1 Samuel 8
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Samuel 8:1-3. (BEERSHEBA.)
Nearly all that is known of Samuel's household is here stated. He had at least two sons, Joel (Jehovah is God) and Abiah (my father is Jah), whose names were indicative of the devout spirit in which they were given (1 Chronicles 6:28: "And the sons of Samuel, the firstborn, and the second Abiah;" ver. 33: "Heman a singer, the son of Joel;" 1 Samuel 15:17; 1 Samuel 25:5: "Heman, the king's seer"). During the period of his judgeship they grew to maturity, and toward its close he made them judges over Israel, and sent them to administer justice in Beersheba, in the southern limit of the land. His influence as judge as well as prophet extended "from Dan even to Beersheba" (1 Samuel 3:20), and with advancing age he needed assistance in his labours. "It may be doubted whether Samuel acted wisely in making this appointment, especially if, as seems to have been understood, the nomination in his lifetime of his sons to fulfil the functions he had hitherto discharged alone was an intimation that he meant them to be regarded as his successors in such government as he exercised. Nothing of this kind had been done before. And thus, almost unconsciously, perhaps, he was led to give a kind of sanction to the hereditary principle of government which was soon to be turned against himself" (Kitto). He acted according to his judgment of what was best, and doubtless with disinterestedness. There is no reason to suppose that he failed to train his sons in the right way, or that he was aware of their conduct at Beersheba "and restrained them not." He is not, therefore, to be blamed. No man is infallible. The plans of the wisest men are often marred by the misconduct of others. And this appointment was, in its result, disastrous.

I. THEIR ADVANTAGES WERE GREAT. They were sons of one of the most faithful and eminent servants of God, had the benefit of his instruction and example in private and public, studied perhaps in a school of the prophets, were well acquainted with the law, held in honour for their father's sake, placed in responsible positions. All these things, we might have expected, would have made them circumspect, just, and devout; and they should have done so. How, then, can we account for their defection?

1. Goodness is not hereditary. "The sinner begets a sinner, but a saint doth not beget a saint" (M. Henry). Hereditary relationship exerts a powerful influence on the mind and disposition, but nothing but Divine grace can change the heart.

"Rarely into the branches of the tree
Doth human worth mount up: and so ordains
He who bestows it, that as his free gift
It may be called"

(Dante, 'Purg.' 7.)

2. Education is not omnipotent. When children of a good man turn out badly, it may generally be traced to some defect of training, through attention to other duties, absence from home, inconsistency at home, unwise methods, excessive strictness, unjust partiality, undue indulgence, maternal carelessness, intimate association with evil companions (in some cases unknown and unpreventable). We do not know enough of Samuel's household to say that it was wholly free from such influences. But the most perfect education is limited in its power over character.

3. Power is a perilous trust. It presents temptations which are sometimes too strong for men who under other circumstances might not have fallen. It is a severe test, and a sure revealer, of character (Luke 12:45). Power shows the man.

4. Each man is responsible for his own conduct. He is endowed with the power of choosing or refusing good and evil, and no external circumstances can fully account for the choice he makes. "Every man shall bear his own burden" (Galatians 6:5). "As the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son," etc. (Ezekiel 18:4).

II. THEIR CONDUCT WAS BASE. "His sons walked not in his ways" of truth, integrity, self-denial, and true godliness; but "turned aside" from them to -

1. Covetousness, or the undue love of earthly possessions. "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:17-19). "Covetousness is idolatry" (Luke 12:15; Colossians 3:5). "It is the idolatry of the heart, where, as in a temple, a miserable wretch excludes God, sets up gold instead of him, and places that confidence in it which belongs to the great Supreme alone." It was one of the necessary qualifications of judges that they should be "men of truth, hating covetousness" (Exodus 18:21). Nothing is more corrupting than "the narrowing lust of gold."

