Day 117: 1 Chronicles 8-10; King Saul

With the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles being written primarily to the people of Judah that have returned from the exile, it is not surprising to find the section on King Saul to be rather short.  The Kingdom of Judah, and Israel divided, identified completely with the house and line of King David.  They were the only ones that stayed loyal to the the King that was after God’s own heart, he who was promised to have a royal line forever.  For them, and really for all of Israel, Saul was the example of what would happen if there was a bad king in Israel.  Though he wasn’t as bad as many of the kings to come after him, he followed after the wrong things and didn’t trust the Lord, thus provoking Him to anger and causing Him to remove the family of Saul from the Royal line.

Saul Tries to Kill David Photo Credit:

Saul Tries to Kill David
Photo Credit:

However, Saul was an integral part of the history of the people of God and his name bore mentioning in the Chronicles of Judah.  Interestingly, we don’t get much here about Saul’s exploits in trying to kill David or anything about the sins that he commits.  Whether this wasn’t so important to the writer here or it was assumed that the people would know these stories I cannot say, however the fact is that in relation to what is to come in the narratives of King David, Saul is just a blip on the page.

That being said, I think it is important for us to remember together the stories of Saul from the book of 1 Samuel.  He was anointed by God, but reluctant to rule until he was thrust into power by a “national crisis.”  From there Saul assumes power, but makes several key mistakes, revealing his lack of trust in God.  The narrative continues for quite some time juxtaposing his son Jonathan and David the son of Jesse against Saul when it comes to covenant fidelity and following God.  Saul continuously makes mistakes and is incredibly hate filled when it comes to dealing with David, whom God has anointed to be the next king.  Yet even in all of this, David does no wrong to Saul, even gently correcting him in his errors.  In the end though, Saul’s lack of faith, trust, and obedience to God result in the death of most of his family and the eventually his own death at the hand of his enemies, the philistines.

David Spares Saul's Life Photo Credit:

David Spares Saul’s Life
Photo Credit:

As I look back on this narrative of the life of Saul, I am forced to recognize and wonder about its relationship to the greater narrative of the people of Israel (and by Israel I mean the united Kingdom and both portions of the Divided Kingdom as well).  There are striking similarities between the life of Saul and the life of Israel in general.  Things many start out all peachy, but it doesn’t take long for them to go south.  Throughout the lives of both Saul and Israel there are warning signs and even some course corrections.  Yet their continued propensity to sin inevitably leads them a place in which God removes them from the place to which they have been appointed.  Saul’s life, I must admit, is a foreshadowing of what is to come as Israel progresses down the path of having a king.  Samuel warns them about this in 1 Samuel 8 and it indeed comes to pass several hundred years later.

Day 88: 2 Samuel 4-7; The Ark and The Covenant

“And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.”

This is really the essence of the reign of David, especially here at the beginning.  What was David’s success attributed to?  Well, if you have been reading the stories of David over the past week or so you have seen that all that David does, he does following what God tells him to.  Even today, as the now rightful king of all of Israel, David still inquires of God as to whether he should attack the Philistines.  It is clear that God is with David.  However, I think it is also clear in these passages that David is with God as well.  There is a relationship here that has taken on the form of what it means to follow the Law and maintain that covenant relationship with God.  Saul showed what it meant to not follow the Law and he was rejected.  David is  clear example of the blessings that come from following the Law.

Following this, we read the narratives of the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem.  Remember that, at the beginning of 1 Samuel, Eli’s wicked sons brought the Ark of the Covenant into battle against the Philistines and it was captured.  When it was returned, it stayed in the house of Abinadab where it has been since that time.  David decides that it is time that the Ark is brought back to Israel.  However, if we remember all the way back to Exodus 25 and Deuteronomy 10 when the Ark was made, there were rules about how the Ark was to be transported and how it was to be regarded.  Whether David knew this or not is, I guess, besides the point for when Uzzah tries to steady it when the Oxen stumbled, he dropped dead on the spot.  Ignorance is, as we see, no excuse for the Law.  David learns from this mistake and when he goes back to get the Ark the second time it is carried by the Levites into Jerusalem.

