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Table of Contents
1 A King to Rule Us
3 The Right Man for the Job
4 Loyalty, Jealousy, Pride, Flight
5 A Sagacious Lady
6 Chickens Come Home to Roost
7 Sheep Speak
8 Our Response to Wrongdoing
9 The Lord’s Anointed
10 Consolidating the Kingdom
11 Lamb Stealing
12 Out of Your Own Household
13 Bad Count
14 Prophetic Psalms
15 A Question of Succession
16 A House for God to Dwell In
17 The Splendor of His Kingdom
18 Letters to a Son
19 It Is Better
20 Things the Lord Hates
22 The Search for Meaning
23 A Time for Everything
24 Life Isn’t Fair – Deal With It!
25 The Perspective of Eternity
26 Love Song
27 For Better or For Worse
28 An Enduring Love
29 Fall From Grace
Appendix – Did It Really Happen?
About the Author
God’s Grand Experiment
Wherever more than a few people live in close proximity there is a need for government. At the very least it is essential that there be a set of agreed-upon standards or rules of conduct. In the absence of mutually accepted rules or customs which govern the relationship and interactions between people, society devolves into chaos. Without some sort of rule or custom to restrain behavior, the stronger and more ruthless will exploit the weaker. If an individual is strong enough to consistently impose his will on others, he becomes the one who makes the rules others will follow and a new government comes into being.
Over the course of our long history, mankind has tried about every conceivable kind of government. Some systems are better than others. Each system has its own weaknesses. No system is always optimum for all conditions. Sooner or later every system will run afoul of human nature. Either the system adapts, or it breaks down.
The quirks of human nature, however, are not enough to explain the success or failure of any given system of government. Scholar James Burnham writes, “…apart from a few gross and almost self-evident cases, no one has found a purely rational theory to explain why some governments, though very different from each other, do well, whereas others, though closely similar, do badly. When you drop scientist ideology, it becomes clear that you cannot explain the success of some and the failure of other governments without including a non-rational factor that we call, according to our metaphysical habits, chance, luck, accident, magic, or Providence.” (James Burnham, The Miracle of Government, Imperial Stars: The Stars at War, Jerry Pournelle, Editor, Baen Books, 1986, p. 108)
Burnham recorded his insight that Providence plays a part in human government only about 1,900 years after the Apostle Paul said the same thing. Referring to God he said, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” (Acts 17:26 NIV)
On another occasion he wrote, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:1-4 NIV)
Paul’s second statement not only informs us that Providence indeed does play a role in government, it highlights one of the functions of government – namely to exercise the authority God delegates to it to punish those who do wrong. This duty, in turn, implies that right and wrong has been defined. Government does not exist in the absence of law. Law and the willingness to enforce it are both necessary for government to succeed. It is unlikely that any government which will not, or is unable to, enforce the laws it enacts will last very long.
Enforcement generally takes one of two forms: moral force, or the sword. Of the two, moral force is far more potent. If people agree with the law and are impelled to keep it by their own sense of duty, their conscience, or even peer pressure, the sword is unnecessary. In contrast, the sword is insufficient to enforce the law if there aren’t enough people who are willing to wield it against their fellows.
These two factors: Divine involvement in the governments of men and the need for enforcement, explain the experience of the Israelite nation. In some ways it was a bold experiment.
God did not appoint another leader for the Israelites after the death of Joshua. Instead, He distributed the authority to the tribes, clans and families. Ultimately, the responsibility for keeping the Covenant which God had entered into with the people devolved onto each individual.
What was the unifying force which kept the people with such diffuse, decentralized authority together as a people? It was the Law of Moses. To the extent the people responded to the moral force embodied in the Law, the nation prospered. As long as the people held the Law in high regard, no central authority was needed. One of the corollaries of remaining faithful to the Covenant was the promise of God’s protection from harm, regardless the source – whether in the form of natural disasters or external enemies.
