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“And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.”  1 Samuel 16:23

How do you respond when the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin upon you heart?  Is it sometime distressing?

King Saul was going crazy. He had sin against God. His pride had led him to take prerogatives that were not his to take and in doing so he had dishonored himself, his office and God. But Saul had sought to justify and excuse his actions. Not wanting to humble himself and admit his sins he had treasured resentment in his heart that God had taken the throne of Israel from his descendants. 

Then God sent him on a mission of judgment and once again his pride led him to seek honor and reward for himself when God had already laid claimed to everything. God’s plan is that no one is to be enriched by the sin and punishment of another. 

Once again Saul fought with the convicting work of the Holy Spirit upon his heart. So great was the struggle that he began to show signs of losing his reason. 

Many wonder about this “distressing spirit from the Lord” that came upon Saul thinking that perhaps God had sent a demon to torment the disobedient king. But friends, in James chapter one, verse thirteen, the apostle tells us that God is not tempt by evil,and neither does he tempt anyone. It’s not God’s way to bring this kind of torment upon anyone. God does not punish or fight evil with evil.

But God does, through the Holy Spirit, seek to bring conviction upon the heart of his wayward child. Only when there is sincere, humble confession of sin can it be truly rejected and God’s righteousness accepted. God’s work while we’re holding onto sin is to bring us to the point where we acknowledge our sin and truly repent of it. 

But Saul, resentful that God had remonstrated with him through Samuel and had rejected himself and his lineage as kings over Israel fought with God and refused to be led to humble himself. Instead of being blessed by the working of the Holy Spirit, as he had previously been, he was now distressed and tormented. 

Saul’s family, and those attending him, seeing his agitation and distress advised that a skillful player of the hard be found to come and play soothing music for Saul to quite his distress and soothe his trouble heart. But the effect of this music was temporary. Only for a time would the affect of the music serve to salve Saul’s pride and resentfulness. 

Friends, it’s fearful to resist the urging of the Holy Spirit to turn from the path of sin. We’ve all experience the distress of having the convicting hand of God weighing heavily upon our hearts, and I can attest that true relief comes only when full confession and repentance is given.

We’ll never know what could have been as regards to King Saul, we only see the result of his resistance. But we can experience the blessing of freedom and cleansing that comes to us when we open our hearts to God as we admit our sins and let him set our lives in the path of righteousness. 

“But the Lord said to Samuel, ’Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’”  1 Samuel 16:7

Shortly after God had rejected Saul because of his prideful disobedience regarding the destruction of the Amalekites God instructed Samuel to go to Bethlehem in Judea and anoint one of the sons of Jesse as the next king of Israel. But Samuel was fearful to do as God commanded because if Saul learned that he had anointed a new king he would have had them both killed for treason. 

But God had a plan. God always has a plan, or solution, for any dilemma we face. Every new moon the families of Israel made sacrifices and recalled and renewed their covenant with God. Additionally, at a feast following the community sacrifice, households would renewed family covenants as well. God instructed Samuel to take a sacrifice with him and celebrate the new moon in Bethlehem with the family of Jesse. 

Everything went according to plan until Samuel told Jesse that God had a need for one of his sons and requested to meet them. 

When Samuel saw Jesse’s eldest son, the tall and handsome Eliab, he felt sure that this was the one God had chosen to be king, but God said, “No. I have refused him. Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Jesse called the rest of his sons to come forward until all seven present had met the prophet and each one was refused by God. At this Samuel turned to Jesse and asked, “Are these all your sons?” To which Jesse answered, “There’s still the youngest but he’s out watching the sheep.”  To which Samuel commanded, “Send for him. For we will not sit down to eat until I have met him.”  And when Jesse’s youngest son, David, had come God told Samuel, “Arise and anoint him for he is the one I have chosen to be king over Israel.” 

So Samuel anoint David King. Saul had been anointed as Nagid, judge and commander-in-Chief, but God commanded that David be anointed as Melek, king of Israel. 

God chose David when he was just a young man based on the qualities present in his heart. Samuel couldn’t see into David’s heart but God could so he could guide him. 

To often we make important decisions on superficial information and understandings, little better than guessing, when we ought to be turning to God so that he can guide us based upon the hidden things he can see. Young people seeking husbands and wives consult their feelings and attractions but too often given little thought to learning what God might have to offer in the way of guidance. Careers are chosen based on income possibilities, aptitude, and personal interest but once again little effort is made to learn where God might be leading. 

Friends, God sees and knows the heart and the future. What’s more he has a plan that accounts for all the obstacles and barriers that will come up in life. Our plans most often go awry but God has shown that his plans are unerring; moving forward from generation to generation. Let’s chose to seek for and to follow God’s plan. 

“So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel, and fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, against the people of Ammon, against Edom, against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines. Wherever he turned, he harassed them.  And he gathered an army and attacked the Amalekites, and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them.”  1 Samuel 14:47–48

I find the first verses of our focus text sad, “So Saul established his sovereignty over Israel,” I wish that instead they read, “And God established Saul’s sovereignty…” but they don’t. 

God does however seem to have prospered Saul’s ambitions, no doubt because they also fulfilled God’s desire in that they also established his chosen people over the land of Canaan. 

Saul’s selfish ambition brought him to a breaking point when he was commanded by God through Samuel to utterly destroy the Amalekite nation; not a person, not even and animal was to be left alive, so great were their sins against God as a nation that they were all to be destroyed. 

