Read the Passage: 1 Samuel 8-10
Demand for a King (8:1–21)
1 Sam. 7:15–17 describes the general ministry of Samuel, which included traveling on a yearly circuit throughout Israel in order to maintain justice and order. This description brings the portion of this book that focuses on Samuel to a close. The focus of 1 Sam. 8–15 is Saul, who is appointed as the first king of Israel. As chapter 8 begins, Samuel is described as being “old” (1 Sam. 8:1, 5; 12:2), being roughly sixty years of age. Surprisingly, we are told that his sons, who had been appointed judges, were corrupt. They “did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice” (1 Sam. 8:3). Greed for money disqualifies one for spiritual leadership (cf. 1 Tim. 3:3; 1 Pet. 5:2). The context of Samuel’s sons being corrupt becomes the pretext for the leaders of Israel to ask for a king, for they wanted to “be like the [pagan] nations” (1 Sam. 8:20).
The peoples’ request for a king “displeased Samuel” (1 Sam. 8:6). Part of his displeasure may have been that the request entailed a rejection of his sons. Yet, the main reason why Samuel was displeased is that the request constituted a rejection of God. It appears that Samuel’s ministry did not bear fruit among all of the people. The Lord had predicted this turn of event centuries earlier (cf. Deut. 17:14–20), even giving the people directions on how to appoint a king when the time came. In this passage the Lord told Samuel that the peoples’ desire for a human king was a rejection of their heavenly King. While God does provide a human king for Israel, we later learn that this was an act of judgment, as at Hos. 13:11 the Lord declares, “In my wrath I gave you a king.” As a warning, in 1 Sam. 8:10–18 God instructs Samuel to instruct the people about the cost of their sin of desiring and appointing a king.
Choice of a King (9:1–10:16)
1 Sam. 9:1–10:16 is a lengthy narrative that recounts the events surrounding the choice and appointment of Saul to be king. The passage begins with an account of Saul’s search for his father’s lost sheep. From this narrative it is clear that Saul’s father Kish was a man of power, wealth, and importance. 1 Sam. 9:1 even says he was “a mighty man of power.” This is seen in his possession of herds of donkeys, as well as many servants. Moreover, later we learn that Saul himself was of great physical stature (cf. 1 Sam. 10:23). The author is showing us that regarding the traits that are most prized by mankind—physical fitness, financial wealth, social power—Saul was equipped to be king. His later failure as king (cf. 1 Sam. 13–15) was not due to a lack of anything valued by natural man. Yet, Saul did lack the most important trait needed for effective leadership: a relationship with God.
Samuel had alluded to Saul’s appointment as king upon their first meeting (cf. 1 Sam. 9:20). In 1 Sam. 10:1–16 Samuel formally anoints Saul as king (cf. 1 Sam. 10:1). Following this event, Samuel gave Saul three signs to confirm his appointment as king. These were: first, a report of Kish’s donkey’s having been recovered (cf. 1 Sam. 10:2); second, meeting three men going to Bethel (cf. 1 Sam. 10:3–4); and third, an encounter with a band of prophets (cf. 1 Sam. 10:5). In this passage Samuel notes, “Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man” (1 Sam. 10:6). Further, at 1 Sam. 10:9 it is reported “that God gave Saul another heart.” It is clear from these passages that a movement of God’s Spirit was needed for spiritual leadership. Saul’s limited success as king was due to this temporary blessing.
Proclamation of a King (10:17–27)
1 Sam. 10:17–27 records the formal, public proclamation of Saul as king. Here Samuel begins by reminding the people of the sufficiency of the Lord’s leadership over them and declared, once again, that their desire for a king was tantamount to a rejection of God (cf. 1 Sam. 10:17–19). Following this, as God’s spokesman, Samuel chose Saul to be king, likely by the casting of lots (cf. Josh. 7:15–18). While this may seem like a random way to choose a king, Prov. 16:33 teaches, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” In concluding this narrative the author records two events that foreshadow Saul’s eventual failure as king. First, it is noted that when he was selected as king, Saul was found hidden among the equipment (cf. 1 Sam. 10:22). Apparently, pressure situations overwhelmed Saul. Second, it is noted that not all men agreed to follow Saul as king (cf. 1 Sam. 10:27).
- What form of government does God favor? What is the proper relationship between the church and the State? How ought Christians to interact with the culture?
- Given Samuel’s knowledge of the failure of Eli’s sons, is it surprising to learn that his own sons were corrupt too? Why does greed disqualify one from leadership?
- Why did God consent to give a king to Israel, even though their request was sinful? Why did the people reject Samuel’s divine warning about having a king?
- What does it mean that God gave Saul “another heart” (1 Sam. 10:9) and “turned him into another man” (1 Sam. 10:6)? What was the secret of Saul’s limited success?
- Given the divine message and signs he had received from Samuel, why do you think Saul was found hiding among the equipment at his own coronation?