Crisis of Leadership

I Samuel 8

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2020

In this Sunday School class, we have been studying the Old Testament, because most Christians do not know it very well.  We have been looking at the Book of I Samuel.  I Samuel is a book about two men – Samuel and Saul.  One was a prophet, a priest and a judge and the other was a king.  One was righteous and one was wicked.  One was blessed by God and one was judged by God.

So far, we have seen the life of Samuel.  He was the boy who was not supposed to be born.  His mom was infertile.  He was born as a result of her intense prayers.  He grew up in the Tabernacle, became a priest and then a judge and now he is an old man.  He is still the top leader in the nation until we come to I Samuel 8.

I Samuel 8 is a short chapter but an important chapter.  The leader Samuel is faced with a big crisis.  He faced one of the biggest crises of his leadership.  How do you deal with a crisis?  We will see how Samuel deals with a crisis in this chapter.

As a result of this crisis, the nation does not just get new leaders, it gets a completely new form of government.  In I Samuel 8, the nation moves from judge (Samuel) to king (Saul).  It is a transitional chapter.  In II Samuel, the nation will go through another transition.  It will change from an ordinary king (Saul) to a dynastic king, (the line of David).

This chapter is important practically.  It is important politically.   The whole political system of the nation changed after this chapter.  It could actually tell you how to vote.  I want to look at this chapter through the lens of leadership.

Let’s do a little review.  It has been a long time since we have been in I Samuel.  In the last chapter, revival broke out in the nation.  The whole nation fell into revival.  They were on fire.  They confessed their sins.  They repented.  God blessed them.  He delivered them from the Philistines and brought peace to the Israelites.  Everything was going great.

When we come to I Samuel 8, twenty or thirty years have passed.  Samuel is old now (I Samuel 8:1).  By the time we get to I Samuel 12, Samuel is grey haired.  His sons are not children anymore.  They are leaders (I Samuel 8:1).  They are in ministry.  The red-hot revival is over.  Revivals do not last forever.  That is why we need to keep having them.  The people are dissatisfied.  They are dissatisfied with their leaders.  They are dissatisfied with their government.

In this chapter, the leaders come to Samuel to tell him what the problem is and what their solution is.  In fact, the whole chapter is a conversation between the leaders and Samuel and God.  At the end of the chapter, the leaders leave.

Five Leadership Principles

What does this chapter say to leaders today?  Let’s look at three leadership principles that come right out of this chapter.

1. Real leaders do not always have perfect families

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. 3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice. (I Samuel 8:1-3 NIV)

Samuel was not only a prophet; he was also a parent.  We would love to think that that the great Samuel had a perfect family but he didn’t.  Samuel at this stage in his life was a lot like Eli.  There are a lot of parallel’s between the two.

Parallels between Samuel and Eli

1) Both were godly

2) Both were old

3) Both had two sons (Samuel’s sons were Joel and Abijah.  Eli’s sons were Hophni and Phineas).

4) Both appointed their sons to leadership (Eli’s sons were priests.  Samuel’s sons were judges)

5) Both had sons who were wicked

It looks like history is repeating itself. Samuel’s two sons Joel and Abijah came from a godly heritage.  They had some good role models.  Their father Samuel was godly.  Their grandmother Hannah was godly.  They were both known for their prayer life.  They had godly names (Joel and Abijah).

Joel (Yo-el) means “Jehovah is God.”  Abijah (avi-yah) means “Jehovah is my Father.” They did NOT have Egyptian names like Hophni and Phinehas.  They had good Jewish names, but they were not godly.  They were crooked.

They were not sleeping with everyone in the town, like Eli’s sons.  They were not promiscuous, but they could be bought.  They took bribes.  They were greedy. They were more interested in money than justice.  There are crooked politicians today who are just like them.  They lacked the character to be in the ministry, as many pastors do today.

That is why character is an important qualification for church leadership.  People who are greedy are disqualified.  Paul said in the NT that an elder is NOT be “a lover of money” (I Timothy 3:3).  Deacons who pursue dishonest gain (I Timothy 3:8) are disqualified from leadership in the church.

What we like to do in our day is to assign blame.  We like to criticize Samael here.  Many commentators assume that he must have been a terrible parent.  He must not have raised his kids right.  Samuel grew up under Eli the High Priest.  Eli was not the best parent.  Samuel must have learned bad parenting skills from him.

Samuel must have blind to the faults of his kids, like many parents today.  Some kids today can act like devils, but their parents think they are little angels.  They argue that he should never appointed them to be judges in the first place.  This must have been nepotism.  All of that might  be true but the interesting thing is that the Bible does not criticize Samuel.

It does NOT say that he was a bad parent.  He might have been a good parent.  All it says is that Samuel’s sons did NOT walk in his ways (I Samuel 8:3).  They were not anything like Samuel and they were judges down in Beersheba in the southern part of the country, seventy miles south of Ramah.  They were away from their father’s influence. He was not even near them.