Because this was an action of judgment God had claimed all the plunder for himself, no one was to be enriched or in anyway benefited by God’s punishment of the Amaletites, but Saul’s pride would not let him pass by this opportunity to add to his honor, glory and fame.  As a trophy of his conquest Saul brought back Agag, king of the Amalekites, as a prisoner, as well as flocks and herds of the best of the Amalekite animals which he claimed they had brought back for use as sacrifices. 

The reality was that these were trophies that Saul could parade before the people; he may not have been personally enriched by the conquest of Amalek but he was able to find an excuse to give his ego another boost. 

Friends, our success or failure before God is dependent upon one thing, our obedience. If we can look back at what we’ve done and truly say that we’ve honestly endeavored to be obedient to God then we’ve been successful. God then adds his blessing to our feeble efforts and brings his plans to completion. 

Just to be clear, the success we’re talking about is not the same as our salvation.  Our obedience has no part in winning our salvation. Christ’s obedience, Christ’s submission, Christ’s sacrifice, these are the only components worthy of being included in the process of securing our sins atonement. 

Still God has a work for us to do and we achieve success in that work when we serve God with humbleness and obedience. But Saul failed in his mission against the Amalekites, and his prideful disobedience in claiming glory from a divine mission of judgment was the last straw. Up until then he had served God as king of Israel but now Samuel told him that God had rejected him as king and would give that mantle to another more worthy; one that would obey the word of God. 

O God, teach me to be humble and obedient to all your words. Let me not forfeit your acceptance and favor because in disobedience to you I’ve pursued my own honor and worked to secure my own pleasure. 

“But Jonathan had not heard his father charge the people with the oath; therefore he stretched out the end of the rod that was in his hand and dipped it in a honeycomb, and put his hand to his mouth; and his countenance brightened.”  1 Samuel 14:27

By the time Saul and the six hundred men with him even knew what was going on God had already won the battle for Israel. Through the faith, obedience and courage of Jonathan and his armor bearer, and by the might of his own hand, God had defeated the Philistine army that had gathered against his people, deep in Israelite territory. 

But Saul was not satisfied that his enemy should be vanquished that day and that he should not get a share in the credit. So when he gave the command for his men to join in the pursuit of the routed Philistines he added to that order the injunction, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.”

Saul was concerned only for his own fame and honor as indicated by the phrase, “before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.”  God’s honor and the honor of his people were not the motivation. Personal pride, selfish pride, was Saul’s only motivation. 

Death was the punishment for violating the order to fast until the fighting was finished. But Jonathan was not present to hear the edict and when the chance came for him to eat a little honey in the forest he, being faint with hunger, reached into the hive with his staff and ate some. 

Later that day Saul learned that Jonathan had eaten and was determined to have his son executed for, in ignorance, disobeying the royal command but the people protested and prevented Saul for killing the heroic young man. 

Once again Saul’s actions were driven by selfish pride. He was king. His word was law and Jonathan had violated that law. The only way Saul could excuse Jonathan was to admit the rash foolishness of his own edict and he would rather see the hero of the day, his own son, executed on the alter of his pride than admit anything that reduced his own honor. 

Friends, there is nothing more dangerous to us and all the relationships we have than selfish pride. Pride will drive us to say and do things that will undermine our connection with those we care most about. Pride will, if nurtured, cause us to be willing to sacrifice family and friends all so we can hold onto something that won’t even matter in a few hours or days. 

Is it any wonder that God hates pride so much. Jesus, himself, declared that pride was the most dangerous of all sins. God also says that he’s drawn to people that are of a humble and contrite heart. 

O God, give me a heart you’re drawn to. Teach me to let go of pride and hold onto the graces of humility and contrition. Prevent me from rash words spoken from pride and make me thoughtful of you and others. 

“Then Jonathan said, ‘Very well, let us cross over to these men, and we will show ourselves to them.  If they say thus to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place and not go up to them.  But if they say thus, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up. For the Lord has delivered them into our hand, and this will be a sign to us.’”  1 Samuel 14:8–10

We don’t know how often it happens but from time to time God calls us to do something for him that’s truly special. These moments are, in fact, times when God is prepared to do something great through us and all that’s required is that we be willing say yes, take what ever risk the situation presents, and do what ever it is that God’s calling us to do. 

Today’s passage in 1 Samuel chapter fourteen tells the story of a time when Saul’s son Jonathan had a call to greatness. Scripture’s unclear as to how the call presented itself to Jonathan. It doesn’t say that God spoke to him, or that an angel came to him, it seems that Jonathan simply felt a compelling desire to go out and confront the Philistine encampment that had assembled against them not far away. 

Most of us in this situation wouldn’t have handled the situation like Jonathan did. We’d have talked to someone about it, gotten advice or approval, and probably ended up getting ourselves talked out of doing anything risky or rash. But Jonathan doesn’t tell anyone what he’s doing except his armor bearer who he asks to come with him. 

The plan is that they will show themselves to the Philistines and that if the Philistines say to stay where they are and wait for them to come down they will, and if they tell them to come up that’s a sign that God has given the Philistines into their hand. 

They do just what Jonathan suggested and are told to come up so they do and as soon as they’re up they attack the guards and at the same time God attacks with an earthquake. It appears that in the camp of the Philistines there were also some Hebrew mercenaries who decided to betray their employers and fight with Jonathan. 

