1 Samuel 8: Israel demands a king


Discussion Question: Have you ever followed a cultural trend that you are embarrassed to admit to? Describe it!

Summary: The 8th chapter of 1 Samuel tells the unfortunate story of when Israel began to follow a cultural trend of centralized tyrannical government. This trend was widespread in the ancient world and is exemplified in many of the nations mentioned in the OT (e.g. Egypt, Babylon, Asseria, etc). God never intended his people to follow this trend. Israel was supposed to be set apart so that other nations would marvel at the level of justice produced by God’s law, statutes, and rules (Deut 4:5-8).

Review: In the last chapter, we saw how God positively responds when his people repent and turn to him with all their hearts. Because Israel put away their false gods and idols, the LORD heard the cries from his people through Samuel’s prayer concerning the Philistine threat. God answers Samuel by sending thunder to defeat Israel’s enemies and the chapter ends with justice being restored in the land by the circuit court that Samuel set up in Israel. In chapter 8, time has passed and Samuel has become old so he appoints his two sons, Joel and Abijah, as judges to carry on his task (1Sam 8:1-2).

Israel demands a king

Unfortunately, Samuel’s sons did not carry out their judicial duties faithfully, rather “his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice” (1Sam 8:3). This is in violation of the principles of the Mosaic law regarding the ethical conduct of appointed judges (Deut 16:19; 27:19, 25).

Recognizing the meltdown of justice in the courts, the Elders come to Samuel with a demand: appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations(1Sam 8:5). They wanted to exchange Israel’s uniqueness as a people set apart from the world for great status according to worldly standards.

The demand is far more rebellious than merely ignoring Samuel’s authority as a prophet: “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them” (1Sam 8:7). This seems to contradict verse 8: “so they are also doing to you” (v.8). However, Hebrew often uses the idiom “not x, but y” to mean “not so much x as y.”

Discussion Question: Israel was lured into the peer pressure of being like the “other nations.” What is tempting about peer pressure? How do we fight it?

Samuel’s warning of tyrannical kings

“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you” (1Sam 8: 11). The verb “take” (vv. 11, 13-14, 16) is suffixed to the second-person pronoun “your” (vv. 11, 13-17), communicating that the king is claiming for himself possessions that rightfully belong to the people. Verses 11 to 17 is a list of grievances against the ways of a future king. There are seven of them and we will list them in modern terms:

1) The Selective Service System, AKA draft or conscription (v.11). God’s law states that soldiers should resign the military, even during battle, for several reasons: to dedicate a house; to enjoy the fruit of one’s own vineyard; To take one’s own betrothed wife; or because one is fearful and fainthearted (Deut 20:5-9). Had Israel implemented a draft, it would have been ineffective with these laws in place. Thus, the king that Samuel warns about is one that disregards God’s commandments in Deuteronomy 20.

The mission statement of the selective service bureau is: “To register men and maintain a system that, when authorized by the President and Congress, rapidly provides personnel in a fair and equitable manner while managing an alternative service program for conscientious objectors.” This means that if there ever was a war which all volunteer military could not support, Congress and the president can implement the draft and force men to go to war.

2) Military industrial complex (v.12). God’s law prohibits a king from acquiring three things: many horses, many wives, and an excessive amount of silver and gold (Deut 17:16-17). These things share a common attribute, they are necessary in gaining military power. Horses are a means to a great Cavalry; many wives are a means to political alliances through marriage; and much silver and gold are a means of funding for wars.

God purposefully restricted Israel from gaining military might lest the people lose sight of the fact that “the LORD your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory” (Deut 20:4). This is a call to trust in Yahweh for protection, even in wartime. As we saw in chapter 4, the prerogative of God’s protection of Israel during war is contingent on Israel’s obedience. What happens when Israel is living in great sin and surrounded by enemies? God will not fight for them. This entices a particular temptation, to take war in their own hands by building up military power over God’s preservation. King David would later fall into the temptation to trust in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21.

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Psa 20:7).

The U.S. has developed what some refer to as a “military industrial complex.” How much do you think military “defense” spending costs per year? Would you have guessed $1,000,000,000? Well, that’s not quite accurate. Multiply that by twenty ($20,000,000). Now multiply that number by twenty ($400,000,000,000). Now add another two hundred billion for good measure ($600,000,000,000). That’s it! 6 HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS!!! That budget is larger than the next 8 world powers combined (i.e. China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, U.K., Japan, and Germany). This is like home security with a MK 19 Grenade Launcher. It’s a bit “overkill” (no pun intended).

