The Altar and the Crown
1 Samuel 8
1 Peter 1:16 (NKJV) “Be holy, for I am holy.”
Romans 12:2 (NKJV) And do not be conformed to this world.
A soldier escaped the battle and ran into Shiloh with dust on his head and his clothes torn. Everyone knew that this meant tragedy, and the city was immediately in an uproar. Somebody took the man directly to Eli. Eli was old, he had judged Israel for forty years, and now he listened to the news he dreaded. His two sons were dead, and the Ark of the Covenant was in the Philistines’ possession. The boy Samuel had told Eli that this would happen. Eli fell off his stool at the news that the Ark had been captured and broke his neck.
Samuel was still a boy, so he went back home to Ramah, where his father and mother were. For twenty years, the Ark did not return to the tabernacle in Shiloh, nor did the people seek God. When Samuel was about thirty years old, he became judge of Israel, but he did not return to Shiloh. He made Ramah his home base for his entire life. 1 Samuel 7:15-17 sums this up.
1 Samuel 7:15–17 (NKJV) 15And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. 16He went from year to year on a circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, and judged Israel in all those places. 17But he always returned to Ramah, for his home was there. There he judged Israel, and there he built an altar to the Lord.
Samuel did not keep his governing activities in one place but traveled in a circuit. However, at his home base, he built an altar. Building an altar signaled a serious commitment to seek the Lord.
Abraham built an altar at Bethel.
Genesis 12:7 (NKJV) Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants, I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him.
Isaac built an altar.
Genesis 26:25 (NKJV) So he built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord, and he pitched his tent there; and there Isaac’s servants dug a well.
Jacob built an altar.
Genesis 35:7 (NKJV) And he built an altar there and called the place El Bethel, because there God appeared to him when he fled from the face of his brother.
The significance of these altars is that each one made a habit of worshiping the Lord in the place where they lived. They established a place of worship.
Be careful. God allowed this before the establishment of the nation. However, in Deuteronomy 12, the Lord says they were not to offer their burnt offerings in every place they saw, but only in the location the Lord chose to make His name dwell. In Samuel’s day, the people had strayed so far that the tabernacle and place of worship were not functioning. One of the problems of the days of the judges was that everyone did what was right in their own eyes, deliberately disobeying the command of the Lord. This kind of deliberate disobedience still happens today. After all, I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian. Nonsense! That is just an excuse for doing things your own way. God’s word says, “Do not forsake the gathering of yourselves together.” (Hebrews 10:25) Consider what happened to Israel when every man did what was right in their own eyes. It resulted in disaster, and this is why Samuel started by making Ramah a place of worship. He did it because there was no regular gathering place. Samuel established the school of the prophets in hopes of re-establishing public worship in Israel.
Samuel also traveled in a circuit every year, teaching, judging, and leading Israel, all in an effort to turn the people’s hearts back to God. When Samuel was old, he could no longer travel extensively, so he made his sons judges to carry on their father’s work. However, they made their base of operations in Beersheba. Beersheba was probably fifty or sixty miles from Ramah and their father. This would have been a three or four-day journey on foot.
They did not follow the ways of their father. 1 Samuel 8:3 tells us they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice. Like the nation, they turned away from the Lord as soon as they were out from under the judge. These boys rejected God. They did not worship the Lord. There was no altar in their lives.
1 Samuel 8:4-6 tells us:
1 Samuel 8:4–5 (NKJV) 4Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
On the surface, it looks like they wanted a king because Samuel’s sons were not like Samuel, but this was not the case. Samuel’s sons were at the southern border of the nation. They were too far away from Jerusalem and the north to make much difference to those living in those regions. No, the real reason they wanted to have a king is found in the last sentence of the passage. “Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” Quite simply put, they wanted to be like everyone else. They were not concerned about justice as much as they were concerned with prosperity and power. They saw the nations around them gain wealth and power by their kings’ conquests and wanted a piece of that action. And they wanted secure borders. The Philistines were encroaching upon their borders on one side (1 Samuel 13:3-5), and Nahash, the Ammonite, was threatening on the east (1 Samuel 11:1). The Israelites showed their true desires when they said:
1 Samuel 8:19–20 (NKJV) 19“No, but we will have a king over us, 20that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
Their request does not seem like a bad thing on the surface, but Samuel was upset and prayed about it. Read what the Lord said in response.
1 Samuel 8:7–8 (NKJV) 7And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. 8According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day—with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they are doing to you also.
The Lord said, “They have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.”
The Lord was not deceived by their reference to Samuel’s sons. The nation was rejecting the Lord, just as they had done so consistently. They saw what the world had to offer, and they wanted it.
The Bible warns us about doing the same thing. It says:
Romans 12:2 (NKJV) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
“Do not be conformed” is a warning because this is the temptation we all face. But we are to be different from the world. We are called to be different from the world, as was Israel. Israel was called and set apart to be holy.
Leviticus 11:44 (NKJV) For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy.
God had called them and set them apart to be a holy nation. They were to be a witness to the rest of the world that there is but one God. I have pointed this out previously, but it bears repeating. Isaiah 43:10 says:
Isaiah 43:10 (NKJV) “You are My witnesses,” says the Lord,
“And My servant whom I have chosen,
That you may know and believe Me,
And understand that I am He.
Before Me there was no God formed,
Nor shall there be after Me.”
However, Israel rejected God, and so God said:
Ezekiel 36:23 (NKJV) And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord,” says the Lord God, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.”
Romans 2:24 quotes this when it says:
Romans 2:24 (NKJV) For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written.
God called them and promised to bless them if they walked in His ways, but they rejected God and did not fulfill their calling to be witnesses.
We are faced with the same choice they were. Israel chose to be conformed to the world. They wanted to gain what the world had to offer, and many of us want the same thing. I fear lest any of us hear the words, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”
Matthew 7:21–23 (NKJV) 21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
Romans 12:2 does not give its warning for no reason. Conforming to the world is a great temptation. This is why the instructions of Romans 12:1 are so vital.
Romans 12:1 (NKJV) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.
The Lord, through the Apostle, pleads with us, saying, “I beseech you.” Some translations say, “I beg you,” and others say, “I urge you.” God has every right to command obedience, but He chooses to appeal to us. This appeal is based on His mercies. Mercy means not giving one the punishment or penalty he deserves. God is merciful in that we are not destroyed for our unbelief and deliberate acts of disobedience toward Him. Instead of punishing us, God gave His only Son so that we can receive eternal life through faith in Him. This is why Romans 12:1 says that presenting our bodies as living sacrifices is our reasonable service. Another word that can be used in place of “reasonable” here is “logical.” Logically, we should give ourselves to Him since He gave His only Son for us. We were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1).
Colossians 2:13 (NKJV) And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.
The Israelites wanted a king to rule over them. And God said:
1 Samuel 8:7 (NKJV) And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.
The issue is the same in the lives of all people. Who will rule over our lives? Will God be king, or will I be king? God went to great lengths to make a nation of His own. He singled out a common man and made Him into a nation. The Lord delivered that nation from slavery in Egypt. He gave them a land with fields and homes that they had not labored for. And still, they rejected Him as king. Are you any different? He gave His Son so that you can live. Have you rejected Him? Will you have Him to be your king?
God does not ask you to build an altar like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But He does ask you to worship in Spirit and in truth. He does ask you to present your body as a living sacrifice.
Where is the altar that you have built in your life?
Do you worship God every day, seeking to know and obey Him?
Have you chosen the crown, to be the ruler of your own life, or the altar, letting God rule over you?