Israel Demands a King (1 Samuel chapter 8)
[Note: This study had a lot of audience participation. Where you see "Question" we took some time to let people offer extensive answers. We had a lot of fun that night and also had some very thoughtful answers!]
Samuel's Decline (vs. 1-3)
Samuel apparently was eventually slowed down by his age to the point that he could no longer keep up with the "case load." He appointed his sons as his assistants. The reason for thinking this rather than that Samuel had "retired" and his sons replaced him in the location where they served: Beersheba, which was on the very fringe of the nation.
But interestingly, Samuel, who had witnessed from the "inside" (presumably) the fall of the house of Eli had a very similar problem with his own sons.
They did not judge justly, accepting bribes to pervert justice. (See Ex. 23:6-8; Deut. 16:19 -- it is interesting to note that the Bible does not place the guilt of bribery on the one who offers, but rather, on the one who accepts!)
Question: Samuel is such a good man, yet his sons are corrupt. What do you think happened to them? While children are not usually exactly like their parents, they are usually at least something like them. How does almost none of Samuel’s character end up in his sons?
Now we really begin to wonder why men like Eli and Samuel end up with children who are no good. I want to suggest something that still applies today: it is very likely that these men were "too busy" saving the world to save their own children. It is something to take very seriously when you consider beginning a family. All the way from missionaries to families with two career parents, children get the short end of the stick in the world. Then we wonder what happened to them.
Israel Requests a King (vs. 4-18)
The elders of the tribes come to Samuel and request a king. Their reason is that Samuel is too old and his sons are corrupt (vs. 4,5). This displeased both Samuel and the Lord (vs. 6-8).
Question: Put yourself into the place of Samuel. You have been working hard at leading Israel for a long time. Suddenly, the leaders of the tribes come and ask for a king. How are you feeling right now, and why are you feeling that way?
Question: Samuel has been a good leader for Israel, so now - as one of the elders of the tribes of Israel, you are coming to Samuel to ask for a king. Why do you want a king? How do you explain your request to Samuel? Your excuse is that Samuel’s sons are corrupt - but why aren’t you asking for another judge/prophet rather than a king?
Why was this such a big deal, you might ask. First, the Israelites were using the failure of certain men as an excuse for rejecting the system of government God had ordained.
God had established a minimal government over Israel with His own person as the sovereignty behind it. What the Israelites should have asked for was someone else to judge Israel.
What they said, in effect, was, "This judgeship approach does not work. We would like a new system, like all the nations around us have."
What the Israelites had not noticed is that although "everyone" may do something, it can still not be the best thing to do.
Question: You are God - well, at least try to pretend. What do you think about the Israelites? You’ve been trying to work for them, with them, and through them for a long, long time. So how do you feel about them now?
What God gives the Israelites here is a lesson in government.
Notice the real motive of the people the comes out in this passage. Why do they really want a king?
"to lead us" (vs. 5)
"to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles" (vs. 20)
In other words, there are some things we don't want to do for ourselves, but we would like to have someone do them for us. This is the classical fallacy of thinking that "X is necessary, we have convinced ourselves that we cannot do X as mere individuals, therefore, we must call in the government to do X."
One has to wonder just how stupid these Israelites could be. Just shortly before this (chapter 7) the Philistines had attacked and were defeated God intervening at Samuel's prayer and the people's repentance. No king there to lead and fight for us. In fact, there had been no king around for all the great victories of the Israelites under the judges.
It is no surprise, I suppose, that the powers of government have always been expanded under this same faulty way of thinking. Think of almost anything now provided by government today (which is almost everything) and a little investigation will quickly show you that it has been provided without government intervention, it still is in some cases, and it easily could be in any conceivable case.
The Cost of a King
Question: God has spoken through Samuel the prophet to tell the people of Israel that a king is going to be expensive - both financially and in terms of lost freedom. But you still want a king. Why doesn’t the cost matter to you? Why, in spite of all these warnings straight from God, do you still want a king?
For some reason, it seems that the Israelites were oblivious to the price of having a king. God warned them that a king would be costly both in goods and in freedom. Government is a very expensive item: you must pay for the bureaucrats who are always very wasteful, and you must give up the freedom to make your own choices, which is also very wasteful of human initiative and talent.
God also pointed out that there is a point of no return on having a king. There will come a time, God says in vs. 18, when you will "cry out for relief from the king." But then it will be too late.
Except for the fact that it has been and is being repeated, the people still want a king. God gives them just what they deserve! But the bad part doesn’t come right away. It takes some time to develop. And that brings us to the next part of the story: a man named Saul.