Sermon on 1 Samuel 8:1-22 – “Government of the People”

Sermon for Sunday, November 26th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Deu 4:1-8 ESV] 1 “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. 3 Your eyes have seen what the LORD did at Baal-peor, for the LORD your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. 4 But you who held fast to the LORD your God are all alive today. 5 See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?


New Testament reading:

[1Pe 2:9-12 ESV] 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.


Gospel reading:

[Jhn 15:18-27 ESV] 18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. 22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ 26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.


Scripture reading:

[1Sa 8:1-22 ESV] 1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. 4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” 10 So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” 19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be 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 when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. 22 And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king.” Samuel then said to the men of Israel, “Go every man to his city.”



There are many warnings in the Bible against having others god before the Lord God. This is the first commandment. Thou shat have no other gods before me. And, it is frequently warned in sermons and Christian writings to not have idols, be they actual foreign gods, or the gods of money and power. But here we find a warning against a particular idol, government.

And it is Thanksgiving weekend. We come around the dinner table and perhaps some have in mind that common idea “do not discuss religion or politics with family.” But we are at church now, and you better believe I will be talking about religion. And then, this passage is one of the most prominent POLITICAL passages in the Old Testament. So I’ll be preaching on both religion and politics.

The people of Israel want a king to judge them like the other nations. They want their own choice, they want a government of the people.

That, of course, is a famous phrase in Lincoln’s Gettysburg address as spoke of a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Lincoln to his credit also said the nation is to be “under God.”

As for Israel, God is nowhere to be found in their demand. They want a King to be like the other nations. Human government has become for them an idol. This is a warning for us as well. And, I think, one of the biggest challenges of man is that temptation to make an idol of government. Government is looked to, more and more, to solve all our problems. This is immoral. God has ordained government for certain limited purposes and we should not seek to expand it beyond those purposes.

Lincoln’s phrase “of the people” is in opposition to Monarchy, that political theory where a King rules he nation. I’m using the phrase “of the people” in an expanded way. In Samuel we see the desire for a government “of the people” which is in opposition to God. What we must realize is that whether we have a Monarchy or a Democracy, it is sinful to go against God. I’m sure God would be equally displeased in the Book of Samuel if the people discarded the law and government of God and said “we want a democracy—a majority vote on what is right and what is wrong.”

I. The Sons of Samuel, The Sons of Eli (v. 1-3)

Chapter 8 begins with the falling away of Samuel’s sons from the truth.
He, like Eli the priest, also has two sons. They are Joel and Abijah.

They have almost the same name. Joel and Abijah. The first means Jehovah is God. The second means Jehovah is my father. There is irony in these names, because Joel and Abijah do not walk in the ways of God like Samuel did. Their names honor God, but their lives do not. They turn aside after gain, taking bribes and perverting justice. Here, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

Remember, previously when Eli’s sons “went bad” there was blame on Eli. But here, we find no blame on Samuel. Samuel’s sons are in another town, Beersheba while he is in Ramah. They are not under his control. The fact that Samuel is not blamed for his sons is very important. And is instructive for us.

Children—even those of godly parents—go astray. It happens in the Scriptures with Samuel (Joel and Abijah), with Aaron (Nadab and Abihu), with Isaac (Esau), even with Adam (Cain).This is the case even of ministers of the gospel. There are many cases where the children of prominent ministers fall away from the Lord. Francis Schaeffer’s son Franky is a notorious atheist. John Piper’s son Abraham is another.

To be encouraging, I should point out that the opposite happens as well. There are atheist’s whose children become Christian ministers. The most famous American Atheist was Madalyn Murray-O’Hair. Her son William Murray III today is a Baptist preacher and Christian non-profit leader.

But here we are focusing on those who leave the faith. It happened in the case of Samuel’s sons.

And since there is no blame on Samuel for this, we have here established an important truth: the greatness of a parent’s raising of a child does not determine the child’s faith or salvation. [REPEAT: he greatness of a parent’s raising of a child does not determine the child’s faith or salvation.-

No doubt parents are called to instruct their children in the Lord, to bring them up in discipline and teach them the Scriptures.

But even Samuel — who surely taught his children well — even he found his children walking away from God.

Matthew Henry: “Those that have the most grace themselves cannot give grace to their children.”

Faithful men and faithful women have unfaithful children It can be from bad parenting, or at least that can be a factor. But it is not necessarily from bad parenting.

If your children are not following the Lord God whom you love despite your training them in the faith, do not blame yourself. The fault is their own. And children are to know that it is their responsibility — and their alone — to come to Christ, and not blame their parents for lack of perfect training.

Samuel’s sons have fallen away. This fact is then used as an excuse “of the people” to form a government; to choose a king. The feign concern that Samuel’s sons will be terrible leaders of Israel. Those sons are no walking in the way of the Lord. But the people of Israel are not walking in the way of the Lord either. They are going against God in asking for a king. The Lord himself is to be their king. But they want to be like the other nations. Little to do they realize that a king (whether a good one or a bad one) can do them a lot more damage than any bad judge.

