They began to look at the nations around them. These people had Kings, who led them into battle, ruled them, made decisions for them. We want a King, too! This was the cry of Israel in 1 Samuel 8 and they got the one they deserved, Saul. God had warned them, but did they listen? He told them that this King was going to take away their sons to fight dangerous wars, their daughters to be cooks and bakers and would also take a proportion of their land, crops, slaves and flocks for his own use. No, we want a King! “Then don’t come running back to me when it all goes wrong!” 6adds God, in 1 Samuel 8:18. ‘We don’t care – give us a King, already!’
This first King of Israel was volatile, insecure and paranoid, which was probably God’s punishment on Israel for showing such a lack of faith in Him and demanding a King in the first place. There were controls in place, namely the prophet, Samuel, who was the mouthpiece of God during this time, but Saul wasn’t always to listen – except, tragically, through a witch after Samuel’s death – and this was to provide the seeds for his downfall.
The people wanted a King for a very good reason. It’s the same reason why human beings throughout history have tried to do things their own way and have followed their human instincts in building their own empires and kingdoms. It’s because we are wilful beings and, when push comes to shove, quite faithless. We still find it hard to trust God, (or even believe in Him these days) and, rather than waiting on Him, we go ahead with our own plans expecting His blessing when we have spent all of our energy and return to Him with a pleading heart to put things right.
So it was with the Children of Israel when Saul led them against the Ammonites. They had more faith in a flesh and blood mortal flawed King than they had in the Lord God, Creator of the Universe, who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt, sustained them in the desert and fought on their behalf as they began to conquer the land. The prophet Samuel reminded them exactly who was in charge:
“But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’ – even though the LORD your God was your king. Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the LORD has set a king over you.” (1 Samuel 12:12)
And as a further reminder he called on the Lord to send thunder and rain and declare His majesty. “And you will realise what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the LORD when you asked for a king“, he added.
It’s the old chestnut of faith versus works, putting ourselves and our labours before a complete and sincere trust in God. It is further illustrated by another episode in the life of Saul. All he had to do was assemble with his army at Gilgal to face the Philistines and wait for Samuel to turn up and call on the Lord to be with them. But he didn’t wait for Samuel and made the necessary sacrifices himself. He lacked faith and decided to act instead. As a result Samuel, who did eventually turn up, declared:
“You acted foolishly … You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14)
D’oh! Saul blew it and prepared the way for his successor, David. His dynasty was doomed anyway, as he was of the family of Benjamin. But David was of the family of Judah and it was to be through his family line that God’s promised descendant, through whom all peoples on earth will be blessed and who would have the obedience of the nations.
Saul continued to sink into the mire of his own making when God gave him a simple instruction:
“Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'” (1 Samuel 15:3)
He failed to do so, keeping the best of the livestock for himself. But this was not what God asked. He wanted all trace of the Amalekites destroyed. It sounds ruthless to us and some would even query how a God of Love could be so merciless. What is often overlooked is that our Father God, Ruler of the heavens and earth, is a God of righteousness as well as a God of love and when evil rears its ugly head, particularly in these formative years of His dealings with His people, He is compelled by His very nature to take action. But to kill women, children and infants?
To allow ourselves to consider such perceived injustices we are forced to ask the questions, were there no innocent women, children and infants in Sodom and Gomorrah when burning sulphur reigned down, or at the time of Noah’s Ark, when a whole generation drowned in the waters? Of course there were – they died in the same way as the most evil and debauched men of their people. Three verses will force us to see the similarities and help us to understand why our Kingdom of Priests had to be protected from the people who surrounded them.
“In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7)
“… if he did not spare the ancient world when he brought the flood on its ungodly people, but protected Noah, a preacher of righteousness, and seven others.” (2 Peter 2:5)
“And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.‘”(1 Samuel 15:18)
Saul eventually committed suicide in battle and left the kingdom of Israel in a worse shape than when he found it, largely due to the presence of the pesky Philistines in the west.
October 2013 (This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book Outcast Nation)