I Samuel 15: The Disgrace of Saul

God directs Saul to orchestrate the killing of Amalek. Saul is to kill “both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” This is in retribution to the way that Amalek had victimized Israel.

Saul showed mercy on the Kenites in asking them to remove themselves from among the Amalekites. These people were interspersed within the larger group of Amalekites, who were nomadic. Israel had been loosely associated with the Kenites since the time of Moses’ marriage to Jethro’s daughter, a Kenite (Judges 1:16). Saul’s mercy on the Kenites would not have represented disobedience because the Kenites were not Amalekites, and the Lord had instructed Saul to attack and destroy Amalek.

However, Saul does take a very wrong turn in verses 8 and 9 when he spares King Agag and the best of the livestock, as well as other things of value. Saul’s motivation is not clear. He should have done what the Lord commanded and killed everyone and laid to waste every valuable; the severity of the command is surprising and difficult to carry out, but it demonstrates the depth of the Lord’s judgment on Amalek. Instead, Saul saved Agag and kept some spoils. Why did Saul disagree? It is unclear at this point, but he could have been seeking the glory for himself, envied the valuable resources, or he might have even supposed that God would have wanted Israel to enjoy the spoils of Amalek. Whatever his reasoning is makes little difference. Just like us, when Amalek acted beyond what God had directed, He disobeyed and sinned. In doing so, Saul not only brought judgment on himself but he also made of lesser effect the judgment and punishment that God had decreed for Amalek.

We get an insight into Saul’s thinking as we read through verses 13-15. Saul thought and acted beyond what God said and he took liberties with the Lord’s commandment, supposing that God would prefer for the good animals to be sacrificed rather than destroyed. He thinks himself within the realms of obedience. The extent to which he is in denial is not known.

When Samuel reminds Saul that he was supposed to have utterly destroyed everything, Saul responds by blaming the people. This blame not only further reveals Saul’s disobedience, but also underscores his ineptitude as a leader. Samuel responds in verses 22-23 in a song or verse of sorts that condemns Saul’s actions, rejects him as king, and illuminates some facts:

  • To obey God is better than to offer sacrifice to God
  • Rebellion, like witchcraft, is sin
  • Stubbornness is also sin and a form of idolatry (self-worship)

Saul admits his mistake and reveals more of the reason behind his disobedience. Earlier he seemed to blame it on the people, but in verse 24 we learn that he was actually scared of the people. This likely means that Saul knew what God had asked and tried to lead the people to do as God said, but Saul was too weak to instruct and lead the people when they challenged him. This is a deeper insight into the lack of Saul’s leadership abilities. Saul seeks forgiveness, but Samuel rejects Saul also, because “you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

Saul accidentally tears Samuel’s robe by grabbing it as Samuel is leaving him. Samuel uses the opportunity to demonstrate to Saul that the robe tore just as God tore Israel away from Saul. Saul again seems to repent, and entreats Samuel once more to worship with him. This time Samuel allows it, perhaps seeing sincerity in Saul’s plea.

In the end of this chapter, Samuel is the righteous man to do the dirty work. He gorily kills Agag before the Lord in Gilgal. Samuel and Saul part ways after this and “the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.”

Saul’s downfall and disgrace here are embarrassing and deplorable. He seems to have a heart that wants to serve God but his resolve is weak. The lesson for us is clear: it matters ever so much less what we intend to do with God’s commandments than what we actually do with His commandments. With our God, it is not the thought that counts, it is the action.

I Samuel 14: A Study of Faith in Father/Son

The story of King Saul continues as he and his son Jonathan fight against the Philistines. Their respective approaches are very different. King Saul is fighting for himself, while Jonathan is fighting for the Lord.

Verses 1-23: Jonathan and his armorbearer

In the midst of the Philistine threat, King Saul’s son Jonathan is inspired to defeat the Philistine garrison. Saul was not very far away with a detachment of approximately six hundred men. But Jonathan did not seek help from his father, probably because his father would have rejected the plan. Reckless as it seems, Jonathan’s plan to trick and then sneak up on the Philistines was successful, resulting in Jonathan and his armorbearer defeating twenty men by themselves. Jonathan was bold and acted in faith. His actions were sincere and courageous and God rewarded him with victory.

