1 Samuel 8
Pulpit Commentary
And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.
Verse 1. - When Samuel was old. As Samuel lived for very many years after this time, till towards the close of Saul's reign, he was probably not more than sixty when this happened. The dates are all very uncertain, but he was probably between twenty and thirty when Shiloh was captured, and no doubt, according to Israelite custom, had married as soon as he arrived at manhood. Then came the most important and active period of his life, during which the ark rested for twenty years in the house of Abinadab, and Samuel was traversing every part of the country, preaching repentance, and preparing the people for a revolt from the tyranny of the Philistines. Upon this followed the victory at Mizpah, and the establishment of Samuel as judge. Now some considerable time would elapse before Samuel so felt the weight of increasing years as to delegate a part of his authority to his sons, and more again before the national discontent at their covetousness became general. The Talmud, however, represents Samuel as being at this time only fifty-two years of age, while Abravanel says seventy, and the latter number is by no means impossible; for as a Nazarite Samuel would lead a life of perfect temperance, and his predecessor Eli lived to be ninety-eight, and died then by an accident. Still, probably, Abravanel's calculation is too high, and we must remember that besides the misconduct of Samuel's sons, there was the growing danger of the re-establishment of the domination of the Philistines to quicken the people's movements. They had garrisons again in Israel when Saul was chosen king, and it was this which made the nation long for a change, but. their choice would probably have fallen upon one of Samuel's sons had either of them been worthy. A king they had long wished for; it is only when they saw that none of Samuel's race would give them internal peace and security that they took public action for the appointment of some one else.
Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beersheba.
Verse 2. - The name of his firstborn was Joel. The names of Samuel's sons are pledges of his faith - Joel meaning Jehovah is God, and Abiah Jab is Father. The name given in 1 Chronicles 6:28, Vashni, is a mistake. It means, "and the second," the name of Joel the firstborn having somehow been omitted. The names of Saul's sons, and even of Jonathan's, unlike those in Samuel's family, bear witness to their religion having been of a curiously mixed character. In Beer-sheba. Not, therefore, in any of the places to which Samuel went in person, and which were all near Ramah, his home. Beer-sheba was in the extreme south of the tribe of Judah (see on Genesis 21:31), on the Philistine border, and his being able to place his sons there in authority proves, not merely that his rule was acknowledged throughout the whole country, but also that the Philistines did not interfere much with the internal arrangements of the Israelites. Josephus ('Antiq.,' 6:3, 2) represents only one son as placed at Beer-sheba, and says that the other was judge at Dan, but it may be doubted whether the northern tribes were sufficiently under control to submit to be governed by a southern judge.
And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.
Verse 3. - His sons...took bribes. This sin was expressly forbidden in Exodus 23:6, 8; Deuteronomy 16:19, and it marks the high spirit of the nation that it was so indignant at justice being thus perverted. They walked not in his way (singular - so the written text); for Samuel's own administration of justice had been most upright (1 Samuel 12:4), nor is it laid to his charge that he connived at the misconduct of his sons. On the contrary, after remonstrance indeed, not for his sons' sake, but for the honour of the theocracy, and that the people might be on their guard against a despotic exercise of the power with which they were about to intrust a single man, he superseded not them only, but also himself. His conduct in this trying conjuncture was most admirable, and few commentators have done justice to the man, who, possessed of what was virtually kingly power, yet gave it over for the nation's good into the hands of another.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
Verses 4, 5. - The elders of Israel. Here, as elsewhere (1 Samuel 15:30:2 Samuel 5:3; 1 Kings 8:3, etc.), we have traces of a popular assembly, representing the Israelite nation, and composed probably of the chiefs and heads of fathers houses. Already in Egypt (Exodus 3:16, etc.) we find stone such body in existence, and it seems to have lasted throughout the whole history of the nation; for it outlived the monarchy, gained increased power after the exile, and continued down to New Testament times. The demand, therefore, for a king, though a sort of revolt against Samuel's authority, was at least made in a constitutional manner, and came before him with all the weight of a formal decision on the part of the representatives of the nation. They put it also in the form of a request, for which they give two reasons. First, the decay of his physical powers - Behold, thou art old. Wise and vigorous as his rule had been, yet with increasing years there was less of energy; and the events recorded as having occurred at the beginning of Saul's reign show, that in order to check the increasing power of the Philistines, a leader was needed who was at once daring, resolute, and skilful in war. But there was a further reason - Thy sons walk not in thy ways. These words show that the elders had the most perfect confidence in Samuel. They felt that he would not connive at the wickedness of his sons, but would do what was right by the nation. Thus they had everything to hope from the father's justice, while if they waited till his death the sons might resist what was virtually their deposition. That the sons of a judge possessed considerable power see Judges 9:2. Make us a king to judge us like all the nations. I.e. just as all the heathen nations have a king. The words are those of Deuteronomy 17:14, and were probably intended to remind Samuel that the nation was only asking what had virtually been promised.
