Sunday School Lesson
Lesson 8 (KJV)
Who Is King?
Devotional Reading: Psalm 93
Background Scripture: 1 Samuel 8:1–9; 10:17–26
1 Samuel 8:4–7
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
5 And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
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.
1 Samuel 10:17–24
17 And Samuel called the people together unto the LORD to Mizpeh; 18 And said unto the children of Israel, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all kingdoms, and of them that oppressed you:
19 And ye have this day rejected your God, who himself saved you out of all your adver sities and your tribulations; and ye have said unto him, Nay, but set a king over us. Now therefore present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes, and by your thousands.
20 And when Samuel had caused all the tribes of Israel to come near, the tribe of Benjamin was taken.
21 When he had caused the tribe of Benjamin to come near by their families, the family of Matri was taken, and Saul the son of Kish was taken: and when they sought him, he could not be found.
22 Therefore they enquired of the LORD further, if the man should yet come thither. And the LORD answered, Behold, he hath hid himself among the stuff.
23 And they ran and fetched him thence: and when he stood among the people, he was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward.
24 And Samuel said to all the people, See ye him whom the LORD hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king. Key Text Ye have this day rejected your God, who himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and ye have said unto him, Nay, but set a king over us.—1 Samuel 10:19a
God’s Exceptional Choice
Unit 2: Out of Slavery to Nationhood
After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:
1. List circumstances that caused the nation of Israel to demand a king.
2. Explain why Israel’s wanting a king was a rejection of the Lord.
3. Identify one item that represents a rejection of the Lord in his or her life and write a plan for changing this.
A. The Ultimate Authority
Parents wear many hats. One of these requires rendering judgment between siblings on the basis of parental authority in the household. When siblings disagree, they can seek a word straight from the top that might fall in their favor.
For instance, in the case of two daughters, their mother might have to decide whether the older had the right to donate a hoodie from her ex-boyfriend, even though the younger desired to keep it for herself. The older daughter would argue that it was hers to do with as she pleased; and furthermore, she had a right not to see it in her own home as a reminder of her former boyfriend. The younger would counter, saying it was still a good hoodie, no matter where it came from. Their mother would rule to decide the fate of the hoodie.
When Samuel gathered the people together, the fate of an entire nation was at stake. But would the people recognize his authority? And would they recognize the authority behind Samuel—the Lord himself?
B. Lesson Context
In the Christian arrangement of the books of the Old Testament, 1 and 2 Samuel are included with the 12 historical books (Joshua–Esther). They record the transition from theocracy (being governed by the Lord) to monarchy (being governed by an earthly king). The books of 1 and 2 Samuel can be divided into these sections:
I.End of judges’ period (1 Samuel 1–8)
II.God’s selection and rejection of Saul (1 Samuel 9–15)
III.God’s selection of David and Saul’s fall (1 Samuel 16–31)
IV.Establishment of David’s throne (2 Samuel 1–10)
V.David’s sin and flight from Jerusalem (2 Samuel 11–18)
VI.Reestablishment of David in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 19–20)
VII.David’s legacy (2 Samuel 21–24)
The period of the judges lasted more than 300 years, from 1380 to 1050 BC (see lesson 7 Lesson Context). The judges administered justice and served as God’s chosen military leaders when the people were oppressed by foreign invaders. This is told briefly in Judges 2:6–19 and recorded in detail in the rest of that book (see lesson 7). Samuel’s prophetic ministry began during the latter part of those deplorable years, in 1067 BC; this was a time when Israel had no king (Judges 18:1; 19:1). This was also a time when moral conditions among the people were chaotic: “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (21:25).
In his transitional role, Samuel is sometimes referred to as the last of the judges (1 Samuel 7:6, 15–17) and the first of the prophets (3:20; Acts 3:24; 13:20). Samuel was one of the greatest of Israel’s judges. After freeing the country from oppressors, he established a circuit court to administer justice (1 Samuel 7:16). His decisions were respected, for they were according to the law.
I. The Call for a King
(1 Samuel 8:4–7)
The events recounted in this section were precipitated by the desire to avoid a crisis of leadership in Israel, such as was often seen following the death of a judge (example: Judges 3:7–4:7).
A. Rejection of Samuel (vv. 4–5a)
4. Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah.
Ramah was a village in the hill country belonging to the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:20b, 25). Its exact location is unknown, though it was likely 5–12 miles north of Jerusalem, which was still a Jebusite stronghold (15:8, 63). Ramah was Samuel’s birthplace and served as one of his primary sites for judging (1 Samuel 1:19–20; 7:16–17). He offered sacrifices on behalf of Israel (7:9) and served as a “seer,” one who received words from the Lord directly (9:19).
