Friday of Week 1 of Ordinary time – First Reading

Commentary on 1 Samuel 8:4-7,10-22

We begin reading today about Samuel and his involvement with Saul and the institution of the monarchy in Israel. The institution of the monarchy was a major turning point in Israel’s political and religious history. The sanctuary of the Ark of Shiloh had been destroyed and unity was in danger as the Philistine threat increased. Some of the people began asking:

…appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.

Others held the opposite view that Yahweh, Israel’s only lord, should be left to provide leaders as circumstances required, as he had done in the days of the Judges.

These two schools of thought find a voice in anti-royalist (see chaps 8, 10:17-24, and 12) and royalist (chaps 9:1-10:16 and 11) versions of the institution of the monarchy, here placed side by side.

The royalist view (which we will see in tomorrow’s reading from Samuel) will ultimately prevail, but Saul, the first king, is scarcely distinguishable from the judges who preceded him. The monarchy will only achieve its full development with David. He is one of the outstanding characters of the whole Bible, and in him the religious and civil functions of the Israelite monarchy will be harmoniously combined. David will be able to combine his political responsibilities with his service of the Lord. However, none of his successors will achieve this ideal. David, and really David alone (in spite of his serious weaknesses), remains the model of the future King through whom God is to bring about the salvation of his people, namely the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed of the Lord.

As today’s reading opens we find the elders of the people approaching Samuel and telling him that, in view of his old age (and, it might be added, the corrupt behaviour of his sons), they should have a king. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the more basic reason for their request was a desire to be like the surrounding nations – to have a human king as a symbol of national power and unity who would lead them in battle and guarantee their security. As a loose conglomerate of tribes, they would never be able to deal effectively with their enemies (who had kings). Israel had suffered a number of calamitous defeats at the hands of its old nemesis, the Philistines, and the people saw that what was needed was a powerful leader as a strong unifying and rallying point.

There were two reactions to this innovation of having a king – one against and one in favour. Some would say they were forgetting that they were not like other nations. By their desire to appoint a human king they were, in a way, setting aside their real Lord. Israel had always been a theocracy where only God was its King and Lord, and where the idea of a human king seemed almost blasphemous. On the other hand, there were those who, for political reasons and even for the people’s survival, emphasised the need for a single, strong ruler.

In today’s reading we see the anti-royalist view. The misgivings of the anti-royalists are seen in Samuel’s displeasure at the people asking for a king. God is not happy, but he tells Samuel to let the people have their way:

Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.

The sin of Israel in requesting a king did not rest in any evil inherent in kingship itself, but rather in the kind of kingship the people envisioned and their reasons for requesting it.

Their desire was for a form of kingship that denied their covenant relationship with the Lord, who himself was pledged to be their saviour and deliverer. In requesting a king “like all nations” they broke the covenant, rejected the Lord who was their King, and forgot his constant provision for their protection in the past.

In a rather sarcastic tone, Samuel proceeds to tell the people all the ‘advantages’ they will accrue by having a king. His description reflects not so much what happened under Saul or David, but in a later period beginning with Solomon, and reflects the bitter experience of the writer’s own generation. Later on, we will see how terrible some of those kings really were.

Samuel warns them that virtual slavery will be upon them:

These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you:

-He will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots.

-He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.

-He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.

-He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers.

-He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.

-He will take your male and female slaves and the best of your cattle and donkeys and put them to his work.

-He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.

Then, and only then, will the people complain to God but it will be too late:

And on that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you on that day.

They have made their own bed and will have to sleep in it. Only the king will enjoy rights; the people will have duties and obligations. In fact, the demands of the king would parallel all that Israel was expected to consecrate to the Lord as her Great King (persons, lands, crops, livestock) – even the whole population. But now it going to be given to a very fallible and sometimes wicked human being.

For now, the people will not listen to Samuel’s arguments. They are determined to have a king like their neighbours who will lead them to war and fight their battles. And God said:

Listen to their voice and set a king over them.

Samuel then tells the people to go back to their own cities and towns.

We, too, can be very insistent in asking God to give us something we feel we really need. Yet, when it comes we may bitterly regret the consequences. Sometimes what we take to be the answer to a prayer may only be the fruit of our own persistence. But, whatever happens, wherever our choices have led us, God is always there. It is always in our present situation, in the here-and-now, that we must learn to respond to his call. Even our mistakes can become moments of grace and enlightenment.

Comments Off on Friday of Week 1 of Ordinary time – First Reading

Printed from LivingSpace - part of Sacred Space
Copyright © 2024 Sacred Space :: :: All rights reserved.