The seemingly “inconsistent” views in 1 Samuel 8-12 concerning Israel’s monarchy

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Richard E. Averbeck’s Pentateuch and Historical Books course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

As mentioned in the previous paper, an apparent tension exists between 1 Samuel 8’s negative appraisal of the people’s request for a king and the Pentateuch’s anticipation and prediction of such a king. This tension has unsurprisingly led many critical scholars, not only to claim an inconsistency between 1 Samuel 8 and the Pentateuch (above paper), but also within the chapters of 1 Samuel itself. In other words, these critical scholars have suggested the existence of different underlying traditions represented in 1 Samuel. These divergent traditions are supposedly responsible for the “inconsistent” opinions about the monarchy in 1 Samuel. This short paper will seek to wade through various opinions about this matter and provide an initial response.

Various “inconsistencies” within 1 Samuel’s appraisal of the monarchy are levied as evidence for distinct traditions with differing assessments of the monarchy. For example, different locations are provided for king-installment ceremonies (compare Gilgal in 11:15 to Mizpah in 10:17). Note also the seeming inconsistency between Samuel appointing Saul king in 9:1-10:16 and yet selecting him to be king via casting lots in 10:17-27 (Baldwin, 82). One might also add Samuel’s own mixed response (compare 8:6 with 10:24) as well as God’s motives (compare 8:7-9 with 9:15-16). Adding further difficulty is the fact that God apparently selected Saul (9:15-16). In other words, if God had planned the monarchy from the nation’s birth at Sinai, why did he not appoint a competent and godly king upon the people’s request, despite whether or not their own motives were pure? His choice of an ungodly and eventually unsuccessful King, Saul, calls into question the sincerity of God’s counter-reasoning—essentially, “He will be a bad king” (8:10-18)—against the people’s request. Baldwin suggests that the final editor allows each tradition to speak with its full voice, neither suppressing either tradition nor demonstrating a significant concern for harmonization as many modern Christians exhibit. Baldwin suggests this editor is concerned with providing a multitude of equally important complexity of perspectives that can address different situations and emphases (82-83). Howard, on the other hand, acknowledges that no problem confronts the evangelical by theoretically entertaining the possibility of multiple sources (cf. the self-attestation of scripture in this regard, e.g., 2 Sam 1:18; 1 Chron 29:29). Nonetheless, Howard concludes that such dichotomized source theories (i.e., absolute anti-monarchy v. absolute pro-monarchy) are rather blown out of proportion beyond what the actual data can justify (144).

In conclusion, it should be noted that a lack of uniformity does not mean a lack of consistency. Just because various portions of the narrative may derive from different sources, and just because they may create tensions within the narrative, does not necessitate the inclusion of inconsistencies and contradictions. Resolving every one of these tensions is beyond the scope of this paper; but as an example, one may note the above paper. In sum, the complexity of the narrative is likely purposeful in providing a variety of perspectives. However, one should not assume that any existence of such complexity requires inconsistency. In fact, one might rightly argue that the critical approach to biblical literature in this incident is far more complex and unnatural than the more straightforward approach of evangelical scholarship, despite its concession of tensions.