Don’t confuse them with the facts
An account of when Democracy gets it wrong – But God makes it turn out O.K. -Even though people mess it up again later
(1 Samuel 8:1-22)
The Samuelian days were reaching their zenith. The prophet Samuel ben Elkanah, as the saying goes, was, “part of the national infrastructure.” He had led the people, fed the people, and headed the counsel that they had followed for years. How many years is deducible only to an approximation.
Josephus calculates that Samuel was twelve when the voice of God spoke to him for the first time.
After the call in 1 Samuel chapter 3, God continued to speak to him while he was still at Shiloh. The nation began to discern what was happening with Samuel and acknowledged him as a prophet – as their prophet. We approximate that for the next twenty five years or so after that triple call in the middle of the night, Samuel’s prophetic role developed until the fall of Shiloh and the taking of the Ark by the Philistines.
For the next twenty years after that, we believe Samuel was a travelling preacher circulating and declaring the need of the people to renounce idolatry and religious syncretism. The figure of twenty here is a biblically sanctioned one. His activity is our deduction and hypothesis. The bible is actually silent as to his occupation for those years.
After the rally, or rather the National Convention at Mizpah and the routing of the Philistines, we estimate another twenty five years or so when Samuel was in the full power and flight of his prophetic faculties. These were, quite literally, the days when Samuel judged and ministered and built the social, spiritual and political fabric of Israel that was present and very real by the time David rose to power. It was the work of a Master Builder. It was a structure that would last for a hundred years or so as he built it, and vestiges of which would survive for centuries.
There is a trail of Samuel’s actions that reaches us even today.
On these vaguely substantial grounds, our estimations bring us to the conclusion that when the visit of the elders occurred as recorded in 1 Samuel 8, Samuel was, by standards of the day, extremely aged. Eighty or so years old would be my minimal suggestion. Other men in scripture, even David, with his prematurely aged constitution at age seventy, was not questioned about his ability to rule as Samuel was. This fact constrains me to opine that Samuel was way over the seventy years of age when they gathered to him.
It is this writer’s suggestion that, the fact that the people came to him and made the detrimental point of his age infers that, to their mind, it seemed Samuel could soon die. He looked outwardly as if he was on the cusp of death. Little did they know!
The man was revered and treasured as the greatest asset the state of Israel had. They gathered around him at Ramah, or, at least, the tribal leaders and elders did.
So the narrative we are now examining has jumped on in one great leap to the prophet’s old age. Of his marriage, family life, and Samuel’s gathering to himself the many dimensions of national affection, for which such a nature as his must have truly been beautifully fitted, we know nothing. The only hint we have, really is in the naming of two of his son’s
In the same spirit of godliness with which he called a place Ebenezer, Samuel named his firstborn son Joel, i.e. “Yahweh is God.” This must have been as a protest against the idolatry with which Israel had been infected and polluted.
Samuel called his second son Abiah; interpreted as “Yahweh is Father.” These two names ought to give us admiring and gentle regard, as we have within them hints of the ethos of Samuel’s family life. Yahweh conceived of as a Father is the biggest demonstration of how ahead of his day, in divine revelation Samuel was. He was, in a sense, a millennium before his time. Samuel spent his life tasting the powers of the world to come. He was living in New Testament grace more than a millennium before the days of the New Testament were to arrive.
Both sons were intended by their father to be living lights of God’s character and Lordship. With such a man for their father as Samuel, and carrying in the very singularity of their names the marks of their high designation as plainly as a Brahmin monk carries the marks of his caste, we might have expected that they felt a restraint from sin, and an inspiration to righteousness and holiness, making them worthy, at least of their father and grandmother. The grandsons of Hannah, and the sons of Samuel, Joel and Abiah one would have thought to have been like Timothy, whose “unfeigned faith dwelt first in his grandmother Lois, and his mother Eunice.” Alas for Samuel – it was not so. The impact of Samuel’s sons lack of character was to be the cause of a nationally held feeling that was to change the entire course of Israeli history. And oh! How this was to grieve Samuel! Just as Eli’s sons had changed the course of Israel’s story, so had Samuel’s sons.
