Thursday, March 31, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 31, Samuel Addresses The Assembly And Formally Hands Over The Nation's Leadership, Part Two

The people have gathered at Gilgal after winning a great victory against the Ammonites under the leadership of King Saul. They are giving thanks to the Lord and reconfirming Saul as their king. Samuel stands up and formally hands over the reins of leadership, which he has carried for many years as judge, with all the people as witnesses. He doesn't want there to be any mistake that Saul is Israel's legitimate king and is now in charge of the government.

We closed yesterday's study with Samuel reminding the people that their demand for a king was a rejection of the Lord as sovereign king over them; nevertheless, God gave them what they asked for. This is where we pick up our study today, with Samuel saying, "Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the Lord has set a king over you." (1 Samuel 12:13) He says, "This is what you asked for: a king. His outward appearance is everything you would have imagined in a king. His military prowess has, so far, been everything you would have hoped for in a king. You wanted to be 'like all the other nations' by having a king to lead the government and to ride out in front of the army to battle. Well, here he is and you must submit to the authority of your chosen sovereign."

As we've discussed before, it wasn't God's perfect will for Israel to have a human king (at least not yet at this point in history), but it's His permissive will to allow a king. The king will make all the demands on them that Samuel warned them about in 1 Samuel 8, such as conscripting their sons into the army, making many of their sons and daughters work on his estate, levying heavy taxes, annexing portions of their land for his personal use, taking a percentage of their crops and livestock, and so on. These are the things kings normally did in those days and there will be aspects of having a king over them that the citizens won't enjoy. This is to serve as a form of correction for their insistence on replacing the King of kings with a human king. But correction itself is a form of mercy, for whom the Lord loves He corrects. And not everything about having a king will be bad; we've already seen that Saul is a very competent army general. In addition, if Saul will devote his heart to the Lord, he can be a huge blessing on the nation. If he will honor and serve the Lord, he will set a godly example for the people to follow, and if the people honor and serve the Lord, they will enjoy the blessings of the Lord. Samuel says: "If you fear the Lord and serve and obey Him and do not rebel against His commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God---good! But if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against His commands, His hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors." (1 Samuel 12:14-15)

To prove to those assembled at Gilgal that they were asking for something that went against the Lord's best plan for them when they demanded a king at this time, Samuel calls down a thunderstorm as a sign that he's relaying the words of the Lord to them. Samuel isn't merely giving his own opinion on the matter, which some may have suspected was the case since establishing a monarchy puts an end to the era of the judges. This is the Lord's opinion on the matter and He sends the storm as proof that Samuel is speaking on His behalf. "Now then, stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes! Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call on the Lord to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the Lord when you asked for a king.' Then Samuel called on the Lord, and that same day the Lord sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel." (1 Samuel 12:16-18) During the time when wheat is ready to harvest in the land, around late June or early July, the weather is typically quite dry. It would be very unusual to have a heavy, soaking rain to occur at the time Samuel calls upon the Lord for the thunderstorm.

This is unusual enough that the assembly accepts it as a sign from the Lord, which strikes fear in their hearts. "The people all said to Samuel, 'Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.'" (1 Samuel 12:19) The sign causes them to search their hearts and conclude, "We are sinners. We have broken the Lord's laws and commandments in many ways before this day and now we have added the sin of asking for a king. May God have mercy on us! Pray for us, Samuel, that He will have mercy on us. He will listen to you!" God can work with repentant hearts! These words are exactly what He wants to hear, not only from the Israelites in Chapter 12 but from every human being. He wants us to acknowledge that we are sinners, for only then do we recognize our need for forgiveness. This causes us to recognize our need for a Savior and to confess our sins to Him and ask Him for His mercy. The laws we have broken are His; therefore He alone can grant us pardon for breaking His laws. 

As the Apostle John said, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) The people are confessing their sins after the thunderstorm breaks out in Chapter 12 and Samuel reassures them that the Lord has heard their sincere prayer for forgiveness. The Lord sees into their hearts and knows that they are sorry for having demanded a king. The Lord is not going to destroy them, as they fear, but wants to bless them. If they want the Lord's best for their lives they must take care to walk in His ways. He will not reject them when they make the wrong choices but, like any good father, will have to take corrective action when waywardness occurs. "'Do not be afraid,' Samuel replied. 'You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. For the sake of His great name the Lord will not reject His people, because the Lord was pleased to make you His own.'" (1 Samuel 12:20-22)

The Lord still loves them and always will and Samuel still loves them and always will. "As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. But be sure to fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil; both you and your king will perish." (1 Samuel 12:23-25) Israel has a king now in place of a judge but that doesn't mean Samuel is going to retire and go off to live in a cabin in the woods somewhere. He is still going to be a very visible figure in the land, setting a godly example for the people and their king and providing godly wisdom to the people and their king. Not only that but he will continue interceding in prayer for the whole nation, just as he has always done, for the rest of his life. He was hurt when the elders of Israel came to him and asked him to step aside and place a king over them but he's not going to hold that against them. He forgives them. He loves them. He wants the Lord's best for them. He wholeheartedly and unselfishly intends to keep praying for them just as fervently as he ever did.

Samuel sets a beautiful example for us by being unwilling to hold a grudge. It's easy to harbor bitterness toward those who have hurt us. It's especially hurtful when it's a brother or sister in the Lord who says or does something bad to us. We find it easier to excuse bad behavior from unbelievers because we can say to ourselves, "Well, what can you expect from someone living in that much sin? You can't expect someone who despises the Lord to be good to his fellow man." But when someone who professes to know and love the Lord does us wrong, we know they knew better than to do what they did. It's far more shocking when a fellow believer is the one who did us wrong and it stirs up a lot more emotions in us than when a heathen sinner does us wrong. Samuel displays the attitude we should have when he says it would be a sin against the Lord to stop praying for the Lord's people. He shows us how to handle hurt feelings by continuing to want the best for his brothers and sisters in the Lord. Of course it hurts more when a believer wrongs us than if an unbeliever wrongs us but that doesn't justify maintaining a bitter spirit toward them. Our duty is to pray for them. We should pray for them to get back on the right track in life and we should continue setting a godly example for them, just as Samuel intends to do for the people of Israel.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 30, Samuel Addresses The Assembly And Formally Hands The Nation's Leadership Over To Saul, Part One

In Chapter 12 we find Samuel addressing the Israelites. They have assembled at Gilgal to give thanks to the Lord for victory over the Ammonites and to reconfirm Saul as their king. Some versions of the Bible title this chapter "Samuel's Farewell Speech" but Samuel isn't going anywhere right now. He's just making a formal transition of power. He has been Israel's judge for many years but now that there is a king he is going to take a backseat where governing the nation is concerned. He wants to make sure everyone in the nation knows they are to look to King Saul as their leader. There is to be no confusion about who is in charge. Samuel will make himself available to Saul as a spiritual and political advisor but the people are to address their needs and concerns to the king from now on.

"Samuel said to all Israel, 'I have listened to everything you said to me and have set a king over you. Now you have a king as your leader. As for me, I am old and gray, and my sons are here with you.'" (1 Samuel 12:1-2a) When the elders of Israel came to Samuel on behalf of the people to demand a king, they said, "You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways." (1 Samuel 8:5a) In our text today he clearly states he is stepping back and so are his sons, for most scholars believe when he says, "My sons are here with you," that his sons have been demoted from the offices they held and are standing among the assembly as ordinary citizens.

If anyone has anything against Samuel, now is their chance to make their grievances known. If they feel he has wronged them in any way, they must speak now or forever hold their peace once he has handed the reigns over to Saul. "I have been your leader from my youth until this day. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and His anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.'" (1 Samuel 12:2b-3) Samuel knows he has not done any of these things and can be confident that no one will accuse him of doing them. A judge was in a position to cheat people and accept bribes, and those who did not know him very well (and who had a poor opinion of political figures in general) might have harbored suspicions about him. Samuel may be semi-retiring but he's going to do so with his reputation intact. His sons behaved dishonestly when they traveled to other towns to assist him in his duties in his old age but he has done nothing dishonest himself.

"'You have not cheated or oppressed us,' they replied. 'You have not taken anything from anyone's hand.' Samuel said to them, 'The Lord is witness against you, and also His anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.' 'He is witness,' they said." (1 Samuel 12:4-5) They publicly declare Samuel innocent of corrupt behavior in the sight of God and in the sight of King Saul (the Lord's anointed king). They cannot come back later and claim he did steal from them or that he accepted bribes to judge cases unfairly.

Samuel has lived an honest life. He has listened to and judged the people's legal cases fairly. As a prophet he has relayed the words of the Lord exactly as He spoke them. The Lord also has treated them faithfully and fairly, as Samuel testifies next. "Then Samuel said to the people, 'It is the Lord who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your ancestors up out of Egypt. Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the Lord as to all the righteous acts performed by the Lord for you and your ancestors. After Jacob entered Egypt, they cried to the Lord for help, and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought you out of Egypt and settled them in this place." (1 Samuel 1:6-8) The Lord mercifully rescued them from the mighty hand of Egypt.

Yet after settling in the promised land and becoming comfortable there, their prosperity caused them to become complacent about the Lord. Many of the people drifted from their relationship with Him and dabbled in idolatrous practices. "But they forgot the Lord their God; so He sold them into the hand of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them." (1 Samuel 12:9) Because they did not remain wholeheartedly faithful to the Lord, He allowed oppressors to come against them as a form of discipline. 