King Saul, on the other hand, made an attempt to be virtuous and godly in his approach, but we can see in his actions that his sense of self was caught up in the fight and that he would rather make the decisions for himself than following the guidance of the Lord. We can see from verses 18 and 19 how King Saul allowed himself to get distracted from consulting with the priest and he instead went directly to battle in the following verses.

Despite Saul’s independent thinking, God still handed the Israelites a victory that day. This can be seen as grace and the will of the Lord.

Verses 24-52: Saul’s faulty leadership

In more evidence that Saul is taking this Philistine fight personally, he places his people under an oath that they would not eat until the Philistines are defeated: “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.” This was a very unwise order because the people need sustenance to give their bodies strength to defeat the Philistines.

Jonathan was away when his father placed the people under the oath. Because of this, he freely ate some honey in the forest when the Israelites came across it. The people told Jonathan of the oath. But when he heard it, Jonathan reacted in a way to convince them that his father had “troubled the land” by putting them under such an oath. The people, encouraged by Jonathan and his win over the Philistine garrison earlier, began eating. But Israel sinned against God in this because they ate the livestock without draining the blood, which was in violation of God’s law (Leviticus 17:10-14).

Saul, trying still to do what is right and please the Lord, hears of this. He allows the eating and has a great stone set up so that the people can properly drain the blood of the animals that they are eating. Saul then seeks the counsel of God in what to do next, whether to attack the Philistines or not. But he hears no answer, so he deduces that there must be some sin in the camp. In order to divine who is responsible for this, lots will be cast and he says that whomever is at fault will be put to death, even if it is his son Jonathan.

When Saul finds that his son Jonathan is responsible of breaking the oath by eating, he sticks to his word. But the people stood in the breach for Jonathan in I Samuel 14:45: “But the men said to Saul, “Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.” So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.”

Saul’s relenting to the word of the people was wise. This and his acts of war helped to protect the nation against surrounding belligerent nations and established his status as king.

The lessons for us today are few but not hard to find:

  • We can get along without God for so long, devoted to Him in half-measures, but this is temporary
    • King Saul is trying to serve both himself and God simultaneously; the result is that his service to God is empty and insincere
  • “Blind” faith in God and courage to act can be rewarded with great blessings
    • Jonathan may have acted surprisingly, but because he did so in belief and faith that God would see him through, he was blessed with victory and mercy

It is important to recognize that not everything Saul did was wrong or bad. He tried to serve the Lord, but unfortunately his focus was not always on God, but instead was often was on what he wanted. Each morning and night when we pray, we should examine our priorities, intents, and motivators. A pure and honest heart that wants to serve God and God alone is precious in His sight.

I Samuel 13: That Foreboding Feeling

Do you ever have that sick feeling in your stomach that something is not right? A feeling that there is something bad coming your way? Maybe you made a decision that was clearly wrong in hindsight, or perhaps you are confident, but still have the feeling that things are not going to turn out well. That is the feeling that King Saul likely had at the end of this chapter.

We left chapter 12 with the warning from Samuel in verses 24-25: “Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

The actions we see Saul taking in the early verses of chapter 13 show a king that is not seeking the counsel of the Lord. Saul builds up a small army, which may have been to protect the king and his cohorts. But then he uses this army to attack a nearby Philistine garrison. He then blows a trumpet, as a way to make all of Israel understand that more fighting was likely on the way. Saul’s son Jonathan makes an appearance here and will play more prominent roles in the story as we progress through the book.

Many Philistines come close to Israel, in an area called Michmash. This caused many of the Israelites that were nearby to flee and hide. Saul had been told what to do by Samuel back in I Samuel 10:8: “You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do.”

Saul waited the seven days, but Samuel did not come within that seven days. Saul also saw that the people had hidden and were scattered, so Saul felt compelled to act, regardless of what he had been told before by Samuel. Saul still believes in God and that God can and will deliver them. But with his next act Saul goes beyond the things that God had laid out for him. Saul offers a burnt offering when it was Samuel’s place as high priest to do so. This was a violation of God’s law. Saul might have quelled his guilt by telling himself that Samuel did not come within the seven days, so it was okay. In verses 13 and 14, Samuel clearly explains the details of Saul’s offense: “And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

The last verses of the chapter explain how the Philistines are coming out against Israel and how the Philistines have prevented the Israelites from fashioning effective metal weaponry. The Philistines were quite politically savvy in that they also prevented the Israelites from making and improving their own farm implements. This could have been a ploy of the Philistines to make Israel dependent on them. The chapter ends with the Philistines coming out to the pass of Michmash.

