Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.Ch. 1 Samuel 8:1-5. Request of the people for a king
1. when Samuel was old] A considerable time, probably not much less than 20 years, must have elapsed since the victory of Ebenezer, before Samuel required the help of his sons on the ground of old age, and some years more before their misgovernment became so flagrant as to give occasion for the request of the elders. On the chronology see Introd. p. 22 ff.
Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beersheba.2. Now the name, &c.] Joel = “Jehovah is God:” Abiah = “Jah is my father:” names significant of a protest against the prevalent idolatry. The text of 1 Chronicles 6:28, where the names are given as “the firstborn Vashni and Abiah,” is corrupt. “Joel” has dropped out after “the firstborn,” and “Vashni” is an obvious corruption of the Heb. word meaning “and the second.”
judges in Beer-sheba] See note on ch. 1 Samuel 3:20. Beer-sheba was the most convenient centre for the southern district, which Samuel assigned to his sons, retaining the northern himself. Josephus says that “resigning his office to his sons he divided the people between them, and placed them in Bethel and Beer-sheba,” a statement which is probably his own conjecture, and does not agree with ch. 1 Samuel 7:15.
And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.3. turned aside after Lucre] From the straight-forward path of their father’s example. Lucre (from Lat. lucrum) is only used in the E. V. in a bad sense of ill-gotten gain.
took bribes and perverted judgment] The same phrases are coupled together in Deuteronomy 16:19, though differently translated in the E. V. “Thou shalt not wrest judgment … nor take a gift.” Cp. Exodus 23:6; Exodus 23:8.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,4. the elders of Israel] Acting as representatives of the people, 1 Samuel 8:7; 1 Samuel 8:10; 1 Samuel 8:19; 1 Samuel 8:22.
In a patriarchal system of government the Elders or heads of families are the natural authorities. Even before the Exodus Israel possessed an organization of Elders, to whom Moses was directed to deliver his message (Exodus 3:16). The title gradually acquired an official signification; in the wilderness Moses appointed a council of seventy to represent the whole body (Numbers 11:16; Numbers 11:24-25). After the occupation of Canaan we find mention of (a) Elders of cities, who acted as civil magistrates (Joshua 20:4; Jdg 8:16; Ruth 4:2; 1 Samuel 16:4): (b) Elders of tribes or districts (Jdg 11:5; 1 Samuel 30:26; 2 Samuel 19:11): (c) The Elders of Israel, or united body of the Elders of the tribes, forming the senate or executive council of the “congregation” or national assembly, (1) in war (ch. 1 Samuel 4:3), (2) in great political matters, as on the present occasion, (3) in matters of general importance to the nation (Jdg 21:16).
The institution of Elders lasted through the monarchy (see e.g. 1 Kings 20:7-8; 1 Kings 21:11), and was revived after the captivity (Ezra 10:14). In N.T. times “the Elders” formed one of the constituent elements of the Sanhedrin.
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.5. make us a king] Lit. set, i.e. appoint, the same word as in the corresponding passage, Deuteronomy 17:14.
like all the nations] i.e. as all the surrounding nations have kings.
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.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.
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.
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.8. so do they also unto thee] Cp. John 15:20.
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.9. Now therefore hearken] Or, And now. There is no inference ‘because they reject me and thee, therefore, &c.,’ but the command of 1 Samuel 8:7 is repeated. For the reasons why the request was granted, see Introduction, ch. iv. § 4.
And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.10–18. The rights of a king
10. unto the people] Through their representatives the elders. Cp. note on 1 Samuel 8:4.
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.11. This will be the manner of the king] Or, “the right of the king;” such prerogatives as an absolute monarch claims.
We have here a vivid picture of the tyranny of an Oriental despot whose subjects are at his disposal for (1) court retainers, (2) military officers, (3) cultivators of the royal estates, (4) artificers in the arsenal, (5) domestics in the royal household. (6) Their property is liable to arbitrary seizure, beside (7) regular exactions of tithe, in order to enrich court favourites, and (8) their slaves and their cattle may at any time be pressed into the royal service. Under such a despotism political and social freedom is at an end. Prosperous as was Solomon’s reign, it tended in this direction. See 1 Kings 5:13-18; 1 Kings 12:4.
and appoint them] This may be rendered either as the E. V. or, and set them for himself upon his charlots and upon his chargers. Service in the retinue of the king rather than in the army appears to be meant.
some shall run before his chariots] A body of runners was a regular sign of regal state (2 Samuel 15:1; 1 Kings 1:5).
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.
And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.13. to be confectionaries] The original form of “confectioner” not however in its modern sense, but = “one who makes confections” (Exodus 30:35), i.e. compounds of spices and perfumes, a perfumer.
And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.14. he will take your fields &c.] Cp. 1 Kings 21:7; Ezekiel 46:18.
And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.15. officers] Or, chamberlains.
And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.16. your goodliest young men] “Young men” in the Heb. appears to be a copyist’s error, and we should probably adopt the Sept. reading “cattle.” Men-servants and maid-servants, cattle and asses, are then coupled together naturally. Cp. Exodus 20:17.
He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.17. and ye shall be his servants] To sum up all briefly, ye will be slaves to the king ye have chosen.
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.18. because of your king] Or, “from your king,” appealing to God to escape from his tyranny.
will not hear you] Rather, will not answer you. The Sept adds “because ye have chosen yourselves a king.”
Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;19–22. Reply of the people
19. Nevertheless] Simply And.
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.20. that our king may judge us and go out before us] The king was to unite the duties of (1) government of the nation in time of peace, and (2) leadership of the army in time of war.
And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD.21. he rehearsed them] i.e. repeated them. ‘Rehearse’ is derived from Fr. reherser, to harrow over again. Samuel once more laid the matter before Jehovah in prayer, and again received the same answer.
This narrative is in close connexion with ch. 1 Samuel 10:17-27. The intervening section, possibly derived from a different source, gives an account of Samuel’s preliminary interview with Saul, preparatory to his formal election as king.
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.