The Philistines were a big problem for the Israelites. There was a lot of fighting back and forth, and even when the Israelites won, it wouldn’t be long before the Philistines were treating them badly again. Samson gave the Israelites a victory over the Philistines, but he didn’t completely destroy them. The ones who were left hated the Israelites more than ever!
One thing we’ve learned about the Israelites is that they forgot about God’s power and the things He did for them pretty easily. They would go back to their old ways of disobeying God and not turning to Him for help. A lot of them even thought the false god the Philistines followed was real, and they chose to follow him!
In fact, the book of Judges in your Trailbook ends by saying, “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.”
But while all of this was happening, God was preparing another person to be Israel’s last judge. I love his story because God first spoke to him when he was just a kid. Take a look.
Samuel’s mom, Hannah, asked God to give her a son. God answered her prayer, and Samuel was born. 1 Samuel 3:1 in your Trailbook says that as a boy, Samuel served the Lord by helping Eli. Then it says this: “Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon.” It’s not surprising that Samuel didn’t realize it was God calling his name in the middle of the night. God didn’t speak to people or appear to them very often at all. But God had big plans for Samuel, and Samuel was willing to do whatever God wanted him to do. Let’s take a look at some more verses in the Trailbook. 1 Samuel 3:19-21: As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said proved to be reliable. And all Israel… knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh and gave messages to Samuel there at the Tabernacle. 1 Samuel 4:1: And Samuel’s words went out to all the people of Israel. This says that the Lord was with Samuel, and everything he said was reliable. The people knew the things he said were true, because God was telling him what to say. That’s why it says he was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord. The prophets were people that God spoke to, and then they shared the messages God gave them with the people of Israel. They didn’t have the Bible written down yet, so prophets helped the people know what they should do. Samuel was both a prophet and a judge. God gave messages to him and he shared them with all the people. The people didn’t always want to hear God’s messages, though. Remember how I said the Philistines were a big problem for the Israelites? Well, during this time they were at war again, and both armies were camped out, waiting for battle. The Philistines attacked first and defeated the Israelite army. The Israelites were confused and didn’t know why God had allowed them to be defeated. But instead of asking Samuel for a message from God, they tried to figure it out on their own. That turned out to be a big mistake! Since the Tabernacle was where they prayed to God and honored Him, there was a special box there called the Ark of the Covenant. Many, many years ago, God had given the people instructions for how to build the Tabernacle and the Ark. The Ark was made of wood but covered in pure gold. Inside it were the 10 commandments God had given to the people, and it represented that God was with His people. The Israelites decided they should get the Ark out of the Tabernacle and take it into battle with them. They thought if they had the Ark, God would be with them and they would be able to defeat the Philistines for sure! That was not God’s plan, though. The Ark was important because it belonged to God, but it was not God, and it didn’t have the power to save them. Only God Himself could do that. And since they didn’t ask what God wanted them to do, they made the wrong decision. When the Philistines realized the Israelites had brought the Ark, they were afraid, so they determined they would have to fight harder to win. They defeated the Israelites even worse than the first time, and this time they captured the Ark. The Philistines took the Ark into their temple and put it next to a statue of their false god, Dagon. The next morning, the statue of Dagon had tipped over! They set it back up, but the next morning, it had tipped over again! This time, its head and hands had broken off. God knocked the statue of Dagon over in front of His Ark to show the Philistines that He was the true and powerful God, not Dagon! Eventually the Philistines realized God was angry with them for taking the Ark away from Israel, so they decided to send it back. But the people of Israel still weren’t turning to God with their whole hearts. They were still doing whatever they wanted to do without asking what God wanted. They were even following the false gods of other nations like the Philistines. They were frustrated because they felt like God had abandoned them, but the truth was they had abandoned God. Samuel said to the people, “If you want to return to the Lord with all your hearts, get rid of your foreign gods... Turn your hearts to the Lord and obey him alone; then he will rescue you from the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:3). This time, the people listened! They got rid of all their false gods and decided to follow the one true God with all their hearts. Samuel prayed for God to help Israel, and God answered him. While he was still praying, the Philistines attacked. God sent thunder from Heaven, and the Philistines were so confused and scared that the Israelites defeated them. The Philistines didn’t bother the Israelites again for a very long time! Samuel lived for many years as a judge and prophet in Israel. He was the last judge, actually, because the people decided they wanted a king instead. Samuel appointed the first two kings who were chosen by God.
The reason Samuel was such a great leader was because He loved God with all his heart, and he also led the people to follow God. God used him to do some great things because of that. God wants us to follow Him with all our hearts, too. Sometimes it’s easy to be like the Israelites and do whatever we think is best without really thinking about what God wants. But that can lead to a lot of problems, and we miss out on opportunities to see God do amazing things when we don’t turn to Him. God proved over and over again that He was the true and powerful God! Now let’s choose to love Him, obey Him, and turn to Him with all our hearts!