But when they saw the error of their ways and cried to the Lord for help, He had compassion on them. "They cried out to the Lord and said, 'We have sinned; we have forsaken the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths. But now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve you.' Then the Lord sent Jerub-Baal, Barak, Jephthah and Samuel, and He delivered you from the hands of your enemies all around you, so that you lived in safety." (1 Samuel 12:10-11)

"But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, 'No, we want a king to rule over us'---even though the Lord your God was your king." (1 Samuel 12:12) We learn something here that we weren't previously told. We didn't know that, at the time the elders came to Samuel and demanded a king, Nahash was already threatening the nation. His army was approaching. Rumors of an impending war were spreading. This---perhaps more than the fact that Samuel was old and his sons were immoral scoundrels--- prompted them to choose this particular time to want a king so they could "be like all the other nations". In that case it appears as if they feared Nahash more than they trusted their true King the Lord and they thought perhaps news would reach Nahash that Israel had elected a king to command the army. 

We don't always make the best decisions when we are driven by fear. We are more likely to focus on our circumstances than on our God. As a result, to our human eyes our troubles start looking bigger and bigger while our God starts looking smaller and smaller. Instead of looking around frantically in a blind panic, we need to look straight to the God who promises: "So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 29, Saul Is Merciful Toward Those Who Formerly Opposed Him

We were told in Chapter 10 that not everyone was happy when Saul was declared king: "But some scoundrels said, 'How can this fellow save us?' They despised him and brought him no gifts." Now that Saul has led Israel to victory in battle against the Ammonites, with the help of the Lord, we find the citizens in more unity of mind where he is concerned. 

A large number of the people are offended on Saul's behalf. They want the doubters to pay for the scornful things they said about him. "The people then said to Samuel, 'Who was it that asked, 'Shall Saul reign over us?' Turn these men over to us so that we may put them to death.'" (1 Samuel 11:12)

They ask, "Where are those mockers who thought Saul was a bad choice for king? He led our troops into battle against the Ammonites and saved the city of Jabesh Gilead from the heathen army. Now what have these men got to say for themselves? They'll have to eat their scornful words. In fact, shame isn't enough for them. Off with their heads!"

The Bible doesn't record Samuel's reply. It could be that he didn't have time to make a reply at all, for Saul benevolently speaks up on behalf of those who shunned him and ridiculed him on his coronation day. "But Saul said, 'No one will be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel.'" (1 Samuel 11:13) He says, "This is a day of rejoicing, not a day of violence and mourning. This is a day for unity, not a day for brother to turn against brother. The Lord has done great things for us and we must all join together in an attitude of thanks."

Saul shows a great deal of restraint and sets a good example for the nation in our text today. He won't always be a man with self-control. He won't always live a life of moderation and level-headedness. But today he wisely refrains from allowing something to take place that would have caused more opposition to his reign and more disunity among the people. Imagine if those who supported Saul had seized and put to death the men who we were told "despised" him in Chapter 10. The families of those who were put to death would be consumed with anger and bitterness toward those who put their men to death---and their rage and hatred would have extended to the king as well. A plot could have even formed to overthrow Saul's administration and put another king in his place. He did the right thing in refusing to allow any violence to be done against the men who spoke out against him in Chapter 10.

The prophet Samuel sees this as a moment to further solidify a spirit of unity and national pride among the Israelites. He views this as an opportunity for everyone to show public support for Saul. "Then Samuel said to the people, 'Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.' So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration." (1 Samuel 11:14-15) 

Saul is already king, of course, and there is no legal need for declaring him king again. This is being done for the purpose of further boosting everyone's morale and for the purpose of helping everyone to care about each other and about their king. If a house divided against itself cannot stand, as we discussed yesterday, then it stands to reason that a house united can stand firm. Saul's mercy toward his detractors helps the house of Israel to stand firm.

Monday, March 28, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 28, Saul Rescues The City Of Jabesh Gilead

Saul's first fight as king will not be against the Philistines, as he might have supposed, but against the Ammonites. "Nahash the Ammonite went up and beseiged Jabesh Gilead. And all the men of Jabesh said to him, 'Make a treaty with us, and we will be subject to you.'" (1 Samuel 11:1) The word "Nahash" may not be a proper name but could be a royal title such as "king") or it could be the name of a family dynasty of the Ammonites. The reason for thinking this is that a Nahash of the Ammonites will be mentioned later in the Bible but he does not appear to be the same person, which has led some scholars to conclude that the word is a royal title like calling the kings of Egypt "pharaoh", for example.

Why does the king of the Ammonites make war against a city of Israel at this time? Perhaps to avenge the victory that Jephthah, of Jabesh Gilead, won against the Ammonites in Judges 11. We can't say for sure why Nahash feels this is an opportune time to attack an Israelite city but it's going to turn out to be an unwise decision. At first, though, it looks to him as if his assault will be successful. When he surrounds and lays siege to the city, the men of Jabesh Gilead know they are outnumbered and they don't want to incur mass casualties. In order to protect themselves and their families they offer to surrender and become subjects of the Ammonites. This normally meant being assessed an annual amount of tribute to pay to a foreign government.

But Nahash wants to humiliate these men of Israel. It's not enough for him to levy heavy taxes upon them. He wants to disfigure them and render them incapable of ever being effective soldiers . "But Nahash the Ammonite replied, 'I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel.'" (1 Samuel 11:2) These men will still be able to maintain their everyday occupations with only one eye but will no longer be to fight battles with only one eye because it will leave them too vulnerable to attack from the right side. Nahash's main objective in disabling them for battle is not because he's afraid of their military prowess though; it's clear that there aren't enough men at Jabesh Gilead to mount an effective defense of the city. I don't think Nahash fears a future revolt by the men of Jabesh Gilead either. His main objective in blinding all the men in their right eye is to bring shame on them. We know this because he say he wants to "bring disgrace on all Israel".

The men of the city know they can't fight off Nahash and his soldiers on their own. The most they can hope to do is hold the city long enough to give help a chance to arrive. They wisely tell Nahash they will take seven days to consider his terms for surrender while they wait to see if anyone will come to their aid. "The elders of Jabesh said to him, 'Give us seven days so we can send messengers throughout Israel; if no one comes to rescue us, we will surrender to you.'" (1 Samuel 11:3) 

Nahash is going to agree to their request. But why does he allow messengers to leave the city he has surrounded with his troops? Does he believe no one will come to the aid of Jabesh Gilead because doing so will be a declaration of war between Israel and Ammon? Does he think soldiers will come to help but that his army can easily defeat them? Does he see this victory as an opportunity of gaining great renown for his name so that no city or nation will dare stand against him? Whatever his reasoning is, it's clear he does not fear the army of Israel. I think that's because he does not fear the God of Israel, which is a disastrous miscalculation on his part.

"When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these terms to the people, they all wept aloud. Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and said, 'What is wrong with everyone? Why are they weeping?' Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said." (1 Samuel 11:4-5) After declaring Saul king of Israel at the assembly in Mizpah, Samuel dismissed the crowd and told them all to go home. Saul did as instructed. That's why we find him working the fields as he has always done. He hasn't built a palace for himself or set up any type of government bureaucracy. He's just going about his business, for in Chapter 10 Samuel ordered him to "do whatever your hand finds to do", and he's working at what his hands find to do while waiting for further instructions.

Upon hearing of the predicament of the men at Jabesh Gilead, Saul receives those further instructions from the Holy Spirit. "When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, 'This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.' Then the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out together as one. When Saul mustered them at Bezek, the men of Israel numbered three hundred thousand and those of Judah thirty thousand." (1 Samuel 11:6-8) His message to the people of Israel is that they need not fear the Ammonites; they need to fear King Saul and they need to fear the Lord. They need to stand up for their fellow citizens and not allow the city of Jabesh Gilead to fall to the enemy. In defending that city and preventing its men from being put to shame they are defending the honorable name of all Israel. If they allow Jabesh Gilead to fall and its men to be put to shame, the Ammonites won't stop there. They will be emboldened to attack more cities of Israel. Other enemies will be emboldened to attack Israel. The security of the entire nation is at stake. 

After the men are mustered at Bezek, welcome news is sent to Jabesh Gilead. "They told the messengers who had come, 'Say to the men of Jabesh Gilead, 'By the time the sun is hot tomorrow, you will be rescued.' When the messengers went and reported this to the men of Jabesh, they were elated. They said to the Ammonites, 'Tomorrow we will surrender to you, and you can do to us whatever you like.'" (1 Samuel 11:9-10) They trick the Ammonites into thinking the news brought by the messengers is bad. When they say, "Tomorrow we will surrender to you," Nahash believes the fighting men of Israel have declined coming to the aid of the people of Jabesh Gilead. 

The men of Jabesh Gilead essentially tell a lie to Nahash. Lying is a sin but several times in the Bible we find someone telling a lie in order to preserve the life of a person or persons and on those occasions we find the lie being overlooked. For example, the harlot Rahab lied to protect the lives of the two Israelite spies whom she hid at her house in Jericho. She is not disciplined by the Lord for her lie but instead is treated as a great heroine of the Bible. We will see some further examples as we move through the Bible of people engaging in deceptive actions in order to save their lives or the lives of their fellow Israelites. In times of extreme circumstances such as this, the sin of lying evidently brings no disciplinary action if it is being done to serve the greater good of preserving a life. Because we live in a fallen world, there are situations in the Bible in which there is no other way of dealing with heathen sinners other than deceiving them. I think the principle at work here is the same one we find in the New Testament when Jesus is met with a condemnatory attitude by the Pharisees for healing on the Sabbath. They accuse Him of working on the Sabbath but Jesus points out that a greater good is being accomplished. He also shines a spotlight on their hypocrisy by stating that if their child or their ox fell into a pit on the Sabbath they wouldn't wait until the next day to rescue them. They would perform the "work" of getting their child or ox out of the pit, Sabbath or not. Why then should He wait until the next day to rescue someone from sickness, pain, mental illness, or demon possession? Besides that, Jesus was not breaking the Sabbath since He is Lord of the Sabbath, but His point was that if they saw someone they loved in mortal danger or if their livelihood (the ox) was at stake, they'd take action immediately even if it meant breaking the Sabbath. And no one would blame them for it, not even God.