The main lesson for tonight’s chapter for us is that a sin is a sin, whether it is done under duress, under what we feel are justifiable conditions, or even if it is done with clean intentions. Saul’s offering was all of these things, but it was still a sin because only a high priest was to make the offering. We should think about this as it applies to our own lives. When I sin, do I couch it in what I judge to be justifiable conditions? Do I forgive myself for the sin because it was during a very stressful time? Do I allow myself the sin because I feel like it was in the pursuit of  higher purpose? All of those noble ideals surrounding the sin do not the sin forgive. Only God can forgive sins, and it is only within the conditions that he has determined and laid out for us (the cross). We simply cannot create the conditions within which a sin can be excused.

I Samuel 12: You Would Go After Empty Things

This is a special chapter, full of foreboding and warnings for the people of God that dared to ask Him for a king when He was already their king. Samuel is old now and he seeks the attention of the people during Saul’s official coronation as king of Israel. As Saul claims, he has not done wrong by the people, and has always been a faithful man of God before them. Samuel establishes his integrity before the people by asking for them to witness his faithfulness and righteousness.

Samuel begins a sermon/history review of sorts to the people starting in verse 6, outlined as follows:

  • Moses and Aaron brought their fathers out of Egypt
  • The people forsook the Lord
  • The Lord gave them up to the Philistines
  • The people recognized their need for the Lord once they saw their condition
  • The Lord sent strong righteous men to deliver them from their enemies
  • Once back under the protection of God, the people deign to request an earthly king
  • God gave them Saul

After Samuel leads them through this brief history, he submits that God did grant them a king in Saul. We can interpret this act from God as grace because the Lord should have been their king and they truly had no need for an earthly king. But God gave them one out of grace and love, simply because they asked for it. The people would do well to heed Saul’s advice that nothing has changed in terms of their relationship with God:

“If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the Lord your God. However, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers.” I Samuel 12:14-15

Then Samuel rightly chastises them for not recognizing that they did not need a king to begin with. They should have recognized that God was the only king they needed. This is followed by a miraculous display of weather, prayed for by Samuel and meant to underscore the seriousness of their covenant with God and the precarious situation they find themselves in after having asked for an earthly king. They were at odds with God and it was increasingly unlikely that they would follow God in obedience given their history of leaving the Lord.

Despite the history and the warnings from Samuel, the people certainly seem like they understand their condition and that they are making the changes in their mind to obey and please God. They say in verse 19: “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves.” This statement from the people is a prime example of souls that serve God with words but not in action. Are we guilty of this sin? Most definitely.

Samuel then gives them the obvious advice in verse 20-24 that they need to follow in order to stay close to God. There are two verses in his guidance that stick out for us today:

  1. Verse 21: “…do not turn aside [from God]; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing.”
    • The meaning is remarkable because it applies to life in the Old Testament as well as life in our modern age. We might think that a new social perspective, new technology, or new ideas are worthy of our faith and belief, but the really only represent the same thing to us as the earthly king did to Israel. Things that bring us away from God seem initially to be important, and they demand and (we feel) deserve our attention due to a fabricated sense of urgency. But what is at the bottom of this journey? These fallible and temporary things eventually reveal their emptiness. We find ourselves then back where we began, and where we should have remained: God is the direction we should be pointed in, He is the place that best deserves our belief, our faith, our trust, and our hope.
  2. Verse 22: “For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people.”
    • This simple message underscores the grace and love that God constantly incorporates into His relationship with us. Did the people need a king? Certainly not. Would it help them get closer to God. Not likely. So then why did God give them one? Because He loved them. If you look at your life and are honest, you could find things you have asked God for and received that you did not need, or that might even make it more challenging to obey Him. If you received these things, why did God give them to you despite these failings? Because He loves you.
    • We can add the concept as well that any material things, resources, or generic blessings that God puts into our lives can also be used to teach us. They can be used to make us suffer, so that we come closer to God. The Israelites at this time will continue to fail repeatedly under the poor leadership of King Saul, and they will struggle with their faith as a people.

