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Israel Asks for a King (1 Samuel 7:2-8:22) October 21

After some 20 years, the Israelites begin to seek God again, and relief from the Philistines. Samuel gathers them together at Mizpah, about two miles north of his home in Ramah. Here Samuel leads them in pouring out water to God, evidently symbolic of pouring out one's heart in repentance (compare Lamentations 2:19; Psalm 62:8). The gathering incites the Philistines to attack, but the Israelites are in a particularly God-oriented frame of mind following Samuel's preaching, and God grants them a great victory.

But as Samuel gets older, Israel's faith begins to waver again. Samuel's sons are not righteous. (It is interesting to note, however, that Samuel's grandson, Joel's son Heman, becomes one of the chief musicians in David's time, see 1 Chronicles 6:32-33; 15:16-19). The people (or at least the elders, verse 4) worry about what will happen to them when Samuel dies, and decide that what they really need is a human king like those ruling and leading the nations around them. God had anticipated this years earlier (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20). But He has Samuel describe to them the problems inherent in having a human king, which they either don't believe or think they can endure.

The problem is that Israel already had a King—ever since the time of Moses and the Exodus, around 1445 B.C., when Israel became a true nation. The King at that time and for the next nearly 400 years was the Rock of Israel, the Eternal God Himself—in fact, the preincarnate Word, Jesus Christ (compare Deuteronomy 32:4; 1 Corinthians 10:4; John 1:1-3, 14; 17:5). Though ruling through His chosen "judges"—from Moses and Joshua all the way to Samuel—God in the person of Christ sat on the throne of Israel (compare Judges 8:22-23). Indeed, Samuel later tells the Israelites that the period of the judges was the time "when the Lord your God was your King" (1 Samuel 12:12). And it is the reason that when the Israelites told Samuel around 1050 bc that they wanted a human king like the nations around them, the Lord told him, "They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them" (1 Samuel 8:7). So God then gives them a physical monarch.

It is interesting to note, as we will see in the next few chapters, that unlike other ancient rulers, the king of Israel was not to be an absolute despot. God will have Samuel anoint Saul "commander" (9:16; 10:1) or "captain" (KJV) over His people. This Hebrew term nagiyd used here could be rendered in English as viceroy or governor-general—the stand-in for the real monarch. In fact, the very act of anointing a ruler in the ancient world implied a vassal relationship. It is later explained that Israel's king "sat on the throne of the Lord," reigning as king for Him (1 Chronicles 29:23; 2 Chronicles 9:6-8).

Also quite different than in other realms was the fact that the king was not also priest over the national religion. Furthermore, in other countries, kings made law and were thus above it. But in Israel, God's prophet will explain "the rights and duties of the kingship" (1 Samuel 10:25, NRSV). The ruler was subject to the law (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Essentially, the Almighty set up a constitutional limited monarchy—in which He would send a prophet as His representative to the king to give him his "report card."

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