Here begins a new phase in the book. After the priest Eli and the prophet Samuel, a new person comes on the stage: the king.
Here begins a new phase in the book. After the priest Eli and the prophet Samuel, a new person comes on the stage: the king.
1And it came about when Samuel was old that he appointed his sons judges over Israel. 2Now the name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; [they] were judging in Beersheba. 3His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice.
Samuel has appointed his sons as judges and that is not right. Nowhere in Scripture does it appear that anyone becomes judge because his father is a judge. Judge becomes someone not by hereditary succession. A judge is given by God. Samuel appoints his sons when he is old. With this appointment he will certainly have had the interest of the people in mind. Yet his act is an independent one. Is God not able, just as He once did with Moses, to support him in his old age for his task, until God Himself has appointed a successor? We see Samuel act several times later. His age is therefore not such that he is incapable of serving and that therefore immediate follow-up seems necessary.
Our concern for the future of God’s people can also easily lead us to wrong acting. Maybe, however well-meaning we may be, we want to arrange things in the church according to our insight. However, our arrangement ensures that for the next generation we will eliminate the trust in the Lord. The hand of the creature does not need to grab the ark to prevent it from falling (2Sam 6:6-76But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset [it].7And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God.), for God is mighty to take care of that himself.
“Joel” means “the LORD is God” and “Abiah” means “my father is the LORD”. These names show what Samuel and his wife wanted for these sons. They hoped that their lives would bear witness to what their name means. It is possible that Samuel had this in mind when he made his two sons judges in Berseba to judge there.
Berseba is situated in the south (1Sam 3:2020All Israel from Dan even to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the LORD.), far away from the places where he exercises his service as a judge and prophet. That means that they are judge in a limited area and not over the whole people. Most Israelites have nothing to do with them at all. Normally the behavior of Samuel’s sons would not interest them either, but now they can use it to motivate their own carnal desires.
It seems Samuel has overlooked the fact that the office of judge is not an office that can be transferred from father to son. Something else seems to have escaped Samuel’s attention and that is that his sons can’t cope with this task. He does not see the faults of his sons, while the people have an eye for it. In it he is reminiscent of Eli and his sons.
We should not compare Samuel’s mistakes with the mistakes Eli made with his two sons. Because of what Eli did, the priesthood failed completely. However, this does not alter the fact that the prophet Samuel also makes such a mistake. He too does not see the mistakes of his sons. There is always the danger that we will easily perceive the mistakes of others, while equally easily overlooking the mistakes of our own children.
We may wonder why such a God-fearing father has such bad sons. Could that be because of his many trips and therefore his long absence? God’s Word does not express itself about it. We find more often, both in Scripture and in daily life, that God-fearing parents have children who do not follow in the footsteps of their parents’ faith. It is not always clear why. In any case, let us be very cautious in criticizing the education.
The sins of Samuel’s sons are threefold.
1. They turn aside after dishonest gain. God’s Word warns those who care for God’s people not to seek financial gain (1Pet 5:22shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to [the will of] God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness;).
2. They take bribes. As a result, their jurisdiction does not become a fair one. The best-paying or most bidding person is found to be in the right.
3. As a result of the two preceding points, they pervert justice.
By this practice they show the features of an ungodly man (Pro 17:2323A wicked man receives a bribe from the bosom
To pervert the ways of justice.; Exo 23:6,86“You shall not pervert the justice [due] to your needy [brother] in his dispute.8“You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.; Deu 16:18-2018“You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.19You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.20Justice, [and only] justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you.).
4Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; 5and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.”
The desire to have a king is expressed by “all the elders of Israel”. The leaders, the fathers of the people, lead the people. Wisdom is not always to be found with the older, as Elihu says: “The abundant [in years] may not be wise, Nor may elders understand justice” (Job 32:99“The abundant [in years] may not be wise,
Nor may elders understand justice.
). It is a general wish. In the wickedness of Samuel’s sons, the people found an excuse to desire a king. In order to give a reason for their desire for a king, the people misused Samuel’s mistake in the appraisal of his sons. It is proof that they are blind to their own failure and to the fact that a king will not do better. In verse 77The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. the LORD says what the real reason is and this is that they no longer want to listen to Him.
This is also the real reason for introducing all kinds of offices into Christianity. Religious man wants visible dominion. The invisible guidance of the Holy Spirit does not meet the wishes of man. Man must be able to point to a qualified pastor or a pope with his staff. The church must learn from business. The church has become a business that has to be run. There is a product that needs to be sold.
Things must be recognizable to all people, to believers and unbelievers. The unseen God is too far away and must be brought closer, made tangible, perceptible to man’s senses. You have to be able to smell, hear, see and experience Him.