We can look at our lives in parallel with the history of the Jewish people as a model for how to be reconciled to God. We will hear God’s Word and at points in our life and in different degrees, we will rebel. But, if we come back to Him more times than we leave Him, He will always be there to welcome us just as in the parable of the prodigal son.

However, do not rely on God’s grace, as Paul warns against in Romans chapter 6. For if we stray too far away from God, we will not find our way back to Him. Instead, God will give us up to the consequences of our sins.

I Samuel 11: When God is With Us

Saul has taken the kingship of Israel with little fanfare. Some of the Israelites despised him and did not believe that he would be a good leader. Ultimately, the doubters will prove to have truth in their beliefs. For this chapter, Saul gives many people reason to believe that he will be a great and godly king.

An Ammonite named Nahesh came to the Israelite city of Jabesh, located in the Gilead region east of the Jordan. The Israelites in Jabesh were intimidated by Nahesh and his army and offered to make a deal with him so that they would not be attacked. Nahesh answered: “On this condition I will make a covenant with you, that I may put out all your right eyes, and bring reproach on all Israel.”

Seeing that they would get no mercy from Nahesh, the elders of Jabesh seek assistance from the different factions of Israel. When Saul hears of this threat, he admonishes all of the other peoples of Israel to rise up with him against Nahesh and the Ammonites. Saul had God on his side for this endeavor, guiding him through the actions he took: “Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard this news, and his anger was greatly aroused.” Saul cut an oxen into pieces and sent them throughout all the land of Israel with the warning, “Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen.”

Under Saul’s inspired leadership, the people came to Saul, ready to fight for the defense of their countrymen in Jabesh. The men came during the morning watch and killed Ammonites “until the heat of the day.” The Ammonites were defeated and devastated so totally that when they were scattered, “no two of them were left together.”

The people, seemingly all of them now, are so impressed with this victory and with Saul as a leader that they want to put to death those men that expressed no confidence in Saul before these events. But Saul showed mercy, ““Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has accomplished salvation in Israel.”

The final verse is a picture of victorious celebration as Saul leads the people to Gilgal where he is made king before the Lord, and sacrifices and peace offerings are made to the LORD.

This chapter is a very important one in the story of king Saul. We have the picture of a man that is inspired by God and leading the people in a strong and righteous way. Under the inspiration and power of Almighty God, there is not a wrong step that can be taken nor is there a fallible path set before him. Such is the divine nature of our life when God chooses to directly bless us with His wisdom and guidance. Saul might not have known it, but he was in the loving arms of God. Who knows when we, unbeknownst to ourselves or our loved ones, are also working under the power of God as an aid to a person or people in need? Although it seems more likely that God would directly inspire men of importance such as world leaders to sway the ways of the world, the imagination comes alive to think that He also might inspire you or me to humbler deeds. Only when we are faithful and open to His guidance will we experience it. Otherwise, we are operating under our own imperfect will.

I Samuel 10: Saul Becomes King

Samuel, having established a relationship with Saul in the previous chapter, anoints Saul as the king of Israel in the beginning of chapter 10. As a prophet, Samuel was working under the direction of God (I Samuel 9:15-16). The people of Israel have not yet been told of their new king, but that will change near the end of this chapter.

Samuel uses oil to anoint Saul as king. This was a religious anointing because God had set Saul apart for service to lead Israel. Samuel does much to accomplish God’s plan to make Saul king. Samuel tells Saul that as he travels, he will find two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin. This was significant because Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin and nearing the grave of Rachel his forbear would have reminded him of his mortality. Then, Samuel tells Saul that the two men will tell him that the donkeys he was seeking have been found. This will result in Saul’s father worrying for Samuel, just as he feared in chapter nine. But Saul will travel on to the terebinth tree of Tabor, where he will meet three men carrying various things, and he will receive two loaves of bread form them. Saul will then go to a hill where a Philistine garrison is and will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high places with stringed instruments. It is at this point that Saul will feel the spirit of the Lord upon him, and he will become a new man.

