1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. 3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. 4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah 5 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.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. 9 Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
(1 Samuel 8:1-9)
Yesterday we read how Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah, had accepted bribes and perverted justice. This was obviously not a momentary lapse in judgement – it was an ongoing practice as evidenced by today’s passage in which all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel about his sons. For their behavior to be noticed by the entire country it must have gone on for some time.
Samuel was an upright man who did his best to obey God and the elders knew this. They didn’t have any problem with Samuel’s leadership skills. But they could easily see that Samuel’s sons do not walk in his ways. Samuel was good. His sons were not.
Notice that the elders came to Samuel. They didn’t summon him to meet with them – a request that could be ignored. The elders were proactive. They took the initiative to address a problem the nation was facing. The elders correctly realized that Israel could not succeed if its leadership was corrupt and, as we’ll see tomorrow, they want action taken to correct the situation.
The concept of elders has existed as far back as the Exodus [Exodus 3:16] and continued right up and through the times of the judges [Judges 2:17] and the diaspora [Ezra 5:5]. They had various duties including enforcing laws and acting as witnesses [Deuteronomy 21:18-20; Ruth 4:1-6].
The role of elders in the New Testament church (the time in which we currently live) is clearly defined in the Bible. They are the ones actually in charge of the church, not the pastor [1 Timothy 5:17]. They are to visit and pray over the sick [James 5:14] and to decide on doctrinal questions [Acts 15:4-6].
Church elders are also to shepherd the congregation and protect them from false teachers [Acts 20:17, 18-31; 1 Peter 5:1-2]. They were responsible for addressing sin among the spiritual leaders. And we see in this passage that the elders took their responsibilities very seriously.
Approaching Samuel was the right thing for the elders to do. There were problems with Israel’s leaders so they went to the man who was the leader of the entire nation (not to mention the father of those in question). It would have been irresponsible for the elders to ignore the sins of Joel and Abijah.
Unfortunately, our leaders today in business and government don’t have the same sense of responsibility. While they are secular organizations, their basic function is the same as church elders: to oversee the operations of their respective organizations and ensure they have the proper leadership to succeed. But, sadly, these leaders are often corrupt themselves or are more interested in their popularity or making money than they are with the lives of the people affected by corruption.
For leaders to lead effectively they must live lives that are free from intentional and habitual sin. Any leader who is involved in sinful and/or illegal behavior must be removed. It is the job of other leaders (e.g. boards of directors, federal and state legislatures) to ensure this happens.
Comments? Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to contact me about this post.