What does 1 Samuel 8:17 mean?
ESV: He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.
NIV: He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.
NASB: He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his servants.
CSB: He can take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves can become his servants.
NLT: He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you will be his slaves.
KJV: He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants.
Samuel is coming to the end of his disclaimer about what Israel should expect from their human kings (1 Samuel 8:4–9) to take from them. Neither Samuel nor the Lord is it is morally right for a government to confiscate the children and property of citizens. They are simply pointing out the fact that this is what kings do. God established human government for a reason (Romans 13:1–7), but that does not make it the best solution to any problem.
Israel should also expect the king to take a portion of their livestock for himself. Finally, at the root of this relationship, the people should think of themselves as the king's slaves. Some kings, like Solomon, were careful to distinguish between his "servants" and "slaves" (1 Kings 9:22), but in either cases the people had no choice about whether or not to serve. Ancient kings had the right and the power to command anyone to do whatever he wanted whenever he wanted them to do it. The difference between slave and servant could become a very slim margin, especially if the king was not a righteous and fair leader (Proverbs 29:14).
First Samuel 8:10–18 describes a solemn, legal warning Samuel gives the elders of Israel. He cautions about all the things a human king will take from them. He will take their sons and daughters as his servants, their land for his officials, and a percentage of their crops and flocks. In many ways, Samuel officially warns the Israelites that they will become slaves to their own king. When that happens and they cry out to the Lord, He will not answer them because they will have chosen this for themselves.
Samuel is old, and his sons are corrupt. The elders of Israel gather in Ramah to ask Samuel to appoint a king over them. Samuel resists, but the Lord tells the prophet to do as the people have said after warning them about what a king will take from them. The list includes their children, property, fields, crops, and freedom. The Lord will not save them from their king, Samuel warns. The elders insist they still want a king like all the other nations. The Lord agrees and tells Samuel to provide them one.
First Samuel 8 jumps forward in time perhaps thirty years from the events of the previous chapter. Samuel is now old and his sons, also judges, are corrupt. The elders of Israel gather to ask Samuel to appoint a king for them. Samuel doesn't like it, but he takes the request to the Lord. The Lord tells Samuel to do it, even though the people are rejecting Him as their king. Samuel warns the elders of all the things a king will take from them to serve himself. The elders still insist, and the Lord grants their request.
First Samuel introduces the key figures who led Israel after the era of the judges. The books of 1 and 2 Samuel were originally part of a single text, split in certain translations shortly before the birth of Christ. Some of the Bible’s most famous characters are depicted in this book. These including the prophet Samuel, Israel’s first king, Saul, her greatest king, David, and other famous names such as Goliath and Jonathan. By the end of this book, Saul has fallen; the book of 2 Samuel begins with David’s ascension to the throne.
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