And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.1 Samuel 8:1. Samuel was old — And so unfit for his former travels and labours. He is not supposed to have been now above sixty years of age; but he had spent his strength and spirits in the fatigue of public business; and now if he thinks to shake himself as at other times, he finds he is mistaken; age has cut his hair. They that are in the prime of their years, ought to be busy in doing the work of life; for as they go into years, they will find themselves less disposed to it, and less capable of it. He made his sons judges — Not supreme judges, for of such there was to be but one, and that of God’s choosing; and Samuel still kept that office in his own hands, (1 Samuel 7:15;) but his deputies, to go about and determine matters, with reservation, however, of a right of appeal to himself. He had doubtless instructed them in a singular manner, and fitted them for the highest employments; and he hoped that the example he had set them, and the authority he still had over them, would oblige them to diligence and faithfulness in their trust.
Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beersheba.1 Samuel 8:2. They were judges in Beer-sheba — In the southern borders of the land of Canaan, which were very remote from his house at Ramah; where, and in the neighbouring places, Samuel himself still executed the office of judge.
And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.1 Samuel 8:3. Took bribes — Opportunity and temptation discovered that corruption in them which, till now, was hid from their father, and, it may be, from themselves. It has often been the grief of holy men, that their children did not tread in their steps. So far from it, that the sons of eminently good men have been often eminently wicked.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
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.1 Samuel 8:5. Make us a king — Their desires exceed their reasons, which extended no farther than the removal of Samuel’s sons from their places, and the procuring some other just and prudent assistance to Samuel’s age. Nor was the grant of their desire a remedy for their disease, but rather an aggravation of it. For the sons of their king were likely to be as corrupt as Samuel’s sons; and, if they were, would not be so easily removed. Like other nations — That is, as most of the nations about us have. But there was not the like reason; because God had separated them from all other nations, and cautioned them against the imitation of their examples, and had taken them under his own immediate care and government; which privilege other nations had not.
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.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.
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.1 Samuel 8:7. The Lord said, Hearken unto the people, &c. — He grants their desire in anger, for their punishment. For these, it is plain, are the words of displeasure, being as much as to say, Let them have their will. Samuel took it very ill that they should be dissatisfied with his government: but God tells him that he himself had more reason to be angry. For, in truth, they had thrown off his authority who was their king, as Samuel tells them afterward, 1 Samuel 12:12; and who had governed them by judges, whom he raised up and extraordinarily inspired when he saw occasion; as he had before conducted them by Moses and Joshua, who never ordained any thing of moment without a special command from God. They have not rejected thee — Merely or chiefly. They have rejected me — This injury and contumely reflects chiefly upon me and my government. Should not reign — By my immediate government, which was the great honour, safety, and happiness of this people, if they had had hearts to prize it.
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.1 Samuel 8:8-9. So do they also unto thee — Thou farest no worse than myself. This he speaks for Samuel’s comfort and vindication. Yet protest solemnly unto them — That, if it be possible, thou mayest yet prevent their sin and misery. Show them the manner of the king — That is, of the kings which they desire, like those of other nations. Show them at large into what a state of servitude they are going to throw themselves by casting off the government of judges, set over them by myself, and subjecting themselves to the power of such kings as rule in other nations.
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.1 Samuel 8:11. He will take your sons — Injuriously, and by violence. And appoint them for himself — To attend him as the guards of his body, and in other offices. This shows that he speaks of the arbitrary power which the kings in those days used. And therefore Samuel doth not say absolutely, I will show you the manner (Hebrews משׂפת, mispeth, judgment, or right) of a king, as if it were a right belonging to all kings, but, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: or, such will be the consequence of your having kings. They will indeed be like those of the neighbouring nations, puffed up with their authority, haughty, arbitrary, and tyrannical: and you will find yourselves in a state of oppression and servitude. For his chariots, and to be his horsemen — To look after his chariots and his horses. Some shall run before his chariots — As his footmen.
