Posts Tagged 'Samuel'

The Fruit of Disobedience


Obedience to the will of God is an absolutely essential component of the Christian faith. Yet there is always a tension between obedience – how we live and what we do – and grace. In Ephesians, Paul wrote this:

Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good we have done, so none of us can take any credit for it. (Ephesians 2:8, 9 TLB)

Our salvation isn’t dependent on how closely we align ourselves to God’s will, yet as Christians God expects us to do just that. We can look the basics of salvation in the way God dealt with Israel. Very shortly after He delivered the Israelites from Egypt, God gave them His Ten Commandments, which began like this:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2, 3 NIV)

Their deliverance – their salvation – came first, followed almost immediately by a call for absolute obedience and faithfulness. In terms of their deliverance, God did all the work. But after that, the Lord expected His people to live their lives according to His terms.

“Obedience” is a characteristic that is the hallmark of true believers and disciples of Jesus Christ. Think of how many times the great apostle Paul referred to himself as a “servant” of Christ. What does a servant do if not obey his master? Christians are also referred to as “servants” who serve the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God… (Romans 1:1 NIV)

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Romans 6:22 NIV)

It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:24b NIV)

We can learn a lot about obedience by looking at someone who wasn’t very obedient, King Saul.

1 Samuel 13:1 – 14

When the men of Israel saw the vast mass of enemy troops, they lost their nerve entirely and tried to hide in caves, thickets, coverts, among the rocks, and even in tombs and cisterns. Some of them crossed the Jordan River and escaped to the land of Gad and Gilead. Meanwhile, Saul stayed at Gilgal, and those who were with him trembled with fear at what awaited them. (1 Samuel 13:6, 7 TLB)

We aren’t told how old Saul was at this point in his life, but we can make an educated guess. His son, Jonathan, was by now a great warrior in his own right, so with a grown son, Saul was likely in his forties.

Jonathan’s attack on the Philistine garrison at Geba triggered the events that led to the men of Israel acting like a bunch of scared school girls. Saul, the man who looked like a king, didn’t really act like one. He cooled his heels at Gilgal, the very place he had been proclaimed king. Samuel hadn’t forgotten about him.

Samuel had told Saul earlier to wait seven days for his arrival… (1 Samuel 13:8a TLB)

Saul had to do one thing: wait a week at Gilgal. That’s all. One week. We aren’t given the reason why; perhaps he was. From the story, we know he had to wait for Samuel to arrive to offer some sacrifices for some reason. However, things had deteriorated quickly, and the king decided to take matters into his own hands. It is here that the true character and temperament of Saul begins to surface. Saul was an impatient man and he was a presumptuous man. As far he was concerned, he had three valid reasons for disregarding his instructions: the people were leaving, the Philistines were coming, and Samuel was nowhere in sight. Saul was behaving like a lot of Christians behave today; he was rationalizing his disobedience. Christians are a funny bunch. They instinctively know God’s will in a given situation, yet believe they are the sole exception to it. As Saul did, they rationalize and justify their disobedience, as if God’s rules applies to everybody else, but this time, not to them. It’s a foolish way to think and has the potential of being a dangerous way to live.

Here was the king’s big mistake:

…he decided to sacrifice the burnt offering and the peace offerings himself. (1 Samuel 13:9 TLB)

Eventually, Samuel showed up and he was not happy. Saul’s response to the prophet also shows us what this first king’s character was really like. To put it in way modern man would understand, the buck never stopped at Saul.

Samuel said, “What is this you have done?”

“Well,” Saul replied, “when I saw that my men were scattering from me, and that you hadn’t arrived by the time you said you would, and that the Philistines were at Michmash, ready for battle, I said, ‘The Philistines are ready to march against us and I haven’t even asked for the Lord’s help!’ So I reluctantly offered the burnt offering without waiting for you to arrive.” (1 Samuel 13:11, 12 TLB)

Saul did wrong and he knew it. But instead of owning up to his disobedience, he deflected any blame onto: the people scattering; Saul arriving late; the Philistines; and even God! So it was everybody’s fault that he had to offer that darn sacrifice; everybody’s but his.

Samuel had to break some very bad news to Saul. The consequences for his arrogant presumption would be dire and far reaching.

“You fool!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have disobeyed the commandment of the Lord your God. He was planning to make you and your descendants kings of Israel forever, but now your dynasty must end; for the Lord wants a man who will obey him. And he has discovered the man he wants and has already appointed him as king over his people; for you have not obeyed the Lord’s commandment.” (1 Samuel 13:13, 14 TLB)

In the very first test of his kingship, Saul failed miserably. However urgent the circumstances may have been they were no justification for disobedience. It’s interesting that, at least in the beginning, Saul’s kingship would become a dynasty had be been obedient to God’s commands. It was never God’s will for Israel to have a king, but God allowed them to have one with one big stipulation: the ruler must obey Him. In other words, the king would himself be subject to Heaven’s King.