And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
Verse 6. - But the thing displeased Samuel, and justly so. For, in the first place, they had determined to have a king without consulting the will of God. Granting that it would give them the security necessary for the nation's welfare and progress, yet so weighty a matter ought not to have been decided without an appeal to Jehovah. Samuel did make it a matter of prayer; the elders were actuated solely by political motives. And, secondly, they undervalued their own religious privileges. They wanted a king such as the heathen had, whereas something far better and higher was possible for them, namely, a king who would be the representative of Jehovah, as the shophet had hitherto been. The nation's real need was not a new power, but the permanent organisation of what up to this time had been a casual authority. And it was Samuel's high office to give the nation this, while he also changed the outward form of prophecy, and made it too into an orderly institution. A king to judge us. I.e. to govern us, as the shophet or, judge had done, only in a more regularly constituted manner. And Samuel prayed unto Jehovah. There had been no such submission to the will of God on the part of the elders; but deeply as Samuel must have been hurt by this determination of the nation to take the government out of the hands of himself and his sons, yet he leaves the decision to Jehovah. Moreover, we must note that it was as prophet that he thus acted as mediator between the people and God; and he gave them his services in this his highest capacity as faithfully when the question was one injurious to himself as he had ever done on more pleasing occasions.
And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
Verse 7. - In prayer then the answer came to him that the request of the people must be granted, however wrongly it had been urged. In itself it was wrong; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. As we saw above, they wanted no theocratic king, whose first duty would be to maintain the Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 17:18, 19), and protect the priest and prophet in the discharge of their legitimate functions; all they wanted was a soldier who would put an end to their state of anarchy, and enable them to cultivate their fields without the danger of seeing the produce swept off by marauders.
According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
Verses 8, 9. - According to all the works, etc. They showed in this the same want of respect and affection for their own institutions and religious privileges which had marked all their history since the day when Jehovah brought them up out of Egypt. And therefore Samuel was to protest solemnly unto them, and show them. The two verbs do not mean different things, but the same. "To protest" is to testify, to bear witness, and warn them of the danger they were incurring. And as they were asking not for the development and perfecting of their own institutions, but for a government modelled upon the institutions of the heathen round them, Samuel shows what are the dangers inherent in the establishment of a despot such as the kings of the heathen were. As a rule the kings of Judaea did not resemble the picture drawn by Samuel, but in spite of many blemishes remained tame to their allegiance to Jehovah as the supreme Ruler of the nation, and confined themselves within the limits marked out for them by the Mosaic law. Now therefore, at the beginning of the verse, is in the Hebrew simply "And now." There is no inference implied in it.
Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.
And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.
And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
Verse 11. - This will be the manner of the king. On the meaning of this word see 1 Samuel 2:13. Here also it signifies not so much the legal right itself, as the way in which that right was exercised. His chariots. The word is singular, both here and at the end of the verse, and though it may be taken, as in the A.V., for a collective noun, "his chariotry," yet the singular is better, because this verse does not refer to war, but to the personal magnificence and grandeur of the king. Instead of the old simplicity in which the judges had lived, he would have a state chariot (see 2 Kings 9:21), and go forth escorted by horsemen and runners on foot. To be his horsemen. Rather, "upon his homes." The whole clause should be translated, "And he will set them for him (i.e. for his service) upon his chariot and on his horses; and they will run before his chariot."
And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
Verse 12. - Captains over thousands, and captains over fifties. The largest and smallest divisions respectively of an Israelite, army. However objectionable the king's personal state might be, this would fall in with the people's wishes, for it would give them the promise of a well organised army. Not so the next clause, to ear i.e. to plough - his ground. Forced labour was one of the most unjust, oppressive, and wasteful exactions of absolute governments, and was the chief cause of the revolt of the ten tribes from Rehoboam (comp. 1 Kings 5:13-16; 1 Kings 12:4). And yet it was the universal rule in ancient times, and in some countries it has continued even to the present day to be the law that the peasants must at certain seasons give their labour unpaid either to the proprietors or to the state. Naturally, for a nation of agriculturists to have to leave their own fields just when their presence at home was most needed to plough the king's ground and reap his harvest would be a bitter annoyance, because to the loss would be added a sense of wrong. How determinately a high-spirited nation like the Jews did resist this injustice we gather not merely from the indignation felt against Solomon's levies, but also from the reproach cast in Jehoiakim's teeth by Jeremiah, that "he used his neighbour's service without wages, and gave him not for his work" (Jeremiah 22:13). To make his instruments of war. Such work must be done; but in well organised states it is paid for by means of taxes, i.e. by a money compensation in place of personal service. In semi-barbarous states forced labour is used, and the national arsenals furnished at the greatest possible expense and vexation to those compelled to labour, and loss to the national resources.
And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
Verse 13. - Confectionaries. Rather, "perfumers," makers of ointments and scents, of which Orientals are excessively fond. It is remarkable that Samuel does not mention the far worse use to which Solomon put their daughters (1 Kings 11:3), and to a less extent David and some other kings.
