1 Samuel 8: Asking for a King
What do we seem to see when we hear the name "Samuel"? We see a little boy at the tabernacle in Shiloh, dressed in a linen ephod like a priest, and helping the old priest Eli. At the time you think of, what was the little boy doing? What was Eli doing? And what happened? Who can tell me about it? This was in Shiloh, the "place of rest." Where was Shiloh? When was the tabernacle set up in Shiloh? And what was the tabernacle? How did the people know how to build it? Moses told them, you say? How did Moses know? Who can tell us about the tabernacle? What were its walls made of? its roof? What was in each of its three parts?
We read that people went to sacrifice to the Lord in Shiloh. In what part of the tabernacle were sacrifices offered? We read of the lamp of God in the temple of the Lord? Where was the lamp? We read that Samuel opened the doors of the house of the Lord. What kinds of doors were made for the tabernacle at Sinai? We read of taking the ark from Shiloh. Where in the tabernacle was it kept? But you have not told me why the child Samuel was at Shiloh. Did his father and mother live there? Did his mother ever see him there? and did she do something for him?
When Samuel grew to be a man, war with the Philistines was still going on. There was a battle between the Israelites and the Philistines in which the Israelites were beaten, and they sent and brought the ark from Shiloh. Who can tell me about it? What happened to the ark? How was its power shown in the Philistine country? How was it sent home? Yes, tell me carefully about sending it home; that is a story I love to hear. Was it taken back to Shiloh? No, not again to Shiloh, but it was kept in Kirjath-jearim among the hills of Judah, and it stayed there a long time, until when David was king he brought it up to Jerusalem.
But how about the war with the Philistines? How was it ended? Samuel, when he was a man, taught the people to put away their idols. Does someone remember how he gathered them at the high hill Mizpeh to repent and to sacrifice to the Lord? Then when the Philistines came against them the Lord made them strong, and they drove them back into their own country.
So Samuel was the judge and leader of the people, and he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh; and he judged Israel in all those places. And his return was to Ramah, for there was his house, and there he judged Israel. The people testified that Samuel was a just, good judge. (1 Sam. 12:1-5)
How had the people of Israel been ruled so far? Up to this time they had never had a king. In the days of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the old father of the tribe was the priest and leader. Then Moses and Aaron were leader and priest, and they taught the people the Lord's laws. Then came Joshua and the judges and Samuel, but as yet no king. The people began to wish for a king. The way they had been living seemed to them childish and they wanted to be like other nations and have a king to judge them and to lead their army.
Samuel was displeased that they wanted a king, but he prayed to the Lord, and the Lord told him that it should be as the people asked. Still, Samuel should warn the people what the king would be like, how his rule would be a hard rule, and he would make them serve him as soldiers, as farmers and herdsmen, and in the palace. Still they wanted a king.
We may be governed and our lives kept right in several different ways. We may be led by love, and we are led in this way as little children. As older children we are governed by learning what is right and doing it obediently. These kinds of government in our life are pictured by the government of the people of Israel in the days of the patriarchs and of Moses and the judges to the time of Samuel. Afterward they were ruled by kings who organized them as a nation with more of outward strength. This pictures the development of the power of reason. When this comes we are not led as we once were, by love; we do not simply obey what we are told; but we try to understand and do what we see is right. This change comes in youth and early adulthood. (A. 1672, 8770)
Samuel warned the people that the rule of the king would be a hard rule. And so is truth hard when it is held simply in the understanding and the reason. Applied in this cold hard way it often does great harm. Truth must be joined with love and kindness to make it really useful.
The hardness of truth as a ruler unsoftened by kindness is represented by what Samuel told the people about their king. Read also what Moses said in looking forward to the day when there would be a king. (Dent. 17:14-20) His words mean that when truth and reason rule they must be guided by the Lord's teaching, and they must be softened and made useful by love. (A. 6148, 2015)
Samuel was displeased that the people desired a king. It is often distressing to parents when young people begin to think and reason for themselves. They have been lovely little children; they have been obedient as older boys and girls. Now as young men and women they are less lovely, less obedient. They question things that they are told to do; they try to decide for themselves what is right, and are critical of others. Parents are distressed, and the gentle childlike spirit in the young person is still more distressed. This seems especially to be pictured in Samuel's displeasure, for Samuel stands for the noble childlike spirit. It does not understand the new development. But the Lord knows that the awakening power to reason and to understand will lead the way to a still stronger government of the life. This is meant in the Lord's telling Samuel that it should be as the people wished; they should have a king.