I have long been a "manuscript preacher." That is, I typically write out a full manuscript for each message I preach. The writing is usually done on Saturday evening and read over early on Sunday morning before being preached in the Lord's Day service. Some preachers prefer notes and others insist, whatever one's preparation, that no notes (and certainly no manuscript) be brought into the pulpit. As I heard one old-school North Carolina preacher once say, "Better to pray it down than write it down." Al Martin's Preaching in the Holy Spirit (Reformation Heritage, 2011) cites Pierre Marcel as saying, "If the preacher is and remains dependent upon his manuscript or upon his memory, there is not just one prisoner--there are two: the preacher and the Spirit, and through the Spirit Christ" (p. 57). His point: whatever one's aids in preaching, there must be room for the spontaneous guidance of the Spirit.
The Rejected King
1 Samuel 8
CRBC May 8, 2011
We return today to the book of 1 Samuel. Over the next several weeks we will be looking at 1 Samuel chapters 8-15. 1 Samuel can be easily divided into three major sections, each focusing on one central figure:
Chapters 1-7: Samuel;
Chapters 8-15: Saul;
Chapters 16-31: David.
We are beginning today a journey through this second section looking at the life of Saul, the first king in Israel. The story of Saul is in many ways a tragic story. Saul is a spiritual failure. We look at the life of Saul not seeking a way to follow but to avoid.
Not all the characters in the Bible are meant to be positive. Some serve as warnings. The Bible tells us about Cain to warn us not to hate and murder our brothers; it tells us about Judas to warn us not to betray Christ; it tells us about Ananias and Sapphira to warn us not to lie to the Holy Spirit. Saul, like these, is a warning sign. If I am driving down a wrong road that leads to a bridge that is out I want to see a sign that warns me not to go that way. Scripture provides one such sign in the life of Saul.
The beginning of the rise of Saul in 1 Samuel 8 comes first with the sin of the people of Israel in their spurning of the Lord and their demanding a king “like all the nations” (v. 5). In this expressed desire they were not only rejecting Samuel, God’s prophet, priest, and judge appointed for them, but they were also rejecting the Lord himself. The Lord himself is the rejected King.
There are four distinct movements in this passage:
1. The elders of Israel request a king (vv. 1-5);
2. Samuel intercedes with the Lord on behalf of the people (vv. 6-9);
3. Samuel warns the people of the folly of their request (vv. 10-18);
4. The people refuse to obey (vv. 19-22).
Let’s look at each in turn:
First, the elders of Israel request a king (vv. 1-5):
Recall the context. Remember Israel had lost the ark of God in battle with the Philistines. The Lord allowed the ark to fall into the hands of the Philistines. He then struck them with tumors (hemorrhoids!), so that they put the ark on a cart drawn by two milk cows separated from their calves that had never been yoked and it supernaturally returned the ark to Israel.
This resulted in a time of national revival (see 7:4). Now when the Philistines threaten them, the chastened people turn to Samuel at Mizpeh, and he prays for them (see 7:5, 8) and offers a sacrifice of a lamb for them (v. 9). And as he makes this offering a victory is won over Israel’s enemy (vv. 10-11). Samuel sets up the “Ebenezer” stone saying “Hitherto hath the LORD helped us” (v. 12).
The land enjoyed peace, and Samuel served as God’s appointed Judge over the people (see vv. 15, 17).
Sadly, we see that things will not remain peaceful. In the book of Judges there is the Judges cycle: the people sin and fall into bondage; they cry out to God; he hears them and raises up a deliverer who frees them from bondage; the people sin and fall into bondage…
Here we will see the cycle being repeated but also being broken as the office of Judge in Israel will be replaced by that of the king.
In v. 1 we read that the crisis begins with the aging of Samuel. There was a problem of succession. Samuel “made his sons judges over Israel.” The problem: Spiritual office is not conveyed by hereditary succession.
The names of Samuel’s sons were Joel and Abiah (v. 2). These were good pious, names. Joel means “Jehovah is God.” Abiah means “Jehovah is my Father.” Still a man is not made godly merely by having an outwardly godly title or appearance.
In v. 3 we learn that Samuel’s sons “walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.” Samuel is one of the godliest men in the Bible, but his sons are rotten to the core! He repeats the same sin of the house of Eli. Remember it was said of Eli’s sons that “they knew not the LORD” (1 Sam 2:12). And most damning in 1 Samuel 3:13 we read that Eli’s sons “made themselves vile, and he restrained them not.” Here we have no such negative evaluation of Samuel but still his sons were vile and apparently unconverted.
