March 31, 2015.
Daily Reading: I Samuel 11-15.
Background: I Samuel 7-10.
Concepts and Connections.
Becoming a king: Though Saul was chosen to be king in chapter 9 and anointed/presented as king in chapter 10, it isn’t until this chapter that he practically assumes his position. It seems as though Saul needs to prove himself before he gains the full support of all the people. The opportunity for Saul to prove himself arises as Nahash the Ammonite comes up against Jabesh-Gilead demanding that the right eye of the people be gouged out if he is to make a treaty with them. Apparently Nahash was intimidating, as the people actually consider his proposition for some time while they were looking to see if there was anyone to deliver them. When Saul hears what Nahash the Ammonite wants to do, the Spirit of the Lord rushes on him and the dread of the Lord falls on the people, so that all of Israel is mustered as one people, and through the power of the Lord they defeated the Ammonites, scattering them throughout the land. As Saul emerges victorious, the people rally behind him and try to put to death those who had said bad things about Saul when he was appointed king (see 10:27). However, Saul does not allow these men to be put to death because the Lord had brought salvation to Israel that day. Renewing the kingdom, this is where Saul establishes his reign, which at the onset seems to be quite good in terms of following the Lord. This story goes to show that sometimes we must do something to firmly establish a position we hold, rather than receiving the position only in word. People are more apt to follow actions than talk.
Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it: As Saul is established his reign over the people and Samuel is nearing the end of his life, Samuel stands before the people to give a farewell address. Notice that much of the address is a recounting of history, showing that it is very important to learn from history, especially our own history, so that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. As the story of history progresses to the present, Samuel reminds them that asking for a king was not good in the sight of God, but because they insisted (and had rejected the Lord as their King), God indeed gave them what they wanted, but not without warning of the harm a king would bring to them. To show that their wickedness was great, Samuel called the thunder and rain from the Lord, striking great fear in the people. They asked that Samuel pray for them because of the evil they had done in asking for a king, and thus Samuel did. It is very interesting to note that though the people recognized their sin and asked Samuel to pray for them about it, God did not remove the king from power. The people had made their choice, and the king had been established (though it was against the plan of God for the people); the Lord simply provided a way for them to serve Him through their choices, calling them to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all their heart that He might be with them. The Lord was not going to forsake His people just because they had made the wrong decision here. He would stay with them so long as they returned and were faithful to Him. What love the Lord has for HIs people, that even when they reject Him, He abides with them through their bad decisions (after they acknowledge their wickedness and strive to once again follow the Lord).
Making excuses: Saul begins his reign strong, fighting and overcoming the Philistines at Geba. Saul’s reputation was getting around to the Philistines, so that it is said that Israel became a stench to the Philistines. Though he has started strong, he would quickly fall into a succession of bad decisions and mistakes that would lead to the loss of the kingdom to another who would better serve the Lord. Here we see that the Philistines had come up against Israel in response to Saul’s early victories and had routed the kings forces, sending Israel into fear. Saul decides to turn to the Lord and have Samuel offer sacrifice so that theLord would be with them and they could defeat the Philistines. There had been an appointed day for Samuel to come before Israel and offer sacrifice to the Lord, but Saul grew impatient when Samuel did not come right away the seventh day. Saul’s impatience lead him to sin, as he decided it would be better for him to do the sacrifice (though he was not a Levitical priest) instead of doing nothing. As soon as he offered the sacrifice unlawfully, Samuel shows up and asks him what he has done. Saul’s response is the beginning of his practice of making excuses when it comes to following the Lord’s command. He blames his unlawful sacrifice on Samuel’s delay, saying he ‘forced’ himself to do it when he say that Samuel had not come and that no sacrifice had been offered to the Lord yet as the Philistines were coming down to battle. Though he made excuses (which were not necessarily false), Samuel tells Saul he had done foolishly. Though this might seem like a minor transgression to us, it caused Saul to lose the kingdom, as the Lord had taken it from him and given it to a man after God’s own heart (this is a reference to David, see I Samuel 16 and Acts 13:22). Saul’s transgression ultimately stemmed from a lack of faith in the Lord, as he tried to take matters into his own hands when he lost hope in the plan of God. This is a valuable lesson that we can take from this story, learning not to lose faith in God just because it seems like His plan is not going to work out. Immediately after Saul offered the unlawful sacrifice, Samuel shows up to carry out the original plan. Waiting just a little longer would have accomplished the plan of God. Let us trust in the Lord and not become impatient with His plan.
