1 Samuel 8
Things went so very well with Israel, in the chapter before, under
Samuel's administration, that, methinks, it is a pity to find him so
quickly, as we do in this chapter, old, and going off, and things
working towards a revolution. But so it is; Israel's good days seldom
continue long. We have here,
I. Samuel decaying,
1 Samuel 8:1.
II. His sons degenerating,
1 Samuel 8:2,3.
III. Israel discontented with the present government and anxious to see
a change. For
1. They petition Samuel to set a king over them,
1 Samuel 8:4,5.
2. Samuel brings the matter to God,
1 Samuel 8:6.
3. God directs him what answer to give them, by way of reproof
(1 Samuel 8:7,8),
and by way of remonstrance, setting forth the consequences of a change
of the government, and how uneasy they would soon be under it,
1 Samuel 8:9-18.
4. They insist upon their petition,
1 Samuel 8:19,20.
5. Samuel promises them, from God, that they shall shortly be gratified,
1 Samuel 8:21,22.
Thus hard is it for people to know when they are well off.
|The Wickedness of Samuel's Sons.
||B. C. 1075.|
1 And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his
sons judges over Israel.
2 Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his
second, Abiah: they were judges in Beer-sheba.
3 And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after
lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.
Two sad things we find here, but not strange things:--
1. A good and useful man growing old and unfit for service
(1 Samuel 8:1):
Samuel was old, and could not judge Israel, as he had done. He
is not reckoned to be past sixty years of age now, perhaps not so much;
but he was a man betimes, was full of thoughts and cared when he was a
child, which perhaps hastened the infirmities of age upon him. The
fruits that are the first ripe keep the worst. He had spent his
strength and spirits in the fatigue of public business, and now, if he
think to shake himself as at other times, he finds he is mistaken: old
age has cut his hair. Those that are in the prime of their time ought
to be busy in doing the work of life: for, as they go into years, they
will find themselves less disposed to it and less able for it.
2. The children of a good man turning aside, and not treading in his
steps. Samuel had given his sons so good an education, and they had
given him such good hopes of their doing well, and gained such a
reputation in Israel, that he made them judges, assistants to him
awhile, and afterwards deputies under him at Beer-sheba, which lay
remote from Ramah,
1 Samuel 8:2.
Probably the southern countries petitioned for their residence there,
that they might not be necessitated to travel far with their causes. We
have reason to think that Samuel gave them their commissions, not
because they were his sons (he had no ambition to entail the government
upon his family, any more than Gideon had), but because, for aught that
yet appeared, they were men very fit for the trust; and none so proper
to ease the aged judge, and take some of the burden off him, as
(cæteris paribus--other things being equal) his own
sons, who no doubt were respected for their good father's sake, and,
having such an advantage at setting out, might soon have been great if
they had but been good. But, alas! his sons walked not in his
(1 Samuel 8:3),
and, when their character was the reverse of his, their relation to so
good a man, which otherwise would have been their honour, was really
their disgrace. Degeneranti genus opprobrium--A good extraction is a
reproach to him that degenerates from it. Note, Those that have the
most grace themselves cannot give grace to their children. It has often
been the grief of good men to see their posterity, instead of treading
in their steps, trampling upon them, and, as Job speaks, marring
their path. Nay, many that have begun well, promised fair, and set
out in the right path, so that their parents and friends have had great
hopes of them, yet afterwards have turned aside to by-paths, and been
the grief of those of whom they should have been the joy. When Samuel's
sons were made judges, and settled at a distance form him, then they
discovered themselves. Thus,
(1.) Many that have been well educated, and have conducted themselves
well while they were under their parents' eye, when they have gone
abroad into the world and set up for themselves have proved bad. Let
none therefore be secure either of themselves or theirs, but depend on
(2.) Many that have done well in a state of meanness and subjection
have been spoiled by preferment and power. Honours change men's minds,
and too often for the worse. It does not appear that Samuel's sons were
so profane and vicious as Eli's sons; but, whatever they were in other
respects, they were corrupt judges, they turned aside after
lucre, after the mammon of unrighteousness, so the Chaldee
reads it. Note, The love of money is the root of all evil. It is
pernicious in any, but especially in judges. Samuel had taken no bribes
(1 Samuel 12:3),
but his sons had, though, no doubt, he warned them against it when he
made them judges; and then they perverted judgment. In determining
controversies, they had an eye to the bribe, not to the law, and
enquired who bid highest, not who had right on his side. It is sad with
a people when the public justice that should do them right, being
perverted, does them the greatest wrong.
|The People Desire a King; God's Answer to Israel; The People Insist on Having a King.
||B. C. 1075.|
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together,
and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
5 And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk
not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the
6 But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a
king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
7 And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the
people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected
thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over
8 According to all the works which they have done since the day
that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith
they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also
9 Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest
solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that
shall reign over them.