Eventually, Saul and his six hundred soldiers also enter the fighting but by that time the Philistines are in full retreat completely routed by God working through Jonathan, his armor bearer, and the now loyal Hebrew mercenaries. Great things happened that day because Jonathan answered God’s call to greatness. 

A call to greatness doesn’t always have the glorious result that Jonathan’s call had that day; the impact is always important but not to everyone. 

Like with Jonathan the call to greatness may not come with an obvious indication that it’s God making the call, it may just feel like a whim or a crazy idea. If you’re going to follow God’s call quite often it requires that you have a very close connection to God so that you can hear his faintest whispers and recognize that the prompting is coming from God. After that you need to get in the habit to going and doing what you believe God’s leading you to do. You don’t need more counsel or permission; God’s given you the call. Faith is all that’s required for you to say yes to God’s call to greatness. 

“Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, ‘Lest the Hebrews make swords or spears.’”  1 Samuel 13:19

During the reign of Saul the Philistines primarily occupied the plains along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Their’s was not a kingdom in the sense that we generally think of kingdoms, rather it was a federation of independent city states each led by its own king. 

Often during the times of war, companies from one Philistine city or another would make raids into the Hebrew territory, higher up in the hills and mountains, killing isolated farmers, stealing anything valuable, and sometimes conquering a city or town and demanding tribute from its inhabitants. At other times different kings would join together for a more ambitious incursion. 

The Philistines had been successful with this strategy. So successful that there was not a single blacksmith in all of Israel and Judah. If the Israelites needed a tool sharpened or repaired the had to go to a Philistine to get the work done paying ridiculously high prices for the service. In addition to the money they made, this monopoly on blacksmiths ensured that Israel did not have the ability to make the swords and spears necessary to properly defend themselves against their enemies, making them easier to control. 

One might ask, “Why is God permitting his people to be treated this way?”

The answer is that this situation is the result of Israelite unfaithfulness. 

When Israel entered into the land of Canaan God had promised that he would go before the people and he would give them the land and they were to drive the other nations out before them, but the children of Israel failed to do as God had instructed them to do. They did not drive out the idolatrous nations, instead they permitted some to live along side them resulting in even greater disobedience and unfaithfulness as they repeatedly adopted the idolatrous practices of their neighbors. 

This failure to fully remove existing inhabitants as God had instructed also meant that the powerful Philistine alliance was also permitted to remain which was a problem and a threat for many generations. 

God gives his people instructions so that he can bless them and prosper them in the best way for them. Their failure to exercise faith, obedience and tenacity when they first occupied the land resulted in vulnerabilites that eventually resulted in hardship for the people of Israel. 

We too by our disobedience to God’s instructions deprive ourselves of the blessings God desires to give and open the door for difficulty and hardship from which God would have protected us. 

Friends, it’s not always easy to follow God and accomplish everything he’s set before us to do but he’s promised that he’ll be with us and supply all our needs and ensure the success of all our honest efforts to do as he’s called us to do. Yes, sacrifice may be required but given the blessings in store and the consequences of failing to make the effort these are investments we can’t afford to not make. 

“And Samuel said, ‘What have you done?’  Saul said, ‘When I saw that the people were scattered from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines gathered together at Michmash, then I said, ‘The Philistines will now come down on me at Gilgal, and I have not made supplication to the Lord.’ Therefore I felt compelled, and offered a burnt offering.’”  1 Samuel 13:11–12

After Saul had been king for about two years he chose from the men of Israel three thousand men to be his standing army. Two thousand he kept with himself at Michmash and the mountains of Bethel, and the remaining one thousand were commanded by Saul’s oldest son Jonathan at Gibeah of Benjamin. The rest of the men of Israel were sent back to their homes. 

Not long after Jonathan was given command of his thousand he led them in an attack on the Philistine garrison in Geba. Saul realizing that the Philistines would not let Jonathan’s attack go unanswered commanded for trumpets to be blown through out the land calling for all the men to hear and come and join Saul in fighting the Philistines. 

We don’t know how men of Israel answered the call but Samuel does tell us that the Philistine army they faced was thirty thousand chariots, six thousand horsemen, and a numberless host of foot soldiers. The size of the Philistine army was enough to send the people of Israel running and hiding in the forests and caves with others choosing to cross over the Jordan River to be refugees in the region of Gad and Gilead. 

Everyone following after Saul were greatly afraid and everyday the number of deserters was increasing. Saul had set a time for the prophet Samuel to offer sacrifice for the people and after he had waited seven days and the appointed time had arrived Samuel was not there. Saul, seeing the people’s fear and, himself, fearing that Samuel would not come, offered the burnt offering himself. 

Just as soon as the offering had been made Samuel arrived. 

“Saul! What have you done?”

“When you had not come I was afraid that we would have to face the Philistines without have made supplication to God by sacrifice so I offered it myself.”

Saul had been anointed as commander-in-chief and judge of Israel; he was neither a priest or a prophet. His presumption in taking to himself duties not given him by God was directly disobedient to God’s instructions and would have serious consequences. The impact of the example of leadership upon those looking to them is profound and God cannot allow abuses to go unanswered. 

Samuel’s next words to Saul were that, because of Saul’s disobedience, God would not establish his family to be kings after him as he had planned. 

An essential component of obedience is patience. Far too often we’re not willing to wait for the right time, place, or people and we disobediently rush ahead. But scripture promises that if we wait patiently God will reward that patient obedience with his blessing. 

