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Conformed to Christ, or to the World?
The Critical Passage of I Samuel 8
Probably the most important passage in establishing God's preference for a Patriarchal social order rather than political institutions is I Samuel 8.
Up to this point, no command has come from God to abandon the system of cultural coordination and prosperity which functioned with surprising success under Abraham, and to construct a polis-based system which we might call "the State."
These political systems have, up to this point, characterized the pagan nations around Israel, nations which originated in rebellion against Godly Families. Israel has been only lukewarmly committed to the Patriarchal system ordained by God in the Garden of Eden.
It is in I Samuel 8 that we find the origin of the State in Israel proper. It is inescapable in its declaration that political systems are a rejection of a Patriarchal order, and hence of God Himself.
Let us consider the passage verse-by-verse.
1. And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel. 3. And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.
It is plain that these judges were not being Godly elders (Ex. 18, Deut. 1). By that very fact, we conclude they were lousy Patriarchs.
4. Then all the leaders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Rasmah, 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.
This is a paradigm for the rise of the Empire-State: failing families. When families fail to lead by obedience to God's Law in every area of life, those broken families and nomadic individuals (who have already given up trying to keep the covenant) agitate for political systems and institutions. Only when Patriarchs are backslidden do States arise. This is true throughout history. It is true in our day. A strong centralized State arises only when families are not executing God's judgments, not keeping the Way of the LORD, not doing justice and judgment (cf. Genesis 18:19). If Families will simply do all that the LORD commands, there is absolutely no need for political institutions of any kind.
But the paradigm extends beyond families who are simply weak and ineffectual. The families are weak because they are envious. They envy the nations not just for the wealth which they (allegedly) have (grass always being greener across the border), but for their political and military power. It is impossible to read the Prophets and the books of Kings and Chronicles without seeing this dynamic. Treaties, covenants, and other charters of "détente" are continually being sought by Israel. Israel bows down before one enemy to gain protection from another. It is militaristic lust. It is a violation of God's clear promises to a Patriarchal society.
6. But the thing was evil in the eyes of Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.
Was Samuel justified in being displeased in this movement toward political kingship? Of course he was. There is simply no escaping it. Israel had the command-promise not to be reckoned among the nations (Numbers 23:9; Exodus 33:16). Over and over again, God repeats commands to separate Godly Families from unGodly ones who have rejected God's Law order and have formed autonomous political orders of their own (Dueteronomy 7). The legal system of the Patriarchs (Genesis 26:5) was superior to those of the apostate nations (Deuteronomy 4:8). Samuel saw in the elders' request for kingship the error of Cain (Jude 11; Genesis 4:16-17) and the rebel Nimrod (Genesis 10:10).
Lest our agreement with Samuel's judgment seem based only on our finite and fallible understanding of Scripture, the LORD Himself agrees with Samuel:
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.
As Hosea put it,
They have transgressed the Covenant, and trespassed against my Law. They have set up kings, but not by Me: they have made princes, and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they make them idols, that they may be cut off. I have written to him the great things of My Law, but they were counted as a strange thing. For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth palaces, and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities. (Hosea 8:1, 4,12,14)
The LORD is giving Israel a king in His anger (Hosea 13:11). The voice of the people is truly the voice of God: when a people ask for a slave-State, God grants them their wish as an act of judgment against them!
As Samuel would later declare,
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. (I Sam. 10:19)
He gives us the details and underlying psychology of this faithless people:
The LORD delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and ye dwelled safe. But when ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, ye said, Nay; but a king shall reign over us; when the LORD your God was your king. Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen and whom ye have desired! and behold, the LORD hath set a king over you. Your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking you a king. So Samuel called unto the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day . . . . (I Samuel 12:11-13, 17-18)
The people were convicted by Samuel's words,
. . . and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. And 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. (12:19)
"Inauguration Day," which in America is a time of great celebration and happiness, should be, as it was here, a day of national mourning and repentance. Every time Americans go to the polls and delegate their responsibility to obey God's Law to pagan politicians, they should be shame-faced and fearful.
Let us not think that this sad development was unforeseen by God. No, it was part of His plan to guide all of history to the Cross. The king would be part of God's grace in keeping a slavish people from social disintegration, and in his better moments would paint a picture of what the Coming King would accomplish. But needless to say, these moments were few and far between, and the fact that society did not crumble entirely, even when the evil kings worked to that end, does not justify the Israelites' rejection of God. God had spoken of this tragic act of faithlessness back in Deuteronomy 17:14ff. That passage explicitly prophesies the Israelites' demand for a king, and tells the king, even before he is chosen, that he must not develop great political/military power, but should instead guide the people to become obedient to God's Law, which would thus re-establish a Patriarchal society.
At the time the people clamor for a king, Samuel warns them that he will violate the commands in Deut. 17. The people do not listen. Samuel tells them (8:18) that because they have chosen a king (cf. LXX) God will not answer their cry when they complain of confiscatory taxation, conscription, harassing IRS men, and a declining standard of living. But this did not stop Israel, nor does it stop America. Think of all the "advantages" an expanded State will bring! Thus, although Samuel nowhere explicitly says "Thou shalt not have a king" or "Having a State is wrong," his message was clear, and the Scripture says the people did not "obey the voice of Samuel" (8:19).
In future essays we shall compare the curses and threatened burdens associated with the king requested by the people (8:9-17), and the irresponsibility and sin of desiring political "representatives" to fight our battles for us (8:20). For now, let us simply note that prior to this time, no identifiable "State" existed in Israel. The standard is still Patriarchal order.
I Samuel 8 is critical in understanding God's condemnation of political organization.
Thomas Paine on 1 Samuel 8
Peter J. Leithart » Blog Archive » Kingship and God
libertarianism :: Power -- Encyclopaedia Britannica
Why the State is Always Immoral - Even as it Claims to Be Moral
Faith, Commerce and Freedom - Cato's Letter v.3 no.2
David Boaz, The Libertarian Reader
Americans Reject God as Their King for Leaders Like Other Nations
Why Do Jews Want to Be Like All the Other Nations?
Vine & Fig Tree
Taney County, Missouri
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