10 And Samuel told all the words of the LORD unto the people
that asked of him a king.
11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall
reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for
himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some
shall run before his chariots.
12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and
captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and
to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and
instruments of his chariots.
13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and
to be cooks, and to be bakers.
14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your
oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his
15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your
vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants,
and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to
17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his
18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which
ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that
19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel;
and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king
may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he
rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD.
22 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.
We have here the starting of a matter perfectly new and surprising, which was the setting up of kingly government in Israel. Perhaps the thing had been often talked of among them by those that were given to change and affected that which looked great.
But we do not find that it was ever till now publicly proposed and
debated. Abimelech was little better than a titular king, though he is
said to reign over Israel
and perhaps his fall had for a great while rendered the title of king
odious in Israel, as that of Tarquinius did among the Romans; but, if
it had, by this time the odium was worn off, and some bold steps are
here taken towards so great a revolution as that amounted to. Here
I. The address of the elders to Samuel in this matter
(1 Samuel 8:4,5):
They gathered themselves together, by common consent; and not in
a riotous tumultuous manner, but with the respect due to his character,
they came to him to his house as Ramah with their address, which
1. A remonstrance of their grievances: in short, Thou art old, and
thy sons walk not in thy ways. Many a fairer occasion that people
had had to ask a king, when they were oppressed by their neighbours or
embroiled at home for want of a king in Israel, but a small
thing will serve factious spirits for a colour to desire a change.
(1.) It was true that Samuel was old; but if that made him less able to
ride the circuit, and sit long on the bench, yet it made him the more
wise and experienced, and, upon that account, the fitter to rule. If he
was old, had he not grown old in their service? And it was very unkind,
ungrateful, nay, and unjust, to cast him off when he was old, who had
spent his days in doing them good. God had saved his youth from being
(1 Samuel 3:20),
yet they make his old age so, which should have been counted worthy of
double honour. If old people be upbraided with their infirmities, and
laid aside for them, let them not think it strange; Samuel himself was
(2.) It was true that his sons did not walk in his ways; the more was
his grief, but they could not say it was his fault: he had not, like
Eli, indulged them in their badness, but was ready to receive
complaints against them. And, if that had been the thing desired, we
may well suppose, upon the making out of the charge of bribery against
them he would have superseded their commissions and punished them. But
this would not content the elders of Israel; they had another project
in their head.
2. A petition for the redress of these grievances, by setting a king
over them: Make us a king to judge us like all the nations. Thus
far it was well, that they did not rise up in rebellion against Samuel
and set up a king for themselves, vi et armis--by force; but they
applied to Samuel, God's prophet, and humbly begged of him to do it.
But it appears by what follows that it was an evil proposal and ill
made, and was displeasing to God. God designed them a king, a man after
his own heart, when Samuel was dead; but they would anticipate God's
counsel, and would have one now that Samuel was old. They had a prophet
to judge them, that had immediate correspondence with heaven, and
therein they were great and happy above any nation, none having God
so nigh unto them as they had,
But this would not serve; they must have a king to judge them with
external pomp and power, like all the nations. A poor prophet in
a mantle, though conversant in the visions of the Almighty, looked mean
in the eyes of those who judged by outward appearance; but a king in a
purple robe, with his guards and officers of state, would look great:
and such a one they must have. They knew it was in vain to court Samuel
to take upon him the title and dignity of a king, but he must appoint
them one. They do not say, "Give us a king that is wise and good, and
will judge better than thy sons do," but, "Give us a king," any body
that will but make a figure. Thus foolishly did they forsake their own
mercies, and, under pretence of advancing the dignity of their nation
to that of their neighbours, did really thrust themselves down from
their own excellency, and profane their crown by casting it to the
II. Samuel's resentment of this address,
1 Samuel 8:6.
Let us see how he took it.
