As we approach eight weeks and 38 days of Scripture readings to accompany our sermon series on David, we need to get some historical background that will help us make sense of the stories about David. So for today and the next two days, let’s look at several select passages about the king just before David. And that would be King Saul – Israel’s first king.
After Israel had conquered the Promised Land and settled down, they were ruled by a series of leaders called “Judges.” The government was actually a “theocracy.” And it would have worked well if the people obeyed God and lived in accordance with the covenant that the Lord made with his people. But, they did not.
The period of the Judges was known for being a time when Israel would gradually fall into more and more sin, a neighboring nation would be the instrument of judgment, they would call out to God and repent, God would deliver them through one of the Judges, but the cycle would then only repeat itself over and over. And the book of Judges ends famously with the summary statement, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”
As it turns out, the last of the Judges was Samuel, who we also see historically as the first of the great prophets in Israel. Over time, Samuel grows old and his sons do not turn out to be honorable leaders.
Israel Asks for a King
8:1 When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. 2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba.3 But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
So the leaders of the various tribes and clans come together to Samuel and tell him that the solution to the crises they were facing was to be like the other nations around them – to have a king who would be the leader for the country.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
This must have surely been very difficult for Samuel to hear. He had been faithful to God, yet not all was going well in Israel. His instincts told him that their desire was not a healthy one – that it was not really addressing the core issue, which was obedience to the covenant. But God speaks to him …
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
Surely Samuel was surprised to hear from the Lord that he should listen to the people’s superficial plan, and he relates to the people the warning about what would follow if having a king would come to fruition …
10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king.11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
Samuel certainly hoped that this revelation would dissuade the people from this direction. But it did not, and again Samuel laid it before the Lord…
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”
It was not God’s preferred way of working with his people. God so desired for the nation to live in a faithful covenant relationship with him, yet even at the beginning, it was known that times would come when the people would yield to sin and walk away from the Lord.
As in the times of Samuel, we today are too often in our natural condition prone to “if only …” thinking. If only we were more financially secure … if only we were born into a different family … if only we lived somewhere else … if only we had were more attractive and healthy.
And we follow that train of thought with, “then … everything would be better.”
This thinking comes from looking around us and falsely believing that externals are everything, when in fact the real issues are most often internal issues of trust, faith, and obedience. If everything we wished for would come true, none of it would satisfy or make us ultimately better off if the internal issues of our heart relationship with God were not properly aligned.
The inner issues of life are what we need to be more focused upon, and that introspective way of thinking and living is what set David apart – from King Saul and others in his generation. Though he was not perfect, we may learn from a study of his life what are the timeless principles to apply that can make us people with a heart for God.
(The following passage is also included in our reading today to give you the actual story of the events culminating in Saul being named the King in Israel …)
Saul Rescues the City of Jabesh
11:1 Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh Gilead. And all the men of Jabesh said to him, “Make a treaty with us, and we will be subject to you.”
2 But Nahash the Ammonite replied, “I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel.”
3 The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days so we can send messengers throughout Israel; if no one comes to rescue us, we will surrender to you.”
4 When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these terms to the people, they all wept aloud. 5 Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and he asked, “What is wrong with everyone? Why are they weeping?” Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said.
6 When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. 7 He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.” Then the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out together as one. 8 When Saul mustered them at Bezek, the men of Israel numbered three hundred thousand and those of Judah thirty thousand.
9 They told the messengers who had come, “Say to the men of Jabesh Gilead, ‘By the time the sun is hot tomorrow, you will be rescued.’” When the messengers went and reported this to the men of Jabesh, they were elated. 10 They said to the Ammonites, “Tomorrow we will surrender to you, and you can do to us whatever you like.”
11 The next day Saul separated his men into three divisions; during the last watch of the night they broke into the camp of the Ammonites and slaughtered them until the heat of the day. Those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.
Saul Confirmed as King
12 The people then said to Samuel, “Who was it that asked, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Turn these men over to us so that we may put them to death.”
13 But Saul said, “No one will be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel.”
14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.