1 Samuel 8:4-22
Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel to 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.
Parallel VersesKJV: Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,