The United Monarchy Rejected Part 2/9
By Teena Myers
Samuel’s appointment of his sons, Joel and Abiah, as judges in Beersheba, tipped the scales against God in the hearts of Israel’s elders. They had legitimate grievances. The appointment of Samuel’s wicked sons to places of power reminded them of Eli’s wicked sons who brought the Ark of the Covenant into battle, and the Philistines took it.
God humiliated the Philistines god and plagued his worshippers. Months of misery later, they returned the Ark on a cart drawn by two milk cows. Thousands died when the cart arrived at Bethshemesh and the Israelites looked in the ark. They ask the people of Kirjathjearim to take it. Instead of returning the Ark to the tabernacle in Shiloh, where it had been since the days of Joshua, they brought it to the house of Abinadab and sanctified his son, Eleazar, to take care of the ark. Israel was not happy with this arrangement and mourned that the Ark never returned to the tabernacle.
When Nahash, King of Ammon, started a war, the elders decided a king is a better option than Joel and Abiah to lead them.[i] The elders approached Samuel with the truth. You are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. They did not want to be governed by judges who took bribes and perverted justice. But Israel would have fared better if they had simply stated the problem, and let Samuel bring it to God. Instead, the truth was a setup for their solution, “appoint us a king to judge us like all the nations.”[ii]
They were within their rights to ask for a king. Their law provided for one. But God had already proved to them, he is a good king who dealt severely with sinful leaders. God removed Eli’s family from serving at his altar, bringing them to poverty, and condemned them to die young. Then raised up Samuel, a faithful priest who obeyed God. Samson arose and devastated the Philistines government when he brought thousands of their leaders to the grave with him.[iii] Then Samuel led a revival that prompted Israel to abandon the false gods worshipped by other nations and serve the Lord alone. The defeated Philistines restored the cities they took, and the Amorites made peace with Israel. What made the elders think their God would shut his eyes to the sins of Samuel’s sons or that even a good king’s sons would follow their father’s good example.
Samuel viewed the request as a rejection of his ministry. He took the matter to God, who corrected him. They had not rejected Samuel; they had rejected their king who already proved himself faithful and capable of replacing sinful leaders with faithful leaders. God swallowed the bitter pill of rejection and instructed Samuel to give them what they wanted, but first warn them what it’s like to be ruled by a human king.
[i] 1 Samuel 12:12
[ii] 1 Samuel 8:5
[iii] Judges 16:27, 30