1 Samuel 11-13: Fear God
May 5, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Saul’s first steps now as king begin to go better. When he hears the threats coming from the Ammonites (11:5), the Spirit of God comes upon Saul (11:6), and he rallies Israel to his standard, marches against the Ammonites and defeats them (11:7-11). Having won this battle, Saul has also won the popularity conquest (momentarily), and the people then suggest he kills those who had not supported Saul initially when he became king (11:12). Saul, wisely it seems, will have none of that for that was the day when the LORD had worked salvation (11:13). Samuel takes the people to Gilgal to renew the kingdom, to renew their commitment to the king (11:14-15).
Samuel, with the kingdom now it appears established, gives his farewell address where he “calls the question” as to whether he has ever behaved reprehensibly or defrauded anyone (12:3). The answer is no (12:4). Samuel then rehearses the salvation history of Israel, and brings into this stream himself and Saul as king (12:6-13). He then calls on Saul and the people to obey God (12:14-18), with a word—dramatically illustrated by God sending thunder and rain—that if they obey they will be blessed, but if not the “hand” of the Lord will be against them (12:15). The people are afraid and ask Samuel to pray for them (12:19), and he replies in the famous words: “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and right way” (12:23). This is the ministry of the word and prayer as expressed in the New Testament terms by the apostles in Acts 6.
Saul, and his son Jonathan, now fight the Philistines, and win an initial victory (13:1-4). The big battle comes now, and Samuel is due to arrive to perform a sacrifice before the battle begins (13:5-8). He’s late, and so Saul rushes ahead—afraid the people would scatter (13:11)—to perform a sacrifice himself (13:9). By so doing, he is overstepping his role of king and taking on the role of priest. He is disobeying God’s commandments as taught through Samuel. Samuel tells Saul the consequences: the kingdom will not pass to his successors but be taken from him (13:13-14). Saul does not appear to be particularly worried at this moment; perhaps with a large army about to attack him, he has bigger and more immediate problems. The battle lines are drawn, and we get an insight into the ill-preparedness of Israel for war when we learn that only Saul and Jonathan actually have swords at all (13:22).
Saul appears to be bit of a mixed bag. Some good, some not so good. His characteristic tendency to fear the people rather than God is starting to be labelled—the “man after God’s own heart” (which will be David) is not the perfect man; David was certainly not that. But it is a person who sufficiently fears God that he will do what is right whether or not it wins the popularity contest. This is ultimately the test of Christian leadership. To stand on God’s Word, to have the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10), and so to do what is right. In the long run that will be most likely to gain favor from the people, while the other policy, attempting to placate the people, will result in decisive decline. Let us fear God, and love people.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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