Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 8 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/8/2015 in Novato, CA.
1 Samuel 8
“Now Make For Us a King”
Would they remember the lessons of Ichabod and Ebenezer? That becomes the question as we head into chapter 8. Remember that last week we finished up the section in this book that covered the loss and recovery of the Ark of the Covenant in Israel. That section covered chapters 4-7. It started in chapter 4 when they lost the Ark due to their sin and their presumption that God was on their side when they had been living in bold violation of the covenant. And not only were the people in general sinning greatly against God, but notably the sons of their leader Eli were doing great evils in their service. And so there in chapter 4, the people experience two great military defeats, many die including Eli’s two sons, and they the Ark is captured. They cried out in sorrow, “Ichabod!” Ichabod means “no glory” and this expressed how they lost God’s presence among them when they lost the Ark. Well, that sub story ended last chapter, when the people finally realized that it was their rampant sin that had brought this all upon them, in all their idolatry and going after false gods. And so last chapter they repented, called upon God for help, and God forgave them and gave them great military victory and established great peace in the land. To commemorate this deliverance from God, Samuel setup a memorial stone and called it “Ebenezer”. Ebenezer means “stone of help” and was supposed to remind the people that God is the one they must look to for help and salvation. So, as we come now later on after these events, the question for Israel is if they would remember these lessons of Ichabod and Ebenezer. The lessons were pretty straight forward: The lesson of Ichabod was that their sin separated them from God and his help and blessed presence. The lesson of Ebenezer was that God receives back his wayward people when they repent and that he will restore them and be their help and their deliverance.
So, now, in chapter 8, Samuel has grown old. He had served well as a leader among the people. Last week we noted how he served commendably as a prophet, priest, and judge. Now in this passage, in his final days of service, he starts to look to the future. Who would lead them in the next generation? Well, he appoints his two sons, Joel and Abijah, as judges. Unfortunately, this is where a problem presents itself. It’s when problems arise that we are tested. Here’s where the people are tested at whether or not they would remember the lessons of Ichabod and Ebenezer. Because at this point, the story sounds so similar as the past. At the time of Ichabod, the story line really brought out how Eli’s two sons were not succeeding him well, but were doing great evils in the context of their service. Now, even commendable Samuel has his two sons beginning to serve, and they are also doing very great evils in the context of their service. Verse 3 describes their dishonest gain through the accepting of bribes. As judges, that’s like one of the greatest evils you could do in performing your job. Time and again in Israel’s history the prophets would speak out against the judges doing this. It was a great perversion of justice, and not the kind of leaders the people need to follow after Samuel.
Well, the people do say something, and that’s good. The elders gather with Samuel at Ramah. They point out to Samuel the problem with his sons. Up to this point, this is a good thing. Maybe the lesson of Ichabod is in their mind. Maybe they see how Samuel’s sons look a little too much like Eli’s sons, and remember their connection with the Ichabod event. Unfortunately, however, they propose a solution that calls into question if they really understand the real issue. Look at verse 5. You see, that faced with the reality that Samuel’s sons were corrupt, they propose a solution to get a king to judge them like all the nations. So their proposed solution is: change the form of government. They want to replace the system of judges by instituting a monarchy.
But is that the way to solve this problem? Again, what was the lesson of Ebenezer? The lesson was that when there is sin in the land, you address the sin. You repent of it, you seek divine forgiveness through atonement, etc. You look to turn from the sin and call out to God for help. But that’s not quite what they are doing here. Yes, they acknowledge the sin, but then act like the problem is the form of government. It almost makes you wonder that if they really wanted a king all along, and were just looking for some excuse to ask for one. But you don’t see them looking to really deal with the sin here in the way sin should be dealt with.
As further evidence that their solution doesn’t really deal with the core problem, we could point to the success the people had under Samuel per last chapter. In other words, Samuel as a judge, led the people by the grace of God into a time of great blessing and peace. So, that shows that the system of judges leading the people can work, practically speaking. In fact, the most recent cases of judges, with Eli and Samuel showed that the greatest problems came out when their sons took over as leaders. And yet under the system of judges, it was not mandatory that sons would succeed a judge as judge. But if you go with a monarchy, that would be the typical way succession of leadership would take place; the king’s son ordinarily would be the next king whether he was a good and righteous king or not. My point is simply to say that replacing the system of judges with a monarchy isn’t really dealing with the core issue here, and even practically speaking doesn’t seem to really address the real issues.
