The Word Made Fresh
1When Samuel was old he appointed his sons to serve as judges in Israel. 2The eldest was Joel and the second was Abijah. They were located in Beersheba. 3They did not follow Samuel’s example, but worked for profit, taking bribes and making unjust rulings.
4Israel’s elders came to Samuel at Ramah. 5They said, “You are old now, and your sons don’t follow your example. Appoint a king to rule over us, as in other nations.”
6But Samuel didn’t like the idea, so he prayed to the LORD. 7The LORD said, “Do whatever they ask. They haven’t rejected you; they have rejected me as their king. 8They’re doing what they’ve always done since the day I brought them out of Egypt — turning their backs on me and going after other gods. Now they’re treating you like that, too. 9So, do what they ask, but warn them about how their king is going to treat them.”
10Samuel reported back to the elders and told them what the LORD had said. 11“This is how the king will rule over you: He will conscript your sons and use them as his charioteers and horsemen to run before him, 12and he will appoint commanders of thousands and fifties. He will order some to plow his fields and gather his crops, and he will assign others to make weapons and equip his chariots. 13He will take your daughters to cook and bake and make perfume. 14He will take over your best fields and vineyards and olive groves and put his servants in charge of them. 15He will take ten percent of your grain and wine and give it to his servants and his officials. 16He will take your men and women slaves and your best young men and donkeys and put them to work. 17He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves. 18When you realize what is happening you will cry out to the LORD for relief from your king, but the LORD will be silent.”
19They wouldn’t listen to Samuel and clamored for a king. 20“We want to be like the other nations,” they said. “Our king will watch over us and lead us when we have to go to war.”
21Samuel listened, and then told the LORD what they had said. 22The LORD said, “Give them what they want.” Samuel told the people to go home and wait.
1-3: Now to our dismay we find that Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah, are just as wicked as Eli’s sons had been — Hophni and Phinehas.
4-9: The tribal leaders ask Samuel to appoint a king to govern them. The reason they give is that Samuel is old, and his sons are dishonest. There is a hint in the text that Samuel takes this initially as a rejection of his leadership, but in prayer God assures him that is not the case. Rather, they have rejected God, which they are prone to do again and again. They have also clearly rejected Samuel’s sons. So, give them a king, says God, but warn them what they’re getting themselves into.
10-18: Samuel warns them about the ways of a king. He will draft their sons and daughters to serve in the palace, to form a standing army, and to do manual labor for the central government’s administration. Furthermore, he will levy taxes; 10% of all the crops and herds. He will claim their slaves as his own and conscript the best of their beasts of burden to work for him. They will cry out, he says (just as they had cried out under the oppression of the Pharaoh in Egypt).
19-22: They still insist on a king. Samuel checks with God, and God tells him to give them a king. Samuel sends them home while he ponders the challenge of finding a king for them.
At first glance their request makes sense. Samuel is old and his sons can’t be trusted to lead. But God always made it clear that following the LORD’s directions for living would suffice for their protection and success, and God has always raised up a leader when their behavior resulted in their misery. How often have we been side-tracked, or stymied, or worse because we thought we could have some bright and shiny thing if we only stepped a little off the course of our faith? The people of Israel were just as self-centered as we are prone to be ourselves.