1 Samuel 8:6
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
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(6) The thing displeased Samuel.—It is clear that it was perfectly justifiable in the elders of the people to come to the resolution contained in their petition to Samuel. The Deuteronomy directions contained in 1Samuel 17:14-20 are clear and explicit in this matter of an earthly king for the people, and Moses evidently had looked forward to this alteration in the constitution when he framed the Law. No date for the change is specified, but from the terms of the Deuteronomy words no distant period evidently was looked on to. Then, again, though Samuel was naturally displeased, he at once, as prophet and seer, carried the matter to the God-Friend of Israel in prayer, and the Eternal King at once bids His old true servant to comply with the people’s desire.

The displeasure of the prophet-judge was very natural. He felt—this we see from the comforting words his Master addressed to him (see 1Samuel 8:7)—that the people, notwithstanding the vast claims he possessed to their gratitude, craved another and a different ruler, and were dissatisfied with his government. Samuel too was conscious that Israel by its request declined the direct sovereignty of the Eternal. The change to an earthly sovereign had been foreseen, foretold, even arranged for, by Moses, but, in spite of all this, to one like Samuel it was very bitter. It seemed to remove the people from that solitary platform which they alone among nations had been allowed to occupy. They had found by sad experience, as Moses,—“their Rabbi,” as the old teachers loved to style him—had predicted, that such a form of government was, alas! unsuited to them, and that they must descend here to the level of ordinary peoples. But though all this was undisputably true, it was very bitter for the hero patriot to give up for ever the splendid Hebrew ideal that his people were the subjects of the Eternal King, ruled directly by Him.

1 Samuel 8:6. The thing displeased Samuel — Because God was hereby dishonoured, through that distrust of him, and that ambition, and itch after changes, which were the manifest causes of this desire; and because of that great misery which he foresaw the people would hereby bring upon themselves. Prayed — For the pardon of their sin, and direction and help from God in this great affair.

8:4-9 Samuel was displeased; he could patiently bear what reflected on himself, and his own family; but it displeased him when they said, Give us a king to judge us, because that reflected upon God. It drove him to his knees. When any thing disturbs us, it is our interest, as well as our duty, to show our trouble before God. Samuel is to tell them that they shall have a king. Not that God was pleased with their request, but as sometimes he opposes us from loving-kindness, so at other times he gratifies us in wrath; he did so here. God knows how to bring glory to himself, and serves his own wise purposes, even by men's foolish counsels.See the margin which implies that the thing spoken of caused anger, indignation, or some revulsion of feeling (see Genesis 21:11-12). The answer of the Lord 1 Samuel 8:7 shows that Samuel's personal feelings had been hurt. They were soothed by being reminded of the continued ingratitude of the people to God Himself, upon whom, in fact, a greater slight was put by this very request for a king "like all the nations," than upon Samuel (compare Matthew 10:24; John 15:18, John 15:20). For a comment on this transaction, see Hosea 13:9-11; Acts 13:21-22. 6-10. the thing displeased Samuel when they said, Give us a king to judge us—Personal and family feelings might affect his views of this public movement. But his dissatisfaction arose principally from the proposed change being revolutionary in its character. Though it would not entirely subvert their theocratic government, the appointment of a visible monarch would necessarily tend to throw out of view their unseen King and Head. God intimated, through Samuel, that their request would, in anger, be granted, while at the same time he apprised them of some of the evils that would result from their choice. The thing displeased Samuel; not their complaint of his sons, but their desire of a king, as is apparent from the following words, and from the whole course of the story; which was so grievous to him, partly because of their injustice and ingratitude to himself, whose government, though it had been so sweet and beneficial to them, they plainly show themselves weary of; and principally because God was hereby dishonoured and provoked, by that distrust of God, and that vain-glory and ambition, and that itch after changes, which were the manifest causes of this desire; and because of that great servitude and misery which he wisely foresaw the people would hereby bring upon themselves, as he particularly informs them, 1 Samuel 8:11, &c.

Samuel prayed unto the Lord, for the pardon of their sin, and desire of direction and help from God in this great affair.

But the thing displeased Samuel,.... Not that they called him an old man, and suggested that he was incapacitated for his office, nor for observing the unbecoming walk of his sons, but for what follows:

when they said, give us a king to judge us; what displeased him was, that they were for changing their form of government, not only to remove it from him, and his sons, but from the Lord himself, who was king over them; the ill consequences of which, many of them at least, he easily foresaw, and which gave him great uneasiness, both on account of the glory of God, and their own good; insomuch, as Josephus (y) says, he could neither eat nor sleep, but watched all night, and spent it in prayer, as follows:

and Samuel prayed unto the Lord; to know his mind and will, and what answer he should return unto them.