“For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people.  Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way.  Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.  But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”  1 Samuel 12:22–25

Saul was now king of Israel in more than name only. He’d issued a call to arms and the nation had responded. He’d led the army into battle and they had won the day. Additionally, when a group of men had wanted to bring grief to those that had not supported his ascension to the throne he had been merciful and forbidden any retribution. 

Therefore Samuel called the people to assemble at Gilgal and there they offered sacrifices to the Lord and there they crowned Saul king. 

And there was great rejoicing among the assembled people until Samuel got up to speak. 

First Samuel reminded the people that he had served God and them since he was a child and they testified that he has been just, and honest, and faithful all the days of his ministry. 

Next Samuel reminded the people that God had heard their lament in Egypt and had raised up Moses and Aaron to lead them out of Egypt, but that it was he, God, that had been the one to deliver them from the hand of Pharaoh. 

He also reminded them that they had forgotten God and had gone after other gods and God had allowed other nations to rise up and oppress them, and when they remembered God and returned to him with repentance and confession, and called on him to rescue them he, God, came and delivered them once again. 

Samuel also called on God to send thunder and rain to show that he was still with them and God revealed himself in the thunder and rain. 

God had always been faithful. No matter what they had done he had never changed in his love and care for them. He was always the same. Still, regardless of God’s consistent faithfulness to them Israel “added to their sins the evil of asking for a king.”

But Israel’s sin did not change God’s love for them. King or no king he was still their God and if they would follow him he would bless them, and if they turned from him he would send other nations to turn them back to him, and no king could change that. No king could change God. 

O God we praise you that you’re still the same. Thousands of years of our sin and foolishness have not altered your love for us. Great is your faithfulness. Though we are unfaithful you do not turn aside from working to save us. Bless you! Praise you!

“Now there was Saul, coming behind the herd from the field; and Saul said, ‘What troubles the people, that they weep?’ And they told him the words of the men of Jabesh. Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard this news, and his anger was greatly aroused.”  1 Samuel 11:5–6

Saul is king of Israel. He’s been chosen by God to judge the people and lead their army into battle. But Israel’s never had a king before and they don’t seem to know what kind of relationship they ought to have with a king; some of them are, in fact, quite sure that they don’t even want a king. 

To honest, Saul himself seems unsure of himself when it comes to what it means for him to be king. What should he be devoting his time to? What kind of activities ought to fill his days?

And then comes the news. The news itself is very important but I was struck by the fact that King Saul seemed to be one of the last people to hear it. No one even made any effort to make sure that he heard it as quickly as possible. 

Saul had been working with the cattle in the field and it wasn’t until he was bringing the herd in for the day that he became aware that some kind of important news had arrived. Still no one thought to tell him, but the generalized mourning provoked Saul to ask what had happened. It was only then that Saul learned that the Ammonites, led by King Nahash, had laid siege to Jabesh Gilead and his terms for their surrender were that they all submit to having their right eye put out. 

Saul was furious when he heard this and scripture tells us that the spirit of God came upon him and he slaughtered two oxen and divided their carcasses into twelve parts and sent messengers with the parts throughout Israel and Judah proclaiming a call to arms with the warning that if they didn’t come they would become like his oxen. 

Scripture records that three hundred thousand men of Israel and thirty thousand men of Judah responded to the call. Saul divided his army into thirds and attacked the Ammonites and won a great victory over them, and saved the people of Jabesh Gilead. 

It was only after this victory that the people of Israel and Judah began to treat Saul as the King God had chosen him to be. But to be fair Saul hadn’t been doing anything king like in the time following his anointing. He’d just gone back to being a farmer. 

People will generally treat you like you present yourself. It’s the messages we send regarding who we are that tells people how we’re supposed to be treated. If you want respect be respectable. If you want honor be honorable. If you want to be trusted be trust worthy. If you want to be treated like a responsible adult be a responsible adult.

Saul wasn’t treated like the king he was until he began to act like the King he was called to be. What has God called you to be?  Most likely people won’t tell you what to do. They’re too busy trying to understand their own calling. Step up and be who God called you to be. As you fill the place God prepared for you people will start to recognize who you really are. 

“And Samuel said to all the people, ‘Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen, that there is no one like him among all the people?’  So all the people shouted and said, ’Long live the king!’”  1 Samuel 10:24

Everything had gone far beyond the reach of believable for Saul the son of Kish.

A few days before he and a servant had gone out in search of three lost donkeys and after looking far and wide they find out that their donkeys have already been found, but Saul learns something even more important. Saul finds out that God has told Samuel that he’s chosen him to be the first King of Israel. 

Just to be clear, there were two possible types of kings that Saul could become: the first was, in Hebrew called a Melek, this is what we usually think of when we think of a king; the second was called a Nagid and he was more of a military commander-in-chief. It was the second type that Saul was anointed as. 

Still Saul was just a farmer; a tall, good looking farmer, but still just a farmer and the idea that he was now the royal commander-in-chief of the armies of Israel was over whelming and too much to be believed.  So God had a day all set up for him filled with signs designed to convince him that he was really God’s chosen. 

But Saul’s not the only one needing to be convinced. All of Israel needs to see and know that Saul is God’s chosen. So Samuel calls all the tribes of Israel to assemble a Mizpah and when they were all in place lots were cast. First the tribe of Benjamin was drawn, Saul’s tribe. Then the family of Matri was chosen, Saul’s family. And finally Saul’s name was drawn. 

Scripture tells us that God doesn’t do anything without first letting us know so that we’ll be prepared to work in cooperation with him. Scripture also tells us that God never changes. This means that even today God is still giving us everything we need to know what he’s doing and to cooperate with him. 

