As we continue in 1st Samuel chapter 8 today, we find that individual tribal and clan leaders of Israel have come to Samuel and announced that they want to be ruled by a king.
And this of course meant that Samuel would no longer be top dog and neither would his sons (that he had hoped might succeed him) have an opportunity to establish a kind of ruling dynasty of Judges.
Before we read a portion of chapter 8, keep in mind that we are entering a section of the bible that the more modern bible critics have labeled as unreliable.
And this is because we seem to have on the one hand the Lord despising the idea of Israel instituting a monarchy, and on the contrary actively becoming involved in the process and eventually even making our Messiah part of that new ruling class.
But also keep in mind that despite these critics’ claims, what is happening is that we are seeing the stark differences revealed between the God-ideal of a king and a typically man-ordained king.
Read 1 Samuel 8:7-22
Samuel went running to the Lord when those Israelite leaders announced their demand for a king, and he was undoubtedly surprised and downhearted when the Lord told him to go ahead and do what they asked. Further, says the Lord, they are not so much rejecting you as they are rejecting Me.
At Mt. Sinai the people of Israel had agreed that God would be their king. When the leaders argued with Moses and accused him of assuming too much power and behaving like a king, they said that the problem was that since the Lord was their king Moses was arrogant.
After Joshua led Israel into Canaan and conquered it and then later died, the people’s leaders stated that they had no interest in a new central authority figure because God was their king.
The truth is that all of these protests were hollow; they didn’t ever seriously see God as their actual king, it was more of a pleasant and useful fiction. It was designed to keep the 12 tribal chiefs in power with no one to lord over them.
Using the “God is our king” mantra was all about the tribal leadership finding a convenient excuse to retain their sovereignty and authority over their respective tribes.
A Shophet, a Judge, was God’s earthly proxy to administer justice. A Judge was the form of government that the Lord wanted over Israel on an as-needed basis.
A Shophet was raised up by the Lord to carry out precise instructions that the Lord gave to him, and usually, that began with the delivering of one tribe or another from foreign oppression.
The position of king was, in God’s eyes, already taken; HE was king and a human Judge was His subordinate. So when these leaders went to Samuel and insisted he appoints a man to become the king over Israel they were actually replacing God with a man.
And so the Lord tells Samuel in verse 8 that Israel is doing nothing new, it only feels that way because Samuel is directly affected. In a larger picture, Israel isn’t rejecting Samuel; they’re rejecting God.
However, says the Lord, a human king is going to rule them very differently than their divine king, and so Samuel is to speak to Israel, he is to caution them, that what they’re asking for isn’t going to turn out the way they planned.
In fact, in verse 9 where most bibles will say that Samuel was to warn the people, that misses the real sense of the meaning. The Hebrew phrase is ha’ed taid, and it means to declare legally.
The idea is that God has told Samuel to say to these Israelite leaders that when Israel gets this human king, a legal relationship between them and that king is being established that is very different from the legal relationship that they have had with God, their King, up until now.
And beginning in verse 10 Samuel outlines just some of these differences. Verse 10 gives us a fascinating word play. It says that the people have ha sha’al a king meaning that they have requested a king.
Later we find that this king that the people have asked for is Sha’ul (Saul), which means, “the requested one.” God has quite a flair for the ironic.
Now of course since the whole point is that Israel wants a monarchy modeled after the Gentile monarchies typical of the Middle East, then they can expect those same characteristics in their Israelite king.
For instance: a national army loyal to the king will be established just as is done with the Gentile nations. Naturally, this is part of what these Israelite leaders expected and hoped for (a professional army to defend them).
And this would not be an army of volunteers (like those who served Moses, Joshua, and the various Judges) who would gather to fight and then go back home afterward.But rather the army would consist of the young sons of the 12 tribes who would be obligated to serve in the military, full time, at the king’s command.
Since all modern armies had chariots, then, of course, some of those conscripted men would have to become human shields to protect the king by running ahead of and behind his royal chariot.
And he will NOT appoint the best and most capable Israelites as his military officers, but rather they will be chosen from this select group who is the king’s most loyal soldiers who act as his bodyguards. Military leadership ability will be secondary to absolute allegiance to the king.
Of course, an army needs food, and it needs weapons; so some of these officers will be in charge of fields and orchards that are going to be confiscated in the name of being “for the good of the nation.”
And this nationalized food production for the military will go hand-in-hand with nationalized weapons manufacture. After all, the government comes first since the king comes first.
- Why does the king come first? Well, who owns all the land of a kingdom? The king.
