Samuel Responds to Israel Demand for King
Based on Samuel’s interactions with Israel regarding demand for a king, we understand the authority of government comes from God and is exercised on behalf of the people to fulfill government responsibilities. The authority includes collecting taxes, raising military and security services, redefining use for landed property, and representing the people in international affairs. The interactions define general principles for relationships between a people and their government.
We begin a bible study series on The King and the People focused on understanding God’s purpose for relationships between people and their government. The study will be based on information described in the bible, particularly several messages that God sent to Israel regarding interactions with their rulers. We pray for understanding the messages to potentially contribute toward reducing the apparent gap in expectation between people and governments in several parts of the world. What should governments expect of the people and what should the people expect of their government? We believe the bible provides answers to these questions in enough details to guide our everyday interactions as government leaders or recipients of government leadership.
The study begins with Prophet Samuel’s interactions with the people of Israel in responding to the people’s demand for a king. At the time, Samuel was spiritual leader and judge over Israel: he guided them through interactions with God and in all matters requiring a leader. However, the people of Israel became increasingly dissatisfied with their form of leadership as time approached for a leadership transition. They asked Samuel to appoint a king for them, with the expectation that their dissatisfaction with the current form of leadership will be resolved through the appointment of a king: “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” [1 Samuel 8:5].
Samuel prayed about their demand and received God’s direction to accept the demand: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you …” [1 Samuel 8:7]. Furthermore, God directed him to explain to the people that the leadership they demanded will come with certain authority and expectations: “Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights” [1 Samuel 8:9]. He directed Samuel to accept the people’s demand for a king and their expectations of the king that they conveyed through the demand. Additionally, Samuel would explain to the people that the form of government they demanded will come with expectations and authority to compel them to fulfill the expectations.
Therefore, we discuss Samuel’s interactions with Israel in these events to understand how the interactions define government responsibilities to the people and people’s responsibilities to government. Furthermore, we discuss the source of government authority as defined through the events. Information from the events indicate God delegating authority to government to provide a range of services for and on behalf of the people, obtain resources from the people to support the services, and interact with the people according to rules determined by them through the government.
Government Responsibilities to the People
The responsibilities of government to the people are defined through expectations that the people of Israel conveyed through their demand for a king. Their demand arose out of dissatisfaction with the performance of Samuel’s sons that he had appointed judges over Israel: “But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice” [1 Samuel 8:3]. The people were dissatisfied with the performance of Samuel’s sons as judges and demanded a form of leadership that they expected will correct the deficiencies. That is, a leadership that will be honest, not take bribes, and administer justice equally to all: “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” [1 Samuel 8:5]. Furthermore, they expected leadership based on king will bring them to a standard similar to other nations. The king would lead them in battles and direct their international affairs: “No, but we will have a king over us, 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” [1 Samuel 8:19–20].
Samuel received direction from God to accept their demand for a king and their expectations of the king as conveyed through the demand. Furthermore, he will delegate to the king the function and authority of reigning over the people: “And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them’” [1 Samuel 8:7]. Therefore, the king (representing “government” in these interactions) will take over the responsibilities of “reigning over” the people, including the following.
- Administer justice equally to all with fairness and honesty.
- Represent the nation among other nations.
- Lead the nation in its battles.
Responsibilities of the People to Government
God directed Samuel to explain to the people that the form of leadership they demanded will come with certain expectations of them and authority to compel them to fulfill the expectations: “Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights” [1 Samuel 8:9]. Therefore, Samuel explained to the people that the king will expect them to provide human and material resources needed to perform his functions and will have authority to compel them to provide the resources [1 Samuel 8:10–11]: “Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, ‘This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights…’”
His explanations define the responsibilities of a people to their government and authority of the government to compel performance of the responsibilities. The government holds the authority on behalf of the people for the purpose of performing its responsibilities to the people. The authority includes the following.
- Authority to collect taxes. “He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants” [1 Samuel 8:15]; and “He will take a tenth of your sheep” [1 Samuel 8:17].
- Authority to raise military and security services. People will be recruited as commanders, regular services such as infantry, professional services (such as engineering, agriculture, and weapons and arms manufacturing), and ancillary services (such as acquisition and supply of food and hygiene items) [1 Samuel 8:11–16].
- Authority over landed property, which some modern-day governments exercise through the right of eminent domain: “And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants” [1 Samuel 8:14].
- Authority to represent the nation in international affairs to fulfill the people’s expectation “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” [1 Samuel 8:20].
Source of Government Authority
The source of government authority is implicit in God’s directive to Samuel to appoint for the people of Israel a king with the right and responsibilities to reign over them: “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” [1 Samuel 8:7]. Through the directive, God delegated to the king (i.e., government) the function of reigning over the people and the authority to execute the function. The government holds the authority on behalf of the people for the purpose of performing its responsibilities to them. Therefore, government authority comes from God and belongs to the people. Because God is the source of government authority, respect and obedience to government are part of God’s mandate to his people.
He delegated responsibilities and authority to the king through the directive and communicated the decision through Samuel: “So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king” [1 Samuel 8:10]. That is, Samuel’s description of government responsibilities and authority in his interactions with Israel are from “words of the Lord” to the people through Samuel. Prior to these events, God reigned over the people through their spiritual leader in all matters. For example, he intervened directly in the battle of Mizpah to lead Israel under Samuel to victory over the Philistines [1 Samuel 7:3–16] and in the battle for Jericho to lead Israel under Joshua [Joshua 5:13 – 6:25]. The directive to Samuel means that God delegated to government aspects of the responsibility to “reign over” the people and authority to execute the responsibility.
He allows the government and the people freedom to determine how government authority will be exercised to fulfill its responsibilities. Also, he allows the people freedom to form their government. The freedom in each case has broad implications (that we hope to understand more through this bible study series), but God will not intervene to prescribe how the freedom will be used: “And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day” [1 Samuel 8:18].
Summary of What We Learned
Based on Samuel’s interactions with Israel regarding demand for a king, we understand the authority of government comes from God and is exercised on behalf of the people to fulfill government responsibilities. The authority includes collecting taxes, raising military and security services, redefining use for landed property, and representing the people in international affairs. In return, the people expect their government to administer justice equally to all with fairness and honesty, represent the nation among other nations, and lead the nation in its battles. The interactions define general principles for relationships between a people and their government.
Please watch this bible study on video at VIDEO_LINK , listen to or download the audio at AUDIO_LINK . You can also download a PDF copy of the PowerPoint presentation from PDF_LINK.