently, by names devised in a time of deep feeling and earnest consecration of heart and home to God. This is the first recorded evidence of an endeavour to witness to the assurance of the adoption, to cry Abba, Father! Both the sons of Samuel were destined, in their father’s thought, to be living witnesses to the Lord: one to the greatness of God and the other to the gentleness of the Most High. In spirit this act of Samuel is no more than should be the feeling and purpose of all spiritually-minded parents in their thoughts of their children. As we often give the children an ancestral name that we revere, or honour them by naming them after someone whom we esteem in public or private life, so our first and deepest thoughts of the children should be the longing and purpose that they may truly live to the honour of God, and carry, as it were, “His name in their foreheads.” This should mark our chief hopes and efforts on their behalf. But here we come to what so often is a cause of grief, and sad, heart-wearing disappointment. With such a man for their father as Samuel, and carrying in the very singularity of their names the marks of a high designation as plainly as a Brahmin carries the marks of his caste, we might have expected that they would have felt a restraint from sin, and an inspiration to rectitude and holiness that would have made them, at the least, worthy of their father and grandmother. The grandsons of Hannah and the sons of Samuel--Joel and Abiah--ought to have been like Timothy, whose “unfeigned faith” dwelt first “in thy grandmother, Lois, and thy mother, Eunice.” From the first son of man, who was a murderer, down to the present time, good men’s children, or, as here, ministers’ sons, have not been proverbial for increasing the piety of the world, or lessening its sin. The child of a saint needs the forgiveness its father has found; and the son of a sinner is not, on account of his awful parentage, placed at a disadvantage with God. Still, in view of Samuel’s sons, the remembrance will come that Samuel’s pain and David’s wail have been the sadness of many a saintly man. Samuel could not have indulged his sons in sin. The history leads us rather to think that the sins were such as might not reveal themselves until the public life of judging in Beersheba came. The private lives of Joel and Abiah may not have given opportunity for the grave sins that marked their judicial position. Many a man lives a good life as a private person who would be a great sinner if exposed to the hazards of public life. Napoleon I might have lived and died a decent man had he lived only in privacy, end never entered the army. To such a being the command of men with muskets and swords in their hands was like the scent of blood to a tiger. Judge Jeffreys might not have been infamous if he had never been a judge. The sin of Eli’s sons was unchastity; that of Samuel’s sons was covetousness. Young men, you may not fall as Hophni and Phinehas did; take care that you do not sin as Joel and Abiah. The weak link may not have had to bear the strain with you. Life may soon have to bear the test on your weak side. May God keep you from yielding when the pressure comes.

1. The sin of Samuel’s sons brought swiftly on a national crisis. The old-fashioned theocratic commonwealth would not do any longer. They would have soldier-kings, and they got them; but how many of them were better than Joel or Abiah, or even superior to Hophni and Phinehas? Very few. And from the first to the last of them, who of all the kings was fit to stand with Samuel? The truth is, that, from the first, the God-governed commonwealth that was associated with such names as Moses and Samuel was a conception of political and social order that the Jews never cared to appreciate. Even before Samuel’s time, the Hebrews had shown unwholesome longing for visible military kingship and rule such as the heathen around them had. When Gideon, at the call of God, led them to victory the only use of the victory they made was atheistically to say to Gideon, “Rule thou over us, both thou and thy son and thy son’s son also”; and the better judgment, the holier manhood of Gideon, is seen in his answer, “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.” Gideon and Cromwell have tried to teach men in nations to trust and obey God the Infinite more than to admire lucky soldiers and successful adventurers. Soldier-kings and nationalities, held together by the sword, are not God’s preferred agencies in working out the history of humanity. Rather are they His scourges and penalties; and, like all ether devastating powers, are not to be forever, but have their highest functions, as the fire dressing of a farm field, only in being preliminary to more rational and Divine processes of life and growth, instead of fire and death. To something higher than the sad miseries of the soldier-monarchies that succeeded Samuel, to the ideal kingdom of the ever-present God on earth, it was that Isaiah pointed the Jews in the days “when kings went forth to battle.” “For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; He will save us.” But this was precisely what the faithless Hebrews would not believe.

2. The spirit and unworthiness of the movement may be seen in this--That they asked not counsel of the Lord, nor of Samuel. The history of this demand, and the outworking of it in the progress of the monarchy, are illustrations of the rebellion and the sinfulness of hiding counsel from the Lord. We, especially, who profess to sing the Ebenezers of Divine deliverance, must go on to seek the guidance of the Divine wisdom in all things; trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, leaning not to our own understanding; in all our ways acknowledging Him and hoping that He will direct our paths.

3. The folly as well as the sin of the project will be further seen from remembering that God had chosen them to be alone and the guide of all the nations; but their self-degrading demand was to be as the nations. They may have been caught by the false glare and splendour of the monarchies around them, as well as moved by the fear of Nahash, King of the Ammonites. More certainly they ignored the high intention of God in establishing His own regal authority among them; and, ignoring the higher destiny, they fell into a lower degradation than that of their neighbours. For a nation to forget its mission as the most liberal and hopeful people of the earth, and descend to the infamous degradation of being mere traders and gun makers and lenders of money to anyone who will give interest enough, as England seems to be doing--this is an abdication, a self-degrading, vast and solemn enough to make a crisis in the history of the world; and is as fit a theme for religious thought and solemn, prayerful consideration as anything that ever happened in the history of Israel.

4. Moreover, it is evident from the history that the pernicious influence of international rivalry was at work among the elders of Israel--rivalry, that is, chiefly in means of making war. To be as, or better than, other nations in war power is a poor ambition, and does no good to any in the long run, but rather evil all round. A boy never had a knife without wanting to cut something with it, and, as likely as not, something that did not need cutting. So, too, a nation, or, rather, a military caste never has a big gun now without wanting to shoot it; and, more likely than not, it will fire at something that did not need shooting. If, now, you look at the national life represented on the one hand by the judge and on the other by the military king, you may find sufficient explanation of the rejection of Samuel and God, deeper down than the occasion given for the rejection by the injustice of Samuel’s sons, at Beersheba. The judgeship under Samuel was the rule of right, and knowledge and regard, above all things, to the ends that God had in view. The soldier-kingship was the showy rule of the strong hand, in which “the elders” who came to Samuel would have chief gain, and the people would be pleased by having the outward and visible signs of greatness and strength that in politics and religion so often do duty for the reality long after it has departed. Plain principles of eternal righteousness, where have they ever stood half so high in popular esteem, and the desires of privileged classes, as the gaudy pretentiousness of the uniformed soldier and priest? Certainly they never did among the Jews; and they do not, I fear, among us nowadays. (G. B. Ryley.)

The disaffected people

There is scarcely anything more trying to a father than to witness the moral shipwreck of his sons. But this personal trouble was intimately connected with a more overwhelming one--the disaffection and declension of the people. While this man of God was lamenting his domestic trial and his country’s loss by reason of the conduct of his sons, a deputation of the people was introduced to state the popular wish, and to ask political changes. They had seen the growing infirmities of Samuel; they had suffered from the dishonesty of his sons; they probably feared the consequences if their leader were taken away; therefore they solicited a thorough Change in their civil polity: “Make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Their government was theocratic. God was their king But the people of Israel did not possess the same license with regard to government as other nations. They were bound to consult the will of God, and seek Divine approbation of their arrangements. They did not like to be so isolated, so peculiar; they grew weary of the ways of God. Conformity to the world has been always a great snare to the Church. Natural to the sinful heart, it tempts the imperfect, and has led many a fair professor into backsliding. Conformity to the world, united to a profession of faith, has been the stumbling black to many an awakened soul. It troubles the Church, but it does not induce the world to be godly The most ungodly know well how to estimate this conformity in those who profess the faith of Christ. They consider it an attempt to serve two masters. It does not attract them towards, but repels them from, religion. It strengthens their opinion of the superstition of worship, and of the hypocrisy of religionists Samuel was above these infirmities of ignoble minds. But he knew the theory of the national government was well acquainted with past history, and aware that self-willed reforms were neither healthy nor good. The circumstances occasioning it was to him most affecting--the misconduct of his sons. Consciousness of his growing infirmities contributed to try the feelings of this man of God. But he had a resource where he could find composure, counsel, and strength: “And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.” Prayer was to him the exercise of communion with God. As you would consult a tried friend in your difficult, circumstances, and be comforted and strengthened by his prudent advice, so did Samuel with God when Providences were dark and the path of duty not plain. Prayer to God was the constant resource of Moses ere he spoke to the people, and hence it was only once throughout forty years of difficult leadership in the weary wilderness that he is said to have spoken “unadvisedly with his lips” Nehemiah found his soul strengthened by ejaculatory prayer while he was considering what answer he should make to the king Artaxerxes. This was Samuel’s practice, and it made his words cautious and weighty. No man can be so much engrossed as to have no time for prayer. The eminent physician Boerhaave, whose practice was so great that “even Peter the Great and to remain for hours in an antechamber before he could be admitted to an interview, was wont to devote the first hour of every day to prayer;” and he recommended this practice to others, “as the source of that vigour which carried him through all his toils.” Learn from Samuel how to act in seasons of perplexity. It is vain to place happiness in the present world. The Israelites imagined that their temporal aggrandizement would be to their advantage; that a king, and a pompous retinue behind him, would greatly enhance their importance. But God taught them that the desire was sinful, and the result disappointing. Byron sought early gratifications, and by means of his lofty titles, splendid genius, and jovial tastes, had abundant means of gratifying his large capacity for pleasure; but he wrote, as the result of all, that he--“Drank every cup of joy, heard every trump of fame: drank early--deeply drank--drank draughts that common millions would have quench’d; then died of thirst, because there was no more to drink.” The great novelist, Sir Walter Scott, had as brilliant a career as any litterateur. But he who gratified tens of thousands was not a happy man, and in the closing scene of his life had no abiding joy. His hopes had been blighted. His happiness had been eclipsed. His fortune had vanished. He was impoverished, embarrassed, aged, and comfortless. And under the influence of these unhappy experiences, he said, as he sat at Abbotsford, “When I think of what this place now is, compared with what it has been not long ago, I think my heart will break.” “I have no other wish than that (the grated door of a burial place) may open for me at no distant period. The recollection of youth, health, and power of activity neither improved nor enjoyed, is a poor strain of comfort. The best is, the long halt will arrive at length and close all.” His idolized existence had a melancholy termination. The truth is, no earthly advantage can give peace to the soul or secure its bliss. (R. Steel.)