This brings us the scene of David dancing with all his might before the Ark of the Lord in the sight of all the people.  His wife Michal sees him and criticizes him for it, and yet David is undeterred by her words.  I think that this brings up two very important points in regards to worship.  The first is the point that David makes that He is not doing this for himself, but for God.  Scripture tells us that David danced with all his might “before the Lord.”  This wasn’t a show for all the people of Israel to see.  In fact, we can assume from this text that David doesn’t care who sees him because its not about him.  What if David had spent this time wondering what other people would think?  What if he had paid attention to those who were likely judging him in their minds?  I think we get distracted by the worry that others are going to judge us or what others will think about us if we worship (or dress?) in a certain way.

The second point of worship that I see pointed to here, is the willingness to do what one feels called to do to honor and glorify God.  David, the King of Israel, danced and leapt for joy, wearing almost nothing, with all his might before what was likely a crowd of thousands, if not tens of thousands.  All the people were there: the religious leaders and priests, business folks, farmers, servants, and more than likely a good number of visitors that just happened to be passing through that day.  What is David’s response to this?  He dances just the same… and we worry about whether we can take our hands out of our pockets or possibly show a little emotion when we worship the Living Lord, not to mention actually raising our hands.  What is David’s response to his wife?

“It was before the Lord, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord—and I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in your eyes. But by the female servants of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.”

Finally, we read at the end of this chapter another rehashing of the Covenant.  We have heard this covenant in many of its “forms” throughout our reading of the Bible before.  God establishes a covenant with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses… each time we hear the covenant it evolves a little bit.  With Adam, we hear that humanity will not be left in sin but one will come to save us from our sins.  With Noah, God promises never again to destroy all life on earth.  The covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob place God as the head of a people that He has chosen, a people that is to follow Him.  In this covenant we also learn that the coming of the one who will bless the whole world (the fulfillment of that which was promised to Adam) would come true through this people.  With Moses, the covenant was defined more giving a Law to the people and a direction in how it was that they were to be God’s people.  None of these cancels out any of the others.  Rather, they build on each other.

We have come now to the “Davidic Covenant.”  This is the latest building and addition to the covenant.  We read here that God’s covenant with David is an everlasting covenant and that David’s house will rule over Israel.  We also find out here the family line of the coming savior.  First we found out he would come as a human through Adam.  We then learned that He would come from the people of Israel.  Now we learn that the coming “Messiah” would be “of the house and line of David.”  We also learn that this is how God will keep his covenant with David, placing who we now know as Jesus as King and Lord of this world and of all things!

Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus!

Day 86: 1 Samuel 28-31; The End of Saul

As we have talked about in these last few days, the reign of King Saul and the legacy that he leaves behind is not one that I think anyone would want to claim for his own.  He starts of reluctant and humble, thrust into a position of power, but quickly forgets where the true power and authority of his position comes from.  God had made Saul king over Israel and yet at the end of the day, Saul doesn’t remember the ways of the Lord and constantly takes things into his own hands, leading to his rejection and his death as we read today.

The narrative leading up to Saul’s death is unique in that it brings up some interesting perspectives on Saul’s reign and some questions about the nature of the afterlife.  We are told that at sometime in Saul’s reign, all those that practiced different “spiritual arts” were put out of the nation of Israel.  When this happened we cannot say.  To be honest, that would be a gold star in the otherwise beaten and scared record of Saul’s reign.  Yet as he goes into battle for what will be his last time, he again forgets where the true power of the nation of Israel comes from.  After God gives him no answer, which for him should have been a bad sign, he turns to the very evil that he cast out of the land.  What’s worse?  He does it deceitfully!