1. It cut him to the heart. Probably it was a surprise to him, and he
had not any intimation before of their design, which made it the more
grievous. The thing displeased Samuel; not when they upbraided him with
his own infirmities and his children's irregularities (he could
patiently bear what reflected on himself and his own family), but it
displeased him when they said, Give us a king to judge us,
because that reflected upon God and his honour.
2. It drove him to his knees; he gave them no answer for the present,
but took time to consider of what they proposed, and prayed unto the
Lord for direction what to do, spreading the case before him and
leaving it with him, and so making himself easy. Samuel was a man much
in prayer, and we are encouraged in every thing to make our requests
known to God,
When any thing disturbs us, it is our interest, as well as our duty, to
show before God our trouble, and he gives us leave to be humbly free
III. The instruction God gave him concerning this matter. Those that in
straits seek to God shall find him nigh unto them, and ready to direct
them. He tells him,
1. That which would be an allay to his displeasure. Samuel was much
disturbed at the proposal: it troubled him greatly to see his prophetic
office thus slighted, and all the good turns he had done to Israel thus
ungratefully returned; but God tells him he must not think it either
hard or strange.
(1.) He must not think it hard that they had put this slight upon him,
for they had herein put a slight upon God himself: "They have not
rejected thee only, but they have rejected me. I share with
thee in the affront,"
1 Samuel 8:7.
Note, If God interest himself in the indignities that are done us, and
the contempts that are put upon us, we may well afford to bear them
patiently; nor need we think the worse of ourselves if for his sake
we bear reproach
but rather rejoice and count it an honour,
Samuel must not complain that they were weary of his government, though
just and gentle, for really they were weary of God's government; this
was what they disliked: They have rejected me, that I should not
reign over them. God reigns over the heathen
over all the world, but the government of Israel had hitherto been, in
a more peculiar manner than ever any government was, a Theocracy, a
divine government; their judges had their call and commission
immediately from God; the affairs of their nation were under his
peculiar direction. As the constitution, so the administration of their
government, was by Thus saith the Lord; this method they were
weary of, though it was their honour and safety, above any thing, so
long as they kept in with God. They were indeed so much the more
exposed to calamities if they provoked God to anger by sin, and found
they could not transgress at so cheap a rate as other nations could,
which perhaps was the true reason why they desired to stand upon the
same terms with God that other nations did.
(2.) He must not think it strange, nor marvel at the matter, for they
do as they always have done: According to all the works which they
have done, since the day that I brought them out of Egypt, so do they
1 Samuel 8:8;
They had at first been so very respectful and obsequious to Samuel that
he began to hope they were cured of their old stubborn disposition; but
now he found himself deceived in them, and must not be surprised at it.
They had always been rude to their governors, witness Moses and Aaron;
nay, They have forsaken me and served other gods; the greatness
of their crime, in affecting new gods, may make this crime of affecting
new governors seem little. Samuel might expect they would deal
treacherously, for they were called transgressors from the womb,
This had been their manner from their youth up,
2. He tells him that which would be an answer to their demand. Samuel
would not have known what to say if God had not instructed him. Should
he oppose the motion, it would bespeak a greater fondness of power and
dominion than did become a prophet, and an indulgence of his sons.
Should he yield to the motion, it would look like the betraying of his
trust, and he would become accessory to all the bad consequences of a
change. Aaron sinned in gratifying the people when they said, Make
us gods; Samuel dares not therefore comply with them when they say,
Make us a king, but he gives them, with assurance, the answer
God sent them.
(1.) He must tell them that they shall have a king. Hearken to the
voice of the people,
1 Samuel 8:7,
1 Samuel 8:9.
Not that God was pleased with their request, but, as sometimes he
crosses us in love, so at other times he gratifies us in wrath; he did
so here. When they said, Give us a king and princes he gave them a
king in his anger (see
as he gave them quails,
God bade Samuel humour them in this matter,
[1.] That they might be beaten with their own rod, and might feel, to
their cost, the difference between his government and the government of
a king; see
2 Chronicles 12:8.
It soon appeared how much worse their condition was, in all respects,
under Saul, than it had been under Samuel.