If that’s true then shouldn’t we be able to expect everyone to believe?

Unfortunately, no. Just because we’re given all the proof we need doesn’t we have to trust the evidence and believe. 

In the case of Saul’s selection by God, God spoke to Samuel, gave multiple signs to Saul, spoke through Samuel to the people and confirmed this all through the process of casting lots. Still the Bible tells us that there were some who despised Saul and did not believe. 

The choice will always be ours to make. Will we believe God’s leading and providence or will we trust in our own perceptions and doubts?

O God, help me to remember that you do things differently than I would choose to. You’re God and I’m not. You know so much that I can’t even perceive or understand. Help me to always trust your leading and submit myself to your guidance. 

“Now the Lord had told Samuel in his ear the day before Saul came, saying, ‘Tomorrow about this time I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him commander over My people Israel, that he may save My people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have looked upon My people, because their cry has come to Me.’”  1 Samuel 9:15–16

Many men have earned for men in general the stereotype that we don’t like to ask for direction.  Now not all men are hesitant to ask for help when it comes to finding our way. Not all of us are embarrassed to admit that we don’t always know where we’re going or how to find the places we’re looking for. In fact, I am one of those men that isn’t bashful about asking for help in finding my way. I hate wasting time and being late more than I dislike asking for directional assistance so it doesn’t take me very long before I’m asking someone for help. 

And here’s the thing, in all the times I’ve ever asked for help no one has ever treated me like I was less intelligent because I needed to ask for directions. Everyone has to ask sometimes because no one knows where everything is. 

Our account of the history of Israel has shifted its focus from the prophet Samuel to a young man named Saul and a servant who are out looking for three lost donkeys. They’ve been trekking for three days across a large stretch of Israelite territory with no success in getting word of their donkeys when Saul’s servant realizes that they’re near the home of someone that might know just where they ought to look. So they switch from looking for donkeys to looking for the prophet Samuel. And the story says that they have to ask for directions in order to find the man they can get directions from. 

What happened next must have been a bit overwhelming for Saul. Samuel had been prepared by God the day before for Saul’s arrival. God had told him that he would meet the man he was to anoint as king and Samuel had prepared a meal to honor him. He was seated in the highest seat of honor and given the best portion of the meat prepared for the feast. 

This was quite a turn for this foot sore man out looking for donkeys. No one expects special treatment for needing help because you can’t find what you’re looking for. 

The next day Samuel told him that his donkeys have been found but only after he gives him and even greater surprise. Privately, just the two of them are there, Samuel has Saul kneel and he anoints him as king over Israel. 

Saul found out that good things can happen when you ask for directions. It may be that you just find out how to find what you’re looking for, or how to get where you’re going or it may be that your life takes an unexpected and wonderful turn. 

You and I will almost certainly never become kings because we asked for help but who knows what blessings await if we’ll pack up our pride, stow away our stubbornness, eject our embarrassment and just ask someone to point us in the right path. 

“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and 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.’”  1 Samuel 8:4–5

We’ve all experienced what the elders of Israel were going through. Problems were  coming to them bigger than they could handle. Challenges were coming at them so fast they were being overwhelmed and they were looking for solutions. 

The prophet Samuel was facing a similar situation, though it must be admitted that his was a bit more specific than that of the elders.  Samuel was old and tired and simply not able to do the work of judging the people that he once had. The elders were just not prepared to lead the people in all the ways the people needed leadership. 

So Samuel and the elders considered their problems and came up with solutions.

Samuel decided to appoint his sons Joel and Abijah as judges over Israel, and this was a disaster. Samuel’s sons didn’t have their father’s integrity and instead of giving the people the justice they were appointed to give their decisions were sold to the highest bidder. That’s right, with Samuels sons If you had the money you could make sure that the judge saw things your way. 

This particular brand of injustice is what motivated the elders to put on their thinking caps and come to the conclusion they came to. 

They knew they needed honest judges and every year they knew that the people need someone to rally the troops and lead them into battle so after looking at every aspect of this problem they could think of they came to the conclusion that they needed a king. 

The problem I see with both the elders’ and Samuel’s decisions is that these decisions were made by Samuel the the elders. What was at stake was far bigger than they were capable of giving the level of consideration required and still they made the decision. 

Friends, God has given us intelligence, and creativity, and problem solving abilities, and so many other wonder mental abilities but perhaps the most important thing we need to be able to do, when it comes to decision making, is to recognize when the problem is too big for us and then give it over to God. 

God raised up Moses and each one of the prophets and judges to lead the people. He knew the hearts of the men and women he was calling, and he understood the problems they would face; the situation wasn’t too big for him. If the people had been patient and willing to submit to God they would have received God’s best but they weren’t so they didn’t, at least not at that time. 

Are we willing to give our dilemmas over to God?  Are we then willing to abide by the solutions he brings to us?  

O Father, humble my heart. Make we willing to submit to your best for my life. In my desperation make me patient while you teach me faith, and within the scope of my intelligence and experience make me willing to listen to the prompting of your Holy Spirit. 

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us.’”  1 Samuel 7:12

Following the Ark of the Covenant’s return from the Philistines a wave of spiritual revival sweated over the nation of Israel. But it appears that many we so ignorant of God’s instructions regarding how to live and worship him that they didn’t really know how to start. The conviction was there but that was about it.

