The Signs of the Times


July 13, 1882

Israel Desire a King


The first form of government over men was established by God himself, and acknowledged him as the only Sovereign. He made known his will by written commands and revelations, by messages to his chosen servants, by dreams, by signs, and wonders. He would have continued to be their king, had they been content with his paternal care. ST July 13, 1882, par. 1

At the beginning, the father was constituted priest and magistrate of his own family. Then came the patriarchal rule, which was like that of the family, but extended over a greater number. When Israel became a distinct people, the twelve tribes, springing from the twelve sons of Jacob, had each a leader. These leaders, or elders, were assembled whenever any matter that pertained to the general interest was to be settled. The high priest was the visible representative of Christ, the Redeemer of his people. When the Hebrews settled in Canaan, judges were appointed, who resembled governors. These rulers were invested with authority to declare war and proclaim peace for the nation; but God was still the recognized king of Israel, and he continued to reveal his will to these chosen leaders, and to manifest through them his power. ST July 13, 1882, par. 2

But increase of population, and intercourse with other nations, brought a change. The Israelites adopted many of the customs of their heathen neighbors, and thus sacrificed to a great degree, their own peculiar, holy character. Their worship became less earnest and sincere. Gradually they lost their reverence for God, and ceased to prize the high honor of being his chosen people. Dazzled by the pomp and display of heathen monarchs, they tired of their own simplicity, and desired to be freed from the rule of their Divine Sovereign. As they departed from the Lord, the different tribes became envious and jealous of one another. Strife and dissensions increased, until it was vainly imagined that the installation of a king was the only means by which harmony could be restored. ST July 13, 1882, par. 3

The government of Israel had never been conducted with so great wisdom and success as under Samuel's sole administration. In no previous ruler had the people reposed so implicit confidence. He had labored with untiring and disinterested zeal for the highest good of the nation. In every transaction he had been governed by justice and benevolence. And not only was his course wholly unselfish, but he was often inattentive to his own dues and rights. Hence, the selfishness manifested by his sons appeared more striking in contrast with the course of their faithful father. ST July 13, 1882, par. 4

The arrogance and injustice of these judges caused much dissatisfaction among the people, who were far more troubled by dangers threatening their temporal interests than they had been by the profligacy and sacrilege of Hophni and Phinehas. Ere long many who considered themselves aggrieved presented their complaints to the elders of Israel. A pretext was thus furnished for urging the change which had long been secretly desired. ST July 13, 1882, par. 5

Had Samuel been informed on the unjust course of his sons, he would at once have removed them, and appointed others, more upright, in their place. When, however, the complaint against his sons was laid before him, followed immediately by the petition for a king, Samuel saw that the real motive was discontent and pride. He perceived that the desire did not spring from a sudden impulse, but was the result of long deliberation and a determined purpose. ST July 13, 1882, par. 6

The petitioners were careful to state that they could find no fault with Samuel's administration; but they urged that he would soon be too old to serve them, and his sons had given evidence that they could not be trusted. Despite these explanations and professions of regard, Samuel was deeply wounded. He looked upon the request as a censure upon himself, and a direct effort to set him aside. But he did not reveal his feelings. He uttered no reproaches because of the ingratitude of the people. Had he done this, one bitter recrimination might have wrought great harm. ST July 13, 1882, par. 7

Samuel carried this new, and to him difficult matter to the Lord in prayer, and sought counsel alone from him. His petitions were heard; “and the Lord said unto Samuel, hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.” The prophet was reproved for grieving at the conduct of the people toward himself as an individual. They had not manifested disrespect for him, but for the authority of God, who had appointed the rulers of his people. ST July 13, 1882, par. 8

The days of Israel's greatest prosperity had been those in which they acknowledged Jehovah as their king,—when the laws and the government which he had established were regarded as superior to those of all other nations. Moses himself in his last address, appealed to Israel, “What nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?” ST July 13, 1882, par. 9

And yet, notwithstanding the Lord had so often wrought mightily for their deliverance, the Israelites were now disposed to attribute all their disasters to their manner of government. The Lord permitted his people to follow their own course, because they refused to be guided by his counsels. Hosea declares that God gave them a king in his anger. In their pride they desired to be like other nations, not considering that with the pomp of royalty they must endure also its tyranny and exaction. This would be a bitter exchange for the mild and beneficent government of God. ST July 13, 1882, par. 10

It is a hazardous step to place the scepter in the hands of finite man, and crown him monarch. God understands the human heart far better than men understand it themselves. A departure from the Lord's wise arrangement would pervert authority into tyranny, and subjection into slavery. Even if a ruler were naturally merciful and benevolent, unlimited power over his fellow-men would tend to make him a despot. Such power God alone is able to use with justice and wisdom. ST July 13, 1882, par. 11

The Lord had, through his prophets, foretold that Israel would be governed by a king. But it by no means follows that this form of government was according to his will. Though he foresees all things, he often permits men to take their own course, when they refuse to be guided by the counsels of infinite wisdom. In this instance, he instructed Samuel to grant their request, but to faithfully warn them of the Lord's disapproval, and also make known what would be the result of their course: “Now therefore hearken unto their voice. Howbeit yet protest solemnly unto them, and show them the manner of the king that shall reign over them.” ST July 13, 1882, par. 12