- Who owns all the people of the kingdom? The king.
- Who owns all the livestock and agricultural produce of the kingdom? The king.
He merely GRANTS his people a kind of ownership or possession of land and animals as long as it serves his purposes.
But that grant can be undone or modified (and often is) whenever it serves the national interest (meaning the king’s interest). And this is effectively how the Lord operated over Israel all these past years.
But now a man would assume that position and Israel would trust in a human king to care for them, guide them, protect them, and establish justice for them.
But it’s not just the males who will be enlisted for government service, so will the women of Israel have to serve. They will be required to serve the king and his court by making perfume and cooking for them for example.
And of course since the size of a king’s court has much to do with his status (and in the king’s eyes the status of his kingdom), and since Israel has a large population, Israel’s king will necessarily need a large court.
And if the king of Israel is to retain the court’s loyalty they too will need to be adequately supported and rewarded. And that will happen primarily by the king taking his citizens’ vineyards, and orchards, and fields and giving them to prominent members of his government.
But it doesn’t stop there. What the king doesn’t outright confiscate, he taxes. And this is to support those in his government who aren’t of sufficient status to receive the land, fields, and groves the king has taken away from his subjects.
Please note: this tithe that is spoken of here (technically one tenth but usually quite a bit more) is NOT the same tithe that is to go to support the Levitical Priesthood; this is in addition to it.
After all, now that the government has established an army, a system of taxation, a bureaucracy to oversee it and an infrastructure to support it and then taxes will be needed (does any of this sound at all close to home?). And what loyal citizen wouldn’t want to help with that duty and pay his fair share?
You see, in the Gentile human way of kingdom-government the king takes from everyone for himself and his interests. And this is in contrast to the God of Israel as the king who demands a tenth, but then uses it entirely to support His servants who are there for the benefit of the people.
The divine king gets nothing; the tithe is actually for the people since God has no needs or aspirations of wealth and power. An earthly king has no end of requirements (or more honestly, wants) and usually no end of ambitions either.
But that’s not the half of it; because God says that since you Hebrews have decided to replace Him with one of your own, fine. But don’t come complaining to Him about the Israelite king they want for themselves because He is not going to rescue them from this man.
God-principle is: there are some things that we choose that amounts to a direct rejection of the Lord and are so offensive to Him that He will allow us to live with our consequences more or less permanently. Don’t expect Him to fix it; go to the king that you preferred and chose over Him.
Predictably the leaders of Israel weren’t swayed by Samuel’s argument, and so they merely repeated the KEY phrase, “We want a king over us so we can be like all the nations.”
Many within Israel didn’t want to be the set-apart people anymore. They didn’t want to be a unique people for God, but they DID want to be like all the other nations.
In reality, they wanted (and expected to have) it both ways. They wanted to claim Yehoveh as their god and protector and benefactor and extract the benefits of that relationship, but they also wanted to follow the ways of the rest of the world and experience the personal pleasures and advantages of that anti-God lifestyle.
I’m sad to say that the greatest portion of Israel today takes the same view. They feel that being “the chosen” has been too much of a burden and that they would be much better off if God chose somebody else for a while. Many have rejected God outright; others only want it both ways.
The Church, on the other hand, says to Israel, “We have good news for you, then; God DID choose somebody else (us!)”. Both sides are sickeningly wrong.
Israel assumes that the cause of their current condition of being under constant duress and pressure for mere survival is because they were chosen; when in fact their condition is due to their abandoning the One who blessed them by selecting them.
The Church wants to claim elite chosen status, but then turns around and works like mad to become just like the rest of world in every imaginable way.
The Church wants the blessings of salvation, peace, protection, and prosperity from the Lord but at the same time wants the freedom of earthly pleasures, pagan ways of fun and celebration, and above all else to be outwardly indistinguishable from the world. None of this worked very well for ancient Israel, and it certainly won’t work for modern Israel or the body of Believers.
In verse 22 the Lord tells Samuel to “harken” to Israel’s leaders and set up a king for them. The Complete Jewish Bible says that Samuel should, “Do what they ask.”
The word that is being rather clumsily translated is one we’re familiar with: shema. And shema means to listen and obey, or in this case to hear and do. Hear Israel’s demand for a king and do it, and this will be with God’s permission.
Samuel understands now that the direction has been set and there is no use belaboring the point. So he sends the delegation of tribal leaders back to their respective territories to await the Lord, working out just who the choice of a king would be and how it would be indicated to Samuel.
We will continue with the story in 1 Samuel 9.