The Old Testament recounts the history of the Jewish people from the days of Abraham until their return to Judah after the Babylonian exile. Our current sermon series focuses upon the small portion of Israel’s history in which it stood as a single unified nation. This era lasted approximately 120 years from roughly 1050-930 BC. We are calling this collection of messages “The United Church - A Study of Ancient Israel”.
Elders from the 12 tribes approached Samuel and asked him to appoint a king to rule over them. Though he was initially hesitant, the LORD instructed Samuel to comply. As it turned out, the prophet did not have to search at all for an appropriate candidate. Instead, God chose a man named Saul and led him straight to Samuel. When they met, Samuel anointed Saul as the first king of the nation of Israel and the majority of the people accepted him joyfully.
Interestingly, though he had been chosen to be king, Saul returned to his home in Gibeah and reigned from there. As a matter of fact, Gibeah served as the capital city of Israel throughout Saul’s kingship. For a time, he even continued working as a herdsman. At first Saul didn’t seem overly eager to rule as king. It would take awhile for the new nation to take on the characteristics of a monarchy and for Saul to adjust to his new role.
Meanwhile the surrounding nations continued to encroach upon Israel just as they’d done during the time of the judges. This ongoing threat was the main reason why the tribes had united to begin with. They wanted a strong king who would fight their battles and increase their military might. Perhaps Saul could make a name for himself by driving back the enemies of Israel...
I. SAUL STEPS UP (1 Samuel 11:1-15)
Nahash was the king of the Ammonites, the descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot. He heavily oppressed the portions of Israel that lay east of the Jordan River, particularly the tribes of Gad and Reuben. The city of Jabesh-gilead was located in this remote area. Nahash and his army laid siege upon the beleaguered city and threatened to kill everyone there. In exchange for their lives, Nahash offered to gouge out the right eye of all the citizens thereby making them a reproach in Israel. He gave them 7 days to consider his morbid terms of surrender and to seek assistance.
The men of Jabesh-gilead sent messengers to Gibeah where Saul, the newly appointed king, lived and worked. When Saul heard their report, the Spirit of God came upon him and he grew very angry. So Saul slaughtered a yoke of oxen, divided them into pieces, and sent them throughout Israel along with a stern warning - “I will do the same to your oxen if you don’t join me in battle.” As the message spread, the men of Israel responded in droves. Saul quickly amassed an army of 330,000 soldiers that came from places scattered all throughout Israel and Judah. He then informed the people of Jabesh-gilead that help was on the way. Saul divided his troops into 3 companies, they attacked the Ammonites the next morning, and defeated them soundly. They city was saved and the enemy survivors scattered in retreat.
The Israelites remembered those who had despised Saul earlier and rejected him as king. They wanted these rebels put to death, but Saul showed mercy and chose not to harm them. Instead, he urged the people to celebrate what the LORD had done in giving them the great victory. Afterwards the people went to Gilgal, where Samuel offered sacrifices and peace offerings, and they ceremoniously confirmed Saul as the first king of the nation of Israel. It was a time of great rejoicing.
II. SAMUEL STEPS ASIDE (1 Samuel 12:1-11)
Samuel spoke to the people, probably during their gathering in Gilgal, and told them that he had completed his task of finding someone to be their king. He went on to say that he had grown old and was ready to retire. Samuel then reminded them of the honesty and integrity he’d shown to Israel during his lifetime. All of the people agreed that Samuel had been an admirable leader and judge over them.
He recalled how their ancestors had been delivered from Egyptian bondage by Moses and Aaron, yet had forgotten about the LORD after arriving in the Promised Land. They’d chased false gods such as the Baals and the Ashtaroth. As a result, the Moabites, the Philistines, and other enemies had risen up against them. Still God remained faithful and appointed men such as Jephthah and others to rescue them. Samuel even named himself as one of Israel’s great deliverers of the past.
With his resounding victory over the Ammonites, Saul had firmly established himself as the clear leader of Israel. Samuel realized that his role as judge was finished, and it was time to move on. He would continue to serve as a prophet and priest for the people, but Saul was now their undisputed leader and king. Samuel wanted to make this transfer of power clear so that there would be no confusion or division within the nation.
There are times in life when we need to step aside so that someone else can step up. Eventually, everyone has to pass the torch. Some people have a hard time doing this because they fear that no one can do things as well as they did them. It can be hard to let someone else take the reins when you’ve poured so much of yourself into something over a span of many years. But there will come a day when we must, for such is nature of life. We must trust God enough to let go.
III. GOD REIGNS SUPREME (1 Samuel 12:12-25)
Samuel continued speaking to the Israelites. He conceded that Saul had accomplished exactly what they’d wanted from a king. He had delivered them from the cruel hand of the Ammonites. But hadn’t the LORD rescued them time and time again using other methods as well? Samuel wanted the people to understand that God had saved them and that King Saul was merely the instrument through which He’d done so. The aging prophet told the people that as long as they feared the LORD, He’d bless both them and their king. However, if they turned away from God, His hand would be against them. The bottom line - nothing had really changed. God was still sovereign over His creation.
Samuel asked God to send a storm as a testimony of His might. The dark clouds gathered, the thunder clapped, and the rain poured upon the wheat fields of Israel. The people acknowledged their sinfulness in asking for a human king, perhaps realizing momentarily that the LORD was the only one they truly needed. On that day, Israel feared both God and Samuel.
As the rain fell, the people urged Samuel to pray for them. Though they had sinned in seeking an earthly king, Samuel consoled them by saying that they should just keep serving God. The LORD would not abandon them for making this mistake, nor would Samuel stop praying for and/or teaching them what was good and right. Samuel encouraged them to remember the faithfulness of God and to follow Him, otherwise they’d be swept away.
The Ammonites had been defeated and the citizens of Jabesh-gilead had be saved. King Saul had risen to the occasion and Israel was growing more formidable. Things appeared to be playing out just as the tribes had hoped when they’d first agreed to unite as a nation. Yet, Samuel saw cause for concern. While the king had won a great battle, his methods were a bit troubling. Saul had threatened the livelihood of his own subjects if they refused to comply with his order to join his army. He had compelled the men to serve, just as Samuel had previously warned that he would. Would such behavior characterize the leadership style of this new king? Only time would tell…
The main point of today’s message is this - God alone is king. From the White House to the state house, from the state house to the courthouse, from the courthouse to your house - at every level God reigns supreme. Those who have authority over others are still subject to the dominion of our LORD. Those who wish to lead well must always remember that they themselves are servants of Almighty God.
Every victory belongs to the LORD. Every success can be attributed to Him. All blessings are of God. Every perfect gift has come down from the Father of Lights. He is the source of all we have. Praise Him! Hallelujah! Our God is good! His riches are never ending!