Poole on 1 Samuel 8:4, 5: The People's Petition for a King

[1095 BC] Verse 4:[1] Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah…

[Therefore, having gathered together, etc.] Injured patience frequently becomes fury: and subjection, overly oppressed, becomes rebellion (Mendoza).

[Elders with respect to birth] As much with respect to age and dignity: For they were aged men and princes; so that the novelty of such a matter might not be attributed to juvenile imprudence, or popular inconstancy (Mendoza).

The elders; either for age, or dignity and power.

Verse 5:[2] And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now (1 Sam. 8:19, 20; Deut. 17:14; Hos. 13:10; Acts 13:21) make us a king to judge us like all the nations.

[And they said to him, Behold, thou art old, etc.] These reasons are ridiculous; thou hast grown old. As if a King were not able to grow old. Give a king, who might fight for us.[3] As if God would not, or could not, fight for them. Thy sons are not like unto thee. What? could not a King beget evil sons? Like the nations. They did not desire a King according to the institution of the Lord, but according to the rule of the other nations (Martyr). Thou art old, say they, and therefore art not able to govern the republic thyself, or to keep thy sons in office. This reasoning tends to the despising of Samuel. But Samuel was able to provide for both his sons and the Republic, as it is evident from those things that he accomplished while Saul was around. But these men despise customary things, and are eager for novelties; and under the pretense of old age they strive to drive that most holy Judge from his office (Mendoza). They were able to demand from Samuel, that he remove his sons from their function as deputies; and that he himself adjudicate controverted matters from home, since he was no longer traveling. That had been more just, than to thrust aside that old and most deserving Prophet (Grotius).

Behold, thou art old: They feared that Samuel would not live long; and that either he through infirmity and indulgence might leave the government in his sons’ hands, or that they would invade and keep it after their father’s death; and therefore they jointly make their complaints against them, and procure their removal from their places. Thus they are brought low, and crushed by those very wicked ways by which they desired to advance and establish themselves. So true is it, that honesty is the best policy, and unrighteousness the greatest folly.

[Thy sons walk not, etc.] Observe the craft of the Hebrews, plainly flattering him: They, not daring to complain of the father, complain of his sons; as the Pharisees do with the disciples of Christ, since they dare not to complain of Him, Matthew 15:2 (Mendoza).

[That he might judge us] That is, that he might govern over us; or, that he might rule over us in a royal manner. For they were not asking for a King so that he might judge only; for the Judges were sufficient for judging: but they make use of the language of judging, either, 1. Cunningly, so that they might cover for a while the venum of their malice, and color the invidious name of King with the language milder government; and so that they might not more grievously offend Samuel. Or, 2. So that they might express the principal function of a King (Mendoza). To judge; that is, to govern (Piscator). Rather, to avenge us (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Grotius). For, שָׁפַט, to judge, signifies this also; and what follows, verse 20, requires this rather (Grotius). This translation is favored by the fact that the principal cause that moved them to ask for a king was the danger that was at that time threatening them from Nahash, 1 Samuel 12:12. Therefore, the iniquitous government of the sons of Samuel was only πρόφασις, an excuse; for it was not needful on account of this that a king be established: since a more just judge was able to be put in charge of them; and it was uncertain whether the king to be chosen would present prove to be just (Piscator).

Make us a king to judge us: their conclusion outruns their premises, and their desires exceed their reasons or arguments, which extended no further than to the removal of Samuel’s sons from their places, and the procuring some other just and prudent assistance to Samuel’s age. Nor was the grant of their desire a remedy for their disease, but rather an aggravation of it; for the sons of their king might and were likely to be as corrupt as Samuel’s sons; and if they were, would not be so easily removed as these were.

[As all have, etc.] That all the ancient nations were formerly subject to Kings, say Cicero in his Concerning Laws 3 near the beginning, and Justinus in his Of Phillipic Histories[4] 1 (Mendoza). And the East was accustomed to Kings, says Tacitus in Histories 4 (Malvenda).

[Like the nations] That is, the neighboring ones (Grotius out of Josephus). If there is sin in this petition, here especially is the sin. For the situation with the Gentiles was one thing, with the Israelites another. The Gentiles were requiring a King, because they did not have God as King, like the Israelites (Grotius).

Like all the nations, that is, as most of the nations about us have. But there was not the like reason, because God had separated them from all other nations, and cautioned them against the imitation of their examples, and had taken them into his own immediate care and government; which privilege other nations had not.

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּֽתְקַבְּצ֔וּ כֹּ֖ל זִקְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ אֶל־שְׁמוּאֵ֖ל הָרָמָֽתָה׃ [2] Hebrew: וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֵלָ֗יו הִנֵּה֙ אַתָּ֣ה זָקַ֔נְתָּ וּבָנֶ֕יךָ לֹ֥א הָלְכ֖וּ בִּדְרָכֶ֑יךָ עַתָּ֗ה שִֽׂימָה־לָּ֥נוּ מֶ֛לֶךְ לְשָׁפְטֵ֖נוּ כְּכָל־הַגּוֹיִֽם׃ [3] See verse 20. [4] Historiarum Philippicarum.