It’s unclear whether the elders of Israel went straight to Ramah or met elsewhere and traveled together after an initial meeting about their shared concerns. As their title suggests, these men were the heads of families and leaders in their clans and so were older, seen as having gained wisdom throughout their lives. They formed the councils that governed day-to-day life in the tribes of Israel. Describing this group as all the elders suggests there were representatives from each of the 12 tribes (Exodus 3:16–18; Numbers 11:16–30; Joshua 8:33). Though we frequently think of a united Israel, in many ways the tribes operated independently, making their uniform desire all the more remarkable (see 1 Samuel 8:5a–b, below).
5a. And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways.
Samuel’s age caused the elders (rather ironically) to worry about the future following his death. Perhaps they knew the stories of how Israel repeatedly fell into sin and was overtaken by enemies following a judge’s death (example: Judges 2:6–19). Maybe they simply wanted to be sure, before Samuel died, of the leadership they would inherit.
Or the elders could have been primarily concerned for their children and grandchildren, not wanting to see them under the leadership of Samuel’s sons. These two, Joel and Abiah, were acting as judges. But they failed spectacularly in their roles because of their greed (1 Samuel 8:1–3, not in our printed text; compare 3:11–14). They did not follow in their father Samuel’s ways and could not be trusted to guide with righteousness and justice.
King George III (1738–1820) reigned in England during the American Revolution. For all his flaws, King George III led a pious life and took his role as king seriously. After all, he believed God had put him in his position.
In contrast, his son George IV (1762–1830) proved an immoral and vain ruler. He fathered numerous illegitimate children with multiple women. He was a heavy drinker and threw lavish, expensive parties. King George IV was known as a cavorting, wasteful ruler who cared more about himself than his people.
Like George IV, Samuel’s sons were immoral men. Their ungodly leadership led the elders to ask for a king, which led to the division of Israel and finally to becoming exiles in Assyria and Babylon.
Think of the leaders in your life. Do they show the fruit of the Spirit, growing in relationship with God and leading in a Christlike manner? Or are they grasping for power, money, and influence? Who you follow determines where you’re going. Choose wisely. —L. M. W.
B. Rejection of the Lord (vv. 5b–7)
5b–6a. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us.
Even before Israel’s entry into the land of Canaan, the Lord knew there would be a time when the people would desire a king. This was foreseen by Moses, who warned Israel of the consequences (Deuteronomy 17:14–20). To have a king made the nation more like their neighbors instead of less (1 Samuel 8:20, not in our printed text). The elders’ stated desire to be like all the nations disturbs the reader. God specifically chose Israel and made the nation holy so that it wouldn’t be like the nations (Exodus 19:5–6)! Trying to blend in by having a king as other peoples was a faithless response (see 1 Samuel 8:7, below).
In the time of the judges, Israel functioned as a theocracy (see Lesson Context). But the eldership was not interested in waiting for God to raise up another judge as He had been doing for many generations. Their demand to Samuel can very well be seen as one of grave disrespect toward the prophet. They needed him to act because no one else in Israel had the gravitas of Samuel and hope to unify the nation behind a new king. But they did not want the benefit of his wisdom regarding whether or not to have a king, having come to him with a solution already in mind. Samuel was understandably displeased by this, as he saw the elders’ desire as a rejection of the Lord’s intentions for them.
What Do You Think?
What situations tempt you to embrace cultural norms that contradict your identity in Christ?
How can you strengthen your sense of identity in Christ in order to resist the temptations you named?
6b. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
Rather than engage with the elders in a shouting match or shut his door in disgust, Samuel prayed unto the Lord. This was a pause with purpose rather than an avoidance of conflict. Samuel’s displeasure and anger would not get the best of him. We do well to follow his example—not avoiding conflict or simply giving in to demands, nor responding in the heat of the moment, but seeking the Lord and His will.
What Do You Think?
What strategies can you employ to go to the Lord with your anger and frustrations instead of losing your temper in the moment?
How do you ensure that these strategies are not simply ways to avoid needed confrontation?
7a. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee.
This was not the first time God adjusted His plan to accommodate the actions or desires of His chosen people (example: Genesis 21:13). Even so, God had never chosen a king for Israel (compare Judges 9), so the Lord’s command to hearken unto the voice of the people represented a break from their entire history of governance. The Law of Moses had included guidelines for an eventual king, assuming a monarchy one day would be formed (Deuteronomy 17:14–20; contrast 28:15, 26–27).