The People Demand that Samuel gives them a King.
There was undoubtedly a regular sacrificial feast at Ramah. The story we are about to recount was possibly at one of the Passovers of Samuel’s day that was remembered generations later for their size of attending numbers.
Civic judiciary issues would have been completed. Political soundness was surely affirmed by tribal reports. And all would have been updated on their relationships with the surrounding nations. The Philistines, the Amorites, the Amalekites and all the surrounding peoples, of which there were a few, were all kept in peaceful continueum during Samuel’s day, i.e. while Samuel was in charge, prior to any change of leadership. All was satisfactory.
There was one problem that had started a rift amongst sections of the tribal masses, and it had filtered back to the leaders. The elders of Israel were gathered around Samuel when the sensitive subject was broached.
It seems Samuel had nurtured that laudable desire to see his sons follow in his sandals. Samuel took a step that I cannot find elsewhere in the biblical account, i.e. a man appointing another man as judge. This seems to me as being against the principle of the raising of all the other judges that are described up to the days of which we are talking. However, no one cried, “Favouritism!” Nepotism through the ages, and in all cultures has always been one of the grossest scandals of not a few high functionaries. Samuel, however, was never accused of bias by any of the people when he appointed his offspring as Judges of the people. They were welcomed. Surely coming from the stock of Samuel they must have grown up with their father as a model! Perhaps there is a sinister inference when the bible tells us that they judged at Beersheba. This town was the most southerly point of civilisation in Israel.
Did Samuel send them to this outpost to keep them out of harm’s way? If so, that would suggest that he would have wanted them away from the vicinity of Ramah so that people could not compare them with their father so readily.
Or did the sons choose to go to Beersheba? If they did, why so far away? Beersheba is some forty seven miles from Ramah.
And why should the two of them remain together?
I would imagine that if the account had told us they were good judges, and a chip of their father’s block, we would have concluded that they were together to strengthen each other. As the narrative tells us that they were nowhere as upright as their Dad, the deduction is that they stayed together to strengthen themselves in any unrighteousness they might want to get up to.
The Eli syndrome, that is, the inability to control and bring two sons into line was, somehow, sadly repeated in Samuel’s life.
The best of people sometimes meet with the bitterest disappointment. The conduct of Samuel’s sons disappointed a father’s heart and troubled the land of Israel, as well as their contemporary generation, and potentially those of the future.
As Samuel ripened into what would normally be considered in the twenty-first century, “retirement age,” his sons were proving unworthy successors. The people looked with increasing apprehension to an uncertain future. If anything happened to Samuel, the nation would be left with the burden of his sons expecting to succeed their father in leadership roles. This draws our attention to the remarkable, but universally proven fact, that grace and noble motive are not hereditary. The depth and breadth of such characteristics are always and forever a matter of choice. Entropy does not make a child of any saint, a succeeding saint.
We have to say that we are not talking of the mere human need of Samuel for his sons to live up to their great father’s name. Neither are we simply discussing a character weakness with maladministration, or inability in dealing with human relationships. That would have been something easily adapted for and coped with. We are talking of corruption of the worst kind. The sin of Samuel’s sons brought swiftly on, a subtle, but incredibly toxic national crisis, and it took on several aspects.
Bribes and Filthy Lucre are what Samuel’s sons were getting whilst judging at Beersheba.
Firstly, Joel and Abiah did not walk in their father’s ways of integrity. When we witness Eli’s softness and incapacity for command, we do not wonder at his son’s going astray. But Samuel was so firm, yet generous withal, that it indicated great depravity in his sons to abuse the example of their father’s spotless life. Their behaviour tends to show that what they learnt at home was not soundly rooted in their hearts. Their history leads us rather to think that their sins were such as might not reveal themselves until the public life of judging in Beersheba came about. The private lives of Joel and Abiah may not have given opportunity for the grave sins that marked their judicial position. Hence, when they left the sacred enclosures of the domestic circle at Ramah, they had no principle of restraint from within the heart.