(y) Ut supra, (Antiqu. l. 6. c. 3.) sect. 3.

But the thing {d} displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.

(d) Because they were not content with the order that God had appointed, but would be governed as the Gentiles were.

6–9. Jehovah’s answer to the request

6. the thing displeased Samuel] 1 Samuel 8:7 implies that Samuel’s displeasure arose from a feeling of the ingratitude of the Israelites toward himself in desiring that one who had done so much for them should be superseded by a king. God’s answer, “Not thee (their judge) have they rejected, but me (their true king) have they rejected from reigning over them” (the Heb. order is emphatic) at once consoles him and points out the real sinfulness of the request. This consisted not in the mere desire for a king, which would not necessarily have been wrong, but in the spirit of distrust of the invisible sovereignty of Jehovah and desire for the splendour of a visible monarch which really prompted the request.

Samuel prayed] He does not let his own personal feelings decide, but endeavours to learn what is the Will of God in the matter.

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. 1 Samuel 8:6Nevertheless "the thing displeased Samuel when they said," etc. This serves to explain הדּבר, and precludes the supposition that Samuel's displeasure had reference to what they had said concerning his own age and the conduct of his sons. At the same time, the reason why the petition for a king displeased the prophet, was not that he regarded the earthly monarchy as irreconcilable with the sovereignty of God, or even as untimely; for in both these cases he would not have entered into the question at all, but would simply have refused the request as ungodly or unseasonable. But "Samuel prayed to the Lord," i.e., he laid the matter before the Lord in prayer, and the Lord said (1 Samuel 8:7): "Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee." This clearly implies, that not only in Samuel's opinion, but also according to the counsel of God, the time had really come for the establishment of the earthly sovereignty in Israel. In this respect the request of the elders for a king to reign over them was perfectly justifiable; and there is no reason to say, with Calvin, "they ought to have had regard to the times and conditions prescribed by God, and it would no doubt have come to pass that the regal power would have grown up in the nation. Although, therefore, it had not yet been established, they ought to have waited patiently for the time appointed by God, and not to have given way to their own reasons and counsels apart from the will of God." For God had not only appointed no particular time for the establishment of the monarchy; but in the introduction to the law for the king, "When thou shalt say, I will set a king over me," He had ceded the right to the representatives of the nation to deliberate upon the matter. Nor did they err in this respect, that while Samuel was still living, it was not the proper time to make use of the permission that they had received; for they assigned as the reason for their application, that Samuel had grown old: consequently they did not petition for a king instead of the prophet who had been appointed and so gloriously accredited by God, but simply that Samuel himself would give them a king in consideration of his own age, in order that when he should become feeble or die, they might have a judge and leader of the nation. Nevertheless the Lord declared, "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. As they have always done from the day that I brought them up out of Egypt unto this day, that they have forsaken me and served other gods, so do they also unto thee." This verdict on the part of God refers not so much to the desire expressed, as to the feelings from which it had sprung. Externally regarded, the elders of Israel had a perfect right to present the request; the wrong was in their hearts.

(Note: Calvin has correctly pointed out how much would have been warrantable under the circumstances: "They might, indeed, have reminded Samuel of his old age, which rendered him less able to attend to the duties of his office, and also of the avarice of his sons and the corruptness of the judges; or they might have complained that his sons did not walk in his footsteps, and have asked that God would choose suitable men to govern them, and thus have left the whole thing to His will. And if they had done this, there can be no doubt that they would have received a gracious and suitable answer. But they did not think of calling upon God; they demanded that a king should be given them, and brought forward the customs and institutions of other nations.")

They not only declared to the prophet their confidence in his administration of his office, but they implicitly declared him incapable of any further superintendence of their civil and political affairs. This mistrust was founded upon mistrust in the Lord and His guidance. In the person of Samuel they rejected the Lord and His rule. They wanted a king, because they imagined that Jehovah their God-king was not able to secure their constant prosperity. Instead of seeking for the cause of the misfortunes which had hitherto befallen them in their own sin and want of fidelity towards Jehovah, they searched for it in the faulty constitution of the nation itself. In such a state of mind as this, their desire for a king was a contempt and rejection of the kingly government of Jehovah, and was nothing more than forsaking Jehovah to serve other gods. (See 1 Samuel 10:18-19, and 1 Samuel 12:7., where Samuel points out to the people still more fully the wrong that they have committed.)

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