We don't find God blaming the men of Jabesh Gilead for deceiving their heathen enemy. They are buying time the only way they know how. The lie allows time for help to arrive. "The next day Saul separated his men into three divisions; during the last watch of the night they broke into the camp of the Ammonites and slaughtered them until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together." (1 Samuel 11:11) Saul and his soldiers strike far ahead of the appointed time when the men of Jabesh Gilead pretended they were going to surrender to the Ammonites. The last watch of the night, which is between about 3am and daybreak, is the time of night when exhaustion is most likely to overcome even those who are supposed to be keeping watch. It's the time of night when those who are sleeping will be sleeping the deepest. It's the time of night when the Israelite attack is guaranteed to produce the most confusion and panic. The battle rages on until midday when the few remaining Ammonite soldiers head for the hills as fast as their weary and trembling legs can carry them. They are so disoriented they can't even stick together to maintain strength in numbers. 

It was very wise of the men of Jabesh Gilead not to surrender when the Ammonites first surrounded their city. They left room for God (and for their brothers in the Lord) to act on their behalf. They didn't immediately fall into a panic, conclude their situation was hopeless, and give up. 

Whenever God is part of the equation, nothing is hopeless. Sometimes we see alarming things in this world. Sometimes we receive upsetting news. Before making any decisions we must take the problem to God and wait for further instructions. Sometimes He has us participate in the victory and other times He fights the whole battle for us, but taking our problem to Him before doing anything else will help us to avoid making any rash decisions we might regret later. If the men of Jabesh Gilead hadn't given the Lord and their fellow citizens time to come to their aid, they might have made a rash decision. Out of fear that the Ammonites would pour into the city and slaughter everyone, they might have been panicked enough to think that surrendering and submitting to becoming blind in one eye was the only way to save their lives and their families' lives. But they held out the hope that God would either perform a miracle on their behalf or that He would stir the hearts of their fellow Israelites to fight for them. I think the Lord did both! I don't know how many soldiers Nahash had with him but I think his soldiers outnumbered Saul's soldiers, hence the need for the surprise nighttime attack carried out by Saul and his men. It was necessary to catch them off guard in the night in order to have a fighting chance, humanly speaking. But I believe the Lord fought on behalf of Israel too. He gave the Israelite soldiers the physical strength to fight through the final hours of the night and through the hours from 6am until noon. He put the fear of Israel and the fear of Himself into the Ammonites. 

He also used this victory to get the people of Israel behind Saul. We learned yesterday that not everyone was happy when he was made king. But after his victory over the Ammonites there will be fewer people who are unhappy about having Saul as their king. The nation will be able to present more of a united front now that a great battle has been won under the leadership of their new king. Unity is very important among believers, for as the Lord Jesus said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." (Matthew 12:25)

Sunday, March 27, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 27, Saul Proclaimed As King Of Israel At The Assembly

In yesterday's text we found Samuel anointing Saul king in a private ceremony. Samuel told Saul he would see him again in seven days but in the meantime he would be provided with specific signs to prove that "God is with you". We studied those signs yesterday and today they all finish coming true. 

"As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul's heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day." (1 Samuel 10:9) What does it mean that God changed Saul's heart, considering Saul will not be a man who enjoys yielding himself to the Lord's will? I consulted several commentaries and found most of them skipping "God changed Saul's heart" altogether. Some scholars have taken this phrase to mean Saul was saved (born again) while others argue that his life doesn't display the fruits of the Spirit that indicate salvation. My personal opinion is that Saul's change of heart in verse 9 is that the Lord equips him with the political and military skills he will need to be the leader of the nation. As the saying goes: "God doesn't call the qualified; He qualifies the called". Saul may have daydreamed of doing great things for Israel but until the events of Chapter 10 began taking place he had no real hope of ever having the opportunity. But now he's provided with a sharper focus of mind. Ideas about how to help his country are no longer vague but take on the form of actual strategies. The Lord is guiding his thoughts where matters of national prosperity and national security are concerned. 

To bolster his confidence that Samuel was right when he said the Lord would enable him to help the nation, the signs Samuel gave him come true, including the one about Saul suddenly being able to prophesy. "When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying. When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, 'What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?' A man who lived there answered, 'And who is their father?' So it became a saying: 'Is Saul also among the prophets?' After Saul stopped prophesying, he went to the high place." (1 Samuel 10:10-13) 

Those who are the most astonished that Saul would prophesy are those who "had formerly known him". The people who have known him all his life have never noticed him being spiritually-minded. When they see him with the group of men from the "school of prophecy", as some scholars call it, they are shocked and ask, "Is Saul a prophet now?" I think maybe they ask this in a sarcastic tone, thinking he's either faking it or has taken leave of his senses. But a man answers their scornful question by asking them who they think the father of the prophets is, meaning it is God who enables anyone to prophesy. If the Lord wants Saul to prophesy, He can enable him to prophesy.

Saul's sudden ability to prophesy becomes the talk of the town. It's so unusual and so unexpected that news of it spreads like wildfire, with everyone asking their neighbor, "Is Saul a prophet now? What has come over the son of Kish? What does this mean? What is the Lord doing? Has He chosen Saul for something special?" The people begin looking at Saul in a new light, which I feel is perhaps the primary purpose for the Lord giving him the gift of prophecy on this occasion. 

"Now Saul's uncle asked him and his servant, 'Where have you been?' 'Looking for the donkeys,' he said. 'But when we saw they were not to be found, we went to Samuel.' Saul's uncle said, 'Tell me what Samuel said to you.' Saul replied, 'He assured us that the donkeys had been found.' But he did not tell his uncle what Samuel had said about the kingship." (1 Samuel 10:14-16) Saul tells the truth but not the whole truth. Samuel told him to wait for further instructions when he would arrive in seven days. This may have included saying nothing about being secretly anointed as king. Or Saul may have taken it to mean that. Or he may prefer that the kingship be announced by Samuel---Israel's judge and chief prophet---and not by himself, to give his claim to the throne the legitimacy it needs. 

"Samuel summoned the people of Israel to the Lord at Mizpah and said to them, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'I brought Israel up out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the power of Egypt and all the kingdoms that oppressed you.' But you have now rejected your God, who saves you out of all your disasters and calamities. And you have said, 'No, appoint a king over us.' So now present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and clans.'" (1 Samuel 10:17-19) Saul will be shown to be the Lord's choice through the casting of the lot---a practice we've discussed in some depth before. However, Samuel reminds the people that it is not the Lord's perfect will for them that they should have a king; it is the Lord's permissive will to allow them to have a king. They are determined to have one and to be like all the other nations. He is going to let them have their way in this matter. He has a man in mind for the job and will reveal the man to them at this assembly.

"When Samuel had all Israel come forward by tribes, the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. Then he brought forward the tribe of Benjamin, clan by clan, and Matri's clan was taken. Finally Saul son of Kish was taken." (1 Samuel 10:20-21a) The lot eliminates every tribe but that of Benjamin. Then each clan of the tribe of Benjamin is called forth and eliminated one by one until only the clan of Matri is left. This is the clan to which Saul's father Kish belongs. One by one every man of this clan is eliminated except Saul. We would expect him to step forward at this point, or at the very least that he would still be standing there even if he does feel some butterflies in his stomach at the prospect of leading such a great nation. But when the final man before him is eliminated and his name is called, he is not there. "But when they looked for him, he was not to be found." (1 Samuel 10:21b) No one is left still standing except perhaps the high priest, (who I believe was casting the lots as was the practice of using the Urim and Thummim stones), and Samuel who is officiating over this ceremony. Neither of these men is a candidate for the kingship. 

I can just imagine the excited and puzzled murmuring of the crowd as they look about them and wonder if somehow Saul didn't get the message that he was supposed to assemble here today. I bet they are asking each other whether anyone saw him before the lots began to be cast. In such a crowd it's understandable that no one can recall for sure and that they would come to the conclusion that he either didn't get the message or that something caused a delay in his journey and that he is still on his way there. "So they inquired further of the Lord, 'Has the man come here yet?' And the Lord said, 'Yes, he has hidden himself among the supplies.'" (1 Samuel 10:22) This isn't a very auspicious beginning to Saul's reign as king. Some scholars propose he was too humble and modest to stand before the people in this moment. Others think he was overwhelmed by anxiety now that time has come to take the heavy mantle of national leadership upon his shoulders. And some scholars point to his hiding of himself as proof of his spiritual failings. I don't know the answer to the question of why Saul hid himself at a moment in which many men would have instead raised two victorious fists in the air like a champion. It could have been a combination of all the things that scholars have suggested. It could be that even Saul himself couldn't tell us exactly what he was feeling and thinking in that moment. All I can suppose is that, whatever he was thinking or feeling, he needed a little space in which to compose himself and get his emotions under control.