2. Bribery (Exodus 23:6, 8; Deuteronomy 16:18, 19).

3. Perversion of justice (Proverbs 17:15).

4. Their conduct in all these things was so persistent and flagrant that it was known to "all the elders of Israel." They openly abused their power for selfish ends, trampled on the law which they were appointed to "magnify and make honourable," and wrought against the purpose which Samuel spent his life in effecting.

III. THEM INFLUENCE WAS PERNICIOUS. Not only did they bring misery upon themselves, and occasion bitter sorrow to their aged father; but they also -

1. Inflicted grievous injury on those with reference to whom they "took bribes and perverted judgment."

2. Set a bad example to all men (Psalm 12:8).

3. Brought their high office into contempt.

4. Contributed directly to a national revolution. How true it is that "one sinner destroyeth much good!" - D.

1 Samuel 8:4-22. (RAMAH.)

"The old order changeth, giving place to new
And God fulfils himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world"

(Tennyson) Introductory. - The desire of Israel for a king, as expressed by their elders to Samuel,was a turning point in their history.

1. This desire was not new. It existed long before (Judges 8:22; Judges 9:9). But new circumstances had arisen, - the greater order and unity resulting from the labours of Samuel, the misconduct of his sons, the threatening attitude of surrounding nations, - causing it to become stronger and more general, and to issue in a definite and fixed determination. The elders simply gave expression to what the heart of the people was set upon.

2. The object of their desire was not essentially wrong. It had been foretold that kings should arise in Israel (Genesis 17:6, 16; Genesis 35:11; Numbers 24:17). Provision had been made in the law of Moses for the choice of a king, and directions given concerning the manner in which he should govern (Deuteronomy 17:15-20); and, more recently, intimations had been afforded that the time for his election was at hand (1 Samuel 2:10, 35). His appointment was only in apparent contradiction to the fundamental principle of the theocracy, that "God was their King," for it was not intended to supersede the Divine authority; he was to be the viceroy or deputy of Jehovah, as the judges had been; and he might be better adapted than they to the present condition of the people. Nevertheless, the transition was in one aspect from a higher to a lower order of things, from a direct to a mediate theocracy; it tended to set the invisible Ruler in the background, and it was fraught with imminent peril.

3. The sinfulness of their desire consisted in the sort of king they sought and the spirit they manifested; whereby they, in effect, rejected the Lord as their King. "If they had simply desired a king to be given them according to the law of God (Deuteronomy 17:15), that should govern them in equity, and such an one as feared God, they then had not offended; but now they do ask a king of a preposterous desire only that they might be like unto other nations; yet God, having purposed to erect among his people a kingly throne, and to raise unto them a king of whose seed Messiah should come, took this occasion to accomplish his purpose, so turning their evil and inordinate desire unto a good end, as God can convert the evil thoughts and actions of men to serve for his own glory" (Willet).

4. Their desire was fulfilled, and the transition peaceably effected through the agency of Samuel, who yielded to their request because he perceived the good which was hidden therein, and that in the providence of God the time was come for a king to be appointed (1 Samuel 9:16). "Israel was in the position of a boat which has been borne down in a swift stream into the very suction of the rapids. The best would be that she should put back; but if it be too late for this, then the best is that there should be in her a strong arm and a steady eye to keep her head straight. And thus it was with Israel. She plunged down the fall madly, rashly, wickedly, but under Samuel's control steadily" (Robertson). "He had to guide the difficult transition of Israel's political organisation from a Divinely ruled republic into a regularly constituted monarchy." "To mediate between the old and the new was, indeed, the peculiar position of Samuel. He was at once the last of the judges, and the inaugurator of the first of the kings. Take the whole of the narrative together - take the story first of his opposition, and then of his acquiescence, in the establishment of the monarchy. Both together bring us to a just impression of the double aspect in which he appears; of the two-sided sympathy which enabled him to unite together the passing and the coming epoch" (Stanley). His calmness, moderation, breadth of view, practical adaptation, and lofty devotion to God and his people were herein exhibited in an eminent degree. "Samuel is one of the few great men in history who, in critical times, by sheer force of character and invincible energy terminate the previous form of a great existing system - at first against their own will, but afterwards, when convinced of the necessity, with all the force and eagerness of their nature; and who then initiate a better form with the happiest results, though amidst much personal suffering and persecution" (Ewald, 'History '). - D.