II. The Government of God that Israel Rejected. (v. 5-8)

With Samuel and his judgeship and the 20 years of peace, we had a high point in the history of Israel.

But now the story again turns south as the people come to Samuel with a demand. They phrase it in the positive as a request for a king, but their request entails a rejection of God and his government.

Let’s look briefly at what the government that God instituted looked like.

A. There was a sort of federalism, a division of powers. There was the whole nation of Israel, but also each of the tribes in their own places, and with Levites scattered in their cities through the nation. We do well in our Nation, especially in its founding, to have powers divided between individual states (somewhat akin to tribes) and the national government.

B. Then, there was law. It was the law of God. It is especially found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. There is some similarity here with out Nation having a constitution. Our constitution is not given directly from God, but it functions (when it is actually accepted) as a relatively unchanging agreement, preventing a tyrant from governing by his own will.

C. Then, there was no king in Israel. This is not to say there wasn’t leadership. There were heads of families. And there were priests. And there were judges. Samuel is one such judge. This was the arrangement of God, found in Deuteronomy 16:18 [Deu 16:18 ESV] 18 “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.

So how were judges different than kings?

1. They worked without pay; or perhaps had minimal pay. They didn’t amass wealth and power unto themselves. They worked for God, not for themselves.

2. These judges were local or regional judges, not national leaders. Though there were judges that did work on the national level to rescue the people from their enemies. They never ruled singularly over the whole nation. Even Samuel we find went on a circuit, judging in a few towns.

3. “Judges” is always plural in the Old Testament. Yes, a singular judge like Samuel is in the singular, but the nation always had “judges” plural. God even commands it in the plural, “You shall appoint judges.”

So in rejecting judges and asking for a King, the people are throwing out all of these good elements of government. Division of power and a stable constitution.

But, even more, they are rejecting God. They are rejecting HIS plan, and substituting their own. They are even rejecting HIM.

Now maybe they should have asked for better judges. The Sons of Samuel are not a good fit. But that doesn’t mean that they need a king like the other nations. What they need is a righteous leader, a judge.

And Samuel could have continued for a time in that role. There is an ageism here. The people want Samuel to retire, because, as they say “Behold, you are old.”

I think this would make a great birthday. “Behold, you are old.” – 1 Samuel 8:5a

But Samuel’s not that old. He’s maybe 60 and he yet lives for 50 more years. Maybe he wasn’t as strong as before, but he was well-experienced. On the job, perhaps a younger man can get the work done faster. But let us consider the assembly plant; and workers each assembling chairs from components. The younger man is faster, but the older man knows from experience, looks over at the younger and sees that he has put it together all wrong. As the younger man finishes works on undoing his mistakes the chair, the slower but wiser older man finishes his work. They are pushing Samuel out too soon.

So let us consider this truth: It is sinful to replace standards of God with standards of your own making.

I had a gym friend some years ago who was a Marine. And he basically worshiped the Marines. That was his highest ideal. It was all about the Marines. God had been replaced. This is clearly sinful. Maybe you know other people that worship a sports team, or maybe a politician.

And, we have a political passage here. The Israelites are replacing the government of God with the government of man. They want to overhaul God’s law and let a man choose the direction forward. They want to be like other nations.

Now, we are born into this nation, and its government long established, and we individually are not likely to make much change to it, whether for the better or for the worse. But what we can control, is our keeping God above all else and not making an idol of politics.

If you are watching Fox News or CNN or some other news network too much, and your getting more and more enraged about the nation and cheering more and more for your guy to win in 2024, 2028, or 2088, know THAT IS SINFUL. Its not a good use of time, and not where we should put our trust. The nation will not suddenly be better if “my guy” is elected. Surely, some politicians are better than others, but, the nation will only truly be better when it repents and comes to the Lord. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about the here and now. We do want to advocate for good government. What that looks like needs to be addressed at another time.

So the people have come to Samuel saying they want a king. They are not even asking, they are demanding! They don’t pray to God or seek Him at all. Their minds are made up and they want Samuel to get in on this plan, to sanction it and approve it. This is further sin of the people. They want Samuel’s stamp of approval. They are forcing their “solution” to work. This is just like what they did previously, bringing the ark of the covenant into battle. Surely, they thought, then God will be with us and we’ll win. And now, they think “Surely if we get Samuel on board, God will be with us.” And they are wrong. And you still see people doing this today. People will go around “church-shopping,” going from pastor to pastor, or (if they’re not believers) they might go around from psychiatrist to psychiatrist. And you know when they will stop? When they hear what they want to here! They want someone on board with their plan, rather than aligning themselves with Truth.

So how does God respond to Israel?

III. God Grants their Request for a King. (v. 9)

God grants their request for a king but He does not sanction it.
He does not approve it. But he grants it.
Why? To punish them for their sin.

And how does God punish Israel for their sinful asking for a king? … He gives them a king. That is punishment aplenty.