Political Transitions.

How varied and fitful are the scenes of national life, they are alternations of sins and sorrows. The reaction of human thought is both sudden in its nature and extreme in its tendency. When once its energies are stimulated, they become restless and surge from one realm to another As the winds change in a moment from one point of the compass to its opposite extreme and toss the ship from its destined course, so this impetus of change sweeps down upon the soul with such power that it reels for a time, is then caught by the current and carried contrary to the intention of its calmer moments. Thus, as we gaze upon the picture, our wonder is excited that a people so strong in their respect for the Divine, should now conspire to dethrone its authority by establishing the human Political transitions:--

I. as founded on the most frivolous pretext. It generally happens that the greatest revolutions are founded upon petty excuses. Thus our national institutions yield to the touch of fancy, the suggestion of caprice, or to the effort of misguided partisanship. This political change was founded--

1. On the old age of Samuel. The conduct of these elders was cruel and ungrateful. No man living had served their secular and religious interests as Samuel had, they could ill afford his departure from their senate, and though his sun was gone down they should have tenderly respected the lingering brightness which yet tinted the evening horizon

2. On the conduct of Samuel’s sons. This plea was

3. Consider the request of the nation.

4. The conduct of Samuel in this crisis. We can scarcely imagine the feelings of Samuel as he listens to this desire for a king. He is alone, the companions of his youth are gone. He is sad; the nation of today has no sympathy with his grief, but is striving to sever the last tie which binds the old man to the scenes of his boyhood.

II. As pursued in antagonism to the Divine will.

1. The Divine permission.

2. The Divine protestation.

“Howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them” (verse 9). God never wantonly leaves human nature to itself, he uses means to prevent wrong, pushes them to a certain point, then if resisted by the force of will he retires, and permits the nation to work out a ruin, which becomes disciplinary.

III. as involving the most alarming consequences.

1. The despotic character of their future ruler. Sometimes God makes disclosures of the future in order to deter from sin, he places an angel in the path to warn and rebuke our folly. He would:--

2. The withdrawal of Divine sympathy in this extremity (verse 18). Surely if anything could have silenced the demand of the nation such a fearful picture as this would, but the passion is so intense, the national yearning so Strong, the present pushes upon their sceptical minds, the future days of life are unreal to them, hence the stern realities to come fade into mist, and the cry is uttered yet more fervent:--“But we will have a king over us.”

lessons:

Asking for a king

I. Why did the people desire a king? Because the rule of the Judges had brought them neither quietness within nor security from enemies without. National unity had almost disappeared. They seem twelve tribes rather than one nation. They were scattered over a wide and difficult territory, traversed only by a few wretched paths. When hostile incursions fell upon exposed regions, the untroubled portions were often indifferent to the fate of their brethren. The Judges whom God raised up to deliver them had little influence beyond the scene of their exploits. The feebleness of the prophet, prematurely old with his cares, and the unworthiness of his sons, increased the popular discontent. Many years ago, their fathers had wanted to make Gideon king: now surely the time had come for a strong central government. Then let the change be made while Samuel was with them, rather than risk the chance of unpromising successors. Had not Jehovah himself looked forward to a kingdom? Both Abraham (Genesis 17:6-16) and Jacob (Genesis 35:11) had been promised that they should be fathers of kings. Moses had anticipated the monarchy in his final address (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) Everything seemed to favour and demand the step.

II. Why was the request wrong? Not in the sense of its need, but in the way of seeking it. The people forgot their covenant relation to Jehovah--that they were a peculiar nation, with a peculiar history and a peculiar mission. Such a demand showed ingratitude, distrust and disloyalty toward God. They wanted to better their government instead of reforming their character, and looked to legislation for help which could come only from righteousness

III. Why did God consent to what He did not approve? Because, if He could not do the best for them, He would do the best He could. His disapproval was for their sins; His consent, to a change not wrong in itself, probably in His plan. The idea of royalty belonged to a true conception of the Messiah, and would be developed most successfully by the rule of righteous kings, as the cross was typified by the sacrifices Since the people were too faithless to wait God’s time resistance to their wishes could only harden their hearts. The history of our race is one record of the accommodation of a Divine ideal to human frailty. Besides the ever-present truth that all mischief comes from sin and all happiness is found in obedience to God, the special value of the lesson is to illustrate the true source of national greatness. This law is stated in a Divine utterance at Sinai: “If ye will obey My voice indeed and keep My covenant, then shall ye be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is mine.” Here are three distinct statements: first, all the earth is God’s; second, a single nation is chosen by Him as a peculiar treasure; third, the ground of the choice, the condition of the favour, is national righteousness. This compact statement declares the providential evolution and Divine selection of nations, resulting in the survival of the fittest.

1. The Divine order is not committed in favour of any one form of government. Political forms are means, not ends. We cannot, assume that a democracy is the ideal. The kingdom of heaven is a monarchy, not dependent on men’s votes for its authority, or human legislation for its laws and penalties Stable governments are growths, not manufactured forms, and the same growth is not fitted for every soil. When King Murat demanded of Lord Holland to make him a constitution, the wise statesman replied, “You might as well ask me to build you a tree.” A republic demands general virtue and intelligence What would become of Russia or Turkey if made democracies at once? The Almighty has blessed forms of government widely different. An ideal constitution will not make an ideal nation.

2. The Divine order is not committed to any degree of material prosperity. Egypt had everything, Israel nothing; yet the mob of slaves was chosen before the kingdom opulent with treasure and hoary with learning. Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, have been used and discarded in the advance of the church

3. The Divine order is committed eternally for righteousness. This has been the principle of selection in national evolution, not the development of certain political forms. The moral good of the race is the only object which a holy God can permit to control its destinies. The Christian character of our government must be asserted and maintained. It is false to speak of this government as having no religious character. It was born a Christian nation by the will of man and also by the will of God. Surely the centuries have brought us something; above all else, a Christian birthright. Christianity is the “Common law” of the land. All, all, proclaim that Christianity, general, tolerant Christianity, Christianity independent of sects and parties, that Christianity to which the sword and fagot are unknown, general tolerant Christianity, is the law of the land. The virtue of its individual citizens is the nation’s real hope. The sins which bare destroyed the dead nations have been the sins of individuals. The state as a corporation has no soul. We know but two moral existences, God and man; and the conduct which God rewards in individuals will secure his blessing upon their associated action A community may be rich or poor, may be under a monarch or a president: are its members righteous?--then they will have national prosperity; are they vile?--their nation will be cursed. (Monday Club Sermons)