The lesson is that Samuel’s kids were not like him and our kids are not always like us.  That is because of something called free will.  Children are not always like their parents.  Sometimes they are completely different.  That can be good, and it can be bad.  They can have different talents and abilities.  Your kids can have all kinds of gifts and abilities that you do not have.

Children are often different from parents spiritually.  That also may be good or bad.  A wicked parent can have completely righteous children.  A righteous parent can have completely wicked children.  There is no guarantee that a godly father or mother will automatically have godly children.

Godliness is not genetic.  The old English preacher Joseph Parker once said that “Grace is not hereditary.  When we see a good man, we expect his children to be like himself. But grace does not descend in the family line. The father may be an apostle, the son may be a blasphemer.”[1]

2. Real leaders have to deal with criticism

Sometimes criticism is valid and sometimes it is not, but leaders have to deal with criticism.  If you don’t want to deal with a lot of criticism, then don’t be a leader.  It comes with the territory.  Look at how much criticism Trump gets as President from the media.  Leaders are not always popular.

So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” (I Samuel 8:4-5 NIV)

The leaders get together and they pay Samuel a visit.  They call an emergency meeting. They come to his home in Ramah.  Samuel hears a knock on the door, and it is the leaders of Israel, not some of them but all of them.  A bunch of old men (the elders) come to talk to another old man (Samuel).

Samuel did not come to them.  They went to him.  What did they say to him? The leaders said, “Sam, your kids are rotten.  They are complete idiots.  You are old.  It is time for you to step aside and retire.”

This chapter probably describes the worst day of Samuel’s life.  Let’s try to put ourselves in his shoes.  Samuel was faithful to God all of his life.  He was consecrated by his mom as a Nazarite.  He had given his life to the nation.  He had worked hard.  He had not had any scandals.

He led the nation in revival, the greatest revival in its history.  There is peace in the land.  God had blessed them and now the leaders come to him with nothing but criticism.  They criticize him.  They criticize his sons and they criticize their government.

We have done the same thing.  All of us, at one time or another have been dissatisfied with our leaders.  We have been dissatisfied with our political leaders.  We have been dissatisfied with our religious leaders.  We may have attended a church and were not crazy about the pastor, elders or deacons.

We may have not liked the President in power at the time.  We may not have liked members of Congress.  No matter what they do, there will always be some people who are dissatisfied. People were dissatisfied with Samuel and his leadership.  They were dissatisfied with Moses.  Leaders cannot please everyone and should not try to.

3. Real leaders must be able to face rejection

Here is an important life lesson.  Leaders, even good leaders are not always appreciated by people.  They are appreciated by God but not always by people.  Joseph was not appreciated at first.  Moses was not appreciated.  They said to him. “We will not have you rule over us.”

Jesus was not appreciated.  Jesus came to His own and his own people rejected him.  I have experienced rejection.  I have had several leaders who worked with me as apprentices who got up and walked out.  Samuel was a godly man.  He was a man of integrity, but the people were tired of him and wanted someone else in charge.

The people did not just want a new leader; they wanted a new government.  They wanted a whole new political system.  They wanted a king.  They knew that God was their spiritual King, but He is invisible.  They did not want judges over different areas of the country.  They wanted to have ONE KING over the whole country.  Israel had been a nation for four hundred years or so and never had a king and they wanted one.

The people who came to Samuel were not open minded.  They did NOT ask for a king.  They DEMANDED it.  They wanted one and were NOT taking no for an answer.  Their mind was made up.  They were not open to any suggestions.

They did NOT ask Samuel what he thought of the problem.  They did NOT ask God what the solution to the problem was.  They didn’t care what God wanted.  They wanted what they wanted.  They said, “Give us a king.  We do the same things with God.  Today, we do not say, “Give us a king.”  We say, “Give us something else and give it to me NOW.”

That is why it is always important to pray “not my will but you will be done.”  Many in charismatic circles do not like to pray like that.  They do not believe in praying like that.  They say that it is a lack of faith, but Jesus prayed that way (Mark 14:35-36) and He had plenty of faith.  We should never want something unless it is something that He wants.  He knows what is good for us.  We don’t.

Samuel was not too happy about this.  But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this DISPLEASED Samuel (I Samuel 8:6 NIV).  He was offended.  He was hurt. He took it personally.

You can’t really blame him but he later found out that this was NOT personal.  It was spiritual. God told Samuel, “it is NOT you they have rejected, but they have rejected ME as their king” (I Samuel 8:7 NIV).  Now this is interesting.  The ones who rejected God were not pagans.  They were not Philistines.  They were the Israelites.  They were the people of God.  Many of them might have been saved people.

Can a Christian today reject what God wants to do in his or her life?  Yes.  It is something that an individual can do.  It is something a church can do.  It is something a nation can do.  It happens all the time.  Do we reject God in our life?  Do we reject Him in certain areas of our life?

