Saul, Israel's First King

Last week we talked about how Israel demanded a king. The judge system didn’t seem to be working for them, sons were not being as just as their fathers, and they wanted something different—something that seemed to be working for the other nations around them. If you’ll remember, Samuel who was the judge of Israel at the time was not too keen on the idea.

However, God listened to Israel and decided to give them what they want, for good or for ill. He told Samuel that Israel would have a king, and God would pick them man. Then God revealed to Samuel that the chosen man was Saul, a man of the tribe of Benjamin.

Samuel hadn’t yet told the people of Israel that God had decided they would get a king, but when he identified Saul, he told him and anointed him. Samuel then sent Saul on his way home with a prophecy of different signs he would see on his way home. Lo and behold, Saul encountered every single one of those signs.

When Saul got home though it’s important to note that he did not tell a single soul about his destiny. His servant didn’t know—because Samuel had sent him on ahead—and Saul does not tell any of his relatives. He keeps it a secret. Not because Samuel asked him too--Samuel didn’t really say anything on that matter—but for other reasons. Maybe despite everything he still didn’t really believe it? Or maybe he just didn’t want the job. We don’t know. We just know he didn’t tell anyone.

Israel however had not been told yet that they would have a king or that that king would be Saul. Today we’ll see how Samuel breaks this news, how they accept Saul, and what king of start Saul’s monarchy gets off to.

So please turn your Bibles to 1 Samuel 10:17-19.

17 Samuel summoned the people to the Lord at Mizpah 18 and said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ 19 But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses; and you have said, ‘No! but set a king over us.’ Now therefore present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your clans.”

Samuel basically calls a huge meeting of all the Israelites. Not just the elders, but every single person. That would be like the largest church meeting you could ever imagine. Then the first thing he does is lecture them. He reminds them of everything that God has done for them and that be demanding a king they are rejecting God. Because remember it is God who is supposed to be king over Israel. They have rejected this Godly kingship and are demanding a human king. But Samuel tells them that God is going to give them a human king.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 10:20-22?

20 Then Samuel brought all the tribes of Israel near, and the tribe of Benjamin was taken by lot. 21 He brought the tribe of Benjamin near by its families, and the family of the Matrites was taken by lot. Finally he brought the family of the Matrites near man by man, and Saul the son of Kish was taken by lot. But when they sought him, he could not be found. 22 So they inquired again of the Lord, “Did the man come here?” and the Lord said, “See, he has hidden himself among the baggage.”

Okay so before we get to deep into this what does taken by lot mean. Well let’s demonstrate.

[Hand out slips of paper to everyone. One slip of paper should say something like “KING.” Don’t let them look at the papers at first and then have them all turn them over. Have whoever’s paper says king come forward.]

There you are now the king of all Israel. You were just chosen by lot. Basically lot means lottery, and sort of like choosing the short stick.

Why do this? Why choose king by lot when God already chose the king? [Ask the class, let the student who was chosen sit down.]

Well Samuel already knew God has chosen Saul but the people didn’t know that. And sure Samuel could have just gotten in front of everyone and said “God decried Saul to be king!” But I think Samuel did this so people would see it was clearly God’s will. Lotteries are generally viewed to be about luck, but they would have viewed it as God’s will. Only the man God could have chosen would be the one who gets the slip of paper, or whatever it was that said King! Otherwise they might think it’s Samuel choosing the king, instead of God.

So first Samuel had each tribe take a lot, and that chose the tribe of Benjamin. Then he had every man in Benjamin take one, and then that chose Saul. But did Saul who had had time to think about being king and what that meant, did he gallantly step forward and assume his position as the first king of Israel?

No. He ran away and hid.

This is directly in line with Saul not telling anyone he got the job, and this makes it clear, Saul doesn’t want the job. Now some of the best leaders in history come from people who didn’t want the job. They didn’t want power or wealth. But they still—when push came to shove—did the job. There’s a famous story about one of the early Roman dictators. He was called into duty to be dictator over Rome while they were at war, and then as soon as the war was over he gave up his absolute power—letting Rome go back to being a democracy and then he went back to work his fields. We laud these sorts of stories. However, the difference here is the Roman realized he did need to do the job first. Saul doesn’t want this job at all and he hides—not just from Israel but tries to hide from God—God who gave him this destiny.

But can we hide from God? No. So his hiding is not successful and he is found among the baggage. Let’s see what Israel thinks of this man who would be king, after he hid from them. Can someone read 1 Samuel 10:23-25?

23 Then they ran and brought him from there. When he took his stand among the people, he was head and shoulders taller than any of them. 24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see the one whom the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among all the people.” And all the people shouted, “Long live the king!”

25 Samuel told the people the rights and duties of the kingship; and he wrote them in a book and laid it up before the Lord. Then Samuel sent all the people back to their homes. 

Saul is brought before the people. Once again it’s pointed out how tall Saul is compared to everyone else. Tall and kingly perhaps. However, my commentary when I was reading this section also mentioned that to this point in the Bible the only people who had been mentioned as being tall were enemies of Israel. So perhaps this is foreshadowing that Saul’s kingship will not be quite in Israel’s best interest.

However, Samuel declares Saul king, declares how there is no one like him, and the people seem to accept Saul.

Samuel then lectures everyone on the duties of a king, because remember to this point, Israel hasn’t had a king, and it’s not like they have a constitution or anything. So how would the average person even know what a king should do? Well turns out the Israelites have these whole books of laws that we’ve talked about before, the law in the first five books of the Bible, mostly found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.  And turns out there is a whole section on kings! Can someone flip back to Deuteronomy 17:14-20?

14 When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” 15 you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community. 16 Even so, he must not acquire many horses for himself, or return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, since the Lord has said to you, “You must never return that way again.” 17 And he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself. 18 When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the levitical priests. 19 It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel.

This section starts with talking about the people arriving in the promised land and then demanding a king like all the other nations. That sure does sound familiar doesn’t it? That’s exactly the situation we’re in now, turns out God knew this would happen. And so he was able to set up some limits to royal authority from the beginning. First, he tells them they must choose a king from among Israel, they can’t choose a foreigner. Makes sense, if the person is to be the king of Israel and since Israel is God’s chosen people.

But the section also goes on to say that the king basically shouldn’t hoard wealth for himself. Horses. Wives. Gold. Having much of these things is against the law. And as king, it says, he should also be very familiar with the law, the scripture of God, and read it all the time and learn from it, and realize that he is second to God.

That is the key part here, that the king realize he is no better than any other citizen of Israel and that is too is answerable to God.

As far as laws that are in place to limit authority this isn’t much. The constitution is actually a lot longer when describing presidential power. Those verses we just read are less than 300 words when translated into English. The section of the Constitution describing Presidential Power—Article II—is around 1,000 words. That’s over three times as much. And our constitution is not super detailed on things. It’s a pretty high level document.

God goes even higher level with the kings. Because ultimately it all boils down to one thing: the King should obey the greatest commandment: Deut 6:5, Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind. If the king does that he won’t acquire wealth for himself. He won’t abuse his people. And he will love God. It’s that simple.

And yet as we’ll see it’s very hard. There are many temptations in being king, and almost every single king of Israel will fall prey to at least one of them. Saul, David, Solomon, and all the kings described later, none of them are perfect because they were only human. Some though certainly do a better job than others.

Moving on can someone read 1 Samuel 10:26-27?

26 Saul also went to his home at Gibeah, and with him went warriors whose hearts God had touched. 27 But some worthless fellows said, “How can this man save us?” They despised him and brought him no present. But he held his peace.

Now Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had not gouged out. But there were seven thousand men who had escaped from the Ammonites and had entered Jabesh-gilead.

After being declared king Saul goes home. There really isn’t a royal city or a palace or anything like that at this point. He just has his family home he lives in. Some warriors are called by God to go with him, to protect him, sort of like a secret service I imagine as well as being the base for his army. People immediately begin talking smack about Saul. And to be fair, Saul’s hiding in the baggage didn’t exactly start him out on a great foot with everyone.

The Bible indicates Saul knew people were speaking poorly of him, but that he held his peace, i.e. he didn’t do anything about it. Saul probably knew he needed to prove himself—not just to them but to himself. After all this is the man who hid from being king. Saul might secretly on the inside agree with them. How can he save them?

Meanwhile, the Bible switches to telling us about these people called Ammonites. They were oppressing two of the tribes of Israel, Gad and Reuben and they were making people gouge out their right eye, which is weirdly specific and awful. But some men from the oppressed tribes did escape, and get the message of what was happening to the rest of Israel.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 11:5-8?

5 Now Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen; and Saul said, “What is the matter with the people, that they are weeping?” So they told him the message from the inhabitants of Jabesh. 6 And the spirit of God came upon Saul in power when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. 7 He took a yoke of oxen, and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the Lord fell upon the people, and they came out as one. 8 When he mustered them at Bezek, those from Israel were three hundred thousand, and those from Judah seventy thousand.

So Saul is out working his field when he sees a whole bunch of people crying. When he asks they tell him what’s going on in Gad and Rueben. This makes Saul angry! The spirit of God comes over him, and he kills his own oxen. He then sends bit of the oxen all over the kingdom saying, “If you do not come out to help fight this atrocity, then your oxen too will die!”

Why the threat? That doesn’t seem very nice, “come with me or else we will come kill your very valuable animals that you need to survive.” Well remember that before Saul becomes king, Israel was just a coalition of tribes. And this treat of the Ammonites is only against two specific tribes of Israel. Back then, other tribes didn’t always go to the help of each other. Israelites really only rose up in mass to form a national multi tribe army when it was a threat that affected every single tribe. In cases where it affected one or two tribes, the other tribes would just shrug their shoulders and say “eh, that’s their problem.”

God through Saul is trying to form a cohesive nation here. And in this case only the threat works to bring everyone together to fight against the Ammonites. Also note that Saul says “Saul and Samuel” are calling for an army. That’s because Saul’s kingship is so new he’s not sure people will answer just to him. But Samuel is known throughout the land as the prophet of the Lord, and his name carries more authority than Saul’s at this point.

In the end a large army is pulled together.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 11:11-14?

11 The next day Saul put the people in three companies. At the morning watch they came into the camp and cut down the Ammonites until the heat of the day; and those who survived were scattered, so that no two of them were left together.

12 The people said to Samuel, “Who is it that said, ‘Shall Saul reign over us?’ Give them to us so that we may put them to death.” 13 But Saul said, “No one shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has brought deliverance to Israel.”

14 Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the Lord, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.

Saul forms his people into three companies—basically three divisions of the army—and then they attack the Ammonites and they win. Those they don’t kill they scatter so they can’t band together and form an army.

It’s a great victory, and Saul’s first real act as king. Everyone is suitably impressed. And someone is like “Hey remember those dudes who doubted Saul would be an awesome king? Let’s put them to death!”

Seems a little extreme and thankfully Saul is like “No let’s not do that. God has delivered us all this day so let’s show mercy to everyone.” Showing mercy is definitely a quality you want in a king.

Now that everyone is impressed by Saul and thinks he’s going to be an awesome king, Samuel is like “Let’s redo this whole making Saul king thing.” So they go and basically re-king Saul, this time without Saul running away and with all the people of Israel thinking he’s an awesome choice.

Someone please read 1 Samuel 13:2-7.

2 Saul chose three thousand out of Israel; two thousand were with Saul in Michmash and the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan in Gibeah of Benjamin; the rest of the people he sent home to their tents. 3 Jonathan defeated the garrison of the Philistines that was at Geba; and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, “Let the Hebrews hear!” 4 When all Israel heard that Saul had defeated the garrison of the Philistines, and also that Israel had become odious to the Philistines, the people were called out to join Saul at Gilgal.

5 The Philistines mustered to fight with Israel, thirty thousand chariots, and six thousand horsemen, and troops like the sand on the seashore in multitude; they came up and encamped at Michmash, to the east of Beth-aven. 6 When the Israelites saw that they were in distress (for the troops were hard pressed), the people hid themselves in caves and in holes and in rocks and in tombs and in cisterns. 7 Some Hebrews crossed the Jordan to the land of Gad and Gilead. Saul was still at Gilgal, and all the people followed him trembling.

During this time there were Philistines still in Israal. They had a garrison—basically an army camp—at a city called Geba. Saul created an army to fight this threat and split them into two. He took most of the army and then gave the rest to Jonathan. We haven’t been properly introduced to Jonathan in the narrative at this point, but for your knowledge he is Saul’s firstborn son. And we’re going t ohave a whole lesson just to steady him later.

So Jonathan takes his smaller group of men and defeats the Philistine garrison at Geba. And the Israelites are ecstatically happy about this. But when the Philistines here about it they are completely enraged and basically call up their whole army in retaliation. Chariots, horsemen, troops so many that they’re compared to the amount of sand on a beach. The Israelites don’t have the numbers to counter this sort of army, so the Israelite army just like disbands and hides, trying to do their best to stay alive in the face of this massive threat.