Asking for a king

Revolutions sometimes take place without great popular excitement or the leadership of great men. The history before us presents such a case The dramatis personae are the elders of the tribes, the representatives of the people; Samuel the prophet, the judge and hero, and Saul, the least free agent of them all, whose exceptional size contrasts with the littleness of the figure he cuts in this first scene of a national tragedy. The revolution, however quietly accomplished, was important and permanent. The introduction of a new instrument under the theocracy, it forever separated the prophetic office from civil government. Henceforth the prophet and magistrate are distinct as to office and often antagonistic as to policy. Both are prominent in the development of the Messianic design. The freedom of the individual and the equality of the citizen have never been so justly and wisely provided for as under the Hebrew law. A freer people from the Exodus to the reign of Solomon was never known. The idea of royal authority was not new to the Hebrews. All around them were petty monarchies more or less absolute, and by tradition and commerce they were familiar with the greater kingdoms of the Nile and Euphrates. The demand for a king came from the elders of the tribes. They came fortified with Scripture, quoting Moses in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, simply asking what the Lord had predicted and recorded by their great legislator as a possible event in their history. They aimed at a centralisation of power that would combine the tribes for defensive purposes. To their unbelief which failed to look beyond man, it seemed that Samuel was to have no successor. The history of popular revolutions shows that there was no unusual lack of political wisdom among those compatriots of Samuel. Indeed, their mistake has ever been the ordinary wisdom of the world. Grecian and Roman history shows how natural it is for nations to seek relief from popular lawlessness in tyrants, dictators and emperors. Mediaeval history repeats how popular suffering, industries and property sought escape from feudal tyrannies under the sceptre of kings. So the Hebrews falsely argued. To secure a possible constitutional concession they adopt manners and methods full of insult and ingratitude to Samuel and sacrilege and impiety toward God. The political blunder, as well as religious crime, of the Hebrews was in charging their troubles not upon corrupt magistrates and popular lawlessness, but on their national constitution. Now, it may be admitted that this constitution was defective in power lust as soon as the people lost the sense of their theocratic obligations and of Jehovah as their present King. Decline in theocratic belief and life was ever the one sign of weakness in the Hebrew commonwealth, and the one only dissolvent of their otherwise impregnable security. Their liberties were invincible against internal or external foes so long as they were faithful to inspired covenant morality; but apostasy ever made them vulnerable, and at last exposed their national life to a deadly wound. In this hour of ecclesiastical and political peril Samuel carried the matter in prayer to God To the illustrious chief the answer of God is full of grace, sympathy and pathos: “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me that I should not reign over them.” This reply teaches--

1. That this prayer for a king was essential apostasy (Psalms 118:9). In coming down to the political policies of surrounding nations they violated their covenant relations and exposed themselves to bondage under the prince of this world. The final cause of all priestly and political absolutism is to be found in the implacable enmity of Satan to divine sovereignty and human liberty. “Conscience makes cowards of us all,” and fears, the inevitable consequence of declining piety, make them distrust the protection and guidance of Jehovah.

2. That this prayer for a king was the outburst of an hereditary vice This was the rejection of the sovereignty of God. They did now just what their patriarchs did to Joseph and their fathers to Moses, the representatives of that sovereignty.

3. That this prayer for a king was practical idolatry (verse 8).

4. That God may grant the obstinate prayer of mistrust (verses 9, 19-22).

5. Yet the prayer was granted under solemn protest and clear warning (verses 9-18). The original government of the world designed by God was neither a monarchy, an aristocracy nor a republic. None of these is compatible with the individual sovereignty bestowed in the creation of man. But the theocracy was above the ethical culture of the people, too sublime for the moral education of their schools The large personal liberty conferred by the Mosaic constitution degenerated into social lawlessness and weak administration, and foreign infidelity and socialism penetrated and corrupted the religious beliefs and national manners of the people. The moral status of the people was unworthy of the free government God had given them. Concentration under the direct sovereignty of God was more possible than under a human dynasty. This their own history demonstrates. God alone is King. The noblest idea of government, individual or social, is a theocracy, and under it the parity of citizens. Nor need this state be utopian if the people are, as they ought to be and can be, under a Bible cultus. National unity and perpetuity is a matter of ethics, and not of community of race, tradition and history, of laws and language, of literature and religion. These latter are additional bonds, but history, from the Hebrews to the Americans, shows how feeble they are to preserve national unity. Scepticism and infidelity are the sure signs of mental and moral degeneracy in civilisation. Royalty is a Divine prerogative, and property belongs to the Son of God. Our safety is trust in God by the recognition in the family, school and legislature of Jesus Christ as King, His doctrines as law and His precepts as practice (G. C. Heckman, D. D.)

Demand for the tangible and visible

For are we not all in the same condemnation? The life of faith, which relies on an unseen arm, and hearkens to the law of an unseen King, is difficult, the sense cries out for something that it can realise and cling to. Luther, in one of his letters, has a parable that tells how he looked at the vault of the sky, and sought in vain for the pillars that held it up, and how he feared that, having no visible supports, it must fall. We all would like to see the upholding columns. An Alpine path without a parapet seems to us more dangerous that if a wall, however low, fenced it on the side of the precipice. “Give us a king” is but the ancient form of the universal craving for something “more substantial” than the bare word of a God whom sense cannot grasp. How many of us would rather have a good balance at our banker’s than God’s promise, “Thy bread shall be given thee, and thy water made sure”! How many of us call the visible supports “solid realities,” and the unseen strengths “mystical,” meaning thereby unreal! How few of us believe that the Unseen is the real and solid, and the visible and transient and phantasmal! Let us scrutinise our governing ideas, and we shall find them very like those that sent the elders to Samuel, crying for a king. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)


Verses 7-9

1 Samuel 8:7-9

Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee.

Prayer answered under protest

Prayer is certainly a most salutary exercise whenever one is agitated beyond his strength. When the elders of Israel came to Samuel he discovered that the complication was too deep for an old man like him to deal with; and so he went in prayer to God In thy end we shall learn that the petition of these malcontents was granted, but with the answer came retribution and ultimate dismay. Prayers are sometimes answered under protest Let us, then, move on at once in our search.

I. We shall have to begin with a fair and detailed exposition of the narrative as it meets us.

1. This verse, besides its bearing upon our main point, contains a valuable lesson of its own: Rejecting Divine Providence is rejecting Divine government and forfeiting Divine favour. There is no sense in a declaration that we accept God’s law in general, but reserve the right to practical freedom in reference to particulars. “The end of all civil government,” says an ancient thinker, writing for our times as wisely as for his own, “is to live well according to the Divine pleasure.” We are surely Christians, but in general, you know; not quite so particular as we might be, possibly, but with a decided respect for religion always. Now this will not do; Jesus Christ, is everything to a man, or He is nothing. In all human history there has never been a fitter leader to command our loyalty or to win our love. We have been told that the ancient Persian kings used to elect, for the education and training of their princes, the four best men in the kingdom--the justest man, the wisest man, the bravest man, and the most temperate man--so that each new sovereign might have the highest advantages, and come to the regal throne best fitted to rule over the people. Christ is the Prince of a kingdom that, is supreme in the universe. When the Providences of God summon us to follow Jesus as our Lord, to reject Him is also to reject the Lord that made us, and defy Him when He is most our friend.

2. You must bear in mind, also, as this narrative proceeds, that wilful disobedience, continuously repeated, becomes settled rebellion. The reply which Samuel received reminded him that this was not a new case of sudden refusal of the Divine sovereignty. That nation had actually got into the habit of it. They had never shown anything more commendable since they came up out of the land of Pharaoh; they proved an awkward and ungainly people when Moses was trying to manage them in the wilderness. When one throws off God’s beneficent restraints, it is surprising to see how awfully wicked he can be as in a moment of rapid demoralisation. Things apparently innocent are made the baleful occasion, sometimes even the instrument, of violent outbreak in vice. It is one of the intense severities of Montaigne to say of these atheistic people that “they infect innocent matter with their own venom.” Some sceptics like to do this in their reckless arguments. They force natural science, always loyal and reverent to the Creator of the universe, to speak a lie and bring false testimony against God. It is the deliberate counting out of Divine government which puts this universe in such a false position. The only effective manner in which to deal with such a dangerous experience is found in letting it have its own way until it shall be weary and worn with its follies and be ready to return penitently to God.

3. So now we come to the point that we started to reach. Human prayers are sometimes granted with a Divine protest. Solemn moment is that in which God gives to any man or nation in judgment what was asked of Him in petulance and pride! Now let us understand that circumstances may erect; a foreordained fact into a responsible sin, for which those who are the actors are to be held accountable in the end. The Lord said these malcontents in Israel might have their wish, and yet he charges on them the guilt the transaction involved. Furthermore, this very demand of the people had been foreseen and publicly predicted three hundred years before. And yet this whole proceeding was now wrong; it was premature and hasty, and it was conducted without reference to the over-ruling will of Jehovah. God’s Providence does not constrain any man’s iniquity. Foreordination has nothing to do with free will. Those elders were doing their own behest, not God’s; and they suffered for it.

II. We turn now from this story to the one principle it so vividly illustrates. It is worth our while to press a valuable admonition like that which is given here. We are told to let our hearts go forth in prayer continually unto God, and God will grant us our desires. But here we learn that not even the answers we obtain are to be trusted always. What does this mean in real experience?