This is the kind leader our nation is in dire need of today; one who is governed by the Lord. All our problems as a nation stem from the fact that we are being led by a political class that has never been further from God. Naturally, the world will not see such a leader until our Lord returns, which is God’s ultimate will for our planet.

1 Samuel 15:1 – 11

Even though Saul was informed that he would have no dynasty and that his days as king were numbered, he was still king, and would be for while to come. He had his hands full and was most definitely “in over his head.” He battled the Moabites to the southeast, the Ammonites to the east, the Edomites to the south and east, the kings of Zobah to the north, and the Philistines to the west. But it was his Amalekite campaign that caused him the most grief. To keep his army strong, Saul instituted conscription, which Samuel had predicted.

If you insist on having a king, he will conscript your sons and make them run before his chariots… (1 Samuel 8:11 TLB)

God’s urgent command to Saul regarding the Amalekites couldn’t have been more clear. Not even Saul could misunderstand what God was requiring of him!

Here is his commandment to you: ‘I have decided to settle accounts with the nation of Amalek for refusing to allow my people to cross their territory when Israel came from Egypt. Now go and completely destroy the entire Amalek nation—men, women, babies, little children, oxen, sheep, camels, and donkeys. (1 Samuel 15:2, 3 TLB)

If this seems a little extreme to you, you might have forgotten what the Amalekites did to Moses and Israel generations earlier.

Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17 – 19 NIV)

Had the Amalekites lived, they would have been just as bad, if not worse, than the Philistines. Saul actually spared some of the Amalekites. In the book of Esther we meet one of them, a nasty gentleman named Haman, who attempted to exterminate the entire Hebrew race. Had it not been for God’s timely and imaginative intervention, Haman would have succeeded. When human history is viewed from God’s perspective, God’s actions and commands make sense.

The Amalekites were an evil, war-like people. Their fate was sealed. The Israelites would be God’s hand of judgment upon them. In this world or the next, God’s judgment are righteous and true. R.C. Sproul observed:

God is not obligated to save anybody, to make any special act of grace, to draw anyone to Himself. He cold leave the whole world to perish, and such would be a righteous judgment.

The root of disobedience ran deep in King Saul.

Then Saul butchered the Amalekites from Havilah all the way to Shur, east of Egypt. He captured Agag, the king of the Amalekites, but killed everyone else. However, Saul and his men kept the best of the sheep and oxen and the fattest of the lambs—everything, in fact, that appealed to them. They destroyed only what was worthless or of poor quality. (1 Samuel 15:7 – 9 TLB)

Apparently, Saul had learned nothing. Habits are hard to break, especially sinful ones. Saul and his men rebelled against the expressed will of God. They spared Agag, perhaps for the purpose of killing him later. But they also kept a lot of good Amalekite stuff. It would appear that for Saul, the only reason for attacking the Amalekites was to get his hands on their “stuff.”

Verses 10 and 11 are just pathetic.

Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am sorry that I ever made Saul king, for he has again refused to obey me.” Samuel was so deeply moved when he heard what God was saying, that he cried to the Lord all night.

Some people wonder about God “being sorry” that He made Saul Israel’s king. Such a statement seems to go against what we know about God’s character. John Goldingay offers an interesting analysis:

To speak of God changing his mind about an act or regretting it suggests the reality of his interacting with people in the world…His reactions to the deeds of others reflect a coherent pattern rather than randomness. Further, whereas human beings make their decisions unaware of all their consequences, so that those consequences catch them out, God can foresee not only the consequences of his own actions but also the nature of the responses they will meet with and the nature of other human acts, so that he can in turn formulate his response to these in advance.

Goldingay takes a roundabout way to get to the point that nothing catches God off-guard, so He never needs to change His mind about anything. When God says that He “regrets” something, it’s a way saying the ways of man sicken Him; they don’t surprise Him, but they create a feeling akin to regret.

1 Samuel 15:12 – 29

Samuel replied, “Has the Lord as much pleasure in your burnt offerings and sacrifices as in your obedience? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. He is much more interested in your listening to him than in your offering the fat of rams to him. For rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols. And now because you have rejected the word of Jehovah, he has rejected you from being king.” (1 Kings 15:22, 23 TLB)

When confronted with what he did, Saul once again passed the buck, but Samuel would have none of it. These two verses are among the most well-known passages on the importance of obedience and moral conduct. God rejected Saul as king because he is habitually rebellious and disobedient. Verse 22 has an interesting parallel in Egyptian writings: “More acceptable is the character of one upright of heart than the ox of the evildoer.”

But more is at play here than just Saul’s low character. The point of these two verses is this: any sacrifice made to God must be offered on HIS terms, not ours. Saul postponement of the complete destruction of the Amalekites, regardless of why he did it, was an obvious violation of God’s will.

