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There seems to be a difference in attitude towards the monarchy in 1 Samuel and the earlier books of the Old Testament. This can seen in the Book of Deutoronomy and Judges.

The final book of the Pentateuch explains the monarchy in this way:

When you enter the land that the Lord, your God, has given you and you take possession of it and dwell there and you say, “I will set a king over me like all the other nations that surround me,” you can indeed have a king whom the Lord, your God, will choose. [...] He and his descendants will thus reign a long time in the kingdom of Israel. (Deutoronomy 17:14-15,20)

The removed part explains what is the divine model in regards to a "proper" king. It's quite explicit that Kings are the will of God for Israel, should they acclaim one.

The Book of Judges is even more explicit about its support for the coming monarch:

In those days Israel had no king, and everyone did what in his own opinion he thought to be right. (Judges 17:6 & 21:25)

Not only is the book reflecting on a time without kings, but it's looking into the formation of the monarchy as a form of deliverance from the Chaos that litters the book of Judges.

However, the prophet Samuel expounds this when that much awaited moment arrives:

[Samuel] said to the Israelites, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought Israel up from Egypt and delivered them out of the hands of the Egyptians and all of the nations that oppressed you.’ But today you have rejected your God who himself delivers you from all of your adversities and difficulties. You have said to him, ‘Appoint a king over us.’ (1 Sam 10:18-19)

How can this be true? The book of Samuel is disregarding the book of Deuteronomy and the Narrative present in Judges in regards to the monarchy! It shows a difference in the meta-narrative, the creation of Israel, and the local narrative, God seems against this centralisation.

How do you personally merge this meta-narrative and the text itself? I personally am torn between two options:

  1. Blaming the piety of those wishing for the monarchy as syncretist rather than hearers of the law.
  2. This is a conflict between a Josiah era narrative which was pro monarchy and an earlier narrative which wished for the preservation of the more decentralised model of government--being skeptical of the formation of a unified kingdom. This assumes a unified monarchy was a real thing, so it might not be accepted in modern scholarship.
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    Welcome to the site Imperator; when asking about particular verses of scriptures, to get a hermeneutic answer, the main text in question (at the very least) needs to be quoted in full. You have referred to 3 sections, and quoting the other two would not go amiss, or at least summing up their main points. This site looks for evidence that the OP has done some research first, before presenting a perceived problem. Can you add a bit more by way of quotes?
    – Anne
    Jul 20, 2023 at 15:15
  • Was the above a good rewriting of the question? Jul 21, 2023 at 8:40
  • Oh, yes! That's showing how you see the 3 texts in relation to the question. And you now have some interesting answers.
    – Anne
    Jul 21, 2023 at 16:30

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Deuteronomy 17:14-20 is a perfect proof of the Lord's omniscience, where the Lord set out the instruction when the Israelites asked for a king. Samuel should have learned about it.

It needs to clarify that 1 Samuel 10:19 did not imply the Lord was condescended. It was the words of Samuel, his emotion, not the Lord (The Lord's words was 1 Samuel 10:18). We need to review the dialogue between Samuel and the Lord to make this clear.

6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord.

7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.

8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.

9 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.” (1 Samuel 8:6-9 NIV)

It can be seen the Lord was calm in this matter for He already predicted it would happen. Instead He spoke kindly to Samuel to ease his feeling.

Is the monarchy part of God's plan?

It is not a plan, when you know something will naturally happen.


In response to the new edit by the OP, here is my additional answer.

Israel always has God as their king, but God knew the Israelites would reject Him and asked for another king. Therefore God had made his word several hundred years in advance found in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. The evidence is the dialogue in 1 Samuel 8:7. Samuel did not get it wrong. He was displeased for he found himself failed to lead the Israelites to acknowledge God as their king.

7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. (1 Samuel 8:7 NIV)

Judges 17:6 & 21:25 'In those days Israel had no king, and everyone did what in his own opinion he thought to be right.' is not a solid evidence to justify the claim by the OP, that

  • it explicit support a monarch
  • the monarch would deliver the Israelites from the Chaos

The conflict in this argument is, if the Lord thought a monarch could solve a problem that He didn't, then He was no longer almighty. There are two major problems in the statement, that disclosed the disobedience of the Israelites;

  1. The author wrote 'Israel had no king', meaning they forgot or intentional reject the Lord as their king.
  2. The author wrote 'everyone did what in his own opinion he thought to be right', suggesting that they did not obey the Mosaic law.

The Israelites might think an earthly king would unit them forming a mighty army against their enemies, they failed to recognize what Samuel told them

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.” (1 Sanuel 8:11-18 NIV)

Not just a bad king will oppress his people, a good king can do the same.

3 So they sent for Jeroboam, and he and the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him:

4 “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

The father of Rehoboam was Solomon. His wealth, aggressive building projects as well as his military might were at the cost of people, that eventually led to the divided kingdoms.

