1 Kings viii.
Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Old. Houbigant would translate, “when he was growing old,” senesceret, as he supposes he was now nearly sixty, having judged about twenty-five years, and living another twenty as partner with Saul. (Prol. lxii.) See chap. vii. 15. (Haydock) — Judges, as his delegates in the southern parts of the country. (Calmet) — Josephus says one of them was stationed at Bethel. (Antiquities vi. 3.)
Ver. 2. In, or “as far as” Bersabee, from Dan, that is, throughout Palestine. (Calmet)
Ver. 3. Judgment. Samuel was not to blame, and hence he was not punished like Heli. (Menochius) — However, the misconduct of the children of these two judges, in succession, (Haydock) gave occasion to the people to demand a king, who might not be tempted by bribes. (Worthington) — It is surprising that most of the great men who are mentioned in history, had degenerate children. (Calmet) — Such were some of David’s sons, as well as Cambyses, the son of Cyrus, &c. (Haydock) — Was it because their fathers were too much taken up with the affairs of state, to watch over the education of their children? or rather, because these young men confided too much on the merits of their family, and took no pains to tread in the footsteps of their parents? (Calmet) — “We have here, says Josephus, a manifest proof that children do not always resemble their parents, but sometimes good men spring from the wicked; and on the contrary, the virtuous have an evil progeny.”
Ver. 5. Judge us, in a different manner from what had been hitherto done. (Haydock) — By a crying ingratitude, they reject the government of a wise old man, who had rendered them the most signal services. Perhaps the power of Naas, king of the Ammonites, might afford them some pretext for acting as they did. (Calmet) — As all, &c. They seem to prefer the dominion of kings, who ruled over the surrounding barbarous nations as they thought proper, (Haydock) before one who should be tied down to observe the laws, prescribed by God, (Menochius) in case the Israelites should wish to have a king, Deuteronomy xvii. (Haydock) — In the East, monarchy was the most ancient form of government. (Tacitus, Hist. iv.; Just. i.) “Principio, imperium penes Reges erat.”
Ver. 6. Samuel. Nothing could be more disrespectful to him, nor more ungrateful to God, who had distinguished them from all other nations, and had taken the government upon himself, and appointed the judges as his lieutenants. The foolish Israelites wished to throw off this sweet yoke, and to be ruled in an arbitrary manner, like the infidels, as if God could not otherwise protect them from their enemies. — Lord. Josephus says that he passed the night without food or sleep, and the Lord appeared to him. The will or petition “of the people, filled Samuel with great uneasiness, who on account of his innate justice, did not like the regal power, as being too exorbitant. He rather approved of an aristocracy, as more conducive to the welfare of the people.” (Antiquities vi. 4.) He means such an aristocracy as the Israelites had been accustomed to, under the guidance of men divinely commissioned, whence he elsewhere very properly styles it a theocracy, or “the government of God.” (Haydock)
Ver. 7. Thee. “God, in anger, grants a person what he desires wrongfully.” (St. Augustine) — He permits the people to follow their own plans; and the Hebrews believe, that he gave them Saul to punish them, being well apprised of his proud and cruel nature. (Cuneus Rep.) (Calmet) — Rejected, &c. The government of Israel hitherto had been a theocracy: in which God himself immediately ruled, by laws which he had enacted, and by judges extraordinarily raised up by himself: and therefore he complains that his people rejected him, in desiring a change of government, (Challoner) and wishing to appoint their own magistrates. The priests and judges had been commissioned by God, Exodus xix., and Deuteronomy xvii. (Worthington)
Ver. 8. Thee. He comforts Samuel, by observing that it was not so much any fault of his, as the people’s habitual fickle temper, which made them seek for this change. (Menochius)
Ver. 9. The right. That is, the manner (mishpat) after which he shall proceed, having no one to control him, when he has the power in his hands. (Challoner) — He intimates that the kings will frequently act in a tyrannical manner, ver. 11. (Menochius) — But the holy Fathers observe, that herein they do what is unjust, and contrary to God’s law. St. Gregory remarks, that Achab is punished for taking the vineyard of Naboth, (3 Kings xxi.) while David will not take a piece of ground belonging to Ornan, even for an altar, without first paying a just price for it, 1 Paralipomenon xxi. 25. Some of these rights or customs are prohibited to the king, Deuteronomy xvii. 16. It is true, kings enjoy great prerogatives above judges, but never contrary to the law. They cannot take their subjects’ goods: but the latter are bound to contribute to the maintenance of government; and, if they refuse, may be compelled. If kings should be guilty of excesses, “yet them are not to be deposed by the people,….but must be tolerated with patience, peace, and meekness, till God, by his sovereign authority, left in his Church, dispose of them, which his divine wisdom and goodness often deferred to do, as here he expressly forewarneth, (ver. 18) because he will punish the sins of the people by suffering evil princes to reign,” Job xxxiv. 30. (Conc. Later. c. iii. de hœret.[Fourth Lateran Council, constitution iii., On Heretics?]) (Worthington) See St. Thomas Aquinas, 2. 2. q. 12. a. 2. — We may here also remark, that the people petitioned for a king, yet God made the choice; and, when he proved rebellious, selected another by the hand of Samuel, though he permitted the former to enjoy his dignity till death, chap. xiii., and xxxi. (Haydock) — Grotius (Jur. i. 1., and 4.) maintains that Samuel here proposes the just rights of the king, and that the prince has a greater right to any one’s personal property, for the public good, than he has himself. In effect, the eastern kings regarded their subjects as slaves. But those who governed the Hebrews were to follow a different conduct; and Samuel is so far from approving of what some of them would do, that he mentions their tyranny, in order to dissuade the people from what they so inconsiderately requested. (Calmet) — The misconduct of rulers, is one of the most trying inconveniences to which a nation can be exposed. In such circumstances, “bear, says a pagan historian, (Haydock) with the luxury and avarice of those who hold dominion, as with other natural evils. There will be vices as long as men subsist, but neither will these continue for ever, and they are compensated by the intervention of better things or men.” Meliorum interventu pensantur. (Tacitus) — Grotius at last seems to conclude, (Sup. c. iv. p. 97) that the right of the king here specified is only apparent, in as much as it includes “the obligation of making no resistance.” (Haydock)
Ver. 11. Chariots; to be drivers, (Menochius) or will make them fight from them. — Footmen, or guards. Xenophon places 4000 armed with bucklers before, and 2000 with lances all round the chariot of Cyrus. See chap. xxii. 17.
