“Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God?” ask the men of Beth-shemesh as the Ark of the Covenant arrives there in chapter 6. Having been returned to Israel, along with guilt offerings prescribed by the Philistine priests, initial joy turns to lament as the people of Israel struggle to give their full fealty to the LORD.
This is no reflection on Samuel, though, who is shown by the author and revered by the people as a faithful prophet and judge. He calls Israel to repentance, and under his leadership they finally put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and served the LORD only. He leads Israel in battle, not with the sword, but with sacrifice and crying out to the LORD for deliverance. And he judged Israel all the days of his life, completing a circuit throughout the regions of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh.
However, turning to chapter 8 reveals a storm on the horizon, one which will prove a pivotal moment in Israelite history. Initially, hearing that Samuel’s sons didn’t follow in his righteous ways might seem like a pedestrian restatement of Eli’s story, but the outcome here is far different. Israel is tired of living under the judges. They want to live under a king who will judge them like all the nations.
Now the details and context of this request are important. Review, if you can, that the LORD had outlined the responsibilities of the king in Deuteronomy 17. A king had been the LORD’s idea: one who shall write a copy of the law…and read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God. Furthermore, this king was not to acquire many horses for himself… or acquire many wives for himself… nor acquire for himself excessive silver or gold.
Keep this in mind when you listen to the LORD’s warning in 1 Samuel 8. And carefully consider the Israelites’ motivations as they respond: “No! But there shall be a king over us, 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.”
Our verse for this week is Matthew 11:28: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
1 Samuel 6 through 8. Now let’s read it!
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.