7b. For they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
This rejection may have felt like a referendum on how Samuel raised his sons, if not also on how he had led Israel. Such personal affront is easy to understand. But the Lord set the prophet straight: the people’s demanding a king was primarily about rejecting God’s reign as it had been carried out to that point (compare Judges 8:22–23; 1 Samuel 8:8, not in our printed text).
Then as now, trusting in God’s governance requires great faith in the face of all that sin has wrought in the world. It is much easier to look to a king or president for direction than to wait on the Lord. Even the apostles feared what would happen when Jesus was no longer physically with them (see John 14–17). Resting in the uncertainty of when and how God will choose to act is not for the faint of heart (Isaiah 40:28–31; 2 Timothy 1:7).
What follows in 1 Samuel 8:10–20 reveals the elders’ lack of comprehension concerning what it would mean to be ruled by a monarch. They failed to consider that a king or dynasty was likely to become tyrannical. They thought a king would give the nation more stability, especially in terms of military might—forgetting that the only source of true strength is the Lord (Exodus 14:12–31; Isaiah 12:2). Although God had delivered Israel from Egypt, He would not hear their cry when the king they wanted oppressed them. With these warnings, the men went back to their homes.
What Do You Think?
What implications does Israel’s rejection of God in favor of a king have for your attitudes toward national leaders?
What other biblical texts inform your thinking about your responsibility as a citizen of an earthly nation and possible tensions with your citizenship in the kingdom of Heaven?
II. The Acclamation of a King
(1 Samuel 10:17–24)
After Israel’s elders expressed their desire for a king, Samuel met Saul, whom God had revealed to be His choice for their first king (1 Samuel 9:15–19a). Samuel secretly anointed Saul (10:1–16, not in our printed text).
A. Gathering the Tribes (vv. 17–19a)
17. And Samuel called the people together unto the LORD to Mizpeh.
How much time passed between the meeting with the elders and this one with the people is unclear, though the events did not happen back-to-back (see 1 Samuel 8:8–10:16). Perhaps several thousand people would be expected to come. Mizpeh was where Samuel had orchestrated a victory over the Philistines that solidified his leadership role as the judge of Israel (7:6). Specifying that the meeting was unto the Lord suggests that Samuel did not call this gathering of his own volition.
18. And said unto the children of Israel, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all kingdoms, and of them that oppressed you.
Samuel’s address echoed Moses’ own farewell speech, giving the children of Israel insight and instruction for a future without Samuel (compare Deuteronomy 1:1–5; 7:12–24). The people were not vulnerable without a king; look at all that God had done without one! Not only had He brought up Israel out of Egypt (compare Numbers 21:1–3, 21–26); He had protected them from all kingdoms since then that had threatened His people (examples: Joshua 10; Judges 3:12–30).
What Do You Think?
What memories of God’s goodness have encouraged you in times when trusting the Lord was especially difficult?
How does sharing these stories with others strengthen both their trust in the Lord and your own?
19a. And ye have this day rejected your God, who himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and ye have said unto him, Nay, but set a king over us.
Israel would receive what they asked of God, but it wasn’t ideal. So why didn’t the Lord stop Israel from this folly? The answer comes back to how we understand God’s working out His will. There are events that the Lord desires and works to establish (we think especially of Jesus’ incarnation, ministry, death, and resurrection); that He desires and calls people to accomplish with Him; and that people desire and God chooses to work through. Giving Israel a king falls in the latter category, and we see that God used it to pave the way for Christ (2 Samuel 7:5–16; Luke 1:30–33; Acts 13:21–23).
Samuel could not in good conscience proceed without reminding the nation of God’s great deeds and of their rejection of Him. This was likely a call to repentance. At the very least, Samuel would have hoped the people would not forget the Lord, even when they had an earthly king.
“The Ultimate Fulfillment”
“If you asked me, my life was hijacked by the lottery,” Donna Mikkin wrote in her article “How Winning the Lottery Led to Emotional Bankruptcy.” Before she won the New York State Lottery—then worth $34.5 million—she was basically a happy person. When she won, she believed the money was “the ultimate fulfillment.” Donna did not realize how winning would affect her emotional health. She became preoccupied with others’ perception of her and felt guilty for winning out over others.
The Israelites believed a king would be their ultimate fulfillment. God told Samuel to give the people what they wanted, knowing it was not what they really needed. How many times do we get what we want in life, only to realize it does not satisfy us? The dream job, relationship, or possessions can’t take the place of God in our lives. Don’t be fooled! Ultimate fulfillment is found only in the Lord. —L. M. W. B.