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.1 Samuel 8:12. He will appoint him — Hebrew, To or for himself; for his own fancy, or glory, and not only when the necessities of the kingdom require it. Captains over thousands, and captains over fifties — Will dispose of them to military offices, higher or lower as he pleases, (1 Samuel 14:52,) to be perfectly subject to him, and placed or displaced as he thinks fit. And though this might seem to be no disadvantage, but an honour to the persons so advanced; yet even in them that honour was accompanied with great dangers, and pernicious snares of many kinds, for which those faint shadows of glory could not recompense them; and as to the public, their pomp and power proved very burdensome to the people, whose lands and fruits were taken from them, and bestowed upon these, for the support of their state. And will set them to ear his ground, &c. — Will make them his husbandmen, to plough his ground and reap his corn, at his own pleasure, and on his own terms, when, perhaps, their labour is necessary about their own fields. To make his instruments of war, &c. — Others he will make artificers: which was not very agreeable to that nation, who were inclined, from their first rise, rather to employ themselves in attending to the breeding of cattle, and in looking after their flocks and herds.
And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.1 Samuel 8:13. He will take your daughters, &c. — He will exercise as arbitrary a power over the women as over the men; whom he will make to serve in such employments as he shall think fit; either for nothing, or such wages as he shall please to give them. To have their daughters taken in this manner would be peculiarly grievous to the parents, and dangerous to themselves, because of the tenderness of their sex, and their liableness to many injuries.
And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.1 Samuel 8:14-15. He will take your fields — By fraud or force, as Ahab did from Naboth. And give them to his servants — He will not only take the fruits of your lands for his own use, but will take away your possessions to give to his servants. The tenth — Besides the several tenths which God hath reserved for his service, he will when he pleaseth, impose another tenth upon you. And give to his officers — Hebrew, to his eunuchs, which may imply a further injury, that he should, against the command of God, make some of his people eunuchs; and take those into his court and favour whom God would have cast out of the congregation.
And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.1 Samuel 8:16-18. He will take your men-servants — By constraint, and without sufficient recompense. Your goodliest young men — The most beautiful and proper person she can find; and your asses, and put them to his work — Either at the plough, or for carriage, or any other employment wherein he shall think they will be useful. And ye shall be his servants — So subject to him, that if he please ye shall be no better than slaves, deprived of that liberty which you now enjoy. And ye shall cry out in that day — Ye shall bitterly mourn for the sad effects of this inordinate desire of a king. This shows that in the foregoing verses Samuel describes the uncontrollable power which the eastern princes exercised over their subjects, who were obliged patiently to bear whatever their kings imposed upon them, without any power to help themselves. The Lord will not hear you in that day — Because you will not hear nor obey his counsel in this day; but he will leave you under this heavy yoke.
He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
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.
Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;1 Samuel 8:19-20. Nevertheless the people refused to obey — This description of kingly government, as then exercised in the East, did not deter them from persisting in their desires. But they still peremptorily demanded a king, although Samuel told them that this demand was, in effect, throwing off the government of God. That we also may be like all other nations —
Strange blindness and stupidity, that they could not see it was their singular felicity that they were not like other nations! Numbers 23:9; Deuteronomy 33:28; as in other glorious privileges, so especially in this, that they had God for their king and governor, who never failed in time of need to raise up men of wonderful worth to be their deliverers. But they wanted a king to go out before them, and to fight their battles — Could they desire a battle better fought for them than the last was, by Samuel’s prayers and God’s thunders? Were they fond to try the chance of war at the same uncertainty that others did? And what was the issue? Their first king was slain in battle; and so was Josiah, one of the last and best.
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.1 Samuel 8:21. He rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord — He repeated them privately between God and himself, for his own vindication and comfort, and as a foundation for his prayers to God for direction and assistance.
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.1 Samuel 8:22. Go ye every man unto his city — Betake yourselves to your several homes and employments, till you hear more from me in this matter. Thus he bade them leave the business unto him, intimating, that he doubted not but God would set a king over them.