Missouri's 7th District, U.S. House of Representatives




Liberty Under God
1 Samuel 8

Congress should
  • remember the lessons in the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 8
  • the desire for a government "like all the nations" is a rejection of God.

Thomas Paine includes a discussion of 1 Samuel 8 in his book Common Sense. The title page is followed by some excerpts.

Addressed to the Inhabitants of America, on the Following Interesting Subjects:

I. Of the Origin and Design of Government in General, with Concise Remarks on the English Constitution.
II. Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession.
III. Thoughts on the Present State of American Affairs.
IV. Of the Present Ability of America, with Some Miscellaneous Reflections.

By Thomas Paine

Philadelphia: Printed and sold by W. and T. Bradford, 1776.

Of Monarchy and Hereditary Succession

About one hundred and thirty years after this, they fell again into the same error. The hankering which the Jews had for the idolatrous customs of the Heathens, is something exceedingly unaccountable; but so it was, that laying hold of the misconduct of Samuel's two sons, who were entrusted with some secular concerns, they came in an abrupt and clamorous manner to Samuel, saying, BEHOLD THOU ART OLD, AND THY SONS WALK NOT IN THY WAYS, NOW MAKE US A KING TO JUDGE US, LIKE ALL OTHER NATIONS. And here we cannot but observe that their motives were bad, viz. that they might be LIKE unto other nations, i.e. the Heathens, whereas their true glory laid in being as much UNLIKE them as possible. BUT THE THING DISPLEASED SAMUEL WHEN THEY SAID, GIVE US A KING TO JUDGE US; AND SAMUEL PRAYED UNTO THE LORD, 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 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. NOW THEREFORE HEARKEN UNTO THEIR VOICE, HOWBEIT, PROTEST SOLEMNLY UNTO THEM AND SHEW THEM THE MANNER OF THE KING THAT SHALL REIGN OVER THEM, I.E. not of any particular king, but the general manner of the kings of the earth, whom Israel was so eagerly copying after. And notwithstanding the great distance of time and difference of manners, the character is still in fashion. AND SAMUEL TOLD ALL THE WORDS OF THE LORD UNTO THE PEOPLE, THAT ASKED OF HIM A KING. AND HE SAID, THIS SHALL BE THE MANNER OF THE KING THAT SHALL REIGN OVER YOU; HE WILL TAKE YOUR SONS AND APPOINT THEM FOR HIMSELF, FOR HIS CHARIOTS, AND TO BE HIS HORSEMAN, AND SOME SHALL RUN BEFORE HIS CHARIOTS (this description agrees with the present mode of impressing men) AND HE WILL APPOINT HIM CAPTAINS OVER THOUSANDS AND CAPTAINS OVER FIFTIES, AND WILL SET THEM TO EAR HIS GROUND AND REAP HIS HARVEST, AND TO MAKE HIS INSTRUMENTS OF WAR, AND INSTRUMENTS OF HIS CHARIOTS; AND HE WILL TAKE YOUR DAUGHTERS TO BE CONFECTIONARIES, AND TO BE COOKS AND TO BE BAKERS (this describes the expense and luxury as well as the oppression of kings) AND HE WILL TAKE YOUR FIELDS AND YOUR OLIVE YARDS, EVEN THE BEST OF THEM, AND GIVE THEM TO HIS SERVANTS; AND HE WILL TAKE THE TENTH OF YOUR SEED, AND OF YOUR VINEYARDS, AND GIVE THEM TO HIS OFFICERS AND TO HIS SERVANTS (by which we see that bribery, corruption, and favouritism are the standing vices of kings) AND HE WILL TAKE THE TENTH OF YOUR MEN SERVANTS, AND YOUR MAID SERVANTS, AND YOUR GOODLIEST YOUNG MEN AND YOUR ASSES, AND PUT THEM TO HIS WORK; AND HE WILL TAKE THE TENTH OF YOUR SHEEP, AND YE SHALL BE HIS SERVANTS, AND YE SHALL CRY OUT IN THAT DAY BECAUSE OF YOUR KING WHICH YE SHALL HAVE CHOSEN, AND THE LORD WILL NOT HEAR YOU IN THAT DAY. This accounts for the continuation of monarchy; neither do the characters of the few good kings which have lived since, either sanctify the title, or blot out the sinfulness of the origin; the high encomium given of David takes no notice of him OFFICIALLY AS A KING, but only as a MAN after God's own heart. NEVERTHELESS THE PEOPLE REFUSED TO OBEY THE VOICE OF SAMUEL, AND THEY SAID, NAY, BUT WE WILL HAVE A KING OVER US, THAT WE MAY BE LIKE ALL THE NATIONS, AND THAT OUR KING MAY JUDGE US, AND GO OUT BEFORE US, AND FIGHT OUR BATTLES. Samuel continued to reason with them, but to no purpose; he set before them their ingratitude, but all would not avail; and seeing them fully bent on their folly, he cried out, I WILL CALL UNTO THE LORD, AND HE SHALL SEND THUNDER AND RAIN (which then was a punishment, being in the time of wheat harvest) THAT YE MAY PERCEIVE AND SEE THAT YOUR WICKEDNESS IS GREAT WHICH YE HAVE DONE IN THE SIGHT OF THE LORD, AND THE LORD SENT THUNDER AND RAIN THAT DAY, AND ALL THE PEOPLE GREATLY FEARED THE LORD AND SAMUEL. AND ALL THE PEOPLE SAID UNTO SAMUEL, PRAY FOR THY SERVANTS UNTO THE LORD THY GOD THAT WE DIE NOT, FOR WE HAVE ADDED UNTO OUR SINS THIS EVIL, TO ASK A KING. These portions of scripture are direct and positive. They admit of no equivocal construction. That the Almighty hath here entered his protest against monarchical government, is true, or the scripture is false. And a man hath good reason to believe that there is as much of kingcraft, as priestcraft, in withholding the scripture from the public in Popish countries. For monarchy in every instance is the Popery of government.