The reason they wanted a king is because they wanted to be like the world.  They did not just want to be IN the world.  They wanted to be LIKE the world.  God intended the Jews to be DIFFERENT from the other nations.  Two times we are told that they wanted to be LIKE THE OTHER NATIONS (I Samuel 8:5, 20).

and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.”  (I Samuel 8:5 ESV)

But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (I Samuel 8:20 ESV)

They did NOT want to be different from everybody else.  They asked for a king so they could be LIKE the world.  Christians have the same problem today.  They do not want to be different from anybody.  Many Christians want to be like every other Christian.

Many churches want to just like every other church in the city.  Many Christians want to be just like the world.  They listen to the same music, dress the same way, use the same language, have the same views about sex, morality and politics that the world has.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2 ESV).

We are all tempted to be conformed to the world.  We want to be like the world.  We want to fit in like everyone else.  Are we conformed to this world or are we different from the world?  How do we avoid doing this?  We have to renew our minds.  Exposing us to God’s thoughts on a daily basis helps us not to think and act like the world.

4. Real leaders must go to God with their problems

How do you deal with a real crisis?  Samuel had a real crisis on his hands.  How did he deal with this crisis?  Notice what he does NOT do here.  He did NOT blow up and lose his temper.  He did NOT get angry and lash out at them like we might have done.  He did NOT argue with them and try to debate them.  He did NOT get bitter and sulk.  He did NOT go and talk to other people about it.  He talked to God about it.  He prayed.

They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; SO HE PRAYED TO THE LORD” (I Samuel 8:5-6 NIV).

He took the matter directly to God.  When Samuel was hurt, he went and poured out his heart to God in prayer.  He went straight to God in prayer, just like his mom did.

The people came to Samuel with their request, but he said in essence, “I am not going to give you an answer.  I need to go and pray.  When I get a word from the Lord, I will come back and talk to you.”[2]  That is what we see in this chapter.  The people talk to Samuel and Samuel talks to God.  He talks to the people again and he talks to God again.

How do you deal with disappointment?  Do you do the same thing when people say things to hurt you?  Do you do the same thing when people don’t appreciate you?  Do you do the same thing when you are disappointed or frustrated?  Life is full of disappointment.  Do you go to God or do you go to other people?  Do you lash out in anger and frustration?

5.  Real leaders do not look for simple solutions to problems

Leaders should not always look for a political solution to problems.  Some problems are spiritual, not political.  We look for political saviors today.  The Israelites, like many do today, thought their problem was political.  “If we just had a new government, if we just had a king, our problems would be solved.” Today we would say, “If we could just get a Democrat in the White House or just get a Republican in the White House.”

Just changing political forms, like going from a judge to a king, is not the answer.  It may solve some problems, but it creates others.  Samuel gives a warning against big government.  This doesn’t mean that Samuel was a Republican, but he does give an important warning here against a large centralized government that is still applicable today.

I Samuel 8 gives a biblical basis for the concept of limited government.  Government is good.  It is established by God.  Human government is a divine institution, but government can be abused.  Power corrupts.  That is why government must be limited.  That is one of the reasons we came up with the idea of a president, rather than a king, in our American political system.  Our whole government is based on a system of checks and balances.

Samuel went before God and told Him that the people wanted a king.  Samuel expected God would be against the idea.  He expected God to say “No.”  Instead, He said, “Yes”.  God said to “Listen to ALL that the people are saying to you” (I Samuel 8:7 NIV).  The ESV reads, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you.

God tells Samuel to give them what they want but then he adds this:  Now listen to them; BUT WARN THEM SOLEMNLY and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (I Samuel 8:9 NIV)

They got a king but that was only going to cause other problems.  Not every answered prayer is a blessing.  In some cases, it is a curse, when God gives us what we want.  Sometimes God gives us what we want in judgment.  Has this ever happened to us?  Have we ever asked for something and got it but it turned out to be a curse, not as blessing?  That is what happened here.

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will TAKE your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.

13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will TAKE the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will TAKE a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.

16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will TAKE for his own use. 17 He will TAKE a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” (I Samuel 8:10-18 NIV)

Samuel warned that, if you want a king, he will not be a giver but a taker.  We see the word TAKE five times in the passage (I Samuel 8:11, 13, 15, 16, 17).  He will not just take your fields.  He will take THE BEST of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.

He will start the draft for war.  God says, “You give a tenth to me in tithes.  Your king will also want a tenth in taxes.  He will TAKE a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. He will take a TENTH of your flocks.” 

Worst of all, he will make you all his slaves.  He will take a tenth of your flocks, AND YOU YOURSELVES WILL BECOME HIS SLAVES” (I Samuel 8:17 NIV).  Samuel warned that if they wanted a king, it would cost them.

Don’t expect government to solve all of your problems.  Many people look to government to do everything (education, health care, etc.).  Many today believe in big government.  Many think that big government is the answer to all of our problems.  Our faith should not be in our political leaders.  Our faith should be in God alone.

[1] Parker, Joseph. The People’s Bible. Kindle Edition.

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfwju0u0D-M

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