Joel and Abijah, the two sons of Samuel, are partly responsible for one of the most dramatic discontinuities in the history of ancient Israel, the rejection by Israel of the decentralized system of judges (of whom the last was their father Samuel) and the establishment of an increasingly centralized (and ultimately corrupt) system of one-man rule in the monarchy. This shift drastically changed the lives of ancient Israelites, as it forced them to deal with an exploitative and “strong” leadership that demanded higher rates of taxation and greater threats to their freedom than was the case under the nearly anarchial time of the judges where God was recognized (at least in theory) as king over Israel.
Joel and Abijah: Corrupt Judges
Most of what we know about Joel and Abijah comes from 1 Samuel 8:1-4, which says: “Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
Having already examined this passage previously , I will try not to repeat myself in examining it here as it relates specifically to Joel and Abijah. Nonetheless, let us note that while Samuel judged over Israel in the area of Ramah, which was later known as Arimithea (see John 19:38) and is now known as Ramallah, capital of the West Bank , Samuel’s sons were in Beersheba, in the southern areas of Judah. Whether this was done by Samuel to expand the range of judgment beyond his usual circuit or whether Samuel’s sons served far from their father’s eye because they knew he would disapprove of their activities, the lack of effective supervision on their “judging” led their corrupt natures to be obvious.
The corruption of Joel and Abijah consisted largely of three related problems: they turned aside after dishonest gain, they took bribes, and they perverted justice. Instead of having the heart of service like their father, Joel and Abijah were hirelings. They were concerned about their own lifestyle and gain and viewed the ministry as a job (and a very profitable one at that) and not as a calling to serve the people of God. Their judgment was based on self-interest and not the impartial biblical standard, and so they stand as representative of those who are placed into positions of authority because they come from “good” families but show themselves to be corrupt and more concerned with supporting their party rather than serving God’s people. In judging Joel and Abijah, let us not forget that there are many like them who “serve” in the ministry today in various religious organization, and the fruits are the same now as they were then.
Joel and Abijah: The Rest of the Story
Of Joel more is known than what is stated in 1 Samuel 8, but not much more. 1 Chronicles 6:33-38, in giving the genealogy of Heman the Ezrahite , shows that Joel was his father, and Samuel his grandfather, and Elkanah  his great-grandfather. The only other indications provided about Joel in the Bible are the vague hints from Heman that his childhood was unhappy. Psalm 88:15 says: “I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth.” Whether this affliction came simply from growing up as a godly young man in an ungodly household or referred to something more personal and burdensome in his childhood, Heman clearly had an unhappy childhood as a result of the sins of his father. Ungodly and corrupt judges set poor examples as fathers for their children. About Abijah nothing else is known in the scriptures.
The negative example of Joel and Abijah is proof, if any were needed, that godly parents do not automatically raise godly offspring, even if they set an example of faithfulness to the level of a Samuel. This sad fact is evidence why “dynastic” considerations for training and raising up ministers and leaders is itself unwise, as righteousness is not passed down genetically from father to son. In the four generations from Elkanah to Heman, three of the generations were godly, and Joel and Abijah were not. For their corruption and selfish love of profiting from their self-seeking religious “service,” that odious practice so reprehensible to God and so common in our times, they were judged by God as unworthy of being judges and their corruption led to the occasion for Israel desiring a human king for their own selfish and near-sighted reasons. The story of Joel and Abijah stands as a warning so that other second-generation leaders do not follow in their corrupt example but rather emulate the serving heart of their fathers and not assume that power and authority are theirs by birthright.