Why would people surrender the sure protection of God for the uncertain hope that a human leader would protect them and provide for them? When people are focused on earthly concerns, they tend to seek earthly solutions. This was Israel in Samuel’s day.
After the Philistines returned the ark of the covenant to Israel, the Lord gave His people twenty years to think about what had happened. The ark was back in Israel but not in the tabernacle. In fact, Shiloh, where the ark had resided, apparently had been destroyed by the Philistines. And keep in mind that the Philistine threat had not gone away. All this was the result of Israel’s rebellion against the Lord.
Samuel eventually calls the people together and says here in 1 Samuel 7:3:
“If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.”
I want you to notice several action verbs here. We could call these “verbs of revival.” First, Samuel says they need to “return”—that is, turn back to the kind of life that pleased God.
The second verb is “put away,” or “remove.” They can’t return to walk with God unless they remove all the foreign gods and idols they have been following. These gods supposedly promised them success, but the only real success in life is in following the only real God.
The third required action here is “direct your heart to the Lord.” True repentance and commitment to the Lord is not superficial; it goes all the way to the heart. The internal passion of life becomes one of pursuing the character of God.
The fourth and final action verb here is “serve.” Israel must “serve” the Lord. This has to do with making God’s glory the primary reason they get up in the morning and go through the day.
Samuel sounds a lot like Joshua, doesn’t he? “Choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).
Through Samuel, God promises that if Israel repents, He will deliver them from the Philistines. The people’s response is given in verse 4: they “put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the Lord only.”
The interaction continues in verses 5 and 6:
Then Samuel said, “Gather all Israel at Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.” So they gathered at Mizpah and drew water and poured it out before the Lord and fasted on that day and said there, “We have sinned against the Lord.”
The pouring out of water here is a picture of humility. They are emptying themselves of pride and acknowledging their need of God’s help.
Well, the Philistines hear about this great gathering of Israelites and assume they are getting ready to attack, so they gather their army and prepare for battle.
As the Philistines approach the fearful Israelites, we read this:
Samuel took a nursing lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. And Samuel cried out to the Lord for Israel, and the Lord answered him. (verse 9)
How does the Lord answer? The next verse tells us:
The Lord thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel.
This supernatural thunderstorm terrifies the Philistines and confuses their battle plan, as they obviously see that some kind of supernatural power is on the side of Israel. And the army of the Israelites defeats them in battle.
But don’t miss something very important here. What brought about this divine intervention was Israel repenting and turning to the Lord. This battle already had been fought and won on their knees, so to speak.
After this victory, verse 12 tells us: “Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer.” Ebenezer means “stone of help.” This is a memorial stone that will be a reminder of Israel’s revival and God’s response in giving them victory.
The final verses of chapter 7 tell us Samuel continued to lead Israel as a judge. But sadly, while he had a godly influence on the nation, his own sons did not follow the Lord.
Samuel had appointed them as judges, but we read here in chapter 8 and verse 3 that Samuel’s sons “took bribes and perverted justice.” As hard as it is to imagine, the sons of Samuel acted like the sons of Eli.
Beloved, here we are reminded again that godly parents can have ungodly children. Parents today want some ironclad formula that will produce a godly child. But that is not what the Bible gives us. Rather, it gives us godly guidelines for raising our children. So, teach your children the gospel—you must. PQ Teach them the truths of God. Urge them to obey the teachings of Scripture, and model for them what that looks like. And never stop praying for them. But remember, mom and dad, that only God can open their eyes. You can’t make them believe and obey.
That’s why, as I have said before, if your children turn out to be godly, you can’t take the credit for that; but if they turn out to be ungodly, make sure you don’t take the blame for that either. Too many parents today are either taking the blame or taking the credit.
Now following this revelation about Samuel’s sons, we are told that the people begin to demand a king like other nations have.
The elders of Israel … came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (verses 4-5)
Samuel is advancing in age, and his sons offer no hope for continuing his wise, godly, and honest leadership. So, the people ask Samuel to appoint a king for them.
On the surface this seems like a reasonable request, but there’s a serious spiritual issue at play here. Behind this request for a king is the rejection of God’s leadership. Later, in chapter 12, Samuel will remind the Israelites, “You said … ‘A king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king” (verse 12).
God was Israel’s King, and as long as they followed Him, He would lead, protect, provide, and fight for them. Israel was a unique nation. It was a theocracy—ruled directly by God. But the people want a monarchy—rule by an earthly king. They want to set God aside and have a human king instead.
Note what God tells Samuel here in verse 7: “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.”
The Lord isn’t surprised by any of this. In fact, in His sovereign plan, He is going to use Israel’s sinful desire to establish a monarchy to raise up King David, who will picture the King of Kings who will one day sit on David’s throne. God’s perfect plan throughout all of history cannot be destroyed by sinful mankind.
But don’t miss the tragedy of Israel’s desire here to be like other nations. They had all the benefits of a King who was gracious and loving and powerful. But they want a visible, impressive, human king like other nations. And let me tell you, kingship is going to bring them plenty of hardship, as Samuel warns in the following verses.
Let me ask you today, beloved, What’s your desire? Who will be the King in your heart and life today? There is only one King who can offer you forgiveness and satisfaction and purpose and meaning in life. He is none other than King Jesus.