It’s been a while since we studied the book of 1 Samuel together. So, let me remind you of what we’ve seen already in chapters 1 to 7. In chapter 1 we were introduced to Hannah, who was barren. She had no children; and her husband’s other wife used to provoke her and make her weep. And so, Hannah prayed to the Lord to give her a son; and she promised that if the Lord gave her a son, then she would return her son to the Lord to serve him always. And the Lord heard and answered her prayer by enabling her to conceive and to give birth to Samuel. And just as she promised, she brought her son to the tabernacle to serve the Lord. And we read in chapter 2 how Samuel grew in stature and in favour with the Lord and with men, helping Eli the priest in the tabernacle. But then, in chapter 2 we also read about Eli’s two sons. Eli was the priest and his sons were priests too. But his sons were wicked and worthless men, stealing from the people and from the Lord and defiling the Lord’s holy sanctuary. And because they were wicked and worthless men, and because Eli their father did not remove them from the priesthood, the Lord revealed that he was going to take the priesthood away from Eli’s family and that he would raise up another priest to take their place. And the Lord announced that his sons — who were wicked and worthless — would both die on the same day. And in chapter 3, the Lord called Samuel in the night and revealed to him that he was going to do everything he said he would do to Eli and his family.
And sure enough, in chapter 4, we read about the time when the Philistines attacked the Israelites and Eli’s two sons were killed and the ark of the Lord was captured and taken away by the Philistines. And when Eli heard the news about his sons and about the ark, he fell backwards off his seat, broke his neck, and died.
The Philistines took the ark of the Lord and placed it before their god, Dagon. By placing the ark of the Lord before their god, they were saying that their god was greater and mightier than Israel’s God. But do you remember? The next morning, when the Philistines went into their temple, Dagon was lying on his face before the ark of the Lord. They picked up their god and put him back in his place. But the next morning, when they went into their temple, Dagon was once again lying on his face before the ark of the Lord; and this time, his head and hands had been broken off. It was a sign to the Philistines that their god was powerless. And cutting off his head and hands was a kind of execution as well. The Lord was making clear that Dagon was nothing; and that the Lord alone is God.
And we read that the Lord’s hand was heavy upon the Philistines, and he brought devastation on them. So, they agreed to return the ark of the Lord to the Israelites. And that happened in chapter 6. In chapter 7 we learned that the Philistines continued to oppress the Israelites for another twenty years. And the Israelites began to mourn and to seek the Lord. And Samuel spoke to the people and called on them to turn from their sins and to turn to the Lord, because many of them were worshipping idols at that time, instead of worshipping the Lord their God. So, Samuel called on them to repent and to commit themselves once again to the Lord and to serve him only. And the people listened to Samuel and did what he said. And Samuel summoned the people to assemble at Mizpah where he prayed for them. And when the Philistines attacked them, the Lord thundered against the Philistines and put them into a panic. And the Lord enabled the Israelites to destroy the Philistines so that the Israelites were able to live in peace and safety during the remainder of Samuel’s life. And chapter 7 ended by telling us how Samuel continued to be the judge over Israel all the days of his life. In other words, he was their leader, ruling over them on behalf of the Lord who was their true king.
Verses 1 to 3
And so, that’s what we’ve read so far. Today we come to chapter 8 and time has passed between the end of chapter 7 and the beginning of chapter 8, because Samuel is now an old man. And in his old age, he appointed his sons to serve as judges over Israel. He had two sons and their names appear in verse 2 where we’re told that they served as judges in Beersheba. Beersheba was about 50 miles south of Ramah where Samuel lived. So, presumably Samuel oversaw things in the north and his sons were meant to oversee things in the south. However, look at verse 3 where it tells us that Samuel’s sons did not walk in his ways. Samuel sought to serve the Lord, whereas his sons were self-seeking and selfish. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. Instead of pursuing justice, they pursued wealth for themselves. Instead of doing what was right and just, they did what was wrong. They remind us of Eli’s two sons who were wicked and worthless men, who stole from the people and from the Lord. Eli’s sons took what did not belong to them; and Samuel’s sons took bribes.