Secondly “they turned aside after lucre and took bribes.” This is the breaking of the one major qualification that Moses put on a Judge’s character (Exodus 18:21). The sin of Eli’s sons was unchastity, that of Samuel’s sons was covetousness. It really is astonishing how quickly the sin of covetousness perverts the moral faculties. The man who dims the light of the lamp that was kindled in heaven, has already precipitated his own fall.
Thirdly they “perverted judgment.” Their decision was not what the law of God, or conscience demanded, but what they were best bribed and rewarded to decree. “He that justifies the wicked and he that condemns the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15). There is nothing that distresses a parent more than the misconduct of a son. It was the grief of Isaac with both Jacob and Esau. It made many of Jacob’s years a morbid sorrow. It was Aaron’s trial also. It was Eli’s calamity. It was, horribly, David’s sorest wounding. The weak link of the characters of these people’s offspring was conceivably that may not have had to bear the strain of character temptation while at home surrounded by Mum, Dad and helpers. Life tested them on their weak side. They yielded when the pressure came. And what the sowed, they reaped. In fact others reaped the horrors of their sowing.
This is the sign at the supposed site where Moses stood to see the promised land. It’s on Mount Nebo. I do not think this sign was there for Moses to read.
Churches, Nations and official requirements would sidestep this error if offices were filled with men whose fitness had been proved by prolonged and intensive competitiveness in the area of character. It is that which is required for the post for which they aspire, as well as the post immediately above the one they occupy. Good character should be the basic and majority requirement. Monopolies of such a high office as judge, whether corporate or individual, should be watched by the public to maintain the rights and safety of the same.
So with the wearisome opinion of the masses having been laid on the national elders, we return back to the Dramatis Personae of the brief script that changed the world and brought deep heartache to Samuel, as well as God Himself.
There was the prophet himself, playing the lead role. There were the elders of Israel, whoever they might be and in whatever numbers they might array themselves. We have Samuel’s two erring sons referred to but never actually brought into the scene by necessity. And perhaps the least free agent of all, a handsome tall youth who went by the name of Saul Ben Kish. Although, like Samuel’s two sons, we do not see the whites of his eyes yet, in this chapter.
Over a meal, or while they were in the “parliament” of elders, they would get around to discussing the future of the nation. Direction and far sighted policy are always the strength of godly strategy. More of the God’s kingdom is built around the dining table than can be humanly measured.
“Behold, you are old”! Says one. Is this a rod of esteem, or insult? More likely the latter. “Your sons do not walk in your ways”, says another. Was this news to Samuel? Or were they repeating what he already knew. Whatever! Even with the most Christlike constitution and ripely developed Godliness of Samuel, the venom in the opening remarks could not have endeared the speakers to the elderly prophet,
The sign at Beersheba. The place where Abiah and Joel let themselves down.
“Now make us a king to judge us like all the other nations.” Ah! Whatever else was on the agenda, this minute of the meeting was to be noted for thousands of years afterwards as a watershed in bad decision making and world affairs. God Himself has not noted any other item on their programme of that day.
However, do you see what I see? Imagine the nobility, the stature, the very kingliness they all saw and credited Samuel with, when they ask him to, “make us a king.” Surely he who makes kings is higher than the king whom he is invited to “make.” This shameful moment of faithlessness to the covenant of Yahweh, has this one glorious spark of revelation in their foolish talk. Samuel was more kingly than a king. Viva la Samuel! Oh mighty man! I daily as my Almighty God to endow me with some of what you had.
To secure a possible constitutional concession, they adopt manners and methods full of insult and ingratitude to Samuel, and sacrilege and impiety toward God. The political blunder as well as religious crime, of the Israelites was in charging their basic social complaint, not so much upon corrupt magistrates and popular lawlessness, but on their national constitution.