Here we learn that not only is it impossible to convey spiritual office by heredity but it is also impossible to convey spiritual status by heredity. These were covenant children, were they not! No. You do not become a child of God by virtue of having a Christian parent. God has no grandchildren, only children. The prophet Ezekiel will later teach most plainly that every man stands before God on his own account (see Ezekiel 18). The Lord judges “every man according to his own ways” (Ezek 18:30).
Here we see that perhaps there was some legitimate reason for Israel to seek after a king. They feared what life would be like under Joel and Abiah.
In v. 4 the elders of Israel come to Samuel at Ramah and make their request: “Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
Now there is a lot of debate among OT scholars as to what exactly Israel’s sin was. Some would say that it was sinful for them even to request a human king at all. They were under a theocracy. God was ruling over them through his appointed Judges. Some say the sin was the request for a king in and of itself.
This, however, cannot be right. Why? Because God’s law given to Moses in Deuteronomy made provision for Israel to have a human king. The key passage is Deuteronomy 17:14-20. It even predicts the appointment of the office of king:
KJV Deuteronomy 17:14 When thou art come unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me;
But the passage also sets limits on the king. He will be a man of God’s own choosing and he must be a godly king who loves the Scriptures:
KJV Deuteronomy 17:19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:
The institution of civil government is ordained of God as is the family and the church. Paul teaches believers in Romans 13 that we are to be subject to these powers, because “they are ordained of God” (v. 1).
What then is wrong with the request?
Matthew Poole notes that the request itself was not unlawful “but herein was their sin, that they desired it upon sinful grounds…and in an impetuous manner, and at an unseasonable time, and without asking leave or advice from God….”
The problem was not the request itself but the manner and the motive of the request.
First, the manner. The people of Israel had reverted back to the way they were in 1 Samuel 4 when they presumptuously brought the ark into their camp before facing the Philistines. Gone is any reference to prayer or sacrifice as at Mizpeh (chapter 7). A prayerless faith is a powerless and perverted faith. They do not ask God what he will grant, but they demand what they must have.
Second, the motive. Why do they want a king? To be “like all the nations” (v. 5). In this request they are abandoning the very unique, special, and peculiar state that God has called to which God has called. The very point of God’s election of Israel it that she would be holy, separated, and unlike the surrounding pagan nations:
KJV Exodus 19:5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: 6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
KJV Leviticus 11:45 For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
KJV Numbers 23:9 For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.
Israel was saying, “We want to abandon our distinct identity and be like everyone else.”
Further with regard to sin in the manner of the request, they were saying to God in effect, “We believe that a human king can do a better job of protecting, guiding, and leading us than you can.”
Dale Ralph Davis: “Their help now was not in the strong name of Yahweh but in a new form of government. It is not monarchy, but trust in monarchy that is the villain…” (1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, p. 85).
Second, Samuel intercedes with the Lord on behalf of the people (vv. 6-9):
In v. 6 we have Samuel’s response: “But the thing displeased Samuel….” In Hebrew it says, “But the thing was evil in the eyes of Samuel….” Here is Samuel’s redeeming quality: “And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.” Israel had made a prayerless request. They wanted to make their demand first and pray later. But Samuel first seeks God’s face.
The Lord’s response to Samuel is twofold:
First, he says that Samuel is to hearken unto them or to heed them or to listen to them (see v. 7a). Here we get the first sense that God in his sovereignty will grant this request however ill conceived. The Lord also conveys the root of this rebellion (v. 7b): “for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should reign over them.” Rebellion against God-ordained human authority is rebellion against the Lord whether it is a child flagrantly rebelling against a parent, a church member spurning the admonitions of a minister, or a citizen resisting the magistrate.
The Lord further says that Israel is only perpetuating what has been her pattern (v. 9).
Again, in v. 10 he calls on Samuel to hearken to them, but he adds that Samuel also “protest solemnly unto them [Samuel is a Protestant!], and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.” Here we have a slight glimpse into the compassion of the Father. He never permits sinful rebellion without first warning of the consequences and calling for obedience.
Third, Samuel warns the people of the folly of their request (vv. 10-18):
Samuel is obedient to the Lord’s request (v. 10) and he relays to Israel, “This shall be the manner of the king that shall reign over you….” (v. 11a).
Notice the repletion of the phrase, “And he will take…” In our English translation it appears six times (vv. 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17). In Hebrew the verb laqah appears four times (vv. 11, 13, 14, 16); it is supplied as understood in the English translation of vv. 15 and 17.
We might say there is nothing new under the sun. Samuel warns the people of the pandora’s box that the monarchy will open.
He will take yours sons, and appoint them for himself… (vv. 11-12). There will be drafts and sons will be sent to war.
He will take your daughters (v. 13). They will not be off limits but will be conscripted into service in supply for the king.
He will take your fields (v. 14). Did we think imminent domain was a modern concept?
He will take the tenth of your seed (v. 15).
