The Deuteronomistic editors bring the era of the Judges to a close with this speech that once again condemns the people’s demand for a king, even as it accedes to their request. They must still obey the Lord, as must the king.
This address marks Samuel’s last public appearance. It serves as both a summary of the past and a preview of the future. It displays several correspondences with chapter 8. The judge who anointed the first two kings of Israel begins with a statement that he has obeyed the will of the people in giving them a king, despite his convictions to the contrary, and challenges them to find fault with his tenure as their leader. The justification of his past service implicitly denies responsibility for the future excesses of the monarchy as well. Calling upon the Lord as a witness against the people is evidence of the seriousness with which Samuel takes the situation (vv. 1-5).
Following this somewhat self-serving harangue, Samuel broadens his critique to the history of the people (vv. 6-12). From the time of their deliverance in the exodus, Israel has experienced the cyclical pattern of deliverance (v. 8b), sin (v. 9a), defeat (v. 9b), repentance (v. 10), and deliverance (v. 11), familiar from the book of Judges (especially, Judges 2:11-19). But now, the people have grown unsatisfied with this past history of God’s gracious deliverance. Instead of crying out to the Lord, as in the past (vv. 8, 10), the people now cry out for a king, despite the fact that God was their king (v. 12).
Verse 13 is the core of Samuel’s address. Does his voice drip with sarcasm as he sneers, “Well, here’s the king you have chosen,” before he correctly states that “the LORD has set [literally, “given”] a king over you”? The reference to a king the people have “asked for” is a pun on the name of the king they got, The first king of Israel (“asked for/requested”).
Despite Israel’s rejection of God as king in their request for a king like the other nations, God continues to deal graciously with them as in the past. If both the king and the people fear and serve the Lord, all will go well; if such is not the case, even the king will not be able to prevent God’s judgment (vv. 14-15). The Deuteronomic principle of retributive justice is evident.
The address concludes with a dramatic demonstration. Rain during the wheat harvest (that is, early summer) is very rare, and very destructive. The demonstration serves to authenticate Samuel’s words and remind the people that God will continue to speak through the prophets (vv. 16-18).
Following the demonstration of Samuel’s power and authority, the people plead for intercession on their behalf (v. 19). His response, quite magnanimous in light of his earlier opposition, reminds them that though they now have a king, the same relational situation remains. They need to remain faithful and avoid other gods (vv. 20-22). Significantly, Samuel’s self-imposed agenda of intercession and instruction “in the good and the right way” becomes the model subsequent prophets will seek to emulate (v. 23).