What’s a king like Saul to do in the face of this? Well he decides to call Samuel—the prophet of God—so Samuel can make a sacrifice to God on their behalf, give the people some hope, and maybe tell him what God wants him to do. All in all it’s not a bad plan.

Someone please read 1 Samuel 13:8-12.

8 He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people began to slip away from Saul. 9 So Saul said, “Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the offerings of well-being.” And he offered the burnt offering. 10 As soon as he had finished offering the burnt offering, Samuel arrived; and Saul went out to meet him and salute him. 11 Samuel said, “What have you done?” Saul replied, “When I saw that the people were slipping away from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines were mustering at Michmash, 12 I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down upon me at Gilgal, and I have not entreated the favor of the Lord’; so I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering.”

So Saul is waiting and waiting and waiting for Samuel. Apparently Samuel had said he’d be there in seven days, but the people are scarred so the army is just slipping away in the time passing. Finally Saul gets impatient and is basically like “Why do I need a prophet to do the offering? I’ll just do it myself.”

Which he does.

Is Saul a priest? No. Is Saul even a Levite? No! He’s a Benjaminite. It’s his job to study God’s law, to know what it says, and to lead his people, but he is king not priest. And he doesn’t care and just does it anyway.

And like as soon as he’s done it Samuel arrives. Samuel’s not even really late. He said he would be there on the seventh day and he shows up on the seventh day, just later in the day than Saul would have liked.

Saul goes out to great Samuel and Samuel is just like “What on earth have you done?’ And Saul just makes excuses. People were leaving. Samuel was late. The Philistines are coming. HE didn’t have time. So he was *forced*, he says. FORCED with no choice but to do the offering himself.

No choice but to break God’s law and do it himself instead of waiting for God’s prophet.

Do you think Samuel is going to accept this answer? [Let them answer.] Do you think God is going to accept this answer? [Let them answer.] No. Saul has majorly overstepped his bounds as king, he has overstepped the law, and God is not going to let that stand.

Can someone please read 1 Samuel 13:13-15?

13 Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you. The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, 14 but now your kingdom will not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart; and the Lord has appointed him to be ruler over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” 15 And Samuel left and went on his way from Gilgal. The rest of the people followed Saul to join the army; they went up from Gilgal toward Gibeah of Benjamin.

Samuel yells at Saul, rightfully so. He tells him he has done wrong—he went against God’s commands. He says God would have made his kingdom last forever—not that Saul would live forever but rather that his son would be king after him and his sons son after him. And so on and so forth, and if Saul hadn’t broken this law Jesus might have been descended from Saul instead of David to be king forever, as a descendent of the house of Saul! But no. Saul broke the law, he broke the commandments, and thus his kingdom will not continue.

Samuel tells him that God just wanted a man who would seek after God to be king, and that Saul was clearly not that.

So Samuel leaves Saul here.

Saul still has an army, Saul is still king in the eyes of the people, but he is no longer king in the eyes of Samuel or more importantly God.

Samuel is about to find a new king, an unexpected boy, one who will seek after God. And we’re about to enter a period of not just war with external nations, but a period of Civil War in Israel’s history.

Because a kingdom cannot have two kings.

Samuel and Israel's Demand for a King

Last week we talked about Eli, his two sons, and Samuel. If you’ll remember Eli was the head priest, and he had two wicked sons who were doing a lot of terrible things. For this God punished them. The two sons both died on the same day in the same battle, and the Ark of the Covenant—the symbol of God’s presence in Israel—was taken out of Israel by the Philistines.

Meanwhile, Samuel grew up to be a righteous and true man. He answered God’s call, delivered some unpleasant news to Eli, and served as a prophet of God and a judge over Israel.

So today we’ll start with what happened to the Ark of the Covenant. Did it just stay in Philistine forever? Let’s find out. Please get your Bibles and turn to 1 Samuel 5:1-4. Before you read just know that Dagon is one of the Philistine’s gods and when they say “Dagon” they mean a statue of Dagon.

5 When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod; 2 then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and placed it beside Dagon. 3 When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4 But when they rose early on the next morning, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.

The Philistines take the Ark and put it in the house of Dagon. Dagon would be a god they would worship for weather and military success, so it makes sense that Dagon is the god the military people would worship and take the Ark to. Bringing the Ark there would symbolize to the Philistines that their god defeated the Israelite God. So they put the Ark next to the statue of Dagon. Then the next day they come into the temple, and Dagon’s statue is on the ground face down “before the ark” almost as if the statue of Dagon is in a submissive or worshipful pose before the representation of Israel’s God.

Now I’m sure the Philistines were just like “This is a fluke” which is why they put the statue back up and let it be. But then the next day when they come in not only is Dagon back face down on the ground before the ark but his head and hands have been cut off. To say this unnerved the people is a bit of an understatement.

After this there was sickness and boils in the town, as long as the Ark was in the town, they felt physically ill. Because the Ark did not belong there, and it did not belong to them. They even tried moving it to another Philistine town, but that just moved the sickness and oppressive feelings to the other town. Can someone read 1 Samuel 6:1-3?

6 The ark of the Lord was in the country of the Philistines seven months. 2 Then the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us what we should send with it to its place.” 3 They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed and will be ransomed; will not his hand then turn from you?”

For seven months, the Philistine deal with the bad presence of the Ark of the Covenant in their midst and finally they’re like “enough is enough! How do we get this thing away from us?’ To the surprise of no one, their priests are like “the answer is send it away, but with extra presents!” After all if someone is going to steal something and then return it to you, extra presents can only help.

We’re going to skip through this fast, but basically what they do is load up a cart with the ark and some presents and then just let the animals go. They’re basically like “We’re not going to take it back by hand, that would be suicide, but if this God is all that powerful, then he’ll lead the animals to the right place.”

And lo and behold, that’s totally what happens. The ark shows up in a town called Beth-shemesh. And everyone is super thrilled the ark is back. And they all lived happily ever after!

Except not quite. Cuz the book doesn’t end here.

Samuel is the judge of Israel during all this time. As we read last week, he was a very good and righteous man, who followed God. He leads Israel from the time Eli dies until he is very old. And that is where we’re going to pick up now. So this is many years later. Can someone read 1 Samuel 8:1-3?

8 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. 2 The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beer-sheba. 3 Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.

Samuel is old but still judge over all of Israel. He also sets up his sons as judges but like Eli’s sons they are not righteous. As judges they take bribes, letting that influence their decisions, instead of meting out justice. Why is this? Is it simply that every next generation is inherently worse than the one before? Well Samuel defies that because he was young and more righteous than Eli. However, Samuel wasn’t related to Eli. Samuel was called by God to be a prophet. So perhaps that is more the issue. People being handed jobs due to having a legacy that they did not deserve. This inheritance system was simply not working when it came to priests and judges.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 8:4-6?

4 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, 5 and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” 6 But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord,

The elders come to Samuel and basically say “hey this judge system isn’t working for us anymore. We need a king.” And Samuel is not happy about this at all. Why isn’t he happy? Well they’re basically saying he’s not good enough for them. They’re basically firing him, after he’s been their prophet for decades. But more importantly he knows they are not trusting in God. Because it’s God’s current plan for them to have prophets.

As for the people, why did they even want a king? What good is a king anyway?

Well one reason they say right in their statement. Samuel’s sons have failed them. So it’s less an indictment of Samuel and more of one of his sons. The system for raising up new judges is not very good. It’s spotty at best. Sure God calls people, but he only calls people when he thinks Israel needs it. What about the times in between when people are just having normal disputes? Well that’s where we have these sons of judges covering the gaps and they’re just not doing a good job, whether it’s Samuel’s sons, Eli’s sons, or even going back into Judges you can see this with some of the other sons of Judges.

The other reason they say in their statement is they want to be like other nations. Every other nation has a king, so why don’t they? In reality God is supposed to be their king, but in the day to day, it probably didn’t feel like that to the average Israelite.

And Israel back then wouldn’t have been a nation like we think of them. At best it was twelve loosely connected clans, who all went to the same judge/prophet to settle disputes. But a king! A king would bind them all together into a “real” nation, like the other nations around them. In many ways, I think they’re asking for a sense of national identity. They have a religious identity, as Israelites and God’s chosen people, but basically they’re saying that religious identity is not good enough. They need a patriotic one too.

Also as we’ve read there have been a lot of battles in Israel’s history. They would look to a king to be a military leader—a consistent military leader that they could look to for protection. That would mean a lot to them back then, when they’re constantly getting attacked and taken over by some bordering nation or another.

These people didn’t just wake up one day and say to themselves, “We should get a king.” I think this was a thought out request. Just perhaps not all the way thought out. Perhaps they were only thinking of the benefits of a king and not the downsides.

Well let’s see what God will have to say about their request for a king. Can someone read 1 Samuel 8:7-9?

7 and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. 9 Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”

God says “Give them a king.” He also points out that it’s not Samuel as prophet they have rejected but rather God as king. God is supposed to be their king, but that sort of less physical kingship is not what they desire. They want someone physical, who walks among them, that they can point to and say “that’s our king.” One might argue they’re unhappy with how God is ruling them. They want something different. And God’s going to let them have what they want—for good or for ill.

Though he does at least tell Samuel to warn them first, that kings may not be all they’re cracked up to be.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 8:10-17?

10 So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; 12 and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. 15 He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. 16 He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.

So Samuel warns them. Basically up until this point the Israelites have never had a real government. They’ve had elders, priests, and judges, but not an honest to goodness structured government. Things have been more loosey goosey. And Samuel here is basically warning them about kings and well government. When you have a government, you need a standing army. Your sons go to battle. When you have a government, you have to pay taxes. When you have a government, that needs property. To give you an idea the US government owns 28% of the nation’s land. Now in the US, because we have a democracy, a lot of that land is state parks that you and I can use, and walk in. But a king could declare something like a state park for his use only. In fact that was a thing Kings of England did back in the day. They had the king’s own forest, which no one was allowed to go in without his invitation. If you were starving and saw a deer on the king’s land and went to kill it to feed your family—that was considered poaching. And until the 1700s, poaching was generally considered a death sentence.

Now, I don’t know if Israelite kings had their own national parks and forests, but what Samuel is saying here is that they will need land. They’ll need a palace. And they’ll need you the people to build it and serve in it, to serve the king. They’ll tax you to pay for their new palace, and they’ll make you build it.

Even a good king needs these things.

Let’s see if the people take his warning to heart. Can someone read 1 Samuel 8:19-22?

19 But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, 20 so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 21 When Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the Lord. 22 The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” Samuel then said to the people of Israel, “Each of you return home.” 

The people are still determined to have a king. Samuel is still distressed about it, and God is still like “Let them have a king.”

God is going to give these people what they want.

Question: Is what we want always best for us? [Let them answer.]

No, it’s not. We may want to never sleep, but if we never slept, we’d eventually die. We may want to eat chocolate cake for every meal, but that would not be healthy. God is letting them have what they want, but it’s not the system he would have preferred for them. He’s going to give them what they want and let them live through the consequences of their decision.

Interestingly, Samuel doesn’t tell the people here that God is going to let them have what they want. Instead he sends them home. Maybe Samuel is hoping after a good night of sleep they’ll change their mind. But…they don’t.

Israel is going to have a king, for better or for worse.

Can someone please read 1 Samuel 9:1-4?

9 There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish son of Abiel son of Zeror son of Becorath son of Aphiah, a Benjaminite, a man of wealth. 2 He had a son whose name was Saul, a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.

3 Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, had strayed. So Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the boys with you; go and look for the donkeys.” 4 He passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then he passed through the land of Benjamin, but they did not find them.

Suddenly we’re introduce to a young man named Saul. A very handsome and tall young man according to the Bible’s words. Some donkeys that Saul’s dad own get lost and so Saul is sent on a wild-goose chase for donkeys through the lands of Benjamin.

Now why do you guys think we’re being introduced to Saul right after all this discussion of kings? [Let them answer.]

That’s right. Saul is going to be the king they are given. Whether they like it or not.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 9:5-10?

5 When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to the boy who was with him, “Let us turn back, or my father will stop worrying about the donkeys and worry about us.” 6 But he said to him, “There is a man of God in this town; he is a man held in honor. Whatever he says always comes true. Let us go there now; perhaps he will tell us about the journey on which we have set out.” 7 Then Saul replied to the boy, “But if we go, what can we bring the man? For the bread in our sacks is gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What have we?” 8 The boy answered Saul again, “Here, I have with me a quarter shekel of silver; I will give it to the man of God, to tell us our way.” 9 (Formerly in Israel, anyone who went to inquire of God would say, “Come, let us go to the seer”; for the one who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.) 10 Saul said to the boy, “Good; come, let us go.” So they went to the town where the man of God was.