Decline in theocratic belief and life was ever the one sign of weakness in the Israelite commonwealth, and the one and only dissolver of their otherwise impregnable security. Their liberties were invincible against internal or external foes so long as they were faithful to inspired covenant morality as they were under Samuel’s leadership. But sadly, apostasy ever made them vulnerable, and ultimately exposed their national life to a deadly wound. This prayer for a king was incipient apostasy (Psalm 118:9), and it exposed them to bondage under the prince of this world. This prayer for a king was the outburst of an hereditary vice. This was a rejection of the sovereignty of God. It was practical idolatry.
The original government of the world designed by God was neither a monarchy, an aristocracy, nor a republic or democracy. None of them are compatible with the individual sovereignty bestowed in the creation of man. But the Israelite Theocracy was above the ethical culture of the people, too sublime for the moral education of their children. The large personable liberty conferred by the Mosaic constitution degenerated into social lawlessness and weak administration. Foreign spiritual infidelity penetrated and corrupted the religious beliefs and national manners of the people. The moral status of Israel was unworthy of the free government that God had given them. Perpetual spiritual unity under the direct sovereignty of God was more possible than under a human dynasty. Scepticism and infidelity are the sure signs of mental and moral degeneracy in any civilisation.
Centralised government, with power in the hands of a strong leader who could act quickly and decisively against their enemies, seemed to many to be the only reasonable way out. They aimed at a centralisation of power that would combine the tribes for defensive purposes. In their unbelief they perceived that there could be no successor to Samuel. Even though their most recent history had case after case of God raising up the right person for the right time (i.e. read the book of Judges), they could not envisage a likely successor. They believed Samuel’s sons might make claim for their father’s role after his demise. This had never happened with any Judge previously. Why should it happen now? Perhaps they thought it might happen simply because Samuel had already given his two sons room to manouvre? Perhaps they remembered Eli’s sons marching to meet the Philistines with the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders and 34,000 sons of Israel dying in two battles. Could there be some kind of diabolical repetition? Thus, they built their case against the status quo. “Make us a King,” they demanded.
The elders of Israel, outwardly, had an argument. But it was in reality asserted from a frivolous pretext, namely Samuel’s age, and his two son’s naughtiness. They were genuinely concerned for the nation. They saw the two sons of Samuel going astray from their father’s lifestyle. They came to the man when he was old, and told him of the apostasy of his sons. If ever men had a simple straight-forward common sense case, the Israeli elders had one. What was woefully wrong was their decision to remedy the renegade judges. Why not just ask Samuel to “sack” them? Samuel would have asked God for the way forward.
Their legal application was unjust to Samuel, short-sighted in vision, and reactionary to a negative scenario beyond their understanding. It was influential, because, from the biblical text, it seems to have been unanimously made.
No man likes to see his entire life’s work disregarded, and his wisdom thrown away ruthlessly. Young activity and youthful revolution must have been very distasteful to old Samuel. It was something he saw in Hophni and Phinehas, but never entered into himself. We shall be, however, as was Samuel, most mighty when we are most yielding.
It was with the wish to resemble other nations; they asked Samuel to make them a king. They were “dazzled” says John Henry Newman, “with the pomp and splendour of the heathen monarchs around them, and they desired someone to fight their battles for them, some visible succour to depend on, instead of having to wait for an invisible Providence which would come in its own way and its own time.” The kings around them? There was Agag the Amalekite! There were five Philistine Lords! There was Nahash king of the Amorites! They had seen their splendour when confronting these nations in battle. There was the great splendour of the Egyptian Pharaohs that they would have glimpsed at times. Could one believe it? The elders of Israel actually envied the heathen states that surrounded them. But the heathen had idols and false gods! Israel had Almighty Yahweh! What was going on?
They would have, “Soldier-Kings”, and they intended to get their wish. But, in retrospect, on our part, how few of them were better than Joel and Abiah, or even superior to Hophni and Phinehas. And from the first to the last of them – which of them, including David, were fit to unloose Samuel’s sandals?