"They ran and brought him out, and as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others. Samuel said to all the people, 'Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.' Then the people shouted, 'Long live the king!'" (1 Samuel 10:23-24) There is no one like Saul among the people, as far as his outward appearance is concerned. When we were first introduced to Saul in Chapter 9 we talked about how his appearance lined up with a Hollywood idea of what a king in the movies would look like: he has an impeccable pedigree even if he is from the smallest tribe of Israel, he is the most handsome man in all Israel, and he is the tallest man in all Israel. From a human way of thinking, Saul looks just like what the people think a king should look like. He's very impressive. The Lord has chosen the type of man the people would have chosen for themselves---the type of man they would have pictured in their minds to govern their nation. But is he the best man for the job on the inside? Spiritually speaking, no. But politically and militarily speaking, yes, at this particular point on the timeline of Israel's history. He will be able to accomplish some victories for Israel against the Philistines, which is the most urgent matter at hand right now.

"Samuel explained to the people the rights and duties of kingship. He wrote them down on a scroll and deposited it before the Lord. Then Samuel dismissed the people to go to their own homes." (1 Samuel 10:25) These rights and duties are those the Lord outlined in Deuteronomy 17.

"Saul also went to his home in Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men whose hearts God had touched. But some scoundrels said, 'How can this fellow save us?' They despised him and brought him no gifts. But Saul kept silent." (1 Samuel 10:26-27) There is no palace in Israel at this time. There is no royal throne upon which to sit and hold court. Saul simply goes home, like he does every day, but a number of brave men accompany him as his cabinet and as his secret service. He needs the moral support of good and loyal friends but he also needs bodyguards, for as verse 27 tells us, the support behind him is not unanimous. There are some men who are not happy with the way the day turned out. They snub Saul but he takes no action against him. As the saying goes, "Discretion is the better part of valor," and he doesn't take these men to task for their very obvious disloyalty. He remembers who didn't support him when he was proclaimed king but he wisely keeps a handle on any hurt feelings or anger their behavior causes him. A good leader isn't controlled by his emotions. A good leader controls his emotions.

Anyone who wants to honor the Lord with their life needs to learn to control their emotions. Self-control is a valuable quality, as Solomon pointed out: "Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city." (Proverbs 16:32) It takes a lot more strength to keep from acting on our emotions than to give vent to them. Self-control is on the list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 and it is something we, as believers, should possess as the children of God. Saul displays self-control here in Chapter 10 and I wish that would always be the case, as later we'll find him falling prey to anger, jealousy, and delusional thinking. He has not so far shown himself to be an especially spiritual man but we can't say that he's shown himself to be an especially unspiritual man either. But as time goes on we'll find him focusing more on himself than on building a relationship with the Lord. The farther he drifts from godly principles the farther he'll drift from the ability to control his emotions. There's only so much human strength can do; we might be able to "pull ourselves up by the bootstraps" sometimes but as the pressures of this world come against us more and more we'll eventually lose control of our emotions and even our actions if we aren't relying on the strength of the Lord. As king, Saul will be faced with a great deal of pressure from every side. Because he has not made the Lord his refuge and strength, he will crack under the pressure.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 26, Saul Anointed King

Earlier in Chapter 9 the Lord revealed to Samuel that he was about to meet the man he was to anoint as king of Israel. The Lord told him what time of day the next day to expect this man and that the man would be a Benjamite. When Samuel arrived back at the city gates of his hometown the next day at the specified time, there was Saul of the tribe of Benjamin. Samuel invited him to a special feast, to which he had already summoned thirty important fellow citizens, and Saul was given the place of honor at the table and a special cut of meat that Samuel had reserved for him. These actions put Samuel's public stamp of approval on Saul as the candidate for king.

Today we will find Samuel conducting a private ceremony with Saul to anoint him king of Israel. Then Saul will have to wait seven days before he is pronounced king before a great assembly of Israelites at Mizpah. 

In yesterday's passage Samuel had invited Saul and his servant to lodge overnight at his house after the feast. That is where we pick up today. "After they had come down from the high place to the town, Samuel talked with Saul on the roof of his house. They rose about daybreak, and Samuel called to Saul on the roof, 'Get ready, and I will send you on your way.' When Saul got ready, he and Samuel went outside together. As they were going down to the edge of the town, Samuel said to Saul, 'Tell the servant to go on ahead of us'---and the servant did so---'but you stay here for a while, so that I may give you a message from God.'" (1 Samuel 9:25-27) 

Roofs were flat in those days and were utilized as a sleeping porch, a guest room, or a gathering place. Since Saul and Samuel had what were probably several hours of conversation on the rooftop that night, and since Saul (and presumably his servant also) slept on the rooftop that night, we can safely assume that the events of Chapter 9 took place during a time of year when it would have been a comfortable temperature for sleeping outdoors. 

I would love to read an account of the conversation that took place between these men but the author of 1 Samuel has not recorded the words for us. Saul may have revealed to Samuel his great desire to do something to help protect Israel from attacks by the Philistines. He may have talked about his political and military ambitions. He might have talked about his ambitions for his country. It could be that he's had the feeling for a long time that an opportunity would come his way to do some big things for Israel. Samuel may have spoken of his sadness over the Israelites' demand for a king instead of keeping the Lord as their only king. He probably laid out the responsibilities of a king and made certain Saul understood what he'd be getting himself into. Whatever the two men discussed on the rooftop, I think they formed a mutual respect for each other. As we study the reign of Saul we will clearly see that he cares very much about Samuel's opinion of him. We will see that Samuel feels a fatherly affection toward the younger man and wants to mentor him and assist him in the faith so he will be the type of king Israel needs. But in time, because Saul has no real heart for the things of the Lord and because he will become prideful and arrogant, the friendship between these two men will be irreparably shattered later in the book of 1 Samuel. This will break both their hearts but they will not speak to each other again for the remainder of Samuel's life.

But for now that day is still far ahead in the future and Samuel anoints Saul as king of Israel and provides him with several signs that will prove that the Lord really did tell Samuel that Saul is the man who is to be Israel's first king. "Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul's head and kissed him, saying, 'Has not the Lord anointed you ruler over His inheritance? When you leave me today, you will meet two men near Rachel's tomb, at Zelzah on the border of Benjamin. They will say to you, 'The donkeys you set out to look for have been found. And now your father has stopped thinking about them and is worried about you. He is asking, 'What shall I do about my son?'" (1 Samuel 10:1-2) This sign has some very specific details to it. If it deviates in any way from how Samuel describes it, it is not to be trusted. If it comes true exactly as predicted, it is to be accepted as proof that Saul is to accept the position as king. 

But the Lord won't give Saul only one sign because He understands human nature. He created us and knows how our minds work. He knows how easy it is for us to talk ourselves out of something even when we've been provided with confirmation that we're on the right track. So He doesn't give Saul only one sign because Saul might be able to convince himself that it's just a coincidence when he meets two men near Rachel's tomb who tell him the donkeys have been found and his father is worried something has happened to him. The Lord gives a second very specific sign to watch for. "Then you will go on from there until you reach the great tree of Tabor. Three men going up to worship God at Bethel will meet you there. One will be carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and another a skin of wine. They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them." (1 Samuel 10:3-4) If Saul does not meet three men at the great tree of Tabor, and if one is not carrying three young goats, and if one is not carrying three loaves of bread, and if one is not carrying a skin of wine, and if they do not greet him and offer him two loaves of bread, then Saul would have reason to doubt his anointing as king was directed by God. But if all these things come to pass exactly as predicted, they are a second confirmation of his calling in life.

The Lord is going to be yet more gracious by providing a third sign. He knows how prone humans are to giving in to doubts and fears. He knows that a third sign will be needed for Saul to believe he truly is being called to lead the nation. This will relieve his doubts that the anointing is really from God but it won't (as we will see later in Chapter 10) relieve his doubts about his own ability to handle the enormous responsibilities of a king. I'm reminded of one of the most famous quotes from Shakespeare's works: "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." There is no heavier burden on earth than being the leader of a nation and being responsible for making decisions on behalf of millions of people. When the day comes for Saul to wear the crown, he is going to have to be certain in his heart that the Lord directed Samuel to anoint him as king. Although he will still be plagued by fears and insecurities, he would not have been able to move forward at all without knowing that the Lord has indeed called him to this role in life.

Here is the third sign Saul is to look for: "After that you will go to Gibeah of God, where there is a Philistine outpost. As you approach the town, you will meet a procession of prophets coming down from the high place with lyres, timbrels, pipes and harps being played before them, and they will be prophesying. The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you." (1 Samuel 10:5-7) Not only must Saul meet a procession of prophets with musical instruments who are actively prophesying at the time, but Saul will feel compelled to prophesy with them. He has never done such a thing before. He is not a prophet. But, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he will be enabled to give accurate prophecies---indeed, he won't be able to keep from doing so. It will be beyond his control. This will be the final confirmation he needs that, as Samuel says, "God is with you."

As we've said before, we sadly won't find Saul being the type of man we hope he will be. But that's not because he won't be given every opportunity and advantage to be all he could have been. Had he yielded himself fully to the Lord and been determined in his heart to honor the Lord in everything he does, his life and his reign would have been blessed immeasurably. His personal life would have been blessed by a close and satisfying relationship with the Lord. His public life would have been blessed by being a better leader of Israel than he actually will be, for not only could he have helped the Israelites in their struggle against their enemies, but he could have set an admirable spiritual example for the people to follow. We've seen the spiritual and moral decline that began taking place during the era of the judges; Saul could have turned that completely around. He's going to hold the most powerful and prominent position in the land and that will give him more influence over the citizens than anyone else has, which means he will be provided with a greater opportunity than anyone else to turn wayward hearts back toward the Lord. As we move through the Old Testament we will see what a wonderful effect godly kings have on the populace and we will see what a terrible effect wicked kings have on the populace. The coronation of a godly man equals revival in the land. The coronation of a sinful man equals an increase of idolatry and lawlessness in the land.