The two first pages, (and the whole doth not make four) we give you credit for, and expect the same civility from you, because the love and desire of peace is not confined to Quakerism, it is the natural, as well the religious wish of all denominations of men. And on this ground, as men labouring to establish an Independant Constitution of our own, do we exceed all others in our hope, end, and aim. OUR PLAN IS PEACE FOR EVER. We are tired of contention with Britain, and can see no real end to it but in a final separation. We act consistently, because for the sake of introducing an endless and uninterrupted peace, do we bear the evils and burthens of the present day. We are endeavoring, and will steadily continue to endeavour, to separate and dissolve a connexion which hath already filled our land with blood; and which, while the name of it remains, will he the fatal cause of future mischiefs to both countries.

We fight neither for revenge nor conquest; neither from pride nor passion; we are not insulting the world with our fleets and armies, nor ravaging the globe for plunder. Beneath the shade of our own vines are we attacked; in our own houses, and on our own lands, is the violence committed against us. We view our enemies in the character of Highwaymen and Housebreakers, and having no defence for ourselves in the civil law, are obliged to punish them by the military one, and apply the sword, in the very case, where you have before now, applied the halter—Perhaps we feel for the ruined and insulted sufferers in all and every part of the continent, with a degree of tenderness which hath not yet made its way into some of your bosoms. But be ye sure that ye mistake not the cause and ground of your Testimony. Call not coldness of soul, religion; nor put the BIGOT in the place of the CHRISTIAN.

David Boaz opens his Libertarian Reader with 1 Samuel 8


The Bible

The most important book in the development of Western civilization was the Bible, which of course just means "the Book" in Greek. Until recent times it was the touchstone for almost all debate on morality and government. One of its most resonant passages for the study of government was the story of God's warning to the people of Israel when they wanted a king to rule them. Until then, as Judges 21:25 reports, "there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes," and there were judges to settle disputes. But in I Samuel, the Jews asked for a king, and God told Samuel what it would be like to have a king. This story reminded Europeans for centuries that the state was not divinely inspired. Thomas Paine, Lord Acton, and other liberals cited it frequently.

David Boaz, The Libertarian Reader, NY: The Free Press, 1997, p. 3.

2. The Implications of I Samuel 8

This is Appendix 2 in
Rushdoony's must-read treatise,
Institutes of Biblical Law

I Samuel 8 has been a popular chapter since Western civilization rejected monarchy as a form of government, and it has been used as evidence of an anti-monarchistic perspective in the Bible. Dissenters from this opinion search the Scriptures for a pro-monarchistic viewpoint, or see evidence of both opinions.

