SAMUEL'S STAND FOR FREEDOM
by Jim Jess
biblical record in I Samuel Chapter 8 is one that has significant
lessons that can be applied by any group of people who desire to live
in freedom. It is an excellent illustration of what happens when men
reject the wisdom of God and rely solely on their limited human
understanding. Although what we will examine happened several
thousand years ago, this foundational record concerning civil
government offers some tremendous learning for us today.
this article, we will see the importance of loving God above all
else, of keeping God first in our hearts. We will also see how
trusting God can allow people to avoid fear and the snares that are
the result of fear, which is negative believing. These principles
work for individuals as well as for groups of people who apply them,
including citizens of cities, states or nations. When an individual
or a group of people practices these great truths, they experience
freedom, as well as many other blessings in life.
we look at I Samuel 8 in detail, it is important to understand the
standards that God had set for Israel in Old Testament times. Jesus
Christ was quite aware of these standards in his day. In fact, God’s
only-begotten son spoke of one of the great standards by which the
Israelite believers of that time were to live.
Matthew 22:37, 38:
said unto him [a man he was speaking with], Thou shalt love the Lord
thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy
is the first and great commandment.
This “first and great commandment” was known in Old Testament
times as well. It was part of the Mosaic Law.
O Israel: The Lord our God is
thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all
thy soul, and with all thy might.
these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart;
Israelite was to follow the “first and great commandment,”
to love God with all their heart, soul and might, with all their
being, all their mind. Their lives were to glorify God and manifest
his love and goodness to others.
this record in I Samuel 8, we see how the people of Israel disobeyed
this commandment by not following the one true God with all their
heart. They turned away from the great freedom they had known and
started down the path to slavery. Even in this critical situation,
however, God provided a solution.
such as this one continue to plague mankind today. At times,
corruption may infect a government; the people may lose their sense
of responsibility or their love of freedom; or fear may take hold of
the popular will. A close examination of the eighth chapter of I
Samuel and several other relevant scriptures will document a
progression of events in ancient Israel and provide us with an
enlightened understanding of some fundamental principles of life that
influence the functioning of a society and how its government
I Samuel 8:1-3:
it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges
the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second,
Abiah: they were judges in Beer-sheba.
his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and
took bribes, and perverted judgment.
verses refer to a time late in the life of the great prophet Samuel.
Samuel judged Israel nearly all of his adult life. As judge, he was
the spiritual leader of Israel, one who led by example and teaching.
As the acknowledged spiritual leader, he also held governmental
authority. He was God's spokesman for his time. But his
sons, who also held governmental responsibility, "walked not in
his ways." There was corruption in the government because his
sons took bribes.
leaders of Israel in Samuel's time demanded a change. They were angry
with the corruption they saw in their government and wanted a change
in their governing institutions.
I Samuel 8:4, 5:
all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to
Samuel unto Ramah,
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.
seems odd that the elders did not ask Samuel to simply remove his
sons from positions of authority and appoint others who would serve
uprightly. They had their reasons for this request, as we shall see
later. In this instance, they used the corruption as an excuse to
fundamentally change their governmental institutions. Israel had a
system of tribal government, in which elders administered local
government and a spiritual leader provided leadership for the entire
nation. But now the elders sought to lodge the authority of
government in a monarchy headed by a king. Under a king, individuals
and the tribes would have less power, because the king would be free
to exercise authority in local matters – as well as in national
matters – as he so chose. The tribes would also have less power
because the king would have the major responsibility for military
affairs and national defense. Tribal governments would still handle
most local governmental affairs, but the Bible does not record that
the elders requested any specific limits to the authority of the king
in local matters.
a human standpoint this progression of events is understandable:
everybody else had a king. But more disturbing was the elders’
rejection of God’s will for how Israel was to function as a
nation of God’s chosen people. The mind-set of the elders of
Israel was rather upsetting to Samuel. He recognized the beauty of
how God had watched over Israel, and how the children of Israel were
free to serve God. He knew that life would be different under a king.
