In my opinion, one proof of the Bible’s truthfulness and accuracy is its honesty. The great heroes of the faith, including the impeccable prophet Samuel, are presented in Scripture with their doubts and failings alongside their goodness and faith. For instance, if someone had fabricated a story about a prophet named Samuel as an example of faithfulness, surely they would have left out the material here in chapter 8. But it is included, and therefore we learn from Samuel’s life that God’s plans will succeed even when our plans fail.
Samuel’s plan could have worked. Appointing his sons, Joel and Abijah, as judges in order to assist their father was actually a return to the God-given model of government outlined in Deuteronomy 17:8-13. All the evidence indicates that Joel and Abijah had an excellent role model in their father, but the plan ultimately failed because they did not follow his example. “They did not walk in his ways” — they became greedy for money and “turned aside” from the way of righteousness which they had seen in their father.
The elders of Israel knew it wasn’t working, so they approached Samuel with an alternate plan: a form of government patterned after the surrounding nations, with ruling power centralized in a single man. “Give us a king,” they said (v.6). Samuel felt that it was not right, and God confirmed that suspicion as he went to prayer: “They have rejected Me from being king over them” (v.7). But God told Samuel to allow it, knowing all the while that a change in government would not fix Israel’s underlying problem of persistent disobedience to God. (Hey, is there a message here for America? Hmm…)
God gave Samuel a message for the people, a warning about the destination at the end of the path they were about to choose. The caution was simple: no matter what the elders thought a human king could give them, they would learn in time that he would instead be a taker (the warning “he will take” appears six times in verses 11-17). Instead of enhancing their freedom, a king would take away their freedom, enslaving the people with harsh demands, forced tribute, and high taxes.
As the people ignored the word of God and snubbed their noses at the man of God, they shouted their demand for a king. They reasoned that as Commander-in-Chief of Israel’s military, a king would fight their battles and lead them to victory (v.20). They had forgotten the lessons of their history, that it was the Lord who led Israel into battle and defeated their enemies. Reliance on any man — even a king — would prove to be futile. Because they turned a deaf ear to the Lord, that was a lesson Israel would have to learn the hard way. Let’s not make that same mistake.