First Samuel chapter seven verses three and four tells us, “Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, ‘If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.’  So the children of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only.”

Samuel also issued a call for all of Israel to gather at Mizpah for a season of fasting and prayer before the Lord, and the people came.

But they weren’t the only ones. The Philistines heard that the Israelites had gathered at Mizpah and they decided to to attack them there while they were worshipping. No doubt thinking that since they’d been able to defeat Israel already that they could win an even greater victory now.

When the people saw that the Philistines were about to attack they cried out to Samuel saying, “Don’t stop crying out to God that he might save us from the hand of the Philistines.”

So Samuel offered a lamb as a whole burnt offering to the Lord and cried out to God and God answered. God thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines and brought a great confusion upon them so that the men of Israel were able to drive the Philistines out of the land of Israel and reclaim all the cities and towns that the Philistines had taken from them. 

Following this victory Samuel erected a stone between Mizpah and Shen and and named it Ebenezer which means, “thus far the Lord has brought us.”

The Ebenezer stone was a reminder that it was God that was leading them and fighting for them. He was giving the victories. He was their provider, sustainer and Savior. 

It’s easy to forget these simple but profound truths, and in our forgetfulness we too become careless in our lives and our relationship with God. Perhaps we too need to raise up our own Ebenezer stones to remind us of all that the Lord has done to establish and sustain us.

O Father, help me to everyday remember that it is you that gives me life, and hope, and joy, and mercy. Help me to remember that without you I can do nothing, and that with you in my life all you ask me to do becomes possible. 

“Now the people of Beth Shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley; and they lifted their eyes and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it. Then the cart came into the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and stood there; a large stone was there. So they split the wood of the cart and offered the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord.”  1 Samuel 6:13–14

The cities of the Philistines had been grievously afflicted for more than half a year because they had dared to take captive the Ark of the Covenant. Now they’ve decided to return it, but how should they do it?  For advice in answering this question they called together their priests and diviners.

The first piece of advice they were given was that they shouldn’t send back the Ark without gifts. They were advised to send gifts of gold. Five golden rats and five golden tumors. The tumors were made to look like the tumors God had sent to afflict the Philistines. 

At this point the priests and diviners sagely recommended that they not do what the Egyptians had done, hardening their hearts against God when he sent his plagues upon them to compel Pharaoh to let his people go. 

After this they advised that a new cart be made and the Ark placed upon it. To this cart two milk cows should be hitched, and their calves taken from them. A chest containing the golden rats and tumors should be placed upon the cart and the cows then released. 

All this was done and as soon as the cows were released they began pulling the Ark, without any visible guide, back toward Israel. 

The Philistine lords followed the Ark as far as the border of Beth-Shemesh and when they had seen the people of Beth-Shemesh take the Ark and place it upon a large rock and cut up the cart and sacrifice the cows in praise to God for the return of the Ark they returned to the city of Ekron. 

It might have been understandable if the Philistines had, in their curiosity about the Ark, opened it and explored its contents but so great was their fear of God that they did not.  The people of Beth-Shemesh, including the Levites who were said to have been there, did not have the Philistines ignorance of God’s instructions to excuse them, and still Samuel records that they opened the Ark. 

For their presumption and sacrilege God struck to people of Beth-Shemesh and slew fifty thousand and seventy men. 

You may had heard the saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  In this case it can definitely be said that familiarity with God, his power and his ways did not beget the reverence and respect he was due. 

Too often we’re not any better. We know God is Holy and that is house is sacred and still we’re careless about how we treat it and him. To many of us show up late when we come to worship and while we’re there talk about anything and everything in his house during the time set aside for worship.  

Our knowing God should lead us to love and reverence him more, serve him better, and worship him more faithfully. O God Help us love you better. 

“So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, ‘Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it go back to its own place, so that it does not kill us and our people.’ For there was a deadly destruction throughout all the city; the hand of God was very heavy there.”  1 Samuel 5:11

In their own way the Philistines treated the Ark of the Covenant respectfully. They acknowledged that the God of Israel was a powerful God by placing the Ark in the temple of their god Dagon. But this action also carried the message that the God of Israel was inferior to Dagon which had been demonstrated by Israel’s defeat by the Philistines and the capture of their God. 

It was important that God demonstrate how wrong they were.

The morning after the Ark had been installed in the temple of Dagon the people of Ashdod woke to find their god lying on its face before the Ark. But the Philistines didn’t heed this gentle prompt from God. They set Dagon’s image back in its place and continued as usual. So when they came the next day God had given them a stronger message. This time Dagon was pulled down with his hands and head broken off. 

Still the Philistines held onto the Ark so God sent a plague upon Ashdod and it’s surrounding territory striking the people with tumors. They sent the ark from Ashdod to Gath, and from Gath to Ekron and where ever it went the plagues followed. 

The Bible doesn’t record how many Philistines died as a result of the plagues  but eventually, after seven months of “hosting” the Ark the Philistines decided that God was too much for them and that they needed to send the Ark back to where it belonged. 

It seems crazy to me, after having experienced this powerful demonstration of God’s power that the Philistines didn’t give up worshipping Dagon and become worshippers of God. But they didn’t. 

But I guess that doesn’t make them any different than we are when we disregard our personal experience with God and keep doing our own thing.

God’s proven that he wants to be gentle with us but more often than not we don’t leave him that option.  We close our ears to his spirit, ignore his messengers, and when he’s forced to take stronger disciplinary measures we act as if it’s all his fault. 