1. It means that all petitions are to be offered, and all desires are to be pressed, according to the Lord’s will before our will. If we thrust ourselves forward, Divine Providence will frequently hedge up the way. If now we urge on, sometimes the barrier is seen to move quietly away; then we can have our request if we continue to press it. But is this safe or wise? that is the sober question. It is the creature erecting itself against the supreme judgment of its Creator and taking its case into its own hands. When a man is intelligent, and his conscience tells him that God is not exactly granting, but only permitting, his prayer, is it best for him to persevere in it in the confident hope that courage will carry him through into safety?

2. And for another thing, this declaration means that under protest God grants a Christian’s prayer, the answer will be a positive discipline rather than a blessing. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)


Verse 10

1 Samuel 8:10

And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.

An admonition to the wilful

When about to frame the Tabernacle in the wilderness, Moses was specially instructed by God to make it after the pattern which had been shown him in the holy mount. When Jeremiah was set apart to the prophetical office, for which he confessed himself unfit, God said, “Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee; and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak” (Jeremiah 1:7). The rule with respect to all preachers of the gospel is after a similar form: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11); “It is required of stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Ministerial fidelity is the full declaration of the word of God to the consciences of men. “Who is a true and faithful steward?” asked Latimer of old. “He is true, he is faithful, that coineth no new money, but seeketh it ready coined of the goodman of the house; and neither changeth it nor clippeth it, after it is taken to him to spend, but spendeth even the selfsame that he had of his Lord; and spendeth it as his Lord commanded him.” Such a man was Samuel, who “told all the words of the Lord unto the people.” This fidelity is essential to the proper discharge of the ministerial office, as it was of the prophetical. The fear of man may not alter the doctrine of the pulpit. The preacher of the word must declare all the counsel of God, whether men hear or whether they forbear. Ere the people proceeded to make a change of Government, Samuel declared the manner of the king that should reign over them. Samuel did not show the people what a king ought to be--that was written in the books of the law of Moses; but what he would be. In the East, kings maintain great magnificence, live in highest luxury, and indulge their passions. Followed by sycophants baser than themselves, they soon get beyond amendment, and, secure in their self-sufficiency, are heedless of the complaints and wrongs of their subjects. Such were the men who wore a crown in the days of Samuel, nor have Eastern monarchs much changed since then. But when an object is earnestly desired, all connected with it is viewed through the coloured glasses of the beholder, The people of Israel saw only the magnificence, not the luxury; the dignity, not the expense; the power, not the oppression of a king. They were willing to run before a royal chariot,--that would be no slavery. They would enlist in an army,--that would be no yoke. They would give the best to a Hebrew king,--that would be no sacrifice. The enthusiasm of the people saw no evil in a royal crown or a courtly retinue. Like little children, the passions of a people are blind to the future. They will have their desire, though it prove their ruin. Thus French factions would have their objects in the revolutionary era, regardless of the wrong they caused, the blood they shed, the religion they blasphemed, the God they dishonoured, until the Red Republic was more cruel than ever despotic monarchy had been. Thus the sinner will have his desire, though he imperil his soul foreverse The avaricious will have gold, though it becomes his idol, and his immortal spirit worships the golden calf. The inebriate will have his drink, though he degrade his being, blast his character, beggar his family, and damn his soul. The sinner will have his sin though it ruin him foreverse But there is personal danger resulting from the indulgence of wrong motives, and from the eager pursuit of sin. The soul is debased, made guilty, and exposed to retribution. It may awaken too late to retrace its steps, to secure pardon and salvation. Present decision to be right with God is therefore an imperative duty, as it is the guarantee of future blessing. Faithful as Samuel was to the people in declaring the words of God, he is none the less so in rehearsing the words of the people of God. The decided indication of the popular will does not alter Samuel’s views, or tempt him to depart from God. He can go back to the presence of God with the same uprightness as he bad come from that sacred place. The tides of popular feeling did not bear him away. He could stand alone in his devotedness to God if the people should all reject the word of the Most High. He acted as the commissioner of Jehovah, and therefore laid the wish of the people before the throne of God. He was willing to abide by the Divine decision. God granted the request of the people, and Samuel gave information accordingly. This did not indicate Divine approbation of their conduct; for it showed that they were to bear the responsibility of the step. They become new opportunities of well-doing if rightly improved, or means of conviction of the sin committed. They had confidence in Samuel’s prayers, and were willing to abide the issue. “The history of the world,” says a judicious commentator, “cannot produce another instance in which a public determination was formed to appoint a king, and yet no one proposed either himself or any other person to be king, but referred the determination entirely to God.” (R. Steel.)


Verse 19-20

1 Samuel 8:19-20

And they said, Nay, but we will have a king over us.

A king desired

If we were asked what is the prevailing feeling which the study of this history is calculated to produce, we should answer in one word--disappointment.

I. The request of the Israelites brings before us a melancholy view of the progress of degeneracy in a community. It requires no effort to perceive in this desire of the Israelites the renewed manifestation of the discontented and rebellious disposition which prevailed in the camp at the Red Sea, and on subsequent occasions in the wilderness; but now it was marked by a greater fixedness of criminal resolve and of God-dishonouring purpose. It was the sin of the fathers living over again, but with greater intensity, in the persons of the children. This view of the case is, in a high degree, admonitory. None of us, perhaps, think enough of the connection between ourselves and the future. Each age exerts a very considerable influence on that which succeeds it, and the men of any particular age are responsible to God in a very large and affecting measure for the characteristics of the period which may come after them The degeneracy of communities is after all the degeneracy of individuals; and he who makes the effort to prevent in the conduct of a single individual the continuance of sin--who attempts in the case of a single individual to raise the tone of morals, does so far provide a better State of things for the age that shall come after him. If looking at the clamorous assembly which the narrative brings before us as now surrounding Samuel and asking a change in the form of government, we inquire whence learnt they those low thoughts of God which led them so much to dishonour Him as to wish to put Him aside in order to make room for an earthly ruler? the only proper and correct reply would be, “From those who went before them.” We live for a future age, and virtually we have the character of that age in our hands, whether as it concerns the nation, the church, or the family

II. The scene brought before us by this demand of Israel for a king, teaches us the perilousness of allowing our thoughts to run in an improper direction and our wishes to centre upon a wrong object. And this for a reason which is very distinctly conveyed to us in the tenour of the narrative--the absorbing effect of one wrong thought, and its consequent power to throw into oblivion all those counteracting thoughts and objects which from any other source might be suggested. Trace the progress of this one wrong desire, in Israel, of having a king. Was there nothing to be said on the other side? Rather we might ask, Is it not exceedingly easy to conceive of the counteracting effect which at the first stage might have been presented to such a wish by a recollection of their actual privileges at the moment? There is a matchless sublimity--the sublimity of condescension and graciousness--about the very idea of a theocracy. But if its sublimity did not appeal to their moral sense, its peculiar advantageousness might have appealed to their self-regard. The God-honouring wish grew stronger and stronger. At least, however, it might have been expected that they would be moved by a vivid delineation of the unwelcome consequences which God declared would attend on the new arrangement. Yet, after all, this is but a picture of real life, applicable to every age. It contains a faithful warning. It says--“Beware of the first wrong desire, give it no encouragement. Beware of the first misdirection of thought. Be sure you are right at first in your plans and purposes, because afterwards, by reason of the very force with which wrong thoughts indulged exclude all suggestions to the contrary, it may be too late to alter.” To the young it especially says--“In the purposes you cherish, the plans you propose, the changes you contemplate, the objects on which you allow your affections to rest, beware of a mistake at the first.”

III. It is of importance that we should carefully study the essential evil of the motive which here operated in the minds of the Hebrew nation. That motive was--that they might be like other people. And if in a thoughtful mood we take a survey of the causes which have wrought to produce moral desolation in communities from that day until the present, there will appear none whose operation has proved more widely mischievous, more intensely active to harm than this--a desire to be like others. Many a time has that young man left the house of God full of conviction, and ready to resolve that, whatever others did, he would serve the Lord. But he turned to take another look at the world, and the thought came along with the look, float much of his worldly interest depended upon the friendship of those around him, and that if he expected them to be his friends, his opinions and his habits must not be opposed to theirs. He gave in to the principle of being like them; and, having resembled them in time, his lot now throughout eternity resembles theirs too. Alas! the wreck of souls which this principle involves! and, we must, add, the wreck of earthly comfort, too. (J. A. Miller.)


Verse 20

1 Samuel 8:4; 1 Samuel 8:20

Make us a king to judge us like all the nations.

Making a king

As a matter of public notoriety, Samuel’s sons were not like Samuel himself in their moral tone and in their moral example. This brings before us a sad and humiliating fact--that the children of great men and of good men are not always worthy of their parentage. There are men who can speak to a thousand hearers, who are utterly weak and powerless when they come into the details of common life and have to teach a single child at home, and show the light of God upon the private paths of life. Consequently, their own garden wall is broken down, their own little flower bed at home is all weed grown, whilst they are busy with the great public fields and the great vineyards of the world.