And God told Samuel what to say to the people in order to give them
the opportunity to reconsider what they were requesting.
prayed to God, and God told him: "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."
people had broken the first and great commandment: they failed to
love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. They failed
to keep God first, and rejected Him for a worldly institution, a
king. But it would be some time before Samuel would actually confront
them on this matter. At this point, he proceeded to convince them
that a king would bring oppression and economic burdens. What Samuel
said would happen under a king came to pass, because God had shown
him what would occur. God told Samuel to "protest solemnly unto
them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over
them." (Verse 9)
Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of
him a king.
he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over
you: He will take your sons, and appoint them
for himself, for
his chariots, and to be
his horsemen; and some
run before his chariots.
he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over
fifties; and will set them
to ear his ground, and to reap his
harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his
he will take your daughters to be
confectionaries, and to
cooks, and to be
he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards,
the best of them
, and give them
he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give
to his officers, and to his servants.
he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your
goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them
to his work.
will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have
chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.
told the people everything God had told him to tell them. Notice that
instead of an individual having first claim to the control of his
property and the fruits of his labor, the king would have first claim
to everything, because he could take "the best of them."
justice and sound ethics demand that a citizen have control over the
fruits of his labor. However, if citizens consent to allow their
government to use a portion of the fruits of their labor, such as
taxes, to promote the common welfare and provide certain services to
the society, then an agreement by the free-will consent of the
citizens exists. Monarchies are not well known for the protection of
the rights of the individual, and they have been quite oppressive at
times. The key is that the people should consent or agree that their
government should act on their behalf with the good of the community
the people of Israel were blind to Samuel's warnings. Obviously, they
wanted a monarch, a king, to make decisions for them, to be
responsible for the army and for protecting them. They did not
realize or understand that the rule of a king would at times
interfere with their otherwise unencumbered service to the one true
God, nor did they consider that God had the ability to protect them
without a king.
Verses 19, 20:
the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay;
but we will have a king over us;
we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us,
and go out before us, and fight our battles.
is another indication that the people's focus was not on serving God
and living under His divine rule. Their attention was focused on a
human institution that they felt would accomplish something for them.
In situations in the past, when the children of Israel had needed
help, God had met their need, even in military conflicts. Both Moses
and Joshua, in carrying out God's guidance, had led the Israelites to
Exodus 14:13, 14, 24, 25:
Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the
salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the
Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more
Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.
it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the
host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud,
and troubled the host of the Egyptians,
took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that
the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord
fighteth for them against the Egyptians.
Joshua 10:13b, 14:
the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down
about a whole day.
there was no day like that before it or after it, that the Lord
hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the Lord fought for Israel.
Joshua smote all the country of the hills, and of the south, and of
the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings...
Joshua smote them from Kadesh-barnea even unto Gaza, and all the
country of Goshen, even unto Gibeon.
all these kings and their land did Joshua take at one time, because
the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel.
these instances, God fought Israel's battles and the children of
Israel were victorious. But the people wanted a king to do this
instead. The people in I Samuel 8 rejected God's goodness and
protection and desired a human institution, a king. They must have
been convinced that a man could do a better job than God.
Bible teaches that the worship of other gods is idolatry. In this
record, the people turned away from the true God, but they were not
yet to the point of following other gods. In fact, in the law, Moses
had written by revelation several centuries earlier of this exact
event in Israel’s development, and God had provided a pathway
of deliverance for His people so they could continue to serve Him.
God’s solution required the king to walk with God according to
His laws. It may not have been the freest course of action for the
people, but it provided a method for training and nurturing godly
leadership so men who would love, respect and follow God and His Word
could continue to lead God’s people.
thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and
shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set
a king over me, like as all the nations that are
shalt in any wise set him
king over thee, whom the Lord thy
God shall choose: one
from among thy brethren shalt thou set
king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is
not thy brother.
But he shall not multiply horses to himself, nor
cause the people to return to Egypt, to the end that he should
multiply horses: forasmuch as the Lord hath said unto you, Ye shall
henceforth return no more that way.
Neither shall he multiply
wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he
greatly multiply to himself silver and gold.