Make us a king to judge us like all the nations (ver. 5). This narrative teaches us -


1. Its alleged grounds were insufficient.

(1) The old age of Samuel. But due respect to him and gratitude for his past services should have prevented their desire to set him aside; and the prosperity that attended his rule during many years should have led them to wish for its continuance as long as possible. They were inconsiderate, forgetful, unthankful, hasty, and unjust.

(2) The misgovermnent of his sons. But they might have been removed from their office without the office itself being abolished. It is better to try to mend an institution than to destroy it.

(3) To be like other nations. But Israel was designed to be unlike them, and superior to them (Leviticus 20:26); and most of the miseries they had suffered arose from conformity to their ways. The wish to be like others is a fruitful source of sin and woe. The cause of truth and righteousness in the world is greatly damaged when those who should be the guides of the ignorant and the wicked become their servile followers. Palestine in ancient times was pre-eminently a land of kings. Every district, nay, every considerable city, had its king and its court. In most cases the king was an autocrat, absolute and irresponsible, lawgiver, judge, and executor, the source of all honours, offices, and emoluments, the commander of the army, the dispenser of favours, the awarder of punishment. The rights, claims: and prerogatives of royalty extended to every person, and to every relation of life. The king was the master, the people were his subjects, nay, slaves - his property. In a better sense he was the common father of the community, they his children, with all the kindlier duties and obligations implied and included in this most sacred of human relations. Royalty thus constituted and administered was selected by Jehovah as the synonym and exemplar of his special relation to the Hebrew people" (Thomson, 'Bibliotbeca Sacra,' vol. 30.).

(4) The threatening attitude of the Philistines (1 Samuel 9:16) and the Ammonites (1 Samuel 12:12), which was doubtless referred to in the interview of the elders with Samuel. But the Lord of hosts, who had hitherto delivered them, was able to do so still; and to rely upon a new institution for safety instead of upon him was to lean upon a broken reed. "Instead of seeking for the cause of the misfortunes which had hitherto befallen them in their own sin and want of fidelity toward Jehovah, they searched for it in the faulty constitution of the nation itself" (Keil).

2. Its real grounds were blameworthy.

(1) Dissatisfaction with the government which had been Divinely appointed and sanctioned. When the hearts of men are right with God they are not disposed to complain of his ordinances.

(2) Distrust of the presence and might of their invisible King. "God was not sufficient for them without a creature prop." "Their demand of a visible earthly sovereign was in disparagement of that extraordinary Providence which had distinguished them from the nations of the earth, and taken them by a privilege under an immediate theocracy. Their sin was founded in a revolt from God, in the abdication of a perfect trust and reliance upon his providential government in that method in which with respect to them he had ordered it. But their fault, though uncommon in its form, is not at all in its principle. Something to see and nothing to believe is the wish and propensity of more than the, Israelites" (Davison 'on Prophecy ').

(3) Impatience, presumption, and self-will. God gave them judges... and afterwards they desired a king" (Acts 13:20, 21). Instead of first seeking to know the will of God, and then waiting his time for a change, if it should seem good in his sight, they thought that they knew what was best, took counsel of their own hearts, and, having chosen their course independently of him, proceeded forthwith to follow it up, and resolved to have their own way. They were thus disloyal to their Divine King, to whose direction and control they were bound to submit.