Now, the Lord held Eli responsible at least in part for his son’s wickedness, because Eli did not remove them from the priesthood. But there’s not a hint anywhere in the text that Samuel was at fault or did anything wrong when he was bringing up his children. And so, it’s a reminder to us that the children of even the best leaders can go wrong and they can turn from walking in the ways of the Lord to walking in the ways of an unbelieving world. And we must always pray for the children in the church, asking the Lord to have mercy on them and to give them a true faith in the Saviour and to fill them with zeal for God’s glory so that instead of being self-seeking and selfish, they will make it their aim to serve the Lord all the days of their life. And those of us who have had godly parents must watch ourselves, lest we turn aside from the right path and instead of following the example of our godly parents, we go astray as Samuel’s sons did.
In any case, this is the background to today’s passage. Samuel was now an old man. And his sons — who were appointed to serve with him — were corrupt. That’s the background. That’s the setting for what happened next.
Verses 4 and 5
So, what happened next? Well, we read in verse 4 that all the elders of Israel gathered together and they came to Samuel and they said to him what we’ve just read in verses 1 to 3: you’re getting old, Samuel, and your sons aren’t walking in your ways. In other words: Samuel, you’ll not live forever. Someone has to replace you. But it can’t be your sons, because they’re no use. So, here’s our proposal: appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have. So, that’s their proposal.
Now, what we’ll learn later — but it’s not mentioned at this point — is that the nation of Israel was under threat again. For years they’d lived in peace and safety. But according to verse 12 of chapter 12 the king of the Ammonites was moving against them. And according to that verse, that’s why they wanted a king. They wanted a king because they were worried about the Ammonites and they wanted a king to lead them and to go out before them and to fight their battles.
But isn’t that what the Lord had been doing for them? Wasn’t the Lord their king? And didn’t he lead them and go out before them and fight their battles for them? Hadn’t the Lord being doing that for them from the time he rescued them from the Egyptians in the days of Moses? So, when the Egyptian soldiers chased after them to recapture them, the Lord rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians by opening a way for them through the Red Sea and by drowning the Egyptians in the same sea. And not long afterwards, the Amalekites attacked them in the wilderness; and the Lord helped them to beat the Amalekites. And years later, the Lord helped them to defeat the kings of the Amorites who came to attack them right before they entered the Promised Land. And then, when they crossed the Jordan River, the Lord helped them to take the city of Jericho and to defeat the Canaanites and the other nations who were living in the Promised Land at that time. And during the period of the Judges, when their enemies were oppressing them, the people used to cry out to the Lord to rescue them from the Philistines and their other enemies; and the Lord heard them and he answered them and he sent them one judge, one ruler, after another to lead them and to go before them and to fight their battles. Think of the way he rescued them by the hand of men like Gideon and Samson. And didn’t the Lord reveal his great power in the events recorded in chapter 7, when he thundered against the Philistines with a great thunder and threw the Philistines into a panic so that the Israelites were able to destroy them? The Lord was their king; and the Lord had led them; and the Lord had gone before them; and the Lord has fought for them; and the Lord had protected them from their enemies and had given victory after victory so that for years they had enjoyed peace in the land. The Lord was their king. And the Lord their king had given them judges like Gideon and Samson and Samuel to lead them. So, it doesn’t matter if the king of the Ammonites is moving against them. It doesn’t matter, because they can trust the Lord to help them and to protect them as he had done before.
But instead of trusting the Lord to be their king and to defend them, they now wanted another kind of king. They didn’t want the Lord to rule over them. They wanted a king ‘such as all the other nations have’. Did you catch that at the end of verse 5? In other words, they wanted to be like all the other nations and they wanted a king like that nations had.