As with anything which is dependent upon human behavior to flourish, the system had it weaknesses. Oh, there was nothing wrong with the Law. Scripture describes it repeatedly as good, flawless or perfect. “But God found fault with the people and said: “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.”” (Hebrews 8:8-9 NIV)
Moral suasion only works as long as the people agree with the Law. Time after time the Israelites broke their Covenant with God and turned away from the Law. When they did, God withdrew His protection. When the people realized their mistake and repented, God gave them Judges to defeat their enemies, bring the people back to the Law, and renew the Covenant – that is, until the next time.
The Judges had limited influence and powers of enforcement. There was no central authority other than the Law. From one Judge to the next the nation never seemed to regain the moral heights from which it had fallen. In between Judges moral and social conditions deteriorated further than they had before. This downward spiral continued generation after generation. The theme of the period of Judges is “…everyone did as he saw fit.” (Judges 17:6, 21:25 NIV) Nevertheless, in spite of everyone doing what he pleased, the decentralized system endured some 450 years – which is longer than many other societies in history.
Finally conditions deteriorated to such a point that the Israelites demanded a change in their governmental system. They wanted a king – a central authority which could unify the nation and impose social order. A man who could back up the Law with force. This combination worked well – until a later king forfeited his moral right to govern and alienated most of the people.
Before then, the alignment of the moral code with enforcement under a king whom God could say was “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) ushered in the “Golden Age” of Israel. During David’s and Solomon’s reigns the nation enjoyed security. The people prospered as never before. Trade and the arts flourished. Most of the “Wisdom Literature” of the Bible dates from this period. It was only when the kings began to move away from the Law – the moral code which defined the nation’s Covenant with God – that decline set in once more.
The studies in this volume cover the run-up to and the “Golden Age” of Israel. They come from the books of 1st Samuel, 2nd Samuel, 1st Kings, 1st Chronicles, 2nd Chronicles, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesi-astes and the Song of Songs.
A King to Rule Us
(1 Samuel 8:1-11:15)
Introduction: History tends to repeat itself. The reason for this is human nature hasn’t changed. Faced with the same set of circumstances, it’s likely that people will react the same way that people in prior generations did. Since we have short memories, and since most people are not students of history, it should be no surprise that human existence tends to move in cycles. We keep trying the same solutions that have been tried in the past.
Samuel was a godly man. He was also well respected by the people and accepted as their leader. However, as Samuel began to age, the people became concerned about the future. Who would lead them after Samuel was gone? Even more importantly, what form of government was best for the nation?
I. Unworthy Successors (1 Samuel 8:1-3)
Samuel apparently intended for his sons to succeed him. At least, he appointed them as judges. Unfortunately, the sons did not have the character of their father. What sort of people were they?
They took bribes and perverted justice. They apparently looked at their position as an opportunity to feather their own nests. They chased after dishonest gain rather than serving justice.
It’s ironic that Samuel’s sons turned out bad just as Eli’s sons had. Surely Samuel would have learned the lesson from what he saw happen to Eli’s household? However, there is a major difference: Nowhere is any blame attached to Samuel for how his sons turned out – either by God or by the people. Presumably, though we are not told the details, Samuel did not make the same mistakes as Eli had. Eli turned a blind eye to the crimes of his sons. It’s even inferred that Eli benefited from what his sons did, though he did not personally participate.
Samuel apparently did not condone or turn a blind eye to the actions of his sons. At the very least, he acquiesced to instituting the kingship – which displaced his sons from their position.
II. Unworthy Solution (1 Samuel 8:4-9)
There’s no doubt that the nation faced a crises of leadership. Samuel’s sons were not worthy of taking over from Samuel. What solution did the people propose in order to solve the crisis?
They proposed choosing a king to rule over them. One has to wonder how they thought this would solve the problem of succession. They were dis-satisfied because Samuel’s sons were corrupt and not worthy to take over from their father. Yet, why did they think that a hereditary kingship would be any better? There is no guarantee that a king’s son will not prove corrupt or incompetent!
