|I think that this is the Roman Forum|
It was a long time ago when I visited - 1972
The Role of the Old Testament Judge
Our English term judge does not accurately convey the role of a judge in the day of Samuel. While it is true that one of the things that the judge did in that day was to settle disagreements among disputing parties; that was only one of their roles. The Hebrew word, usually translated “judge,” means not only an arbitrator of conflicts, but also could refer to one who acted as a governor, or even a military commander. The judges of Israel also usually served to raise awareness of the moral and spiritual life among the people. They even sometimes spoke for God as a prophet.
God is, in fact, the supreme Judge who does settle disputes. However, more than that, he ministers to his people in every way and will rescue them from difficult situations. In some ways the Israelite judges also fulfilled those roles. God chose and appointed the judges as his representatives to intervene in matters where he wanted to work.
Jephthah, an earlier judge, appealed to God as the Judge above all. At the time, Jephthah sent word to the king of the Ammonites about a dispute that the king had with him. After explaining his position, Jephthah told him, “May the LORD, the Judge, decide today between the Israelites and the Ammonites” (Judges 11:27).
God was and is the supreme Judge, but in those days, he called each of the Israelite judges to act on his behalf during a time of national oppression that came from neighboring hostile nations. Each was given the charge to deliver the Israelites from outside aggression. Some succeeded better than others in this, but God appointed each one to deliver the people. In fact, the term deliverer may be a better designation than judge, for it more accurately conveys their role.
There were fifteen judges in all, the first one being Othniel, who rescued Israel from the Aramians. Some of the most well-known of the judges were Deborah, Gideon and Samson. Jephthah may not be as familiar to us, but he is actually listed in the New Testament book of Hebrews as an example of a strong faith in God, as some of the other judges also are. None of these rulers were perfect however, and in fact with most of them, failures in their personal characters surfaced near the end of their term, at least up until the last judge, who was Samuel.
God brought deliverance for the Israelites through each of these judges, and even some religious and moral reform. But the reform never lasted. As the author of the book of Judges summarizes in chapter two:
Israel, did not listen to their judges. Instead, they prostituted themselves with other gods and bowed down to them. They quickly turned from the way of their fathers, who had walked in obedience to the LORD’s commandments; they did not do as their fathers had done.
Whenever the LORD raised up a judge for the Israelites, He was with that judge and saved them from the hands of their enemies while the judge was still alive; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning under those who oppressed them and afflicted them.
But when the judge died, the Israelites became even more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods to serve them and bow down to them. They would not give up their evil practices and stubborn ways. (Judges 2:16-19 BSB)
Samuel, the Last Judge
After such a buildup regarding the birth of Samuel in the first chapters of the book that bears his name, and after we are told of his dedication to the House of the Lord and his calling by God, we are actually given very little specific information about his years as a judge of Israel. In fact, the major portion of the two books of the Bible that are given his name as titles (First and Second Samuel) speak much more about the first kings of Saul and David than they do of Samuel.
But there are some important summaries of Samuel’s life in the pages of the book that bears his name. Near the end of chapter three we read one of these about the early days of Samuel as a young man:
And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and He let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. So all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the LORD. And the LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word. (1 Samuel 3:19-21 BSB)
There are some forceful statements in these words. Samuel was universally recognized as the prophet and leader sent to Israel by God. By saying “all Israel from Dan to Beersheba,” the meaning was that from the farthest north to the farthest south. The tribe of Dan was the northernmost tribe, and Beersheba was in the furthest in the south.
Then, at the end of chapter seven of First Samuel, we read another summarizing statement about his life:
So Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. Every year he would go on a circuit from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all these places. Then he would return to Ramah because his home was there, and there he judged Israel and built an altar to the LORD. (1 Samuel 7:15-17 BSB)
There seemed to have been no controversy among the people in recognizing the leadership of Samuel as the one sent by the Lord to be their judge. The people accepted him and followed him.
Nevertheless, the mood was slowly changing in the nation. Samuel was not to have an easy tenure.