They’ve been wandering and looking for these donkeys for a while and Saul is like “We better go back soon or else my dad is going to think we’re lost.” But instead his servant says to him, “Hey Samuel lives near by—you know Samuel the prophet—why don’t we go see what he has to say?”

Then Saul is like “But I have nothing to pay him with.”

And then his servant is like “I have a piece of silver. No worries.”

There are a couple of things in this passage. 1) Why didn’t Saul know Samuel is near by? Even if Samuel didn’t permanently live there, he’d be so famous by this point that everyone would know his movements and where he is. It’s sort of like in the New Testament how crowds showed up everywhere Jesus went. The land of Israel is not that big and they don’t have that many celebrities. People usually know where their most religious person is. Sort of like how Catholics generally know whereabouts the pope is.

And if Saul’s servant knew than there is no way it’s because Saul’s home is to far in the boonies. So maybe Saul just doesn’t pay attention to these things.

Seems like a bad sign for a king.

The other than that gets me is: why does he need to borrow money from his servant? Even if Samuel required a payment—which I’m pretty sure as a prophet he does not—Saul borrowing money from his servant is kind of sketchy. He better pay that kid back.

Moving on, they go into town looking for Samuel. Can someone read 1 Samuel 9:14-17?

14 So they went up to the town. As they were entering the town, they saw Samuel coming out toward them on his way up to the shrine.

15 Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed to Samuel: 16 “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be ruler over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have seen the suffering of my people, because their outcry has come to me.” 17 When Samuel saw Saul, the Lord told him, “Here is the man of whom I spoke to you. He it is who shall rule over my people.”

As soon as Samuel sees Saul, Samuel knows this is the guy. This is the guy who’s going to be king.

Considering Saul is tall and handsome, he certainly looks the part. Maybe Samuel was a little impressed by this and was like “Well God sure does know how to pick them.” Or maybe Samuel grumbled because of course a king would be tall and handsome and isn’t that sooo superficial. We don’t know. We just know that the moment Samuel laid eyes on Saul he knew this was the guy God had picked.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 9:18-21?

18 Then Saul approached Samuel inside the gate, and said, “Tell me, please, where is the house of the seer?” 19 Samuel answered Saul, “I am the seer; go up before me to the shrine, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind. 20 As for your donkeys that were lost three days ago, give no further thought to them, for they have been found. And on whom is all Israel’s desire fixed, if not on you and on all your ancestral house?” 21 Saul answered, “I am only a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel, and my family is the humblest of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin. Why then have you spoken to me in this way?”

So Saul approaches Samuel and doesn’t even know it’s him. Samuel then provides Saul with everything he wanted and more. He tells him that his donkeys have been found and not to worry about them. Then he tells him that he is going to fix all of Israel. To Saul’s credit, he replies humbly. Basically saying, that it can be him because the least of people.

Humbleness is definitely a quality you want in your king, so maybe this Saul guy is going to turn out alright after all.

Or maybe not.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 9:27 – 10:2?

27 As they were going down to the outskirts of the town, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the boy to go on before us, and when he has passed on, stop here yourself for a while, that I may make known to you the word of God.” 1 Samuel took a vial of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him; he said, “The Lord has anointed you ruler over his people Israel. You shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their enemies all around. Now this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you ruler over his heritage: 2 When you depart from me today you will meet two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah; they will say to you, ‘The donkeys that you went to seek are found, and now your father has stopped worrying about them and is worrying about you, saying: What shall I do about my son?’ 

Samuel anoints Saul before he leaves town. Anointing basically means putting oil on him and saying like a blessing or prayer over him. And Samuel tells Saul that God has chosen him to be king, to rule over Israel. And should Saul not believe him, as a sign he will meet two guys who have found his donkeys and they will tell him that their dad is worry about them now.

He also tells him some other things that will come to pass, that he’ll meet some other men on the road who will offer him gifts, that he’ll run into a group of prophets playing musical instruments, and guess what it all comes to pass.

Because this guy, Saul, is the one God has chosen to rule over Israel. For better or for worse.

Now what’s interesting in all of this—to me—is that Samuel hates the idea of Israel having a king, but does he try to argue God out of his decision? No. He tries to talk Israel out of it, but not God. Because he knows God’s plan is for the best—even if it doesn’t always seem that way. So even though Samuel could’ve ignored the request or even turned a blind eye to seeing Saul in the town and just pretended like he never saw him, he doesn’t. He acts on God’s commands, even when he doesn’t like them.

Samuel is a good prophet. It remains to be seen whether Saul will be a good king.

So next week we’ll talk about Saul, about how the news of him being king is broken to Israel, how they take it, and what kind of start his kingship gets off to.

Eli and His Sons

Two weeks ago, we studied Hannah, a woman of faithfulness and strength. She prayed to God for a child, and he gave her a son, Samuel. When Samuel was old enough she took him to the temple to be raised there and to learn the ways of God, under the tutelage of a man named Eli. Today we’re going to talk about Eli and his sons, and tangentially a little bit about Samuel.

Remember to be a priest in the Temple was no small matter. Only very specific people, directly descended from Aaron—Moses’s brother—could be the high priest who went to the most of Holy of Holies. Therefore these things tended to run in the family. If your dad was high priest, you were probably going to be high priest one day.

When Samuel is brought to the temple the current high priest is named Eli, and he had two sons named Hophni and Phinehas. Eli was the guy who saw Hannah praying in the temple and automatically assumed she was drunk instead of giving her the benefit of a doubt. Eli is at this time a very old man and his sons are full grown men, unlike Samuel who is a boy.

And that’s sort of how we open up this part of the story. Samuel is living in the temple, under the tutelage of Eli and the other priests. Can someone read 1 Samuel 2:11-17?

11 Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, while the boy remained to minister to the Lord, in the presence of the priest Eli.

12 Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord13 or for the duties of the priests to the people. When anyone offered sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come, while the meat was boiling, with a three-pronged fork in his hand, 14 and he would thrust it into the pan, or kettle, or caldron, or pot; all that the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is what they did at Shiloh to all the Israelites who came there. 15 Moreover, before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the one who was sacrificing, “Give meat for the priest to roast; for he will not accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.” 16 And if the man said to him, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take whatever you wish,” he would say, “No, you must give it now; if not, I will take it by force.” 17 Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the Lord; for they treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt.

To say the sons of Eli were scoundrels is probably a bit of understatement on the Bibles part. There are many aspects to what they are doing wrong here. First off, when they steal a piece of the sacrifice, they are stealing from God. The people were bringing their sacrifices for God, and the priests were taking parts of it for them. Secondly, the taking of the meat with the fat still on it is in direct contradiction to the laws given in Leviticus. In Leviticus 7:25 it says “If an one of you eats the fat from an animal of which an offering by fire may be made to the Lord, you who eat it shall be cut off from your kin.” Cut off from your kin, as in exiled from your family. That’s a big deal. But these priests are just ignoring that. Finally, it says that if a person tried to go against them and was like “no, we have to burn the fat first” these priests would threaten violence—and probably follow through with it—to force people to do it their way.

These two priests, Hophni and Phinehas, were abusing their position in every way they possibly could. Did they care that they were supposed to be working for God? No. They completely ignored God’s law, did whatever they wanted, and abused God’s people.

Do we think God is going to be happy with this? [Let them answer.] No he’s not.

Alright can someone read 1 Samuel 2:22-26?

22 Now Eli was very old. He heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 He said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. 24 No, my sons; it is not a good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad. 25 If one person sins against another, someone can intercede for the sinner with the Lord; but if someone sins against the Lord, who can make intercession?” But they would not listen to the voice of their father; for it was the will of the Lord to kill them.

26 Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.

Eli was old but he wasn’t stupid. He knew what his sons were doing. Turns out they weren’t just stealing but also were sleeping around with the women who came to serve at the temple. That’s just despicable. This would be an opportunity for Eli—as the head priest here—to do more than just yell at them. He could have fired them or at least given them some sort of punishment. Instead he just yells at them and he doesn’t even really yell at them about specific sins. Instead he’s more like “People are talking! We can’t have that!” Which sort of shows that even Eli is not as pure and faithful as we might like.

However, Eli does at least warn his sons, saying that there is no one to advocate for them between them and God. And then the passage makes it clear that God has already decided judgement on them. For their sins against God and Israel, Hophni and Phinehas will die.

Then we have verse 26, which is sort of all by itself and about something completely different. Here the writer is directly contrasting the evil behaviors of Hophni and Phinehas with Samuel. Where Hophni and Phinehas are destined to die, Samuel has found favor with God.

Alright can someone read 1 Samuel 2:27-36?

27 A man of God came to Eli and said to him, “Thus the Lord has said, ‘I revealed myself to the family of your ancestor in Egypt when they were slaves to the house of Pharaoh. 28 I chose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to offer incense, to wear an ephod before me; and I gave to the family of your ancestor all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel. 29 Why then look with greedy eye at my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded, and honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’ 30 Therefore the Lord the God of Israel declares: ‘I promised that your family and the family of your ancestor should go in and out before me forever’; but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me; for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt. 31 See, a time is coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your ancestor’s family, so that no one in your family will live to old age. 32 Then in distress you will look with greedy eye on all the prosperity that shall be bestowed upon Israel; and no one in your family shall ever live to old age. 33 The only one of you whom I shall not cut off from my altar shall be spared to weep out his eyes and grieve his heart; all the members of your household shall die by the sword. 34 The fate of your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be the sign to you—both of them shall die on the same day. 35 I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed one forever. 36 Everyone who is left in your family shall come to implore him for a piece of silver or a loaf of bread, and shall say, Please put me in one of the priest’s places, that I may eat a morsel of bread.’”

An angel appears to Eli. In the past when we’ve seen angels they’ve generally been the bearers of good news. Telling Abraham he will have a son in his old age! Or blessing Jacob! But in this case, this angel does not have good news for Eli. He tells him that God has seen the wickedness of his sons, and that Eli will live to see his sons die—both on the same day. And that Eli’s house will fall, none of his descendants or relatives will be priests anymore, and instead a new priestly line will be raised.

However for Samuel things are different. Can someone read 1 Samuel 3:1-9?

3 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6 The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Samuel is a boy living in a temple. He’s sleeping where the ark of the covenant is, which seems strange to me because that’s a rather holy place to be sleeping in! At this time Samuel is still a boy, a kid, so probably under the age of 13, and probably near to many of you in age. So Samuel is dozing and he here’s someone call his name. He runs to Eli because who else is around to call for him? And Eli is like “I didn’t call you, go back to sleep.” Eli is probably cranky that Samuel even woke him up.

Why doesn’t Samuel recognize it’s the voice of God? Well the section opened with telling us that the word of God was rare in those days, and remember anyone who heard the voice of God was considered a prophet, so it would be few people indeed who could claim such a thing. Samuel probably never met a prophet, and may not even known it was possible to hear such an audible call. It’s completely rational for him to assume it’s his master and teacher Eli who is calling him.

Samuel goes back to sleep and it happens again! Once again he runs to Eli, once again Eli sends him away. Then it happens again, and once again Samuel goes to Eli! That’s three times Samuel heard his name called and three times he responded.

Now I think most of us, if it was the middle of the night and our parents called us out of bed, we would grumble and moan and complain. And then if we responded and they said “No I didn’t call you” and then we heard our name again? What would you do? IF you kept hearing your name and your parents kept sending you back to bed? [Let them answer it.]

Frankly I would ignore it probably the first time and my parents would have to come physically get me out of bed. If I did respond the first time and they said it wasn’t them? And then it happened again? I would definitely ignore it. So Samuel already is demonstrating way more obedience, promptness, and respect than I probably demonstrated on a daily basis as a kid. Samuel is ready and willing to serve—even when he doesn’t know it’s God calling him.

The third time Samuel goes to Eli, Eli realizes what’ sharpening. Eli tells Samuel it’s God calling, and that he doesn’t need to get up, he just needs to respond to God and see what he has to say.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 3:10-18?

10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.

16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

God calls Samuel again and this time Samuel answers as Eli told him to “Your servant is listening.” Then God tells Samuel what’s up with the house of Eli. Literally the first thing God tells Samuel is that Eli’s family is doomed.

Now it’s unclear how much Samuel might have interacted with the corrupt priests or even known they were corrupt. He’s a kid, and as you guys know, adults try to shield kids from a lot of stuff. So Samuel may have been completely oblivious to what was happening with Hophni and Phinehas. On the other hand, it’s not a large temple he’s living in, so maybe he knew exactly what was happening. Either way, it is no wonder he would be scared to tell Eli.

Samuel is just a kid, Eli is his master. And God really expects him to go before Eli and be like “Hey Eli, just fyi, your family is corrupt and God will never forgive you. You’re all doomed.”

Yeah, not exactly a cheery message. I would be scared to tell Eli that myself, even as an adult. Being a kid in his care, I would be scared out of my mind. Cuz even though we know an angel has already told Eli all of this, Samuel doesn’t necessarily know that.