Samuel says goodbye to Saul for now but says he will see him in a week's time. "Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do." (1 Samuel 10:8) Why is there a seven day waiting period between Saul's private anointing and his public coronation? I am not sure but possibly it's to teach Saul to have patience. A person who serves the Lord must learn to trust the Lord's timing and wait for it. Getting ahead of the Lord only gets us in trouble and we'll find Saul getting in trouble later in the book on a different occasion when he does not wait after being specifically told to wait. 

In tomorrow's study we'll find the three signs coming true exactly as Samuel said they would and we'll also find Saul struggling with a reluctance to step into the role the Lord has chosen for him.

Friday, March 25, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 25, Samuel Reveals Saul's Destiny To Him

Saul and his servant have come to find Samuel because they have heard that he is a "seer". I don't know whether they understand that he is a major prophet of God but their plan is to ask him if he knows the location of Saul's father's lost donkeys. In that sense they are approaching him as if he is a fortune teller but Saul is about to find out that he's underestimated Samuel and the importance of their meeting.

Yesterday we learned that while Saul and the servant sought the donkeys, the Lord was revealing to Samuel that he's about to meet the first king of Israel. He said, "About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over My people Israel." Prophecies from the Lord are specific. We've talked before in our study of the Old Testament about the proof of being a prophet and about how a prophet had to be able to accurately predict, with some specific details, something that will happen in the near future. The prediction had to come true exactly as the prophet said it would. If the prediction for the near future did not come true, nothing the man said about the far off future was to be trusted. The Lord didn't give His prophets vague, unspecific messages that were open to all sorts of interpretation; He clearly said what He meant to say because there's no point in giving people messages that can't be understood or that won't be recognized when the events come to pass. The Lord tells Samuel to expect a man to arrive at this same time on the next day and He tells him the man will be a Benjamite. This is how Samuel will know he's anointing the right man. 

When Samuel arrives back at Ramah he spots the stranger in town. The Lord says to him, "This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern My people." This is where we concluded yesterday's study. Saul spots Samuel coming through the gate to the city. "Saul approached Samuel in the gateway and asked, 'Would you please tell me where the seer's house is?' 'I am the seer,' Samuel replied. 'Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will send you on your way and tell you all that is in your heart. As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found.'" (1 Samuel 9:18-20a)

Samuel says, "I'm the seer and I've been expecting you. You don't need to worry about those donkeys that wandered off three days ago. They've already been recovered." Saul has said nothing to him about any lost donkeys, much less that they have been missing for three days, but Samuel knows all about them and knows exactly how long Saul has been looking for them. On top of that, it's clear to Saul that Samuel knew he was coming. Samuel isn't the least bit surprised to find this stranger waiting for him at the gate; indeed, he appears to be ready to receive him with great hospitality. He also reveals that he's aware there are things weighing heavily on Saul's heart, for he says that in the morning he will "tell you all that is in your heart". Many Bible scholars have taken this to mean Saul was very concerned for the nation of Israel and that he was deeply troubled by the way the Philistines kept relentlessly making incursions into Israelite territory. We won't find Saul being a very spiritually-minded man but he loves his country and is a civically-minded man. He's worried about the future of Israel but may have thought to himself, "What can I do, though? I have a desire to lead my people and help them get out from under the oppression of the Philistines but how can somebody like me deliver my people?" Samuel now gives a very clear hint as to how Saul can help his people: "And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?" (1 Samuel 9:20b)

Saul is aware that the majority of the Israelites have decided they want a king over them. In his heart I think he has political aspirations but believes he has no hope of being considered for the position of king. Certainly he has not put himself forward as a candidate. He's busy going about business as usual for his father's estate and no doubt he expects to spend the rest of his life doing the same things he's always done. When Samuel says what he says to him about all Israel turning toward him, he realizes this is a reference to the kingship. We know he does because this is how he replies: "Saul answered, 'But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?'" (1 Samuel 9:21) 

Saul may have dreamed of becoming king and leading the army of Israel but he did not believe he had any hope of seeing that dream come true. His father is a well-to-do man who is highly respected, as we were told earlier in our chapter, but this family is from the smallest tribe of Israel and from the smallest clan of the tribe of Benjamin. Compared to men of influence from the larger tribes, Saul's father Kish is really just a big fish in a small pond. This is not a family from which anyone would expect the first king to be elected. Outside of their own clan, people probably don't even know who Kish and Saul are. 

Samuel pays no attention to Saul's surprised and modest protests. He continues on with his plans for the day---plans which were put in place as soon as the Lord advised him the king was coming. "Then Samuel brought Saul and his servant into the hall and seated them at the head of those who were invited---about thirty in number. Samuel said to the cook, 'Bring the piece of meat I gave you, the one I told you to lay aside. So the cook took up the thigh with what was on it and set it in front of Saul. Samuel said, 'Here is what has been kept for you. Eat because it was set aside for you for this occasion from the time I said, 'I have invited guests.' And Saul dined with Samuel that day." (1 Samuel 9:22-24) In yesterday's passage the women at the well told Saul that the seer was coming to attend a special feast. The women apparently didn't know the reason for the feast but now we find out that it was planned by Samuel after the Lord told him to expect the arrival of the king. When Saul was speaking with the women at the well he had no idea that this feast was being planned in his honor! How could he have known since he was unaware that the seer was expecting him or that the seer would anoint him as king of Israel? Now he finds himself seated as the most important guest at the feast, being served the best portion of the meat. In treating him this way in front of thirty esteemed and influential guests, Samuel is clearly putting him forward as the preferred candidate for the position of king. And since Samuel is a prophet, the people know that the person he puts forward as king is the man the Lord has told him to promote.

Saul's day has turned around for the better! When he arrived at Ramah, exhausted and frustrated and hungry, and with weightier matters than a few lost donkeys on his heart, he never imagined that the Lord had told the seer to expect his arrival, much less that he'd soon be seated as guest of honor at the home of Israel's judge and most well-known prophet of the time. In his wildest dreams it never occurred to him that his political and military aspirations had any chance of coming true. While he went about his duties on his father's estate, he may have sometimes daydreamed about how he'd govern the nation if he were king or about how he'd plan battle strategies against the Philistines, but he had no inkling he'd soon have the opportunity to do the things he wanted to do for his country. As we've said before, Saul won't be a very godly man but that doesn't mean the Lord won't be able to use him politically and militarily to do some good things for Israel. Saul has valuable skills and talents that can be of benefit to his nation. In tomorrow's passage Samuel will speak privately with him regarding what he is being called to do. 

Thursday, March 24, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 24, The Lord Prepares Samuel To Meet The King

The donkeys of Saul's father have gone missing and Saul and a servant have been searching for them in several regions with no luck. Saul is concerned that by now his father is far more worried about him and the servant than the donkeys, so he suggests they go home. But the servant remembers that there is a man living nearby who is a prophet and he says they should see whether he can help them.

Saul is willing to go see this man but doesn't want to go empty handed. "Saul said to his servant, 'If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?'" (1 Samuel 9:7) It was customary to take a gift to a prophet as thanks for his help, according to several passages of the Bible we'll study later in the Old Testament. It's not that Samuel (or any other prophet) wouldn't have rendered aid when needed, whether or not a gift was involved. But "the laborer deserves his wages", as the Lord Jesus said (Matthew 10:10, Luke 10:7) and as the Apostle Paul said (1 Timothy 5:18). If Saul and his servant are going to ask Samuel for help, they should recognize the value of his time with a gift.

Saul seems like a person who is willing to give up on a task when inconveniences arise. I can relate to that because a series of small inconveniences will sometimes discourage me quicker than one big problem will. In Saul's defense he's probably weary from traveling from town to town searching for them. I don't know how many days it took to travel through the regions mentioned in the first half of Chapter 9 but he and his servant are out of the supplies they packed for what they thought would be a quick journey. Saul is tired of looking for the wayward animals and wants to call it quits. He briefly rallied when the servant mentioned calling on the prophet but upon realizing his pockets are empty he thought, "We have nothing of value with us to give him. We might as well go home and tell my father the donkeys can't be retrieved." 

But Saul's servant has a more persistent character. He seems to possess a more positive attitude and it so happens that he's quite practical too: he's brought a little money along on the journey. "The servant answered him again. 'Look,' he said, 'I have a quarter of a shekel of silver. I will give it to the man of God so that he will tell us what way to take.' (Formerly in Israel, if someone went to inquire of God, they would say, 'Come, let us go to the seer,' because the prophet of today used to be called a seer." (1 Samuel 9:8-9) The author adds a little footnote here to tell us that earlier in Israel's history they referred to prophets as "seers". These two words can be used interchangeably and often will be as we continue traveling through the books of the Old Testament. 

The servant only has about three grams of silver but it's the only thing the two men have with them that's acceptable as a gift. "'Good,' Saul said to his servant. 'Come, let's go.' So they set out for the town where the man of God was. As they were going up the hill to the town, they met some young women coming out to draw water, and they asked them, 'Is the seer here?'" (1 Samuel 9:10-11) This is the town of Ramah, which is Samuel's home base, and we were told earlier in 1 Samuel that he built an altar at Ramah. The Philistines evidently burned the town of Shiloh, where the people used to worship at the tabernacle, so the center of worship has apparently been moved to Ramah where the Lord's prophet and last judge of Israel lives. The ark of the covenant is also no longer at Shiloh; after it's capture and return by the Philistines it has been kept at Kiriath Jearim. The importance of knowing that there is a major altar of worship at Ramah is that it explains the answer of the young women below.