[2.] To prevent something worse. If they were not gratified, they would
either rise in rebellion against Samuel or universally revolt from
their religion and admit the gods of the nations, that they might have
kings like them. Rather than so, let them have a king.
[3.] God knows how to bring glory to himself out of it, and to serve
his own wise purposes even by their foolish counsels.
(2.) But he must tell them, withal, that when they have a king they
will soon have enough of him, and will, when it is too late, repent of
their choice. This he must protest solemnly to them
(1 Samuel 8:9),
that, if they would have a king to rule them, as the eastern kings
ruled their subjects, they would find the yoke exceedingly heavy. They
looked only at the pomp or magnificence of a king, and thought that
would make their nation great and considerable among its neighbours,
and would strike a terror upon their enemies; but he must bid them
consider how they would like to bear the charges of that pomp, and how
they would endure that arbitrary power which the neighbouring kings
assumed. Note, Those that set their hearts inordinately upon any thing
in this world ought, for the moderating of their desires, to consider
the inconveniences as well as the conveniences that will attend it, and
to set the one over against the other in their thoughts. Those that
submit to the government of the world and the flesh are told plainly
what hard masters they are, and what a tyranny the dominion of sin is;
and yet they will exchange God's government for it.
IV. Samuel's faithful delivery of God's mind to them,
1 Samuel 8:10.
He told them all the words of the Lord, how ill he resented it,
that he construed it a rejecting of him, and compared it with their
serving other gods,--that he would grant their request if they insisted
on it, but withal had ordered him to represent to them the certain
consequences of their choice, that they would be such that if they had
any reason left them, and would allow themselves to consult their own
interest, they would withdraw their petition, and beg to continue as
they were. Accordingly he lays before them, very particularly, what
would be, not the right of a king in general, but the manner of the
king that should reign over them, according to the pattern of the
1 Samuel 8:11.
Samuel does not speak (as bishop Patrick expounds it) of a just and
honest right of a king to do these things, for his right is quite
otherwise described in that part of Moses's law which concerns the
king's duty, but such a right as the kings of the nations had then
acquired. This shall be the manner of the king, that is, "thus
he must support his dignity at the expense of that which is dearest to
you, and thus he will abuse his power, as those that have power are apt
to do; and, having the militia in his hand, you will be under a
necessity of submitting to him."
1. If they will have such a king as the nations have, let them
(1.) That king must have a great retinue, abundance of servants to wait
on him, grooms to look after his chariots and horses, gentlemen to ride
about with him, and footmen to run before his chariots. This is the
chief grandeur of princes, and the imaginary glory of great men, to
have a multitude of attendants. And whence must he have these? "Why, he
will take your sons, who are free-born, have a liberal education, and
whom you now have at your own disposal, and will appoint them for
1 Samuel 8:11.
They must wait upon him, and be at his beck; those that used to work
for their parents and themselves must work for him, ear his ground,
and reap his harvest
(1 Samuel 8:12),
and count it their preferment too,
1 Samuel 8:16.
This would be a great change.
(2.) He must keep a great table; he will not be content to dine with
his neighbours upon a sacrifice, as Samuel used to do
(1 Samuel 9:13);
but he must have a variety of dainty dishes, forced meats, and
sweet-meats, and delicate sauces; and who must prepare him these? "Why,
he will take your daughters, the most ingenious and handy of them, whom
you hoped to prefer to houses and tables of their own; and, whether you
be willing or no, they must be his confectioners, and cooks, and
bakers, and the like."
(3.) "He must needs have a standing army, for guards and garrisons; and
your sons, instead of being elders of your cities, and living in quiet
and honour at home, must be captains over thousands and captains over
fifties, and must be disposed of at the pleasure of the sovereign."
(4.) "You may expect that he will have great favourites, whom, having
dignified and ennobled, he must enrich, and give them estates suitable
to their honour; and which way can he do that, but out of your
1 Samuel 8:14.
He will take your fields and vineyards, which descended to you
from your ancestors, and which you hoped to leave to your posterity
after you, even the best of them; and will not only take them to
himself (you could bear that better), but he will give them to his
servants, who will be your masters, and bear rule over that for
which you have laboured, How will you like that?"