Eli and His Sons
The High Priest Eli would be considered the judge just before Samuel. As far as has been recorded in the Scriptures, the only opposition that he faced from another nation during his forty years as priest and judge was with the Philistines at the very end of his life—a battle that was lost and in which the Ark of the Lord was taken.
Eli did not seem to be an overtly evil man, but neither did he raise the level of the spiritual life in Israel. His sons, on the other hand, were known for their wickedness. Although Eli asked his sons about what they were doing and gave them a slight verbal reprimand, he did nothing to stop them.
The word of the Lord came to Eli saying, “You have honored your sons more than me by fattening yourselves with the best of all the offerings of my people Israel.”
God at one time told Eli that although he was of the priestly line whose family would continue to hold the office of priest, God was then reconsidering. A prophet brought to Eli these words:
The LORD, the God of Israel, declares:
“I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.”
But now the LORD declares:
“Far be it from Me! For I will honor those who honor Me, but those who despise Me will be disdained.
Behold, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your father’s house, so that no older man will be left in your house.” (1 Samuel 2:30-31 BSB)
Samuel and His Sons
Samuel did better as a judge. As we saw in the sermon last week, under his leadership the Israelites committed themselves to real moral and spiritual reform. It seems like they also stayed true to that commitment for some years.
But there was trouble even within the Samuel household. Samuel also had two sons. When the father was getting old, he appointed the two sons to be the judges in Israel. However, the two young men were not ethically qualified to hold the office. They did not follow the example of their father. It was said of them that they “turned aside toward dishonest gain by accepting bribes and perverting justice.”
We do not know the reason that the sons did not follow after their father. If there was a failure of fatherhood on the part of Samuel in some way, it is not given to us.
The refusal of children to continue to walk in the faith that they have been taught by their parents can be because of many reasons, most of them usually unknown. In the end, each child has his or her own will, and they can choose what to believe and what not to believe. Parents can present them with truth, but the child always remains free to reject it if he or she chooses—sometimes to the deep hurt of their parents.
But all that being said, at the time Israel was once again in a leadership crisis. The elders of Israel came to Samuel at his home in the town of Ramah and presented to him their concern, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways.”
This Samuel could not deny. But the request of the elders did not please him:
“Now appoint a king to judge us like all the other nations.”
Stepping Away from God
I mentioned that the two books of First and Second Samuel are mostly comprised of the accounts of the first kings of Israel. The new emphasis in writing about the kings rather than the prophets of God that we see in the two books of Samuel is an indication of a momentous shift in government that was taking place in that day. This movement in the politics of the period saw the people of Israel taking a step away from the kingdom of God, and a step toward conforming to the system of the world.
In the life of the nation of Israel, this emphasis on the desire for a king to lead the nation rather than a prophet of God also reveals to us what was morally taking place among the people. The shift in moral emphasis may have been not so obvious at first, but it slowly began the newly formed nation of Israel down a path that would radically alter the way that they related to God. The movement would eventually turn them into a secular society.
The Desire for a King
It was true that the people were uneasy about the future under the leadership of Samuel’s two corrupt sons, but they also could have remembered that God could replace the two unfit leaders with righteous leadership, as he did with Eli’s two evil sons. The time God gave them Samuel to be their judge was within the living memory of the people. God took the lives of the two wicked sons of Eli and instead gave them Samuel as their judge—a man whom they all respected.
But for God to do this, the people had to give him the freedom to act in this regard. This was something that they apparently were unwilling to do.
Samuel no doubt felt some regret at this rejection of his sons, even if he could see the reasoning. What bothered him more than that however, was the statement of the elders that the Israelites wanted a government like all the other nations. They wanted a king.
But it was not Samuel who was the most deeply hurt by this request. The Lord spoke to Samuel:
Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you. For it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected Me as their king. Just as they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking Me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.