This short narrative of Saul talking to the spirit of Samuel raises some interesting questions about a great many things.  Afterlife?  Spirits?  Is any of this real?  What are we to do with this?  Unfortunately I don’t have the answers to these questions.  So I have sought the help of several commentaries in order to come up with something to write about here, much of which is very interesting, even if it yields little answers… What we see here, once again, is a a wide array of contrasts between Saul and those around him.  Saul is the anointed king of Israel, given authority to rule by God himself, and living in complete and utter terror, with little confidence in God.  The Witch, or medium which he seeks out performs her craft with a great deal of confidence and the one in which she finds here power, even if it is evil, shows up with little effort at all.

Saul, we read, comes in a disguise which is revealed almost immediately upon his arrival.  “Samuel” also comes with a hood on, and it is clear that Saul never actually realizes his true identity, at least according the Matthew Henry’s commentary.  Henry points out that there is a reference to the medium lady seeing “gods coming out of the ground.”  In that day and age all angles and spiritual messengers would be referred to as “gods” in some way shape or form.  Generally speaking, the “gods” or Angels that came from God were that ones that came from the sky (remember Jacob’s ladder?), where as the “gods” that came from the ground would be more properly understood as demons or evil.  Matthew Henry also points to the facts of Satan as a master of lies who “masquerades as an angel of light.” (2 Corinthians 11:14)  Henry goes on to say that all the things that the “false Samuel” or “Satan” says are intended to weaken Saul and drive him to despair which will ultimately lead to Saul’s death.

There are some other view points on exactly what is happening here.  Most agree that this is not the spirit of Samuel that is actually talking to Saul.  If I was to infuse a bit of my own thoughts into this conversation, I would point out that a passage like this is not one meant to explain the nature of the afterlife, but rather is intended, at least on some level, to be a warning to those who would dabble in the darker side of spirituality.  If we learn something from this narrative is that there is an evil side to the spiritual realm and it ultimately leads to ruin and destruction.  Henry points out that there is no way of telling what would have happened here had Saul persevered in seeking after God.  I have to imagine that it would have been better than this outcome though.

In other news, this whole story is juxtaposed with more successes of David as he goes to rescue his family and an entire city from the Amalekites who seem to have taken advantage of the conflict between Israel and the Philistines.  We read that “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”  However this looked, it is clear that, unlike Saul, David seeks first the will of God and once again finds strength in Him.  God has not let him down yet and this is no exception.  David goes after the Amalekites and brings back everything that was lost to them plus all that was taken from other cities, which he returns to them in good faith.  Once again we see the faithfulness of God in the exploits of David, even while living in exile from his homeland, and how God provides protection and even vengeance for the people of Judah through David, the man seeking God in all things.

Day 85: 1 Samuel 25-27; David's Continuing Exploits

Again today we find David out in the wilderness.  He did not return to his home or a normal life after his last brush with Saul even though Saul returned home and stopped hunting him.  Scripture doesn’t tell us why, but does continue to communicate to us the narratives of David’s exploits and God continues to shape and form in in the wilderness of his life.

Interestingly, we see something that is seemingly brash about David in chapter 25.  He sends men to talk to Nabal, which interestingly means “fool” in Hebrew, and is rejected in a rather rude way.  David, apparently, is quite perturbed by this and goes to kill Nabal and all of Nabal’s house for the mistreatment.  One thing I noticed in this narrative is that David doesn’t ask God what to do, but just goes to do it.  Fortunately for David, Abigail is on the scene and, though she knows she has a foolish husband, sets David straight before he does something regrettable.  Her speech to David is very beautiful and it makes David think.  She is clearly speaking the words that God would have told him had he consulted him in the first place.  As has been David’s practice, his ears are open and he recognizes God’s voice even in this woman.  While it is hard to know what would have happened, or even if David was justified in his actions (I think he wasn’t), what we do know is that God dealt with Nabal accordingly in the coming days and David is free from the guilt he might have attained for himself had he actually killed Nabal himself.  In the end, because they listened to the Lord, David is guilt free with an honorable woman to call his wife, and Abigail is no longer joined to a fool but now has a good man as her husband.