But is the main point of this chapter the monarchy? Is it not rather the rejection of God’s government for man’s government? The Lord said to Samuel, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (I Sam. 8:7). Thus, very clearly, God saw Israel’s decision as primarily and essentially a rejection of His government. Moreover, the rejection was essentially religious, and it was a rejection whatever the form of the civil government Israel might choose. “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 have served other gods, so do they also unto thee” (I Sam. 8:8). Clearly, whether Israel chose a monarchy, a republic, democracy, dictatorship, or any other form of civil government, it was an abandonment of God. In choosing a king, they were doing openly what they had repeatedly done in the period of the Judges. A godly king could restore God’s government, as David and others did, but the essential purpose of the nation’s demand for a king was to be ruled like other nations (I Sam. 8:5, 20). The complaint against Samuel’s sons was not a demand for reform (vss. 1-5); the corruption of Samuel’s sons was an excuse for their demand for a centralized government and a professional warrior-ruler and his armed men (vs. 20). It was a surrender of God’s law-order for a humanistic law-order.

At God’s command, Samuel reviewed the implications of the new order (vss. 11-17). The key to this review is first the new form of taxation, which will be a taxation taking sons and daughters by conscription, fields, produce, livestock, and servants. Second, the tithe is cited and they are told that the taxation of their new order will be a ruthless tithe of capital as well as income.

Here we have the heart of the difference between the two orders. God’s government exacted only the head or poll tax for civil govern­ment (Ex. 30:11-16), and fines perhaps; the rest of the government functions were provided for by the tithe, thereby insuring a decentralized society, as well as one governed both by godly principles and by God’s tax.

Unless we see this chapter as the formal rejection of God’s law-order for another law-order, we miss the meaning of this central and revolutionary event. The people clearly rejected God’s government (vss. 19-20), in the face of God’s clear warning that He would reject them (vs. 18). While they attempted to maintain a formal allegiance to God, in reality they had rejected Him. It was possible for them to have a king and retain God’s law, as Samuel made clear (I Sam. 12: 14-15); the key was to rebel not “against the commandment of the LORD,” i.e., to retain the law of God as the law of the social order.

The captivity came, Jeremiah declared, because the nation had abandoned God’s law, and seventy years of captivity were decreed to give the land the sabbaths denied it (Jer. 25:9, 10; 29:10). Ball wrote of the like declaration of II Chronicles 36:21,

We have no right whatever to press the words of the sacred writer, in the sense of assuming that he means to say that when Jerusalem was taken by the Chaldeans exactly seventy sabbatical years had been neglected—that is, that the law in this respect had not been observed for 490 years (70 X 7), or ever since the institution of monarchy in Israel (490 + 588= 1,07s).[1]

Ball to the contrary, we have no right to deny that this is exactly what Jeremiah and the Chronicler are telling us, when they plainly say so. Thus, we are told that, with the monarchy, the sabbaths of the land were abandoned.   The implication of I Samuel 8 is that the tithe was also being abandoned, because they were warned that the state tax would constitute another tithe, and a far more extensive one.

Clearly then, while Israel intended to be “moral,” i.e., to decry adultery, murder, and theft, it intended also to abandon God’s law as the absolute and governing rule for man and society. The Chronicler tells us of the price they paid for it.

[1] C. J. Ball, “II Chronicles,” in Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), III, 453.

1 Samuel 8 and Family Values

God created human beings in families. Not content with serving in a family, rebels created "The State." Probably the most important passage in establishing God's preference for a Patriarchal (family-centered) social order rather than political institutions is I Samuel 8.

Up to this point, no command has come from God to abandon the family-based system of cultural coordination and prosperity which functioned with surprising success under Abraham, and to construct a polis-based system which we might call "the State."

These political systems have, up to this point, characterized the pagan nations around Israel, nations which originated in rebellion against Godly Families. Israel has been only lukewarmly committed to the Patriarchal system ordained by God in the Garden of Eden.

It is in I Samuel 8 that we find the origin of the State in Israel proper. It is inescapable in its declaration that political systems are a rejection of a family-centered order, and hence of God Himself.

Let us consider the passage verse-by-verse.

1. And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel. 3. And his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment.

It is plain that these judges were not being Godly elders (Ex. 18, Deut. 1). By that very fact, we conclude they were lousy Patriarchs.

4. Then all the leaders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Rasmah, 5. and said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.

This is a paradigm for the rise of the Empire-State: failing families. When families fail to lead by obedience to God's Law in every area of life, those broken families and nomadic individuals (who have already given up trying to keep the covenant) agitate for political systems and institutions. Only when Patriarchs are backslidden do States arise. This is true throughout history. It is true in our day. A strong centralized State arises only when families are not executing God's judgments, not keeping the Way of the LORD, not doing justice and judgment (cf. Genesis 18:19). If Families will simply do all that the LORD commands, there is absolutely no need for political institutions of any kind.

