When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. 4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for 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 to the Lord. 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” 10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” 19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be 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 when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”
Samuel was the child who was born to Hannah. He served the LORD as he grew up in the Temple with Eli, the priest. In adulthood, Samuel became judge over Israel (God’s merciful presence among the people, their defender, their priest, who in some ways represented to them the true priest - Christ).
When Samuel got old he did something unique in the whole era of Israel’s judges: he made his two sons his successors. But the apples had fallen far from the tree, as we might say. Samuel was a godly man; his sons…evidently, were not. They were an embarrassment, taking bribes and perverting justice as they judged Israel.
Samuel should have known very well that these were not the sort to represent the gracious, righteous God among Israel (the One Whose mercy was so evident in the promise of salvation in the coming Savior). Were Samuel mindful of doing right by the people and by God at that moment, he would have resisted the urge to appoint his own sons. He would have chosen someone else (or at least replaced them when it became evident that they were unfit). Was he prideful; wanting his own sons to succeed him regardless of their fitness? Was he weak, bowing to their pressure? Hard to know. Maybe both are true.
And this text is interesting because this sin, of Samuel foolishly promoting his sons to a position for which they were unfit (or, at least, of leaving them in the position), resulted in another great sin among Israel.
The people saw Samuel getting very old. Somewhat predictably, they started to imagine what life would be like under these monsters who were quite evidently in it for themselves, and not the people. God had a long-standing system of caring for His covenant people through the leadership of judges. That was God’s solution to their need for leadership. But now the people were coming up with a human solution of their own. Instead of these no good sons of Samuel as judges…they wanted a king - like all the nations, they said.
We can make a certain presumption based on God’s response to this (which was very negative, by the way). Their statement: Like all the nations wasn’t a good start. God had made it very clear that they were not to be like all the nations. They were to be set apart from them as God’s holy people - the blessed nation of the coming Savior. All the nations were pagans - seeking after false gods and rejecting the true One.
Not only did this demand for a king displease Samuel, but God responded to it, saying that when the people cried out to him because of the unjust practices of their king (which He would allow, by the way), God would not answer them in that day. The presumption we can make is that Samuel’s appointment of judges, wise or foolish as it may have been - sinful as it may have been even - was to be upheld by God. The people were to honor it. For better or worse, Samuel’s sons were God’s authority over Israel for as long as God saw fit to allow it.
We’re reminded of Paul’s words: Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established (Rom. 13:1).
Subject to the governing authorities - But what if the authorities are ungodly? What if we strongly think there are others who would be better suited? Our country asks itself this question every four years, doesn’t it; when half the country votes for the other person? Where does it leave us if we think the wrong person is in authority?
The emphasis of this 6th Sunday of the Easter Season is Prayer. We had a National Day of it this past week. In prayer, we seek God’s solutions rather than human ones. In prayer we approach God, recognizing His authority, His mercy, His provision of our needs. We lay out our concerns before Him, seeing Him as our dear Heavenly Father. We approach Him in confidence that He hears us and has it in His mind to help us.
No human ruler can do anything without God allowing it, after all. He’s the one Who’s always in charge. No one could sit on any throne or behind any desk if God has it in His mind to prevent it. There is no authority except that which God has established. So then…
Help us, Lord. Bring justice to replace injustice. Bring benevolent leadership to replace tyranny. Bring mercy to replace cruelty. Bring a spirit of generosity and service to replace a self-seeking spirit. Bring wisdom to replace foolishness.
These are the sorts of things the LORD would have had them pray. We get the impression from the LORD’s response here, that this wasn’t in their minds. Their own solution was; and their human solution was total replacement of God’s system, of His appointed rulers in favor of the system that unbelieving nations all around them had. In effect, it was to tell God, you have failed…now it’s our turn.
What about us with our own leaders? Don’t worry about Democrats and Republicans; they change back and forth every several years. I’m not getting specific about anyone here. The Lord has blessed us richly, placing us in a country in which we have say in who leads us. But our vote doesn’t always carry the day. Even if it does, our leaders are human leaders with flaws. They don’t always make godly decisions. They don’t always have godly intentions. They can be motivated toward their own self-interests over the peoples’ interests. They can just be foolish, can’t they?
Help us, Lord. Replace injustice with justice; tyranny with benevolent leadership; cruelty with mercy; self-centeredness with a spirit of generosity and service; foolishness with wisdom.
The sorts of things for which God would have us pray are the same as for the people in Samuel’s time. Help us to love our leaders, even though we might disagree with everything they’re doing. Help us to respect their position as ordained by You. Help us to seek the good of our land under their leadership (fit or inept as it may be), recognizing that any blessings we have come from You in any case.
God was not authorizing His people to ask for a king. A king was the worst thing for them. The system he had already provided was the more merciful one (even if the current appointees left something to be desired - is there anything God can’t do to curb the intentions of human beings, after all?).
A king would be a total disaster: And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; […]
only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” 10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you... And then he went on to tell them all the ways in which a king would take everything good from them for himself, and would oppress them. They thought Samuel’s sons were in it for themselves; a king would be even worse.
Notice, though, God’s mercy even in this. In Him letting them have their king, Samuel is to tell them what it will be like. You see how the One Who tells us to pray to Him as Our Father, acts like a true father. He allows His children to experience hardship, even telling them ahead of time what following their own wisdom instead of His, will be like, because in that experience they will learn that they need to trust in Him.
And as children often return to their parents in repentance, recognizing the foolishness of their rebellion, God’s people later repented their sin to Samuel, asking Him to pray to the LORD for them that He might forgive their sin in this matter. And Samuel spoke the Word of the Lord to them according to his vocation. He said, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the LORD will not forsake his people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.” There is forgiveness with the LORD. It is the pledge He made to the first people of providing a Savior to cover their sins. All forgiveness is tied to that Savior’s sacrifice.
The same is ours, of course. It has pleased the Lord to make us a people for Himself, adopting us in Baptism to be His own children, and even heirs of His kingdom. It has pleased Him to send the Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we might truly know the Father. We approach Him in confidence in the Name of His only-begotten Son Who redeemed us with His own blood. It has pleased Him to make us partakers this morning of the mystery of His Supper - the true body and blood of our Savior in, with, and under bread and wine for our comfort and strengthening. We receive this in repentance; we receive it in faith that the forgiveness that Christ promises in it is truly ours. We have sought the Lord where He has made Himself available to be found. And He has provided for our needs like no human solution could ever do. God be praised. Amen.
Other Lessons This Week:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. 26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. 25 "I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father." 29 His disciples said, "Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.”