In biblical historiography hardly any subject is more ambivalent than Israel’s adoption of monarchy toward the end of the eleventh century B.C. Notwithstanding a growing impulse for this form of polity at the time, resistance against it ran deep in the culture and tribal loyalties of the people. The chief spokesman for the resistance was none other than the last of Israel’s “Judges,” Samuel, to whom it ironically fell to anoint the people’s first kings: Saul and David.
Two reasons supported Samuel’s opposition to the monarchy: First, its proposed adoption was difficult to reconcile with the theological principle that the Lord himself was Israel’s king (1 Sam, 8:7; 10:19; 12:12). The true kingship was theocracy. Second, royal government would oppress the people with capricious and onerous demands (8:11–18). It was a social evil.
Samuel was divinely directed, nonetheless, to accede to Israel’s demand for a king (8:22), and the Lord himself made the choice (9:16; 10:24; 11:6; 12:13).
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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).
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