1 Samuel 1-16, The Setting for the Monarchy of Israel
The history book we call 1 Samuel, is the history of the transition of Israel from a Theocracy to a Monarchy. It is also the history of the continuing of God’s work in a fallen world. When God brought the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, He formed them into a new nation, gave them the Promised Land as their possession and God ruled them through a theocracy, which is a system of government in which priests rule as mediators of God. Theos is the Greek name for god, so a theocracy is literally God rules. It was the system of Israel from Moses until the selection of King Saul about 1050 B.C. First Samuel gives us the story of the transition from a theocracy to a monarchy, which was an act of total rebellion against God. Before the change, it appeared in the book of Judges that Israel would disappear due to its own evil and idolatry. Our patient God intervened and provided Samuel who was both the last Judge of Israel but also a priest and a prophet. The godly leadership of Samuel should have begun a great revival in Israel, but the people continued to rebel and they rejected God’s provision by demanding a worldly king to lead them. The Ammonites to the east were a constant threat, as were the Philistines to the west. Samuel knew the truth that these enemies were defeating Israel as a judgment by God against the idolatry of the Israelites, but the people refused to take responsibility. Instead, they demanded that a king should rule over them. A king who would unite the 12 tribes of Israel, put together a standing army, and lead them against their enemies. Clearly there was a massive leadership crisis. The sons of the High Priest Eli were depraved crooks, and later the sons of Samuel were morally not fit to lead after Samuel. It seemed that anarchy reigned, and the people would not repent so they were ignorant that it was all about retribution theology—God’s discipline against disobedience. They took God’s judgment in the same way people always have—they blamed it on someone or something else!
Samuel was greatly disturbed by this demand of the people for a king. He took it personally that they were rejecting him. In 1 Samuel 8, the people repeat over and over against Samuel’s objection, “Now appoint a king for us to judge us like all the other nations”. Notice that they wanted to be like all the other nations, even though God had separated them from the nations and blessed them. Samuel went to the Lord in prayer, and God made it known that Samuel should not take it personally. God told Samuel, “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” God went on to tell Samuel to grant their request, but warn them about the enormous downside of rejecting God and being ruled by a worldly king. Samuel told the people that a king would take their sons into battle to die, and take their daughters for his personal use, then he would take their land and property for his own, he will tax you heavily, and take your animals, and all your stuff. Then you will cry out to the Lord, but He will not answer.
Romans 1:18-25, God Gave them Over
In the New Testament book of Romans, the author Paul gave an explanation of how the human race became such a mess. Why did they reject the Lord their God, and make up their own religions? What is the origin of idolatry? What was God’s response, and how did He bring judgment against them? Paul says that the human race has no excuse, because God made Himself known inherently to them and gave them a desire for God, and they could look at the awesome creation and know that God made it. Therefore they knew God, but in their vanity did not honor Him as God, and instead they made up their own gods and religions that are more suitable to them—gods of their own choosing. Amazingly they “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and beasts…they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped the creature rather than the Creator”. What was God’s judgment and wrath against all this? “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity”. “God gave them over to degrading passions”. “God gave them over to a depraved mind”. Paul repeated this phrase three times to emphasize the severity of this judgment. It is like your child who wants to touch the hot stove, but you warn him not to because of the pain and destruction of tissue. Yet, he will not stop until you “Give him over” and let him experience the terrible consequences. God’s judgment was to allow Israel its free will to reject Him, and then suffer the terrible consequences. The proposal that they have a king like all the nations was a firm intention that they also become just like all the other pagan nations. There was a great comparison between Samuel’s “voice” that only God should be their king to the people’s refusal to obey Samuel’s voice since Samuel will obey their voice for an evil king—what irony! This is the essence of the Old Testament history, the people bring terrible consequences upon themselves.
Therefore, God told Samuel to grant Israel’s request for a king, and thereby reject God as their ruler. It is as if God was saying “Fine, let them do what they want, and let’s see how that works”. The story of the first king of Israel would be one disaster after another.
Was There Anything Wrong with the Priesthood? 1 Samuel 2:11-36
At the end of the previous history book of Judges, we read the moral condition of Israel, “In those days Israel had no king, everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Unfortunately, the downside of human priests is that they may reflect the society they live in, and the priests in 1 Sam.2 may have been even worse. Eli was the head priest, but his evil sons were priests as well, and they were totally out of control. They were “worthless men” who “did not know the Lord”. They stole food that was for the sacrifices, extorted from people, and had elicit sex there at the Tabernacle. Therefore, God answered Hannah’s prayer to have a son that would be dedicated to the Lord. She had been barren, but she prayed for a son and promised to dedicate him to the Lord’s service. She conceived and bore a son, Samuel, who God would raise up as a righteous priest, judge, and prophet. God rejected the priesthood of Eli and his sons, and God promised to remove these wicked men, and replace them, “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest”, Samuel.
