1 Samuel 8:1–22
Israel Demands a King
1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
Samuel’s Warning Against Kings
10 So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”
The Lord Grants Israel’s Request
19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be 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 when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. 22 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”
The obvious weakness with the judges was that they lacked continuity. Other nations had kings and standing armies. And when a king died, his successor was immediately crowned. But God only raised up judges in times of crisis when His people called out to Him, and this meant that the people were dependent on God all the time. Why couldn’t Israel have stability and continuity like everyone else?
If you asked a four-star general to analyze the battles fought by the Israelite army, he would say, “None of these battles makes any military sense at all.” God gave His people victory, even when they were hopelessly ill-equipped and outnumbered.
For example, on arriving at the well-fortified city of Jericho, God told Joshua to march around the city seven times blowing trumpets. When God’s people did this, the walls of the city fell down—surely one of the most unusual victories in the annals of military history!
Then in the book of Judges, God tells us about Gideon, who raised an army of 32,000 people to fight the Midianites. God said that was too many, and so Gideon reduced the number to three hundred. They entered the camp of the enemy armed only with torches, pitchers, and trumpets, and God caused confusion among the Midianites, who ran off in panic.
Israel’s victories were not by might or by power, but by the intervention of the Spirit of God. The LORD repeatedly made it clear that He was the one who led them to victory. But God’s people were not satisfied.
The Frustrations of Living by Faith
God was Israel’s king. He did everything that a king would do for his people and much more. But God’s people did not want to depend on Him alone, or to wait on Him to raise up their leaders. They wanted a system of succession, a flesh-and-blood person to lead them.
Eventually the elders of the community came to Samuel, a judge and a prophet, and asked him to appoint a king (1 Samuel 8:5). This request was not pleasing to God. The Lord said to Samuel, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (8:7). When the people asked for a king, they were turning away from a life of faith in which they were directly dependent on the Lord. But God let them have their way.
The Significance of Choices
God’s people made a poor choice. They knew that their desire for a king was displeasing to God, and Samuel warned them of the consequences: A king would send their sons off to war. He would require them to serve in his fields and in his household. He would call on their daughters to serve in his kitchens. He would seize their land. He would tax their crops and their flocks. “You will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day” (8:18).
Samuel could not have given a stronger warning, but God’s people were not listening. They said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations” (8:19–20). Their minds were made up, and so God gave them what they asked for.
Poor choices always lead to painful consequences. But God is sovereign, and that means that no choice, however poor, can put us beyond His grace. We all make bad decisions at some points in our lives, and sometimes we live with ongoing regret. That may be your experience—a frustrating career, a disappointing marriage, or an impulsive decision that leaves you looking back saying, “If only… .”
The good news is that God can redeem bad decisions. There is no sin that puts you beyond the grace of God and no decision that puts you beyond the help of God.
God knew that His people would ask for a king, and back in the book of Deuteronomy, He had already given a profile of the person who should lead His people.
First, the king must be anointed by God. “You may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose” (Deuteronomy 17:15). The New Testament parallel to this is in Acts 6, where the first deacons are appointed, and the church is told to choose men who are filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:3). Christian leaders must have the mark of God’s presence in their lives. This is the primary qualification.
Second, the king must belong to God’s people. “One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother” (Deuteronomy 17:15). Again in Acts 6, the apostles told the believers to choose leaders from their own number (6:3). God’s people should look for leaders who have proved themselves in the local church.
Third, the king must exercise faith. “Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses” (Deuteronomy 17:16). The king was to model faith. Other nations trusted in chariots and horses, but God’s people were to trust in the name of the Lord their God (Psalm 20:7). Again we see this mirrored in the New Testament. When the church appointed the first deacons, they chose Stephen because he was “a man full of faith” (Acts 6:5). Leadership among God’s people must always be in the hands of those who trust in the living God.
Fourth, the king must be loyal. “He shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away” (Deuteronomy 17:17). The same principle is reflected in the New Testament: the elder must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2). A Christian leader’s loyalty to God will be expressed in his loyalty to his wife.