Choosing Benjamin (vv. 19b–20)
19b–20. Now therefore present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes, and by your thousands. And when Samuel had caused all the tribes of Israel to come near, the tribe of Benjamin was taken.
Casting lots was a way of recognizing that God was making His choice (see 1 Samuel 10:20–21 and compare 10:22–23, below; Joshua 7:14; Jonah 1:7; Acts 1:26). Proverbs 16:33 gives the view that it is the Lord who controls the outcome. In such a situation, one marked object was placed in a container with other items that were similar. The marked item identified God’s choice.
Benjamin was an unexpected choice, for it was the smallest and least influential of Israel’s tribes—Saul himself said as much (1 Samuel 9:21). Furthermore, Benjamin had been punished and ostracized by the rest of the nation in its recent history for a particularly notorious episode of savagery (Judges 19–21). From our vantage point, however, Saul’s connection to this tribe might be the first twinge of foreboding we experience.
C. Choosing Saul (vv. 21–24)
21. When he had caused the tribe of Benjamin to come near by their families, the family of Matri was taken, and Saul the son of Kish was taken: and when they sought him, he could not be found.
Nothing more is known of the family of Matri, lending credence to Saul’s protest of being from an insignificant family. But Kish was “a mighty man of power,” which could be understood to mean he was wealthy (1 Samuel 9:1), especially as he had both livestock and servants (9:3). Still, the choice of the tribe of Benjamin was strange due to its small size and checkered history (Judges 20–21).
22. Therefore they enquired of the LORD further, if the man should yet come thither. And the LORD answered, Behold, he hath hid himself among the stuff.
If Saul had simply not come to Mizpeh, he potentially would have retained some measure of dignity. Instead, Saul was hiding among the stuff, likely luggage the visitors brought with them for their stay. The text does not tell us why, leaving us to wonder—was he feeling great humility and the weight of responsibility falling on him (consider 1 Samuel 9:21)? Or was he afraid of the challenge before him, unsure that God would guide him (17:1–11)? It could be a mix of both. Whatever the reason, it was a strange place to begin his reign.
23. And they ran and fetched him thence: and when he stood among the people, he was higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upward.
Despite this inauspicious beginning, Saul’s stature would have been a reassuring sight for people hoping for a military leader. Judging by the outside, Saul was literally “head and shoulders” the best candidate for the job (contrast 1 Samuel 16:7; see lesson 9).
24a. And Samuel said to all the people, See ye him whom the LORD hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people?
Samuel’s words can be taken as praise and delight in Saul, or they can be taken simply as a statement of fact regarding Saul’s imposing physical stature. Samuel probably intended this ambiguity, not speaking out directly against God’s chosen man but not giving him a glowing endorsement either.
What Do You Think?
What ratio of your compliments are in regard to a person’s outward appearance versus his or her inward qualities?
What benefits can you anticipate in shifting this ratio to favor inward qualities? Do these benefits change based on the age of the recipient?
24b. And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king.
God save the king is a prayer to the Lord. Though the people’s desire was at its heart a rejection of the Lord, they did not desire to lose the Lord’s blessings and protection. We may be tempted to judge the people for these mixed and seemingly opposing desires. But we need only observe our own mixed motives to realize how infrequently we act from totally righteous or totally flawed motivations. At such times, we do well to still cry out to God, who sees our hearts and can work to cleanse us of desires that are counter to the life of faith.
A. Planning in the Priesthood
Despite having been rejected by the people, the Lord chose not to abandon them. He sometimes punished them (2 Chronicles 36:15–21), but He continued to love His people and work through them (see Genesis 12:1–3). The same goes for us. Though we make decisions that grieve God, He does not abandon us or stop working through the church. He has the power to use even our worst decisions for His glory (Romans 8:28).
Samuel and the elders were concerned for Israel’s future, though they had very different plans to alleviate that worry. In the same way, leadership in churches—whether ministers, elders, or other leaders—do well to look to the future of their congregations and of the worldwide church. When considering our plans, however, we must not discount the warnings of godly people who do not share a majority opinion. We have an ally in this endeavor that Israel did not: the presence of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer (Acts 2:17–21). May we seek clarity from the Lord in every decision, resisting worldly wisdom so that we can continue to live out our calling as the priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:4–12).
Lord God, forgive us when we value our judgment over Yours. Help us examine our hearts and overcome those motivations that are a rejection of You. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
C. Thought to Remember
There is room for only one King in our hearts.