God tells Samuel “obey their voice.” Only warn them about what is to come.

IV. Warnings about the Government of Man

What will happen when they have a king?

Each king
will take your sons. (v. 11-12)
Horsemen for chariots. (remember chariots are against God’s wishes. This is how foreign nations fight, but it is not to be for Israel. They are not to trust in chariots.)
Plowmen and Reapers
Blacksmiths (this implies ALL workers, from agriculture to manufacturing)
he will take your daughters (v. 13)
Cooks and Bakers
he will take the best of your fields (property tax, eminent domain) (v.14)
he will take a tenth of your grain for his officers and servants (income tax, tithe of God) (v. 15)
he will take your servants (v. 16)
he will take a tenth of your flocks (v. 17) (another tithe that is for God)

And you’ll cry out.

Note that this is not just “bad kings.” These are problems with ALL kings. Similarly, the solution to our problems is not to find the right guy for each political office, but for each person (and the national collective) to come to Christ and bow to his kingship.

No matter who the king is, YOU SHALL BE HIS SLAVES. Taxes are not optional. The reign of the king is burdensome.

Despite all of these warning, Israel still said “No! But there SHALL be a king over us.” The demand it.

The other day I saw a picture from a museum of a crate from the Boston Tea Party, one of only a couple in existence. They actually have a box of tea. I don’t know if there is any tea in it. IF there is, it is most likely expired. Now, the Boston Tea Party was in protest over taxation that is far less than what we put up with today. It was a protest for better government, better representation, and government closer to home. But it wasn’t a protest for Biblical government or to grant God His place as King above all.

I’ve always been a small-government guy. I would like it to be as small as possible, if not smaller. And, I must admit that 1 Samuel 8 has been an encouraging passage in support of small government. I mean, who would want all that terribleness of a king? Who would want taxes, a military draft, slavery, and all that. Well, the sad this is that many people do want this. They might not say so outwardly. They do often say so with their votes. With God to be their God, they look to government to solve all problems. Government as become God for many. [REPEAT: Government has become God for many.] They want government to take the place of God. This is a common. And you can see the temptation. We see so many problems around us, and we say “the government should do something about this.” No doubt, someone should do something. Pot holes, cancer, inflation, housing, food prices! But biblically, the government is supposed to GOVERN, not attempt to manage all aspects of life.

But all “solutions” of government have their consequences. There are the upfront consequences like taxation and control over you, and there are the unintended consequences of failed policies. I might be too cynical, but most policies of government are failed policies. If, for example, the government declares war on something, like the War on Drugs, you can be sure that drugs will be around for a long time.

So the promise of God here in Samuel holds true, for all nations. You can have a king (or ruling class) and such might make you feel like you fit in with the other nations or it might make you feel protected. But the negatives are great. And despite Samuel warning, coming directly from God, the people do not relent. They want a king like the other nations. God had chosen them out of the world to be a holy nation, but they wanted to be like the others. A sad day indeed. God was their king, but they rejected him.


What then is the right view of government? Well, this question is beyond the scope of our text and would take more time to answer than we can devote to it this day.


Instead I want to focus on 2 applications.

1. Being like the world is not going to make your life better. In fact, it will make your life worse.

I found that the German’s have a word for this. Of course they do. Verschlimmbesserung. – an attempted improvement that only makes things worse.

Being like the world is not going to make your life better. In fact, it will make your life worse.

All the promises of drugs, of the sexual revolution, and of many products that are marketing to you … all of these promises come to nought. And more harm than good is done.

Perhaps there is no better example than plastic surgery. Of course, sometimes plastic surgery is necessary when you’ve had a serious injury or condition at birth, but being addicted to plastic surgery and its attempts at making you look better, often result in making a person look worse, and certainly “broker” for the experience.


2. Let us acknowledge Christ as King.

The passage isn’t ultimately about the form of government that we have or the policies that it employs. The passage is about keeping God first. Recognizing God as King.

The Kingship of Christ above all is a point that has been especially put forward by the Covenanters (the Reformed Presbyterians) who through the centuries in American history have continued to call for the nation to acknowledge Christ as King. They’ve gone so far as to not vote in elections because the nation refuses to acknowledge that God is above all. And for years they have petitioned congress to amend the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution to read as follows: “We the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as Governor among the nations, in order to constitute a Christian government, to form a more perfect Union …”

Whether or not our constitution acknowledges Christ as King, we Christians ought to do so.

Our passage here, and a broader reading of the Scripture does give us insight into proper (or at least better) forms of human government. But the form of government which we live under is not so critical as the acknowledgment that Christ is King above all. And we are to keep Christ as King and have that premise guide our actions.

The burden of the King, God promises Samuel, is great. In fact, that should be in capital letters. Like Tony the Tiger says, it is GREAT!

But the burden of Christ is light. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

The choice is clear. Let us Crown Him Lord of All and acknowledge Christ as King, and pray for a government not guided by the whim of the people, but by the eternal truths of God.