So if Eli already knows this information, why does God require Samuel to tell it to him? [Let them answer.]

Well as a prophet of Israel, Samuel will have to be strong. He will have to tell very powerful men bad news. As we’re later going to see, Samuel is going to be instrumental in both setting up kings and taking them down. This is a man who can’t be afraid of the reaction of a king when he goes to tell him God’s news. So I think this isn’t a test so much as it’s good training. Samuel is afraid, God knows that, and God created this safe environment for Samuel to work through that fear of telling an authority figure bad news.

Eli already knows this news. So when Samuel goes before him and tells him what God told him, Eli is not going to get angry. He already knows. Samuel isn’t the bearer of bad news so much as he’s the bearer of redundant news. But this helped Samuel get over that fear of being a bearer of bad news in a safe environment where the authority figure isn’t going to get mad at him. We’ll see this training come into use much later.

The end is near for Eli’s family. Can someone read 1 Samuel 3-19-4:4?

19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord. 4 1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

In those days the Philistines mustered for war against Israel, and Israel went out to battle against them; they encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek.2 The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle was joined, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. 3 When the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord put us to rout today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, so that he may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.” 4 So the people sent to Shiloh, and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. The two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

So Samuel grows up, God is with him and let’s “none of his words fall to the ground.” What does that mean? My Jewish Bible translates that sentence as “He did not leave any of Samuel’s predictions unfulfilled” and my NIV translation commentary says that it means that Samuel’s words were authoritative and trustworthy because they were God’s words. I think these things basically mean the same things. If Samuel predicted something, it happened. If Samuel said something was a certain way, it was that way. Because Samuel was trustworthy and relied on God, and God had his back.

Shiloh—the place referred to here—is just the location of where the current temple—which I believe is the tabernacle—resides. It’s a city. At this time the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle were in Shiloh and not Jerusalem as they would come to be later.

But basically this little section is set up. Samuel grows up and continues to have God’s favor, the Lord continues to reveal himself to Samuel, and meanwhile a war is brewing between the Philistines and the Israelites. Remember the Philistines are the guys who conquered Israel way back in Samson’s time, so they would have been fighting on and off with the Israelites for a while. So the two have a little skirmish, and the Israelites lose. They’re all like “Why would God let the Israelites win???” And then suddenly, they remember they have a silver bullet—a nuclear option. If they bring the Ark of the Covenant into battle surely they will win! Just as Joshua won all those battles back in the day, and Moses, and even more recently the Judges. Because if the Ark of the Covenant is with you than God is with you!

Right here they’re treating the Ark of the Covenant like it’s a magical object that if brought into any battle, without direction or guidance from God, will result in an auto-magical win for the Israelites. But that’s not how the Ark works. It’s not a magical object. It’s a symbol of God’s presence. And if there is one thing we know in this story it’s that God is not with Hophni and Phinehas, the priests who bring the Ark of the Covenant to the Israelites.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 4:10-11?

10 So the Philistines fought; Israel was defeated, and they fled, everyone to his home. There was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 The ark of God was captured; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

The Israelites don’t just lose, they lose bad. 30,000 men die, including Hophni and Phinehas, who the angel said both died on the same day here in this battle. Worst of all though, the ark of the convenant is captured. The thing that symbolizes God’s presence in Israel is gone.

Now had God left Israel? No. The Ark of the Covenant in the end is just an object, and God was using this defeat to his purposes. The deaths of Hophni and Phinehas were punishment for their wickedness, and likely the defeat for Israel’s wickedness as well as their pride in thinking the Ark would magically save them.

I think this is the first time the Ark of the Covenant is captured by enemies, but I could be mistaken. That would mean this is the first time the Ark is out of Israelite possession, so this would be a huge blow, and as we’ll see people did not take it well.

Someone read 1 Samuel 4:13-18. The “he” arriving in the first sentence here is an Israelite man who ran from the battle to deliver the news of what happened to the city of Shiloh.

13 When he arrived, Eli was sitting upon his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. When the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out. 14 When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, “What is this uproar?” Then the man came quickly and told Eli. 15 Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set, so that he could not see. 16 The man said to Eli, “I have just come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.” He said, “How did it go, my son?” 17 The messenger replied, “Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great slaughter among the troops; your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.” 18 When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate; and his neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and heavy. He had judged Israel forty years.

As the man spreads the news, the people cry out. When the man tells the news to Eli, he is so shocked he falls backwards and breaks his neck and dies.

This is all as God predicted, God’s judgement on the house of Eli.

Samuel’s rise and faithfulness here is directly contrasted with the wickedness and fall of Eli’s family. It didn’t matter that Eli’s family had been in that job for a long time and Samuel was a nobody. Eli’s family had disobeyed God.  God doesn’t care who your parents are, or if you’re born into a powerful job. He cares that you are faithful and true, obedient to him and good to his people, like Samuel.

Next week we’ll continue this story—see what happens to the Ark of the Covenant and Samuel.

Hannah

Today we’re going to start one of the most epic books of the Old Testament, and that’s saying something considering we’ve already had plagues, parting of seas, invasions, and conquering. So what’s the books of Samuel about then?

A mad king. A small shepherd boy who seems unlikely for anything great—takes down an enemy twice his size and then goes on to lead an army against the mad king. A friendship forged with the mad king’s son, in which both risk their lives. The rightful king ascends the thrown and his dynasty will reign forever!

This is the stuff of the stories we still tell: King Arthur, the Lord of the Rings, a hundred different tellings and re-tellings. So if you want kings and knights, loyalty and oaths, romance and violence, heroes and villains, all told with the backdrop of the fate of an entire nation, this is the book for you.

However, this book doesn’t jump straight into this business of kings. Because when we last left the people of God, the Israelites, did they have kings? [Let them answer]. No! They had something else. Who were the leaders of Israel? [Let them answer.] That’s right! Judges. So the first part of this book that we’ll be looking at today it bridges those stories between how we go from Judges to Kings and the way it does it is with, surprise, a guy named Samuel. Today we’ll be studying Samuel only a little, because we’ll be focusing on his mother, Hannah.

Please go get your Bibles and let’s open up to 1 Samuel 1:1-8.

1 There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

3 Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. 4 On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; 5 but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. 6 Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7 So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8 Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

We’re introduced to a lot of characters right here, but the most important is Hannah. Hannah is married to a man who also has another wife. The other wife has many children, Hannah does not, but the man favors Hannah. We’ve seen this before haven’t we? Who remembers the similar story to this? [Let them answer.]

That’s right, Rachel and Leah. Leah had many children, but Jacob loved the childless Rachel. Seems to be a theme here.

Like Jacob, the husband thinks his love for her should be enough. That as long as he loves her she shouldn’t want children. But I think this is the case of a man missing the point, and not understanding this woman’s pain.

Having a child meant a lot to women back then. Nowadays it still means a lot, emotionally. It means the start of a new family, the start of a new life, and for some women it’s all their dreams coming true. But back then it was more than that. It wasn’t just your dream coming true—it was your purpose coming to fruition. An ancient woman’s only role back then was to produce an heir, and to fail to do that? To fail to do that was to fail your purpose in life.

Personally I am grateful we live in a world that has moved beyond this. Babies and children are great, obviously. You guys are kids and we love you! But women are capable and able to do so much more. Unfortunately the patriarchy and misogyny of the time didn’t really allow for women to reach the full capabilities. It pinned them into this one purpose, this one job. Reproduction. So if you failed at that one job? Things were not good for you.

It also put them in a precarious position—as we saw with Ruth—if your husband dies. Remember Ruth had no heir, and because of that she was a poor widow with no way to make her life better. She needed a son to claim her husbands inheritance, she couldn’t claim it legally as a woman. She had no way to make her life better without a man of some sort—husband or son in it. So while not being able to have kids today can be sad, it’s not nearly the big deal it was back then.

So every year Hannah goes to the Tabernacle and makes sacrifices with her husband and her family. Remember the Tabernacle is the tent where people worshiped and where the Ark of the Covenant was kept and sacrifices was made. There was no Temple yet. The Bible refers to it as lower case “temple” of the Lord as opposed to Temple with a capital T. Because it is not *the* Temple. That has not been built yet. So anytime in this section it uses lowercase temple, just imagine in your mind the Tabernacle—which is like a ten church.

At the Tabernacle is where we’re introduced to Eli and his two sons. They are the priests and will be important shortly. And as we’re going to see this year Hannah goes up to the Tabernacle and prays. Can someone read 1 Samuel 1:9-11?

9 After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”

As a woman I don’t believe Hannah would have been allowed in the Tabernacle proper. She might be allowed in the Tabernacle’s courtyard but maybe she could only come to the gates, I’m not sure. But she gets as close as she can, where she is allowed to go as a woman and prays. She is very emotional and prays to God, basically just like “Oh God if you would just give me a son and I will dedicate him to you.” Remember from our study of Samson, being a Nazirite was basically being a layman priest. Only Levites could be priests—and Hannah and her family are not Levites. But anyone, even women, could become a Nazirite and serve God in this way.

Eli the high priest at the time sees her. It says he’s sitting at the doorpost of the Tabernacle. Let’s see what Eli thinks of Hannah’s pray. Can someone read 1 Samuel 1:12-14?

12 As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. 14 So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.”

Does Eli see Hannah praying and think “Oh my what a pious woman praying to God?” Nope. Does he see her and think “Oh my, this woman is very emotional right now and sad and maybe I should comfort her?” Nope. Eli’s mind goes immediately to the worst case, cynical situation. This woman must be drunk, he thinks to himself. As if there is no other reason a woman might want to come and pray. Now it’s possible that drunk people stumbling around happened a lot, but I think it also says a lot about Eli that he went for the cynical, little faith in humanity first thought. People do this a lot. We see someone looking sick and throw up into the bushes and we think “They must be drunk!” instead of maybe they’re honestly sick and need help. We see someone acting strange and we think “they must be high” instead of maybe there is something wrong. We write off people as the worst examples of humanity instead of giving them the benefit of a doubt we’d give ourselves.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 1:15-18?

15 But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16 Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” 17 Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” 18 And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.

Words like Eli’s could have scared Hannah off. It could have made her feel ashamed, that he thought she was drunk instead of just trouble. Sometimes we feel that way when wrongly accused of something, as if we did something wrong even though we didn’t. And if Hannah was left she would never had a chance to talk to him and actually feel some relief in her soul. It’s not our job to scare people away from church, away from God, and Eli should have known better. Thankfully, Hannah does not go away ashamed. Instead she corrects him and tells him how troubled she is. Eli then basically says he hopes God grants her request. This makes Hannah feel better—maybe because she thinks Eli’s words might mean more to God than hers, since he is the high priest. We know that’s not the case, but that is a misconception people often have, that pastors and priests have God’s ear more than the rest of us. So maybe that is why Hannah felt comforted. Or maybe it was just she was done praying and felt as if she had given the problem to God. We don’t know.

Alright let’s see what happens next, can someone read 1 Sam 1:19-23?

19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

21 The man Elkanah and all his household went up to offer to the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and to pay his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go up, for she said to her husband, “As soon as the child is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there forever; I will offer him as a nazirite for all time.” 23 Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Do what seems best to you, wait until you have weaned him; only—may the Lord establish his word.” So the woman remained and nursed her son, until she weaned him. 24 When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour, and a skin of wine. She brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh; and the child was young. 25 Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. 26 And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. 27 For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. 28 Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” She left him there for the Lord.

Hannah has a son and she names him Samuel. The next year when it’s time to go back for the yearly sacrifice, Hannah doesn’t go. She says she is waiting until she can offer him as a Nazirite, before she takes him. Basically she’s waiting until he’s old enough that he doesn’t need to be breastfed, which back then could be fairly old, three or even four.

Then when he’s old enough she takes him to the Tabernacle and they make their sacrifice and then they go to Eli. She’s basically like “I was that woman praying all those years ago and look how God has answered my prayers! Now I give him to God.”

The implication here is that she actually leaves him at the Tabernacle to be raised by Eli.

Why? Samson didn’t have to be raised at the Tabernacle to be a Nazirite. But Hannah wanted to fully give her son back to God, because she knew her son didn’t belong to her. He belonged to God. So she gives him to God’s house—the Tabernacle—where he will be raised by the priests so that he can fully serve God.

This child was the only thing Hannah wanted in her entire life. It would be very easy for her to keep him, for her to say that being a Nazirite doesn’t really require him to be fully God’s. She can raise him and keep him home. But Hannah is a woman of great faith and she knows that it was God that gave Samuel to her. So she doesn’t take the easy route. Instead she gives up her son. She gives back to God what God has given her, probably the hardest thing any mother can do.

Can someone read 1 Samuel 2:1-10?

2 Hannah prayed and said,

“My heart exults in the Lord;
    my strength is exalted in my God.[a]
My mouth derides my enemies,
    because I rejoice in my[b] victory.