There is a great lesson here for us. Many Christians today are doing just what Saul did. They do their best to serve and worship God on their terms; when they want to and how they want to. Rather than bend their wills to God’s, they try to bend His to theirs. God doesn’t work like that. If the Lord rejected Saul because of his continual disobedience, why do we think we’ll get away with it?

Getting Who We Deserve


Israel’s stubborn desire

Perhaps the greatest commentary ever written about the post-judges period of Israel’s history is a single verse of Scripture:

So in my anger I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away. (Hosea 13:11 NIV)

Samuel was a great man, of that there is no debate. You’ll recall that his birth was an answer to his mother’s prayer, much like the birth of John the Baptist. He was raised in and around the Temple by the priest, Eli. He was called by God – personally – to the prophetic ministry and to the career of a judge, a leader of Israel.

In his old age, Samuel retired and appointed his sons as judges in his place. Joel and Abijah, his oldest sons, held court in Beersheba; but they were not like their father, for they were greedy for money. They accepted bribes and were very corrupt in the administration of justice. (1 Samuel 8:1 – 2 TLB)

He may have been a man of God, a great prophet of God, and an anointed leader of men, but his child-rearing skills were about as bad as Eli’s were. He raised two sons who couldn’t have been more different from himself. He learned nothing from Eli’s mistakes. Samuel’s big mistake was appointing his sons as judges. And that mistake led to Israel’s eventual downfall because of this unintended consequence:

“Give us a king like all the other nations have,” they pleaded. (1 Samuel 8:5b NIV)

Why did God’s people want a king? God was supposed to be their king, working through His surrogates, the judges. The problem was, Israel had many scurrilous judges over the years and the people became disenchanted with God’s way when they looked around at all the nations that, in their view, had it made because they had a strong, central leader: a king.

Samuel made a mistake in how he raised his sons and he made a bigger mistake in appointing them as judges. The people now had the perfect excuse to ask for a king, something God never intended for them to have. Samuel knew once they had a king, it would be downhill all the way.

“If you insist on having a king, he will conscript your sons and make them run before his chariots; some will be made to lead his troops into battle, while others will be slave laborers; they will be forced to plow in the royal fields and harvest his crops without pay, and make his weapons and chariot equipment. He will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfumes for him. He will take away the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his friends. He will take a tenth of your harvest and distribute it to his favorites. He will demand your slaves and the finest of your youth and will use your animals for his personal gain. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. You will shed bitter tears because of this king you are demanding, but the Lord will not help you.” (1 Samuel 8:11 – 18 TLB)

Chapter 8 might well be one of the saddest chapters in the Bible because it represents the absolute end of the theocracy that was Israel. The people of God wanted to be like everybody else. The problem was, everybody else was godless.

But they wanted a king, and God would give them one.

… the Lord replied again, “Then do as they say and give them a king.” So Samuel agreed and sent the men home again. (1 Samuel 8:22 TLB)

Israel’s first checkered king

From 1 Samuel 9, we leave the history of Samuel to begin the history of Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul is one of the strangest characters in Scripture. He’s strange for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that God specifically chose him to Israel’s first king and he would quickly become a disaster and a national embarrassment.

Kish was a rich, influential man from the tribe of Benjamin. He was the son of Abiel, grandson of Zeror, great-grandson of Becorath, and great-great-grandson of Aphiah. His son Saul was the most handsome man in Israel. And he was head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land! (2 Samuel 9:1, 2 TLB)

This is a brief history of Saul’s genealogy. He came from the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was one the twelve sons of Jacob. His mother died when he was born and just before she died, she named this new-born child Benoni, which means “son of my sorrow.” Why did she name him that? She named him “son of my sorrow” because, in essence, his birth meant her death. Jacob, though, quickly changed Benoni (“son of my sorrow”) to Benjamin, which means, “son of my right hand.” He was Jacob’s favorite son and he had it made; even his brothers protected him. Eventually, though, Benjamin the tribe was decimated because of a horrible sin. From the ruins of this tribe came Saul.

When we first meet Saul, we are struck with his physical attributes. The man looked like a king. If you were to go looking for a king, you’d chose somebody who looks like Saul: tall, well-built and handsome. But in reality, Saul may have looked like a king but he didn’t have the character or the heart of a king. But the people who chose Saul chose him based on what they could see with their eyes. Yet in behind the people’s ignorance and arrogance, God was working out His plan.

When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord said, “That’s the man I told you about! He will rule my people.” (1 Samuel 9:17 TLB)

God gave the people exactly what they wanted; a king like everybody else had. They saw Saul and Saul fit the bill.

Saul becomes king

The process of making Saul king took three steps. First, there was a private ceremony, which is recounted in the early verses of chapter 10.

Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it over Saul’s head, and kissed him on the cheek and said, “I am doing this because the Lord has appointed you to be the king of his people, Israel!” (1 Samuel 10:1 TLB)

The second step involved the public choice.

Samuel now called a convocation of all Israel at Mizpah. (1 Samuel 10:17 TLB)

And finally the sacred lot selected Saul, the son of Kish. But when they looked for him, he had disappeared!

So they asked the Lord, “Where is he? Is he here among us?”

And the Lord replied, “He is hiding in the baggage.”

So they found him and brought him out, and he stood head and shoulders above anyone else.

Then Samuel said to all the people, “This is the man the Lord has chosen as your king. There isn’t his equal in all of Israel!” (1Samuel 10:21 – 24 TLB)

And at last, the final coronation would take place:

Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us all go to Gilgal and reconfirm Saul as our king.”

So they went to Gilgal and in a solemn ceremony before the Lord they crowned him king. Then they offered peace offerings to the Lord, and Saul and all Israel were very happy. (1 Samuel 11:14 – 15 TLB)

History from the lens of prophecy

I began this study of Saul with a verse from the minor prophetic book called Hosea. In Hosea 13, the prophet is preaching against Israel’s unfaithfulness but using its history. Hosea often referred to the nation of Israel as “Ephraim,” and in verse 1 he makes a sad statement.

When Ephraim spoke, people trembled; he was exalted in Israel. But he became guilty of Baal worship and died. (Hosea 13:1 NIV)

That’s the history of Israel almost from their inception. When Israel served God, God exalted it, but when Israel began to chase after and worship Baal – false gods – Israel died. Their idol worship began very early in their history, so their death was a lingering one; it took generations for their spiritual death to actually kill the nation in reality.

Just how bad had things become is Israel? The people piled sin upon sin upon awful sin:

Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of these people, “They offer human sacrifices! They kiss calf-idols!” (Hosea 13:2 NIV)

Back in Samuel’s day, things hadn’t gotten nearly that bad. But the root of Israel’s idolatry can be traced back its desire for a king. God never intended for Israel to be ruled a human king. He alone was to be their king. Saul became their first king, but his was a disastrous reign. David came along and was an imperfect man of God. His son Solomon followed, and while he was a wise man and a good king, the spiritual decline of the nation sped up.

Thus Solomon did what was clearly wrong and refused to follow the Lord as his father David did. He even built a temple on the Mount of Olives, across the valley from Jerusalem, for Chemosh, the depraved god of Moab, and another for Molech, the unutterably vile god of the Ammonites. Solomon built temples for these foreign wives to use for burning incense and sacrificing to their gods. (1 Kings 11:6 – 8 TLB)

Rarely does a nation rise above the moral, ethical, and spiritual level of its leaders. Still, there was no one to blame for their sin but themselves:

You are destroyed, Israel, because you are against me, against your helper. (Hosea 13:9 NIV)

This verse can be translated a couple of different ways, but no matter which version you prefer, it’s a pathetic one.

It destroys you, O Israel, that you are against me, against your helper.

If I destroy you, O Israel, who will be your helper.

Hosea’s thought is that Israel would suffer destruction because it lived in continual opposition to God’s will. Nobody, not even a king, could help them. And that brings us to the Lord’s stunning declaration:

So in my anger I gave you a king, and in my wrath I took him away. (Hosea 13:11 NIV)

Israel demanded a king, and the Lord gave them what they wanted. It all started with Saul. This verse is chock-full of theological significance for us today. God allowed – allowed – each and every king, good or evil, to rule over His people. This fact illuminates the old saying,

We get the government we deserve.

When we go to vote every so many years, most of us think that our vote will help determine who will be our next president, for example. However, from the Biblical perspective, that’s not entirely correct. In addition to what Hosea said, Proverbs tells us this:

In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. (Proverbs 21:1 NIV)

Or, as we might say in a less poetic way, whether the king or president is good or evil, his heart is in God’s hands. Paul in the New Testament echoes what was taught throughout the Old:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1 NIV)

When you accept the truth of what the Scriptures teach on this issue, you’ll realize two things.  First, regardless of the outcome of an election, the Christian has an obligation to obedient to God, first and foremost, and then to the elected authorities.  Romans 13:1 makes this painfully clear.  But, there is a caveat –  a qualifier.  Note carefully what Paul wrote a couple of verses earlier, in chapter 12:

Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible.  (Romans 12:18  TLB)

There may be times when, as a Christian, you can’t be at peace with your government.  Then you must “obey God, rather than man” and face the consequences, if there are any.

Second, our sovereign God is in control, and in spite of all the millions of dollars spent on campaigning, we get the leader(s) God wants us to have; the leader(s) we deserve.

The people of Old Testament Israel went to Samuel demanding he give them a king like all the other nations had. When Samuel took their request to God,  he was rightfully upset, but God told him the people weren’t rejecting him, Samuel; they were rejecting Him.