Fifth, the king must not be greedy. “Nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (Deuteronomy 17:17). The leader among God’s people must not use his position to feather his own nest. He is the servant of God and of the people. In the New Testament, Peter wrote to pastors and elders, instructing them not to be greedy for money, but eager to serve, not domineering over the flock (1 Peter 5:2–3).
Sixth, the king must be a student of Scripture. “When he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law… And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them” (Deuteronomy 17:18–19). This meant that the first duty of the king was to write out his own copy of the entire book of Deuteronomy, and then to read it every day! In the same way, deacons must “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9). Leaders among God’s people are to study, revere, and obey the Word of God.
Seventh, the king must be humble. The king’s “heart may not be lifted up above his brothers” (Deuteronomy 17:20). Similarly, pastors and elders are to serve, “not domineering over those in [their] charge, but being examples to the flock” of God (1 Peter 5:3).
This profile for leaders is crucial for pastors, elders, lay leaders, and all who participate in appointing them. It is a profile for students preparing for ministry and for everyone who wants to see God’s will get done.
If you want to be used by God, seek the anointing of His Spirit. Be committed to God’s people and learn to trust God in all things. Cultivate loyalty in all your commitments—especially in your marriage. Place the pursuit of money on the altar, and determine to receive whatever God gives you gladly. Be crystal clear in your convictions regarding the central truths of the gospel, and feed on the Word of God daily as you walk humbly with your God.
Who Fits the Profile?
Would it surprise you to know that none of the Old Testament kings measured up to God’s profile?
Saul, the first king, was self-willed and disobedient. Solomon, the third king, had seven hundred wives. And when he became old, his wives turned his heart toward other gods (1 Kings 11:4). The best of Israel’s kings was David, but even he was guilty of adultery and murder! None of Israel’s kings came close to fulfilling God’s mandate.
God’s people waited a thousand years for the king who would get His will done, and then God answered their longing for a flesh-and-blood leader who would deliver them from their enemies. A king was born, and wise men followed a star to worship the “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2).
Jesus completely fulfilled God’s profile for the king.
1. He was anointed by God. At His baptism God announced, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).
2. He belonged to God’s people, being born into the line of David.
3. He exercised faith. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42), and in His suffering He entrusted Himself to the Father “who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
4. He was loyal. When Satan tempted Him, Christ refused any alliance with the enemy (Matthew 4:1–11).
5. He was not greedy. Christ told His disciples that He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
6. He was a student of Scripture. The Word of God filled His mind, and people who heard Him were amazed at His understanding.
7. He was humble. “Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:8).
Jesus fulfilled God’s profile for the king, but He was not the king that the people wanted.
The Mocked and Humble King
When Jesus was brought to trial, Pilate asked him: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus replied simply, “You have said so” (Matthew 27:11). Pilate then handed Jesus over to be crucified, and he said to the people, “Behold your King!” (John 19:14).
The Roman soldiers “stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:28–29).
The mocking of King Jesus continued. The notice above His head read: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19). Some shouted, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:37). Others shouted, “He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42).
Through this bruised, disfigured, and crucified King the will of God was finally done. God raised Him to life and gave him the name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9). Jesus is the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).
If your trust has been broken by a leader who failed you, there is a king you can trust and His name is Jesus. Christian faith is not about trusting Christian leaders. It is about trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, and those who trust in Him will never be disappointed (Romans 10:11).
Jesus is the king who fulfills all that God requires of any leader. It is through our king that the will of God will be accomplished in our lives and in the world. God calls all who aspire to leadership to submit themselves to Christ the King and follow his example.
- Why did God’s people want a king? Why do you think it was displeasing to God?
- Have you made a poor choice/bad decision and you sometimes wonder if it has put you beyond the grace/help of God?
- As you look at the qualifications for leadership among God’s people, which one would you need to grow in, in order to be more effective in serving the Lord?
- Why do you think the people of Jesus’ time rejected him as their leader?
- Do you think you would want Jesus to be your leader? Why or why not