God brought deliverance from the enemies of Israel 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 2:17-19 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 the town of 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 their actions 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 told Eli at one time that although he was of the priestly line whose family would continue to hold the office of priest, God was reconsidering this arrangement. 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. 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 these reasons usually unknown by the parents. 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, Israel was at the time 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:
The elders said to Samuel, “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, who with some notable exceptions simply inherited the throne, rather than the judges, who each had been specifically called of God, 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 judge appointed by 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 started the 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 Samuel to the people as their judge—a man whom they all respected.
But for God to again give them a righteous leader, the people had to give God the freedom to act in this regard. This was something that they apparently were no longer willing to do.
Samuel no doubt felt some regret at this rejection of his sons, even if he could see the reasoning for the rejection. 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 the king 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 their sons will be required to make weaponry. A king will also take the daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. There would also be taxes, one tenth of all of their produce.
In short, the freedoms of the people would be taken away and they would be required to do as the king commanded them. 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 had 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 same pattern continued throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament. God sent his word through his representatives to provide leadership to his people. None of these representatives could be called completely perfect in their actions; each had their personal failures in their lives—the Bible does not try to hide that fact. These personal failures were undeniable hindrances to the message of God, but despite these failures, God’s message was available to any and all who truly sought it.
And despite the occasional revival of faith, the culture as a whole was in decline. It was on a path away from God, heading toward believing that they controlled their own futures.
Our Nation Steps Away from God
In our own nation, just as in ancient Israel, we are on a trajectory to lose all thought of God in our lives. It is not as if God has not tried to counsel us. He has given us his clear directions, and he has sent spokespeople to express his thoughts and warnings to us.
But we have not listened and we have not heard. As a result, we have seen some significant failures in our government. We have seen our lawmakers pass regulations and policies that actually encourage unrighteous behavior. Our leaders seem to have lost sight of the vision of the founders of our nation, who wished to form a government based largely on principles found in the Scriptures.
Assessing Failure Without Pointing Fingers
I have been making the case in the past few weeks that the Lord has withdrawn his blessing from America. We may think that our economy is spiraling downward because of poor economic policies. Some may think that we are seeing school shootings and other terrible shootings because of poor gun control laws or because of a lack of mental health clinics. But I am saying that we are seeing the degrading of our nation because God has withdrawn his blessing from our land. We have disobeyed his word and he has taken away his hand of blessing.
We can talk of failures in government policies, but we all know that the guilt strikes much closer to home than that. The root of our failures in following God’s word comes down to each one of us. Each time we compromise with sin and each time we excuse an unfulfilled commitment that we have made, or a wrong behavior, we are moving closer to a seismic collapse in our lives.
Paul puts it this way:
Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, outcry and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and tenderhearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32 BSB)
Among you…there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed.
Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk, or crude joking, which are out of character, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure, or greedy person (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:3-5 BSB)
I think you will agree that this is quite a list. Who of us have never said anything unwholesome? Who of us have not held on to a bitterness that we felt against someone? Who of us have never felt rage or anger?
Of course we all have. We are all far from perfect in our lives. But it is when we do not work to resolve those issues; it is when we hold on to them or just let them pass as “the way that we are,” or “that it is just a little thing” that we begin our trend away from God.
“It’s just human nature,” we may tell ourselves.
It may be human nature, but if you are a believer and follower of Jesus Christ, it is not your nature. Even though we still live here on this earth, we must die to our old earthly nature live with a new heavenly nature.
Living in the New Nature
We are about to observe the Lord’s Supper. Dying to the old life and learning to live in the new life is what the Lord’s Supper is all about.
Paul also has something to say about this. In fact, he speaks about it quite a lot:
For if we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. For anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6:5-7).
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24)
Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, the components of your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience. When you lived among them, you also used to walk in these ways. But now you must put aside all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
Do not lie to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, or free, but Christ is all and is in all.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with one another and forgive any complaint you may have against someone else. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which is the bond of perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, for to this you were called as members of one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:1-15 BSB)
It's all quite a lot to take in, but every word true. Jesus puts it more succinctly: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Although our nation may be drifting away from God, you and I do not have to. In any regard, this country or even this earth is not our permanent home. We must begin to learn to live with our new nature of our new creation.