3) Lavish lifestyle of politicians (v.13). Israel’s government at this time consisted of Elders and judges. It was extremely decentralized. The Mosaic law also made no financial provision for these positions, only temple services. For these reasons, Israel’s political leadership before the time of kings were self reliant as far as income. Unless one was independently wealthy, lavish living for Israel’s leaders wasn’t a thing before the time of kings.

4) Eminent domain (v.14). The 7th commandment, “You shall not steal” implies the concept of property rights. Since the “earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof” (Psa 24:1), the property that God delegates to individuals are protected under his law. Individuals are forbidden to tamper with their neighbors land markers (19:14). It is apparent in this passage that this law even applies to political leaders.

The taking of land by civil magistrates is still practiced today. It goes by the name of Eminent Domain: The taking of private land by civil government and converting it into public use. Even the fifth Amendment to the constitution says, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” It recognizes a preexisting power to take private property, rather than grant a new one. The qualifier is that the individual must be compensated. Today, this usually means the market price.

5) Taxes (v.15). There is no biblical law authorizing taxation in order to support civil government. The only thing which comes remotely close to resembling a tax is the tithe (Lev 27:30-34) and the flat head tax which was to make atonement for the lives of those numbered in the census (Exo 30:11-16). Both of these are ecclesiastical and are not appropriate to apply to the civil government.

6) Civil Asset forfeiture (v.16). There is a way civil government can take your possessions. It goes by the name of Civil Asset Forfeiture. This is a means in which law enforcement seizes property they suspect has been or will be involved in a crime. In Texas, the property, not the owner, is charged with involvement in a crime. The individual who had possession of the particular asset must prove its innocence in court. Since most of these cases occur in poorer communities, many of them go uncontested for reasons such as: the cost of a lawyer, missing work to appear in court, or traveling to the jurisdiction the crime took place in.

7) Excessive taxes (v.17). Even if we were to apply the temple tithe to modern day taxes, there is still a violation here. The biblical tithe is ten percent of agricultural produce, yet the king will demand the same amount in addition to the already existing tithe. Perhaps the significance of the amount of a “tenth” is that the king demands just as much as God does, making his position equal with God’s.

The ten percent is excessive for the reason that the second clause states, “and you will be his slaves.” God considers ten percent to be tyranny.

Would the U.S. income tax bracket pass God’s standards of tyranny?

Tax rateTaxable income bracketTax owed
10%$0 to $9,87510% of taxable income
12%$9,876 to $40,125$987.50 plus 12% of the amount over $9,875
22%$40,126 to $85,525$4,617.50 plus 22% of the amount over $40,125
24%$85,526 to $163,300$14,605.50 plus 24% of the amount over $85,525
32%$163,301 to $207,350$33,271.50 plus 32% of the amount over $163,300
35%$207,351 to $518,400$47,367.50 plus 35% of the amount over $207,350
37%$518,401 or more$156,235 plus 37% of the amount over $518,400
2020 federal income tax brackets (for taxes due in May 2021, or in October 2021)

Remember, this does not include the state tax, property tax, sales tax, inheritance tax, and many more. In fact, the U.S. tax code includes 97 different categories of taxes. Click here to see the different categories.

Israel’s enthusiasm for a king will be short lived. They will eventually realize that there request placed them in an oppressive situation: “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves” (1Sam 8:18). But once they realize that life under God’s rule is far better than under a human king, it will be too late: “but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” The previous chapter tells us that the LORD answered Samuel after the people repented. God answers cries of repentance, He does not answer cries of disobedience.

Yahweh grants Israel’s request

Samuel’s intensive warning falls on deaf ears. After hearing such an oppressive description of what life would be like under a tyrant king, they refuse to obey Samuel and reiterate their demand, “Our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1Sam 8:20). Up until now the LORD fought their battles. Like the Ark of the Covenant, Israel sees a king as another “good luck charm.” They want to win wars without having to repent and obey God’s law.

Christ, the true and better King

God has given us a true and better king, his own son Jesus. He has all authority and power over both the spiritual realm and the created order (Matt 28:18). He is head over all things for the benefit of the church (Eph 1:22). He is ruler over the kings of the earth (Rev 5:1). He is king of kings and lord of lords (Rev 17:14).

Discussion Question: I remember in 2016 when Donald Trump defeated Hilary Clinton. Appearing on TV at the democratic were many supporters in tears because their leader had lost. They had so much riding on that election, their hopes and dreams. Why, in our fallen nature, do we turn to government for solutions? If we were to be face to face with those individuals, what might we tell them about king Jesus?

Published by Ben Moore

Ben is a Christian worldview writer who holds a BA in Economics and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Biblical studies at Reformed Theological Seminary. He and his beloved wife live and serve to see the Gospel permeate throughout all areas of life.

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