This is seen as well in the reasons they state here for wanting a king. Those are spelled out in verse 19. Look with me there. They give two reasons for why a king should be appointed. One, they say so they could be like the other nations. But, how does this address the problem of wicked sons as judges, since the nations themselves have rampant wickedness? In other words, if they are trying to solve for the fact that Samuel’s sons are wicked, how is it going to help to model things after the way the wicked pagan nations run their governments? The second reason they give in verse 19 is they say that the king can “go out before us and fight our battles.” Again, how does this at all relate to Samuel’s sons and their problems? Yes, this may be a desire for them, and we can talk about whether the desire in general for a king was good or not. But how does that relate to the presented problem here about Samuel’s sons? Well, it doesn’t seem to relate in any way.
So then, the people rightly recognize a problem of sin in their midst, but seem wanting to apply a solution that doesn’t really apply. This makes us wonder if their real motivation all along was just to have a king, and not really that concerned about the sin matter per se. At any rate, that is what they ultimately are doing here. They are demanding a king. So then, what I’d like to do next is to consider whether this is a good thing or not. Let’s think about their desire for a king and assess it biblically. Let’s start by referring back to Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Go ahead and turn there in your Bibles. Deuteronomy 17:14-20. This is part of the provisions of the Mosaic covenant. There it envisions that once the Israelites settle into the Promised Land that they might want to set a king over them like the nations, verse 14; does that wording sound familiar? Well, the passage in Deuteronomy says, “Yes.” Yes, they could have a king if they want. However, it places certain restrictions upon the king and gives instructions for how they are to serve. The king must be a fellow Israelite. He shall show restraint in what earthly possessions he acquires. And he is to write out his own personal copy of the law and read it every day and be careful to keep it. In all this, he shouldn’t exalt himself over his fellow Israelites as if he was better than them. And so Deuteronomy permitted the people to have a king, but within these restrictions and instructions. So, was it a good desire for the people in general to want have a king? Well, if nothing else, Deuteronomy says that it’s at least a permissible desire.
You can flip back to 1 Samuel 8 now. Okay, so a second important consideration in determining if it was good or not for them to want a king is to remember what the book of Judges says about the matter. Four times in the book of Judges, it notes how there was no king at that time. The point in each of the references is to suggest that this was a deficiency during that time of the judges, and that it contributed to why there was so much sin going on. Here’s how it’s put in Judges 17:6, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” That would suggest the perspective that a king could do some good for the people, in leading them in righteousness.
And so you have some Scripture passages like those that would support the idea of the people asking for a king. That being said, when you look at this particular passage it is abundantly clear that God did not see their request here as a good thing. Regardless of the fact that God permitted in Deuteronomy the establishment of a king, and regardless of how the book of Judges describes a way in which a king could be helpful, God did not see their request in this passage as a good thing. Look at verse 6. Samuel himself is troubled by their request. But God encourages Samuel in verse 7 by saying, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.” In other words, God took their request personally! You see, God is to be the real ruler of his people. And though God will permit them to have a human king, God knows people’s hearts. And God is saying that the people’s request here reflects their rejection of God as their king. On a related note, you might remember back in Judges 6, that the people wanted to make the judge Gideon a king, and he refused, saying that the LORD was to rule over them, not Gideon, Judges 8:23. And so this is the concern. If the people are asking for a king as a way to reject God as their king, then that is wrong. God, who sees the heart of men, saw that here with the people.
God goes on to further explain to Samuel in verse 8 that this is so typical for the people. He says that this is the sort of thing they’ve done ever since God brought them out of Egypt. God says they’ve repeatedly forsaken him and gone after other gods, and that this is now just another of the same sort of thing. So, that is interesting to think about. God is saying that the way the people are asking for a king is a way in which they are forsaking god and is somewhat akin to the way they have gone after other gods. Let me give you an example of how this was a rejection of God, at least in some sense. In verse 20 the people say how good it would be to have a king, because he’ll go out and fight their battles for them. And yet, wasn’t that the lesson of Ebenezer? God would be the one to be their help, militarily speaking. Is the people’s trust ultimately in kings and chariots, or in the one true God. Again, if they had remembered the lesson of Ebenezer their mistake would be obvious here to them.
And so right away, God’s response to their request for a king is to say that it was a bad request; that it was another expression of their rejection of him. And yet furthermore, God says that if they get an earthly human king, it will not be for their actual good. He has Samuel warn the people in verses 11-18 all about how worse things will be for them if they get a king like this. It’s like he’s saying, “Yes, the other nations may all have kings, and yes, I see you want to be like them, but just because everyone else has a king, doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.” God says basically that if they bring on a king like this, they’ll all become his servants, and it will be a great burden on the people, because they’ll be working very hard to serve him first. You see, the people only had these glamorous ideas about what a king would be like. God wanted them to know what the reality would be.