Now listen to them, but you must solemnly warn them and show them the manner of the king who will reign over them. (1 Samuel 8:7-9 BSB)
This is what Samuel did. Samuel told the people how a king would draft their sons into military service and appoint others as his personal attendants. Others he would take to work his fields and crops on his property, which by the way, will be of their best fields that he will confiscate for himself. Some of the sons will be required to make his weaponry. A king will would also take the daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. There would also be taxes, one tenth of all of their produce.
Samuel warned the people, “When that day comes, you will beg for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you on that day.”
His words and warnings seemed to make no difference to the people: No!” they said. “We must have a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to judge us, to go out before us, and to fight our battles.”
“Listen to them,” the LORD said to Samuel. “Appoint a king for them.”
Another Step Away from God
In the eyes of God, it was yet another step away from him. It was one of several that there has been in history, and in each case, the heart of God was saddened.
The first was in the Garden of Eden. In the first days of the earth, God had perfect fellowship with the man and woman whom he had created to live in that place. But believing the lie of Satan, the man and woman rebelled against the One who had made them. They stepped away from having a close relationship with their Father.
There were numerous other events that followed where God’s people showed by their actions or words that they did not want to have a close relationship to him. This happened in the days of Noah when the people lived in great wickedness, and it happened at Babel where the people of that age attempted to build a great tower to show the supreme power of mankind instead of the sovereignty of God.
It happened also with the numerous grumblings against God in the years of the wilderness when God attempted to lead his people to the Promised Land. They wanted to return instead to the slavery of the Pharaoh.
In each case, God tried to intervene. He attempted to bring his people back to him. He often sent spokesmen and spokeswomen to demonstrate his love and concern for his people. God sent Noah. He also sent Abraham and Joseph and Moses. Through these individuals and others he tried to speak to his people.
He did also sometimes send rebuke in the forms of hardships or famine, but all were meant to bring his people back to a loving relationship with him. In each case, there was an eventual movement back to him, but it was short-lived and incomplete.
It was the same in the days of the judges. It was in Samuel’s day that it happened again. The judges, as imperfect as they were, were the men and women whom God had sent to teach the Israelites his ways and to walk in his paths. But the people rejected them. They took another step away from God.
“We want a king like the other nations,” the people said.
“Listen to them,” the Lord said to Samuel. “Appoint a king for them.”
The World Continues to Step Away from God
The same pattern continued throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament until the writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that “in these last days, God sent to us his Son.”
Jesus Christ was not only a representative from God—He was God Himself. God Himself has visited us. What have we done to him?
As in the days of Noah and of Abraham, and as in the last days of Samuel the judge, Jesus mourned how he was rejected. In a lament over the city of Jerusalem, Jesus spoke these words:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! Look, your house is left to you desolate. And I tell you that you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:34-35 BSB)
I am afraid the same thing is happening in our own day and even in our own country. Our nation was by no means perfect in its early years, but it was apparent to many of our leaders of those days that the blessing of God was upon the land. But since those early days, we have moved quite far away from God.
As it was in the days of the judges of Israel, there have been some occasions and even some years in our own history when it seemed that we were returning to God. But also as in the days of the judges, those occasions did not last. We as a nation came to several points of choosing to follow the ways of God or to choose a different path, and lately it seems that the choice has consistently been to move away from the Word of the Lord.
We are at one of those points right now, in this present day. I pointed out in the previous two Sundays how in just the past few months God, has hit our nation with such unprecedented tragedies that it is difficult to ignore that we have some very important choices to make in our own day.
It is not only true of a nation, but it is true for every individual. It is true for you and it is true for me. God brings us to points of decisions. How we decide can have long-lasting consequences.
I believe that considering the days of Samuel can help us to receive some clear guidance.
Will it be as we learned two weeks ago? That was when the daughter-in-law of the former judge Eli declared, “Ichabod! The glory of the Lord has departed.”
Or will we like Samuel twenty years later?
After an extended time of seeking the Lord and of repentance, will we come to a point of remembrance were we can set up a marker and declare,
“Ebenezer! Thus far the Lord has helped us!”
 Shaphat (Strong’s number 8199)
 Hebrews 11:32