Adjoin these prophetic signs with the fact that he was just told that he would be made king of all Israel, and Saul would have likely contemplated his past, his future, and the state of his life. Such ruminations for young Saul could have turned him into the man that he was to become. However, as we will find with Saul in coming chapters, the choices he will make with his power and his privilege will turn out to be unwise, foolish, rebellious, and sinful.

Samuel tells Saul that he will meet him later and that sacrifices and peace offerings will be made. All of the things that Samuel prophesied come true. The people saw Saul prophesying with the men of God and saw him in a new light. Also, Saul had a conversation with his uncle, who was curious about Saul’s relationship with Samuel. Saul kept quiet about being named king at this point. Signs suggest that Saul felt inadequate, embarrassed, or unprepared for the huge responsibility.

Nevertheless, Samuel moves ahead with proclaiming Saul king. Samuel addresses the people at Mizpah, and speaks the Words of the Lord: “’I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all kingdoms and from those who oppressed you.’ But you have today rejected your God, who Himself saved you from all your adversities and your tribulations; and you have said to Him, ‘No, set a king over us!’ Now therefore, present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your clans.”

Unsurprisingly for us at this point, the tribe of Benjamin (Saul’s tribe) is chosen, the family of Matri, the father Kish, and Saul the son chosen as king. But Saul is hiding when it is time to come forward. The Lord indicates to the people where Saul is hiding and Saul is brought forth to the people and is praised. But it is difficult not to see the farce in his kingship already. The proclamation that Samuel made from God to the people suggests that Israel getting a king will turn out to be more of a burden than a blessing for them. This is a case of God leaving them up to the consequences of their actions. By all the signs we see so far, Saul is neither suited nor prepared to become king.

Samuel records the requirements for royal behavior in a book. Then he sends the people away. Saul goes to Gibeah, accompanied by valiant men that were inspired by God to be there. But there are some that also that do not believe in Saul as king.

We can find a bit of ourselves in Saul if we are honest. God bestows on each of us untold and uncountable blessings, and we can misuse them due to our own feelings of inadequacy, laziness, or self-will. The challenge is to accept the responsibilities God gives us and find a way to success using our talents. This was certainly the path chosen by Samuel, and it is interesting to compare Saul and Samuel’s characters as we read through these chapters.

We all have the ability to be as Samuel: righteous, honest, obedient, and a follower of God. Or, we can take our blessings and foolishly squander them. One of the main keys to avoiding the fate of the foolish is to keep God in the front of our minds and seek His counsel through reading His Word, prayer, and the obedience of His commands. God will show us the way. A life lived under God is not often glorious (although it can be), it is not often easy (even though His blessings can make life comfortable and fulfilling), but it is worth the sacrifice each and every time.

I Samuel 9: Tall, Dark, and Handsome

Chapter nine starts out describing the new King of Israel, King Saul. But the King will not be anointed or proclaimed this chapter. This chapter weaves together the stories of Samuel the prophet and Saul the king. Here they will meet, become acquainted, and establish a modicum of trust in one another. Even though this is a seemingly simple chapter, there are some appropriate lessons we can learn.

We are introduced to Saul as very tall and handsome. He comes from a powerful lineage and we find that he is on a mission to recover his father Kish’s lost donkeys. Saul goes through many lands attempting to find the lost donkeys, but he does not find them. When Saul and his servant have come to a land called Zuph, Saul expresses the desire to return home, lest his father worry more about his son and the search party rather than the donkeys. The chapter has already shown us two aspects Saul’s character that are favorable. He has shown loyalty to his father and his father’s possessions by searching for the donkeys and he has shown care for his father by wanting to prevent unnecessary worry. But we will learn more about Saul later in this book that is not so favorable.

Saul’s servant has heard that there is a nearby city with a prophet that can help them. Saul was worried that they had nothing to offer the man of God, but the seer was prepared with one-fourth of a shekel of silver. When Saul and his servant got closer to the city, some young women were able to help the, find him. We can conclude that this city (Shiloh?) was known for being a holy city because Saul’s servant knew and these young women drawing water had full knowledge of where the priest was and could guide others to him.