And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
Verse 14. - Your fields. The history of the seizure of Naboth's vineyard shows that the kings were not able to exercise this arbitrary power. Jezebel had to use great art and falsehood before she could get possession of the coveted plot of ground. But throughout Samuel describes a despot ruling after the fashion of heathen kings such as the people had desired.
And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
Verse 15. - The tenth. i.e. the king will cost you as much as all the ordinances of religion. Still national security would be cheaply purchased at this, or even a greater cost, if the money were well spent; but Samuel says that the king would lavish it not on his officers, but on his eunuchs, those miserable creatures, so cruelly wronged, and generally so hateful, who ministered to the pleasures of Oriental kings.
And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
Verse 16. - He will... put them to his work. Again the hateful forced service, but here not, as in ver. 12, of themselves, but of their households. Instead of your goodliest young men the Septuagint reads, "your best oxen," which requires only the change of one letter, and is in agreement with the rest of the verse. Samuel would scarcely place their choicest young men between the female slaves and the asses. But while the ass was used chiefly for riding, the ox was, as he still continues to be upon the Continent, man's most faithful and valued friend and fellow labourer.
He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
Verse 17. - His servants. Literally, "his slaves." Under an absolute monarchy no one is flee.
And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.
Verse 18. - Ye shall cry. In despair at this cruel oppression ye shall appeal to Jehovah, but in vain. The king was given them at their own request, persisted in even after warning, and they must abide by their choice. It is worth noting that in the northern kingdom a majority of the kings more or less fulfilled Samuel's evil forebodings, and there they were much more completely the product of the temper condemned by the prophet than they were in Judah. The ten tribes roughly snapped the tie which bound them to Jehovah; they discarded the ark and all the services of the sanctuary, and were content with so poor an imitation of them that all piously disposed men were compelled to abandon their lands and migrate into Judaea (2 Chronicles 11:16); and so the majority of their kings, not being held in check by religious influences, were tyrants. At Jerusalem, on the contrary, most of them were content to remain within the limits of the Mosaic law, and were upon the whole a series of men far superior, not merely to the judges and the monarchs in old time, but to any European dynasty.
Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
Verses 19, 20. - The people refused to obey - literally, to hearken to - the voice of Samuel. The words of Samuel were no doubt formally considered by the elders, and we may be sure that there would not be wanting men to urge attention and obedience to his warning; but when the decision had to be made, whether by vote or acclamation, the majority persisted in their choice, and for a reason which completely justified Samuel's displeasure; for they say - That we also may be like all the nations. Their wish was not to develop and perfect their own institutions, but to revolt from them, and escape from the rigour of the Mosaic law. It is remarkable that their nearest neighbours and most inveterate enemies, the Philistines, had no king, but an oligarchy of five princes. Probably it had been argued, in the assembly of the elders, that if the whole power of Israel were gathered into one hand it would be more than a match for the Philistines, whose energy must often have been diminished by discords among its rulers. That our king may judge - i.e. govern (1 Samuel 7:17) - us, and fight our battles. Here the people had reason on their side. Both the internal administration of justice and the defence of the country would be better managed under a permanent and regular authority than under the judges, whose rule was extemporised to meet difficulties, and had no inherent stability.
That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD.
Verse 21. - All the words. The elders had of course reported to Samuel all the arguments used in the assembly, and just as previously he had carried his own distress at the national discontent with his government to Jehovah's footstool in prayer (ver. 6), so now, in his mediatorial office as prophet, he carries thither the nation's petition.
And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto his city.
Verse 22. - Hearken unto their voice. The Divine consent is now given for the third time to their request (see vers. 7, 9). For the will of God ever leaves the will of man free, even when overruling it to the carrying out of some higher and fore ordained purpose. Everything was ripe in Israel for the change, but it was due to the moderation and disinterestedness of Samuel that the revolution was made without bloodshed or armed struggle. Ordinary rulers too often resist a popular demand, and stem back the flowing current of thought till it breaks through the opposing barrier, and sweeps with resistless violence all opposition away. Samuel yielded, and the nation trusted him so thoroughly that they left the choice of the king entirely to him, permitted him to settle the terms and limits of the monarchy, or, as we should say, to give the nation a constitution (1 Samuel 10:25), and treated him throughout the rest of his life with the deepest respect. He was deprived neither of his prophetic rank nor of his judicial functions, for "Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life" (1 Samuel 7:15), i.e. he remained to the last a coordinate power by the side of a king so self-willed and energetic even as Saul. Go ye every man unto his city. Prudence forbade a hasty choice. It would be well to let the agitation subside, or otherwise some busy intriguer among the elders might have managed to get himself selected by the popular voice. We gather from 1 Samuel 10:27 that there were leading men who felt aggrieved when the choice fell on none of them. But how wonderful is the confidence reposed in Samuel by the nation, when thus it left to the ruler whom virtually it was setting aside the choice of the person to whom he should cede his powers.

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