When asked if the seer is in town, the women answer in the affirmative and provide additional information. "'He is,' they answered. 'He's ahead of you. Hurry now; he has just come to our town today, for the people have a sacrifice at the high place. As soon as you enter the town, you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. The people will not begin eating until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward, those who are invited will eat. Go up now; you should find him about this time.'" (1 Samuel 9:12-13) We previously learned that in his role as judge Samuel had to make a circuit of the towns and villages to hear legal cases. It just so happens (because the Lord made it happen this way) that the donkeys became lost at the same time Samuel would be returning home to officiate over what may have been a special holy day.

Not only has the Lord set up the circumstances that will cause Saul and Samuel to cross paths, but He has prepared Samuel ahead of time to meet the man who will be king. "They went up to the town, and as they were entering it, there was Samuel, coming toward them on his way up to the high place. Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed this to Samuel: 'About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over My people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on My people, for their cry has reached Me.'" (1 Samuel 9:15-16) Just as the Lord used Samson to help the Israelites in their fight against the enemy Philistines, even though Samson was not a very godly man, the Lord intends to use Saul for the same purpose. Saul will turn out to have a knack for planning battle strategies. He is not a very godly man but he's a man who will be able to inspire and command the soldiers of Israel. There will be things the people won't like about Saul but he will be able to accomplish some important feats for national security. 

When Samuel arrives at Ramah, the man the Lord told him about is already there. "When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, 'This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern My people.'" (1 Samuel 9:17) Samuel isn't happy about the Israelites' demand for a king but the Lord has already told him to give them what they want. He will be obedient to the Lord. He will do what the Lord tells him to do and anoint Saul of the tribe of Benjamin as the first king of Israel. As for Saul, he thinks he's only consulting the prophet about some lost donkeys. He has no idea the Lord has set up a divine appointment. Imagine his surprise in tomorrow's text when he learns he is about to be anointed king of Israel! Had he known this ahead of time, I have a suspicion he would have stayed as far away from Ramah as possible. He will be reluctant to take on this daunting task. I think this is why the Lord prepared Samuel ahead of time for the meeting but said nothing to Saul about what he is soon to be asked to do. 

The Lord tells us what we need to know when we need to know it. Like a good father, He doesn't give us more information than we're ready to handle. When the time comes for us to take on the task He's calling us to perform, He will supply the grace and strength to complete the task. He knows we have a human tendency to fear the unknown and will worry about how everything is going to come together if He tells us about things too far ahead. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 23, The Lord Sets Up A Meeting

Yesterday we learned the identity of the man who will be the first king of Israel. The Lord intends to set up a meeting between this man and the prophet and judge Samuel. He does so by sending Saul (who will become king) after his father's wayward donkeys.

We've talked about how Saul is not going to possess the right qualities, spiritually speaking, to be the king of Israel. And we've talked about how he's going to levy heavy taxes and all sorts of other burdensome requirements upon the people. But that doesn't mean his administration won't accomplish some good for the nation. Just as the Lord used Samson (a very carnally-minded man) to help the Israelites in their fight against the Philistines, the Lord will also use Saul to help push back against this enemy of Israel.

Yesterday we were told that Saul's father, Kish, is a well-to-do and prominent man. He owns much livestock and today some of that livestock goes missing. "Now the donkeys belonging to Saul's father Kish were lost, and Kish said to his son Saul, 'Take one of the servants with you and go look for the donkeys.' So he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and through the area around Shalisha, but they did not find them. They went on into the district of Shaalim, but the donkeys were not there. Then he passed through the territory of Benjamin, but they did not find them." (1 Samuel 9:3-4) 

We find Saul being obedient to his father, which is an admirable quality. He respects his father and cares about his father's feelings, as we will see momentarily. Saul is not all bad. Most people aren't, even those who don't choose to serve the Lord or who don't believe in Him at all. Many people who reject the Lord's authority still live law-abiding lives and are basically good citizens. Saul is a law-abiding citizen and he has proven himself trustworthy to oversee his father's estate. So it's not as if he's a dishonest scoundrel. He just doesn't really have a heart for the Lord and we'll find him displaying less respect for the Lord as time goes on.

Saul and the servant have been searching for the donkeys for so long that Saul fears his father will start believing the two of them have been in an accident or have been attacked by robbers and may be lying somewhere injured or killed. "When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, 'Come, let's go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.'" (1 Samuel 9:5) I believe Saul loves his father and is a good son to him. Again, he is not all bad, but his love and respect for his father are not an indication that his heart is right with the Lord, for Jesus said, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them." (Matthew 5:46, Luke 6:32) 

Because the two men are in the district of Zuph, where Samuel's hometown of Ramah is located, the servant recalls that a man known to be a prophet lives there. He wants to try one more thing before he and Saul give up on the donkeys and head home. "But the servant replied, 'Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let's go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take.'" (1 Samuel 9:6) It does not appear to occur to either of these men to pray to the Lord for help in finding the donkeys. This suggests that neither of them is in the habit of consulting the Lord. It suggests that neither of them has a personal relationship with Him. When a person has a close relationship with the Lord, prayer is usually the first thing they resort to when difficulty comes their way. 

Had Saul not heard of Samuel? It seems impossible he wouldn't know of Israel's current judge and prophet. But maybe he's never needed the services of a judge to decide a legal case for him. And he likely hasn't spent much time pondering spiritual matters. In tomorrow's passage we'll find him agreeing to go ask Samuel for help, and even though Saul and his servant intend to use Samuel in the manner of a fortune teller so they can find the donkeys, the Lord has another---bigger---purpose in mind for arranging this meeting. While the Lord is arranging for the donkeys to go astray, and while the two men are wandering around the countryside looking for them, He is preparing Samuel to anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. In tomorrow's passage we'll find Him telling Samuel to expect the arrival of the man who will be king. Everything about these circumstances has been orchestrated by God. Not one thing in our text is happening by chance. 

Monday, March 21, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 22, Introduction To The First King Of Israel

In the first half of Chapter 9 we will be introduced to the man who will become the first king of Israel. He will be from the line of Benjamin and not of the line of Judah, the tribe about which Jacob prophesied: "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his." (Genesis 49:10) Jacob, upon inspiration of the Holy Spirit, blessed his sons and prophesied about their descendants. In a time long before Israel had a king, Jacob foresaw that the line of Judah would be the royal line of Israel. He foresaw the reign of many human Judahite kings, culminating in the reign of the King of kings: the Messiah. The Messiah is the one to whom belongs the scepter and the ruler's staff. The Messiah is the one to whom the nations will all someday bow.

After having been told by Samuel that the Lord is going to allow them to have a king, we don't find the people seeking candidates from the tribe of Judah. We don't find anyone, from the tribe of Judah or from any other, announcing his intention to run for election. The Lord told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 17 that the kings of Israel must be "a king the Lord your God chooses", so it may be that they are waiting for word from Him although they have gotten ahead of His timing in asking for a king at this particular point in history. The Lord referred to their request for a king as a "rejection" of Him in Chapter 8, so we know that He is not pleased with the request even though He intends to grant it. He actually is, in a sense, going to choose the man to rule over them, but He's going to tell Samuel to anoint a man who is the very image of what the human mind thinks a king should be. As one commentary I consulted phrased it, this man will be "the king straight from central casting". He will be the type of man Hollywood would choose to play the king of Israel, but he won't be a man with a heart for the Lord. His outward appearance will be all they could have dreamed of but on the inside there will be a spiritual emptiness.

"There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else." (1 Samuel 9:1-2) If the average citizen were asked in those times what type of man should be king, (from a human standpoint), Saul would fit the bill. He's from a wealthy and influential family; his father is "a man of standing". It's not likely the people would deliberately choose for themselves a poor man as king. It's unlikely they would choose for themselves a king whose family line is not well known and highly respected. In addition to having an impressive pedigree, Saul is exceedingly good-looking, for the text indicates that a better looking man than Saul could not be found anywhere in Israel. It is a human tendency (or failing) to treat physical beauty as if it is a virtue and deserving of reward. Many opportunities and advantages are awarded to those whose looks can turn heads, regardless of whether or not they have a good heart and sometimes regardless of whether or not they have the qualifications for the job at hand. On top of being so handsome that women and men both can't help staring at him, Saul is the tallest man in Israel. He's going to cut a fine figure when riding his horse ahead of his army or when holding court at his palace or when meeting with other heads of state. He's nowhere near as tall as the giants who still remain in the land (he will be confronted later---to his horror---by the most famous giant of the Bible) but he's tall enough to make his subjects believe a giant would think twice before challenging him on the battlefield. 

From the outside, Saul looks like the right man for the job. And the Lord will allow him to have the job for a time. But the Lord is letting him have the job not as a blessing upon the people, as a godly king would be. He's going to use Saul as an instrument of discipline. Because the people have rejected the Lord as king, as He said in Chapter 8, and because they refused to listen when Samuel warned them about everything the king would demand of them, the Lord is going to give them a man who will do all the things Samuel said the king would do. They will wish they'd waited for the Lord's timing and for a king who has a heart for God. But though Saul will not be a man who is led by the Lord in all his decisions, and though his looks and pedigree are not what the people should have been looking for in a king, the Lord is not going to turn His back on the nation in anger and walk away. Discipline is never pleasant but it's what the Lord administers to those He loves; discipline is not judgment. Judgment is for the wicked---for those who don't belong to the Lord. Discipline is for the Lord's children: "Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you." (Deuteronomy 8:5) "Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty." (9 Job 5:17) "The Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in." (Proverbs 3:12)

The Lord, like a good father, disciplines us when we need it. He does it for our own good. Saul will not be a good man but, after his unpleasant reign is finished, a man who loves the Lord with all his heart will reign in his stead. The people will be blessed by that king. There will be some hard times in between now and then but that doesn't mean the Lord has forsaken the people. 

