I AND II SAMUEL - NATIONAL KINGDOM ESTABLISHED
If we understand the meaning of Jacob's farewell address to his sons in Chapter 49 of Genesis, especially concerning Judah, it would be readily apparent that it was God's intention all along to provide Israel with a king. "The sceptre shall not pass from Judah, nor a lawgiver from beneath his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall be the gathering of the people be." (Gen. 49:10). Israel's sin was that they anticipated the purpose of God and they insisted on the king of their choice instead of waiting for the king of God's choice.
In these two books we see the long period of national disorder coming to an end. Samuel has been called the last of the judges and the first of the prophets. He crowned two of Israel's kings -- Saul, the people's choice, and David, God's choice.
Analysis of the first book. First Samuel is the story of four men: Eli, Samuel, Saul, and David, each overlapping the other. We find a note of failure within the pages. During the days of Eli, the office of the priests sank to a low by the sins of Eli's evil sons. Saul and David both failed as kings: Saul was guilty, but unrepentant; David was guilty, but repentant. Samuel as a prophet, was separate from the kings but exercised authority over both. (Whenever failure appears in the national history, a prophet appears.) Samuel was not perfect by any means, but he was a great man of God. His sons failed to walk in his ways and thus the people's uproar for a king. The failures of these men make all the brighter the life of Jesus, who, as Prophet, Priest, and King, alone brought perfection to each of the offices.
Samuel was born in the dark days of the history of Israel. At that time, the priestly office was represented by a feeble old man, Eli, whose sons' behavior was a public scandal and a national disgrace. The civil, religious, and moral confusion during the days of the judges, the neglect of the tabernacle, the moral degradation of the people, and the immorality and impiety of even the priests had all left their mark. Eli's weakness caused him to not discern between a devout worshiper and a drunken woman (I Sam. 1:12-17). Hannah's strength enabled her to fully trust in the safekeeping of her son Samuel to Eli, even though he had proved to be an incompetent parent in the lack of discipline of his own family.
One of the sacred national treasures of Israel was the Ark of God. It was stationed at Shiloh in Ephraim. In the battles against the Philistines, the Ark was moved into the camp of Israel. But the days are gone when the rivers dried up, and the walls of the cities fell down, and the enemy fled at once, before this symbol of the presence of God. The movement of the Ark from Shiloh had not been authorized by God. This unauthorized movement resulted in the defeat of Israel and the capture of the Ark by the Philistines. The sons of Eli perished in the battle, and Eli, upon hearing that the ark was taken, fell and broke his neck and died. It seemed now that there remained nothing for Abraham's race but hopelessness and servitude. Their God had abandoned them. Everything went with the Ark. But, the Philistines were not happy with owning the Ark. After a short period of only seven months they were eagerly sending it back to Israel. Everywhere this "strange box" went from city to city, their own gods were rebuked, their statues had fallen down, mice ate up their harvests, people were afflicted with terrible diseases. They had had enough of this "strange box".
Samuel had a profound influence on Israel. Samuel has a very important part to play in the transition from judgeship to kingship. God used Samuel to impose His will upon the king. (Saul was not willing to accept that fact and was rejected, but David never failed to acknowledge that fact and faithfully maintained the principle of the theocracy.) Samuel's efforts did much to dispel the dark clouds of the previous centuries. Under his leadership the Philistine domination was drawing to a close. He began a school at Ramah and trained young men - beginning the growth of a national education system. (We are far from the time of Elijah and Elisha and the other prophets, but it was here that prophecy as a continuous institution takes its rise.) It was Samuel who lifted Israel out of its mental and moral stupor. It was Samuel who guided the first steps of the monarchy. Yes, Samuel was one of God's great giants of the Old Testament.
Samuel's sons, who in his old age were installed in the judicial office, did not follow the example of the upright father; they were corrupt. The people, therefore, seeing the efficiency of the governments of their surrounding neighbors, formerly demanded that the judgeship should be changed into a kingship instead.
Samuel installed Saul as king at an assembly at Mizpeh, with all the tribes attending. Samuel was not happy regarding Saul becoming king. He took it as a personal affront, that the people had rejected him, though God told him that they did not reject him, but they had rejected God. In I Samuel 8:10-18 we have God's warnings through Samuel, concerning the consequences of their actions. He calls the whole assembly to bear witness to his upright administration. After having given a public account of his charge, he rebuked the people with words and a sign from heaven (a thunderstorm at an unusual time of the year, the wheat harvest), and surrenders to the voice of the people. Thus ended the period of the judges, a period of about 450 years, according to Stephen in Acts chapter 7. Now, however, we must turn to the rise, the greatness, and the fall of the Hebrew monarchy.
Saul was little in his own eyes early on even though he stood head and shoulders above the people. He was sorely ignorant of God's will. He was impulsive and given to fits of insane jealousy, and, apparently at times under the control of an evil spirit. Saul showed early promise. He accepted the wise counsel of Samuel, and he had great victories over Israel's enemies. His two sins which cost him his kingship were (1) presumption (I Sam. 13:5-15), and (2) incomplete obedience (I Sam. 15:1-23). In contrast to the insane jealousy of Saul toward David, the love of Jonathan, Saul's son, toward David is one of the great stories of the book.
David, Israel's second king, was God's choice for king. He was generous, brave, compassionate, thoughtful, a leader of men, and a mature believer. David was one of the greatest persons of the Old Testament. We see David as a shepherd, a courtier, and a fugitive, God teaching him lessons, fitting him for the Kingdom. His long days and nights of meditation give rise to many of the psalms. His victory over wild beasts gave him strength to oppose Goliath. His wise conduct won him the hearts of the men of Israel but inflamed the jealousy of Saul. His experience while an outlaw taught him how to command men. Certainly, David was "a man after God's own heart."
When Saul died, the tribe of Judah crowned David as king, with the blessings of Samuel. However, the other tribes clung to the remnants of Saul's office, resulting in some seven years of civil war. After Sauls's son dies, along with Abner, Saul's general, then these tribes changed and David was swept to supreme power over a united nation.
David was a generous and wise king. He was the one that cleared the city of Jerusalem of the Jebusites, who held it as a stronghold against Israel for centuries. He made Jerusalem his national capital. David's dynasty was lasting, because God had entered into a covenant with David to establish his house forever. He began preparation for the building of the temple. However, God had other plans. David was a man of war, of blood. God refused him the right to build, leaving this task to Solomon, David's son.
We cannot overlook weaknesses in David. His great sins were adultery with Bathsheba, and the murder of Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba. David's repentance met with favorable results before God. He sank to low depths of iniquity, but rose to great heights of penitence, desire for pardon, purity, and communion with God. David wept bitter tears of repentance, but the turning point had already come in his fortunes. From then on David had troubles with his own family, and then on a national scale. Absalom, David's third son, rebelled and nearly wrested the kingdom from David. David left the kingdom in the hands of his son, Solomon, knowing that his wise son, with the guidance of God would once again raise Israel to its former greatness and power.
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