Ver. 12. Centurions, or body-guards. (Menochius) — These offices might be honourable, but at the same time disagreeable, when people were forced to accept of them, and to neglect their more pleasing agricultural employment. The multitude of officers increases the expenses of the prince, and falls heavy upon the people. (Calmet)
Ver. 14. Vineyards, as Achab did, though he first proposed to buy it.
Ver. 15. Tenth. God had already claimed one tithe, which he had abandoned to his sacred ministers. We do not read that the kings of the Hebrews ever claimed (Calmet) a second tithe precisely, (Haydock) though they might have done it by the example of other kings, Leviticus xxvii. 30. Joseph had asserted the fifth part of the revenues of Egypt for its monarchs, Genesis xlvii. 26. — Eunuchs. Hebrew saris, denotes an officer of the court. It was not lawful for the Israelites to make any eunuchs, but they might employ foreigners.
Ver. 16. Goodliest, in strength (Calmet) and beauty. (Menochius) — Solomon made his people work at his buildings, and David employed an officer in the fields, 1 Paralipomenon xxvii. 26. Septuagint have read in a different manner, “He will tithe….your excellent droves of oxen.” (Calmet) — They also specify, “the tithe of asses for his work.” (Haydock)
Ver. 17. Servants, or slaves. The Hebrews enjoyed greater liberty than any of the nations in the East, yet they are styled slaves, chap. xvii. 8. They were nearly on the same footing as the ancient Germans. “Each governed in his own place of abode. The Lord requires of them a quantity of corn, cattle, or clothing, and so far the slave obeys;” servus hactenus paret. (Tacitus, Germ.) The Hebrews were also bound to follow the king to battle. The Egyptians, Persians, &c., were under greater oppression. Herodotus (iii. 31,) informs us, that when Cambyses designed to marry his own sister, his counsellors replied, that they found no express law to this effect; but there was another, “that the king of Persia may do whatever he please.” The highest officers, and even his brothers, were styled, “slaves, Douloi, of the great king.” (Aristotle, Mund.)
Ver. 18. The face, privately; for even groans will not be free. (Menochius) — The event justified this prediction, as most of the kings of the Hebrews ruled like tyrants, and what was worse, engaged their subjects in idolatry, and drew down the heaviest judgments upon them. (Calmet) — Hear you, so as to deliver you from oppression, though he is always willing to hear those who truly repent. (Worthington)
Ver. 19. Over us. The populace is generally inconstant, and fond of changes. (Menochius)
Ver. 20. Nations. We are neither better nor worse than the rest. What extravagance! for a people to abandon a state of happiness, and the dominion of God, and to prefer the service of a man! (Calmet) — For us. This was the pretext, as Naas threatened them with war, chap. xii. 12. (Menochius)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Samuel growing old, and his sons not walking in his ways, the people desire a king.
1 And* it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he appointed his sons to be judges over Israel.
2 Now the name of his first-born son was Joel: and the name of the second was Abia, judges in Bersabee.
3 And his sons walked not in his ways: but they turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.
4 Then all the ancients of Israel being assembled, came to Samuel to Ramatha.
5 And they said to him: Behold thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: *make us a king, to judge us, as all nations have.
6 And the word was displeasing in the eyes of Samuel, that they should say: Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed to the Lord.
7 And the Lord said to Samuel: Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to thee. For they have not rejected thee, but me, that I should not reign over them.
8 According to all their works, they have done from the day that I brought them out of Egypt until this day: as they have forsaken me, and served strange gods, so do they also unto thee.
9 Now, therefore, hearken to their voice: but yet testify to them, and foretell them the right of the king, that shall reign over them.
10 Then Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people that had desired a king of him,
11 And said: This will be the right of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and put them in his chariots, and will make them his horsemen, and his running footmen, to run before his chariots,
12 And he will appoint of them to be his tribunes, and centurions, and to plough his fields, and to reap his corn, and to make him arms and chariots.
13 Your daughters also he will take to make him ointments, and to be his cooks, and bakers.
14 And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your best oliveyards, and give them to his servants.
15 Moreover he will take the tenth of your corn, and of the revenues of your vineyards, to give to his eunuchs and servants.
16 Your servants also, and handmaids, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, he will take away, and put them to his work.
17 Your flocks also he will tithe, and you shall be his servants.
18 And you shall cry out in that day from the face of the king, whom you have chosen to yourselves. and the Lord will not hear you in that day, because you desired unto yourselves a king.
19 But the people would not hear the voice of Samuel, and they said: Nay: but there shall be a king over us,
20 And we also will be like all nations: and our king shall judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles for us.
21 And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and rehearsed them in the ears of the Lord.
22 And the Lord said to Samuel: Hearken to their voice, and make them a king. And Samuel said to the men of Israel: Let every man go to his city.
1: Year of the World 2908, Year before Christ 1096.
5: Osee xiii. 10.; Acts xiii. 21.