Reflecting on 1 Samuel 8 4-7 and 10 17-24

We probably can’t help asking ourselves what implications this story, of the demand for a “king like the other nations,” has for “modern” or “contemporary” political arrangements. Because the Israelites, as the story told in 1 Samuel 8:4-7 and 1 Samuel 10:17-24 goes, are clearly demanding a novel – in their context – political arrangement. And there are conflicting views on the matter: the people vs. Samuel vs. God, for instance. There also seem to be different visions of how this novel political structure will operate in real life. Do we ourselves share, or advocate for, any of those?

These frankly political questions, right in the heart of the Deuteronomistic history, presumably have implications for our own views about politics and political arrangements. What do we think are ideal arrangements? How are those views informed, or not, by our readings of scripture? What do we think are the purposes for which governments are instituted among Men, for instance, and do we or do we not agree that such governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed? Would the Biblical authors support that view? What about God – as far as we can tell? These are big questions. They seem to lie at the center of our study this week.

Some notes on the text are here. And here are a couple of additional, or maybe preliminary, questions we might want to think about or discuss:

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Why, do we think, do the people want a king? Why do we think that? That is: What evidence for their thinking do we find in our text, or surrounding text? What inferences are we drawing from our “knowledge of human nature,” or our experience, or … what?

What options do they seem to have before them? [Again: what are we seeing in the text, what are we bringing to the text, as far as we can tell?]

[More personal] If we had to give the people advice, what advice would we give them? Why?

[Even more personal, maybe] If we had to be one of the people, what option would we advocate for, or vote for (assuming there was any voting involved)? Why?

What seems like it would be the “faithful” option? Do we think that’s the same as the “prudent” or “realistic” option? Why, or why not? What does that tell us about our own thinking here? How do we feel about that?

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What pros and cons do we see in the choice or call of Saul as the first king? That is: what do we see in Saul that seems to fit him for the role? What do we see in Saul that seems to un-fit him for the role?

[A lot more personal] What are our thoughts and feelings about God’s choosing Saul as king? Why?

[Still a lot more personal] In light of the story of Saul, are there any lessons to be learned about responding to God’s call? What are those, do we think? Why do we think that?

[Along these lines, but more abstract and theological] What do we think God is up to here? Does God “have a plan”? And if so, how does the voice of the people seem to fit in to it? Saul? Does it seem like a “nice” plan to us? Implications?

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How would we describe Saul “as a leader”? What about Samuel? Why?

Any leadership advice to be gained from this assessment? What advice? Why?

Any voting advice to be gained from this assessment? What advice? Why?

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One of the problems we run into, it seems to me, when we consider these stories of the early kings is that we want to get lessons from these texts “for our own lives,” “our lives today.” But the world in which the people in these stories are operating, the conditions under which they are operating, are really different. So trying to think about what might apply to us, and how it might apply, seems like a challenge we would need to think about very explicitly.

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two women in antique dress reading

Image: “Reading,” Alexander Moravov, 1913, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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