Surely the Ark Will Save us! 1 Samuel 4-7
Remember that after God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, He instructed them to build a rectangular box plated with gold to put the tablets of stone they were written on. This was the Ark of the Covenant, which was supposed to be kept in the Holy of Holies place in the Tabernacle. After Samuel grew up, the Philistines were a constant threat to Israel, and the people went out to do battle with them. The elders should have been worshipping and depending on God, but instead they trusted in the Ark that housed the Ten Commandments. They treated it like some magic wand by taking it out of the Tabernacle and into battle with them. Like almost everyone before or since, Israel tried to control the power of God, but found themselves on the wrong side of God’s power. God did not honor that, so they were soundly defeated, and the Philistines captured the treasured possession of Israel—the Ark of the Covenant. Chapter 5-6 of 1 Samuel details the hilarious story of the Philistines and the Ark. They put it in their pagan temple with all of their gods, but the idol of their false God Dagon fell over face down repeatedly. God terrified the Philistines and afflicted them with terrible tumors and pain. For seven months the Philistines suffered and died until the Philistines wised up and put the Ark on a cart pulled by cows and sent it back to Israel. It stopped first at Beth Shemesh where the people opened it and looked in, but 70 of them were struck dead by God. Apparently they were not Bible readers, and did not know God’s prohibition against touching the Ark, much less opening it. Fearing God they sent it to Kiriath-jearim where it stayed in some guy’s garage for a long time until David took it back to place it in its rightful place in the Holy of Holies. The point of all these stories of evil priests, menacing Philistines, and abuse of the Ark was that the people of Israel were totally off the track disobeying God in every way, but God was watching, judging, and providing all the way through.
What Kind of King is This? 1 Samuel 8-10
When Samuel was old, the people became restless knowing that Samuel’s heirs were wicked and not competent to lead Israel. Again the leadership crisis became an important issue. The Ammonites were whipping them on their east side and the Philistines were troubling them on their west side. It never occurred to them that this was all a judgment from God, so they demanded that Samuel appoint for them a king. The nature of this king would be all important, and the people want “a king like all the other nations”. All the other nations at that time were pagan idol worshippers involved in all sorts of evil, yet Israel wanted a tough ambitious warrior like they had. Naturally Samuel took it personally that they were rejecting him, but God reassured Samuel, “obey the request of the people…for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them.” Wait, what? God said let them have a king even though He knew it would not end well? Exactly, “God gave them over”, and would let them experience the consequences of their actions. Maybe you think this unfair, but don’t miss that God warned them repeatedly of the consequences (1 Sam. 8:10-18, 10:17-19), but they overruled God as if they knew better. In 1 Samuel 9, it appears initially that God chose Saul to be the King of Israel, but in fact God picked out the kind of king God knew the people wanted and gave him to them (God gave them over). It is true that 1 Samuel 10:24 makes it seem like God chose Saul, but this was always in the context of the people’s demands for their kind of king. In 1 Sam.8:18, Samuel told them Saul was “Your king whom you have chosen for yourselves”, and in 1 Sam.12:13, “the king whom you chose, for whom you asked”. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, which was the warrior tribe of Israel that usually led the other tribes into battle. Saul was tall dark and handsome, and he had the reputation of being a fierce warrior. The text says that Saul was the tallest and best looking guy in all Israel, and he was rich! This is the guy who by all appearances most people would want to lead them. Nevertheless, God doesn’t judge by appearances like people do, just as He later told Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature…for the Lord sees not as man sees, man looks on his outer appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam.16:7). God knew the kind of king the people wanted–Saul, but God knew also that it would not end well, and the people would experience what it is like to have a proud, lustful, violent, greedy king of their choosing. The contrast between Saul and his successor David is made clear in 1 Sam.13:14. After Saul sinned greatly by usurping the role of priest and disobeying the command of God, God told him through Samuel that Saul’s descendants would not rule. Saul would continue to rule but his dynasty was ended. God would raise up “a man after His own heart”, which would be David. After Saul disobeyed a second time in 1 Sam.15, Samuel made him begrudgingly confess, but it was clear it was not a sincere confession. That day Samuel left Saul, and the relationship between King Saul and God’s prophet was broken, he never saw Samuel again. Even worse, not long after this separation from Samuel, “the Spirit of God departed from Saul”, and an evil spirit filled the vacuum tormenting Saul. The people had gotten just the kind of king they asked for, and now they would suffer the consequences.
A Man After God’s Own Heart—DAVID
In Acts 13:22, Paul was recounting the story of 1 Samuel, and he wrote that “God raised up David to be king, of whom God testified ‘I have found within David a man after my heart, who will do My will”. After Saul’s numerous blatant sins and disobedience and failure to sincerely repent, in 1 Sam.16 God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to the House of Jesse to find a king “after God’s own heart”. It is a wonderful picture of the contrast between God’s choice of a leader and man’s choice by appearances only. Samuel went to the House of Jesse, and all the people there had great respect and fear of God and God’s prophet. Samuel asked to see his sons, so naturally he brought the oldest boy Eliab to him first. Eliab was a strong looking impressive young man so Samuel assumed it was him, but the Lord impressed upon Samuel it was not because, “For the Lord sees not as man sees, man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart”. Jesse paraded six more impressive sons before Samuel, but God vetoed them all. The shocker is that if it had been up to Samuel, he would have chosen another guy like Saul. Samuel asked if there was another, and Jesse said yeah the youngest is out in the wilderness living with the sheep—you guessed it David!
Conclusion—What Kind of King?
Let’s look at it from our perspective. Over a thousand years later a king would be brought before the Roman Governor Pilate, and Pilate would ask Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus’ reply was, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my servants would be fighting, that I not be delivered over to the Jews to die. But My kingdom is not from the world” (Jn.18:36). Jesus was saying that He was not just another worldly king. Jesus came first as a suffering servant to make a sacrifice for the atonement of our sins, and Jesus is coming back at the end of this age as the conquering King who will judge all, and then set up the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the King we all desperately need, but He is NOT a king like the one demanded by the elders of Israel in 1 Samuel 8-10. They were foolish to think a leader like Saul could give them peace, security and prosperity. The difference between King Jesus and the kings of this world is JESUS IS A KING WHO DOES NOT TAKE—HE GIVES.