We read after this that, for what seems like no reason at all, Saul comes after David again.  As we discussed yesterday, Saul has gotten himself nothing but failure in his pursuit of David while it seems like David has gained everything in his pursuit of God.  Here, again, is no exception to this rule.  Saul is once again given into David’s hands through the work of the Lord and once again David spares his life.  I think it very honorable that David spares Saul’s life, recognizing him as the Lord’s anointed one and the ruler of Israel, even when David knows his true destiny as king-to-be.  I wonder, sometimes, if we should take some cues from David in this regard.  Whether Democrat or Republican, we should honor our public officials, even if we don’t like them.  Romans 13:1 says,

“For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

Finally, today we read that David, even after a promise from Saul that no more pursuit will take place, goes and seeks refuge with the Philistines, from which he is given his own city.  Interestingly though, David does not simply sit and do nothing, waiting for Saul to die, but attacks Israel’s enemies while telling one of the philistine kings that he is attacking Israel.  In this, David has been provided with refuge from Saul and is yet still being used by God for the greater good of the people of Israel.  This is yet another example of what we spoke of yesterday in the contrasts between David and Saul.  We see that Saul ultimately fails in his attempt to kill David within his own nation, and David, while seeking the will of God, is given refuge in a foreign land and is being used by God to do great things for the nation that he has been exiled from.  In this we see, once again, that God continues to be faithful to those who seek after him with their whole hearts and follow His Law.

An interesting side-note to all of this:

During this time, the Philistines were the technological superpower of their day.  They had mastered the art of working with Iron, creating stronger and better weapons than the nations around them.  Israel, we read several chapters ago in 1 Samuel 13, really only had plows and pitchforks for weapons, with few (if any) swords among them.  This gave the philistines a very distinct advantage in the region.  As we work our way out of 1 Samuel and into 2 Samuel, you will notice that this advantage seems to disappear.  Many scholars believe that it was in this time, while David lived among the Philistines, that he discovered the secrets of Iron-working, and brought it back to Israel with him and implemented it with his kingship.  This too is a very interesting way in which God used the circumstances of the day to provide in huge ways for His people yet again.

Day 84: 1 Samuel 21-24; Saul Pursues David

There is nothing better, at least in my mind, than a good strategy game, movie, or sporting event.  I love to watch players and teams play many different moves, take up different positions, and try to bluff each other until one gains the advantage.  I also really love an underdog, a team or player that is not at all expected to win and yet out maneuvers or out thinks an opponent.  There is a great deal of that going on in the NCAA basketball tournament in these weeks of “March Madness,” and there is quite a bit of that going here.  David leaves alone trying to stay one step ahead of Saul, basically in survival mode.  Yet Saul, with the resources of the country at his disposal, is completely unable to catch David.  He is out maneuvered at every turn until the best move is made, David spares Saul’s life and them reveals it to him in public.  Well played David… well played.

There are some other interesting things that we see happening in this passage that I would like to draw your attention to today.  This whole narrative, the reading that we have to day, and basically the whole story of David vs. Saul points to a fundamental truth about the nature of God in the lives of these two people, and that of our lives as well.  This whole time David is on the run, but always seeking after God and is thus always taken care of.  Every move David makes he inquires of the Lord for a yes or a no.  When David is in a place, he is listening for the Lord to tell him what his next move should be.  David may not be living in the lap of luxury, but everything he needs is provided for.

In contrast to this, we see Saul who is always one step behind David (sometimes more) inquiring after humans as to his adversary’s whereabouts.  Saul leaves a path of destruction and death behind him, haphazardly going after David in the wilderness.  He is completely unsuccessful in his ventures and even thwarted by God and the attacks of other nations on the land.  In the end, Saul has the whole kingdom, anything he wants, and is humiliated by his opponent and convicted of his sins, finally giving up and going home.

