Vox Populi, Vox Dei
1 Samuel 8:22
And the LORD said to Samuel, Listen to their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said to the men of Israel…

Perhaps there is no proverb which is more familiar, as it is certain there is none more faulty, than this: "The voice of the people is the voice of God." And since the motto is Latin, it might as well go now with a comment upon it from one of the greatest of the old Roman philosophers, even Cicero himself, who says in his treatise Concerning Laws: "It is most absurd to suppose that all the things are just which are found in the enactments and institutions of a State. There is no such power in the sentence and command of fools as that by their vote the nature of things can be reversed. The law did not begin when first written, but when it first had existence; that is, when the Divine mind first had existence."

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.).

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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.

WEB: Yahweh said to Samuel, "Listen to their voice, and make them a king." Samuel said to the men of Israel, "Every man go to his city."

A King Desired
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