The sad truth is that from the first, the God governed commonwealth that was associated with such names as Moses and Samuel was a conception of political and social order that the people of Israel never cared to appreciate. This very demand of the people had been foreseen and publicly predicted three hundred years previous to this moment in time by Moses. And yet, this whole proceeding was, at the moment of time that they approached Samuel, wrong. It was premature and hasty. It was conducted without reference to the overruling will of Yahweh.
God’s providence does not constrain any man’s iniquity. Foreordination in this respect has nothing whatsoever to do with free-will. When Gideon at God’s call lead them to victory, the only use of that victory they made was to atheistically ask Gideon to rule over them, “and your son, and your son’s son also”, they called. Gideon’s answer: “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you, the Lord shall rule over you.” How wise was Gideon there. How perceptive was he, and how consistent was he with the covenant with Yahweh.
Both Abraham (Genesis 17:7-16) and Jacob (Genesis 35:11) had been promised that they would be fathers of kings. Moses had anticipated their clamour for a king in his final address (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) The idea of royalty was a true conception of Messiah, but it was clearly wrong when the call for a human monarch came, because the request was made by forgetting their covenant relationship with God. It is this that I believe upset Samuel so much. They wanted to legislate for happiness and contentment without the reformation of their hearts. They looked to receive from written legislation what only comes from righteous living. Almost every time there was a corporate or national sin in Israel, there was some neglect of the covenanted relationship.
It is true to say in this case that Soldier-Kings and soldiering nationalities held together by the sword are not God’s preferred agencies, rather they are his penalties. But having made that point, we also must state that the divine order is not in favour of any one form of government. Political forms are means not ends. Stable governments are growths, not manufactured forms. When King Murat demanded of Lord Holland to make him a constitution, the wise statesman replied “you might as well ask me to build you a tree.” All righteous government should aim for general virtue and intelligence in the governed. All government systems must develope! What would become of some undemocratic countries if they were forced to change immediately? The Divine order is not committed to any standard statement of economic prosperity. The Divine order is committed eternally to righteousness. There is many an enriching serendipity that flows from Godly living. This was the constant cry of the prophets. There was a greater need to depend on God to save them from the system that they were now clawing for.
The history of the human race is one constant record of the accommodation of the Divine ideal to human frailty. Never was there a narrative that proved so convincingly that each age exerts a very considerable influence on that which follows it. The degeneracy of communities, it must not be forgotten, is after all, the degeneracy of individuals in multiplication and in unity of misplaced motives. From where did these elders of Israel sat around Samuel learn their low esteem of God, but from those that went before them? They lived and chose a pathway for a future age, and virtually had the character of all their descendants in their hands, even though the future generations had their own choices and decision to make.
With all these thoughts, Samuel was displeased at the request of these nationally revered figures. The man of God was against a monarch for many reasons. First of all, the same logic they used to have a king, was possibly the same logic that militated against a king, i.e. corrupt sons in succeeding generations. We can scarcely imagine the feeling of Samuel as he listens to their uttered desire. He is alone. The companions of his youth are gone. He is sad, the younger end of the adult nation of the day has no sympathies with his grief, but is striving to sever the old man from the last tie that binds him to his boyhood, namely his delight and manly leadership for the covenantal Theocracy. “Samuel we want a king because your sons are not like you!” But what are they going to do when they have a good king whose son’s are not like him? The fallacy of their logic screams loudly against their shortsightedness.
It was an affront to Samuel, and he resented it personally. We know that is true, simply because of what God said to him. Samuel told the Lord. To him prayer was a kind of breathing process. It was ready and as spontaneous as any love and committed relationship is. Samuel turned towards the elders of Israel, heard their story, and then turned his face about and told God concerning the whole thing, although undoubtedly not while in their presence. This was Samuel’s lifestyle and practise, and it made his words weighty and cautious. He must be a high and Great Spirit that undertakes to serve the people in body and soul, for he suffers the worst danger of unthankfulness and being taken for granted, and ever rejected. Samuel was, indeed, of a high and great spirit. Nobody rejects a prophet of God, who faithfully performs his function, until he has truly first rejected God.
