1 Samuel 8
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By Stephen Green. (First published in Christian Voice: April 2004)
It is probably true that God is more concerned with the conduct of government than with its exact structure. It probably does not matter to the Sovereign of the universe whether a nation is a monarchy or a republic quite so much as whether that nation executes justice with mercy according to His holy laws. In Reformed thinking, all government derives from God, because God instituted it after the flood in the first place. That makes all government theocratic, whether we like it or not, because God rules or ought to rule in all the affairs of men. On the other hand, a nation can choose to follow God (like the United Kingdom) or reject Him (like the EU). In Samuel's day only Israel had a constitution which honoured the God of heaven and earth, and so when the people asked Samuel to appoint (and indeed to anoint) them a king, God looked upon it as rebellion from His system of judges, and from His rule through them.
1 Sam. 8:6 But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
7 And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
8 According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
9 Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.
The Judges had no authority to change the law of God. Sometimes in the book of Judges the judges failed to judge at all, and everyone did was right in his own eyes. All the same, it wasn't the system which was at fault, but the practice. God knew that kings tend to legislate according to their own wisdom. They get puffed up with their own importance, and can easily think they have done it all and that they are cleverer than God.
LEARN GOD'S LAW
Such is the wisdom of God, of course, that He had already seen precisely this problem and set down exactly how a king was to conduct himself. He had to be one of their own, and God Himself would choose him. He had to be more concerned with justice than with self-advancement and wealth, and most importantly, he had to learn and apply God's law. The rules are set down in Deuteronomy chapter 17:
Deut 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;
15 Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.
16 But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should multiply horses: forasmuch as the LORD hath said unto you, Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.
17 Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
18 And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites:
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:
20 That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.
Has there ever been a king like that? Even king David used his power to have his mistress's husband killed in battle. Solomon did exactly the opposite, and over-taxed the people, leading them into idolatry in the process. In our land, perhaps Alfred the Great was the best example of a selfless, modest king who sought to apply God's law, even to the extent of having the Pentateuch, Psalms and New Testament translated, and basing his 'Dooms' on the law of Moses. And let us not forget King George VI refusing to leave his post, walking in the rubble of the East End. Some kings, like Uzziah, start well and finish badly. In fact that is probably the usual manner of kings the world over.
TAKE, TAKE, TAKE
After God has told him to describe the king they will end up with, Samuel lays it on the line:
1 Sam 8:11 And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.
12 And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots.
13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
18 And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.
Take, take, take. The word 'take' appears six times in all. Samuel says the king will not follow the word of the Lord in Deuteronomy, but will do the opposite, aggrandising possessions to himself. It is clear the people did not believe him. It is a powerful desire, to be like all the others. They were more concerned to have a figure-head to lead them into battle, completely forgetting that it is the Lord who fights the battle (see Deut 20:4). They truly had rejected the Lord, to put their trust in princes instead (Psalm 188:9, 146:3).
19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
20 That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.
21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD.
22 And the LORD said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.
WHO WILL RISE UP?
In Psalm 94, the Psalmist cries out to God: "Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?" (Ps. 94:16) No-one would be able to stand up against the kind of king Samuel describes, except God were with him: "Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence." (vs 17) With the help of the Lord, the prophet and the man of prayer can stand before a king: "I have preached righteousness in the great congregation, lo, I have not refrained my lips, O Lord, thou knowest." (Ps. 40:9)
Without taking the trouble to learn and write out the law of God, as God says in Deut 17:18-19, a king will lead his nation into sin, and judgment will come upon him. Cast adrift from the law of God, not only will the nation be like all the others in their manner of government, but they will be like them in what it enacts as well. Israel and Judah both did exactly that, in following the evil practices of their neighbours. They could not reject God's commandments and expect God to be with them, and nor can we. Those who think God does not care, or does not see, are condemned elsewhere in scripture. He is the same yesterday, today and forever, great in mercy, but terrible in judgment. The Psalmist asks, again from Psalm 94:
Ps. 94:20 Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?
21 They gather themselves together against the soul of the righteous, and condemn the innocent blood.
22 But the Lord is my defence and my God is the rock of my refuge,
23 And he shall bring upon them their own iniquity, and shall cut them off in their own wickedness; yea, the LORD our God shall cut them off.
When the occupier of the throne departs from following the law of God, his throne becomes a throne of iniquity. It is impossible to legislate from a morality-free zone. If we are not with God, we are against Him. It is inevitable that a ruler who turns his back on God will use laws to frame mischief. It is inevitable that when laws depart from the laws of God they fail to defend the righteous and they condemn the innocent. That is precisely what happens in our own land our divorce laws and our criminal justice system fail to protect the righteous, whilst our abortion law and our abolition of the death penalty together condemn the innocent and justify the guilty.
What a comfort it is that the Psalms never leave us in despair. The Lord truly is our defence and the rock of our refuge. He will bring iniquity on those who practise it. As we suffer under a government which only thinks to take, take, take, whether it be money or more power, and legislates on its own authority, having rejected God, that promise must sustain us as things become even worse in the days ahead.