2 “There is no Holy One like the Lord,
    no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.
3 Talk no more so very proudly,
    let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by him actions are weighed.
4 The bows of the mighty are broken,
    but the feeble gird on strength.
5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread,
    but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.
The barren has borne seven,
    but she who has many children is forlorn.
6 The Lord kills and brings to life;
    he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
    he brings low, he also exalts.
8 He raises up the poor from the dust;
    he lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes
    and inherit a seat of honor.[c]
For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s,
    and on them he has set the world.

9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones,
    but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness;
    for not by might does one prevail.
10 The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered;
    the Most High[d] will thunder in heaven.
The Lord will judge the ends of the earth;
    he will give strength to his king,
    and exalt the power of his anointed.”

Giving up a child is one of the hardest things a mother can do and yet as we see in this prayer, Hannah does it with exultation for God. Hannah’s prayer is not one of despair, even though it would be easy for her to do so. Instead she praises God for his great strength and power. There are few people with faith like Hannah. So many of us want to keep close to us the things God has given us. We think the thing—whether it’s money, a talent, or whatever—is ours. We earned it. We produced it. We worked for it. We forget that it is God who gives and takes. But Hannah doesn’t forget. She does what most of us can’t.

Now we’re going to skip forward slightly. The section we’re skipping we will come back to next week though, because it’s important. But for now let’s skip ahead to 1 Samuel 2:18-21.

18 Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19 His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20 Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the Lord”; and then they would return to their home.

21 And the Lord took note of Hannah; she conceived and bore three sons and two daughters. And the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

Even though Hannah gave Samuel to the Tabernacle, she does not forget him. She makes him a little robe every year, it says, and brings it up to the Tabernacle to him. Now when you think of making a robe, you’re probably thinking going to the store to buy a bolt of cloth and then coming home to sew it into a robe. Not too hard. But that’s not what this would be. There weren’t really stores where you could just buy a bolt of cloth. You generally had to weave your own cloth. So imagine it to be much more painstaking. Hannah weaving individual threads until they from a cloth which she can then make into a robe. This was her labor of love, her way to remember her son every year and to remind him, when she came to the Tabernacle for her yearly sacrifices that she still loved him.

I don’t want you to think Hannah gave up her son because she did not love him. That is not the case. As we see from this Hannah greatly loved Samuel. That’s what makes the sacrifice all the more poignant. It’s not really a sacrifice to give up something you don’t love. That’s why your parents don’t ground you from things like school or vegetables. They ground you from things you like. That’s why for Lent you’re supposed to give up something you love. So it means something. You feel the pain of it’s loss.

Hannah would feel the pain of Samuel’s loss keenly. Her firstborn son, the son who fulfilled her life’s purpose, but she knows he belongs to God.

God sees Hannah’s faithfulness and he rewards her. He gives her three more sons and two daughters.

Hannah’s story is generally revered and taught for two reasons: one being this idea of sacrifice and giving back to God what is his. If Hannah can give up her son, how much easier should it be for us to give up our tithes, or to give up candy for Lent. But the other is her prayer. Hannah didn’t hide her emotions from God. Hannah didn’t pretend with God that everything was fine. In the beginning when she was praying, so hard and fervent that the priest thought she was drunk, she was not hiding. Was her prayer angry or just sad? We know it was anxious and she was greatly troubled.

God doesn’t want us to hold back from him. He wants you to take your requests and emotions—yes even anger—to him.

So remember Hannah when you pray. Remember you can take anything to God, and you can take any emotion to him, and you can pray as calmly or emotionally as you like. God hears you. And he will answer—though perhaps not always the way we want.

And with that we’ll end here. Next week we’ll talk about Samuel himself.

Ruth

Note: When I did this lesson I was pressed for time. Also the teacher of the other hour of Middle School Sunday School was not going to be there, so I taught both hours, so there wasn't as much reason for me to write up a pretty post explaining all my notes. So this post is basically just my notes. Next time I do this set of lessons I will come back and pretty this up, but for now, I present my notes.

Ruth 1:1-5

  • The set up.
  • This story takes place during judges. There is a famine so a Hebrew man leaves Israel with his family and goes to Moab, where there is presumably food.
  • Everyone dies. Poor Naomi left alone.

Ruth 1:6-9

  • Famine is over, Naomi wants to go home, but she tells the girls not to come with her.

Ruth 1:14-18

  • Ruth is all like “I’m not leaving you!!!”
  • Naomi is like “okay”
  • Greatest example of female friendship in the Bible.

Ruth 1:19-22

  • Naomi is basically upset with God here. She has lost everything and come back with nothing.

Ruth 2:1-3

  • Widows basically have no way to make money. And no one to look out for them. So to provide food for them, Ruth goes to glean in the fields.
  • Lev. 19:9-10: 9  ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Ruth 2:4-7

  • Boaz notices Ruth.

Ruth 2:9-15

  • Boaz talks to Ruth and lets her eat dinner with his other people.
  • And tells his people to let Ruth do her thing and not bother her.

Ruth 2:17-23

  • Ruth tells Naomi everything that went down and Naomi is like O.O This man is our nearest kin. Depending on your version of the Bible different words can be used here but if you look in your Bibles there is a footnote symbol and if you look down it says “one who has the right to redeem.” What does that mean?

What is redemption as we think of it? [Let them answer]

  • The word redeem can mean many things. You can both redeem a coupon and the Star Wars story can redeem the character of Darth Vader. How can that be? Well it has to do with the meaning of the word. Redeem basically means to compensate for or save something from it’s faults…such as Darth Vader being redeemed. His character is saved—brought back to the light if you will—after a history of doing bad things. It can also mean a thing regaining or gaining value. You could argue Darth Vader regained his value when he came to the light, but a coupon definitely gains value when you actually use it. Before that it’s just a piece of paper.
  • In Ruth and Naomi’s case, redemption would mean they would be saved from their destitute lives as childless widows.
  • In these ancient times, a A kinsman-redeemer was a relative who could redeem a poor person’s inheritance (Leviticus 25:25). In certain circumstances, where there was no heir, a near relative could act as kinsman-redeemer by marrying the relative’s widow to redeem the inheritance. A relative was not obligated to act as kinsman-redeemer, however. If no relative chose to help, the widow would probably live in poverty.
  • Lev 25;2525 “ ‘If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relativee is to come and redeemf what they have sold.
  • So what Naomi is hoping for Ruth is that Boaz will “redeem” them by marrying Ruth. And even though Boaz isn’t Naomi’s son, Ruth’s first child would be as Ruth’s first husband’s child—for the sake of inheritance laws, meaning legally that child would basically be Naomi’s grandchild. Both women would be rescued out of their poverty and obscurity by this plan.

Ruth 3:1-5

  • Naomi then suggests a crazy plan, of Ruth basically sneaking into Boaz’s bed that night. I mean that’s not literally what happens but it’s basically what the plan is. Lie down at his feet while he sleeps and see what happens when he wakes up, is what Naomi says.

Ruth 3:6-9

  • Naomi had told Ruth to wait and see what Boaz would do. Instead Ruth says something once Boaz sees her “I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin.” Right here, Ruth is basically proposing to Boaz. I know it doesn’t read that way to us with our modern eyes but the whole “spread our cloak over me cuz you’re my next of kin” is basically Ruth asking him to marry her and redeem her as her kinsman-redeemer.
  • “Spread your cloak over your servant, for you are my redeemer.” That also sounds like something people today might say when praying to God, which we’re going to get to that. Save that in your minds. 😊

Ruth 3:10-13

  • Boaz basically agrees with her proposal but he is like “I’m actually not your nearest relative, so we’ve got to check with this other dude first and then if he takes you in, you’re covered. If not, I’ll cover you.”
  • Boaz praises Ruth for her loyalty and diligence and also for choosing him over the young men which is a little egotistical. But what I think he’s getting at is that she was smart enough to realize he was her next of kin instead of trying to track down some younger man. This also implies that Boaz is not in fact, a young spring chicken.

Ruth 3:14

  • I want to pause on this verse for a minute, because when we read a story of a woman of the Bible doing something like sleeping at a man’s feet, sometimes our first reaction is “that’s so scandalous!” quickly followed by “Well it can’t be that scandalous if a virtuous woman of the Bible did it.” But I want to stop on this verse because no, indeed it is *that* scandalous. Ruth is taking her reputation, Boaz reputation’s, everyone in hand by basically sneaking into his bed at night. However, nothing they did was actually a sin or wrong. She just went into his room and slept at his feet.
  • There is this idea in most societies of something called “propriety” which means basically “conforming to conditionally accepted standards of behaviors and morals.” Sometimes we confuse societal standards with sins or things that are wrong in God’s eyes. But…sometimes societal standards are just that…societal standards. And to follow God’s plan for our lives, sometimes we have to break them. Jesus did this when he hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors. Those were the types of people good Jewish people didn’t hang out with. But Jesus did it, because he knew these were the people who needed him. In Ruth’s society, sneaking into a man’s bedroom in the middle of the night would be seen as basically an act of prostitution, even though we the reader know she didn’t “sleep” with Boaz in a sexual since.
  • I’m not saying sneak into people’s beds or hang out with people you shouldn’t. What I’m saying is that sometimes following Jesus requires us to do things we know to be right but society views as wrong. The ultimate authority we follow is not society’s view of politeness but rather God’s views. This is also why we shouldn’t be so quick to judge people when they seem to be going outside of what we think is appropriate for society. You don’t always know what’s really going on. Just like an outside observer would have mistaken what was going on with Ruth and Boaz.

Ruth 3:16-18

  • Ruth goes back to Naomi.

Ruth 4:1-6

  • Boaz gets down to business and meets with the other people of the city and sees what is to be done with Ruth.

Ruth 4:7-12

  • Boaz pledges to marry Ruth and his decision I sblessed.

Ruth 4:13-17

  • Boaz and Ruth get married and have a baby named Obed. Naomi is basically the grandmother of this baby.
  • Remember how at the beginning Naomi was bitter against God for everything had been taken away from her? Here her family has been restored. She didn’t give birth to Obed, but he is as her grandson would be, if Boaz was her son. God has completely restored Naomi. In another word….her life has been redeemed. It has regained the value it had at the end.
  • This also directly sets us up for King David.

Conclusion:

  • What’s so important about Ruth? Why is there an entire book of the Bible dedicated to her?
  • Well she directly sets up for King David, who is basically the Biblical King Arthur which is kind of important.
  • Her story also directly reflects how the laws to protect and redeem the poor are used to do just that, an example of faithful men and women following God’s laws and their faith being rewarded.
  • Perhaps the biggest thing from a Christian sense, is that Christians often view this story as a metaphor for our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is our kinsman-redeemer, he is the person who redeems us:
    • Dr. Leggett goes on to explain: “As Boaz had the right of redemption and yet clearly was under no obligation to intervene on Ruth’s behalf, so it is with Christ. As Boaz, seeing the plight of the poor widows, came to their rescue because his life was governed by Yahweh and his laws, so also of the Messiah it is prophesied that his life would be governed by the law of God and that he would deal justly and equitably with the poor and with those who were oppressed (Ps. 72:241213Isa. 11:4)” (The Levirate and Goel Institutions in the Old Testament With Special Attention to the Book of Ruth,Mack Publishing, 1974, p. 298). https://www.gci.org/bible/hist/ruth3
  • And that’s it! For the summer this is the end of our people of the Bible. Next Sunday we’re going to do a lesson to help prepare you guys for school and the Sunday after that is the party, if you guys have memorized the books of the Bible. Then the eighth graders will go to confirmation and the rest of us will continue with one of the biggest characters of the old Testament. King David.

Samson

For the past month we’ve been studying different Judges, also known as prophets, who led Israel. Deborah and Gideon both spoke with God and guided Israel as God wished them, even though in Gideon’s case it wasn’t exactly an eager leadership.

As we previously discussed Deborah and Gideon continued the tradition started by Moses and Joshua. That is Israel did not have a proper king or leader, but rather a prophet who spoke to God and told the people what it was that God desired of them. This essentially makes the prophet the leader of Israel, but not in the same context as say a king. The tribes of Israel could pretty much rule themselves as they liked—as long as they obeyed God’s law—and the Judge only really stepped in when either the people had a dispute they couldn’t solve themselves, the people were going against God, or another nation was messing around with Israel. This is different from a king in that a king has absolute power and is rarely so hands off. It’s a king’s job to know every bit of his countries business. A king would also unite the tribes under a single rulership, instead of as individual nations loosely held together by a judge.

However, for now we have judges. And the Judge we are studying today is Samson. Please open your Bibles to Judges 13. Can someone read Judges 13:1-5?

13 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.

2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. 3 And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. 4 Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, 5 for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite[a]to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”

Once again the Israelites did something evil and God allowed another nation to take over them, this time for forty years. This other people were the Philistines. For forty years they oppressed the Israelites, and God did not raise up a judge to save them. Until now.

