1 Samuel 8:20

ESV 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.”
NIV Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.'
NASB so that we also may be like all the nations, and our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.'
CSB Then we'll be like all the other nations: our king will judge us, go out before us, and fight our battles."
NLT We want to be like the nations around us. Our king will judge us and lead us into battle.'
KJV 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.

What does 1 Samuel 8:20 mean?

At the Lord's direction, Samuel has given the Israelites a long list of reasons not to have a human king (1 Samuel 8:9). Mostly, he has warned them of all the things human kings take from their citizens, often abusing their power and reducing their subjects to a kind of slavery (1 Samuel 8:11–18). This warning is especially crucial, as Israel is not seeking a king through submission to God and His will (Deuteronomy 17:14–20). They want to be like other cultures (1 Samuel 8:4–5), something linked to their rejection of the Lord (Deuteronomy 18:9; Leviticus 20:22–23; 1 Samuel 8:7).

The Israelites, though, have insisted that they still want a human king (1 Samuel 8:19). Now they give three reasons they want a king. First, they admit their desire to be like all other nations. The people seem to believe having a king will give them greater status and belonging in the larger world.

Second, they want a king to judge them as a nation. This might mean bringing greater unity to the scattered tribes and regions of Israel. A single king would resolving disputes within and between factions. Finally, the people want a king to go before them and lead them in battle during times of conflict and war. With a king in place, the people will know where to turn when trouble comes and who is expected to carry the burden of making war and making peace.

Their arguments are compelling. These are, in fact, three of the most important duties of a king. He becomes the figurehead of the nation, the resolver of disputes, and the leader in battle. God's intent for human government falls exactly along those lines (Romans 13:1–7). Samuel's complaint is that the Lord had successfully filled these responsibilities for Israel when Israel was living in faithfulness to God. The people were not seeking to form a new government according to God's plan—they were seeking to govern as the world around them did. Still, the Lord would allow for His people to have their king.
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