So God honored their request and gave them Saul as king. Saul looked the part physically, but he lacked moral clarity. His first loyalty wasn’t to God. Rather he was constantly trying to please the people instead. Eventually, he became so spiritually blinded by his own inner demons and ambition that the people truly got exactly what every other nation had – a king.

Israel certainly got the very leader they deserved.

Today, our country is a morally, ethically, and spiritually confused one. On the one hand, some of the largest churches and seemingly influential churches in the world are here. The Christian sub-culture in America is billion dollar a year business. Americans are interested in spirituality and in the things of God. Our political leaders often quote Scripture, host prayer breakfasts, and invoke God’s blessings on the country.

Yet on the other hand, many of our largest churches and “Christian” ministries are built on greed and pop-psychology, not on Scripture. Our governments routinely break “the law of the land” while imposing illogical and unconstitutional laws and regulations on its citizens, all the while exempting themselves from those laws and regulations. Our families think nothing of handing over their children to government agents at younger and younger ages to be indoctrinated in politically-correct thinking, government-approved thinking.

As a society, we reward sloth and laziness.

As a society we have murdered over 50 million American citizens since 1973.  Abortion is as commonplace in America as today as getting a tooth pulled.

Islamic radicals have declared war on the West, yet many Americans have bought the lie our former president told us that we’re all worshipping the same God. Ironically enough, our current president, who has a Muslim-sounding name, famously declared that America “is not a Christian nation” but is “one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.”  Huh?

About 86% of Americans claim to be Christian, yet many of our churches are empty and those that are full have virtually no influence in the public square.  Abortion is out of control. Over half of all Christian marriages end in divorce. Christians are easily led astray because they don’t know what they believe.  Sadly, most of those 86% of Americans can’t even read well enough to understand the NIV, a translation of the Bible eighth graders should be able to understand.

And now we have the leader we deserve.

Lessons From Samuel’s Ministry


Our Lord famously declared:

I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18 NIV)

As we look at the state of the church today, and indeed if we look at history of church, it seems like Jesus was just being wishful in His thinking. And yet, in over 2,000 years, despite setbacks and times of trouble, the church of Jesus Christ is still here. Any problems the church has experienced at any time in its history have not be God’s fault, they’ve been our fault. The church may have been established by Jesus Christ, but it is full of human beings who are, at best, imperfect. The church has survived all these centuries in spite of our mistakes and, yes, our sin. The church has paid and in some cases continues to pay for past mistakes, but it carries on.

Israel had problems, too. In 1 Samuel 4 we read about the biggest problem Israel ever had, and a problem Christians may experience today.

She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The Glory has departed from Israel”—because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” (1 Samuel 4:21, 22 NIV)

The Philistines had stolen the ark of the Covenant. Because the ark was gone, so was God’s glory. That ark was a token of God’s presence; with it gone, so was He. Of course, Israel’s real problem was a spiritual one, and that was why the Philistines were able to capture the ark. What Israel needed (and what the church of Jesus Christ needs) was a spiritual awakening; a revival. God’s solution to Israel’s problem was a man: Samuel.

Twenty Years Later

So the men of Kiriath-jearim came and took the Ark to the hillside home of Abinadab and installed his son Eleazar to be in charge of it. The Ark remained there for twenty years, and during that time all Israel was in sorrow because the Lord had seemingly abandoned them. (1 Samuel 7:1, 2 TLB)

The Israelites got the ark back, but for some reason it remained in a place called Kirjath-jearim. There is stayed for two decades. We’re not told why. It may be that Shiloh was destroyed or occupied by the Philistines. At any rate, the people of Israel began to turn back to the Lord during this time. A combination of the ark not being where it should have been and a constant threat from various enemies made Israel desperate. In times of desperation, people often turn to the Lord. And it is during times of desperation that God does His best work. Here, Samuel steps into his long ministry as a national prophet:

At that time Samuel said to them, “If you are really serious about wanting to return to the Lord, get rid of your foreign gods and your Ashtaroth idols. Determine to obey only the Lord; then he will rescue you from the Philistines.” So they destroyed their idols of Baal and Ashtaroth and worshiped only the Lord. (1 Samuel 7:3, 4 TLB)

Israel at this time was chest-deep in idolatry. They may have longed for the Lord, but they hadn’t given up the sin of idolatry. Over the years, the people had strayed far from God. Yet God wasn’t finished with them – not by a long shot. He was preparing Samuel for this exact moment. The terrible disasters that had hit Israel in recent years and the Philistine occupation had prepared the nation to hear Samuel’s call to repentance. It would take a complete, wholehearted turning away from idolatry and sin to an attitude of single-minded devotedness of service to God before God could begin to deliver His people.