Lets look at some of the contrasts here:

  • David starts his journey alone, petitioning a priest for some bread.  He goes to God in his time of need and is fed from the Lords table.  
  • Saul, in his time of need did his own thing, offered his own sacrifices, and was thus rejected by God.  (1 Saumel 13)
  • David, while always following after God, seeks the help of other nations for physical protection and is kept safe from his enemy
  • Saul, while never following after God, seeks the help from his own people with very little actual assistance and ends up killing almost 100 of his own people because of it.
  • David, while on the run, inquires of God and goes to rescue a city under the attack of the Philistines with great success, and is then protected when Saul comes to capture him.
  • Saul, when he is about to catch David is drawn away by the Philistines, and when he returns is placed in David’s hands, and spared by the mercy of his adversary.
  • David is loving the Lord with everything that he is, following the words of the “Shema” at every turn.
  • Saul… well Saul seems to be loving himself and going after what he wants at every turn… and its not working out for him so well.

These are some interesting contrasts that come up in this reading and others as well.  David is given wild success by the Lord when it seems impossible, because of his faith and trust in God.  Saul on the other hand kills his own people and fails at pretty much every turn despite his advantage.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying “well played David” but instead should be saying “Well played, God.”

Finally, for today, there is another crucial part to this story that we often read right over because it is not something that is very prominently pointed out.  We are once again encountering a wilderness motif here.  Did you notice it?  David is living in the wilderness, hiding in caves and traveling in desolate places to escape his enemy.  This is not something that would have gone unnoticed by the Hebrew people.  The wilderness is something that they were very familiar with.  David, like Israel after the Exodus, is on a journey through the wilderness right now.  Like Israel, he is being stripped of an old identity and being found anew in the Lord.  Before they entered the wilderness, Israel was group of Hebrew slaves.  When they entered into Canaan, they were a nation, THE nation of God.  David entered this wilderness journey a boy with a promise from God.  He will exit this journey a warrior, a survivor, and most of all a man in a deep relationship with his Lord.

The wilderness is a motif that we relate to LENT as well, the time that we have been in but that is coming rapidly to a close this week.  At this writing, we are entering into Holy Week, the last legs of our 40+ day wilderness journey.  We have given up things, put aside things, and sought to inquire after the Lord.  In Lent we are called to a drastic and dramatic reshaping of our minds and our identity as we seek to find ourselves not in possessions, status, jobs, or anything else, but in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Sometimes we find ourselves hiding in the caves of life, fearing our adversary will overtake us.  Trust in the Lord and call out to him and you will not be put to shame.

In this week of weeks, as we journey to the cross, let us find our identity in Christ and remember the great sacrifice that He gave for our sins, that we may not be left in the wilderness of life.

Day 82: 1 Samuel 16-17; The Anointing of David

The reading for today, the narrative of David and Goliath, is markedly similar to our reading from yesterday.  But before we get into that, we need to first recognize the beginning of the story of King David.  Here we see what is the “beginning” of the royal family of Israel which will also be the line from which Jesus comes.  I place the word beginning in quotation marks because it really isn’t the beginning, this family has been growing and active for over 500 years already, if you just think back to Judah the son of Jacob.  Remember back with me a bit.  We had Judah, who had an inappropriate relationship with Tamar which produced Perez and Zerah, back in Genesis 38.  Later on, we meet the prostitute Rahab, who was spared from Jericho in Judges 6.  In Matthew 1 we read that Rahab marries a man named Salmon and has a son named Boaz who later marries Ruth.  The son of Boaz and Ruth is Obed who is the father of Jesse the father of David.  So, while David is the most well known in this line (until Jesus), God has been at work in this family for generations!

In this narrative about David’s anointing by Samuel we also come to a familiar verse.  God tells Samuel,

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

In many ways this had become a verse to motivate leaders and give hope to the downtrodden alike.  God is showing Samuel what truly matters.  Saul was a man that stood a whole head above everyone else.  He was strong and handsome, or so we are told, and was the oldest of the sons of his father.  So when people look at him, they see a true leader.  Yet no one would suspect the youngest son, a shepherd, to be God’s chosen for the kingship of Israel.  (Sense some foreshadowing here?)  Yet God anoints David to be King because God knows Davids heart, his innermost being and sees that David is who God needs him to be.  It doesn’t have anything to do with his worldly status, but had everything to do with how God sees him.  Interesting how David became the most influential Kings of Israel, the last of 8 sons… and his offspring Jesus is the Savior of the world, born in a lowly manger.