1. Guidance from and trust in the Lord: There is an interesting story about Saul’s son Jonathan at the beginning of this chapter which shows Jonathan’s full trust in the Lord. Israel is continuing their fight against the Philistines and Jonathan and his armor bearer separate themselves from the group and find a garrison of about twenty Philistine soldiers. To determine wether or not the Lord would deliver them into their hands, Jonathan sets up a way where the Lord could plainly make known His answer. Jonathan shows great trust in the Lord here, recognizing that He could save Israel with many or with few. The Lord indeed shows that He will give the garrison into the hands of Jonathan and his armor bearer by the Philistines reaction to seeing the two, and they go up and kill all of the mean present. This sends the Philistines into a panic and gives the rest of Israel’s army to fall upon them and start to defeat them. God had indeed used just a few men who trusted in Him to work His salvation for Israel. Let us also trust in the Lord that He will use us to further His will, and let us seek His guidance in everything that we do.
2. Think before you speak: Though they had made some progress, the men of Israel were hard pressed in battle against the Philistines. When Saul realizes the situation that he is in, he makes a rash vow that he thinks will cause the people to put their all into the battle. He laid an oath on the people, cursing anyone who took food that day until the evening came and Saul had defeated the Philistines. This turned out to be a bad decision, as Saul’s son Jonathan would eat some honey along the way, not knowing the curse that Saul had laid on the people. After Jonathan learns what his father has done, he recognizes that this was a foolish decision, for if the people had been allowed to eat they would have had more strength to fight and prevail against their enemies. Indeed, the people were so hungry that they started to eat meat that wasn’t even cooked, sinning against the Lord (see Leviticus 3:17). Nonetheless, Saul had laid an oath on the people, and when Saul tried to inquire of the Lord to ask Him about the battle, the Lord did not answer, for someone had broken the oath (it is interesting that even though this was a bad oath, the Lord still recognized it as an oath). Saul really has to eat his own words when he learns that it is his son Jonathan that has eaten some honey (compare with Jepthah’s tragic vow in Judges 11:29-40). Going back on what he said he would do, Saul does not put Jonathan to death. There would be fighting with the Philistines all the days of Saul’s reign. We can take note here that we really should think before we say something that we will later come to regret.
Disobedience and rejection: The word of the Lord comes to Saul through Samuel at the beginning of this chapter to give him a command against the Amalekites. The Lord has judged the Amalekites for what they had done to Israel when they came up from the land of Egypt (see Exodus 17:8-16), and has devoted them to destruction. God tells Saul to go to the sons of Amalek and destroy them, every man, woman and child, even their livestock, leaving nothing alive. Saul indeed goes down to Amalek and defeats them, but he does not carry out the full command of the Lord, but rather he spares the king, Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs- all that was good. Israel is used to taking the spoils of war and it seems that Saul has no desire in destroying what he would see as treasure. However, his actions grieve the Spirit of the Lord, and He regrets that He ever made Saul king. When Samuel first comes to Saul, Saul asserts that he has followed the full command of the Lord; however, when Samuel confronts Saul about what he has done, Saul begins by passing the blame. He says that the people had brought them back to sacrifice to the Lord. He sees this as a good thing, since it was purposed for sacrifice. When Samuel presses him harder, Saul continues to assert that he has followed the command of the Lord, again trying to pass the blame on to the people. Finally, after Samuel lays out the sin that Saul has committed, telling him that the Lord has rejected him as king, Saul owns up to his transgression. But it was too late, the Lord had taken the kingdom from him, and there was nothing that Saul could do about it. He tries to make things right by killing Agag, the king of Amalek, but it was too little, too late. Saul had rejected the command of the Lord, and the Lord had rejected Saul as king, giving his kingdom into the hands of one better than him. Let us not follow in the footsteps of Saul, but rather let us follow the commands of the Lord, not partially, but fully.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 36-38.
The will of the Lord be on our hearts.