He will take your servants (v. 16).
He will take the tenth of your sheep (v. 17a).
Can you say taxes? Look at v. 17b: “And ye shall be his servants.”
Ronald Reagan famously said that the most frightening words in the English language were, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Samuel might paraphrase that and say that Israel should shudder when someone says, “I’m from the monarchy and I’m here to help.”
Samuel offers a final warning in v. 18. One day you will cry out, but the Lord will not hear.
At this point we may be thinking maybe Israel will repent. Maybe she will turn and seek the Lord’s face….
Fourth, the people refuse to obey (vv. 19-22):
The sad answer comes back in v. 19: “Nevertheless, the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel….”
They reiterate the two errors in the manner of their request in v. 20: They want to be like the nations (v. 20a) and they want their king to fight their battles (v. 20b). This despite the fact that the only way they had ever won any battle was when the Lord was on their side. Did they really need a king to fight the Egyptians at the Red Sea?
In v. 21 we see again Samuel playing the role of the mediator. Our translation says that he “rehearsed” these things “in the ear of the LORD.”
And the Lord gives the same response he had earlier given. He knew what their response would be even before he gave the warning! He tells Samuel, “Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.”
In the providence of God, the stage is being set for the appointment of Saul to the first king in Israel. The tragedy of Saul, the failure of Saul is rooted in the sinful manner in which Israel approached the appointment of this king.
II. Practical Spiritual Applications:
1. Do we approach the Lord as Israel did?
This passage calls upon us to identify with Israel.
How often do we attempt to solve our problems without seeking the Lord’s guidance and assistance? How many prayer-less decisions do we make? How many times do we make a decision and then ask God to bless it, rather than seeking his blessing in prayer first and then making the decision.
How many times do we turn to human wisdom to solve our problems rather than turning to God? Israel believed all her problems would be solved if only she had a new king. How many believe all their problems would be solved if only they had the right job, or the right income, or the right degree, or the right spouse, or the right family, or the right counseling, or the right church?
How many times we do we, like Israel, abandon our birthright of holiness to run after the world? We can apply this personally. How important is it for you to be in step with this culture and this world? Must you dress like the world, look like the world, be entertained like the world, spend your time like the world? Are you pulled by the world to abandon purity in conversation, faithfulness in marriage, chastity before marriage, compassion for the weak, lowliness in spirit? We can apply this corporately to the church. I am weary of the church that wants to look so much like the world. When the church has the world’s entertainment, the world’s music, the world’s casual lack of reverence, the world’s crassness, it has lost the very thing that God chose it to be in the midst of this world: holy and separated unto the gospel.
To be Christians, to be a faithful church, we must be counter-cultural.
2. The Lord will sometimes in his sovereignty allow wicked requests to be granted.
Just because God allows something to happen does not mean that he approves of it. We should be thankful that God in his wisdom sometimes says, “No,” to us. Sometimes, the worst thing that can happen is when he gives us over to our unsanctified desires and requests. We must be constantly immersed in the Word so as to know even what to ask and the manner in which to ask it, lest we ask amiss.
3. Like Israel of old, have we rejected the Lord’s kingship over us?
Could the Lord look at your life and say to you as he did of Israel of old, “but they have rejected me, that I should reign over them” (v. 7)?
When Jesus was here on earth he told a parable sometimes called the parable of the pounds about “a certain nobleman who went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return” (Luke 19:12). Jesus then added, “But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). Every person who has ever rejected Christ has sent this same message. Would you not humble yourself and come under the rule of Christ?
Maybe you are a believer, but there have been areas of your life that have been in open rebellion to the dominion of Christ. Maybe in areas of person purity and integrity. In areas of discipleship and practice. In the sphere of your home and family. In the sphere of your education, work, or career. Will you not be submitted to Christ today?
Is the Lord sending his Word today to lodge a protest and a warning to you?
John Owen in Spiritual-Mindedness (Banner ed., 2009) observes:
When a wise, kind, loving parent who has made every effort to educate his child, and who has high hopes for the future of that child, finds that the child is lazy, plays truant, and enjoys bad company, how grieved that parent will be! But the heart of the Spirit of God is infinitely more loving and caring toward believers than any person can be to an only child. And when at great cost and with great care, he has nourished and brought us up as God’s adopted children, worked hard to conform us to the image of God, and then finds his work torn down and allowed to wither and fall to pieces, how grieved he must be, and how provoked he must be to turn against us and be our enemy! But yet, in his grace and mercy, he does his sad work of convicting us of our sin and ingratitude, bringing home to our hearts many fears and terrors, so that we will return to him with godly sorrow and whole hearted repentance, so that he can begin again (pp. 205-206).
O let us not grieve the heart of our dear King by rejecting his kind rule over us!