God the King
1 Samuel 1-3[i]
Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt.
Joshua led the children of Israel in the conquest of Canaan.
After these two great men, came the period of time known as the time of the judges. During the time of the judges, Israel had no king. Their family ties, known as the 12 tribes, and the common place of worship, known as the tabernacle, were all that held them together as a nation.
Because of the tabernacle, the people of Israel shared a common priesthood. They all had the same high priest. The priesthood passed down through the line of Aaron. However, there were no direct successors to the leadership roles held by Moses and Joshua.
In the absence of strong leadership, the people's commitment to the Law of Moses and to God was not strong enough to hold them. They quickly turned to idol worship, child sacrifice and all manner of evil forbidden by the Law of Moses. Because of this rebellion, God would raise up peoples and nations who oppressed the people of Israel. This oppression caused the people of Israel to cry out to God for help and deliverance, and in response, God would raise up a leader, a judge, to deliver his people. This leader or judge would lead the people back to the Lord their God and as long as the leader lived, the people would remain faithful to God. However, after the leader was gone, the people quickly returned to their rebellious ways.
This period of Israel's history is known as the time of the judges. The pattern we just talked about is called the cycle of the judges. The book of Judges in the Old Testament tells the story of this period in Israel's history. Many Christians know the names of some of the famous judges. For example, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson are a few.
A man named Samuel was the last of these judges. The books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel tell the story of the establishment of a national political system ruled by a king.
The period of the judges demonstrated the inability or the unwillingness of people to follow God with a whole heart, or recognize God as their King. Two commands sum up the Law of Moses: 1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus taught that these two commands encapsulate all the Law the Prophets.
The cycle of the judges of continual falling away, punishment and then renewal is consistent with how the human heart works. When God led the children of Israel out of Egypt through his servant Moses, he tested the people to see if they would follow his commands. At the end of his life, Moses gave a message to the people of Israel and said, "Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands." (Deuteronomy 8:2) This humbling and testing of the children of Israel over 40 years produced a history very similar to the cycle of the judges.
This cycle of falling away, punishment and renewal is repeated in individual lives as well. However, it is not true of everybody. The book of 1 Samuel begins with the story of a faithful man and his family. The man was a Levite and his name was Elkanah.
In Elkanah's family, we are introduced to a conflict between his two wives. 1 Samuel 1:6 tells us that Peninnah would taunt and make fun of Hannah. Because of this taunting, I assume that Peninnah was of an ungodly character. Because of her praying and seeking the Lord for help, I assume that Hannah was of a godly character. This conflict in Elkanah's family was mirrored in the leadership of the nation.
Eli was the high priest at that time. Eli seems to me to have been a godly enough man. However, his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were wicked. 1 Samuel 2:12 tells us that these sons of Eli had no respect for the Lord. They took from the Lord's offerings what was not theirs to take. They used their position as priests to take advantage of the young women who served at the entrance to the tabernacle.
Eli warned his sons saying, "I have been hearing reports from all the people about the wicked things you are doing. Why do you keep sinning? You must stop, my sons! The reports I hear among the Lord’s people are not good. If someone sins against another person, God can mediate for the guilty party. But if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede?" (1 Samuel 2:23-25) However, he took no further action. Therefore, God sent a prophet to warn Eli that he must stop his sons’ evil behavior. In Chapter 2 verse 29, God asks a question, "Why do you give your sons more honor than you give me?" Then God warned of terrible punishments or judgments that would fall on Eli's family.
When we read the terrible judgments that were to befall the family of Eli, we must remember that they were entrusted with the leadership of the whole nation. This reminds me of the warning given to us in James 3:1, "Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly."
The root of the conflict in Eli’s family was a conflict between a commitment to God and a commitment to one’s own selfish motives. The same conflict was at the root of the conflict in Elkanah’s family. This choice between loving and obeying God and obeying self is at the root of the human cycle of the judges. The book of Judges sheds light on this problem with the statement, "In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes." (Judges 21:25)
God always reserves people that are faithful to him. Elkanah and Hannah were two such people. Hannah promised to dedicate her son to the Lord. When God gave her the son she requested, she named him Samuel which may mean “given of God” or “requested of God.” True to her promise, when Samuel was weaned Hannah took Samuel to the Tabernacle and dedicated him there to the Lord's service. Samuel lived in the Tabernacle as Eli's assistant from the time he was a small boy. (1 Samuel 1:24, 3:1)
Samuel grew up in much the same setting that Eli's two sons would have. However, Samuel was a completely different character. From the time he was a young boy, Samuel demonstrated his commitment to the Lord. 1 Samuel 2:11 says "And the boy served the Lord by assisting Eli the priest." Chapter 3 begins with the same words about Samuel serving the Lord. Where the Scriptures indicate that Eli sons were wicked, they indicate that Samuel served the Lord.
1 Samuel 3:1 also points out that "in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon." However, God chose to speak to Samuel. We are not told how old Samuel was at this time but he was apparently still quite young. The first word that Samuel received from the Lord was a repetition of the judgment pronounced by the man of God that we are told about in chapter 2. 1 Samuel 3:15 tells us that Samuel "was afraid to tell Eli what the Lord had said to him." But in spite of his fear, Samuel told Eli everything. What is more, “As Samuel grew up the Lord was with him and everything Samuel said proved to be reliable.” (1 Samuel 3:19)
God intervened and gave Hannah a son because she sought the Lord. God intervened and spoke to Samuel because he served the Lord. 2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” Whenever God sent a deliverer during the days of the judges, He would find a person whose heart was fully committed to Him.
Israel did not need a king. They had God. However, their hearts were not fully committed to Him. Samuel heard from the Lord, because his heart was fully committed to the Lord.
Would you like to be strengthened by the Lord?
Would you like to live your life free of the cycle of the judges?
The answer is quite simple. The Lord searches the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully His.
[i] Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.