(4) The love of worldly pleasure, power, and glory. They desired a king not merely

(a) that he might judge them without interruption, by the law of hereditary descent; but also

(b) that "he might go out before them and fight their battles" (ver. 20); and, still further

(c), that he might hold a splendid court, and gratify their ambition and lust of shining or making a boastful display. They wished to be thought in no respect inferior to the surrounding nations. It was a result to which prosperity too often leads. The worldliness from which the misconduct of Samuel's sons proceeded was but a symptom of a widespread evil. "The secret spring of their rebellion was the ambition of their leaders, who could live no longer without the splendour of a regal court and household. 'Give me' (say they, as the prophet Hosea makes them speak, 1 Samuel 13:10) 'a king and princes,' where every one of them might shine a distinguished officer of state. They could get nothing, when their affairs led them to their judge's poor residence in the schools of the prophets, but the gift of the Holy Ghost (1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 19.), which a courtier, I suppose, would not prize even at the rate of Simon Magus, or think it worth the bribing for a piece of money. This it was, and only this, that made their demand criminal" (Warburton, 'Div. Leg.,' Book V.). How often has their sin been repeated in the history of nations! "All the tragical wars of the Greeks or barbarians, whether civil or foreign, have flowed from one fountain - from the desire either of riches, or of glory, or of pleasure; for in pursuit of these things the human race brings on its own destruction" (Philo Jud., 'In Decal' g.).

II. THAT THE POPULAR DESIRE IS NOT UNFREQUENTLY AN OCCASION OF GREAT TROUBLE TO A GODLY MAN (vers. 6-9). "The thing was evil in the eyes of Samuel." He saw that it was wrong, felt disappointed and grieved, and was at first altogether opposed to it, and disinclined to listen to those by whom it was expressed, "because," says Josephus, "of his inborn sense of justice, because of his hatred of kings, as so far inferior to the aristocratic form of government which conferred a godlike character on those who lived under it." "For kings are many, and the good are few" (Dante).

1. As a good man has no greater joy than to see the people seeking what is right and good, so he has no greater sorrow than to see them "going after vain things which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain" (1 Samuel 12:21). Abraham (Genesis 18:23), Moses (Exodus 32:18, 31), Elijah (1 Kings 19:10). The Psalmist (Psalm 119:158), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:1), Paul at Athens (Acts 17:16).

2. The grief he feels is of the noblest kind.

(1) Unselfish. Samuel did not resent or complain of what was said concerning his old age or his sons' misgovernment; and if he was not absolutely indifferent to the injustice done to himself, yet his trouble arose chiefly from other and higher considerations.

(2) Patriotic.

(3) Divine. He was concerned, above all things, for the honour and glory of God. His own loyalty to him made him quick to resent the disloyalty of others, and his sympathy with his purposes filled him with holy jealousy lest they should be defeated or in any way hindered. He felt in some degree as God himself feels.

3. His resource in trouble is prayer to God. "And Samuel prayed to the Lord" (ver. 6); probably all night, as on a subsequent occasion (1 Samuel 15:11). Such had been the resource of his devout mother in her distress. Nor is there any other so effectual (Psalm 55:22; Philippians 4:6).

4. In communion with God he finds abundant consolation and help. God takes upon himself the burden of his servant who has laboured and suffered for his sake (Psalm 69:7). "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me." He assures him that it is "no strange thing that has happened unto him." "According to all the works which they have done," etc. (ver. 8). He removes his perplexity, tells him what to do, and gives him strength to do it. "Hearken unto their voice," etc. (ver. 9). All questionings cease when the Divine voice speaks, and, with the morning light, Samuel goes forth humbly, fearlessly, and cheerfully to deliver his message to the elders.

III. THAT THE POPULAR DESIRE, WHEN IT IS WRONG, SHOULD BE REBUKED, AND ITS EVIL EFFECTS DECLARED (vers. 10-18). It may not be allowed to pursue its course without warning on the part of those who feel that it is wrong, and to whom a Divine message comes.

1. This message consists of -

(1) A testimony against its sinfulness. "Hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly (testify) unto them" their sin, and the displeasure of Heaven.

(2) A declaration of the evils involved in its fulfilment. "Show them the manner (mishpat) of the king that shall reign over them," i.e. his regal rights, claims, privileges, and prerogatives; not what might be de jure, according to "the manner of the kingdom" (1 Samuel 10:25; Deuteronomy 17:14), but would be de facto, according to the custom of the kings of the heathen nations whom they wished to resemble. We have here a picture of "the dark side of the institution" in contrast with the theocracy: -

(a) Its ruling motive - personal aggrandisement and indulgence. "He will take for himself, his chariots, his horses, etc., whilst for your welfare he will care nothing.