1. This brings before us the equally remarkable fact that grace is not hereditary. When we see a good man we expect his children to be like himself. But grace does not descend in the family line. The father may be an apostle, the son may be a blasphemer. There are circumstances, no doubt, in which at the very moment that the father has been preaching the gospel, his own son, whom he loved as his life, has been fulfilling some profane engagement, has been blaspheming the name of the God of his fathers! The elders of Israel had a case. They were concerned for the nation; they saw the two sons of Samuel going astray from their father’s paths; they came to the man when he was old, and told him about the apostasy of his sons. They said, “Make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” If ever men apparently had a simple, straightforward, common sense case, the elders of Israel had such a case. Samuel heard this statement, and the thing displeased him. No man likes to see his whole life disregarded, and his power thrown away ruthlessly. After all, there is a good deal of human nature and common sense in the old man’s view of the changes which are proposed to him. He started from a given point; he has worked along a certain line; a man cannot disinherit and dispossess himself of all his own learning, culture, traditions, and associations, and go back again or go forward into the infancy of new and startling movements. It would be well if men could learn this more profoundly. Young Englandism and young Americanism must be very distasteful to old Samuels, high priests, and venerable prophets. We shall show our strength by showing our moderation; we shall be most mighty when we are most yielding! Samuel told the Lord about it. This is very startling to those who live at a far distance from God. These old men seem always to have been living, as it were, next door to him, and had but to whisper and they were heard. It is a kind of breathing process, it is ready, spontaneous as love. Samuel turned towards the elders of Israel, heard their story, then turned his face about and told God concerning the whole thing. It is a wonderful kind of life--God always so nigh at hand.

2. Samuel saw the outside of the case. Samuel saw what we now call the fact of the case; God saw the truth of it. Many people do not distinguish between fact and truth. There is an infinite difference between fact and truth. Fact is the thing done, the thing visible, the thing that has shape, and that can be approached and touched. Truth underlies it. We must get at the truth before we can understand the fact itself. This is ever necessary, but specially needful where matters are complicated by profoundly moral considerations. The Lord explained the case to Samuel. He said, in effect: “They are only making a tool of thee; thou art become to them a mere convenience, or as it were a scapegoat. They profess to be very deeply concerned about the moral apostasy of thy sons; they do not care one pin point about it; they are extremely glad to be able to seize upon anything that will seem to give a good colouring to their case. Samuel, Israel has cast off its God. Is it wonderful, then, that Israel should cast off the servant?” What an explanation this is! how it goes to the root and core! What a subject opens upon us here! The great world of excuses, social explanations, the faces which things are made to wear, the visors and disguises which are set upon life in order to conceal its corruption, its leprosy, its death Truly the word of God is sharp and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword! So there are two judgments in the world. Man makes out his own case, God comes with the explanation. Man cheats man with outside appearances; afterwards God holds the light over the case. All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do!

3. The Lord told Samuel to make the people a king. “Hear them; do what they ask; hearken unto their voice; howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.” This is an instruction that we should do well to carry out in all life. There are times when we are pressed into certain courses; when all we can do is to protest. What then? When they heard the speech they said, “Nay; but we will have a king over us.” Observe how men can fight their way, when so determined, through all the warnings that even God can send. Observe, man can have his way. There is a point at which even God withdraws from the contest. “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” If we be so minded, we can force our way through all solemn warning, all pathetic entreaty, all earnest persuasiveness on the part of friend, wife, husband, teacher, preacher, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost! We can go to hell if we will! There is a grim, ghastly cross--hew it down! There is a way round it, a way through it, a way over it--you can get there! Fool, coward! (J. Parker, D. D.)

Israel asking for a king

Wishing to resemble other nations, they asked Samuel to make them a king. They “were dazzled,” says John Henry Newman, “with the pomp and splendour of the heathen monarchs around them, and they desired someone to fight their battles, some visible succour to depend on, instead of having to wait for an invisible Providence, which came in its own way and time, by little and little, being dispensed silently, or tardily, or (as they might consider) unsuitably. We must notice the way in which the elders expressed their wish to Samuel. They felt it necessary to show some reason, if possible, for their action. They therefore began by reminding Samuel of his advancing years.” A Greek proverb says, “The more a good tree grows, the more shade does it give.” Samuel was not too old for service, but the wayward people whom the elders represented (v. 19) were apparently tired of his administration. Aged people should be treated very gently and not spoken to as if we thought they were in our way. The latter part of the speech of the elders was no more welcome than its beginning. Their request was an affront. But he did not resent it. Instead of at once answering them he prayed unto the Lord. Luther says, “He must be of a high and great spirit, that undertakes to serve the people in body and soul, for he must suffer the utmost danger and unthankfulness.” Samuel was “of a high and great spirit.” Instead of brooding over the personal wrong done to himself, he went quietly into God’s presence and laid the whole case before Him. Have we difficulties that we cannot solve? Let us pray. Cecil says, “No man rejects a minister of God who faithfully performs his office, till he has rejected God.” This remark applies to all spheres of life. The strict performance of duty often results in personal loss. Take the case of a young man suddenly dismissed by an unscrupulous tradesman because he refuses to take undue advantage of a customer. That young man should bear God’s voice saying, “Your master has not rejected you, he has rejected Me.” With this thought in his heart he will be able cheerfully to suffer (Psalms 69:7; Colossians 1:24). Israel’s request was granted, but at the same time the people were earnestly warned of their error. God’s sovereignty and man’s free will are here vividly contrasted. Apparently the people gained their point, but really they were making a rod for their own back (Psalms 78:29-31; Psalms 106:15). “How bitterly the nation, even in the successful and glorious reign of King Solomon, felt the pressure of the royal yoke, so truly foretold by their last judge, is shown in the history of the times which followed the death of Solomon, when the public discontent at the brilliant but despotic rule of the great king split up the people into two nations” (1 Kings 12:4). Sir William Temple says “A restlessness in men’s minds to be something that they are not and to have something that they have not, is the root of all immorality.” William Collins, the artist, very decidedly expresses his opinion “that if the Almighty were to give us everything for which we feel desirous, we should as often find it necessary to pray to Him to take away as to grant new favours.” We have read perhaps of the little stream that began to feel weary of being a simple brook. It therefore asked for snows from the mountains, water from the torrents, rain from the tempests; until, its petitions granted, it burst its bounds, and ravaged its hitherto delightsome banks. At first the proud stream exulted in its force; but seeing ere long that it carried desolation in its flow, that its progress was now doomed to solitude, and that its waters were forever turbid, it came to regret the humble bed hollowed out for it by Nature--the birds, the flowers, the trees, and the brooks, hitherto the modest companions of its tranquil course.” (M. Lucas.)

A king instead of a god

The history now moves in one great step to Samuel’s old age. Of his marriage, family life, and the gathering round him of the manifold affection for which such a nature as his must have been beautifully fitted, we know nothing. If we have any hint, it is in the naming of the two sons who are mentioned in this chapter. In the same spirit as that in which he named the place of victory--Ebenezer--Samuel called his firstborn son Joel; that is--Jehovah is God. This must have been as a protest against the idolatry, the Baal and Astarte worship, with which Israel had been infected and polluted. Samuel named his other son Abiah; that is--Jehovah is Father. This ought to obtain from us admiring and reverent regard as we think of the fragmentary suggestions of Samuel’s family life. Jehovah was truly God over all, blessed for evermore; Dagon, Baal, and Astarte embodied only the inane and foul misconceptions of man’s nature and God’s demands They were as naught before the God of gods. But more: Jehovah was a Father, tender and true to home and nation, to heathen and Jew. And this double truth it is that the naming of Samuel’s sons betokens. For the first time in the Old Testament the recognition of this foundation doctrine is announced to us, as it was many a time subsequently, by names devised in a time of deep feeling and earnest consecration of heart and home to God. This is the first recorded evidence of an endeavour to witness to the assurance of the adoption, to cry Abba, Father! Both the sons of Samuel were destined, in their father’s thought, to be living witnesses to the Lord: one to the greatness of God and the other to the gentleness of the Most High. In spirit this act of Samuel is no more than should be the feeling and purpose of all spiritually-minded parents in their thoughts of their children. As we often give the children an ancestral name that we revere, or honour them by naming them after someone whom we esteem in public or private life, so our first and deepest thoughts of the children should be the longing and purpose that they may truly live to the honour of God, and carry, as it were, “His name in their foreheads.” This should mark our chief hopes and efforts on their behalf. But here we come to what so often is a cause of grief, and sad, heart-wearing disappointment. With such a man for their father as Samuel, and carrying in the very singularity of their names the marks of a high designation as plainly as a Brahmin carries the marks of his caste, we might have expected that they would have felt a restraint from sin, and an inspiration to rectitude and holiness that would have made them, at the least, worthy of their father and grandmother. The grandsons of Hannah and the sons of Samuel--Joel and Abiah--ought to have been like Timothy, whose “unfeigned faith” dwelt first “in thy grandmother, Lois, and thy mother, Eunice.” From the first son of man, who was a murderer, down to the present time, good men’s children, or, as here, ministers’ sons, have not been proverbial for increasing the piety of the world, or lessening its sin. The child of a saint needs the forgiveness its father has found; and the son of a sinner is not, on account of his awful parentage, placed at a disadvantage with God. Still, in view of Samuel’s sons, the remembrance will come that Samuel’s pain and David’s wail have been the sadness of many a saintly man. Samuel could not have indulged his sons in sin. The history leads us rather to think that the sins were such as might not reveal themselves until the public life of judging in Beersheba came. The private lives of Joel and Abiah may not have given opportunity for the grave sins that marked their judicial position. Many a man lives a good life as a private person who would be a great sinner if exposed to the hazards of public life. Napoleon I might have lived and died a decent man had he lived only in privacy, end never entered the army. To such a being the command of men with muskets and swords in their hands was like the scent of blood to a tiger. Judge Jeffreys might not have been infamous if he had never been a judge. The sin of Eli’s sons was unchastity; that of Samuel’s sons was covetousness. Young men, you may not fall as Hophni and Phinehas did; take care that you do not sin as Joel and Abiah. The weak link may not have had to bear the strain with you. Life may soon have to bear the test on your weak side. May God keep you from yielding when the pressure comes.

