1 Samuel 8:12
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.
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(12) To ear his ground.—To ear, that is, to plough. The word is an old word (Anglo-Saxon earian), and connected with the Latin arare.

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.8:10-22 If they would have a king to rule them, as the eastern kings ruled their subjects, they would find the yoke exceedingly heavy. Those that submit to the government of the world and the flesh, are told plainly, what hard masters they are, and what tyranny the dominion of sin is. The law of God and the manner of men widely differ from each other; the former should be our rule in the several relations of life; the latter should be the measure of our expectations from others. These would be their grievances, and, when they complained to God, he would not hear them. When we bring ourselves into distress by our own wrong desires and projects, we justly forfeit the comfort of prayer, and the benefit of Divine aid. The people were obstinate and urgent in their demand. Sudden resolves and hasty desires make work for long and leisurely repentance. Our wisdom is, to be thankful for the advantages, and patient under the disadvantages of the government we may live under; and to pray continually for our rulers, that they may govern us in the fear of God, and that we may live under them in all godliness and honesty. And it is a hopeful symptom when our desires of worldly objects can brook delay; and when we can refer the time and manner of their being granted to God's providence.This organization was as old as the time of Moses Numbers 31:14; Deuteronomy 1:15, and prevailed among the Philistines also 1 Samuel 29:2. The civil and military divisions were identical, and the civil officers were the same as the captains of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens, in time of war.

To ear his ground - literally, "to plow his plowing." "To ear" is an old English word, now obsolete, for to plow.

12. he will appoint him captains—In the East, a person must accept any office to which he may be nominated by the king, however irksome it may be to his taste or ruinous to his interests. He will appoint him, Heb. to or for himself emphatically, i.e. for his own fancy, or glory, or conveniency, or evil design, and not only when the necessities of the kingdom or commonwealth require it, as the judges did. And though this might seem to be no encumbrance, as it is here represented, but an honour and advantage to the persons so advanced, yet even in them that honour was accompanied with great dangers, and pernicious snares of many kinds, which those faint shadows of glory could not recompense; and as to the public, their pomp and power proved very burdensome and oppressive to the people, whose lands and fruits were taken from them, and bestowed upon these, for the support of their state, as it follows below, 1 Samuel 8:14,15.

And to reap his harvest, at his own pleasure, and without their consent, when possibly their own fields required all their time and pains.

To make his instruments of war, and

instruments of his chariots; he will press them for all sorts of his work, and that upon his own terms. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties,.... Which though posts of honour, yet when they are not matter of choice, and especially being precarious, and depending on the arbitrary will of a prince, are not eligible, and less so to persons that choose another sort of life:

and will set them to ear his ground; to plough it; not the same persons made captains of thousands and fifties, but others, whom he will employ in tilling and manuring his fields, and oblige them to it:

and to reap his harvest; when it is ripe, and gather it in, and bring it home into his barns and garners:

and to make his instruments of war: as swords, spears, bows and arrows, most commonly used in those times:

and instruments of chariots; which seem to design chariots of war, and the iron spikes and scythes which were joined to them, to cut down the foot soldiers, when driven among them in battle, which are commonly called chariots of iron; see Joshua 17:16.

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.
12. captains over thousands and captains over fifties] The Sept. reads “captains of hundreds and captains of thousands,” which are the usual military divisions (ch. 1 Samuel 22:7; Numbers 31:14): but the Heb. text is to be preferred as mentioning the highest and the lowest offices. Cp. 2 Kings 1:9 ff. For the fact cp. ch. 1 Samuel 14:52.

to ear his ground] “To ear” = “to plough,” from Lat. arare through A.-S. erian. The verb occurs again in Deuteronomy 21:4 and Isaiah 30:24; the subst. earing in Genesis 45:6; Exodus 34:21. Shakespeare uses the word:

“And let them go

To ear the land that hath some hope to grow.”

Richard II. A. iii. Sc. 2.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. Nevertheless "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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