D.A. Carson noted:

The coming of God’s reign either demands repentance or brings judgment.

The people wanted God’s glory – His presence – back, but that couldn’t happen until their hearts were right. It’s one thing to want God’s presence in your life, but God’s needs to know you’re serious about it. Lots of people want more of God, but they aren’t willing to do what is necessary to receive Him.

A call to prayer

Then Samuel told them, “Come to Mizpah, all of you, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” So they gathered there and, in a great ceremony, drew water from the well and poured it out before the Lord. They also went without food all day as a sign of sorrow for their sins. So it was at Mizpah that Samuel became Israel’s judge. (1 Samuel 7:5, 6 TLB)

Samuel was not just their prophet, he was also Israel’s judge. Under his leadership, the nation turned from their idolatry to the Lord. The big, national prayer meeting was to take place at a place called Mizpah, about eight miles north of Jerusalem, close to Samuel’s hometown of Ramah. Here the people gathered to fast, confess their sins, and pray. This is the only way for a person to return to God, by the way. If a person wants to get closer to God; if they want more of God; they need to offer themselves to Him. They need to confess their sins and they need to see themselves as God sees them: sinners in need of saving.

Another problem

It didn’t take long for Israel’s enemy, the Philistines, to get wind of their national prayer meeting. It doesn’t take the devil long to notice when you get serious with your faith, either. You may be sure that the moment you start to take your faith serious; the moment you decide to ‘walk the straight and narrow,’ the devil takes notice and begins to move against you.

When the Israelites learned that the Philistines were on the move, they were terrified.

“Plead with God to save us!” they begged Samuel. (1 Samuel 7:8 TLB)

Samuel did that and more, and the Lord gave them great victory. It was the first victory Israel had experienced in a long time.

Just as Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines arrived for battle, but the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven, and they were thrown into confusion, and the Israelites routed them and chased them from Mizpah to Beth-car, killing them all along the way. (1 Samuel 7:10, 11 TLB)

Before the battle even began, God “thundered” against the enemy. Was it a storm? Was it the great rumble of His voice? The text isn’t clear, but what is clear is that the Lord acted on behalf of His people. The Israelites hadn’t lifted a finger when God moved, throwing the enemy into confusion. At that point, the Israelites acted.

The Lord acted, in the nick of time, without a moment to spare. That’s how God often works. The Lord’s miraculous interventions occur at His convenience, not ours. When the people turned to God and made an earnest confession, God moved.

A memorial

Samuel then took a stone and placed it between Mizpah and Jeshanah and named it Ebenezer (meaning, “the Stone of Help”), for he said, “The Lord has certainly helped us!” (1 Samuel 7:12 TLB)

Large stones were commonly used as monuments in Old Testament times. Samuel named his monument “Ebenezer,” which means, “stone of help.” This was a monument of remembrance; whenever people looked at it, they would remember what God had done for them. It was also a stone of revelation; the revelation being that it was God who gave them the victory, not their efforts.

Remembering is a good thing to do. Paul wrote to the Philippians:

…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6 NIV)

If you are a Christian, God has led you to where you are right now. Through all the twists and turns of your life, and in spite of your best efforts to the contrary, God has been working tirelessly and often silently in the background to get you to where you are now. You should be able to say with confidence, “The Lord has certainly helped me.”

Memory is a wonderful thing. When times get tough you can remember times of blessing. If you’ve ever read the psalms, you’ve no doubt noticed how many of them sing the praises of what God had done in the past.

Restoration and peace

The towns from Ekron to Gath that the Philistines had captured from Israel were restored to Israel, and Israel delivered the neighboring territory from the hands of the Philistines. And there was peace between Israel and the Amorites.

Samuel continued as Israel’s leader all the days of his life. From year to year he went on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places. But he always went back to Ramah, where his home was, and there he also held court for Israel. And he built an altar there to the Lord. (1 Samuel 7:14 – 17 NIV)

This is the result of what happens when God’s man is in a place of leadership. Peace follows the man of God. Confusion and tumult result when people are led by someone out of step with God. In the early days of Samuel’s ministry, we can learn some important lessons:

Conditions necessary for God’s help. If you want God’s help, you must be sincere and you must be serious. Just asking Him for help isn’t enough. We must show God that we know we really need Him; that we believe He will help us. And, if need be, we must deal with the sin that may be coming between God and us. Sometimes that sin is the cause of our problems in the first place.

Confession of your need. God will help anybody who knows he needs it. If you’re too self-confident or if you’re the kind of person who prays for help then tries to find a solution yourself, God won’t help you. A piece of advice from James is helpful on this-

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:6, 7 NIV)

Crisis as the occasion for God’s help. Sometimes the Lord will let things reach the crisis point before He acts. He’ll do this for reasons that make sense to Him but not always to us. We may be sure, however, that God’s timing is always perfect.