Finally, we return to the narrative of David and Goliath.  Did you notice the similarities between yesterday’s narrative of Jonathan trusting God and slaying the philistines and David’s trust in God?  Where is Saul (and the people of Israel for that matter) in all of this?  Cowering once again, unwilling to go out because fear has gripped him (or them).  Perhaps this is a testament to effective, or rather ineffective leadership.  When David offers to go, Saul gives him the royal armor to wear (as if that would help him at all against someone as big as Goliath).  But David says no and instead goes out on faith, doing what he knows he can do.  I have tried to imagine the speech that David gives to Goliath… what a rousing testament to David’s faith:

“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel,  and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hand.”

What confidence from a “youth.”  Perhaps this is what it means to hat “the faith of a child?”  That’s just speculation, but the truth of the matter here is that David believes and trusts in the power of God.  He is unwavering in his conviction: God is real, God is powerful, and God is with him.  And indeed God is with David and a great victory is won against the philistines that day.

Sometimes, as I’m sitting in church, I wonder if we have the same convictions about the reality of God’s presence as David does.  He, like Jonathan, took a risk and faced death in the face on the faith that God was real and God was with them.  I heard a statistic once that over 50% of pastors don’t actually believe what they preach.  How sad… and how scary to face a reality in which God is not active and in control!  Its no wonder Saul was hiding in his tent…  I wonder, if when push comes to shove, we are Davids… or Sauls?

“Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”  Mark 9:24

Day 81: 1 Samuel 14-15; Saul's Legacy

So continues the battle with the Philistines, a conflict that continues for all the days of Saul’s reign as king.  But what we do see here is Saul taking the reigns of his Kingship, making decisions and rallying the people.  While it is good to see the king living into the role to which he has been called, it is interesting to see the his style as a ruler and his faith in God juxtaposed against that of his son, Jonathan and all of what happens after it.

There are really two different narratives that happen here, one in chapter 14 and the other in chapter 15.  In chapter 14 we see the actions of Jonathan dangerously venturing out with only his armor bearer to help protect him.  He goes out across the battle lines and up to the philistine garrison.  Rather than setting his own plan, he just says that he is going to stand up and trust that God will reveal to them what it is that they should do.  The sign is given, Jonathan obeys, and the garrison is defeated and the philistines panic and scatter.  Only then does Saul and the men with him come out of hiding.  Then Saul commands his military that they are to pursue the philistines and not take any food until they are defeated.  To me, this seems like an odd command in general, but for Saul, I think it betrays his feelings of who he trusts in.  Saul seems to be jumping on this fortunate turn of events and doesn’t want the opportunity to be lost because his soldiers stop to do something like eat food.

What happens?  Jonathan stops and eats some food.  Some people from the army warn him of what his father commanded to which Jonathan replies something akin to, “well that’s just dumb.”  We see here, very clearly where the faith of Jonathan lies:  in the power of God.  Saul is making bad decisions in the moment to take advantage of the confusion of the philistines.  He is relying on the strength of his army.  Jonathan knows exactly why this has happened.  He knows that it is the Lord that has given the philistines into the hands of Israel and that they should not rely on their own strength, but trust that as God has already worked, He will continue to do so.

This lack of faith and lack of following God is emphasized at the end of chapter 14 when we read that there was fighting all the days of Saul.  This is a direct reference to the covenant, where it says that there would be peace in the land if the people followed God and God’s law and there would be conflict should they fail to do so.  Saul’s lack of faith is then accented by his actions in the following chapter, not heeding the command of God and taking the best plunder for himself.  All this culminates in the rejection of Saul as king.  We read that the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king.

I think that this brings up a rather interesting thing to think about here.  We’ve read something like this a couple of times.  Back in Genesis 6 we read, “And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”  Later, in Exodus 32, with the Golden Calf, the Lord is so angry about the people’s rebellion that He wants to destroy them, but Moses talks God out of it.  This raises the question though, if we believe that God is immutable (does not change) but we read here that God changes His mind or regrets something that He is already done, do not those things stand in contrast with each other?

