Our next adventure through the Bible will be looking at the Kings of Israel and Judah. And like our study of Judges last summer and fall, we will be noticing a lot of repeating patterns. One such is like how we start out not knowing God well, then we establish a relationship with Him, then we grow in wisdom by studying the word. This has one parallel in how mankind started out "calling on the name of the Lord"(Genesis 4:26), but really didn't know what to do with Him (and thus, the Flood); then they were given the Law, which taught them what to do; then Christ Himself came, to elevate the relationship and save us. Just like this, the first 3 kings of Israel are a similar pattern. Saul barely knew God; David was close to God; and Solomon was supernaturally gifted with wisdom by God.
And in all three, the end is, they failed. And we fail. Until we get to the perfection of Jesus's rule on earth, that's gonna happen. Hopefully, along the way, we will pick up some tips on breaking the cycle.
To start our show, we begin with a passage that brings us yet another repeating pattern. Samuel, the last judge, was leading Israel. Now before him was the fat, lazy judge Eli, whose sons (and supposed successors) were so evil that God brought destruction to them (and in the bargain killed Eli). But before that, God provided by answering Hannah's prayer and bringing Samuel into the world, and into the hands of Eli for training. Samuel lead the Israelites all his days, but towards the end- stop me if you've heard this:
1Sa 8:1 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel.
1Sa 8:2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba.
1Sa 8:3 Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.
That they weren't quite as bad as Hophni and Phinehas (Eli's sons) is apparent in that their list of sins is brief and ends there. Probably because, while they followed that same path, their father wasn't fat and lazy. While we hear no more about Abijah, Joel must've repented somewhat in his old age. His son, Heman, became a music leader under David; he led the brass section (trumpets and cymbals), and was there at the "Great Davidic dance party" that brought the Ark of the Covenant (which Hophni and Phinehas lost) back to Jerusalem. In fact, he was so blessed in praise that
1Ch 25:5 All these were the sons of Heman the king's seer, according to the promise of God to exalt him, for God had given Heman fourteen sons and three daughters.
Note he was also considered a seer- a term explained just a little later in 1 Samuel:
1Sa 9:9 (Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he said, "Come, let us go to the seer," for today's "prophet" was formerly called a seer.)
At a certain point, this was a repeating pattern with Manneseh/Ammon/Josiah as well. Lesson to parents- don't make it so the grandparents have to teach the Word of God you are teaching others. And grandparents (me included), pick up the slack.
Anyway, because Samuel's boys were not, shall we say, choice successor material, the people cried out for a king. Now Samuel knew the Lord as King, and he was upset that his children of faith joined his children of flesh in not listening. But God had this in mind as well...
1Sa 8:7 And the LORD said to Samuel, "Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
1Sa 8:8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you.
God had planned for this even back when, telling Moses He had 4 rules that the king to come would have to follow:
Not have many horses for himself: At first I thought this was a indicator of building wealth, but in fact Moses put this in because the horses of Canaan mainly came from Egypt, which brought us to point #2:
Do not return the people to Egypt. This would end up being a curse inflicted after the last king was deposed many years later.
Do not take many wives: probably the single most ignored of the rules for a king, grown to ridiculous extent with Solomon.
And copy down a copy of the Book of the Law for himself, that in copying and reading it, he would follow it all his days. The kings blew this one on an industrial scale as well, as we will see in the stories of Hezekiah, Josiah, and others.
In addition to all these, Samuel was to give the people fair warning that they were about to go from free men to servants, and "eminent domain" was about to become a way of life. Their response:
1Sa 8:19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, "No! But there shall be a king over us,
1Sa 8:20 that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles."
And that brings us to King #1: Saul. Saul was the tall, handsome son of a wealthy merchant (1 Sam 9:1-2), but if you read between the lines of his story, you get the impression that Jim Croce modeled part of his song, "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" on him- "He was big and dumb as a man can come".
Maybe Saul wasn't quite that bad, but follow my logic.
Tall and handsome, you would think Saul would be getting groomed to take up the family business. And yet...
1Sa 9:3 Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul's father, were lost. So Kish said to Saul his son, "Take one of the young men with you, and arise, go and look for the donkeys."
He gets the wonderful task of searching for runaway donkeys, and has to take a buddy with him to keep him out of trouble- which he would have gotten into. Three days later, they STILL haven't found the donkeys. Saul figures they better give up and go back, lest his father gets worried (like spending three days already hadn't done it). The servant suggests they go see Samuel- he is a prophet, after all. If anyone might know where the donkeys are, he would. Saul says, "But we're broke! How will we pay the man?" (At least he learned something from dear old dad.) The servant saves the day again; he digs in his pockets and finds a quarter of a shekel of silver. Depending on the commentator, you get different values for this amount ("rather more than sixpence", "Seven pence halfpenny") but basically his change from stopping at the Shalishah 7-11. Saul says, "Good enough", and off they go.
So they get to town, and ask a girl who tells them, "He's just ahead of you down the road, but hurry up, because they're waiting a feast on him." And so they lope along as a man starts approaching them. This is Samuel, who was warned by God he would be running into the future king sometime that day. Think of Samuel, in his prophet's robes, the look of wisdom and holiness on his face. He sees ahead the tallest man in the whole country, handsome and noble in bearing, and God tells him, "Here comes the king I've chosen. And they come together, and the first thing out of Saul's mouth is:
1Sa 9:18 Then Saul approached Samuel in the gate and said, "Tell me where is the house of the seer?"
Samuel sighs, I imagine, then says "I AM the seer." probably thinking, "What do I look like? The milkman?" Then tells him, "Go up before me to the high place, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind."
Then, as Saul and his servant walk up to the house, Samuel says, "Oh, by the way, they found your donkeys."
I just get the impression that Saul's not the sharpest tool in the shed. And I'll show more of why I feel that next time.