Call out to God in prayer. Of course God knows what our needs are; He knows what we need before we ask. Still, He wants us to ask in faith believing.

Conquest through receiving God’s help. When we pray in faith, God will act, in His time, and we will be delivered; victory will come. God never works in half measures. God always goes all out for His people!

God used Samuel to bring peace, revival, and restoration to a broken and contrite Israel. He stands in stark contrast to the judges that came before him: Jephthah, Samson, and the priest Eli all caused more problems for Israel than they solved. They were selfish men, driven by their passions and ruled by their weaknesses. Samuel was different thanks to four things:

The influence of a godly family. Both of Samuel’s parents were godly people, devoted to God with faith in His will.

The power of prayer. Samuel’s birth was an answer to prayer and his life and ministry were lived in prayer.

The call of God. Samuel didn’t happen to become a judge or stumble upon becoming a prophet. He was directly called by God to those positions. As Christians, we are told this:

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. (2 Peter 1:10 NIV)

Obedience. There is no record of Samuel disobeying God; no record of him “doing his own thing.” Samuel was a faithful servant of God. No wonder he could say this:

To obey is better than sacrifice. (1 Samuel 15:22 NIV)

Samuel could honestly express this because he lived it all the days of his life.

Samuel and God’s Call


In the Hebrew Bible, the books of 1 and 2 Samuel are actually one long book. This long book is full of interesting characters, some paragons of virtue, others not. The preceding book of Judges is littered with many “little people,” many of whom had serious problems. Some actually overcame those problems to become great, inspirational leaders, proving God can, and very often does, use people we would over look. But in the books of Samuel, we meet some people of truly outstanding character. People like Hannah, Samuel, David, Jonathan. And we meet some scurrilous people like, Saul, Eli and his sons.

Not only genuinely interesting people, but profound topics are covered in Samuel, and the very first one is prayer. Specifically, the prayer of a mother.

The days of the judges were dark. As Samuel opens, it’s not only dark across Israel, but it’s dark in the life of Hannah. She had no children. That didn’t dampen her faith, however.

Hannah’s prayer, 1 Samuel 1:10 – 16

She was in deep anguish and was crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. And she made this vow: “O Lord of heaven, if you will look down upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you, and he’ll be yours for his entire lifetime, and his hair shall never be cut.” (1 Samuel 1:10, 11 TLB)

It wasn’t a long prayer, but it was an earnest one. We are told she was “in deep anguish.” It doesn’t get any more earnest than that! She was sad and bitterly disappointed that she had no children. She prayed this very brief, two-pronged prayer. She asked God for a son, but then made the Lord a two-part promise if he answered her prayer. Her baby would become a Levitical priest and he would become a Nazarite for his whole life.

What Hannah had no way of knowing was that this whole incident was part of a much large plan that had its origin in the mind of God Himself.

…the Lord had sealed her womb; so she had no children… (1 Samuel 1:5 TLB)

Reading that verse, we are reminded of another one, in the New Testament:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)

Obviously Hannah had a great love for the Lord and part of her purpose in His plan was to bear son. Being barren as she was, she couldn’t imagine a plan like that! That’s the way it works with God sometimes. He holds all the cards, so to speak. He doesn’t always let us in on the minute details of His will for our lives. He’s not obligated to. We, however, are obligated to trust Him.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5, 6 NIV)

When we are stuck looking at our lives instead of the Lord of our lives, we might be tempted to be like Hannah and become discouraged and disheartened. Unlike Hannah, when we feel like that, more often than not we don’t pray. Instead we take things into our own hands and then things really get bad. It’s better for us and anybody connected to us if we just rest in Him. There’s nothing wrong with being discouraged, but the right response is key: prayer.

Hannah, as down as she felt, had the presence of mind to pray. Of course, just because one who loves God does the right thing, doesn’t mean other people understand. Eli, the dimwitted priest, saw Hannah praying and he got everything wrong.

Eli noticed her mouth moving as she was praying silently and, hearing no sound, thought she had been drinking. “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your bottle.” (1 Samuel 2:12 – 14 TLB)

When you trust in the Lord, sometimes you get no support from other believers. You can’t let that discourage you, however. Your strength must come from the Lord, no one else.

Eli the priest eventually came around, no thanks to his supposed faith in God but because of Hannah’s testimony. She didn’t hold back and the priest got the message.

“In that case,” Eli said, “cheer up! May the Lord of Israel grant you your petition, whatever it is!” (1 Samuel 1:17 TLB)

Eli made a mistake, and offered up a kind prophetic blessing, whether he knew it or not.