Tangent: What is the best form of government? Throughout history, mankind has tried many different forms of government. Some, no doubt, are better than others. Yet, just about all forms are workable and have provided societies with long periods of growth and stability. In his essay, Constitution for Utopia, John W. Campbell, Jr. points out that the form of government is not nearly so important as the character of the people who are in power. As long as the people in power are competent, benevolent and wise, just about any form of government will do. The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that God had already indicated the form of government the nation of Israel was to have. It is always a mistake to ignore or disregard God’s instructions. Bringing in a king was to have certain con-sequences the people did not foresee. In the same way, God has already determined what the leadership structure of the church should be. The church should be led, served and overseen by a group of elders who are equal. It is a mistake to make any changes in this arrangement.
What were the people’s motives in asking for a king?
They wanted to be like the nations around them.
The people said that they wanted someone to fight their battles (1 Samuel 8:20). What’s wrong with this picture?
The only reason Israel needed someone to lead them in battle and fight for them was because of disobedience. God had already promised that He would be the One who would go before them and fight for them (Deuteronomy 20:1-4). God had kept His promise by rescuing them time after time. Their enemies only got the upper hand when they were unfaithful to the Covenant. By asking for a king, the people were after the benefits of security without the responsibility of righteousness.
Who was supposed to be the Israelites’ king, anyway?
God was supposed to be their King. By asking for a king the people were, in reality rejecting God (1 Samuel 8:7).
Ironically, right from the outset the Law of Moses anticipated the time when Israel would have a king and regulated what the king was supposed to do. (See Deuteronomy 17:14-20.)
Since the Law contains provisions about a king, what was wrong with the people asking to have one?
It wasn’t the desire for a king, per se, which was wrong – it was the people’s motives for wanting a king which were wrong. They wanted to be like the nations around them (1 Samuel 8:5).
Question: Do you ever feel peer-pressure? Have you ever done something just because that’s what everybody else is doing? Have you ever questioned what the Bible says about behavior or standards because the world does things differently and to follow the biblical example would make you look weird?
Application: The Bible says that we are not to conform to the way the world does things. Instead, we are to think differently. Our focus and desire should not be on fitting into the world, but doing the will of God (Romans 12:1-2).
III. The Way Of Kings (1 Samuel 8:10-22)
Samuel made one more effort to dissuade the people from selecting a king. He pointed out what a king would do and how it would change society. It what ways would having a king impact their lives and culture?
1) The king would conscript people to work for him and his projects. This would be a form of draft and/or forced labor (1 Samuel 8:11-13). Up to this point, conscript labor had been forced only on foreigners – such as the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:23, 27).
2) The king would introduce the concept of “eminent domain”. In other words, he would feel it was his right to take away private property for other uses (1 Samuel 8:14).
3) The king would introduce taxation. Up until now the people only had to give 10 per cent of their income to sustain the Tabernacle and the priests. (Freewill and sin offerings were in addition to this.) Now the king would demand an additional 10 per cent to fund the government bureaucracy (1 Samuel 8:15, 17).
4) There would be a power shift. Up to this point people had pretty much done what they wanted (for example, see Judges 21:25). At times Israel would make decisions which affected the whole nation by informal consensus. Even the judges had no real authority over anyone. Now power would be consol-idated in the person of the king and there would be no appeal from his decisions (1 Samuel 8:18).
In spite of Samuel’s efforts to dissuade the people form their course of action, they wouldn’t listen. They still demanded a king (1 Samuel 8:19-20). Since they were so set on it, God told Samuel to go along with their demand.
IV. Unlikely Candidate (1 Samuel 9:1-10:16)
Once the decision was made to appoint a king over Israel, the problem was how to go about selecting who it should be. Samuel sent the people home and apparently took no further action. He may have hoped that the whole situation would just blow over. However, God was working behind the scenes. Though the demand for a king was contrary to God’s will, He allowed it and prepared a person for the role.