Verses 6 to 9
So, that’s what they wanted. What does Samuel make of it? Well, look at verse 6 for Samuel’s reaction. Verse 6 tells us that he was displeased when they said, ‘Give us a king to lead us’. Presumably he agreed with everything else they said: that he was old and that his sons were no use. But he was displeased with their proposed solution to the problem facing them. And so, because he was displeased with what they were proposing, he turned to the Lord the king in prayer. And the Lord heard his prayer and answered him.
And do you see what the Lord said? Look at verse 7. The Lord told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you.’ In fact, a better translation is that the Lord told Samuel to obey their voice. Do what they say. Give them what they have asked for.
But it soon becomes clear that the Lord told Samuel to obey their voice, not because the Lord agreed with them, but because was going to use their new king to discipline them for their unfaithfulness to him. The Lord was going to use their new king as a rod to chastise them. So, look what the Lord goes on to say in verse 7. He said: ‘Listen to all that they are saying to you, because it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.’ The Lord — who knows all things and who knows our hearts — knew that they no longer wanted the Lord to be their king; they no longer wanted him to rule over them. And the Lord went on to say that this is the way they have always been, because from the time when he brought them up from Egypt, until this very day, they have always been unfaithful and rebellious. Instead of loving and serving him, they have forsaken him and they have gone after other gods. Do you remember? When Moses was speaking to the Lord on Mount Sinai, right after the Lord had rescued them from Egypt, they made for themselves that golden calf and they bowed down to worship it. And they’ve been doing the same ever since. And, according to the end of verse 8, they were also rejecting Samuel: Samuel who was appointed by God to be their leader.
But here’s the thing: instead of refusing their proposal and instead of saying ‘no’ to their request for a king like the nations, the Lord told Samuel to obey their voice and to give them what they asked for. But do this, the Lord adds: warn them what their new king will be like.
Verses 10 to 18
And that’s what verses 10 to 18 are about. Here’s Samuel, warning the people and telling them what their new king will be like. This is like the terms and conditions we all have to read before signing up to anything, which none of us ever reads. There’s something we want and we can’t be bothered to read the terms, because we’re so eager to get our hands on this new thing. And though Samuel warned the people, it’s as if they were not listening or paying attention. They didn’t believe his warning, otherwise they would have withdrawn their request, because Samuel makes clear that a king like the other nations have will only take and take and take from them. They think they’ll be better off with a king like the nations have, but Samuel makes clear that they will be worse off, because this king will only take from them. So, he’ll take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses; and some will have to work in his fields and some will have to make weapons of war for him. And he’ll take your daughters to be his perfumers and cooks and bakers. And he’ll take your fields and vineyards and olive groves; and he’ll give them to his attendants. And he’ll take a tenth of your produce and give it away too. And he’ll take you male and female servants and the best of your animals for his own use. And look at the end of verse 17: you will become his slaves. They were slaves in Egypt; and their life was miserable then; and they cried out in their misery; and the Lord heard them and he answered them and he freed them from their slavery. And Samuel was now warning them that by asking for a king like the nations they would be going back to slavery. And when that day comes, and you cry out to the Lord for relief from the king you have chosen, the Lord will not answer you. He will not answer you.
Do you see? When the Lord told Samuel to obey their voice, it wasn’t because he agreed with them. He was giving them what they asked for in order to discipline them for their unfaithfulness. And isn’t that what the Lord often does? Paul, in Romans 1, describes how God reveals his wrath every day against the wicked. And how does he reveal his wrath? Not by sending thunderbolts of lightning to destroy them, but by giving them over to their sinful desires. And so Paul wrote: God gave them over; God gave them over; God gave them over. One of the ways God punishes people is by giving them what they want and letting them suffer the consequences of their own sinful desires. And that what he was doing with the Israelites when they asked for a king like the nations.
Verses 19 to 22
Well, as I said, the people did not believe what Samuel said and they did not listen to his warning. They refused to listen, we read in verse 19. That is, they refused to obey his voice. ‘No’, they said. ‘We want a king over us.’ And why did they want a king over them? Look at verse 20: Then we shall be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and to fight our battles. The king of the Ammonites was moving against them. They were under threat. But instead of trusting in the Lord to save them, they put their faith in a the kind of king the other nations had.