(b) Its arbitrary and oppressive character. "He will take your sons" to be his personal attendants (ver. 11) for military and agricultural service (ver. 12), your daughters for domestic service (ver. 13), your land to give to his attendants (ver. 14), a tenth of your corn and wine to reward his officers (imposing heavy taxation - ver. 15), your servants and cattle "to put them to his work" (ver. 16), and a tenth of your sheep; "a great retinue, a great table, a standing army, great favourites, great revenues" (M. Henry); and you yourselves will lose your political and social liberty, and become his slaves (ver. 17).

(c) Its helpless and hopeless misery (ver. 18) - brought upon.yourselves, causing you to cry out to God for help, "and the Lord will not hear you in that day." "The yoke once assumed you must bear forever" (1 Kings 12:4).

2. The message must be declared faithfully and fully, whether men will bear or forbear. "And Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people" (ver. 10).

3. The purpose of such declara tion being to lead them to consideration and repentance, and, if they still persist, to throw the responsibility for the result upon themselves alone. The watchman who warns the wicked, even if they turn not from their way, "hath delivered his soul" (Ezekiel 33:9); and the faithful minister is "unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish" (2 Corinthians 2:15).


1. In spite of every admonition, men can and do persist in their sinful desire. "Nay; but we will have a king over us." Their self-will appears more plainly than before. Expostulation only makes it stronger. They will have their way. And God, who coerces not whom he has endowed with moral freedom, permits them to do so.

2. By their persistency they even obtain of him the fulfilment of their request. "Make them a king," is his final response to Samuel, who "rehearsed the words in his ears," and now dismisses them "every man unto his city," to await the speedy accomplishment of their desire. The evil which would have resulted from its refusal is thus averted. The principle of the theocracy is preserved. Jehovah continues to rule over Israel; and they recognise his authority in so far, at least, as to leave the selection and appointment of a king in his hands. His sovereign will encircles and controls their purposes. But he does not, by granting their request, sanction their sin. On the contrary -

3. In its fulfilment he inflicts upon them a just chastisement, and teaches them, by the experience of its legitimate results, the folly of their devices. Their first king is a man after their own heart, reflects their sin, and brings overwhelming calamity on himself and them. "I gave thee a king in mine anger" (Hosea 13:11; Psalm 106:15). "God, when he is asked for aught amiss, showeth displeasure when he giveth, hath mercy when he giveth not. The devil was heard in asking to enter the swine, the apostle was not heard when he prayed that the messenger of Satan might depart from him."

4. He prepares them thereby to receive as their ruler" a man after his own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14), who shall conduct them to power and honour, and foreshadow him who is higher than the kings of the earth. How wonderfully are the Divine purposes fulfilled in and through the errors and sins of men! "In a very remarkable sense the vox populi was the vox Dei, even when the two voices seemed most utterly out of harmony .... The Jews were asking for heavy punishment, without which the evil which was in them could not have been brought to light or cured. But they were asking also for something besides punishment, for that in which lay the seeds of a higher blessing. Beneath this dark counterfeit image was hidden the image of a true King reigning in righteousness; the assertor of truth, order, unity in the land; the Helper of the poor, who would not judge after the sight of his eyes, nor reprove after the hearing of his ears; but would smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips would slay the wicked" (Maurice). - D.

And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. The blessings obtained in answer to prayer are real and manifold. Some of them are outward and material - daily bread, health, safety, life. God is "in all, above all, and through all," the personal and free Ruler of the universe, and able to grant our petitions for temporal good in harmony with the established order of nature. The mind and will of man can produce changes in the material world without disturbing that order; much more can the eternal mind and will do the same. Other blessings are inward and spiritual - wisdom, righteousness, peace, and joy. The "Father of spirits" has access to the human spirit, interpenetrates it as light the atmosphere, holds communion with it, and disposes it to holiness. Spiritual blessings are incomparably more valuable than material. What we are determines our relation to surrounding objects. And beneficial changes wrought within are followed by similar changes in the world without. "In prayer we make the nearest approaches unto God, and lie open to the influences of Heaven. Then it is that the Sun of righteousness doth visit us with his directest rays, and dissipateth our darkness, and imprinteth his image on our souls" (Scougal).

