Israel’s First Monarch


Samuel’s Anger and Israel’s First Monarch

Why was Samuel angry that the people asked for a king? In addition, why was Israel’s first king such a failure if God’s will be for Israel to establish a monarchy? It is argued that “there is ambivalence in the description of the establishment of kingship in Israel (1 Sam 8–12) because in some places it seems to be suggested that kingship is improper for Israel, while in other places it seems to be suggested that kingship was God’s will for his people.”[1] I will put forth that indeed, the text establishes, even before Samuel, that God had always intended Israel to have a king, and that it was Israel’s particular call for kingship that so disappointed Samuel, and therefore the natural result of such a call established God’s judgment in giving Israel a corrupt kingship.

Samuel’s Anger

It could be argued that if God wanted Israel to have a king then why was Samuel so angry when the people of Israel asked for a King? It was the type of ruler Israel was asking for that sparked such disappointment in Samuel. “But kingship of the type Israel desired (as the nations roundabout) and for the reasons she wanted a king (to give a sense of national security and lead her to victory in battle) involved a denial of the Lord as her ultimate sovereign,”[2] Israel asking for a ruler, to lead them and defend them physically was an admonishment to God’s sovereignty as their King since the Exodus. Yahweh has led them out of Egypt, was responsible for their victories in battle, and protected them thus far. To deny this and ask for a warrior king was a blatant disregard for God’s role as King of Kings in the eyes of Israel. Samuel viewed this as disobedience and impatience on the people of Israel and caused great sorrow in his heart. “But the Lord told Samuel that the people were rejecting not him but God. Furthermore, God would permit them to have a king, but they would live to regret their hasty impulse.”[3] This once again shows the grace of God in the leadership of his people. Although they have once again forsaken him in his divine and just leadership, he would once again give them what they want.

Furthermore, God has always intended for Israel to have a king. We see from the early text the perspective that God’s Edenic vision was for mankind to co-rule with him the earth and its makeup. Early scripture includes such statements of kingship. “The importance of this office in the Deuteronomistic History and its initiation under Yahweh’s guidance apropos of Deut. 17:15 cannot be overestimated.”[4] Mark Futato further opines from this perspective:

It was always God’s will for Israel to be governed by a king. After all, when Adam and Eve were created, they were said to have dominion, which is kingly rule. It was said to Abraham that kings would come to him. The book of Deuteronomy chapter 17, says, “Here is what you will do when you need a king to reign over you.” So God always had it in mind to have Israel be ruled over by a king; a king was always the will of God. [5]

In Deuteronomy 17, Israel was told what the primary job of their king was to be. To be, as Moses was, a covenant keeper. Like the judges that proceeded Moses and Joshua, the king was to lead the people of Israel spiritually and ritualistically into the purpose and will of God. The king was tasked to head the Israelites into God’s purpose of introducing Yahweh to all the nations, their covenantal proclamation.[6] It was God’s chosen people that were tasked with living a Holy life to re-capture the fallen nations and ultimately introduce the God is Israel to the world. This was the proper job of the King. “As the Psalms attest, Israel’s tradition of sacral kingship (as opposed to secular kingship) did not elevate the king to divine status, as that of their neighbors frequently did. Rather, it viewed him as God’s representative charged with the responsibilities of enforcing (and embodying) the covenant.”[7] Unfortunately, the people of Israel did not see it the same way and caused yet, another judgment of God onto his people in the form of a corrupt king, Saul.

Problematic Kingship

The foregone conclusion could then be made that if God’s purpose for Israel was a monarchy, why would the first king be such a failure? “Undoubtedly, Saul is understood in both accounts as a sacrilegious king, a ruler who offends his deity through impiety.”[8] As already mentioned, the Israelites were looking for a messianic-like figure, a warrior, someone to protect them and defend them in battle. God gave them what they wanted but with a lesson to be learned. The people of Israel were stuck on a naturalistic Semitic worldview of Kingship and national power. It was from this that God gave them what the rest of civilization had had through their idolatress kings:

Saul, son of Kish, was as physically impressive—even his height is reminiscent of the other nations (cf. 9:2; Num 13:28)—and spiritually blind as the pagans. Saul’s unfitness to lead the Lord’s people is foreshadowed already in the writer’s opening narrative portrait of Israel’s first king (9:3–10:16).” There Saul is depicted as a bad shepherd, a metaphorical image in Semitic societies of an incompetent or ruinous leader.[9]

Within the framework of God’s sovereignty, he allows the free will of the people to be their downfall. The request for a human king was not wrong, for God had planned this from the beginning. However, the reluctance to wait for God’s timing was displeasing to Yahweh and Samuel. “In the face of impending conflict with the Ammonites (see 12:12–13) the people wanted a king ‘such as all the other nations have’ (8:5). Even after witnessing the leadership of the Lord in stunning victory over the Philistines at Ebenezer, Israel demanded a fallible, human leader.”[10] God gave the Israelites exactly what they wanted, with King Saul, not what they needed.