Far better to listen and obey from the very beginning. 

O Father, give us ears to hear and hearts willing to obey. Let us by our humble submission to you experience only gentleness from your hand. 

“Then she named the child Ichabod, saying, ‘The glory has departed from Israel!’ because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband.”  1 Samuel 4:21

What is your glory?  How easy is it for you to lose it?

Israel has just experienced a great defeat at the hands of the Philistines. Scripture tells us that thirty thousand had fallen in battle and that in the wake of the defeat the Ark of the Covenant had been lost to the Philistines. 

It was because Israel had not understood or known God that they had experienced all this hardship. Their waywardness had caused them to drift from God’s protection resulting in their affliction at the hands of their idolatrous neighbor. Their ignorance of God and his ways had resulted in their having such a twisted concept of who God was that they mistook the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol for God’s throne, as an idol or a token of God’s presence. Now, with the loss of the Ark many believe that God’s presence has been taken from them. 

A survivor from the battle, a man from the tribe of Benjamin, ran to Shiloh with the news that the battle was lost and when Eli heard that the Ark had been lost, it was too much, already stricken with grief from the death of his two sons, he became so overwrought that he fell backwards from the place where he was seated, broke his neck and died. 

Eli’s daughter-in-law was pregnant and due to be delivered and went into labor after she heard the news of her husband’s death and the capture of the ark.  After the delivery, as she lay dying, the midwife tried to encourage her by telling her that she had had a son but she wasn’t interested in it; only rousing herself just enough to name her son Ichabod, which means, “the glory has departed.”  She too was referring to the capture of the Ark of the Covenant. 

God’s presence and glory had been a part of Israel’s life long before the Ark or any other part of the temple had been constructed. God’s presence had been with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob protecting and prospering them through all their nomadic sojourns. God’s presence had sheltered and given success to Joseph during all his years in Egypt. God’s presence had fought for Israel’s release from Egyptian slavery and had parted the sea, given them water from a rock and rained Manna from heaven. All of this long before God’s direction to build for him a tabernacle that he might dwell among them. 

Friends, if God’s glory is not with us it’s not because we lost him it’s because we’ve wander away from him and we’ve become lost. 

How do you become unlost?  Spiritually the process is the same as physically. The lost are told to stop running and start calling out for help from someone who can rescue you. 

God can save you. He’s not a symbol that can be lost. He’s living, powerful and loving, and he’s looking for you. His love is his glory and it will never go away.  He will save you if you let him. 

“And when the people had come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, ‘Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies.’”  1 Samuel 4:3

Samuel’s life marked the transition of Israel being a people led by judges to being a nation led by kings. Samuel himself was the last of the judges.

The period of the judges was one of great inconsistency in Israel when it came to faithfulness to God. While there was a strong judge leading the people, as a nation, they tended to remain faithful to God but almost as soon as that judge died they fell away, and as they fell away the nations around them began to oppress them once again. 

Samuel’s childhood marked a division between judges and the corruption present at the tabernacle in the lives of Hophni and Phinehas is a strong indicator of the spiritual decline present among the people of Israel. Predictably an idolatrous neighbor, this time the Philistines, began to oppress the people. 

A call was made for the tribes of Israel to defend their land but the first engagement was a disaster, thousands died in the battle. 

“Why has the Lord allowed us to be defeated?” They asked. But they didn’t attribute their unfaithfulness as a cause for the absence of God’s presence. Instead someone came up with the idea that they should bring the Ark of the Covenant to the camp. Apparently they felt that they could compel God’s presence and therefore his protection by bringing this symbol of his throne into the midst of the army. 

Hophni and Phinehas were among those that brought the Ark to the field of battle. 

This plan was also a disaster. The Philistines driven by fear of the God of Israel attacked with all the ferocity they had and slaughtered thirty thousand of Israel’s foot soldiers. They also captured the Ark of the Covenant. 

Friends, we can’t manipulate God into providing for us and protecting us.  He desires us but he doesn’t need us. We, on the other hand, whether we know it or not, and whether we desire him or not, we need God. We need his presence in our lives. We need the vitalizing, comfort bringing, strength giving, peace assuring presence that only he can give. 

The presence of symbols of God’s presence won’t help us. Only God himself can and he’s told us what he requires:  “…on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.”  Isaiah 66:22

Give yourself humbly to God. Confess your spiritual poverty and unworthiness and submit yourself to him. He’ll accept you and he’ll take care of you. 

“Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’  And Samuel answered, ‘Speak, for Your servant hears.’”  1 Samuel 3:10

When I was a boy I used to love to hear the story of how God came and spoke to Samuel. It was great fun to hear the story teller call out, “Samuel!”  And then to imagine him running to Eli and waking him up and saying, “Here I am, for you called me.”

By the third time when it came to the part where God would call to Samuel all of us children would call out together, “Saaaammmuuueeelll! “Saaaammmuuueeelll!

And many times the story teller would point to one of us and ask, “What did Samuel say?”  And that child would answer back just like Eli and told Samuel to, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears.”

When God speaks to us are we listening?

That night the message God gave Samuel was for Eli. It was a message that God had sent Eli many times before. It was a message that God should have never have had to send to the High Priest through a young boy. But Eli had shown by his refusal to correct or discipline his sons that he wasn’t listening to God. 