"Speak to him, thou, for he hears, and spirit with spirit can meet.
Closer is he than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet"

(Tennyson) In illustration of the spiritual benefit of prayer let us consider how Samuel, who "prayed unto the Lord" in his trouble, and "rehearsed all the words of the people in the ears of the Lord" (ver. 21), was comforted and helped in time of need. What a different man he was when he came forth from communion with his Almighty Friend to speak to the elders of Israel from what he was when he went from them, "displeased" (ver. 6) and distressed, to pour out his heart before the Lord! "What profit shall we have if we pray unto him?"

1. Relief for a burdened heart. It is often a great relief to tell our trouble to an earthly friend; much more is it to pour it forth into the bosom of God. "No other God but the God of the Bible is heart to heart" (Niebuhr). "They went and told Jesus" (Matthew 14:12).

2. Sympathy under bitter disappointment. Samuel seemed to have "laboured in vain and spent his strength for nought." But God sanctioned his work, identified himself with him, shared his disappointment, and took his burden on himself. In rejecting his faithful servants men reject the Lord. "Why persecutest thou me?" (Acts 9:5). He sympathises with them (Hebrews 4:5); and one smile of his more than compensates for apparent failure and the frowns of the whole world. "By degrees two thoughts calmed him. The first was the feeling of identification with God's cause. The other element of consolation was the Divine sympathy. Atheism and revolution here, as elsewhere, went hand in hand. We do not know how this sentence was impressed by the infinite mind on Samuel's mind; all we know is, he had a conviction that God was a fellow sufferer" (Robertson).

3. Guidance in great perplexity. The will of the Lord, it may be, is at first hidden or obscure, but in fellowship with him the mists and clouds that prevent our seeing it are cleared away, the sun shines forth, and our way is made plain. We see "the light of this world" (John 11:9). "The vocation of man is the sun in the heavens of his life." "The secret of the Lord" (the counsel or advice, such as a man gives to his friend) "is with them that fear him" (Psalm 25:14). God tells his secrets only to his friends. "The meek will he guide in judgment: the meek will he teach his way" (Psalm 25:9). "He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13).

4. Submission to the supreme will. That will is always wisest and best; it cannot be altered or made to bend to ours; and one of the chief benefits of prayer is that thereby we receive grace which disposes us to accept humbly and cheerfully what at first appears evil in our sight. We are made of one mind with God.

5. Strength for painful duty. It may be to "protest solemnly" (ver. 9) against the course resolved upon by others, to alter our own course and expose ourselves to the charge of inconsistency, to face opposition, danger, and death. But, God never appoints us a duty without giving us strength to perform it. Habitual prayer constantly confers decision on the wavering, and energy on the listless, and calmness on the excitable, and disinterestedness on the selfish" (Liddon).

6. Composure amidst general excitement. Whilst the elders clamour, "Nay; but we will have a king over us," Samuel is unmoved. He calmly listens to their decision, takes it back to God in secret prayer, and then comes forth and says, "Go ye every man to his own city." "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee" (Isaiah 26:3). Hurricanes revolve around a centre of perfect calm. Outside the charmed circle the tempest may rage furiously; within it all is peace. Such is the heart and mind kept (garrisoned) by the peace of God (Philippians 4:7).

7. Confidence in a glorious future. "The Lord will not forsake his people for his great name's sake" (1 Samuel 12:22). He works out his purposes by unexpected methods, overrules human perversity, and makes the wrath of man to praise him (Psalm 76:10). "What will the end he?" it was said at a time of great and general anxiety to an eminent servant of God (Dr. A. Clarke), who replied, with a beaming countenance, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." - D.