1. The sin of Samuel’s sons brought swiftly on a national crisis. The old-fashioned theocratic commonwealth would not do any longer. They would have soldier-kings, and they got them; but how many of them were better than Joel or Abiah, or even superior to Hophni and Phinehas? Very few. And from the first to the last of them, who of all the kings was fit to stand with Samuel? The truth is, that, from the first, the God-governed commonwealth that was associated with such names as Moses and Samuel was a conception of political and social order that the Jews never cared to appreciate. Even before Samuel’s time, the Hebrews had shown unwholesome longing for visible military kingship and rule such as the heathen around them had. When Gideon, at the call of God, led them to victory the only use of the victory they made was atheistically to say to Gideon, “Rule thou over us, both thou and thy son and thy son’s son also”; and the better judgment, the holier manhood of Gideon, is seen in his answer, “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.” Gideon and Cromwell have tried to teach men in nations to trust and obey God the Infinite more than to admire lucky soldiers and successful adventurers. Soldier-kings and nationalities, held together by the sword, are not God’s preferred agencies in working out the history of humanity. Rather are they His scourges and penalties; and, like all ether devastating powers, are not to be forever, but have their highest functions, as the fire dressing of a farm field, only in being preliminary to more rational and Divine processes of life and growth, instead of fire and death. To something higher than the sad miseries of the soldier-monarchies that succeeded Samuel, to the ideal kingdom of the ever-present God on earth, it was that Isaiah pointed the Jews in the days “when kings went forth to battle.” “For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our King; He will save us.” But this was precisely what the faithless Hebrews would not believe.

2. The spirit and unworthiness of the movement may be seen in this--That they asked not counsel of the Lord, nor of Samuel. The history of this demand, and the outworking of it in the progress of the monarchy, are illustrations of the rebellion and the sinfulness of hiding counsel from the Lord. We, especially, who profess to sing the Ebenezers of Divine deliverance, must go on to seek the guidance of the Divine wisdom in all things; trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, leaning not to our own understanding; in all our ways acknowledging Him and hoping that He will direct our paths.

3. The folly as well as the sin of the project will be further seen from remembering that God had chosen them to be alone and the guide of all the nations; but their self-degrading demand was to be as the nations. They may have been caught by the false glare and splendour of the monarchies around them, as well as moved by the fear of Nahash, King of the Ammonites. More certainly they ignored the high intention of God in establishing His own regal authority among them; and, ignoring the higher destiny, they fell into a lower degradation than that of their neighbours. For a nation to forget its mission as the most liberal and hopeful people of the earth, and descend to the infamous degradation of being mere traders and gun makers and lenders of money to anyone who will give interest enough, as England seems to be doing--this is an abdication, a self-degrading, vast and solemn enough to make a crisis in the history of the world; and is as fit a theme for religious thought and solemn, prayerful consideration as anything that ever happened in the history of Israel.

4. Moreover, it is evident from the history that the pernicious influence of international rivalry was at work among the elders of Israel--rivalry, that is, chiefly in means of making war. To be as, or better than, other nations in war power is a poor ambition, and does no good to any in the long run, but rather evil all round. A boy never had a knife without wanting to cut something with it, and, as likely as not, something that did not need cutting. So, too, a nation, or, rather, a military caste never has a big gun now without wanting to shoot it; and, more likely than not, it will fire at something that did not need shooting. If, now, you look at the national life represented on the one hand by the judge and on the other by the military king, you may find sufficient explanation of the rejection of Samuel and God, deeper down than the occasion given for the rejection by the injustice of Samuel’s sons, at Beersheba. The judgeship under Samuel was the rule of right, and knowledge and regard, above all things, to the ends that God had in view. The soldier-kingship was the showy rule of the strong hand, in which “the elders” who came to Samuel would have chief gain, and the people would be pleased by having the outward and visible signs of greatness and strength that in politics and religion so often do duty for the reality long after it has departed. Plain principles of eternal righteousness, where have they ever stood half so high in popular esteem, and the desires of privileged classes, as the gaudy pretentiousness of the uniformed soldier and priest? Certainly they never did among the Jews; and they do not, I fear, among us nowadays. (G. B. Ryley.)

The disaffected people

There is scarcely anything more trying to a father than to witness the moral shipwreck of his sons. But this personal trouble was intimately connected with a more overwhelming one--the disaffection and declension of the people. While this man of God was lamenting his domestic trial and his country’s loss by reason of the conduct of his sons, a deputation of the people was introduced to state the popular wish, and to ask political changes. They had seen the growing infirmities of Samuel; they had suffered from the dishonesty of his sons; they probably feared the consequences if their leader were taken away; therefore they solicited a thorough Change in their civil polity: “Make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Their government was theocratic. God was their king But the people of Israel did not possess the same license with regard to government as other nations. They were bound to consult the will of God, and seek Divine approbation of their arrangements. They did not like to be so isolated, so peculiar; they grew weary of the ways of God. Conformity to the world has been always a great snare to the Church. Natural to the sinful heart, it tempts the imperfect, and has led many a fair professor into backsliding. Conformity to the world, united to a profession of faith, has been the stumbling black to many an awakened soul. It troubles the Church, but it does not induce the world to be godly The most ungodly know well how to estimate this conformity in those who profess the faith of Christ. They consider it an attempt to serve two masters. It does not attract them towards, but repels them from, religion. It strengthens their opinion of the superstition of worship, and of the hypocrisy of religionists Samuel was above these infirmities of ignoble minds. But he knew the theory of the national government was well acquainted with past history, and aware that self-willed reforms were neither healthy nor good. The circumstances occasioning it was to him most affecting--the misconduct of his sons. Consciousness of his growing infirmities contributed to try the feelings of this man of God. But he had a resource where he could find composure, counsel, and strength: “And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.” Prayer was to him the exercise of communion with God. As you would consult a tried friend in your difficult, circumstances, and be comforted and strengthened by his prudent advice, so did Samuel with God when Providences were dark and the path of duty not plain. Prayer to God was the constant resource of Moses ere he spoke to the people, and hence it was only once throughout forty years of difficult leadership in the weary wilderness that he is said to have spoken “unadvisedly with his lips” Nehemiah found his soul strengthened by ejaculatory prayer while he was considering what answer he should make to the king Artaxerxes. This was Samuel’s practice, and it made his words cautious and weighty. No man can be so much engrossed as to have no time for prayer. The eminent physician Boerhaave, whose practice was so great that “even Peter the Great and to remain for hours in an antechamber before he could be admitted to an interview, was wont to devote the first hour of every day to prayer;” and he recommended this practice to others, “as the source of that vigour which carried him through all his toils.” Learn from Samuel how to act in seasons of perplexity. It is vain to place happiness in the present world. The Israelites imagined that their temporal aggrandizement would be to their advantage; that a king, and a pompous retinue behind him, would greatly enhance their importance. But God taught them that the desire was sinful, and the result disappointing. Byron sought early gratifications, and by means of his lofty titles, splendid genius, and jovial tastes, had abundant means of gratifying his large capacity for pleasure; but he wrote, as the result of all, that he--“Drank every cup of joy, heard every trump of fame: drank early--deeply drank--drank draughts that common millions would have quench’d; then died of thirst, because there was no more to drink.” The great novelist, Sir Walter Scott, had as brilliant a career as any litterateur. But he who gratified tens of thousands was not a happy man, and in the closing scene of his life had no abiding joy. His hopes had been blighted. His happiness had been eclipsed. His fortune had vanished. He was impoverished, embarrassed, aged, and comfortless. And under the influence of these unhappy experiences, he said, as he sat at Abbotsford, “When I think of what this place now is, compared with what it has been not long ago, I think my heart will break.” “I have no other wish than that (the grated door of a burial place) may open for me at no distant period. The recollection of youth, health, and power of activity neither improved nor enjoyed, is a poor strain of comfort. The best is, the long halt will arrive at length and close all.” His idolized existence had a melancholy termination. The truth is, no earthly advantage can give peace to the soul or secure its bliss. (R. Steel.)

