If you have come to Youth Haven in the past couple of seasons, we have been talking a lot about the Israelites. For those of you who have not been here, they are God’s chosen people, and He chose to save the world through them.
The book of Judges in your Trailbook (Bible) talks about the Israelites before they had a king. During this time, they went through a cycle over and over again, and it kept getting worse every time. The cycle went like this:
The Israelites stopped following God
God allowed someone else to take over the Israelites
The Israelites realized their need for God and turned back to Him
God raised up a judge to save his people
The Israelites stopped following God
And this cycle kept repeating itself for a long time. The book of Judges ends by saying: “In those days Israel had no king; All the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
Samuel was the last judge of Israel. He was a judge, a priest, and a prophet - someone God used to speak to his people because during those times they did not have the Bible yet. He was also the one who anointed the first 2 kings of Israel. The word "anointed" means that he showed the people these were the men God had chosen to be the king.
Watch this to see a little about the first king:
Samuel was getting older, and the Israelites did not want his sons to be judges. They wanted to be like all the other nations around them who had kings. So, they asked Samuel to ask God for a king. Samuel went to God and God told him to give the people what they wanted, but to give them a warning of what a king would be like and some of the bad things that would happen. But even after the warning the people still said, “We want to be like the nations around us” and have a king. Then Samuel repeated that to God and God replied, “Do as they say, give them a king.”
Right after this happens in the Bible we are introduced to Saul. Saul is introduced in 1 Samuel 9 as the son of a wealthy and influential man, and it also says that he was “the most handsome man in Israel- Head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land.”
Then we see Saul begin a noble quest to become king… Not really! He is only looking for his father’s donkeys with a servant. They are about to give up when they go to see this man of God and see if he can help them find the donkey.
The man of God was Samuel, and God had told him the day before that a man would come and that Samuel was to anoint him as the leader of the Israelites. So, Saul came, and Samuel invited him to eat with him. First, he told him that the donkeys he was looking for were already found. The second thing that he told Saul was that “you and your family are the focus of all Israel’s hope.” The next day Samuel anointed Saul and told him several things that would happen to prove that he was going to be the ruler over Israel. Saul then left and everything that Samuel told him would happen happened.
Later, Samuel gathered all of Israel to reveal to everyone that Saul was now the king of Israel. At first they could not find him because he was hiding in the baggage, but then they brought him out and all of the people were excited to have him as their king.
During this time the Ammonites were attacking the Israelites. They went to a city in Israel called Jabesh-gilead and were going to take it over and do some really mean things to the people there. The citizens from Jabesh called out for help. Saul answered and mobilized the Israelites, and they won the battle. God used Saul to save his people, and Saul gave glory to God.
Saul did not always make good choices though. Later, another one of Israel’s enemies - the Philistines - were attacking them, and they had a large army. The Israelites were so afraid of this massive army that they hid anywhere they could find. Saul was waiting for Samuel to come and present the burnt offering to God. And Saul waited … and waited … and waited. And all during this time of waiting he could see that his troops were scared and starting to leave. So eventually Saul decided to do the burnt offering himself. This might not seem like that big of a deal, but God had told His people that only priests were supposed to do this. Saul was not a priest, so he was disobeying God, which is a big deal. Right when Saul finished, Samuel showed up. Saul knew he had messed up and tried to explain what had happened and why he had disobeyed God, but here is Samuel’s response to Saul in 1 Samuel 13:13-14:
“How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”
Then Saul was left to fight the Philistine army with only 600 of his men left. The Israelites ended up winning the battle, but the Philistines and Israelites fought constantly throughout Saul’s life.
Then God told Saul to defeat the Amalekites and to completely wipe them out, including their livestock. Saul went and destroyed them, but not completely. He took the king captive and kept the best-looking animals. Saul disobeyed God again, and God had told Samuel to confront him. When Samuel found Saul, Saul acted like he had followed what God had told him to do, but Samuel called him out. Once again Saul tried to start making excuses for why he kept the animals, saying he saved them to sacrifice them to the LORD. Samuel replied to him in 1 Samuel 15:22-23, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft, and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the command of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.”
So now the big questions – So What?
Why is any of this important?
First off, the Bible is true! Everything in this story is part of Israel’s history. King Saul was a real person and there is historical evidence that he existed.
Second is that the Bible teaches us things that are helpful today and even though all of this happened about 3,000 years ago we can still learn from it today.
One thing we can learn from King Saul’s story is that God cares if we are following what He says. It does not matter if we do things that make us look good. Saul did some really good things. He saved his people multiple times, and when he did things that disobeyed God, he made it seem like he was doing them for God. He was burning offerings to God and saved the best animals for God, but that is not what God asked him to do. Saul did not love God with all of his heart and did not follow what God said to do. He cared more about how he looked to the people than what God said.
Another big question to ask when reading the Bible is – Now What? Now that I know that God cares more about us following Him than doing things to look good, how does that affect my life?
First thing is you need to know what God is telling you to do. We do that by reading God’s word, the Bible. That is how God has chosen to communicate to us today.
Second, we need to do what God tells us to do. Sometimes that might seem hard. The Bible tells us to do things like love our enemies and care for those who are weak. That can seem hard, but 1 John 5:3 says: Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.”
Burdensome means difficult to carry out.
So doing all the right “religious” things can be good things like going to church and praying and being nice to others, but you can still do those things and not be following what God says. God cares more about us following Him.
How about you? Are you just doing things to look good, or are you following God?
God cares about that. You can try to be a good person and do some really good things, but God cares if you are following him with all of your heart!