A man named Manoah and his wife had no children. Then an angel appears to them and says they will have a child, a son. And God will raise up this son to deliver Israel from the Philistines.

But he is also to be a Nazirite. Nazirite? What does that mean? Well the angel says it means he can’t have alcohol, eat anything unclean, or cut his hair. But how would his parents know what a Nazirite was? Was that a thing?

Yes, yes it was. Please turn back to Numbers 6. This entire chapter describes what it means to be a Nazirite, the specific laws and rules that that person must follow in order to be a Nazirite.

Can someone read Numbers 6:1-9?

6 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to the Israelites and say to them: When either men or women make a special vow, the vow of a nazirite,[a] to separate themselves to the Lord, 3 they shall separate themselves from wine and strong drink; they shall drink no wine vinegar or other vinegar, and shall not drink any grape juice or eat grapes, fresh or dried. 4 All their days as nazirites[b]they shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins.

5 All the days of their nazirite vow no razor shall come upon the head; until the time is completed for which they separate themselves to the Lord, they shall be holy; they shall let the locks of the head grow long.

6 All the days that they separate themselves to the Lord they shall not go near a corpse. 7 Even if their father or mother, brother or sister, should die, they may not defile themselves; because their consecration to God is upon the head. 8 All their days as nazirites[c] they are holy to the Lord.

9 If someone dies very suddenly nearby, defiling the consecrated head, then they shall shave the head on the day of their cleansing; on the seventh day they shall shave it. 

A Nazirite basically means someone who has consecrated themselves to God and basically becomes a priest. Remember that priests could only be men from the tribe of Levi. But becoming a Nazirite is open to a person of any tribe—and allows them to become a sort of priest for a time, consecrating their life to God. And the Bible specifically says it can be either a man or a woman, that both can take this vow and become a sort of lay-priest. To show that they are set apart from other people, like priests and not a common person, they had to obey these certain laws. They couldn’t drink alcohol or even eat grapes. They couldn’t cut their hair. They could not go near a dead body and should they accidentally do so they had to follow a very specific cleansing ritual that involved shaving their head to show they were temporarily out of service, if you will.

And that’s just part of the rules, there are even more.

Can someone read Judges 13:24?

24 The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him.

So this couple have the baby, they name him Samson, and he grows and God blesses him.

Alright can someone read Judges 14:1-4?

14 Once Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw a Philistine woman. 2 Then he came up, and told his father and mother, “I saw a Philistine woman at Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” 3 But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among your kin, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she pleases me.” 4 His father and mother did not know that this was from the Lord; for he was seeking a pretext to act against the Philistines. At that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.

Samson grows up into a man and one day he sees a woman, a Philistine woman. And he wants to marry her. His parents are like…”umm is that a good idea? The Philistines are our oppressors! Can’t you just find a nice local girl?” But Samson is like “newp, I want to marry her.” And the Bible says specifically, that this is because God wants Samson to marry this Philistine girl so Samson will have an excuse to get angry with the Philistines and go to war with them.

It’s been shown in past stories that God doesn’t really need an excuse. If God wants to end an oppression he usually just tells the Judge “hey, it’s time to go overthrow these guys and be free!” So why is it different now? Well perhaps it’s Samson who needs an excuse. Maybe he’s complacent in his life. Maybe the Israelites are complacent under Philistine rule and wouldn’t follow Samson’s call to battle if it came. We don’t know. All we know is that because Samson marries a Philistine girl it allows him to get to know and get annoyed by some Philistines.

Someone read Judges 14:5-9.

5 Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah. When he came to the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion roared at him. 6 The spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and he tore the lion apart barehanded as one might tear apart a kid. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. 7 Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she pleased Samson. 8 After a while he returned to marry her, and he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion, and there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey. 9 He scraped it out into his hands, and went on, eating as he went. When he came to his father and mother, he gave some to them, and they ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the carcass of the lion.

Samson and his parents are traveling down to see this girl he wants to marry. On the journey he gets separated from his parents and comes across a lion. And Samson is so strong that he’s able to tear the lion apart with his bare hands. That makes Samson ridiculously strong.

But it also means Samson just touched a dead body, and Nazirites aren’t exactly supposed to do that. But if they do—cuz it happens—they’re to do the purification ritual. So you would think when Samson meets back up with his parents, he would tell them! But does he? Nope.

So Samson goes down and talks to the Philistine woman and is like “Yep, I definitely want to marry her!” Then when he’s traveling again between the town he is from and wherehis future wife lives, he sees the dead body of the lion and some bees have basically made their hive in it. Then Samson—the Nazirite who is not supposed to touch a dead body—gathers honey from inside it and eats it. Then he takes it home and his parents eat it—and he doesn’t tell them it’s from a dead body. So now they’re all unclean and Samson has told no one.

Why? Why does Samson do this?

Well I don’t think it’s nefarious. I don’t think right here Samson is trying to flout God’s law or get himself or his parents in trouble. Having read the whole story I honestly think it’s just that Samson doesn’t always think his actions all the way through—a crime we all often commit. He’s a man of the moment. He sees a woman—he likes her so he wants to marry her. He sees a lion so he kills it. He sees honey so he eats it. He’s not exactly the sort of guy who sits around contemplating philosophy and academia. He’s a man of action. And sometimes that makes him a little reckless.

Anyway, so Samson marries this Philistine woman, whose name we never really know. Can someone read Judges 14:12-20?

12 Samson said to them, “Let me now put a riddle to you. If you can explain it to me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments. 13 But if you cannot explain it to me, then you shall give me thirty linen garments and thirty festal garments.” So they said to him, “Ask your riddle; let us hear it.” 14 He said to them,

“Out of the eater came something to eat.
Out of the strong came something sweet.”

But for three days they could not explain the riddle.

15 On the fourth day they said to Samson’s wife, “Coax your husband to explain the riddle to us, or we will burn you and your father’s house with fire. Have you invited us here to impoverish us?” 16 So Samson’s wife wept before him, saying, “You hate me; you do not really love me. You have asked a riddle of my people, but you have not explained it to me.” He said to her, “Look, I have not told my father or my mother. Why should I tell you?” 17 She wept before him the seven days that their feast lasted; and because she nagged him, on the seventh day he told her. Then she explained the riddle to her people. 18 The men of the town said to him on the seventh day before the sun went down,

“What is sweeter than honey?
What is stronger than a lion?”

And he said to them,

“If you had not plowed with my heifer,
you would not have found out my riddle.”

19 Then the spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and he went down to Ashkelon. He killed thirty men of the town, took their spoil, and gave the festal garments to those who had explained the riddle. In hot anger he went back to his father’s house. 20 And Samson’s wife was given to his companion, who had been his best man.

So Samson goes back to his wife’s family and—thinking he’s clever—he thinks of an unfair riddle. “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.” And he wants his family and his wife’s family to solve it—if they do he’ll give them a present.” The answer is of course the honey he got from the lion. But….it’s not exactly a riddle you can solve with logic. It’s exactly the sort of unfair riddle that’s not a riddle at all, but more of an inside joke or bizarre knowledge tests. Sort of like Bilbo asking Gollum “What’s in my pocket?” in the Hobbit. That’s not a riddle at all.

Needless to say people are frustrated—because it’s a stupid riddle. And the Philistines ask Samson’s wife to get the answer from Samson. So she goes before him and cries and is all overdramatic like “You hate me! Tell me the answer.” And Samson is like “I haven’t even told my parents. Why would I tell you?”

Which…terrible marriage advice from Samson, you guys. You should tell your spouse everything.

But she keeps crying and pushing him for the answer so finally he tells her. And then of course she tells everyone else. And then they give the answer to Samson. Who knows they got it from his wife. Here’s another piece of “don’t take marriage advice from Samson.” Guys, never call your wife a cow. Ever.

Anyway, Samson is so angry about them using his wife like this that instead of giving him the presents he promised, he kills thirty guys. And then goes home.

Without his wife.

Definitely not a happy marriage.

Which is what Samson’s wife’s parents think. Samson just killed a whole bunch of their people after calling his wife a cow, and just all around not being very nice with his unfair riddle. So they’re like “Welp, we better find another husband for our daughter.”

After a while Samson comes back and finds out his wife was given away. He’s all like “WHAT?” and his wife’s father is like “We thought you hated her.”

Samson is so mad that he burns down their fields. The fields of the Philistines, who are the rulers of Israel at this moment.

When the Israelites here about this they’re furious.

Three thousand Israelites from the tribe of Judah come to Samson and are like “Dude! Why would you burn the field of the people who rule us??” This sort of supports the theory that the Israelites wouldn’t have followed Samson into battle against the Philistines if he tried, and perhaps why God is going about this on a more individual level, as opposed to like Gideon gathering a whole army.

Anyway Samson is like “They started it.” And the Israelites are like, “Whatever dude, we have to turn you into the Philistines because they’re our rulers and you attacked them.” But at least they promise not to kill Samson but instead just bind him up and turn it in. They’re going to leave it up to the Philistines to exact judgement on Samson.

Someone please read Judges 15:14-15.

14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him; and the spirit of the Lord rushed on him, and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15 Then he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached down and took it, and with it he killed a thousand men.

The Philistines come to get Samson to exact their revenge, but Samson is so strong that he breaks free from his bonds and then finds a jawbone of a donkey and kills a thousand men with a donkey’s jawbone.

Jawbones are pretty strong, but not that strong. This speaks more to Samson’s fighting ability and massive strength than the strength of a jawbone.

In verse 20 of this chapter it says “Samson judged Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistine” which indicates that it’s after this that Samson becomes a judge but also that during his twenty years they don’t overthrow the Philistines, they still live under their rule.

But this is not the end of the story of Samson. In fact, we’re just now getting to the most famous part of Samson’s story: Samson and Delilah.

Can someone read Judges 16:4-8?

4 After this he fell in love with a woman in the valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah. 5 The lords of the Philistines came to her and said to her, “Coax him, and find out what makes his strength so great, and how we may overpower him, so that we may bind him in order to subdue him; and we will each give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.” 6 So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me what makes your strength so great, and how you could be bound, so that one could subdue you.” 7 Samson said to her, “If they bind me with seven fresh bowstrings that are not dried out, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else.” 8 Then the lords of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bowstrings that had not dried out, and she bound him with them. 9 While men were lying in wait in an inner chamber, she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he snapped the bowstrings, as a strand of fiber snaps when it touches the fire. So the secret of his strength was not known.

Samson falls in love with a woman named Delilah. We don’t know if she’s a Philistine, an Israelites, or someone else. But Samson fell in love with her and there is nothing in the text to indicate Samson was married to her. In fact earlier sections, if anything, seem to indicate that after his disastrous first marriage Samson is less inclined to get married again—which once again goes directly against the rules God has laid out for his people.

The Philistines ask Delilah to figure out Samson’s weakness—basically like in the Disney movie Hercules when Hades wants to use Megara to get to Hercules. Samson lies to her and tells her if they bind him with a certain type of string than he will be like any other man.

So she binds him up—presumably while he’s sleeping—and then shouts “SAMSON THE PHILISTINES ARE HERE.” But Samson breaks the strings and is not captured by the Philistines.

You would think at this point Samson would be like “huh, I told Delilah how to hurt me and then she immediately tried to hurt me. Maybe I should not trust her and not hang out with her and certainly not love her.”

But that is not what Samson does.

Can someone read Judges 16:13-14?

13 Then Delilah said to Samson, “Until now you have mocked me and told me lies; tell me how you could be bound.” He said to her, “If you weave the seven locks of my head with the web and make it tight with the pin, then I shall become weak, and be like anyone else.” 14 So while he slept, Delilah took the seven locks of his head and wove them into the web,[a] and made them tight with the pin. Then she said to him, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” But he awoke from his sleep, and pulled away the pin, the loom, and the web.

Instead of Samson getting mad at Delilah for trying to betray and kill him, Delilah gets mad at Samson and is like “YOU LIED TO ME.” And instead of responding, “Well you tried to kill me.” Samson just lies to her *again* about how to make him weak.

Why on earth would anyone want to stay with someone who is obviously trying to kill him? Well the text says Samson loved her, I think it’s more likely he was deep in lust with her and just wanted to be able to continue to sleep with her. So he appeases her.

So Samson lies to her again, she tries it again, and again it doesn’t work. Rinse and repeat.

Can someone read Judges 16:15-20?

15 Then she said to him, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when your heart is not with me? You have mocked me three times now and have not told me what makes your strength so great.” 16 Finally, after she had nagged him with her words day after day, and pestered him, he was tired to death. 17 So he told her his whole secret, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head; for I have been a nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me; I would become weak, and be like anyone else.”