And so that leads us into our third point. I want us to see in this third point God’s gracious warning to them. In other words, God would permit them to have a king, as he said back in Deuteronomy. Their request for one was not coming from the right motives, but God would nonetheless heed their request. But first, in God’s graciousness, he has Samuel solemnly forewarn of how a king would treat them. verse 9. God evidently sees the kind of king they really wanted; they didn’t want a king who first and foremost would be concerned to lead the people in righteousness. No, they wanted a king who was like the kings of the other nations, outwardly glamorous and strong and “kingly”. And so God warns them that their request, as it stands now, will get them a king they won’t really want. In other words, they think they want this kind of king, but they will find out the hard way that it’s not such a great thing after all. And so he has Samuel give a list of examples of how tough it will be under such a king. And it’s summed up in verse 17, “And you will be his servants.” The people will sacrificing much liberty and become a servant of this new king.
Then listen to the words of verse 18. When the people finally realize that God was telling them the truth about such a king; when they finally realize they were wrong about having this kind of king, and when they finally admit it and call out to God for help, notice what God says in verse 18. “The LORD will not hear you in that day.” That’s sobering and its interesting. In verses 9 and 22 God tells Samuel that he is to heed the people’s request. The word “heed” in the Hebrew is a word about hearing. God is hearing their request for a king and granting it. In contrast, God through Samuel warns them, but verse 19 says they refused to obey the voice of Samuel, literally they refuse to hear him. And so God hears their request, but they won’t hear his warning. And so when they finally realize that they should have listened to God, and when they then later cry out for help, then he will not hear that cry. This is God’s chastisement upon them. It’s God letting them reap what they’ve sown. They’ve made their bed and then they’ll have to lay in it; that sort of thing.
That’s of course strict justice. When they find themselves under a bad king, with all the bad consequences, when God lets them have what they asked for, they’ll simply be getting what they deserved. And so verse 18 is an expression of strict justice. After they first off reject God’s kingship, and still further don’t even heed his gracious warning, they won’t deserve his help at that point. And yet, God in his abundant mercy and grace ultimately in the long term does hear them. God will only turn a deaf ear to his people for a time. We will see this in the short term with King Saul. In the short term, God gives the people King Saul, who is the kind of the king the people thought they wanted. He permits Saul to have a real go at leading the people in a good way, in way that is under God. Saul ultimately fails in that. And yet after a time, God gives the people relief. He replaces Saul not with the kind of king the people would choose. Rather, he replaces Saul with a man of God’s choosing, King David. And yet that was still only in the short term. David did not live forever. David’s son would have to rule over the people next. And when David’s son Solomon ruled over the people, the Scriptures actually describe him at one point in terms that are very reminiscent of this chapter. After Solomon’s death, they describe to his son Rehoboam all the ways King Solomon had put them under a heavy yoke of servitude. But Rehboaom would not give them relief. And so in Israel’s history there was so much of this back and forth. Back and forth between good and bad kings, with more bad ones than good ones.
And yet God still would show the people even yet more grace. For through that line of David God would raise up the Lord Jesus Christ. And it’s so wonderful how everything comes together in him. God wanted it to be clear that God was the one reigning over the people. God was to be their real king. On the other hand, you can appreciate why the people wanted some of their own flesh and blood to be right there with them, leading them into battle. And so in the incarnation, you have both. Jesus is both God and Man. Son of God, and Son of David. He is the embodiment of the perfect king from all perspectives. What a wonderful way that God brought all this together in Jesus. What an expression of his love and tenderness and care for us.
And so, rejoice saints of God that God did not leave us fully to our own devices. He didn’t just let us fail in our bad judgment to pick the wrong kind of king. No, God in his graciousness sent Jesus to be the perfect king for his people. Receive King Jesus. Hail the Lord’s Anointed. Trust in him for your salvation by faith. Submit your life to him. The core problem we’ve all had, Samuel’s son, and each of us, and all our sons and daughters is sin. And King Jesus is the perfect solution for that problem. There, finally, installing a king like Jesus does solve our core problem of sin. For Jesus became a servant to us by going to the cross and dying in our place. Let us then receive the gift of salvation by faith in Christ!
Saints of God, in closing, I offer some final application from this passage. We see here that when challenges arise, we need to find the best biblical solution. Faced with the sin of Samuel’s son, the people demanded a king. God permitted it, but that doesn’t mean it was immediately helpful for their circumstances. Similarly, Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12 deals with the attitude that said “All things are permissible”; and he countered that by saying but “not all things are beneficial.” As we come to face challenges, let us look to God and his Word for help. Let us not lean on our own understanding. In our times of trouble, then, more than ever, is the time to go to God for help. Don’t forget the lessons of Ichabod and Ebenezer. Abide in God through Christ. Trust in him and his ways. Seek godliness. Repent regularly. Humble yourself before God and ask for help in all circumstances. Watch and pray. Rejoice that you have a King who leads you through it all, leading you in righteousness. A king who is also your savior who served you so much as to die for your sins. Praise be to God! Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.