Samuel saw what we would call the fact of the case. God saw the truth of it. Many cannot distinguish between fact and truth. Fact is the thing done, the thing visible. Truth underlies the fact of a thing. The fact was that the Israelite elders imagined that their temporal aggrandisement would be to their advantage; that a king, and pompous sycophantic retinue behind him, would greatly enhance their importance, their status and their destiny.
The Lord explained the case to Samuel; “They are only making a tool of you; you have become to them a mere convenience, or as it were a scapegoat. They profess to be concerned about the spiritual decision of your sons, but in reality they do not care a single pin point about them. They are simply glad to be able to seize onto any issue to colour and shade their case”. What an explanation that is! That means that the character of his own, precious two sons is nothing to do with the catastrophe. That relieves the trauma on Samuel’s heart concerning rejection because of his sons, or his age. How kind is Yahweh. How truthful is Yahweh. So there are two kinds of judgment of the case in the world. Man makes his case and gives his reason. That’s the fact, and purported “truth”. God comes with the explanation. Now that is the truth.
Israel’s request was granted, but at the same time the people were earnestly warned of their error. The truth is of course, that no earthly advantage can give peace to the soul or secure its bliss without the sanction and blessing of God Himself. Rejecting Divine Providence is rejecting Divine government, and forfeiting a measure of Divine favour. Samuel acted in this crisis as a true man of God. He did not selfishly appeal to the forbearance of the people. He did not vent his grief in ungovernable rage, but calmly asked the aid of heaven. He received Divine permission on their behalf, together with a Divine protestation.
Samuel warned them of the future possible abuses if a king was appointed. He was foretelling that they would have a king with a despotic character. A boy never had a knife without wanting to cut something with it, and as likely as not something that did not need cutting. So too, a nation or a military caste never has a big gun, without wanting to shoot it, and more likely than not, it will be fired at something or someone that did not need shooting at.
The judgeship of Samuel was the rule of right, and knowledge and regard, above all things, to the ends that God had in view, namely the covenant between the nation of Israel and Himself. The “soldier-king” request was the, demonstrative rule of the strong hand; the elders that came to Samuel would have had the chief gain. The people also would have been glad for the outward appearance of respectability and a dignified king. In a nutshell, this personal trouble was intimately connected with amore overwhelming one, i.e. the disaffection and the spiritual lack of the people.
When about to frame the Tabernacle in the wilderness, Moses was specially instructed by God to make it after the pattern which had been shown him in the holy mountain. When Jeremiah was set apart to the prophetic office for which he confessed himself unfit, God said, “You should go to all that I will send you, and whatsoever I command you that shall you speak (Jeremiah 2:7). The rule with respect to the preacher of the gospel is after a similar form; “If any man speak let him speak as the oracles of God” (1Peter 4:11). “It is required of stewards that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Full spiritual fidelity and integrity is the full declaration of the word of God to the conscience of men around. “Who is a true and faithful witness”? Asked Latimer. “He is true, he is faithful, that looks for no new money, but seeks it ready coined of the good man of the house; and neither changes it nor clips it”.
“And Samuel told all the words of the Lord until the people.” Samuel did not tell the people what a king ought to be – that was told in the Law of Moses – but he told them what he would be like.
We are discussing political transition here. The reaction of the human thought of Israel is both sudden in its nature, and extreme in its tendency. This impetus of change sweeps down upon the soul with such power that it reels for a time, is then caught by the current and carried contrary to the intention of his calmer moments. Thus, as we gaze upon the picture, our wonder is excited that a people so seemingly strong, at least in their outward respect for things Divine or spiritual, should now conspire to dethrone their authority by establishing the human in His place.
This king they ask for would disregard life’s dearest relationships. He would sever families from their sons. This king they desire would initiate arbitrary distribution of property. This king for which they are in uproar, would impose several burdens of service.