18 When Delilah realized that he had told her his whole secret, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, “This time come up, for he has told his whole secret to me.” Then the lords of the Philistines came up to her, and brought the money in their hands. 19 She let him fall asleep on her lap; and she called a man, and had him shave off the seven locks of his head. He began to weaken, and his strength left him. 20 Then she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” When he awoke from his sleep, he thought, “I will go out as at other times, and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him. 21 So the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes. They brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles; and he ground at the mill in the prison.

Delilah again is like “Why do you keep lying to me?” And keeps pressing him about it and finally he tells her the truth. That he has never cut his hair from the day of his birth, as God asked of his mother, and should his hair be cut, his incredible strength would leave him.

And Delilah basically goes immediately to the Philistines and is like “pay up!” So they pay her and she cuts his hair. And when he wakes up, he can’t break free. His strength has left him. His hair is gone.

The Philistines capture him and gouge his eyes out and make him their prisoner.

Samson is kept prisoner for a while, because it brings the Philistines joy to have this mighty warrior humbled before them. They mock him for their enjoyment.

Can someone read Judges 16:28-30?

28 Then Samson called to the Lord and said, “Lord God, remember me and strengthen me only this once, O God, so that with this one act of revenge I may pay back the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 And Samson grasped the two middle pillars on which the house rested, and he leaned his weight against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other. 30 Then Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines.” He strained with all his might; and the house fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So those he killed at his death were more than those he had killed during his life. 

Samson prays to God and is like “please, just give me strength one more time so I can end this.” And God does. Samson grabs the two pillars he is standing between and pulls them in. The building then collapses all around them killing himself and all the people inside.

He killed more with his death than he ever did with his life.

This…isn’t usually how these stories go is it. Usually our judge has a victory against his oppressor, freeing Israel, but Samson is defeated. Samson is repeatedly hotheaded and in the end defeated by his own lust and refusal to see the truth about the woman he chose to hang out with.

There are so many things we can talk about with this story. How it’s important to think through our actions and how what we might do reflects on ourselves, our families, and God. How the people you hang out with can change you and use you, and that’s why it’s so important for us to surround ourselves by good people. We can talk about lust and love—how they’re not the same—and you shouldn’t let yourselves be driven by lust or desire, especially when you know that person doesn’t feel the same about you.

But I think the most important thing is that…sometimes people fail. Sometimes we fail our people, we fail God. Samson failed. He didn’t save Israel. His greatest accomplishment resulted in his own death. People will fail us. It is as they say “to err is human.” Humans make mistakes. We do the wrong things. You can’t put your faith solely in any one person to save you, or complete you, or never fail you. Only God is that faithful.

And he is faithful as we will see going forward. Just because Samson failed it didn’t mean the end for Israel. There is hope, because God has a plan.

A king is coming.

Gideon

Okay so a lot of people weren’t here last week so a brief recap. We are now in the period of time where the Israelites are in the Promised Land. They don’t have a king, instead they are led by God through people called prophets, men and women who talk to God. At any one time there is one prophet leading the people of Israel and that person is sometimes also called a Judge, since people often went to prophets for judgement and the like.

Last week we talked about Deborah. This week we’re talking about Gideon. This is actually one of my favorite Bible stories because I feel it is so relatable and ridiculous and awesome all at the same time, so I hope you guys enjoy it.

So this is the set up for the story. The Israelites are being oppressed by the Midianites. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Midian is where Moses went when he fled Israel. This is a group of people that have been around for a while, and as often happened in the ancient world, there were skirmishes and fights and wars and one group would conquer the other. In the case the Midianites have conquered Israel for about seven years, and God has allowed it—the text says because Israel had done something bad, and God was trying to correct this course. Possible this was the period between Deborah being a judge and a new judge being established and the Israelites strayed. It’s heavily implied in this section and others that the Israelites basically started worshipping other gods, which is literally like rule one of the ten commandments.

So the Midianites are now in charge, because God wants to remind Israel who their true God is, and they have basically bankrupted Israel, stealing all their stuff and taking it for their own gain. And the Israelites aren’t happy about this so they’re crying out to God. “Please help us!” And God is like “Hey I’ve got you. I’ve always had you—remember Egypt. But you need to stop worshipping other gods.”

And as God does in this time, to save them, he chooses a prophet to lead them to freedom. He happens to choose a guy named Gideon. Let’s see how Gideon takes this news. Can someone read Judges 6:11-18?

11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” 13 Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” 15 He responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.” 17 Then he said to him, “If now I have found favor with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. 18 Do not depart from here until I come to you, and bring out my present, and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay until you return.”

When we’re introduced to Gideon he’s beating wheat in a wine press. Why is this important. What does it mean. Basically he’s doing a job that would normally be done in the fields in a safer area where the Midianites won’t see him. Because remember the Midianites are like locusts, if they see something they want—like wheat, aka food—they’ll just take it. So you have to do tasks like that in secret.

So Gideon is just minding his own business, basically doing his job when an angel appears to him. But he doesn’t realize it’s an angel at first—which is why he just calls him sir. And the angel is basically like “God is awesome and has our backs!” And Gideon is like “If God has our backs why are our lives so awful?” And then the angel is like “Welp, God has chosen you to be the next leader of Israel! Surprise.” And remember, Gideon thinks this is just a random dude, so he’s like “Whatever, man. I’m a nobody. Stop messing with me.”

But the angel is persistent, he’s like “God has our back.” And at this point Gideon is getting a little suspicious about who he is talking to so he’s like…”Okay, give me a sign who I’m speaking to. I need to know. But don’t you go and disappear on me while I go to get the stuff.” And the angel is like “Okay, whatever.”

Someone read Judges 6:19-23.

19 So Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them. 20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. 22 Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, “Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” 23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.”

Gideon goes back to his house and basically brings back some food for the angel. The angel gives Gideon some specific instructions on what to do with the food and then BOOM. Spontaneous combustion of the food and the angel just vanishes from sight. Gideon is like “Holy moly, I was talking to an angel of God.” But then God (possibly in the form of an angel or possibly just directly talking to him) is like “don’t be afraid. We’re cool.”

Someone read Judges 6:24-27.

24 Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.

25 That night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull, the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father, and cut down the sacred pole that is beside it; 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, in proper order; then take the second bull, and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the sacred pole that you shall cut down.” 27 So Gideon took ten of his servants, and did as the Lord had told him; but because he was too afraid of his family and the townspeople to do it by day, he did it by night.

So God then gives Gideon instructions. He’s like “Hey, your dad has this alter to Baal. That’s not cool. Remember the whole first commandment about not having other Gods? Yeah, so I’m going to need you to tear down that alter and build me a new one.”

Gideon gets a direct order from God. Seems like a no brainer that he would do what God says and he does….but not right away. Gideon is terrified what everyone is going to do to him if they see him doing this thing, because that alter to Baal would be sacred to his family and neighbors—even though they’re all Israelites who are supposed to be worshipping God. So Gideon does it, but under the cover of night.

How do you think people are going to feel when they wake up the next morning and see their alter gone? [Let them answer.] Yeah I think they’ll be pretty upset. Let’s see. Can someone read Judges 6:28-32?

28 When the townspeople rose early in the morning, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the sacred pole beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29 So they said to one another, “Who has done this?” After searching and inquiring, they were told, “Gideon son of Joash did it.” 30 Then the townspeople said to Joash, “Bring out your son, so that he may die, for he has pulled down the altar of Baal and cut down the sacred pole beside it.” 31 But Joash said to all who were arrayed against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you defend his cause? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been pulled down.” 32 Therefore on that day Gideon[c] was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he pulled down his altar.

People are furious when they wake up and see their alter is gone. They immediately what to know who did it. And somehow they find out it was Gideon. Maybe one of the servants who helped him told, maybe someone saw them, I don’t know but I doubt it was Gideon who went forward and boldly declared it to be himself. The townspeople go to Gideon’s dad and are like “Give us your son because we’re going to kill him for what he did.”

Now Gideon’s dad doesn’t seem cool with this plan so he offers an alternative plan. He’s like “Well, shouldn’t it be Baal who cares that Gideon took down his alter? If that’s the case, we should let Baal take care of Gideon. After all if Baal is a god than he’s powerful enough to do whatever.” And the people are basically like “I guess that makes sense.”

Someone read Judges 6:33-35?

33 Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east came together, and crossing the Jordan they encamped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 But the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon; and he sounded the trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called out to follow him. 35 He sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, and they too were called out to follow him. He also sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they went up to meet them.

So the Midianites are amassing, maybe to take the Israelites again, maybe to do something else. And Gideon feels the spirit of God come upon him and basically he sounds a trumpet and send out messengers and brings together a whole army to follow him. Which seems like a pretty brave move for the guy who took down an alter in the middle of the night to do. Maybe Gideon has learned bravery?

Let’s read Judges 6:36-38.

36 Then Gideon said to God, “In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37 I am going to lay a fleece of wool on the threshing floor; if there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.

Gideon has not in fact learned bravery.

Gideon is literally amassing an army to take down the Midianites and he’s like “I don’t know God. Are you sure you mean me? Are you sure you want me to do this? I’m not sure. Sooooo I’m going to do a little test.” He puts a fleece of wool out and is like “If when I wake up it’s wet with dew but everything else is dry, then I know. I know you mean me.”

And of course God means him so the fleece is wet the next morning and the ground is dry. So Gideon should be good now, right? He should be like “Alright God! Let’s go defeat some Midianites.”

Yeah, no. He’s not like that.

Someone read Judges 6:39-40:

39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40 And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

Gideon is like “I guess the whole fleece being wet thing could have been a coincidence, so why don’t we try this again. Please do the opposite this time. Fleece dry and ground wet.” And I’m sure in heaven God is rolling his eyes but he’s like “Ok, Gideon, let’s do this.” So the fleece is dry and the ground is wet.

At this point Gideon seems to get the message that indeed God has chosen him. So can someone read Judges 7:1-3?

1 Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the troops that were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod; and the camp of Midian was north of them, below the hill of Moreh, in the valley.

2 The Lord said to Gideon, “The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me.’ 3 Now therefore proclaim this in the hearing of the troops, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home.’” Thus Gideon sifted them out;twenty-two thousand returned, and ten thousand remained.

So Gideon gathers all these troops. Basically he gathers 32,000 men and God is like “You know, this army is too mighty. If you have that many men, people may actually believe it’s the might of the men and not God who delivered you. And that’s not what I want. So why don’t you tell everyone who is scared that they can go home.”

I’m sure at this point Gideon was like “Does that include me?” And God was like “No.” The Bible doesn’t say that but I could totally see it happening.

Anyway, twenty-two thousand men leave leaving ten thousand behind.

I’m sure at this, Gideon is getting a little nervous but like “ten thousand isn’t too bad for an army.” Can someone read Judges 7:4-8?

4 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “The troops are still too many; take them down to the water and I will sift them out for you there. When I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go with you; and when I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” 5 So he brought the troops down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, “All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side.” 6 The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. 7 Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.” 8 So he took the jars of the troops from their hands, and their trumpets; and he sent all the rest of Israel back to their own tents, but retained the three hundred. The camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

So ten thousand men and God is like “Nope, still too many. Let’s winnow it down some more.” Which I’m sure promptly caused Gideon to cry. I would. So God tells them to go to the water and everyone who drinks like a dog by putting their head in the water should be put on one side and the others who drink like civilized people on the other. And then! Does God choose the civilized people? NO. He chooses the ones who lapped like dogs. Says send everyone else home.

Three hundred men, Gideon is left with. THREE HUNDRED. If I was Gideon we would be cueing a freak out at this moment.

As if that wasn’t enough does God have Gideon hand out swords to everyone? No. Instead he gives them trumpets and jars—which will also be referred to as pitchers. So basically water carrying clay jars. What the heck are they supposed to do with trumpets and jars against the army of Midian?

Someone read Judges 7:9-14.

9 That same night the Lord said to him, “Get up, attack the camp; for I have given it into your hand. 10 But if you fear to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah; 11 and you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to attack the camp.” Then he went down with his servant Purah to the outposts of the armed men that were in the camp. 12 The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the east lay along the valley as thick as locusts; and their camels were without number, countless as the sand on the seashore. 13 When Gideon arrived, there was a man telling a dream to his comrade; and he said, “I had a dream, and in it a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came to the tent, and struck it so that it fell; it turned upside down, and the tent collapsed.” 14 And his comrade answered, “This is no other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, a man of Israel; into his hand God has given Midian and all the army.”

It’s the time to attack the camp and God is like “hey Gideon it’s time, but if you’re scared you should go down into the enemy camp with your servant—cuz I know you’re scared and won’t want to go alone. Then afterward, you’ll feel better.”

I’m sure Gideon was like “yeah right, God” but he does it anyway. So he goes down with his servant to this enemy camp and then he hears two men talking about a dream. And one of them literally says “That’s because God is going to deliver Midian to Gideon.”

Talk about a confidence booster!

