I previously talked about the record of Israel demanding a king, and briefly touched on the warning that Samuel gave to the elders of Israel before they confirmed they wished for a king. I’m going to have another look at this passage, specifically at verses 11-18; as I think there are some interesting parallels between what Israel was warned of and what we still have in our modern governments.
The most common phrase in this passage is “he will take”—that is the king will take from the people. It seems that the elders of Israel have knowingly asked for an oppressor—at the end of the passage, Samuel warns “you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves” (verse 18).
11 He said, “This will be the procedure of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and place them for himself in his chariots and among his horsemen and they will run before his chariots. (1 Samuel 8:11 NASB)
While Christians have varying opinions on the military, here conscription is presented as a bad consequence resulting from having a king. There have been countless wars fought since Samuel’s time, and conscription has played a major role in many of them.
For more information about contemporary military service around the world, see this Wikipedia article on military service.
12 He will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and of fifties, and some to do his plowing and to reap his harvest and to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.13 He will also take your daughters for perfumers and cooks and bakers… He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys and use them for his work… and you yourselves will become his servants. (1 Samuel 8:12-13, 16, 17b)
While the text does not indicate whether conscripts were paid or unpaid, it does show that they would be taken by force (“appoint for himself”, “take your daughters”). These people were used to farm, manufacture, and provision for the state. This happens but rarely these days, but it does happen—normally to avoid strikes, such as the 2010-2014 incidences of “civil mobilisation” in Greece.
Israel had experienced civil conscription before; in Exodus 1:11 the king of Egypt “appointed taskmasters over them [Israel] to afflict them with hard labor. And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses.” Their groaning under the Pharaoh of Egypt is one of the reasons the Lord gives to deliver Israel from Egypt: “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters” (Exodus 3:7).
Expropriation (Eminent domain)
He will take the best of your fields and your vineyards and your olive groves and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your seed and of your vineyards and give to his officers and to his servants. (1 Samuel 8:14,15a)
1 Samuel 8 describes a future where the king is taking resources for his own use or to give as gifts—with no indication of any compensation being made.
This goes by a bunch of different names in different states, but the bottom line is still the same: a government wants to use something that belongs to a private entity (e.g. an individual or company) for public (or government) use, and seizes it by compulsion.
One of the areas that I’ve seen this happen most often is in the area of infrastructure like dams or roads. For example, when a dam is built for a reservoir, often houses or even entire towns are expropriated for government use (normally the private entities are recompensed).
“He will take a tenth of your seed … He will take a tenth of your flocks” (1 Samuel 8: 15a, 17a)
Tax was another area the Israelites would have been familiar with both from their time in Egypt (Genesis 47:24-26), and the tithe according to the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 14:22-23).
This passage does not explicitly say that there would be a regular gathering of taxes from the people of Israel; but I think it is fair to call it tax because it is take from people according to what they have—a percentage. If you had ten ephahs of seed, one of those ephahs would be given to the king, and if you had 10,000 sheep, 1000 of them would be given to the king.
For most people living in the more developed parts of the world, tax is a part of life. As soon as you have enough money to spend it, things like sales tax come into force, and once you start earning enough money, a compulsory percentage is required by the government.
Rejecting God as King
Before the warning about the future king from verses 10-18 in 1 Samuel, God told Samuel that “they have rejected Me from being king over them” (v. 7b). He then warned (through Samuel) the people of Israel of all the consequences we’ve covered—but they would not listen (v.19).
As Christians, we need to heed this lesson soberly. Government is not God. While those of us in democratic (I use that term loosely) nations can have some influence over public policy, in all things our first instinct must be to go to the Lord, and obey Him.
We do not want to “be like all the nations” (1 Sam. 8:20), who want a mere man to judge over us and to defend us—instead, we have one Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4) who whom we look and under whom we serve, that is Jesus. Let us not put our hope in the institutions man has built in order to carry out the good works the Lord has called us to, but rather place all our hope in He who will make all things new at last.