The Popular Desire for a King
1 Samuel 8:4-22
Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel to Ramah,

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.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,

WEB: Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel to Ramah;

The Disaffected People
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