And so, in verse 21, Samuel reported to the Lord what the people said. And in verse 22, the Lord told Samuel to listen to them. That is, obey their voice and give them a king. The people refused to obey the voice of Samuel, who was the Lord’s prophet and their leader. They refused to obey his voice. And instead Samuel was required to obey the voice of these rebellious and unfaithful people who rejected the Lord as their king and demanded a king like the nations had.
God was their king. And he was a good king, who had always helped them and defended them. And so, it was a sign of their wickedness and rebellion that they now asked for another king to rule over them. And it was always God’s intention to give his people a human king. That was always God’s intention. There are all these little indications and signs through the Old Testament that this was the case. In fact, back in chapter 2, Hannah referred to God’s king whenever she was rejoicing before the Lord. And the prophet in chapter 2 who confronted Eli about his sons referred to God’s anointed king as well. So, it was always God’s intention to give his people a human king. But what the people wanted, was not God’s king, but a king like the nations.
So, who was God’s king? Well, initially it was King David — wasn’t it? — who was a man after God’s own heart. But ultimately it was Christ the king. And Christ the king is very different from a king like the nations had. The Lord warned the people through Samuel that a king like the nations had would only take and take and take from them. But Christ the king is not like that, because he gives and gives and gives. Though he was rich, he gave up the glory of heaven and came down to earth as one of us. And he gave up his life on the cross to pay for our sins in full and to free his people from condemnation. He gives forgiveness and the hope of eternal life to all who believe in him. He gives his Spirit to help them and to renew them. He gives them the fellowship of other believers to encourage them. He gives them preachers to teach them. A king like the nations have takes and takes and takes, but Christ the king was prepared to give everything he had for the sake of his people.
And he came into the world as a mighty warrior to free his people from all that was oppressing them. And so, he came to free them from sin and from the condemnation we deserve for our sins. And he came to free his people from the tyranny of the Devil, who takes us captive to do his will. And he came to free his people from the fear of death, because he conquered death when he was raised from the grave and he promises eternal life to all who trust in him. And all who trust in him will live with Christ the king forever and forever in his everlasting kingdom. He is a mighty king who came to save us.
Well, when the Lord the king sent his Son into the world to be king on his behalf, the Israelites rejected him, didn’t they? When Pilate asked them what they wanted him to do with the king of the Jews, they shouted: ‘Crucify him!’ They rejected Christ the king. And it’s been the same in every generation: men and women and boys and girls have heard about Christ the king and they have said to themselves: I don’t want him to rule over me. And so, the question before you today is this: Will you submit to Christ the king? Will you yield your life to him? Will you trust in him for forgiveness and for the free gift of eternal life? And will you then live your life for him, so that you will love and serve him and him only and seek to do his will every day?
God the Father sent his Son into the world as the king we must all trust and obey. And he’s a good king. He’s not like the kings the nations had, who took and took and took from them. He’s a very different kind of king, because he came to give up his life for his people and he gives everlasting life to all who yield their lives to him. And so, will you yield your life to him by trusting in him and by living your life for him? If you’ve never trusted him, you need to start trusting him today. Ask God to forgive you for your sins for the sake of Christ who died for sinners; and ask God to help you to obey Christ the king and to live for him. And the rest of us who have trusted him for years need to be reminded again and again and again that we’re to live our lives for him. Other things take over our attention. We get distracted. Our love for the Lord goes cold and our zeal for his glory wanes. We stumble and fall into sin. And so, even those who have believed for years need to be reminded that you’re to love and serve Christ the king and live your life for him.
The Israelites rejected the Lord as their king and they wanted their own king, a king like the nations had. Well, instead of being like the Israelites, and instead of rejecting the Lord, will you submit to Christ the king and say to him: ‘Yes, I want you as my king. Pardon me for my sins and shortcomings. And help me to walk in your ways and to do your will and to make it my heart’s desire to live my life for you.’