Today’s reading is another milestone for Israel, they get a king — although he may not be exactly what they were hoping for. See, already there’s a little something to chew on today — be careful what you wish for!
We left Israel defeated by the Philistines. The Philistines had beaten Israel in battle and even captured the Ark of the Covenant that was foolishly brought to the battlefield like a good luck charm or something. But when the Philistines brought it home, they discovered it came with a stiff price — first of all Dagon (the Philistine god) fell over and broke (you have to hate that for your god, don’t ya?), and some kind of plague or tumor swept through the Philistine cities hosting the Ark. Israel couldn’t defeat the Philistines, but God could — and did.
But the Philistines still ruled the nation of Israel, and Israel was starting to get the message that their defeat was due to their sin. So, the “lamented after the LORD” — a fancy way of saying that they were repenting and turning to God. This was the perfect cure repentance, putting away the foreign gods (see Samuel’s command, 1 Sam. 7:3), and worshipping God exclusively. And the next time that Israel and Philistia met on the battlefield, God fought for them — thundering from heaven loudly enough that the Philistine army fled in confusion — prompting a complete rout of the Philistines. Just so that Israel wouldn’t forget what had happened, he raised up a stone between Mizpah and Shen and called it Ebenezer, “Rock of Help”, to memorialize the victory. But it was more than a memorial to victory; it was memorial to Israel’s defeat in idolatry, to Israel’s victory in repentance, and God’s tremendous power to defeat the most powerful enemy! Couldn’t we all use a reminder like that?
In chapter 8 we see Israel asking for a king. Samuel is initially incensed at the suggestion, possibly because he saw their request as a criticism of his role as Israel’s judge. God soothes Samuel’s wounded heart, however, and points out to him that they are not rejecting Samuel, they were rejecting God as being their king.
Before we go much further, let me mention that it is not as if God had not planned to give them a king at some time in the future. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 reveals that God knew that they were going to want a king eventually, and that He was willing to let them have one as long as he was anointed by God. So, we needn’t walk away thinking that this request of Israel’s was totally “beyond the pale”. The timing might have been unfortunate, however; possibly God would have been better pleased had Israel waited another 40 years, when David was old enough to rule Israel. But I digress.
The point here I think has much more to do with (1) the ill-conceived desire to be like everyone else and (2) the rejection of God as king over them (8:7). They are things that we ourselves need to avoid, and yet are so easy to embrace. There’s such a strong desire to be like everyone else among human beings, despite all the bluster and claims about being individuals. In the Law, God set up a number of rather distinctive dress, physical marks (circumcision), grooming requirements, eating rules, and even politics (no king) — things that clearly marked them as being God’s people, Israel. Why? God may have wanted, among other things, to remind them that they are different. Things that chaffed the average Israelite.
Often times, the distinctives of God’s people still causes some to chafe. Our differences aren’t so much about dress anymore, but they do include matters of “old-fashioned” morality, a resistance to changes in doctrine/worship/church organization, etc. We must be careful not to be like everyone else in matters of doctrine; we must be careful to always let Jesus be king.
Lastly, please note how humble Saul was, at first, after being anointed king. He started well; he didn’t finish quite as well. We’ll talk more about that later.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.