Hannah is the perfect picture of the true nature of faith. In her prayer, we also see a good definition of the kind of prayer that gets God’s attention: I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. (verse 15 TLB). She prayed and was convinced that God had heard her prayer. Look at verse 18:

“Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed, and went happily back, and began to take her meals again. (1 Samuel 1:18 TLB)

That’s not an insignificant verse. Notice that she went back home “happy” and went back to her normal, everyday routine. That’s a vital part of faith often overlooked. How often do we pray, claiming to be trusting God, yet continuing to fret and worry and doubt?

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24 NIV)

Hannah keeps her word, 1 Samuel 1:21 – 28

Hannah not only prayed, but she made a promise to God. Remember, she basically told God that if He gave her a son, she would give him back to God. That’s a big promise, but Hannah had a big faith.

“Sir, do you remember me?” Hannah asked him. “I am the woman who stood here that time praying to the Lord! I asked him to give me this child, and he has given me my request; and now I am giving him to the Lord for as long as he lives.” So she left him there at the Tabernacle for the Lord to use. (1 Samuel 1:26 – 28 TLB)

It had been an unspecified number of years since Hannah had prayed for a baby. Her son had lived at home with her and her husband for a while before she made the trip back to the Temple and back to Eli. When she met with Eli, she did what every believer should do when God answers a prayer: she testified about it.

There’s a small but very telling glimpse into the two very different kinds of personalities of Eli the priest and Hannah, Samuel’s mother. In verse 17, Eli refers to God as “the God of Israel,” an impersonal way to refer to Him. But Hannah uses a far more intimate, personal form of address: “the Lord.” It’s a small thing, but it shows that Hannah had a closer, more personal relationship with God than did the priest.

She kept her word and gave Samuel back to the Lord.

Samuel’s calling, 1 Samuel 3:1 – 10

We have no way of knowing how old Samuel was by the time chapter 3 rolls around, but our go-to Jewish historian Josephus suggests he was at least 12. He had to be at least that, maybe even older, to carry out his work in the Temple. He was a young man, not a child. Verse 1 tells us all we need to know about how bad things were in Israel at this time:

Messages from the Lord were very rare in those days… (TLB)

Add to that the fact that we are told Eli the priest was almost blind, and we’re left with the impression that Israel, spiritually speaking, was in awful state of decline. Into this dark and murky atmosphere, God was working. The average Israelite couldn’t see it, but God was working nonetheless. He was calling a young man to become a national prophet. Romans 5:20 is an encouraging verse during times when morality and ethics seem to be losing out to wickedness and evil:

But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound… (JKV)

When all you hear and see is bad news, it’s easy to get the idea that God has left the scene; that He has washed His hands of the mess we have created. That’s never the case. Be on your look out, because when you see the apparent triumph of evil in the world, God is also working, whether you see Him or not.

In fact, God called Samuel more than once. Some commentators have suggested, and I am inclined to agree with them, that the first two calls were really calls to salvation. Samuel may have been working in the Temple, but he wasn’t saved. The young man had now reached the “age of accountability,” and God is going to hold him responsible.

It was the fourth call that get Samuel’s attention. God spoke His first prophetic word to Samuel, and it wasn’t a good word.

Then the Lord said to Samuel, “I am going to do a shocking thing in Israel. I am going to do all of the dreadful things I warned Eli about. I have continually threatened him and his entire family with punishment because his sons are blaspheming God, and he doesn’t stop them. So I have vowed that the sins of Eli and of his sons shall never be forgiven by sacrifices and offerings.” (1 Samuel 3:1 – 14 TLB)

God’s Word isn’t always easy to take; sometimes the “Word of the Lord” is downright difficult. That reality gives meaning to this verse:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NIV)

It was bad news for Eli, and his response is indicative of the kind supine temperament he had.

So Samuel told him what the Lord had said. “It is the Lord’s will,” Eli replied; “let him do what he thinks best.” (1 Samuel 3:18 TLB)

The clear theme of the first ten verses of this chapter is “hearing the call of God.” There are many truths tucked away in this chapter. First, God may be silent when His Word is not known, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t working. God is always working on hearts and minds. We should never become discouraged or faint of heart when it seems as though wrong is right and believers are impotent. God’s Spirit is always at work. Second, God may have to call a person more than once and sometimes His call is mistaken. God is always right and prefect, but we who hear Him don’t always get it right. We’re still human, after all. Third, God’s Word can be heard when His people care to listen for it.

Lastly, the overriding lesson of this story must surely be the importance and the power of a praying mother. Her prayer and her commitment to God resulted in Samuel’s acceptance of God’s calling. More important and vital to her son’s spiritual development than Eli was a mother’s faithfulness to God.

Bookmark and Share

Another great day!

Blog Stats

  • 353,400 hits

Never miss a new post again.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 287 other subscribers
Follow revdocporter on Twitter

Who’d have guessed?

My Conservative Identity:

You are an Anti-government Gunslinger, also known as a libertarian conservative. You believe in smaller government, states’ rights, gun rights, and that, as Reagan once said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

Take the quiz at