Answers to Quora Questions by Yair Davidiy
The Question was,
Why was Samuel against the institution of a monarchy in Israel?
When the Israelites were about to enter the land after coming out of Egypt and wandering through the Wilderness they were commanded to, somewhere along the line, appoint a monarch.
14 When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,’ 15 you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman.
Before they came into the westerns section of the Promised Land Moses died and was succeeded by Joshua. According to Maimonides, Joshua had the status of a king. After Joshua the people were ruled by a series of Judges and prophets and public assemblies, etc. Then came Samuel who was both a Judge and a prophet. In the time of Samuel the people requested a king. Samuel was upset because of this. His disquiet was approved by God.
1-Samuel (NASB) 8:
4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah; 5 and they said to him, ‘Behold, you have grown old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the nations.’ 6 But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed to the LORD. 7 The LORD said to Samuel, ‘Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.’
It may be asked, How had the people offended? The option of appointing a king is mentioned in the Torah and is considered a commandment. The Sages (Talmud, Sanhedrin 21) commented that the elders of the people made the request for valid reasons. The younger members however had wished for a leader who would institute an idolatrous regime among them. This may be hinted at in the reply quoted above of the Almighty to Samuel,
"they have rejected Me from being king over them" (1-Samuel 4:7).
At all events, Saul son of Kish from the Tribe of Benjamin, became king. The real king of Israel was meant to be David who was still young at the time and came later. David was from the Tribe of Judah. If Saul had have been righteous he and his offspring would have been allowed to continue to reign alongside David. This was not to be however and the House of David replaced the House of Saul. The very name "Saul" connotes in Hebrew "borrowed, on loan." Saul had been intended from the beginning as a temporary monarch.
Does this mean that there was something wrong with the institution of monarchy per se?
The Commentator Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508) says it does.
Other Commentaries say it does not.
The opinion of the Abarbanel however is especially interesting since in his lifetime he had served as a senior adviser to several monarchs and one republic.
Abarbanel had been treasurer to King Alfonso-V of Portugal. He was forced to flee to Castile (Spain). He then became a financial counselor to Queen Isabella, but left Spain when the Jews were expelled in 1492. He went to Naples (Italy) were he advised the king until French invaders forced him to move on. He went to other Italian city-states (Messina, Corfu, Monopoli) until reaching Venice where he became an adviser to the Republic. He died in Venice. All this while he had been writing an important and copious commentary to all Books of the Bible as well as various works on religious philosophy. Abarbanel mentions a few times in his Biblical Commentary that his family (along with the Dayan family and others in Spain at that time) were descended from King David.