But the paradigm extends beyond families who are simply weak and ineffectual. The families are weak because they are envious. They envy the nations not just for the wealth which they (allegedly) have (grass always being greener across the border), but for their political and military power. It is impossible to read the Prophets and the books of Kings and Chronicles without seeing this dynamic. Treaties, covenants, and other charters of "détente" are continually being sought by Israel. Israel bows down before one enemy to gain protection from another. It is militaristic lust. It is a violation of God's clear promises to a Patriarchal society.

6. But the thing was evil in the eyes of Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD.

Was Samuel justified in being displeased in this movement toward political kingship? Of course he was. There is simply no escaping it. Israel had the command-promise not to be reckoned among the nations (Numbers 23:9; Exodus 33:16). Over and over again, God repeats commands to separate Godly Families from unGodly ones who have rejected God's Law order and have formed autonomous political orders of their own (Dueteronomy 7). The legal system of the Patriarchs (Genesis 26:5) was superior to those of the apostate nations (Deuteronomy 4:8). Samuel saw in the elders' request for kingship the error of Cain (Jude 11; Genesis 4:16-17) and the rebel Nimrod (Genesis 10:10).

Lest our agreement with Samuel's judgment seem based only on our finite and fallible understanding of Scripture, the LORD Himself agrees with Samuel:

7. 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.

As Hosea put it,

They have transgressed the Covenant, and trespassed against my Law. They have set up kings, but not by Me: they have made princes, and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they make them idols, that they may be cut off. I have written to him the great things of My Law, but they were counted as a strange thing. For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth palaces, and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities. (Hosea 8:1, 4,12,14)

The LORD is giving Israel a king in His anger (Hosea 13:11). The voice of the people is truly the voice of God: when a people ask for a slave-State, God grants them their wish as an act of judgment against them!

As Samuel would later declare,

Ye have this day rejected your God, Who Himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and ye have said unto Him, Nay but set a king over us. (I Sam. 10:19)

He gives us the details and underlying psychology of this faithless people:

The LORD delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and ye dwelled safe. But when ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, ye said, Nay; but a king shall reign over us; when the LORD your God was your king. Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen and whom ye have desired! and behold, the LORD hath set a king over you. Your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking you a king. So Samuel called unto the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day . . . . (I Samuel 12:11-13, 17-18)

The people were convicted by Samuel's words,

. . . and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the LORD thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king. (12:19)

"Inauguration Day," which in America is a time of great celebration and happiness, should be, as it was here, a day of national mourning and repentance. Every time Americans go to the polls and delegate their responsibility to obey God's Law to pagan politicians, they should be shame-faced and fearful.

Let us not think that this sad development was unforeseen by God. No, it was part of His plan to guide all of history to the Cross. The king would be part of God's grace in keeping a slavish people from social disintegration, and in his better moments would paint a picture of what the Coming King would accomplish. But needless to say, these moments were few and far between, and the fact that society did not crumble entirely, even when the evil kings worked to that end, does not justify the Israelites' rejection of God. God had spoken of this tragic act of faithlessness back in Deuteronomy 17:14ff. That passage explicitly prophesies the Israelites' demand for a king, and tells the king, even before he is chosen, that he must not develop great political/military power, but should instead guide the people to become obedient to God's Law, which would thus re-establish a Patriarchal society.

At the time the people clamor for a king, Samuel warns them that he will violate the commands in Deut. 17. The people do not listen. Samuel tells them (8:18) that because they have chosen a king (cf. LXX) God will not answer their cry when they complain of confiscatory taxation, conscription, harassing IRS men, and a declining standard of living. But this did not stop Israel, nor does it stop America. Think of all the "advantages" an expanded State will bring! Thus, although Samuel nowhere explicitly says "Thou shalt not have a king" or "Having a State is wrong," his message was clear, and the Scripture says the people did not "obey the voice of Samuel" (8:19).

In future essays we shall compare the curses and threatened burdens associated with the king requested by the people (8:9-17), and the irresponsibility and sin of desiring political "representatives" to fight our battles for us (8:20). For now, let us simply note that prior to this time, no identifiable "State" existed in Israel. The standard is still Patriarchal order.

I Samuel 8 is critical in understanding God's condemnation of political organization.

next: Campaign Finance, Corruption and the Oath of Office