Did Saul have any ambition or desire for the throne?
No, he did not. He had no idea that when he and his servant went out looking for his father’s donkeys, he would find a kingdom instead.
Lesson: We don’t have to be anyone special to be used by God. We may think that we’re nobody or that we don’t have the qualifications to fill a particular role. But often God’s estimation of us and our ability to fulfill a task is far higher than our own. “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 NIV)
When unbelievable circumstances occur, it’s only natural to question what God’s will is. Saul must have been extremely bewildered by the turn of events. God provided Saul with a series of signs. When they were fulfilled there could be no doubt about God’s intention for his life.
V. Drawing Straws – Qualifications For Kingship (1 Samuel 10:17-25)
After God selected Saul to be the king, Samuel summoned the entire nation together. They went through a selection process, apparently something similar to casting lots or drawing straws, to determine who the king would be. Since Saul had already been anointed as king, why go through this process?
The people had already rejected God (1 Samuel 10:19). Therefore it was unlikely that they would have accepted a candidate of God’s choosing without having any say in who it was. If people are going to follow a leader it is important for them to agree with the selection process or to feel that they have a part in the process.
What was Saul’s reaction to being selected? Why did he act the way he did?
He hid in the baggage. Scripture doesn’t tell us why he did this. He already knew that God had chosen him to be king – so it shouldn’t have been any surprise when the lots fell on his name. My guess is that he was looking for a way out. Remember that until this time, Israel had not had any king. Saul was the first and it was up to him to set up all the administration and develop procedures and policies to govern the nation. It was a tremendous task and the responsibility must have been overwhelming. Saul probably felt that the task was beyond him. Not only that, think of the change in his own life. Suddenly instead of being a farmer he’s thrust into the public limelight. From now on he will have very little privacy. Everything he does; every decision he makes will be subject to criticism.
What was it about Saul which impressed the people?
They were impressed with his height and his appearance. Needless to say, these are not the most important characteristics by which to choose a king! We rarely choose wisely when we only look at the surface. Later on God would tell Samuel in reference to choosing another king, “…Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7 NIV) In the people’s defense, we need to remember that God had already chosen Saul and they were agreeing to the choice.
VI. A Good Beginning (1 Samuel 10:26-11:15)
Samuel wrote the “charter” regulating the kingdom and placed it before the Lord. The important thing about this is that the kings were not supposed to act arbitrarily but always refer to the standards set by God (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20). They were to keep a copy of the Law by them, study it and rule according to its provisions.
Saul began his reign wisely. What specifically did he do which demonstrated wisdom?
1) He ignored his detractors (1 Samuel 10:27). He didn’t argue or try to defend himself.
2) He displayed humility. In spite of the fact that he had been selected to rule the entire nation, he quietly went home and continued to farm until his leadership was needed (1 Samuel 10:26, 11:5).
3) He didn’t try to impose his will on others until he proved himself capable of leading.
4) In a time of crisis he formed a plan and took decisive action. He demonstrated both concern for the people and an ability to lead (1 Samuel 11:6-8, 11).
5) He did not try to humiliate or take revenge on his detractors. By his generosity to them, I’m sure he won their loyalty (1 Samuel 11:11-13).
After Saul led the Israelites to victory, they gladly confirmed him as king. From that point on, Saul was truly the king of Israel.
The Bible leaves out many details. However, reading between the lines, Saul must have had a great deal of administrative and organizational talent. He was thrust into a position that nobody in Israel had filled before. He had to get everything related to the kingship off the ground. Not only did he have to get the administration going, he was faced with a country that was totally disarmed (see 1 Samuel 13:22). He had to build up the army from scratch.
Lesson: If God chooses you for a task, He will also ensure that you have the capabilities and resources to accomplish that task.