And it shall be,
when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write
him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is
the priests the Levites:
And it shall be with him, and he shall
read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the
Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes,
to do them:
That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren,
and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to
hand, or to
the left: to the end that he may prolong his
days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel.
section of the law, this “law of the kings,” had been
given to Moses some 400 years before the time of Samuel. God knew
what would occur and had provided for the situation. Under God’s
law for kings, the king and the people could continue to love and
serve God unencumbered.
what action did Samuel take to uphold God’s purposes and will
in the midst of a rather critical and defining moment for Israel?
I Samuel 8:21, 22:
Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in
the ears of the Lord.
the Lord said to Samuel, Hearken unto their voice, and make them a
king. And Samuel said unto the men of Israel, Go ye every man unto
this, a number of events took place. First of all, God brought
together Samuel and Saul, the young man whom God had chosen to be
king. Then Samuel anointed Saul to be king. In I Samuel chapter 10,
Samuel called the people together and presented Saul to them as their
king. It is interesting to note that Samuel opened this gathering
with these introductory remarks:
I Samuel 10:18, 19:
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:
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,
, but set a king over us...
time later, after Saul had led Israel to a military victory over the
Ammonites, Samuel called the people together again. The Bible says in
I Samuel 11:15 that the people "made Saul king before the Lord."
One wonders if they felt that Samuel's previous anointing, which was
by God's revelation, was not sufficient to designate Saul to be king.
In the very next chapter, the Scripture explains that Samuel spoke to
the people and recounted some of the history of God's deliverance of
Israel. Then he addressed the motive behind their request for a king.
I Samuel 12:12:
when ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came
against you, ye said unto me, Nay; but a king shall reign over us:
when the Lord your God was
was the king who led the army that Saul and the children of Israel
had just defeated. But it was the fear of Nahash and his army that
had motivated the elders in I Samuel 8 to ask for a king. They wanted
a king to lead them into battle because they were full of fear. It
would be safe to say that if idolatry had not so influenced the
people of Israel, they would not have had such fear in the first
place. The Old Testament records that idolatry dominated much of
Israel's history. Even in the time of Samuel, the people were seduced
by the false gods of the people of other nations who lived nearby.
builds spiritual weakness due to dependence on false gods. A mind
filled with idolatrous thoughts is not a mind with the peace of God
or a mind that believes His Word. Fear, which is Satan's greatest
weapon, defeats God's promises for His people. Fear can cause people
to be deceived. Idolatry breeds and incubates fear.
fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord
shall be safe.
children of Israel, because of their fear, had become ensnared.
Because of fear, they bartered their freedom for the security they
felt a king would offer them. But all they got, in reality, was more
bondage in the form of serving a king, rather than God. They had a
degree of freedom, but they could have lived in greater freedom
without a king.
can grip an individual; it can captivate and bind him. It can also
affect a group of people, even an entire city or nation. The Book of
Jeremiah contains an incredible record about Damascus, a great city
is waxed feeble, and
turneth herself to flee, and fear hath
seized on her
: anguish and sorrows have taken her, as a woman
entire city was "seized" by fear. Things like this still
happen today, even in the United States of America. The media, for
instance, keeps up a steady “drumbeat” about economic
hardships, recessions, wars, disease, violent acts, etc., with the
added dimension of trying to make anyone who is not in some hardship
feel badly. All of these evil reports breed fear and are designed by
Satan, the god of this world, to burden the minds of Christian
believers and unbelievers alike in order to encourage negative
children of Israel had been captivated by fear, as well. Perhaps they
had heard of military victories of invading armies, such as the one
commanded by Nahash. But because they had gotten away from trusting
God, fear began to eat away at their minds. "Such-and-such a
nation has been invaded. We must be next!"
of trusting God, the people sought a worldly solution that they
thought was the answer. This is important to understand. God cannot
force people to believe His Word or to live in freedom. When people
limit God by their thinking, God's hands are tied. He can work within
someone else who is believing, but he cannot override the freedom of
will of the individual who chooses not to believe. It appears that
the only thing the people of Israel were willing to believe for at
this point was safety and victory through a king. Freedom requires a
responsibility to believe, to make the correct choices and to take
the necessary actions to stay free. If people are full of fear, they
are already enslaved and will never experience political freedom
unless they happen to benefit from someone else's believing.
had more to say to the children of Israel.
