Understanding the Old Testament

Israel Gets a King

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

When Samuel was judging Israel, he lived in Ramah, but every year he traveled to the city centers of Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah to hear disputes. (1 Samuel 7:16) All of these cities were in central Israel, not far from Shiloh where the tabernacle normally resided.

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons, Joel and Abijah, as judges in Beersheba, in southern Israel. (1 Samuel 8:1-2) Perhaps Samuel did this to help share the burden or to meet a need in the south that he could not handle himself. Whatever the reason, it was an unfortunate decision.

Joel and Abijah were corrupt and greedy. They took bribes and used their positions to enrich themselves instead of impartially administering justice. (1 Samuel 8:3)

At about the same time, Israel faced invasion by the Ammonites, who besieged Jabesh-gilead in northeastern Israel (east of the Jordan River). (See 1 Samuel 11:1-2 and 12:12.)

Unhappy with Samuel’s sons, and fearing the Ammonites, the elders of Israel decided that the solution was to ask Samuel to “appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.” (1 Samuel 8:5 and 12:12) Samuel was offended, for he felt like the people were rejecting him as their judge. When he prayed, the Lord told him to give the people their king—but to also tell them what having a king would mean.

So Samuel warned them that a king would take their sons for his army, their daughters to be his servants, and a portion of their crops and possessions to pay for his lifestyle. (1 Samuel 8:10-17) Samuel also warned them that the Lord would not listen to their future complaints about their king. (1 Samuel 8:18) Despite these warnings, the people insisted on receiving a king, “that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:20)

The Lord’s choice to be king over Israel was Saul, a tall, handsome man from the tribe of Benjamin. (1 Samuel 9:1-2, 9:15-17, and 10:20-23.) So Samuel anointed him king. (1 Samuel 10:1).

Questions to ponder or discuss: When Samuel prayed, the Lord told him: “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:7) In chapter 12, Samuel chastises the people because they had asked for a king. Why was their request “evil,” as it is called in 1 Samuel 12:19-20? How is their reaction to the Ammonite invasion similar to the Israelites’ reaction to the report of the twelve spies who returned from Canaan? What did the people fail to appreciate on both occasions?

Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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Understanding the Old Testament


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I am a member of Trinity Arts Writers Workshop, in Bedford, Texas.