"Listen to their voice," the LORD said to Samuel. "Appoint a king for them." Then Samuel told the men of Israel, "Everyone must go back to his city."
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.
I. THE IMPROPRIETY OF THE REQUEST.
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.
II. REASONS OF THE DIVINE CONSENT.
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."
III. ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE SAME PROCESS.
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.
Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.
1. The story gives us the date to start with, and connects present histories with those of a great and honoured past. Samuel is still at the nation's head, but failing: "And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel." Piety cannot be transmitted according to physical laws; and yet it seems as if we might insist, upon the signal benefits of being born of good stock rather than of corrupt.
2. Who were these sons of Samuel? Unfortunately there is no account of them that gives any satisfaction. The lesson we learn here is worth pressing a little: noble names do not change bad hearts nor make wicked men fit to hold high office. Samuel probably hoped a great deal for those sons of his when he fixed upon them such names as these in the reverent regard for the old faith of Israel. "Joel" signifies Jehovah is God; and "Abiah" means Jehovah is my Father. We have no evidence that these children cared for their fine names while they were little, as Samuel did for his when he moved reverently around in the ministrations of the Tabernacle, a devout lad, obedient to God and to Eli. We surely might expect that a maiden called "Sophia" ought not to be a fool, for her name means wisdom. And just so "Gertrude" suggests a character of all-truth. And "Alfred" becomes a pledge of all-peace. And "Leonard" must not be a coward as long as he is called lion-like. "Francis" is to be frank, and "Anna" is to be gracious, or intelligent people will laugh when their names are called out in the room. Surely Nathanael, Theodore, Elnathan, and Dorothy ought to bear in mind every day and hour that their names all alike signify the gift of God.
3. The illustration of all this grows more and more vivid as the story moves on; the next verse reads: "And his sons walked not, in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes and perverted judgment." The lesson we learn from this is explanatory as well as full of admonition: covetousness is idolatry. A curious word is this here rendered "lucre;" it is precisely that which Moses employed when he was defining the duties and char. actor of a judge: "Moreover, thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness." That word "covetousness" is the same as the word "lucre" in this verse before us. The old Hebrew Targum translates it, "the mammon of falsehood."
4. At this point the Scripture narrative begins to indicate the effect of all this disastrous corruption in Samuel's own family. "Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah." Croakers always find easy companionship: that is our lesson now. Ravens are said to detect afar off birds of the same black feather and the same lugubrious voice. These "elders of Israel" in the story might surely have been about better business than ministering to popular discontent. They were living under a theocracy, and God was overhead; they could have interfered before for the suppression of these corrupt judges, and in a wiser way. It was a remark of Lord Beaconsfield that "it is much easier to be critical than to be correct." Joel and Abiah were bad enough; we wonder if the monarchists liked the atmosphere better when Saul came into power. The plan proceeds plausibly. It is fashionable to prate about the voice of the people: vox populi, vox Dei: here the voice of the people is directly against the voice of God on a great moral and political issue. A thousand votes for a wrong is not enough to make it right: once nothing is nothing, twice nothing is nothing, tea times nothing is nothing, a thousand times nothing is nothing: how many Israelite elders would be necessary so to multiply nothing as to make it foot up something at last? Just as many, we reply, as at any time it would take of wrong-headed men to make wrong right.
5. But now let us bear in mind that when a mean thing has to get itself done somehow, it requires a vast amount of meaningless talk for its advancement into recognition and success. Our practical lesson from this part of the story is this: graceful language is sometimes used to conceal thought, and not express it. Diplomacy has a certain strong flavour of antiquity about it. Just notice how these crafty elders plead their hypocritical arguments for an overthrow of the government, and shake the conscientious scruples of the faithful old man by the humiliating and cruel arraignment of his sons. Those were not the real reasons why they wanted a king. Lord Bacon declares that "in all wise human governments they that sit at the helm do more happily bring their purposes about, and insinuate more easily into the minds of the people, by pretext and oblique courses than by direct methods; so that all sceptres and maces of authority ought in very deed to be crooked in the upper end." It was an old saying of Pascal that the world is satisfied with words, and few care to dive beneath the surface of them. Logic has very little to de with the utterances of a bad heart when politicians begin to reason; and there is truth in the sarcasm of one of the wittiest of Frenchmen: "When the major of an argument is an error, and the minor a passion, it is to be feared that the conclusion will be a crime, for this is a syllogism of self-love." Why did they not suppress the sons and cling to God.
6. We become more and more sure as we read on that majorities are not to be trusted among even the wisest of men. Majorities can be gotten on almost every occasion for the right or for the wrong indiscriminately, according to the popular epidemic of enthusiasm at the time. What is wanted in our day is the virtue of an individual courage and of a personal conviction. We need voters with a conscience that impels them to stand by the right measures and support the righteous men for administering them.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.).
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