The Lord's discipline is not intended to discourage us and make us feel forsaken. On the contrary, it's the evidence of a loving heart, as the Apostle Paul pointed out: "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined---and everyone undergoes discipline---then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:7-11)

We will conclude by discussing a word Paul uses in verse 11 above. He refers to the one who has been disciplined as one who has "been trained". We tend to think of discipline as correction, which it often is. But discipline also means training. Other words that mean the same thing as discipline are: self-control, development, practice, preparation, cultivation, exercise, and willpower. For example, a person who wants to get in good physical shape must be a person of discipline---a person with the willpower and self-control to do what is necessary to get in good physical shape. The Lord wants us to be in tiptop spiritual shape and that requires discipline, or training. Not all the hardships we face in this world are due to having drifted into sin. We can be living in a God-honoring way and still have problems come into our lives. If we have prayerfully searched our hearts and the Lord has not revealed to us that we have brought trouble upon ourselves through disobedience, we would do well to regard our hardship as training. The Lord has allowed the hardship not as correction/punishment, but as a tool for improving our spiritual fitness. And often the sooner we begin asking the Lord what He wants to teach us through this hardship, the sooner our difficult season passes by. The sooner we "get with the program" and learn what the Lord wants to teach us, the sooner we will be ready to move on into a blessing. You'll recall that a few days ago we talked about the danger of receiving a blessing before we're ready to receive it. Sometimes our hardships are not the result of sin but are being used to prepare us to receive a great blessing. A blessing received when we are not ready to handle it can actually become a curse and the Lord, as a responsible father, doesn't give us more than we can handle. The problems you and I are having today may be the very things that will enable us to receive and enjoy and responsibly handle a great blessing tomorrow.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 21, What The King Will Do

In our study on Saturday we found the Lord telling Samuel to let the people know what they are getting themselves into before he appoints a king over them. Samuel is the final judge of Israel because the elders have come to him, on behalf of what is apparently a majority of the people, to ask for a king "such as all the other nations have". The Lord is going to allow Israel to have a king but He first makes sure they understand what the king will be like. They've asked for a king "such as all the other nations have" and the list of things below that Samuel says the king will "take" outlines how those kings ran their kingdoms. This is what Israel can expect from the one they appoint as their king.

"Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, 'This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.'" (1 Samuel 8:10-12) Every able-bodied and able-minded male of Israel aged twenty to sixty was considered eligible for the army but here we find the king conscripting young men into his service and it is not clear what age these young men will be. Since Samuel refers to this as "taking" their sons, I'm speculating that youths under the age of majority will likely be called into the king's service and that neither they nor their parents will have any choice in the matter. 

Some of these men will be appointed to prominent positions, becoming "commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties", but others will be assigned menial labor in the king's fields or will be put to the factory work of making weapons and making metal fittings for the king's chariots. It appears these positions will be assigned at the king's discretion and not necessarily because these are positions to which a young man might aspire. A physically fit youth with a courageous personality who would love to be a soldier might be given a job plowing fields instead of leading a troop. In other words, the futures of the sons of the Israelites will no longer be theirs to decide; the king will decide their occupations in life.

The king will have control over what their daughters do too. "He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers." (1 Samuel 8:13) Suppose a young lady wants to be a weaver and make beautiful rugs and fabrics? What if that is what her family's business is about? It won't matter to the king. If he wants to force her into his employ she will have no choice but to go to his palace and knead dough for his bread every day of her life. 

The king will levy heavy taxes on the people and will seize portions of their land with which to reward his closest aides and advisors. "He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants." (1 Samuel 8:14-15)

The king won't stop there. He will seize as his due some of the people's servants (probably slaves, in this context, not hired hands) and some of their livestock for his own. "Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day." (1 Samuel 8:16-18) 

The type of oppression Samuel describes is similar to, but even worse than, the oppression the Israelites have already experienced from time to time when their enemies managed to gain enough dominance over them to force them to pay tribute to heathen governments. The citizens of Israel will not literally become slaves under an oppressive king but, for all intents and purposes, they might as well be. They will lose many of the freedoms they enjoyed during the era of the judges. Their lives, their children, their property, and their livestock will no longer be fully their own. Many of their choices will be taken away from them. The burden the king will place on everyone's shoulders will be so heavy that in time they will cry out to the Lord for relief from a king "such as all the other nations have" but the Lord will leave them in these circumstances for a while to impress upon them the importance of doing things His way and in His timing. Here in 1 Samuel 8 it is not the right time yet for a king, yet the people will insist that Samuel appoint one. In 1 Samuel 9 they will select a man who is not right for the job, yet they will insist that he be anointed as their leader. 

The Lord, like many parents, believes in using consequences as a teaching tool. He doesn't always have to apply direct discipline when we disobey Him; He often allows the consequences of our actions to teach us the lesson we need to learn. If we are wise, we'll be persuaded by those unpleasant consequences to never commit that particular act of disobedience again. If we do not respond appropriately to these consequences, the Lord will have to take further corrective action to get us back on the right track because that is what a responsible father does. He is concerned about every aspect of our wellbeing and His love for us compels Him to correct us when He sees us heading for disaster. The people of Samuel's time are going to regret choosing a king for themselves and the Lord is going to allow the consequences of their unwise choice to be a teaching tool. When the Lord's perfectly chosen time for a king arrives, and when the right man for the job has gained the maturity and experience to fulfill the role, He will place that man on the throne of Israel and that king will be a stark contrast to the man the people chose for themselves.

Samuel has obediently relayed the words of the Lord to the people but they still insist they want a king. The Lord tells him to give them what they want. "But the people refused to listen to Samuel. 'No!' they said. 'We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.'" (1 Samuel 8:19-20) The Lord---the King of kings---has been leading them and going before them to fight their battles! But they want a mere human being riding in front of their army. Lest we think we can point our finger and shake our heads at their obstinacy, let's stop a moment and think about times when we have rejected the Lord's best plan in favor of plans of our own making. How many times have we gotten ahead of the Lord or gotten completely out of His will altogether? Any time we sin against the Lord we are essentially saying, "Not Thy will, but mine, be done." We are saying, "We will not have Him as king over us." 

Samuel has heard the decision of the people and he gets alone with the Lord to talk with Him about it. "When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. The Lord answered, 'Listen to them and give them a king.' Then Samuel said to the Israelites, 'Everyone go back to your own town.'" (1 Samuel 8:21-22) Samuel dismisses the assembly because their request has been heard and granted. I don't know whether those who had been assembled rejoice when they hear that they're getting what they want. But there's really nothing to rejoice about. It's a sad day. Samuel is feeling down because he's been rejected as judge over Israel. The people no longer want a judge. The Lord is being rejected as the king of the nation and as supreme general over its army. The people want a mortal human being, with all the limitations that humanity entails, to lead them. It should actually be a day of great mourning, not a day of celebration.

Whenever we reject the Lord's plans or get ahead of His plans, it should be a day of mourning because there are always consequences to getting out of the will of God. We are setting ourselves up for some tough times and regrets. I've ended up regretting it every time I've gotten ahead of the Lord and taken steps to get for myself something now that He intended to bless me with later. I've always brought hardship on myself whenever I've decided to do something that I know is wrong. Living in this fallen world is hard enough as it is, for trouble sometimes finds us even when we're living within the Lord's will, but we bring a lot of extra trouble on ourselves by getting out of His will. When that happens we have no one to blame but ourselves, which is what the Lord and Samuel were trying to warn the people about in today's text. When the king they choose brings upon them all the oppression they were warned about, they can't claim nobody told them what would happen. In this same way, when you and I choose to do something the Lord warned us not to do, we can't claim ignorance. We'll have to accept that we have no one to blame but ourselves and that can be a very bitter pill to swallow. Believe me, I've had to swallow that bitter pill a number of times! But the Lord can use a feeling of regret to lead a person to repentance and restoration. It's when a person feels no regret or shame at all over their sins that their soul is in extreme danger. Regret is an unpleasant and uncomfortable emotion but when we respond to it in the right way it will help us live closer to the Lord than ever before.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 20, The Lord Tells Samuel To Warn The People About Having A King

In Friday's study we found the elders of Israel coming to Samuel asking him to appoint a king over the nation. This request was precipitated by the fact that Samuel is getting up in years and has handed some of his duties as judge over to his two sons. His sons, seduced by love of money, have been judging legal cases unfairly in favor of whoever could pay them a bribe. A king is not necessary in order to get these problems under control: Samuel is by no means mentally infirm or too physically frail to continue in his role as judge of Israel and he could simply fire his sons as his deputies. If he needs help due to his age and due to the traveling that is required as judge, he could appoint godly men of good reputation as his deputies to handle some of the workload. But the Lord foretold, in Deuteronomy 17, that a day would come when the people would demand a king. That day has arrived.

