1 Samuel 8:1-10:27
Last week we looked at the Commonwealth of Israel. We saw that it was decentralized, with no national government and no standing army. The tribes, clans and villages were governed by elders. When the need arose, God appointed a Judge to lead the people. This is the best form of government ever devised. The only problem is, it didn't work. Not the system, the people. The time of the Judges was a time of chaos and unfaithfulness. Someone asked Benjamin Franklin, as he was leaving the Constitutional Convention, what kind of government they'd given to America. His reply: "A republic, if you can keep it." Israel couldn't keep its Commonwealth.
Samuel has grown old and won't be around forever. His sons were scoundrels who took bribes and thus were unfit to succeed him. It seems Samuel did no better than Eli in raising his sons. The people looked around them and saw that their neighbors all had kings, strong men to rule them and to lead them into battle. They were very disorganized in comparison. So when the elders came to see Samuel at his home in Ramah, they asked for a king. Samuel went away to seek the Lord's will. God told Samuel, "Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them." Sometimes getting what you want is worse than not getting it. God is going to give them a king, but He will afflict them with a host of unintended consequences.
Samuel came back and told them that they will have their king. But he also told them what would happen: "These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men[a] and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day." But the people were intent on having a king anyway. Samuel sent everyone back home and started to seek the Lord's will on who should be king.
A man named Saul, the son of Kish, from the Tribe of Benjamin, was out with a servant looking for a lost donkey. They didn't find it, but the servant had heard that there was a man of God nearby and suggested that they seek his guidance. That man was Samuel himself, in town that day to celebrate a feast. They ran up to the high place and found Samuel. Samuel realized that he was looking at the man the Lord had told him would be king. Samuel told Saul that the donkey had been found, and invited him to the feast. The next day, as Saul and his servant were leaving, Samuel poured some oil on him and kissed him. "Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies." We're told that Saul was a big man, a head taller than anyone else in Israel and a fine physical specimen. Certainly he looked every inch a king. But Saul was a timid man, like Gideon. He needed an attitude adjustment, and the Lord gave it to him. "When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart." (10:9)
Samuel planned a public coronation for Saul. He called all of Israel to meet at Mizpah. He cast lots (a way of discerning God's will through an apparently random process, like flipping a coin or tossing dice). The lot fell to the Tribe of Benjamin. Then in the next rounds the lot fell to the clan of the Matrites and then to the family of Kish. Then the final lot fell to Saul. Everybody was eager to greet their new king, but Saul was nowhere to be found! They searched and found him hiding among the baggage. It turns out the new heart didn't totally displace the old one. Samuel introduced him and said, "Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? There is none like him among all the people." And the people shouted "Long live the king!
Saul turned out to be the leader the nation needed. He rallied the fighting men to defeat their perennial enemies the Philistines and against the Ammonites. But all was not well with Saul. He was like Anakin Skywalker from the Star Wars movies. He showed great promise and had more power than any other Jedi. But he was not able to conquer his fear, and that left him open to the influence of the dark side of the Force. Sweet little Anakin eventually became Darth Vader. Saul, too, could never conquer his fear. When Saul and his army were waiting for Samuel to offer a sacrifice before going into battle he grew concerned. It had been seven days and no Samuel. Some of the men were starting to pack up to go home. Afraid he'd lose his army, Saul went ahead and performed the sacrifice. Just as he finished Samuel came over the hill. Later, when Israel had won a great victory over the Amalekites, Saul once again disobeyed. Samuel had told him to destroy everything and keep nothing of the spoil. He let the people keep the best of the sheep to keep their goodwil, and he didn't kill Agag, king of the Amalekites, but kept him as a trophy. Samuel already knew what had happened, for the Lord had revealed it to him. The Lord said, "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments." (15:11) A heartbroken Saul came the next day and told Saul, "... Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king." After that the Lord sent a "harmful spirit" to torment Saul, driving him insane at times. (16:14) Saul's servants sought out a musician who could play soothing music when this harmful spirit afflicted him. They found a young boy who could play a harp and who wrote and sang beautiful songs of praise to God. This young man was none other than David, whose story we'll begin tomorrow.
The people of Israel got their wish. God gave them a king and they are now the Kingdom of Israel. God judged them for their disobedience by giving them what they wanted. He does that sometimes, and it's not pretty. In Romans 1 Paul writes about how God judged the pagan world that rejected Him in favor of idols. The Lord "gave them up" to their sensual passions and then He gave them up to a "debased mind" so that their own sin destroyed them. (Romans 1:18-32). So be grateful that God doesn't give you everything you want. He's got something better in mind if you'll wait and trust in Him.
Once again we see the devastating effects of fear. In Saul we see a different kind of fear than we've seen before. Saul was afraid of losing his people's loyalty and affection, so afraid that he disobeyed God in order to please the people. Saul couldn't bring himself to wait on God and trust Him fully. As a result Saul eventually lost everything he thought he was keeping. Pastors are exceptionally vulnerable to this type of fear. We like the people to like us, sometimes so much that we blunt that sharp two-edged sword of God's Word (Hebrews 4:12) so it won't cause you discomfort when it lays bare your sins. I know I've been guilty of that. You need a leader who is bold in the Lord, and by nature I'm timid. I very much appreciate your prayers for me. And I pray for you, too. As Samuel said to the people, "Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way." (1 Samuel 12:23)
Here's a wonderful song from Chris Tomlin, "Whom Shall I Fear?"