The following is an excerpt from Session 4 of the Summer 2016 issue of Explore the Bible: Adults. Explore the Bible is a book-by-book group Bible study that encourages participants to let the Word dwell in them and challenges them to live it out in their own context. Preview one month free at lifeway.com/explorethebible.
King? (1 Sam. 8:4-5)
Samuel’s home was in Ramah (1 Sam. 7:17), a town associated with the tribe of Benjamin. It was probably located about five miles north of what would eventually become the capital city of Jerusalem. After conferring, all the elders of Israel came to Ramah to talk to Samuel. This meeting would have monumental consequences for the nation. There is no mention of any intentional search for the Lord’s will in this gathering of leaders prior to approaching Samuel. It appears that their agenda was chosen without consulting the Lord God. If the Lord is truly the ruler of His people, then His will is always top priority, and seeking such should be the primary focus.
The basis for the elders’ approach of Samuel was his advancing age and the dereliction of duty by his sons. Samuel’s sons did not walk in his ways and practiced self-serving leadership (8:1-3). While some question Samuel’s appointment of his sons as judges, he may have done so both out of practical considerations and obedience to the Law. They served in Beer-sheba, located some distance away in the southern part of the nation. As Samuel aged, travel may have become more difficult for him. He needed assistance in the discharge of his duties. The plan of God always involved a multiplicity of leadership (Deut. 16:18-20). The problem was that Samuel’s sons didn’t live up to God’s standard for leaders.
The elders, who represented the thoughts and desires of the people as a whole, drew an erroneous conclusion from the deficient leadership of Joel and Abijah, the sons of Samuel. It is likely that they feared what might happen after Samuel died and his sons assumed leadership. While this may have been a legitimate concern, the elders’ conclusion possibly revealed a lack of faith in God on their part.
What about their request for a king? Was that a sinful request? After all, didn’t Moses make provision for this in the Law (Deut. 17:14-20)? The key to understanding this dilemma is found in the words of the elders: the same as all the other nations have. Their request was not an attempt to deepen their obedience to the law, thereby fulfilling their covenant responsibilities to God. Rather, it was an inordinate desire to be like the other nations around them.
In their request, the elders were admitting something about themselves. They wanted to be like the other nations in spite of the fact that they were called to be distinct and different. Exodus 19:5-6 says they were to be God’s own possession out of all the peoples of the world, a holy nation. In Leviticus 20:26, God said that He had set them apart from all the rest of the nations to be His own people. Yet they weren’t interested in being that. In asking for a king over them, they were revealing how they wanted to be like all the other nations. In so doing, they were actually rejecting God’s rule over them by seeking a human king. Sometimes we can put so much faith in another person so as to completely dishonor God.
Not only was this a sinful request, it was an unwise one. If the people feared being led by Samuel’s sons, why in the world would they request a form of government (monarchy) based on the succession of sons as leaders? Moving away from trust in God alone often results in irrational behavior.