Samuel's feelings were hurt when the elders suggested it was time for him to retire and that he needed to appoint a king over the nation. He took his hurt feelings to the Lord and poured out his heart to Him. But the Lord pointed out that Samuel shouldn't be taking the men's words personally: "It is not you they have rejected, but it is Me they have rejected as their king." This is where we pick up our text today, with the Lord going on to say, "As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking Me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.'" (1 Samuel 8:8-9) 

The Lord always intended to establish a royal line in Israel; we find Jacob prophetically blessing the line of his son Judah, saying that to his descendants would belong the "sceptre" of Israel. (Genesis 49:10), but at this point in time the people are asking for a king for the wrong reasons. Just as the Lord predicted, in 1 Samuel 8:5 they ask for a king "like all the nations around us". (Deuteronomy 17:14) The Lord never wanted Israel to be like all the other nations. Time and again He has pointed out that they are to be different from all the other nations. He will agree to their request for a king but since at this particular time they want a king for the wrong reasons, He is going to allow them to have a king who does not have the right character for the job. In time the Lord will give them a king of His own choosing, who will be right for the job because he will have a heart for the Lord, and that king will be a blessing upon the nation. But the first king will be appointed as an instrument of discipline.

The Lord always intended to allow Israel to have kings but this is not the time period in which He wanted to do so. I've asked for things at the wrong time, haven't you? The thing I wanted may not have been sinful---it might even have been a very good thing---but it wasn't the right time for the Lord to cause it to come to pass. There have been occasions when I've gotten ahead of the Lord and have taken steps to make the thing happen when I wanted it to happen. That's always been a disaster! The Lord, like a good father, knows when we are ready to handle something new. To use an example of modern times, learning to drive a car can be a fun thing and it can be a blessed thing if it's done at the right time. A good father isn't going to hand the car keys to a ten-year-old and tell him to have a good time. A good father will wait until the child is physically tall enough to drive a car. A good father will wait until the child is legally old enough to drive a car. A good father will patiently teach his child to drive a car and will not hand over the keys and let his child drive alone until he is certain the child can responsibly do so. Many times in our lives the Lord intends to bestow a particular blessing upon us but He is waiting until we are ready to handle it responsibly. In the day in which the elders come to Samuel asking for a king, the people aren't yet ready to handle this particular thing responsibly. As we will soon see as we continue to move through the book, their choice of king will not be a wise choice. They will not appoint a man who loves the Lord with all his heart, which is what the Lord intended when He gave instructions for kings in Deuteronomy 17. As a result of not choosing wisely, the man they appoint will be carnally minded and selfish and will, as time goes on, fall prey to violence and obsessive delusions.

In tomorrow's study Samuel will do as the Lord says: he will warn the people about having a king. He will lay out for them what a king will demand of them. It can never be said that the Lord let them go into this venture blindly; He is going to tell them exactly what they are getting themselves into. The king they choose will demand much of them---more than they will want to give---because the man they appoint will not be operating in the right spirit. An ungodly leader is like a curse. But thanks be to God, there will be a number of godly kings in the Old Testament. There will be men who love the Lord and who love the people and who will set a wonderful spiritual example for the nation. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 19, Israel Asks For A King

In yesterday's study the Israelites experienced a spiritual revival and rid themselves of the foreign gods among them. The Philistines attacked them again but this time the Lord miraculously intervened. We were told: "That day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites." (1 Samuel 7:10b) We don't know what the author means when he says the Lord "thundered". It could mean His powerful voice---the voice that spoke everything into existence---thundered mightily from heaven as it did at Mount Sinai in Exodus 20. Many times throughout the Bible we will find the voice of the Lord referred to as thunder. Or the author of 1 Samuel may mean He sent a literal thunderstorm along with hail and lightning to strike the Philistine troops. Whatever the Lord did on behalf of the Israelites, it gave them the upper hand and they were able to subdue their enemy.

As we closed our study yesterday we found Samuel setting up a stone to commemorate the Lord's action on behalf of Israel, saying, "Thus far the Lord has helped us." The Philistines will refrain from attacking Israel for a time following the defeat at Mizpah. They will not permanently stop making incursions on the Israelites but the Lord will thwart their efforts during the days of Samuel. "So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel's territory. Throughout Samuel's lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines. The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to Israel, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites." (1 Samuel 7:13-14) No doubt because they heard how the Lord terrified the Philistine army at Mizpah, the Amorites are unwilling to cause any friction between themselves and the Israelites for fear that the Lord will confuse and defeat their army too.

"Samuel continued as Israel's leader all the days of his life. From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he held court for Israel. And he built an altar there to the Lord." (1 Samuel 7:15-17) In his role as judge Samuel held court in his hometown of Ramah but he also held a traveling court for the convenience of the widespread citizens of Israel. 

Why he was allowed to build an altar at Ramah instead of going up to Shiloh, and why the ark of the covenant was housed at Kiriath Jearim for twenty years instead of at Shiloh, has not been explained to us in Chapter 7 but many scholars suppose it is because the town of Shiloh was destroyed by the Philistines earlier when the Philistines won a great battle against the Israelites and captured the ark of the covenant. The author of 1 Samuel does not tell us that at that the Philistines burned Shiloh and slaughtered a large number of the people there but Asaph speaks of it in Psalm 78, saying that the Lord allowed the ark to be captured and Shiloh to be destroyed because of sin in the nation of Israel in the times of the judges. "He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent He had set up among humans. He sent the ark of His might into captivity, His splendor into the hands of the enemy." (Psalm 78:60-61) The prophet Jeremiah also speaks of the destruction of Shiloh in Jeremiah 7 and 26. The only reason I can think of that the Lord would allow Samuel to build and maintain an altar of worship at Ramah, instead of Samuel and the people going up to the tabernacle at Shiloh to worship Him, is because that option was not available to them. 

The final paragraph of Chapter 7 sounds as if it is wrapping up the life of Samuel but the majority of what we will learn about Samuel is yet to come. Most of his words and deeds related to us by the Bible occur in his old age. We now move into Chapter 8 and find Samuel being asked in his later years, by the elders of Israel, to appoint a king over the nation.

"When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel's leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice." (1 Samuel 8:1-3) Samuel tries to become semi-retired in his older years, appointing his two sons to attend to far-flung matters in the nation. He makes the same mistake Eli, the high priest under whom he served at the tabernacle, of relinquishing some of his authority to his sons. Like the sons of Eli, Samuel's sons are ungodly men. They are not judging fairly but are accepting bribes in exchange for deciding cases in favor of whoever could pay the most. They've been seduced into sin by their love of money.

It's hard to say what went wrong in the spiritual lives of Joel and Abijah. It's safe to assume they were brought up right. We know Samuel lived a life that honored the Lord in their sight. But not everyone who is brought up in a God-honoring home will turn out wanting to serve the Lord. You probably know some parents who did their very best to bring their children up in the right way but their children have gone far astray from the Lord. I can think of several examples of that myself. I don't know whether Samuel was aware of what his sons were doing while they were judging matters away from home but it was his business to know because he was the Lord's chosen judge of Israel. Whether or not he knew what they were up to before we arrive at Chapter 8, he's informed of it by the elders of Israel in Chapter 8. "So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, 'You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.'" (1 Samuel 8:4-5)

The elders from all over Israel have had complaints brought to them about the behavior of Samuel's sons. They have decided that something must be done. We might expect them to come to Samuel to demand that he make his sons do right, or that he would relieve his sons from their duties. But instead they see this as a good opportunity to demand a king. They say something like, "Your sons are sinning against the Lord and perverting justice in the land. We understand that you handed some of your duties off to them because you are getting up in age but these men are not fit to judge cases in Israel. Since you are elderly and no longer feel you are able to fully meet all the demands of your job as judge, why not retire altogether? And before you retire, why not appoint a king to rule us like all the other nations have?"

The Lord foretold that a day would come in which the people would desire a king like all the other nations. His perfect will for them was that they would install and keep Him as King of their hearts but His permissive will is to give them a king when the time comes that they ask for one. If He had not intended to ever grant this request, He would not have laid down the rules for kings in Deuteronomy 17. But Samuel is offended when he is asked to anoint a king over Israel. He is offended not so much for the Lord's sake but for his own, as indicated by the remainder of today's text. "But when they said, 'Give us a king to lead us,' this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: 'Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their king.'" (1 Samuel 8:6-7)

By the Lord's words we know that Samuel's feelings are hurt. I think that when the Bible says, "He prayed to the Lord," it means that Samuel took his complaint to the Lord. He took his wounded pride to the Lord. He took his anger to the Lord. He poured out before the Lord everything the elders said to him and I think he poured out how he felt about what they said to him. Should Samuel have been more offended for the Lord's sake than for his own sake? Perhaps, but Samuel did the right thing with his feelings. He didn't lash out at the elders in anger. He didn't try to defend the wayward behavior of his sons. He didn't try to defend his unwise decision to turn over some of his duties to his sons. He took the elder's request for a king and his upset feelings straight to the Lord. That's the best way he could have handled this situation! It's the best way you and I can handle hurt feelings, wounded pride, and anger too. It's a good idea to follow Samuel's example when someone takes us to task for something. Instead of getting offended and saying things we might regret later, we should take their words to the Lord to allow Him to reveal to us whether they are right. Sometimes they are! I've had people point out attitudes or actions of mine that they feel are wrong. My first instinct, in my carnal flesh, is to feel offended. But often the Lord reveals to me that they are right and that I need to adjust my attitude or stop doing something that doesn't reflect who I am in Christ. Now I'm not saying that people won't sometimes be wrong about us, but whenever someone accuses us of being in the wrong frame of mind or of doing things that go against the Lord's word, the best thing we can do is consult the Lord and search our hearts to see if these things are true. 

Join us tomorrow as the Lord instructs Samuel on what to do next.