(5.) "He must have great revenues to maintain his grandeur and power
with; and whence must he have them but from you? He will take the tenth
of the fruits of your ground
(1 Samuel 8:15),
and your cattle,
1 Samuel 8:17.
You think the tenths, the double tenths, which the law of God has
appointed for the support of the church, grievous enough, and grudge
the payment of them; but, if you have a king, there must issue another
tenth out of your estates, which will be levied with more rigour, for
the support of the royal dignity. Consider the expense with the
magnificence, and whether it will quit cost."
2. These would be their grievances, and,
(1.) They would have none but God to complain to. Once they complained
to the prince himself, and were answered, according to the manner of
the king, Your yoke is heavy, and I will add to it,
1 Kings 12:11.
(2.) When they complained to God he would not hear them,
1 Samuel 8:18.
Nor could they expect that he should, both because they had been deaf
to his calls and admonitions, and this trouble, in particular, they had
brought upon themselves by rejecting him, and would not believe when he
told them what would come of it. Note, When we bring ourselves into
distress by our own irregular desires and projects we justly forfeit
the comfort of prayer and the benefit of divine aids, and, if God be
not better to us than we deserve, must have our relief in our own
hands, and then it is bad with us.
V. The people's obstinacy in their demand,
1 Samuel 8:19,20.
One would think such a representation of the consequences as this was,
coming from God himself, who can neither deceive by his word nor be
deceived in his knowledge, should have prevailed with them to waive
their request: but their hearts were upon it, right or wrong, good or
evil: "We will have a king over us, whatever God or Samuel say
to the contrary; we will have a king, whatever it cost us, and whatever
inconvenience we bring upon ourselves or our posterity by it." See
1. They were quite deaf to reason and blind to their own interest. They
could not answer Samuel's arguments against it, nor deny the force of
them, and yet they grow more violent in their request, and more
insolent. Before it was, "Pray, make us a king;" now it is,
"Nay, but we will have a king; yea, that we will, because we
will; nor will we bear to have any thing said against it." See the
absurdity of inordinate desires, and how they rob men of their reason.
2. They could not stay God's time. God had intimated to them in the law
that, in due time, Israel should have a king
and perhaps they had some intimation that the time was at hand; but
they are all in haste: "We, in our day, will have this king over us."
Could they but have waited ten or twelve years longer they would have
had David, a king of God's giving in mercy, and all the calamities that
attended the setting up of Saul would have been prevented. Sudden
resolves and hasty desires make work for a long and leisurely
3. That which they aimed at in desiring a king was not only, as before,
that they might be like the nations, and levelled with the one above
whom God had so far advanced them, but that they might have one to
judge them, and to go out before them when they took the field, and to
fight their battles. Foolish people and unwise! Could they ever desire
a battle better fought for them that the last was, by Samuel's prayer
and God's thunder?
1 Samuel 7:10.
Was victory hereby too sure to them? And were they fond of trying the
chance of war at the same uncertainty that others did? So sick, it
seems, were they of their privileges: and what was the issue? Their
first king was slain in a battle, which none of their judges ever were;
so was Josiah, one of the last and best.
VI. The dismissing of them with an intimation that very shortly they
should have what they asked.
1. Samuel rehearsed all their words in the ears of the Lord,
1 Samuel 8:21.
Not but that God perfectly knew it, without Samuel's report; but thus
he dealt faithfully between God and Israel, as a prophet, returning the
answer to him that sent him; and thus he waited on God for further
direction. God is fully acquainted with the state of the case we are in
care and doubt about, but he will know it from us. His rehearsing it
in the ears of the Lord intimates that it was done in private;
for the people were not disposed to join with him in prayer to God for
direction in this matter; also it bespeaks a holy familiarity, to which
God graciously admits his people: they speak in the ears of the Lord,
as one friend whispers with another; their communion with God is
meat they have to eat which the world knows not of,
2. God gave direction that they should have a king, since they were so
inordinately set upon it
(1 Samuel 8:22):
"Make them a king, and let them make their best of him, and
thank themselves if that very pomp and power which they are so eager to
see their sovereign in be their plague and burden." So he gave them
up to their own hearts' lusts. Samuel told them this, but sent them
home for the present, every man to his city; for the designation
of the person must be left to God; they had now no more to do. When God
saw fit to notify the choice to Samuel they should hear further from
him; in the mean time let them keep the peace and expect the issue.