I Samuel 12:13-15:
therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen, and
have desired! and, behold, the Lord hath set a king over you.
ye will fear [respect] the Lord, and serve him, and obey his voice,
and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then shall both ye
and also the king that reigneth over you continue following the Lord
if ye will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the
commandment of the Lord, then shall the hand of the Lord be against
you, as it was
against your fathers.
verse 19, the people finally saw the folly of their ways.
all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord
thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this
evil, to ask us a king.
people finally admitted that it was "evil" to ask for a
king when God was supposed to be their ruler. One would think at this
point that Samuel would try to persuade the people to forsake the
idea of a king and go back to the system of judges. But this was not
God's guidance. They had already gone down the road to build a
kingdom. Saul's victory over the Ammonites indicated that the people
could accomplish certain things under a king.
gave the children of Israel further guidance.
Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this
wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the
Lord with all your heart;
was interested in the attitude of the people's hearts. Following the
one true God with all their heart was the responsibility of every
Israelite. This was what God desired. It did not matter as much to
God whether there was a king or not. What mattered to Him was the
allegiance of the people's hearts.
turn ye not aside: for then should ye go
after vain things
which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain.
the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name's sake:
because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people.
as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing
to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:
the man of God, would continue to teach the people the "good and
the right way." And it was clear from the Word that God intended
for the king to learn the Scriptures and live according to them. God
had provided a plan for success for the man who would lead Israel as
king. As long as the people followed God, He could bless them even
under the reign of a king. Of course, if the king was a godly man, it
would make living under his rule while serving God that much easier
fear [respect, reverence] the Lord, and serve him in truth with all
your heart: for consider how great things
he hath done for
the second time Samuel told the people to serve God with their whole
heart. This was God's requirement for His people with a
king or without a king. The only thing that would hold the kingdom
together would be the people believing and acting on this truth.
Without it, they would become slaves to another nation because they
would not believe to stay free. Samuel mentioned the consequences of
unbelief as a final warning.
if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your
desire for His people has always been that they love Him with all
their heart and then walk in freedom. When men fail to keep God
first, they bring slavery upon themselves – first spiritually,
then in other categories. God's primary will was not for
Israel to have a king, but God could not interfere with the people's
freedom of will. Even when they realized that they had sinned, the
people of Israel were not willing to believe they would be safe and
prosper without the protection of a king. God initially provided a
king whom He had chosen. This king, Saul, walked with God for a time,
but then he began to abuse his authority. The reigns of subsequent
kings in Israel and Judah fulfilled the prophecies of Samuel
concerning the oppressive nature of a king and his control over the
wealth of the people. Only a handful of the kings who followed Saul
walked with God to any great degree.
way to keep our nation free is first and foremost to love God with
all our heart, soul, mind and strength. When we love God, then we
will keep his commandments, which are not grievous. (I John 5:2, 3)
His commandments for our day include the admonition to operate His
power in our lives and share His Word with others. These privileges
and responsibilities are of vital importance in building and
maintaining the true foundation for freedom in any nation. God’s
Word is the strength of a nation.
It does matter to God what kind of
government we live under. An oppressive government blesses no one and
may interfere with God's people carrying out His Word. But, as we
have seen from the record in I Samuel 8, government is of secondary
significance when compared to the heart of the individual. The Word
of God living in the hearts of individuals can make the difference in
a city, state, or nation when those believers take positive action
according to God's Word. Government cannot bring God's deliverance to
individuals through budgets and programs. But God will bring true
deliverance to nations when believers know and understand His Word,
and then walk by believing and live the truths of His Word.
Most of the governmental authority exercised in Israel at this time
was of a local nature. Elders administered tribal government in
cities and towns.
Note that in Old Testament times, God's people were servants of God,
first and foremost. Today, born-again believers are sons of God
first, and secondly, servants to their fellow men.
Jess is President of the Foundation for Constitutional Education.
Foundation for Constitutional