The immutability of God here is really a statement of the nature of God’s character, something about who He is in His very being.  We know that God is Holy, and that He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  We know that God is wholly opposed to sin.  We also know that God is faithful to His people, loving them even in the midst of rebellion.  So what does that say to us here about God?  That He is, as always, true to His character.  God can never act in a way that is contrary to God’s character.  So we see that God is grieved to have made Saul the king, which is a result of Saul’s continuing sin against the Lord.  What we aren’t reading here is that God was wrong in doing so, but that He regretted His decision.  In any case, God is still acting in the way that God always acts, working against sin, upholding the covenant He made with Israel, and still bringing about His will in the world.

Day 80: 1 Samuel 11-13; Saul, Israel's First King

Yesterday, as we read about the anointing of Saul, the reading ended with Saul returning home and going back to the work of a normal person.  Today the narrative picks up there as well.  As the Ammonites are attacking the people of Israel, Saul is out plowing with some oxen.  Seems a rather common thing for the King of Israel to be doing.  However, when he hears of the trouble that is taking place in Israel, the Spirit of the Lord “rushes upon him” and he gets super angry.  He sends out a call to arms and over 300,000 men rally to the cause.  For anyone that has been keeping track, this is the most significant fighting force assembled from the people of Israel since the time of the conquest of Canaan.  It is clear that this is the human leader that the people of Israel were looking for, and they decimate the Ammonites.  After this, the people of Israel make Saul their king “officially.”

As with all other major occasions, especially those of renewal and of worship, the history of the people of Israel is recalled and remembered.  Often times this manifests itself in a recitation of the Law and in many ways, this occasion of the “Renewal of the Kingdom” is no different.  However, Samuel takes a rather different approach, expanding on his warning about having a king and not trusting in God as their king.  He says this, as He remembers the history of Israel and the commands to follow the Lord:

“The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt.  Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers.  When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place.  But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them.  And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’  And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety.  And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king.  And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you.  If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well.  But if you will 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 and your king.”

This is, really, a recounting of the Law.  You can see elements of the “shema” in here.  Samuel impresses upon them to “Love the Lord with all your heart.”  There are also elements of the Covenant in here, talking about how the Lord has been faithful to the people and what would happen if they obeyed or turned from Him as well.  This all ends with Samuel imploring the people of Israel and their new king to follow after God, that the hand of the Lord would be with them and it would “be well” with them.

Not surprisingly though, we see right after this, what Saul does… and its not in line with Samuel’s speech.  In chapter 13, we see Saul trying to do his kingly duty by getting rid of the Philistines.  His actions are something akin to swinging a stick at a bee-hive.  He defeated the some of the bees on the outside, but the whole hive came out in response.  In response, the people of Israel flee and hide and while Saul is rallying the troops and waiting for Samuel to come and intercede for them before God, the duty of the priest/prophet, he gets impatient and does something completely unlawful by offering the sacrifice by himself.

While this seems rather harmless by our eyes, it betrays Saul’s true feelings in his heart.  He does not trust in God or in God’s timing by waiting for Samuel.  He does not trust in how God has set things up for him.  He does not follow the Law… right after Samuel urged him, and all of Israel, to follow the Law.  This is the beginning of the end of Saul’s reign.  The brevity of it belies the true heart of the people of Israel, trying to do their own thing and trusting in their own ways rather than following the Law.  It is clear here that the the Law of God was not on His heart as our Deuteronomy 17 (laws concerning Israel’s king) passage commanded.  We read nowhere that Saul has gotten a copy of the Law that He is studying.  Whether power has gone to his head, or worry has overcome his thoughts, He has committed a capital offense against God, one from which He will not recover.

Yet even in this, God continues to be faithful to the people of Israel.  We will see this in our reading tomorrow.  The narrative today ends on a strange note, talking about iron and swords in the land of Israel.  This will be continued tomorrow… stay tuned!