1 Samuel 8:5

ESV 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.”
NIV They said to him, '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.'
NASB and they said to him, 'Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint us a king to judge us like all the nations.'
CSB They said to him, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Therefore, appoint a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have."
NLT Look,' they told him, 'you are now old, and your sons are not like you. Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.'
KJV And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.

What does 1 Samuel 8:5 mean?

The representative elders of the people of Israel have recognized both a problem and an opportunity. The problem was partly that their trusted spiritual leader was getting old (1 Samuel 8:1). The other problem was that Samuel had allowed his two sons to continue as judges in Beersheba despite their well-known corruption (1 Samuel 8:3). This is reminiscent of what happened with Eli the priest and his sons (1 Samuel 2:12–36). The elders had reason to be concerned about what would happen to Israel if Samuel's sons became judges over the nation after his death.

The elders also saw an opportunity to change their system of government completely. They sought what they hoped would make the nation more stable and more powerful (1 Samuel 8:20). They wanted Samuel to appoint a king to govern them in the same pattern as surrounding cultures. This was not necessarily an overtly rebellious request. The law of Moses did not require Israel to ever have a king, but it did allow for that possibility under specific guidelines (Deuteronomy 17:14–20).

Even so, given how the narrative progresses, it seems this request was not made with the intent of honoring God. The motivation was to be like other nations and to have a sense of worldly security. God called the Israelites to be a distinct people: separate and different from the nations around them, pointing to the truth of who God is. The elders seem to be placing their trust in human institutions rather than in God (1 Samuel 8:20). When Samuel talks with God about their request, God tells him, in part, "they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 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" (1 Samuel 8:7–8).

We are familiar with the elders' mindset in our own lives. The things we see around us can feel more secure or better than the promises of God (1 John 2:15–17; James 1:13–15). There is a natural desire to "fit in," even on a group or national level. But living in God's ways is always best. James 1:16–18 encourages, "Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures."
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