Samuel accordingly assembled the people, and faithfully represented to them the burdens which they would have to bear under a king, and the contrast between such a state of oppression and their present comparatively free and prosperous condition. He reminded them that their king would imitate the pomp and luxury of other monarchs, to support which, grievous exactions upon their persons and property would be necessary. He would take the young men for charioteers and horsemen, and would even employ some to run before and about his chariots. A standing army would require their services; and they would also be required to till his fields, to reap his harvest, and to manufacture for his service instruments of war. ST July 13, 1882, par. 13

The daughters of Israel, who should become the centers of happy homes, would be taken for confectioners and bakers, to minister to the luxury of the royal household. To support his kingly state he would find pretexts to seize upon the best of their lands, bestowed upon the people by Jehovah himself. The most valuable of their servants also, and of their cattle, would he take and “put them to his own work.” ST July 13, 1882, par. 14

Besides all this, an oppressive taxation would be instituted. The people already gave to the Lord a tenth of all their income, the profits of their labor, or the products of the soil. The king would require an additional tithe of all. “Ye shall be his servants,” concluded the prophet. “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.” ST July 13, 1882, par. 15

But the people were bent upon following their own course. The solemn warnings from God, through his aged prophet, had no effect to turn them from their purpose. They returned the answer, “Nay; but we will have a king over us, that we may also be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.” ST July 13, 1882, par. 16

“Like other nations”—the Israelites did not realize that to be in this respect unlike other nations was a special privilege and blessing. God had separated Israel from every other people, to make them his own peculiar treasure. But they, disregarding this high honor, eagerly desired to imitate the example of the heathen. What blindness! What ingratitude! ST July 13, 1882, par. 17

With deep sadness, Samuel listened to the words of the people, and then he again sought divine guidance. And the Lord said unto Samuel, “Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.” ST July 13, 1882, par. 18

The prophet had done his duty. He had faithfully presented the warning, and it had been rejected. He could say no more. With a heavy heart he dismissed the people, and himself departed to prepare for the great change in the government. ST July 13, 1882, par. 19

Would that this passage in Israel's history had no counterpart in the present experience of God's people! But alas, we see it frequently repeated! A discontented desire for change, a longing to conform to worldly plans and worldly customs, too often controls even professed Christians. As they depart from God, they become ambitious for the gains and honors of the world. Those who stand firm against conformity to the world, discouraging pride, superfluity, and extravagance, and enjoining humility and self-denial, are looked upon as critical, peculiar, and severe. Some argue that by uniting with worldlings and conforming to their customs, Christians might exert a stronger influence in the world. But all who pursue this course thereby separate from the source of their strength. Becoming friends of the world, they are the enemies of God. ST July 13, 1882, par. 20

The dissatisfied longing for worldly power and display, is as difficult to cure now as in the days of Samuel. Christians seek to build as worldlings build, to dress as worldlings dress,—to imitate the customs and practice of those who worship only the god of this world. The instructions of God's word, the counsels and reproofs of his servants, and even warnings sent directly from his throne, seem powerless to subdue this unworthy ambition. When the heart is estranged from God, almost any pretext is sufficient to justify a disregard of his authority. The promptings of pride and self-love are gratified at whatever expense to the cause of God. ST July 13, 1882, par. 21

The unconsecrated and world-loving are ever ready to criticise and condemn those who have stood fearlessly for God and the right. If a defect is seen in one whom the Lord has intrusted with great responsibilities, then all his former devotion is forgotten, and an effort is made to silence his voice and destroy his influence. But let these self-constituted judges remember that the Lord reads the heart. They cannot hide its secrets from his searching gaze. God declares that he will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing. ST July 13, 1882, par. 22

The most useful men are seldom appreciated. Those who have labored most actively and unselfishly for their fellow-men, and who have been instrumental in achieving the greatest results, are often repaid with ingratitude and neglect. When such men find themselves set aside, their counsels slighted and despised, they may feel that they are suffering great injustice. But let them learn from the example of Samuel not to justify or vindicate themselves, unless the Spirit of God unmistakably prompts to such a course. Those who despise and reject the faithful servant of God, not merely show contempt for the man, but for the Master who sent him. It is God's words, his reproofs and counsel, that are set at naught; his authority that is rejected. ST July 13, 1882, par. 23

When men persist in following their own course, without seeking counsel from the Lord, he often grants their desires, in order to reveal their folly or punish their iniquity. When they lightly esteem the words of his servants, he may permit the voice of counsel and warning to be silenced. But human pride and wisdom will be found a dangerous guide. That which is most desired by the unconsecrated heart will prove the most painful and bitter in the end. ST July 13, 1882, par. 24

Let the servants of God carry their burdens to their compassionate Redeemer. His ear is ever open to their prayers. His eye notes every sacrifice and every sorrow. The neglect and injustice which they endure here will but make their reward greater in the coming day. ST July 13, 1882, par. 25