The elders substantiate their request for a king with two arguments. The first is that Samuel is old and the second is that his sons are bad. If these were real arguments, they should have complained earlier about Eli’s age, who was much older, and about the behavior of his sons, who were much worse. We do not hear that they have ever complained about that. That is why they are utility arguments. If you want something, you will always find a reason.
It has been calculated that Samuel must have been here between sixty and seventy years old. Then you’re at an advanced age, but not really old. There is no evidence that he became forgetful or began to show other signs of old age. He was still powerful. This becomes clear when he later chops Agag with the sword in pieces (1Sam 15:3333But Samuel said, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel hewed Agag to pieces before the LORD at Gilgal.). There is a third reason why the people want a king. That will come to light later (1Sam 12:1212When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ although the LORD your God [was] your king.).
The desire to have a king is not wrong in itself. God wants to give His people a king, they may even ask for it (Deu 17:14-2014“When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’15you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, [one] from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman.16Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way.’17He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself.18“Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.19It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes,20that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel.). But the people want one according to their own taste, in order to be able to compete with the nations. They do not want a king who reveals to them the will of God and rules according to His will. Nor do they want to wait for God’s time and God’s choice. They want a king and they want him now. Therefore their question here is wrong and not according to God’s will. It is not only about what one asks, but with what purpose and in what mind. They want something visible, something for which they can prostrate.
Their desire stems from what they see in the nations around them. They want to be “just like all the nations”. They have a king, so they also want a king. This word must have been particularly painful for the LORD, because He separated them from all the other nations to be His people, a people that proclaims His excellencies. It is their fame that they are not like the other nations (Num 23:99“As I see him from the top of the rocks,
And I look at him from the hills;
Behold, a people [who] dwells apart,
And will not be reckoned among the nations.
6But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. 8Like all the deeds which they have done since the day that I brought them up from Egypt even to this day—in that they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also.
The LORD’s answer in verse 77The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them. gives reason to think that Samuel’s personal feelings have been hurt and that he does not like the people’s request. Yet that's only a guess. If there is any hurt at all, Samuel does not allow himself to be led by it. He brings these things to the LORD. Samuel’s reaction is prayer. This may be the reaction for every disappointment that can happen to someone in life. He is the spiritual leader and is put aside, but he does not complain or sue the people – unlike Elijah (Rom 11:2b2God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in [the passage about] Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?).
He does not feel offended either. A man with his spirit and mind can bear that. He has never sought himself. He has not claimed his position either. It is the position the LORD has given him. He did not suddenly appear as a prophet, but grew in this position. Everyone has been able to observe his whole life. He also did not use the death of Eli and his sons to become the leader of the people. He has always waited for God’s time and God’s command. That the people reject this man is not to be excused.
The LORD soothes Samuel’s displeased feelings by reminding him of the people’s continued ingratitude to Him Himself. God therefore tells Samuel that by asking for a king as all nations, the people in fact reject Him as their King. God is wronged more by His people than they wrong Samuel. This answer of the LORD is also an encouragement for Samuel in case he should wonder if they reject him because he somehow failed. The spiritual minded person will first examine himself in such situations.
Samuel has to listen to the voice of the people. He must show them what they ask, although they do not ask in accordance with God’s will. They need to learn what it is like to have a king to their own taste. Only when they have experienced this, God gives them the king to His heart. In the book of Hosea God comes back to their request here. There we hear that God has given them a king in His anger (Hos 13:10-1110Where now is your king
That he may save you in all your cities,
And your judges of whom you requested,
“Give me a king and princes”?
11I gave you a king in My anger
And took him away in My wrath.
Listening to the voice of the people is democracy. We find this in politics and in the church. Nothing is more unclear and fickle than the will of the people (cf. Acts 19:3232So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together.; Lk 23:2323But they were insistent, with loud voices asking that He be crucified. And their voices [began] to prevail.). If man absolutely wants something, God sometimes gives what he demands (Psa 106:1515So He gave them their request,
But sent a wasting disease among them.
; 78:26-3126He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens
And by His power He directed the south wind.
27When He rained meat upon them like the dust,
Even winged fowl like the sand of the seas,
28Then He let [them] fall in the midst of their camp,
Round about their dwellings.
29So they ate and were well filled,
And their desire He gave to them.
30Before they had satisfied their desire,
While their food was in their mouths,
31The anger of God rose against them
And killed some of their stoutest ones,
And subdued the choice men of Israel.
). Sometimes God withholds something in His love and sometimes He gives us something in His anger.
God tells how the people constantly rejected Him. Samuel is now gaining the same experience. The rebellion of the people has also proved itself in more than one occasion towards Moses and Aaron. The desire to have a king is the lowest point of centuries of dissatisfaction with the place where grace has brought them. In His grace God connects Samuel to Himself and lets him share in the reproach that the people have done to Him over and over again (cf. Mt 10:2424“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master.; Jn 15:18,2018“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before [it hated] you.20Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.). Paul longed for such conformity to Christ (Phil 3:10-1110that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;11in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.).
9Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.” 10So Samuel spoke all the words of the LORD to the people who had asked of him a king. 11He said, “This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place [them] for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. 12He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and [some] to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give [them] to his servants. 15He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. 16He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use [them] for his work. 17He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants. 18Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
God wants Samuel to present to the people the full responsibility of what they desire. He did the same at the Sinai, when the people said they would do everything He would ask. In response He has given His people the law. As a faithful and obedient prophet Samuel transmits all the words of the LORD to the people. He proposes to the people, what the king they desire, will ask of them, what they will have to give to him. How else could the splendor of the kingship they desire be preserved? In the days of Israel’s greatest prosperity the burdens become unbearable, so that we hear them say to Solomon’s son: “Your father made our yoke hard” (1Kgs 12:44“Your father made our yoke hard; now therefore lighten the hard service of your father and his heavy yoke which he put on us, and we will serve you.”).
Their king will ask all of them, he will take from them. They will lose their personal freedom and will no longer possess their goods or their children. Taking the fields and so on means that he will claim the income from them. The land remains in the possession of the inhabitants. We see that as Ahab wants to have the vineyard of Naboth (1Kgs 21:2-32Ahab spoke to Naboth, saying, “Give me your vineyard, that I may have it for a vegetable garden because it is close beside my house, and I will give you a better vineyard than it in its place; if you like, I will give you the price of it in money.”3But Naboth said to Ahab, “The LORD forbid me that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers.”). Their sons and daughters will serve him. All kinds of burdens will be imposed on the people. They will only have duties and no rights. And what will the first king do with all that the people had to give him? He uses everything against the man to God’s heart. Saul is anything but the king God wants to give.
Six or seven times Samuel tells them that their king will “take”. This is a great contrast to Gods king, who will give them everything for their well-being. When the Lord Jesus has satiated a crowd, it is not surprising that they want to make Him king (Jn 6:15a15So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.). This is a blessing for man after centuries of living under royal greed and oppression. In Christ he found Someone Who does not take, but gives. However, Christ does not want to receive the kingship from the hands of men or from the hand of Satan. He takes it only from the hand of God. When that moment comes, the longtime of prosperity and peace will begin.
Samuel also tells them how they will wail over their king. Not much later will they say that they have sinned by coveting a king (1Sam 12:1919Then all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins [this] evil by asking for ourselves a king.”). Then it is too late and they must continue with the king they have coveted. In Christianity it has been the same. They have chosen themselves leaders, people who speak what they like to hear. With this, God has been put aside, that He will not have the say. This choice will find its lowest point in the antichrist. Saul is a picture of the antichrist who persecutes the man of God, David.
God gives leaders, pastors in the church (Heb 13:1717Obey your leaders and submit [to them], for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.; Heb 13:77Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.). We must acknowledge them (1Thes 5:12-13a12But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction,13and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.) and be grateful for them. Whoever raises himself to this task or functions according to human choice will in many cases be a plague for God’s people. The pope is such a leader, but also many humanly appointed pastors. God can give a certain blessing through such people, for example as a dam against evil. Yet that is no justification whatsoever for the position of these people.
Christianity is not satisfied with the invisible guidance of God through the Holy Spirit. God can bless through things that completely contradict Him. It is sad that the prophet Samuel is being replaced by Saul because of the choice of the people. Do we want only those leaders who have been given to us by God or do we make leaders ourselves?
19Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, 20that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
The people stick to their choice and express themselves more strongly. What started with a request (verse 55and they said to him, “Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.”) has now become a demand. They feel safer towards a visible enemy with a visible leader than with an invisible leader. Saul has not been able to work this safety. He himself becomes a victim of the enemy he has to fight. No judge has ever been killed in the fight against the enemy he has to fight.
21Now after Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the LORD’s hearing. 22The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and appoint them a king.” So Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”
Samuel goes again with everything he hears from the people to the LORD. Later Hezekiah does something similar with letters from the king of Assyria, about which he also speaks with the LORD and spreads them out for Him (Isa 37:1414Then Hezekiah took the letter from the hand of the messengers and read it, and he went up to the house of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD.). Samuel does not speak like Moses of “rebels” (Num 20:1010and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?”), but remains gentle.
The LORD answers Samuel for the third time that he must listen to the people (verses 7,9,227The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.9Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.”22The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and appoint them a king.” So Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”). It seems to indicate that Samuel has great difficulty to do the will of the people. Samuel then sends the people home without a word of accusation. The matter has been settled so far that Samuel is from now on waiting for the LORD.