March 24, 2015.
Daily Reading: I Samuel 7-10.
Background: I Samuel 1-6.
Concepts and Connections.
Fear and obedience: In the previous chapter, the ark of the covenant was returned to Israel from the Philistines due to the hand of the Lord being heavy on the Philistine cities that kept the ark. Though there was rejoicing at the return of the ark, it came at a price, for the people did not handle it as they should have. The ark stayed in Kiriath-jearim for twenty years, yet the people still did not follow God with their full heart. After lamenting to the Lord, Samuel comes to them and tells them to put away all the gods that they had that were idols in place of the One true God. If they would do so, and follow God with their whole heart, then God would defeat the Philistines before them who held them in oppression. The people obeyed the voice of Samuel and put away all their foreign gods and turned to the Lord only. Then Samuel gathered the people at Mizpah so that he could entreat the Lord for them. When he did, he sacrificed to the Lord and cried out to him, and the people urged him not to stop crying out until he received an answer from the Lord. He heard their prayer and lamentation, and He through the Philistines into a confusion, causing them to be defeated by Israel. Because the Lord had helped Israel that day, Samuel set up a stone as a memorial, calling it Ebenezer (which means “stone of help”). From that point on, all the days that Samuel would judge Israel the hand of the Lord would be against the Philistines and some of their lands would be restored that the Philistines had taken. There was peace between Israel and the Amorites. The lesson we can learn from this story is the willingness of God to forgive and set His people right in His sight, no matter what their sin. The people had forsaken God for so long, putting other gods before Him, that He had not been with them. But when they put away the other gods and returned to Him, crying out for help, the Lord answered. We serve a merciful God, willing to forgive us of our transgressions if only we return to Him.
The rejection of God as King: Towards the end of Samuel’s life, he set up his two sons as priests in Beersheba; however, they did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. It seems that it was a frequent occurrence in those days for the sons of the priest or the leader of the people to not follow in their father’s footsteps but rather become corrupt. Though it is purely speculation, one may be tempted to blame the huge time commitment that the leader of the people had to make, leaving less time to raise his children to fear the Lord. Regardless of the reason, Samuel’s sons were evil, and the children of Israel knew it. They came to Samuel and demeaned that he put a king over them. This may not seem like an unreasonable request to us, especially when we see that all the nations around them were ruled by kings, or king-like figures at least (this is one of the reasons that Israel wants a king), but this was not the way that God had set up the children of Israel to run. They already had a King, and that was the Lord. But when they called for a king, the Lord told Samuel to listen to them, for they had not rejected Samuel, but rather they had rejected the Lord as their King. Thus, He would give them a king, but not without warning about what the king would do to them, taking their sons and daughters into his service, along with their land and their produce. The children of Israel wouldn’t listen to the voice of Samuel when he gave this warning from the Lord, however, but continued to insist on a king. Finally, Samuel sends them to their respective homes so that the selection process of the new king could begin. Israel had lost their trust in the Lord and would rather place their lives in the hand of a king for protection. We should examine our lives and actions to see if we have done the same, replacing the Lord with other means of protection and backup plans. It is not wrong to have these things, unless they take our trust in the Lord away (which they often do, even when we don’t realize it). Let us put our full trust in the Lord and in His guiding hand.
Saul: The story of the anointing of Saul is another good revelation of the providence of God. Saul was the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin. In this chapter, the story begins with Kish, a rather wealthy man, who looses his donkeys and sends his son Saul and a servant out to look for them. Having no luck, Saul suggests that they return home so that his father would not be worried about him. But since they were in the city where Samuel was, the servant suggests to go see the seer (Samuel) to see if he could help. God’s providence had led Saul straight to Samuel. The Lord had told Samuel the day before that He was going to send the one who He had chosen to be king to Samuel, and when Saul comes to Samuel, the Lord reveals that he is the one that He has chosen. Samuel prepares a feast for Saul and his servant, and gives them information about the donkeys. It is interesting to remember that the tribe of Benjamin is the tribe that was nearly annihilated in a civil war that was sparked over the wickedness of the men of Gibeah, a city of Benjamin, raping and murdering a Levite’s concubine after trying to bring him out to rape him (see Judges 19-21). This is likely why Saul claims that his tribe is the lowliest of all the tribes of Israel in verse 21. It would seem that Saul started off on the right foot, with a proper amount of humility, though this would disappear the further he got into his reign. On the next day, Samuel said to send the servant on ahead so that he might tell Saul what the Lord had to say in private, where he would anoint him as future king.
“Long live the king”: After Samuel sends the servant ahead of him and Saul, he proceeds to tell Saul about how the Lord has chosen him to be a leader of the people. Saul certainly looked the part, being a head and shoulders above every once else in Israel. Samuel anointed his head with oil and gave him prophecy of what would happen to him over the next few days so that he would know that what Samuel said was indeed true (notice the amount of precise detail that Samuel was able to give Saul in his prophecy). Then Samuel sent Saul on his way and told him to await further instructions from him. Samuel gathered all the people at Mizpah to announce their new king, and everyone lined up according to their clans and tribes. The tribe of Benjamin was chosen by lot, down to the clan of Kish and finally on Saul. But it seems that Saul was frightened about the position that the Lord had chosen him to fill, for he was hiding in the baggage. His location was revealed (it is quite hard to hide from what the Lord has called you to do, also see Noah 1-4) and he was presented as king. The people shouted “long live the king!” and Samuel detailed the rights and duties of the kingship, recording them in a book, probably for future reference. Israel had made their choice, and God had given them a king even though it was not His plan to do so. The period of the united kingdom (Saul, David and Solomon) had begun. The foundation of the kingdom of Israel raises some interesting ideas, perhaps implying that God will give us what we want if we are insistent enough, even when He has told us that it is not what we need. Though they had rejected God as King, He would continue to be with the children of Israel so long as they would terry with Him. A good example of this is the early reign of King David, and the reign of Solomon when the Lord blessed Israel with their golden age. God is loyal to His people even when they make mistakes, so long as they return to Him and do not dwell in sin (see II Timothy 2:11-13 and I John 1:5-10).
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 33-35.
The peace that passes understanding be with you.