1 Samuel Chapter 8

Samuel was called to be the prophet of the Lord, when he was a young boy serving with Eli in the temple. He helped deliver the Israelites from the Philistines, through prayer and fasting to the Lord. He had judged Israel for many years of peace. This chapter begins:

1 And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.
2 Now the name of his firstborn was Joel; and the name of his second, Abiah: they were judges in Beer-sheba.
3 And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah,
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.

Samuel began to get old, and so he caused that his sons should be judges over Israel. They did not serve righteously in their callings, and took bribes for their judgments. Rather than be unrighteously judged, the elders wanted to have a king as other nations had.

6 But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord.
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.
8 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 served other gods, so do they also unto thee.
9 Now therefore hearken unto their voice: howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.

Samuel did not think it wise to have a king. He prayed to the Lord, who gave his consent to give the people a king. The Lord says here that Israel had rejected the Lord, not Samuel. I believe this is because the Lord had given them a pattern of judges, and they were now choosing to do things their own way. If the Israelites began to rely on an earthly king, they would no longer seek help from the Lord. They were, in effect, choosing an earthly king over their Heavenly King. The Lord was allowing the Israelites to freely choose their leadership, because He has given us agency and knows that we will only progress if we are given the opportunity to choose for ourselves. Samuel was to allow this choice, with a protest and with teachings of what type of king they would possibly have rule over them. If Samuel did all he could to persuade the elders to change their minds, he, as their prophet and leader, would not be held accountable for this decision.

10 And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people that asked of him a king.
11 And 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 shall run before his chariots.
12 And 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 chariots.
13 And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers.
14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants.
15 And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants.
16 And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work.
17 He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
18 And 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.

Samuel told the elders they could have a king, but he also warned them of what would happen when they were ruled by evil kings. He said that a king would make their sons and daughters do what he wanted for himself. A king could claim the fruits of their labors, and they would become servants to him. He also told them that when the day came when they were oppressed to the point of crying to the Lord, He would not hear them. They were choosing a king over the Lord.

There have been other times when men of God have warned their people of this same thing. In Mosiah 29 we read:

13 Therefore, if it were possible that you could have just men to be your kings, who would establish the laws of God, and judge this people according to his commandments, yea, if ye could have men for your kings who would do even as my father Benjamin did for this people—I say unto you, if this could always be the case then it would be expedient that ye should always have kings to rule over you.
… 16 Now I say unto you, that because all men are not just it is not expedient that ye should have a king or kings to rule over you.
17 For behold, how much iniquity doth one wicked king cause to be committed, yea, and what great destruction!
… 21 And behold, now I say unto you, ye cannot dethrone an iniquitous king save it be through much contention, and the shedding of much blood.
22 For behold, he has his friends in iniquity, and he keepeth his guards about him; and he teareth up the laws of those who have reigned in righteousness before him; and he trampleth under his feet the commandments of God;
23 And he enacteth laws, and sendeth them forth among his people, yea, laws after the manner of his own wickedness; and whosoever doth not obey his laws he causeth to be destroyed; and whosoever doth rebel against him he will send his armies against them to war, and if he can he will destroy them; and thus an unrighteous king doth pervert the ways of all righteousness.
… 30 And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.
31 For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings.

Likewise, earlier in Mosiah, chapter 23, we read the following:

7 But he said unto them: Behold, it is not expedient that we should have a king; for thus saith the Lord: Ye shall not esteem one flesh above another, or one man shall not think himself above another; therefore I say unto you it is not expedient that ye should have a king.
8 Nevertheless, if it were possible that ye could always have just men to be your kings it would be well for you to have a king.
… 13 …even so I desire that ye should stand fast in this liberty wherewith ye have been made free, and that ye trust no man to be a king over you.

For those who heard this in the book of Mosiah, they heeded these words of wisdom and did not continue to seek after the rule of a king. This was not the case with the elders of Israel. Chapter 8 continues:

19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have 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 Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord.
22 And 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 his city.

Even with his protest, the elders did not listen to Samuel. They desired strongly to have a king to rule over them and to lead them against other nations. Samuel returned to the Lord and told Him all that the elders had said.

The people of Israel were unhappy with the men who had become their judges, because they were choosing unrighteous dominion over the people. The elders of Israel probably felt that they would have a better life under a king, then what they were living under bribed and easily-persuaded judges. The elders looked at the seemingly great nations around them, and were desirous of that lifestyle. The nation had lost the faith in God to trust that He knew how to lead them. If more of the Israelites had been faithful and true to the commandments of the Lord, they would have been the mighty nation they desired to be. But instead of being personally accountable for the state of their lives and their nation, they wanted a king to make all the decisions for them. They were choosing to very likely forfeit their agency and freedoms, in order to be like the other nations of the world. The Lord let them know, through the words of the prophet Samuel, that this decision would not bring them happiness and they would regret it some day.

We have the promises of God today as well. Throughout the scriptures, the lesson is that those who keep the commandments will prosper and have the protection of the Lord from all enemies. If we loose faith in God, or stop putting our trust in him, and turn to the rule and support of men, we will forfeit our own agency to others. Likewise, the result will not be that we are a happy people, but that one day we will remember what the scriptures teach us. We might then desire for those things that bring true happiness, and we could possibly find that the Lord will be slow to hear our own cries. To avoid these circumstances, we should follow the words of the prophets, ancient and modern, and most of all, we should trust that God knows what is best for us and live according to His plan. This is how we can choose to live after the manner of true happiness.

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