Application and Synthesis

Be wary of what you wish for because you just might get what you least wanted in place of what you most desired. Ultimately, God worked things out for the profit of Israel by bestowing a righteous king, David, and his covenant went on “for the benefit of the house of David; more broadly, it was for the benefit of God’s people Israel; most broadly, the covenant with David was for the benefit of the whole of humanity.”[11]

Moreover, patience and obedience to God are what can be extrapolated from this debacle. The theological basis for faith undergirds this story. Our faith that God is in charge, and not our understanding. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).[12] This is what the people of Israel failed to do and caused Samuel to anger and God to Judge.

Conclusion

It was Israel’s ill-gotten reason for kingship that caused Samuel to anger, not Kingship itself. This prompted God to anoint a corrupt king, Saul, and subsequently led Israel to yet, more strife and struggle within the nation. From this ultimately emerged a righteous King, David, but with perils of his own. The theological messaging here is Yahweh’s divine rule over all his creation. Our faith in him and obedience to his word, and his covenantal promise is far more reaching than anything mankind can and will do to overt this claim. His will be done.

Bibliography

Bergen, Robert D. The New American Commentary. Vol. 7. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1996.

Cooley, Jeffrey L. “The Story of Saul’s Election (1 Samuel 9-10) in the Light of Mantic Practice in Ancient Iraq.” Journal of Biblical Literature 130, no. 2 (2011): 247–261. Accessed March 27, 2019. https://www.thecampuscommon.com/library/ezproxy/ticketdemocs.asp?sch=suo&turl=https://search-ebscohost-com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=61890726&site=eds-live.

Elwell, Walter A., Barry J. Beitzel, H. Douglas. Buckwalter, Peter C. Craigie, James Dixon. Douglas, Robert Guelich, and Walter R. Hearn. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988.

Futato, Dr. Mark D. “Introducing the Old Testament: Its Structure and Story.” OT101. Lecture presented at the Logos Mobile Education, 2013.

LaSor, William Sanford., David Allan. Hubbard, and Frederic William. Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996.

Price, J. H. “The Conceptual Transfer of Human Agency to the Divine in the Second Temple Period: The Case of Saul’s Suicide.” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 34, no. 1 (2015): 107–130. Accessed March 27, 2019. https://www.thecampuscommon.com/library/ezproxy/ticketdemocs.asp?sch=suo&turl=https://search-ebscohost-com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=110350121&site=eds-live.

Walvoord, John F., and Roy B. Zuck. Bible Knowledge Commentary. Dallas, TX: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1989.

Footnotes:

[1] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Samuel, Books of First and Second,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1892.

[2] Ibid, 1892.

[3]  Eugene H. Merrill, “1 Samuel,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 439.

[4] Jeffrey L. Cooley, “The Story of Saul’s Election (1 Samuel 9-10) in the Light of Mantic Practice in Ancient Iraq.,” Journal of Biblical Literature 130, no. 2 (2011): 247-261, accessed March 27, 2019, https://www.thecampuscommon.com/library/ezproxy/ticketdemocs.asp?sch=suo&turl=https://search-ebscohost-com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=61890726&site=eds-live.

[5] Mark D. Futato, OT101 Introducing the Old Testament: Its Structure and Story, Logos Mobile Education (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).

[6] Mark D. Futato, OT101 Introducing the Old Testament: Its Structure and Story, Logos Mobile Education (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).

[7] William Sanford La Sor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 173.

[8] J. H. Price, “The Conceptual Transfer of Human Agency to the Divine in the Second Temple Period: the Case of Saul’s Suicide.,” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 34, no. 1 (2015): 107-130, accessed March 27, 2019, https://www.thecampuscommon.com/library/ezproxy/ticketdemocs.asp?sch=suo&turl=https://search-ebscohost-com.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=110350121&site=eds-live.

[9] Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, vol. 7, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 113.

[10] Eugene H. Merrill, “1 Samuel,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 439.

[11] Mark D. Futato, OT101 Introducing the Old Testament: Its Structure and Story, Logos Mobile Education (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).

[12] Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is taken from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s