What does 1 Samuel chapter 8 mean?The story of Samuel jumps forward in time, perhaps about thirty years or so. He is now old, and he has installed his two sons as judges in the southern town of Beersheba. However, his sons Joel and Abijah are corrupt, taking bribes and perverting justice for those under their authority (1 Samuel 8:1–3).
The elders of Israel recognize this scenario as both a problem and an opportunity. The problem is obvious. Samuel will not live forever. His sons may take over judgment of the nation from him, and they are corrupt. The elders gather in Ramah, Samuel's hometown, to make a request. They want Samuel to appoint a king, making Israel like all the surrounding nations instead of having God as their king (1 Samuel 8:4–5).
Samuel hates this idea, believing it to be an evil thing. Still, Samuel takes their proposal to the Lord. The Lord tells Samuel to do as the people have asked. It's not that God is pleased about it. He assures Samuel that the people have not rejected the prophet; they have rejected the Lord as their king. They are treating Samuel in the same way they have unfaithfully treated the Lord since the day He freed them from the Egyptians (1 Samuel 8:6–8).
The Lord tells Samuel to agree to their request, but only after he gives them a solemn warning about what it will cost them to have a king reign over them. In short, the king will take from his people whatever he wants: their children as his servants, their property as gifts for his officials, their fields, crops, and cattle. In the end, the people will become slaves, in a sense, to their own king. Samuel warns that when that day comes, the Lord will not answer their cries to save them. They are choosing that future for themselves now by choosing to have a king (1 Samuel 8:9–18).
After hearing all of this, would the elders of Israel change their minds about a king? No, they still insist on having a king for three reasons: to be like all the other nations, to have one king to judge over all of them, and to have someone to lead them into battle (1 Samuel 8:19–20).
When Samuel reports this to the Lord, God tells him to do as they have said and make them a king. Samuel sends the elders of Israel back to their homes (1 Samuel 8:21–22).