Political Transitions.

How varied and fitful are the scenes of national life, they are alternations of sins and sorrows. The reaction of human thought is both sudden in its nature and extreme in its tendency. When once its energies are stimulated, they become restless and surge from one realm to another As the winds change in a moment from one point of the compass to its opposite extreme and toss the ship from its destined course, so this impetus of change sweeps down upon the soul with such power that it reels for a time, is then caught by the current and carried contrary to the intention of its calmer moments. Thus, as we gaze upon the picture, our wonder is excited that a people so strong in their respect for the Divine, should now conspire to dethrone its authority by establishing the human Political transitions:--

I. as founded on the most frivolous pretext. It generally happens that the greatest revolutions are founded upon petty excuses. Thus our national institutions yield to the touch of fancy, the suggestion of caprice, or to the effort of misguided partisanship. This political change was founded--

1. On the old age of Samuel. The conduct of these elders was cruel and ungrateful. No man living had served their secular and religious interests as Samuel had, they could ill afford his departure from their senate, and though his sun was gone down they should have tenderly respected the lingering brightness which yet tinted the evening horizon

2. On the conduct of Samuel’s sons. This plea was

3. Consider the request of the nation.

4. The conduct of Samuel in this crisis. We can scarcely imagine the feelings of Samuel as he listens to this desire for a king. He is alone, the companions of his youth are gone. He is sad; the nation of today has no sympathy with his grief, but is striving to sever the last tie which binds the old man to the scenes of his boyhood.

II. As pursued in antagonism to the Divine will.

1. The Divine permission.

2. The Divine protestation.

“Howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them” (verse 9). God never wantonly leaves human nature to itself, he uses means to prevent wrong, pushes them to a certain point, then if resisted by the force of will he retires, and permits the nation to work out a ruin, which becomes disciplinary.

III. as involving the most alarming consequences.

1. The despotic character of their future ruler. Sometimes God makes disclosures of the future in order to deter from sin, he places an angel in the path to warn and rebuke our folly. He would:--

2. The withdrawal of Divine sympathy in this extremity (verse 18). Surely if anything could have silenced the demand of the nation such a fearful picture as this would, but the passion is so intense, the national yearning so Strong, the present pushes upon their sceptical minds, the future days of life are unreal to them, hence the stern realities to come fade into mist, and the cry is uttered yet more fervent:--“But we will have a king over us.”

lessons:

Asking for a king

I. Why did the people desire a king? Because the rule of the Judges had brought them neither quietness within nor security from enemies without. National unity had almost disappeared. They seem twelve tribes rather than one nation. They were scattered over a wide and difficult territory, traversed only by a few wretched paths. When hostile incursions fell upon exposed regions, the untroubled portions were often indifferent to the fate of their brethren. The Judges whom God raised up to deliver them had little influence beyond the scene of their exploits. The feebleness of the prophet, prematurely old with his cares, and the unworthiness of his sons, increased the popular discontent. Many years ago, their fathers had wanted to make Gideon king: now surely the time had come for a strong central government. Then let the change be made while Samuel was with them, rather than risk the chance of unpromising successors. Had not Jehovah himself looked forward to a kingdom? Both Abraham (Genesis 17:6-16) and Jacob (Genesis 35:11) had been promised that they should be fathers of kings. Moses had anticipated the monarchy in his final address (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) Everything seemed to favour and demand the step.

II. Why was the request wrong? Not in the sense of its need, but in the way of seeking it. The people forgot their covenant relation to Jehovah--that they were a peculiar nation, with a peculiar history and a peculiar mission. Such a demand showed ingratitude, distrust and disloyalty toward God. They wanted to better their government instead of reforming their character, and looked to legislation for help which could come only from righteousness

III. Why did God consent to what He did not approve? Because, if He could not do the best for them, He would do the best He could. His disapproval was for their sins; His consent, to a change not wrong in itself, probably in His plan. The idea of royalty belonged to a true conception of the Messiah, and would be developed most successfully by the rule of righteous kings, as the cross was typified by the sacrifices Since the people were too faithless to wait God’s time resistance to their wishes could only harden their hearts. The history of our race is one record of the accommodation of a Divine ideal to human frailty. Besides the ever-present truth that all mischief comes from sin and all happiness is found in obedience to God, the special value of the lesson is to illustrate the true source of national greatness. This law is stated in a Divine utterance at Sinai: “If ye will obey My voice indeed and keep My covenant, then shall ye be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is mine.” Here are three distinct statements: first, all the earth is God’s; second, a single nation is chosen by Him as a peculiar treasure; third, the ground of the choice, the condition of the favour, is national righteousness. This compact statement declares the providential evolution and Divine selection of nations, resulting in the survival of the fittest.

1. The Divine order is not committed in favour of any one form of government. Political forms are means, not ends. We cannot, assume that a democracy is the ideal. The kingdom of heaven is a monarchy, not dependent on men’s votes for its authority, or human legislation for its laws and penalties Stable governments are growths, not manufactured forms, and the same growth is not fitted for every soil. When King Murat demanded of Lord Holland to make him a constitution, the wise statesman replied, “You might as well ask me to build you a tree.” A republic demands general virtue and intelligence What would become of Russia or Turkey if made democracies at once? The Almighty has blessed forms of government widely different. An ideal constitution will not make an ideal nation.

2. The Divine order is not committed to any degree of material prosperity. Egypt had everything, Israel nothing; yet the mob of slaves was chosen before the kingdom opulent with treasure and hoary with learning. Assyria, Persia, Greece, Rome, have been used and discarded in the advance of the church

3. The Divine order is committed eternally for righteousness. This has been the principle of selection in national evolution, not the development of certain political forms. The moral good of the race is the only object which a holy God can permit to control its destinies. The Christian character of our government must be asserted and maintained. It is false to speak of this government as having no religious character. It was born a Christian nation by the will of man and also by the will of God. Surely the centuries have brought us something; above all else, a Christian birthright. Christianity is the “Common law” of the land. All, all, proclaim that Christianity, general, tolerant Christianity, Christianity independent of sects and parties, that Christianity to which the sword and fagot are unknown, general tolerant Christianity, is the law of the land. The virtue of its individual citizens is the nation’s real hope. The sins which bare destroyed the dead nations have been the sins of individuals. The state as a corporation has no soul. We know but two moral existences, God and man; and the conduct which God rewards in individuals will secure his blessing upon their associated action A community may be rich or poor, may be under a monarch or a president: are its members righteous?--then they will have national prosperity; are they vile?--their nation will be cursed. (Monday Club Sermons)

Asking for a king

Revolutions sometimes take place without great popular excitement or the leadership of great men. The history before us presents such a case The dramatis personae are the elders of the tribes, the representatives of the people; Samuel the prophet, the judge and hero, and Saul, the least free agent of them all, whose exceptional size contrasts with the littleness of the figure he cuts in this first scene of a national tragedy. The revolution, however quietly accomplished, was important and permanent. The introduction of a new instrument under the theocracy, it forever separated the prophetic office from civil government. Henceforth the prophet and magistrate are distinct as to office and often antagonistic as to policy. Both are prominent in the development of the Messianic design. The freedom of the individual and the equality of the citizen have never been so justly and wisely provided for as under the Hebrew law. A freer people from the Exodus to the reign of Solomon was never known. The idea of royal authority was not new to the Hebrews. All around them were petty monarchies more or less absolute, and by tradition and commerce they were familiar with the greater kingdoms of the Nile and Euphrates. The demand for a king came from the elders of the tribes. They came fortified with Scripture, quoting Moses in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, simply asking what the Lord had predicted and recorded by their great legislator as a possible event in their history. They aimed at a centralisation of power that would combine the tribes for defensive purposes. To their unbelief which failed to look beyond man, it seemed that Samuel was to have no successor. The history of popular revolutions shows that there was no unusual lack of political wisdom among those compatriots of Samuel. Indeed, their mistake has ever been the ordinary wisdom of the world. Grecian and Roman history shows how natural it is for nations to seek relief from popular lawlessness in tyrants, dictators and emperors. Mediaeval history repeats how popular suffering, industries and property sought escape from feudal tyrannies under the sceptre of kings. So the Hebrews falsely argued. To secure a possible constitutional concession they adopt manners and methods full of insult and ingratitude to Samuel and sacrilege and impiety toward God. The political blunder, as well as religious crime, of the Hebrews was in charging their troubles not upon corrupt magistrates and popular lawlessness, but on their national constitution. Now, it may be admitted that this constitution was defective in power lust as soon as the people lost the sense of their theocratic obligations and of Jehovah as their present King. Decline in theocratic belief and life was ever the one sign of weakness in the Hebrew commonwealth, and the one only dissolvent of their otherwise impregnable security. Their liberties were invincible against internal or external foes so long as they were faithful to inspired covenant morality; but apostasy ever made them vulnerable, and at last exposed their national life to a deadly wound. In this hour of ecclesiastical and political peril Samuel carried the matter in prayer to God To the illustrious chief the answer of God is full of grace, sympathy and pathos: “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me that I should not reign over them.” This reply teaches--

1. That this prayer for a king was essential apostasy (Psalms 118:9). In coming down to the political policies of surrounding nations they violated their covenant relations and exposed themselves to bondage under the prince of this world. The final cause of all priestly and political absolutism is to be found in the implacable enmity of Satan to divine sovereignty and human liberty. “Conscience makes cowards of us all,” and fears, the inevitable consequence of declining piety, make them distrust the protection and guidance of Jehovah.