The government by judges fell into discredit. Samuel, indeed, was without reproach; but when advancing age made the burden of public affairs too heavy for him, his sons, to whom he naturally delegated his authority, proved unrighteous rulers. They do not seem to have been licentious, like the sons of Eli, but they were covetous, and corrupted the fountains of justice by taking bribes. What a persistent thing sin is! How it repeats itself! How hard it is to eradicate it! Samuel's lifelong example of integrity was lost upon his sons. The terrible fate of Eli's family was lost on them too. To the dignity of justice, to the honour of truth, they were indifferent for filthy luere's sake. Then the elders of Israel asked Samuel to set a king over them.


1. It followed a bad precedent. The experiment had been tried about 150 years before. The people asked Gideon to be their hereditary prince, and that hero declined the proposal, as inconsistent with a pure theocracy. After his death Abimelech was king for three years; but his career began in cruelty, ended soon in disaster and death, and no one from that time had sought the royal dignity.

2. It proceeded on a wrong principle. The desire to be as the other nations round about was in fiat contradiction to the revealed purpose of God that Israel should be separate as a people unto him. The wish to have a king to lead them out to battle betrayed a thirst for war unworthy of a holy nation, and a mistrust of the Lord's power to defend them. Here, indeed, is the point in which they departed from the permissive law regarding a king recorded in the seventeenth chapter of Deuteronomy. A regal government was not to be reckoned inconsistent with the theocracy, provided the king was not a foreigner, and was chosen by Jehovah, whose vicegerent he should be. The elders asked for a king not after the mind of the Lord, but after the pattern of the heathen round about.


1. A headstrong people must learn by experience. The elders and people of Israel were warned of the risk they ran. A king such as they desired would restrain their ancient liberties, and subordinate all their rights and interests to the maintenance of his court and army. They heard Samuel's warning, and persisted in their demand. So the Lord bade his servant make them a king. If men will not take advice, let them have their way. Wisdom seldom comes to wilful men but through sharp lessons of the results of folly.

2. The way must be prepared for the king and the kingdom that God would choose. It is important to remember that Divine purposes are accomplished on earth not by direct fiats of authority or exertions of power, but through long and complex processes of human action and counteraction, by the corrections of experience, the smart of suffering, and the recoil from danger. It was God's design to constitute Israel into a kingdom under a sure covenant - a kingdom which should furnish the basis for glowing prophetic visions of the kingdom of Christ; but this design was not to be fulfilled abruptly, or by a sudden assertion of the Divine will. The way was prepared by the failure of all other devices for holding together the Hebrew people. First the government by judges lost credit; then the kingdom as set up by popular desire failed; so that the tribes, seeing the ruin of their own devices, might be ready to receive the kingdom as God would have it, and the man whom he would choose to "feed Jacob his people and Israel his inheritance."


1. Men have set up their own devices in the administration of the Church; and with what result? They have not been content with an unseen Lord and King. The early patriarchates may be described as a government by judges; but men were not content therewith, and Latin Christianity set up an ecclesiastical and spiritual supremacy on earth, a Saul-like kingship at Rome. Those parts of the Western Church which broke away from this doomed kingdom at the Reformation, for the most part gave power to secular princes in exchange for their protection. All such arrangements are temporary devices; but they are witnesses and preludes to something higher and more Divine. They prepare the way for the reign of Jesus Christ, as the broken, confused reign of Saul prepared for the strong kingdom of David.

2. Inward Christian experience can tell a similar tale. What plans have to be tried and found wanting, what thrones of confusion in the heart to be subverted, before the Lord alone is exalted! We are permitted to have our own way that we may learn how small our wisdom is, how vain are our devices. We exalt our own righteousness, our own will, our own religious confidence. It is our Saul; and the issue is confusion and disorder, till we renounce our pride and vainglory, and receive the Son of David Jehovah's true Anointed, to reign over and rule in us. Self religion starts thus - "Nay; but we will have a king." The religion which is taught of God says, "Blessed be the king that cometh in the name of the Lord!" - F.

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