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    While this reading is consistent with the text, I fear it undermines the authority of Moses and the author of Judges' reflection on the history of Israel. Moses is clearly allowing for future kings who are good and pious, so an antimonarchy reading seems anacranistic. The author Judges seems to be recording past events from either an oral tradition or in the coming generation, so it is unwarranted to reject the clear allusion to the future monarchy . I would also assert both books are refferering to the united monarchy and Josiah, the time historians place the Torah's codification. Jul 21, 2023 at 8:38
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    The words of God in Deuteronomy is neither pro-monarchy nor anti-monarchy. God foresaw it an inevitable outcome and therefore He put his words in advance to govern the qualification of a human king, who sat on His throne to lead His people. A good and pious king for sure will bring prosperity to the nation, but even David made mistakes and got himself and his people punished. It might be worth noting that the sin of humankind will never make one perfect and therefore whether there is a good king or a bad one is not the focus in Bible, the salvation from Jesus is. Jul 21, 2023 at 13:45
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Let's begin by juxtaposing two of these texts:

14 When you have come into the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, should you then decide, “I will set a king over me, like all the surrounding nations,” 15 you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord, your God, will choose... 18 When he is sitting upon his royal throne, he shall write a copy of this law upon a scroll from the one that is in the custody of the levitical priests. 19 It shall remain with him and he shall read it as long as he lives, so that he may learn to fear the Lord, his God, and to observe carefully all the words of this law and these statutes (Dt 17)

“Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: It was I who brought Israel up from Egypt and delivered you from the power of the Egyptians and from the power of all the kingdoms that oppressed you. 19 But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your evils and calamities, by saying, ‘No! You must appoint a king over us.’ (1 Sam. 10)

The OP is quite right to notice a different attitudes toward the kingship in these two texts. There are basically two ways to "merge the meta-narrative" with these texts. One is to show that 1 Sam. represents a specific case in which the people were imposing their own will against that of God, while Dt. represents God's general attitude in which the people are allowed to have a king who follows God's law. The second is with reference to source criticism, in which 1 Sam. has preserved an anti-monarchical strain of the literature while Dt. presents the more mature view, in which the monarchy is approved by God.

General vs. Specific

This way of dealing with the text harmonizes them by affirming that Deuteronomy shows that God approves the monarchy generally, but emphasizes that the king must follow God's law. God knew that Saul would not do this, and He also knew that the people's attitude was wrong. They wanted a king so they could be like other people. (1 Sam. 8:5) They wanted they could be strong, not to be a more godly nation. So God moved Samuel to express disapproval of their attitude. In this scenario, the Book of Judges represents God's preparation for the Israelites to receive the monarchy. The judges were men and women of God but they did not succeed in uniting the nation under God's rule.

Two Sources

This way of dealing with the text accepts the idea that there are two different authors at work. The source of 1. Sam. 10 is suspicious of monarchy, probably written at a time when the kings were not doing God's will. In this theory Deut. was written during the time of King Josiah, when the king was in tune with the priesthood, so the author presents God's hope for the kingship, which Josiah embodied. (See. 2 Kings 22-23 for the basis of this belief.) Regarding the Book of Judges, the source-critical approach affirms that this book expresses a pro-monarchical viewpoint, in which the judges never succeed in fully uniting Israel under God's rule but each man does as he pleases.

The notion of various sources with different viewpoints need not contradict the idea the God inspired each author in their own way, thus presenting a comprehensive meta-narrative which encompasses various human perspectives as well an an overarching divine perspective.

Summary: The two texts are harmonized either by showing 1 Samuel to be a negative example, an exception to the hope expressed in Deuteronomy; or else by affirming that the attitudes represent two inspired sources, one more optimistic and the other more pessimistic, toward the monarchy.

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Your question highlights a fundamental characteristic of the Bible: it is not a monolithic text, but a collection of diverse documents, written by different authors in different times and places, with different theological perspectives and political agendas. The apparent contradictions and inconsistencies between these texts are not anomalies to be explained away, but rather clues to the complex and multifaceted nature of this collection of writings.

In the case of the monarchy in ancient Israel, the different attitudes reflected in Deuteronomy, Judges, and 1 Samuel can be seen as representing different stages in the development of Israelite society and religion. Deuteronomy and Judges, with their more favorable view of monarchy, likely reflect a later stage, when the monarchy was established and the centralization of political and religious authority was a fait accompli.

1 Samuel, on the other hand, seems to reflect an earlier stage, when the shift from a decentralized tribal society to a centralized monarchy was still in progress and not universally accepted. Samuel's critique of the monarchy can be seen as representing the viewpoint of those who were skeptical of this centralization of power.

As for how to reconcile these different perspectives, I would argue that we shouldn't necessarily try to 'reconcile' them in the sense of making them fit into a single, coherent narrative. Rather, we should recognize that they represent different voices within the ancient Israelite community, each with its own perspective on the social and political changes of their time.

In terms of your suggested explanations, both may hold some truth. The desire for a king may have been motivated in part by syncretism and a desire to emulate other nations, and there may also have been a conflict between different factions within Israelite society over the centralization of power. As always, it's important to approach these texts with a critical eye and an awareness of their historical and cultural context.

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