Starting in verse 15 we find out that the holy man sought by Saul and his servant is actually Samuel. Samuel had been told by God beforehand to expect Saul, and in fact we know from the previous chapter that Samuel knew that God would appoint a king over Israel. We should pay attention to how Samuel treats Saul in this chapter. Samuel knew that Saul’s being sent there was a part of God’s plan and he also knew that Saul was the one chosen to be king by God, so Samuel treats him impeccably.

Samuel knows what is on Saul’s mind, so he takes care of his needs and tells him not to worry, that his father’s donkeys are safe. Samuel had Saul and his servant sit at the place of honor at the sacrificial feast. He also kept aside a special portion of the food, just for Saul. As the visit concluded, Samuel spent time with Saul and made provision to tell Saul in private what the will of the Lord was concerning him.

Chapter nine ends with Samuel preparing to tell Saul the things of God. Even though we are in the middle of learning about Saul, there are still things we can apply to our lives from I Samuel 9. For one, Saul and his servant understood when it was wise to seek counsel, particularly from God. Saul’s hesitation to visit the prophet was because he thought they did not have an appropriate gift to bring, as was the custom of the time. But when they saw they had the opportunity, they knew that seeking guidance from God was the best thing to do. We too, need to recognize when in life we need to pause and seek the help of our God.

Another great lesson from this chapter is from Samuel. His loyalty to God in treating Saul with respect, kindness, and favor showed his devotion to God and brought glory and honor to everyone involved. Samuel’s humility in service is impressive because even though Samuel knew that God did not desire a king for Israel, He was still going to give Israel a king and Samuel was showing love to God by honoring this decision through his superb treatment of Saul. We should all be so loyal to God and humble in our service. Samuel did not judge, second-guess, or complain. He obeyed and in so doing removed the possibility of any blame being laid at his feet for the type of king that Saul would turn out to be.

I Samuel 8: Good Intentions

This chapter begins with Samuel enjoying the success of having led the people back in the right direction. He effectively retires and has his two sons judge over Israel. Unfortunately they are not good stewards of this responsibility and they seek dishonest gain, take bribes, and participate in perverted justice.

Israel rightly seeks better leadership. They go to Samuel and ask him to appoint them a king. Instead of looking to God, they have taken to noticing the kingdoms around them and they desire a king like the idolatrous nations around them.

Samuel brings this to God and God surprisingly tells Samuel to give the people what they seek: a king. But this gift comes with a disclaimer: this king will take many valuable things from them (I Samuel 11-17). Even though Samuel tells the people that “…you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day,” the people persist in their request for a king. They are looking for a king to protect them, to fight their battles. With so many examples in their relatively short history of God fighting and winning their battles for them, it is perplexing that they would be so adamant in their request for an earthly king. Their stubbornness speaks to the mighty powers of envy and worldly influence.

The people have good intentions in that they want to be governed properly, but they are seeking governance from the wrong source and based on the wrong example.

Sometimes the thing we are asking for, the thing that we think is good, is actually the worst thing for us. To avoid this pitfall, we should ask ourselves, “what is the source of inspiration for this desire?” Is it based on an idea to do good? Have we considered whether or not it honors God?

If the source of inspiration is sinful, or even just seemingly harmless, envision the outcome. What do you see happening? Do you see a greater belief in God or a kind of departure from God? There can be many different ways to accomplish a task or establish a path. The onus on us is to examine the intent of our decisions. We can all easily claim good intentions, but we need to make sure that our methods are also good.

I Samuel 7: The People Return to the Lord

The preceding chapters revealed the atmosphere of war and godlessness that was in and around the nation of Israel. As we read in chapter 6, there were still consequences to be had as the Israelites still did not treat the ark with the reverence and holiness that it deserved.

Samuel is ready to take up the mantle of leadership in this chapter. He sees that the people are returning to God in their devotion and religious practices. In verse two, he says, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” The peoples’ return is sincere. They heed Samuel’s direction to assemble at Mizpah. They fast and confess their sins to God as Samuel is seen as their leader.

