2. The Implications of I Samuel 8

This is Appendix 2 in Rushdoony's must-read treatise, Institutes of Biblical Law. 

I Samuel 8 has been a popular chapter since Western civilization rejected monarchy as a form of government, and it has been used as evidence of an anti-monarchistic perspective in the Bible. Dissenters from this opinion search the Scriptures for a pro-monarchistic viewpoint, or see evidence of both opinions.

But is the main point of this chapter the monarchy? Is it not rather the rejection of God’s government for man’s government? The Lord said to Samuel, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (I Sam. 8:7). Thus, very clearly, God saw Israel’s decision as primarily and essentially a rejection of His government. Moreover, the rejection was essentially religious, and it was a rejection whatever the form of the civil government Israel might choose. “According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, where­with they have forsaken me, and have served other gods, so do they also unto thee” (I Sam. 8:8). Clearly, whether Israel chose a monarchy, a republic, democracy, dictatorship, or any other form of civil govern­ment, it was an abandonment of God. In choosing a king, they were doing openly what they had repeatedly done in the period of the Judges. A godly king could restore God’s government, as David and others did, but the essential purpose of the nation’s demand for a king was to be ruled like other nations (I Sam. 8:5, 20). The complaint against Samuel’s sons was not a demand for reform (vss. 1-5); the corruption of Samuel’s sons was an excuse for their demand for a centralized gov­ernment and a professional warrior-ruler and his armed men (vs. 20). It was a surrender of God’s law-order for a humanistic law-order.

At God’s command, Samuel reviewed the implications of the new order (vss. 11-17). The key to this review is first the new form of taxation, which will be a taxation taking sons and daughters by con­scription, fields, produce, livestock, and servants. Second, the tithe is cited and they are told that the taxation of their new order will be a ruthless tithe of capital as well as income.

Here we have the heart of the difference between the two orders. God’s government exacted only the head or poll tax for civil govern­ment (Ex. 30:11-16), and fines perhaps; the rest of the government functions were provided for by the tithe, thereby insuring a decentralized society, as well as one governed both by godly principles and by God’s tax.

Unless we see this chapter as the formal rejection of God’s law-order for another law-order, we miss the meaning of this central and revolutionary event. The people clearly rejected God’s government (vss. 19-20), in the face of God’s clear warning that He would reject them (vs. 18). While they attempted to maintain a formal allegiance to God, in reality they had rejected Him. It was possible for them to have a king and retain God’s law, as Samuel made clear (I Sam. 12: 14-15); the key was to rebel not “against the commandment of the LORD,” i.e., to retain the law of God as the law of the social order.

The captivity came, Jeremiah declared, because the nation had aban­doned God’s law, and seventy years of captivity were decreed to give the land the sabbaths denied it (Jer. 25:9, 10; 29:10). Ball wrote of the like declaration of II Chronicles 36:21,

We have no right whatever to press the words of the sacred writer, in the sense of assuming that he means to say that when Jerusalem was taken by the Chaldeans exactly seventy sabbatical years had been neglected—that is, that the law in this respect had not been observed for 490 years (70 X 7), or ever since the institution of monarchy in Israel (490 + 588= 1,07s).[1]

Ball to the contrary, we have no right to deny that this is exactly what Jeremiah and the Chronicler are telling us, when they plainly say so. Thus, we are told that, with the monarchy, the sabbaths of the land were abandoned.   The implication of I Samuel 8 is that the tithe was also being abandoned, because they were warned that the state tax would constitute another tithe, and a far more extensive one.

Clearly then, while Israel intended to be “moral,” i.e., to decry adultery, murder, and theft, it intended also to abandon God’s law as the absolute and governing rule for man and society. The Chronicler tells us of the price they paid for it.

[1] C. J. Ball, “II Chronicles,” in Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), III, 453.