The scriptures available to Eli taught him what he as a parent ought to have done to correct his sons but he hadn’t obeyed scripture. God’s presence, through the Holy Spirit, was also working on Eli’s heart trying to impress him about the steps he ought to take as a father and as High Priest but he hadn’t obeyed the Holy Spirit. God sent a prophet with a message of warning but Eli hadn’t listened to the prophet. One more time God attempts to reach Eli, this time through a little boy who looks to him as a father and who he looks upon as a son, but does Eli really listen?

In the morning Samuel fears to give Eli the message but with Eli’s firm prompting he does. Basically the message tells Eli that God is going to do exactly what he has said he would do. To this message Eli’s regretful reply is the fatalistic response, “It is the Lord. Let Him do what seems good to Him.”

One more time God has called inviting Eli to open the door to repentance and once again Eli turns away choosing to accept God’s judgment rather than do what was needed to receive his mercy. 

Are you listening to God’s call of mercy?  Am I listening when God calls me to repentance?  

Eli’s story is a sober reminder that even those with the highest religious responsibilities aren’t immune to the need for repentance or less prone to avoid confessing their sins to God and making things right. 

God will keep calling to us as long as there’s a possibility that his message might get through, but it’s not enough that God calls he have to listen, we have to be willing to be corrected, we have to repent, confess our sins, and stop doing what God’s telling us not to do. 

O God help me to listen. Help me to repent. Help me to obey. 

“Therefore the Lord God of Israel says: ‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’ But now the Lord says: ‘Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.’”  1 Samuel 2:30

Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were defiling themselves and the house of the Lord by their behavior as priests. Eli knew what they were doing and ineffectively he remonstrated with them, but his words had no effect; still they stole from God and his people by taking portions of the peace offering not allotted to them; still they continued to seduce women who came to temple to seek God. 

Knowing the kind of men his sons were Eli should have taken more decisive action. They should have been stripped of their office as priests and not allowed to serve in God’s house. The people should have seen that Eli loved and honored God above his own children and by his example learned love and honor God deeper in their own hearts, but effectively Eli did nothing. 

So God sent a prophet with a message to Eli. Very plainly Eli and his sons’ sins were spelled out to him and just as plainly he was told what the consequences would be for their continued sacrilege:  Eli and his sons would die. Additionally, Eli was told that he would know that this sentence was coming to pass when in a single day both his sons would be killed. 

After that God said that he would raise up for himself a faithful priest who would do according to the heart and mind of God. 

All of God’s judgements come to us first as warnings. Time is given for us to repent and find in God mercy and forgiveness. So it was with Eli and his sons. Months, perhaps years past, between when the warning was sent and the sentence fell. 

God’s, through his prophets and other holy men, has given us instructions and warnings in his word to correct and guide us. God’s purpose is that we would all be led to repentance, and forgiveness, and life. He does not want anyone to die. 

In Jesus the price was paid for every man, woman, and child to find mercy and life. If anyone is lost it’s because they refuse to heed the warning; they consider the sacrifice Jesus made for us to be of little value; they love the pleasures of this world more than they love God and his ways. Because of this they squander the time God’s given and waste their opportunity to find forgiveness and life. 

Friends, don’t let something that’s temporary rob you of a reward that’s eternal. Listen to God’s warning. Hear his call to repentance. God has prepared a reward for those who love him better than we could ever imagine. All that he asks is that we return to him, repent of our sin, receive his Holy Spirit and learn to live a life that honors him. 

“Now the sons of Eli were corrupt;  they did not know the Lord.”  1 Samuel 2:12

“And the child Samuel grew in stature, and in favor both with the Lord and men.”  1 Samuel 2:26

Eli, the High Priest to God at Shiloh, had two sons who served as priests at the temple. Their names were Hophni and Phinehas. The first words the scriptures use to describe these men, long before their names are even given, was that they were corrupt and that they did not know the Lord. 

What were their sins?  

They defiled the peace offerings the people presented to the Lord and they committed fornication with the women that came to the temple. 

Regarding the priests’ portion of the peace offering, the only offering of which anyone was allowed to eat, was very specifically delineated: they were to receive the shoulders, the cheeks, and the stomach. The Lords portion was the two kidneys, a specific lobe of the liver, and all the fat covering the entrails. The rest of the offering was allotted to the family to be eaten within two days as part of a religious meal. 

What Hophni and Phinehas we’re doing was demanding, and taking by force if necessary, whatever portion they wanted not only defrauding the families of portions that were given by God to them but also defrauding God by demanding a portion of the fat that he had claimed for himself. 

By contrast scriptures first description of Samuel was that he “grew in stature, and in favor both with the Lord and men.”  These same words were used to describe our Savior as he grew up from being a boy of twelve to being a young man. 

What a difference!  Two young men, serving as priests, yet living lives criminally profane and dissolute.  Next to them, in the same house, is a boy growing up in favor with both God and men. 

Proverbs chapter twenty-two verse six tells parents this, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  We know from scriptures account that Eli’s permissiveness with his sons was a determining factor in the shaping of his sons’ characters.

I’ve heard many modern parents say that they’re not going to push religion on their children. They’ll let them decide for themselves once they get older. 

Everyday this sinful world and our godless society presses its thoughts and values on our children. By not teaching them about God and his ways we’re ensuring that they have little or no choice at all, because we tend to  choose between the options we know. 

Eli didn’t teach his sons consideration and self control and as a result they dishonored him, themselves, the people coming to worship, the temple, and God.  As parents and grandparents we can do better.  Our children need us to do our best to teach Godly values so that theycan grow up better able to choose God.