During this time, however, the Philistines hear of their assembly and seek to attack the Israelites. The people are scared, but Samuel beseeches them to rely on God to save them and he sacrifices a lamb to God. After Samuel prays to God, God sends thunder to the advancing Philistines. This confuses them and they flee as the men of Israel chase them out of the area, slaying them along the way.

As a memorial and testament to God helping them, Samuel names a stone “Ebenezer,” setting it up in a recognizable place saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” Throughout the rest of Samuel’s life, the Philistines bother Israel no more. Israel reclaims their land that had been taken and there is peace in the land. Samuel serves as Israel’s leader for the rest of his life, judging Israel as he travels from one city to the next. His home was in Ramah, and there he built an altar to the Lord.

A simple change of heart can lead us back to God, and thus also back into the grace and blessings He has reserved for those that love Him. God is quick to forgive and bless us. It is so simple for us to turn to Him when we need Him or when we think we have no other choice. One of the true tests of a faithful life is whether we lean, depend on, and serve God when it appears that we have no use for Him. We always need Him, but this life is such that we can be lulled into a false sense of spiritual security by money, comfort, and material possessions. While they offer a sense of assurance, do not be fooled; true and lasting security is found in the arms of our Creator.

I Samuel 6: The Philistines Return the Ark

When we left the Philistines in I Samuel 5, they were experiencing great consequences from having taken the ark. Here in chapter 6, they have had enough. After seven months of death, tumors, and evidently rats, the Philistines ask their priests and diviners, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it to its place.”

One might understand how the heathen and errant Philistines seek guidance from their spiritual leaders on how best to dispense with the ark. Just returning it the way they had captured it was not enough for the diviners and priests; they advised some special conditions for return:

  • Include with the ark a trespass offering of five golden tumors and five golden rats
    • The five represents the pentapolis, or the five large cities making up Philistia; the tumors and rats represented the separate calamities
  • Place the ark on a new cart with the trespass offering beside it
  • Have the new cart pulled by two milk cows that have never been yoked
    • Hide the cows’ calves away (presumably to increase the cows’ focus)
  • Sending the cart away:
    • If it goes towards Beth Shemesh (nearby Israelite territory), it proves that God was creating the calamities
    • If it goes elsewhere, the calamities were due to chance

The degree of difference that these manmade provisions made to God is not clear. One could conclude that God preferred the fearful hearts and minds of the Philistines over the trespass offering, but there is nothing in the text to support this.

A surprising aspect of the guidance of the Philistine priests and diviners is that they allow for a scenario where the calamities of death, tumors, and rats were not due to the Philistines having stolen the ark. It would be difficult to think that these were chance occurrences, considering that the calamities followed the ark from Philistine city to Philistine city. They certainly believed that the “Israelite God” was capable of retaliation and judgment, because they said as much to the Philistine leaders in verse 6: “Why then do you harden your hearts s the Egyptians and Pharaohs hardened their hearts? When He did mighty things among them, did they not let the people go, that they might depart?”

The Philistines, as a polytheistic culture, might struggle with knowing how to ascribe certain actions to members of the pantheon. Still, we might think deeper about why the Philistine diviners and priests would not automatically assume that the calamities were the work of God. After all, the regular people and leaders of Philistia seemed convinced that God was bringing the tumors, death, and rats because they stole the ark. Perhaps, not unlike some of the complicated takes we get on simple things from so-called “experts” in the modern age, the Philistine priests and diviners felt the need to justify their existence and their “divine knowledge” by delivering a solution with complex provisions.

The chapter concludes with the cows returning the ark with the trespass offering of golden tumors and rats directly to Beth Shemesh. When it arrives, the Israelites rejoice. They use the wagon as fuel for a fire on which to offer the cows sacrifices to God. But, many of the Israelites were killed by God because they opened and looked into the ark of the Lord. This was forbidden (Numbers 4:20, Exodus 19:21). The men at Beth Shemesh were so greatly upset by the deaths that they sent for men to come from Kirjath Jearim to remove the ark (it was about ten miles west of Jerusalem).

The lesson for I Samuel 6 is that God’s commandments apply to everyone, and they apply regardless of the offender’s knowledge of the statute. Seem unfair? Perhaps, but in the face of divine power, would not the wise man make it his responsibility to acquaint himself with the ways, wonders, laws, and statutes of Almighty God?