2. That this prayer for a king was the outburst of an hereditary vice This was the rejection of the sovereignty of God. They did now just what their patriarchs did to Joseph and their fathers to Moses, the representatives of that sovereignty.

3. That this prayer for a king was practical idolatry (verse 8).

4. That God may grant the obstinate prayer of mistrust (verses 9, 19-22).

5. Yet the prayer was granted under solemn protest and clear warning (verses 9-18). The original government of the world designed by God was neither a monarchy, an aristocracy nor a republic. None of these is compatible with the individual sovereignty bestowed in the creation of man. But the theocracy was above the ethical culture of the people, too sublime for the moral education of their schools The large personal liberty conferred by the Mosaic constitution degenerated into social lawlessness and weak administration, and foreign infidelity and socialism penetrated and corrupted the religious beliefs and national manners of the people. The moral status of the people was unworthy of the free government God had given them. Concentration under the direct sovereignty of God was more possible than under a human dynasty. This their own history demonstrates. God alone is King. The noblest idea of government, individual or social, is a theocracy, and under it the parity of citizens. Nor need this state be utopian if the people are, as they ought to be and can be, under a Bible cultus. National unity and perpetuity is a matter of ethics, and not of community of race, tradition and history, of laws and language, of literature and religion. These latter are additional bonds, but history, from the Hebrews to the Americans, shows how feeble they are to preserve national unity. Scepticism and infidelity are the sure signs of mental and moral degeneracy in civilisation. Royalty is a Divine prerogative, and property belongs to the Son of God. Our safety is trust in God by the recognition in the family, school and legislature of Jesus Christ as King, His doctrines as law and His precepts as practice (G. C. Heckman, D. D.)

Demand for the tangible and visible

For are we not all in the same condemnation? The life of faith, which relies on an unseen arm, and hearkens to the law of an unseen King, is difficult, the sense cries out for something that it can realise and cling to. Luther, in one of his letters, has a parable that tells how he looked at the vault of the sky, and sought in vain for the pillars that held it up, and how he feared that, having no visible supports, it must fall. We all would like to see the upholding columns. An Alpine path without a parapet seems to us more dangerous that if a wall, however low, fenced it on the side of the precipice. “Give us a king” is but the ancient form of the universal craving for something “more substantial” than the bare word of a God whom sense cannot grasp. How many of us would rather have a good balance at our banker’s than God’s promise, “Thy bread shall be given thee, and thy water made sure”! How many of us call the visible supports “solid realities,” and the unseen strengths “mystical,” meaning thereby unreal! How few of us believe that the Unseen is the real and solid, and the visible and transient and phantasmal! Let us scrutinise our governing ideas, and we shall find them very like those that sent the elders to Samuel, crying for a king. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)


Verse 22

1 Samuel 8:22

Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.

“Vox populi, vox Dei”

Perhaps there is no proverb which is more familiar, as it is certain there is none more faulty, than this: “The voice of the people is the voice of God.” And since the motto is Latin, it might as well go now with a comment upon it from one of the greatest of the old Roman philosophers, even Cicero himself, who says in his treatise Concerning Laws: “It is most absurd to suppose that all the things are just which are found in the enactments and institutions of a State. There is no such power in the sentence and command of fools as that by their vote the nature of things can be reversed. The law did not begin when first written, but when it first had existence; that is, when the Divine mind first had existence.”

1. The story gives us the date to start with, and connects present histories with those of a great and honoured past. Samuel is still at the nation’s head, but failing: “And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.” Piety cannot be transmitted according to physical laws; and yet it seems as if we might insist, upon the signal benefits of being born of good stock rather than of corrupt.

2. Who were these sons of Samuel? Unfortunately there is no account of them that gives any satisfaction. The lesson we learn here is worth pressing a little: noble names do not change bad hearts nor make wicked men fit to hold high office. Samuel probably hoped a great deal for those sons of his when he fixed upon them such names as these in the reverent regard for the old faith of Israel. “Joel” signifies Jehovah is God; and “Abiah” means Jehovah is my Father. We have no evidence that these children cared for their fine names while they were little, as Samuel did for his when he moved reverently around in the ministrations of the Tabernacle, a devout lad, obedient to God and to Eli. We surely might expect that a maiden called “Sophia” ought not to be a fool, for her name means wisdom. And just so “Gertrude” suggests a character of all-truth. And “Alfred” becomes a pledge of all-peace. And “Leonard” must not be a coward as long as he is called lion-like. “Francis” is to be frank, and “Anna” is to be gracious, or intelligent people will laugh when their names are called out in the room. Surely Nathanael, Theodore, Elnathan, and Dorothy ought to bear in mind every day and hour that their names all alike signify the gift of God.

3. The illustration of all this grows more and more vivid as the story moves on; the next verse reads: “And his sons walked not, in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes and perverted judgment.” The lesson we learn from this is explanatory as well as full of admonition: covetousness is idolatry. A curious word is this here rendered “lucre;” it is precisely that which Moses employed when he was defining the duties and charactor of a judge: “Moreover, thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness.” That word “covetousness” is the same as the word “lucre” in this verse before us. The old Hebrew Targum translates it, “the mammon of falsehood.”

4. At this point the Scripture narrative begins to indicate the effect of all this disastrous corruption in Samuel’s own family. “Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah.” Croakers always find easy companionship: that is our lesson now. Ravens are said to detect afar off birds of the same black feather and the same lugubrious voice. These “elders of Israel” in the story might surely have been about better business than ministering to popular discontent. They were living under a theocracy, and God was overhead; they could have interfered before for the suppression of these corrupt judges, and in a wiser way. It was a remark of Lord Beaconsfield that “it is much easier to be critical than to be correct.” Joel and Abiah were bad enough; we wonder if the monarchists liked the atmosphere better when Saul came into power. The plan proceeds plausibly. It is fashionable to prate about the voice of the people: vox populi, vox Dei: here the voice of the people is directly against the voice of God on a great moral and political issue. A thousand votes for a wrong is not enough to make it right: once nothing is nothing, twice nothing is nothing, tea times nothing is nothing, a thousand times nothing is nothing: how many Israelite elders would be necessary so to multiply nothing as to make it foot up something at last? Just as many, we reply, as at any time it would take of wrong-headed men to make wrong right.

5. But now let us bear in mind that when a mean thing has to get itself done somehow, it requires a vast amount of meaningless talk for its advancement into recognition and success. Our practical lesson from this part of the story is this: graceful language is sometimes used to conceal thought, and not express it. Diplomacy has a certain strong flavour of antiquity about it. Just notice how these crafty elders plead their hypocritical arguments for an overthrow of the government, and shake the conscientious scruples of the faithful old man by the humiliating and cruel arraignment of his sons. Those were not the real reasons why they wanted a king. Lord Bacon declares that “in all wise human governments they that sit at the helm do more happily bring their purposes about, and insinuate more easily into the minds of the people, by pretext and oblique courses than by direct methods; so that all sceptres and maces of authority ought in very deed to be crooked in the upper end.” It was an old saying of Pascal that the world is satisfied with words, and few care to dive beneath the surface of them. Logic has very little to de with the utterances of a bad heart when politicians begin to reason; and there is truth in the sarcasm of one of the wittiest of Frenchmen: “When the major of an argument is an error, and the minor a passion, it is to be feared that the conclusion will be a crime, for this is a syllogism of self-love.” Why did they not suppress the sons and cling to God.

6. We become more and more sure as we read on that majorities are not to be trusted among even the wisest of men. Majorities can be gotten on almost every occasion for the right or for the wrong indiscriminately, according to the popular epidemic of enthusiasm at the time. What is wanted in our day is the virtue of an individual courage and of a personal conviction. We need voters with a conscience that impels them to stand by the right measures and support the righteous men for administering them. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Samuel 8:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/1-samuel-8.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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