Matthew Poole's Commentary
And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.Samuel makes his sons judges over Israel; their names, and ill government, 1 Samuel 8:1-3. The people ask a king: Samuel is grieved; prays, 1 Samuel 8:4-6. God is displeased with the people; but commands Samuel to hearken to them, and to represent to them the tyrannical government of kings, 1 Samuel 8:7-9; which he doth, 1 Samuel 8:10-18. The people continue in their request: God commands Samuel to yield to them, 1 Samuel 8:19-22.
when Samuel was old, and so unable for his former travels and labours, he made his sons judges; not supreme judges, for 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 vicegerents or deputies, who might go about and determine matters, but with reservation of a right of appeals to himself. He advanceth his sons to this place, not so much out of paternal indulgence, the sad effects whereof he had seen in Eli; but because 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 inspection and authority he still had over them, would have obliged them to diligence and faithfulness in the execution of their trust.
Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beersheba.In the southern border of the land of Canaan, where he placed his sons, because these parts were very remote from his house at Ramah; where, and in the neighbouring places, Samuel himself still executed the office of the judge; sending his sons to reside and judge in distant places, for the ease and convenience of the people.
And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.Opportunity and temptation drew forth and discovered the corruption in them, which till now was hid from their father, and, it may be, from themselves.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,The elders; either for age, or dignity and power.
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.They feared that Samuel would not live long; and that either he through infirmity and indulgence might leave the government in his sons’ hands, or that they would invade and keep it after their father’s death; and therefore they jointly make their complaints against them, and procure their removal from their places. Thus they are brought low, and crushed by those very wicked ways by which they desired to advance and establish themselves. So true is it, that honesty is the best policy, and unrighteousness the greatest folly.
Make us a king to judge us: their conclusion outruns their premises, and their desires exceed their reasons or arguments, which extended no further than to 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 might and were likely to be as corrupt as Samuel’s sons; and if they were, would not be so easily removed as these were.
Like all the nations, i.e. 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 into 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.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.
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.Hearken unto the voice of the people; God grants their desire in anger, and for their punishment, as is affirmed, Hosea 13:11. Compare Numbers 22:13,20 Deu 1:22 Psalm 77:20.
They have not rejected thee, i.e. not thee only, nor principally; compare Genesis 32:28 Exodus 16:7 Hosea 6:6 Matthew 10:20; but this injury and contumely reflects chiefly upon me and my government,
that I should not reign over them, to wit, by my immediate and peculiar government, which was the great honour, safety, and happiness of his people, if they had had wit to know it, or hearts to prize it. And all the infelicities of Israel, under this kind of government, did not proceed from the nature of the government, but from the ungovernableness and wickedness of the people, which, they might be sure, would produce the same or greater calamities under their kingly government.
Quest. First, Did not God reign over them when they had kings?
Answ. Yes, in a general way, but not in such a peculiar manner as he did by the judges, who were generally raised and called by God’s particular appointment, endowed and sanctified by his Spirit, directed and assisted by his special providence upon all emergencies; whereas all things were for the most part contrary in their kings.
Quest. Secondly, Was it simply unlawful for the people to desire a king?
Answ. No, as appears from Deu 17:14; but herein was their sin, that they desired it upon sinful grounds, of which see on 1 Samuel 8:7, and in an impetuous manner, and at an unseasonable time, and without asking leave or advice from God; which in so weighty and difficult a case they could not neglect without great sin.
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.Thou farest no worse than myself. This he speaks for Samuel’s comfort and vindication.
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.Protest solemnly unto them; that, if it be possible, thou mayst yet prevent their sin and misery.
The manner of the king, i.e. of the kings which they desire, like the kings of other nations. He speaks not of the just authority, or the right of their kings, but of their practice, as is evident from divers of the following particulars, which are expressly forbidden and condemned in Scripture, as we shall see.
And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people that asked of him a king.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.He will take your sons, to wit, injuriously and by violence, as this Hebrew word is oft used, as Genesis 20:3 27:36 Job 5:5; and so it must be here; because otherwise the king would have no more privilege than any of his subjects; for any man might take a son with his own or parents’ consent.
And to be his horsemen, or, and for his horses; for so the Hebrew word parash sometimes signifies, as Isaiah 21:7,9 28:28; to ride his horses.
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.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 take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.Which would be more grievous to their parents, and more dangerous to themselves, because of the tenderness of that sex, and 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.He will take your fields, to wit, 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.
And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.He will take the tenth: besides the several tenths which God hath reserved for his service and servants, he will, when he pleaseth, impose another tenth upon you.
To his officers, Heb. to his eunuchs; which may be properly understood, and 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 which God would have cast out of the congregation.
And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.By constraint, and without sufficient recompense
He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.i.e. He shall use you like slaves, and deprive you of that liberty which you now enjoy.
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.Ye shall cry out in that day; ye shall bitterly mourn for the sad effects of this inordinate desire of a king.
The Lord will not hear you in that day, because you will not hear him, nor obey his counsel, in this day. Compare Proverbs 1:24, &c. Zechariah 7:13.
Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;They said, Nay, i.e. these things shall never be, these are but vain suppositions to affright us from our purpose. Thus they are not ashamed to give Samuel the lie, of whose modesty, integrity, and prophetical spirit they had so great assurance, as if he had reigned those pretences merely to keep the power in his own and his sons’ hands.
We will have a king over us; we will have a king, whatsoever it cost us, although all thy predictions should be verified.
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.That we also may be like all the nations: woeful stupidity! whereas it was their glory and happiness that they were unlike all other nations, Numbers 23:9 Deu 33:28, as in other glorious privileges, so especially in this, that the Lord was their only and immediate King and Lawgiver.
And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD.He repeated them privately between God and himself; partly for his own vindication and comfort; and partly as a foundation for his prayers to God, for direction and assistance in this difficult case.
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.Betake yourselves to your several occasions, till you hear more from me in this matter; for God hath heard your words, and will give way to your irregular and obstinate desire; and accordingly I shall wait upon God for the determination of the person, which he hath wholly reserved to himself, as for judges, so for the king also, Deu 17:15, and for the regulation of all the circumstances.