How bitterly the nation, especially in the glory days of Solomon, felt the pressure of the royal yoke so truly predicted by the last Judge, is shown in the history of the times which followed the death of Solomon. The public discontent at the brilliant but despotic rule of Solomon split the nation into two. God was hereby announcing his withdrawal of Divine sympathy for the perpetrators of this error. But as present desire pushes unrelentingly on the sceptical minds of the people of Israel, future repercussions seem ethereally unreal. They in their error perceive Samuel to be feeble with the cares of the nation, and the unworthiness of his offspring Joel and Abiah increased the popular discontent.
Sir William Temple once said: “ Restlessness in men’s minds to be something that they are not ,and to own something that they have not, is the root of all immorality”.
Note the awful power that restless impulses hold to disturb a national peace in this manner. It was rooted in a base ingratitude of their collective life towards God and Samuel. You must bear in mind also, as this narrative proceeds, that wilful disobedience, continuously repeated becomes settled rebellion. The answer that Samuel received from God reminded him that this was not a new case of sudden refusal of the Divine sovereignty. Israel had actually got into the habit of it. Things apparently innocent are often made the baleful occasion, sometimes even the instrument, of a violent outbreak of unrighteously motivated sin. They infect innocent matter with their own venom. Human prayers so expressed, are met with a Divine protest.
The spirit and unworthiness of the movement may be seen in this – that they asked no counsel from Samuel or the Lord. “Nay but we will have a king to rule over us.” Observe how man can have his way. There is a point at which even God withdraws from the contest. “My spirit will not always strive with men.” Samuel was not too old for service. He continued actively and constructively to the nation for possibly twenty or thirty years more. The wayward people, however, whom the elders represented, were apparently tired of his administration
Oh the need of people in sin for ease! If there is a ghastly cross in the way, hew it down. “Anybody would think God wants us to deny ourselves! There is a way around it, over it, under it, but just make sure we avoid it!”
When a man is intelligent, and his conscience tells him that God is not exactly granting, but only permitting his prayer, is it really best for him to persevere in it in the confident hope that courage will carry him through into safety? I think not.
The folly as well as the sin of the project is further seen from remembering that God had chosen them to be alone and the guide of all the nations; but their self degraded demand was to be just the same as the other nations.
It is evident from the recorded history that the pernicious influence of international rivalry was at work among the elders of Israel – rivalry that is – in what is the best way to make war.
When going out to battle and in daily interaction with the other races they saw the kings and their retinue. The people of Israel saw only the magnificence, not the indulgent luxury. They saw the dignity, but not the expense. They saw the monarchical power, but not the oppression of the people. They were willing to run before a royal chariot – that would be no slavery, they thought. They would enlist in an army – that would be no yoke. They would give the best to a Hebrew king – that would be no sacrifice. They will have their desire, though it prove to be their ruin. There is always personal danger from the indulgence of wrong motives and from the eager pursuit of sin.
Present decision, therefore, to be right with God at the present, is an imperative demand, as it is the guarantee of any future blessing. Faithful as Samuel was to the people in declaring the words of God, he is none the less so in rehearsing the words of the people to God. The decided indication of the “popular will” does not alter Samuel’s views, or tempt him to depart from God. He can go back to the presence of God with the same uprightness as he had come from that sacred place. He acted as the agent, of Yahweh. He was always willing to abide by the Divine decision.
The revolution, no matter how quietly it was accomplished, was important and permanent. The introduction of a new instrument under the theocracy, forever separated any man’s prophetic office from the civil government. Henceforth in Israel’s history the prophets and the governmental personnel are ever distinct as to office, and often antagonistic as to policy. A freer people – from the Exodus to the birth of the reign of Saul – were never known. God Himself was their king throughout those days.
The history of the world cannot produce another instance in which a public determination was formed to appoint a monarch, and yet no one proposed either himself or any other person to be a king, but referred the determination entirely to Yahweh, via a man of God, on this occasion, Samuel. It sounds righteous when one describes it with those words, but oh, how evil and damaging it was.