Asking for a King
1 Samuel 8:4-20
Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel to Ramah,…

Revolutions sometimes take place without great popular excitement or the leadership of great men. The history before us presents such a case The dramatis personae are the elders of the tribes, the representatives of the people; Samuel the prophet, the judge and hero, and Saul, the least free agent of them all, whose exceptional size contrasts with the littleness of the figure he cuts in this first scene of a national tragedy. The revolution, however quietly accomplished, was important and permanent. The introduction of a new instrument under the theocracy, it forever separated the prophetic office from civil government. Henceforth the prophet and magistrate are distinct as to office and often antagonistic as to policy. Both are prominent in the development of the Messianic design. The freedom of the individual and the equality of the citizen have never been so justly and wisely provided for as under the Hebrew law. A freer people from the Exodus to the reign of Solomon was never known. The idea of royal authority was not new to the Hebrews. All around them were petty monarchies more or less absolute, and by tradition and commerce they were familiar with the greater kingdoms of the Nile and Euphrates. The demand for a king came from the elders of the tribes. They came fortified with Scripture, quoting Moses in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, simply asking what the Lord had predicted and recorded by their great legislator as a possible event in their history. They aimed at a centralisation of power that would combine the tribes for defensive purposes. To their unbelief which failed to look beyond man, it seemed that Samuel was to have no successor. The history of popular revolutions shows that there was no unusual lack of political wisdom among those compatriots of Samuel. Indeed, their mistake has ever been the ordinary wisdom of the world. Grecian and Roman history shows how natural it is for nations to seek relief from popular lawlessness in tyrants, dictators and emperors. Mediaeval history repeats how popular suffering, industries and property sought escape from feudal tyrannies under the sceptre of kings. So the Hebrews falsely argued. To secure a possible constitutional concession they adopt manners and methods full of insult and ingratitude to Samuel and sacrilege and impiety toward God. The political blunder, as well as religious crime, of the Hebrews was in charging their troubles not upon corrupt magistrates and popular lawlessness, but on their national constitution. Now, it may be admitted that this constitution was defective in power lust as soon as the people lost the sense of their theocratic obligations and of Jehovah as their present King. Decline in theocratic belief and life was ever the one sign of weakness in the Hebrew commonwealth, and the one only dissolvent of their otherwise impregnable security. Their liberties were invincible against internal or external foes so long as they were faithful to inspired covenant morality; but apostasy ever made them vulnerable, and at last exposed their national life to a deadly wound. In this hour of ecclesiastical and political peril Samuel carried the matter in prayer to God To the illustrious chief the answer of God is full of grace, sympathy and pathos: "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me. that I should not reign over them." This reply teaches —

1. That this prayer for a king was essential apostasy (Psalm 118:9). In coming down to the political policies of surrounding nations they violated their covenant relations and exposed themselves to bondage under the prince of this world. The final cause of all priestly and political absolutism is to be found in the implacable enmity of Satan to divine sovereignty and human liberty. "Conscience makes cowards of us all," and fears, the inevitable consequence of declining piety, make them distrust the protection and guidance of Jehovah.

2. That this prayer for a king was the outburst of an hereditary vice This was the rejection of the sovereignty of God. They did now just what their patriarchs did to Joseph and their fathers to Moses, the representatives of that sovereignty.

3. That this prayer for a king was practical idolatry (ver. 8).

4. That God may grant the obstinate prayer of mistrust (vers. 9, 19-22).

5. Yet the prayer was granted under solemn protest and clear warning (vers. 9-18). The original government of the world designed by God was neither a monarchy, an aristocracy nor a republic. None of these is compatible with the individual sovereignty bestowed in the creation of man. But the theocracy was above the ethical culture of the people, too sublime for the moral education of their schools The large personal liberty conferred by the Mosaic constitution degenerated into social lawlessness and weak administration, and foreign infidelity and socialism penetrated and corrupted the religious beliefs and national manners of the people. The moral status of the people was unworthy of the free government God had given them. Concentration under the direct sovereignty of God was more possible than under a human dynasty. This their own history demonstrates. God alone is King. The noblest idea of government, individual or social, is a theocracy, and under it the parity of citizens. Nor need this state be utopian if the people are, as they ought to be and can be, under a Bible cultus. National unity and perpetuity is a matter of ethics, and not of community of race, tradition and history, of laws and language, of literature and religion. These latter are additional bonds, but history, from the Hebrews to the Americans, shows how feeble they are to preserve national unity. Scepticism and infidelity are the sure signs of mental and moral degeneracy in civilisation. Royalty is a Divine prerogative, and property belongs to the Son of God. Our safety is trust in God by the recognition in the family, school and legislature of Jesus Christ as King, His doctrines as law and His precepts as practice

(G. C. Heckman, D. 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;

A King Instead of a God
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