Someone read Judges 7:16-22.

16 After he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and put trumpets into the hands of all of them, and empty jars, with torches inside the jars, 17 he said to them, “Look at me, and do the same; when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets around the whole camp, and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon!’”

19 So Gideon and the hundred who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. 20 So the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars, holding in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow; and they cried, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 Every man stood in his place all around the camp, and all the men in camp ran; they cried out and fled. 22 When they blew the three hundred trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow and against all the army; and the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah,[a] as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath.

So Gideon goes back to his camp and divides his people up. And he gives them the battle plan which boils down to this: They’re going to make a lot of noise.

They’re going to blow trumpets. They’re going to smash their clay pitchers. They’re going to shout “FOR THE LORD AND FOR GIDEON.”

The 300 dudes are like “Cool.” And they do it. And it works. “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” they shout, while blowing trumpets and smashing pots. And the Midianites, they just flee. They run in terror.

Gideon then sends out some messengers and make sure they capture the leaders of the fleeing army. Which they do. And they kill them and they win.

This is probably an even crazier battle plan than Jericho and it works. 300 men, no weapons between them, and they win. And no one doubts that it’s God’s might and not Israel’s that brought the Midianites down that day.

This ridiculous winning strategy is one of the reasons why I love this story but it’s not the only or most important one. I think there is something critical in the story of Gideon. Something people often overlook.

There are multiple verses in the Bible about how we shouldn’t test God. Deuteronomy 6:16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Isaiah 7:12 “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to test.” Luke 4:12 “Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And yet…yet Gideon tests God three times. Once he tests the angel, asking him to prove who he is. Twice he puts out a fleece for God, asking for a different sign.

And each time God just patiently does what Gideon asks, proves that Gideon is the one God wants and is talking to.

The night of the battle when Gideon is undoubtedly uncertain if they’re going to be able to win with 300 men and no weapons, God doesn’t rebuke Gideon and say “Hey why are you so unfaithful? Just believe and do what I say!” No, instead God tells him to go down to the other camp and gives him yet another sign that Gideon will prevail.

He even lets him take his servant with him! Which not two chapter earlier, Deborah rebuked Barak for being scared to go alone, and here God is telling Gideon it’s ok. It’s okay to be scared, take your servant.

Why is this different? Why is this story different?

Gideon is constantly described as being afraid. He’s hiding in a winepress when the angel finds him. He’s too afraid to take down the alter during the day so he does it at night. He’s too afraid to go to the enemy camp at night. He also thinks he’s nothing special, tells the angel that it can’t be Gideon the angel means will save Israel because Gideon is a nobody, a nothing.

Is Gideon a coward? Some have described him as such, but coward makes it seem so selfish. As if Gideon is only concerned for his own safety, and I don’t think God would be so patient with such a selfish desire. So why is God so patient with Gideon when we’ve seen him be so impatient with everybody else?

I read this story and all I saw was anxiety. Gideon is afraid, he is anxious. It’s not just a selfish fear for his own life, he literally believes he can’t be the man God means, that if God puts his faith in Gideon that Gideon will fail God. And to me, Gideon just screams of a textbook case of anxiety.

Anxiety isn’t just being worried. We all worry. Anxiety is a level of worry and uncertainty that most of us can’t understand. An anxious person often needs constant reassurance, needs to be told multiple times not to worry about a thing.

This isn’t faithlessness, this is mental illness. And I think that is why God is so patient with Gideon. It’s not that Gideon doesn’t believe. It’s that Gideon is so anxious he can’t be sure that the signs really mean what they mean or if his mind is playing tricks on him or if he’s remembering wrong. If this was just plain old-fashioned testing, I think God would get angry with Gideon. But instead God holds Gideon’s hand through this whole process and constantly reassures him, never rebukes him. And he leads Gideon to a victory that Gideon could have never imagined.

God met Gideon where he was at. God saw this anxious man and said, “This is the one I want to lead my people” and because God knew about Gideon’s anxiety he was patient and compassionate. God always meets us where we at and he can use us no matter what may be wrong with us.

And God knows any mental illness we may have is not faithlessness. Brokenness, just like a broken bone or an illness, but not faithlessness. And God has always been willing to work with broken people.

And that’s why the story of Gideon is so important. 

Deborah and Jael

Recap of where we are in the Bible: the Israelites are now in the Promised Land. They have settled there and are no longer wandering, they are home. Does Israel have a king? No. What is the leader of the Israelites called at this point? [Let them answer.]

A prophet. I know it can be confusing because it modern speech “prophet” usually means someone who like sees the future, but remember that’s not what it means in the Bible. A Prophet is just someone who talks to God. And during this time period in Israel’s history, because the prophet talks to God, the prophet is usually the leader of the people. The Israelites have no king, God is there king, and the prophet is the person who tells them what God wants them to do.

Moses was the first prophet of Israel, then Joshua. But then Joshua dies and someone becomes prophet after him and then another person becomes prophet after him, etc. This goes on for a long time! And the book of Judges is the story of Israel during this time when many different prophets led them. So for the next three weeks we’re going to look at a few specific prophets. Some of my favorite Bible stories come from this section of the Bible, and today is one of them.

Today we are going to talk about Deborah. So please open your Bibles. Can someone read Judges 4:1-3?

4 The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, after Ehud died. 2 So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. 3 Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.

These verses set up what’s going on. Ehud was the last prophet of Israel. Basically he dies and the Israelites start to stray from God. So to teach them a lesson, God allows this king called Jabin to conquer them. Jabin has a huge army and oppressed the Israelites for 20 years, so the Israelites are pretty miserable.

Alright can someone read Judges 4:4-5?

4 At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. 5 She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment.

So the new prophet is a woman named Deborah. The Israelites may be oppressed but they still have a leader, and it’s Deborah. The text says she sits under a tree and people come to her for her judgements. Why hasn’t she gone out and conquered these invaders, like Joshua or Moses might have? Well remember, it’s God who has allowed Jabin to oppress the Israelites. Deborah is a prophet of the Lord and she’s not going to go against God’s will. But when God tells her it’s time to be free, she’s also not going to go against that either! Which is what we’re about to see. Can someone read Judges 4:6-9?

 6 She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. 7 I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” 8 Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” 9 And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.

Deborah summons to her a guy named Barak. I bet that name sounds familiar to you, doesn’t it? Yep it’s Barak just like Barak Obama. So anyway, Deborah calls this guy Barak to her and basically says, “God says it’s time for us to be free! you’re going to take out the army of Jabin and be free! And you, Barak, are going to be the general who does this.”

But Barak is basically like “I don’t to go alone, please come with me.” Is he scared to go alone? Maybe. Or maybe he knows all the stories about prophets in the past leading Israel to freedom, and he knows he’s no prophet. He’s just a general. But Moses with his hands could cause an army to rise or fall. And God has Deborah’s back just like God had Moses’s back. Or maybe he’s thinking having a prophet there will cause the people to remember those stories and for them to fight harder. Regardless, it does show that Barak doesn’t have complete faith in the instructions that Deborah has gotten from God, that he doesn’t have complete faith in God’s plan. Barak wants to add onto it.

And Deborah responds that she will obviously go if that’s what he wants, but because he asked and didn’t fully trust in God’s plan, he won’t be the one remembered for defeating the bad guys. That this bad general, Sisera, will be delivered to the hand of a woman.

Remember, back then, women were not considered the equal to men. Deborah gets a pass because God chose her, and not even men with stupid ideas about oppressing women are going to go against what God has said. But to most dudes of the time, saying that a woman would get the glory instead of you was like horribly insulting. Because they basically didn’t consider women as real, full people. So what should be Barak’s glory going to a woman is a little bit of a punishment.

Of course it’s also possible that Barak is a good general who doesn’t care about glory. He only cares about the victory and getting his people free. So in that case, he may not care if it’s Deborah or some random woman who gets the glory as long as it’s for God’s glory and God’s people are freed. We don’t really know. All we really know about Barak is that he clearly trusted Deborah and was willing to follow her lead.

Let’s read Judges 4:10-13.

 10 Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and ten thousand warriors went up behind him; and Deborah went up with him.

11 Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the other Kenites,[a] that is, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had encamped as far away as Elon-bezaanannim, which is near Kedesh.

12 When Sisera was told that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, 13 Sisera called out all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the troops who were with him, from Harosheth-ha-goiim to the Wadi Kishon.

So Barak does as he’s told and it doesn’t go unnoticed. This Kenite called Heber sees it. The Kenites were allies of the Israelites, claiming they were descended from Moses’s in-laws. But for some reason this guy Heber sides with the other team in this fight. So when he sees Barak gather all these men, he basically goes and tattles on him to the enemy general, Sisera. So the enemy general is like “heck no, I’m not letting an insurrection happen on my watch!” And he gathers his massive army to fight them.

Can someone read Judges 4:14-17?

14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day on which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. The Lord is indeed going out before you.” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand warriors following him. 15 And the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and all his army into a panic[a] before Barak; Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot, 16 while Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-ha-goiim. All the army of Sisera fell by the sword; no one was left.

17 Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite.

Deborah tells Barak that today is the day he’s gotta fight Sisera, so Barak goes out with his ten thousand men. Sisera’s men panic and basically Barak’s army tears them through like a hot knife through butter. I think we can safely say the Israelites are successfully defeating their enemies. But Sisera is trying to get away. He gets out of his chariot and flees on foot, all the way to Heber’s camp, and Heber’s actual tent. Heber’s probably not even in this fight, this is just a not so far away campsite most likely. Heber is allied with Sisera, but there’s a difference between allies who will spy for you and allies who will die for you. Heber’s not the die for you kind. But Heber is certainly the kind of ally that would try to shelter Sisera. So Sisera runs to his tent and ends up at the tent of Heber’s wife, Jael.

Someone read Judges 4:18-20

18 Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19 Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20 He said to her, “Stand at the entrance of the tent, and if anybody comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” 

So Jael comes out and meets and is like “you can come in here we will keep you safe and hide you.” He believes her because he has no reason not to. Heber—her husband—is allied with him. So he comes him and she hide shim by covering him with a rug. And then he’s like “I’m thirsty.” So she gives him milk. And because he’s still very demanding, he’s like “Can you stand at the entrance of the tent and if anybody asks you anything just cover for me.”

She agrees.

He falls asleep.

Now can someone read Judges 4:21

21 But Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground—he was lying fast asleep from weariness—and he died.

Jael straight up kills this dude. He falls asleep in her tent, where she offered him shelter, and gave him stuff to drink and pretended like she was going to hide him. And when he falls asleep does she protect him. No. Instead she drives a tent peg through his head.

Jael’s not playing around.

But why does she kill him? Her husband is his ally.

Well, let’s not forget that husbands and wives aren’t always on the same page about things. People would have taken it fore granted back then that a wife must do what a husband says. So if a husband allies with someone, the wife is obviously allied with him to, because a wife was generally so subjugated by her husband she couldn’t go against him without major repercussions. Men could beat their wives without getting in trouble back then, so a woman was taking her own life into her hands by defying her husband. But Jael obviously was still loyal to the Israelites, as most Kenites were. Or maybe she saw what Jabin was doing to the Israelites and disagreed. Or maybe she loved and trusted God and knew this was what God wanted her to do. We don’t know why she did it. We just know she made a decision—independent of her husband’s will—and did what she thought was right.

Can someone read Judges 4:22-24?

22 Then, as Barak came in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went into her tent; and there was Sisera lying dead, with the tent peg in his temple.

23 So on that day God subdued King Jabin of Canaan before the Israelites. 24 Then the hand of the Israelites bore harder and harder on King Jabin of Canaan, until they destroyed King Jabin of Canaan.

Barak pursues Sisera and Jael comes out to meet him like “I’ve got him for you.” She takes him to the tent and shoes him Sisera dead.

And so between Barak’s army and Jael’s swift action, the Israelites win that day. Jabin is overthrown and the Israelites are freed.

This victory is rarely talked about as Barak’s victory, even though he was the general who led the troops. Deborah’s words have come true. This victory is tied tightly to two women: Deborah and Jael. It was Deborah’s leadership and Jael’s quick thinking that led to the victory.

This story is important for a number of reasons. But mainly because this is a story that focuses on women, and women in rolls that aren’t normally attributed in society.

For thousands of years women have been kept out of leadership roles, told that it’s simply something women are not capable of, something we’re not built for. For thousands of years women have been told they are not capable of being soldiers, of making tough decisions that need to be made. Women have been told to behave and be a certain way, and if a woman existed outside of those bounds she was not treated well. In this story we have two women who do what God requires of them, and it goes directly in the face of what society requires of them as women. Because those are not the same thing. What God requires of us and what society requires of us do not always align.

God required Deborah to lead. It didn’t matter that the Israelites had a patriarchal culture. God is not. And he called Deborah to lead just as he had called Ehud, Joshua, and Moses before her.

God required Jael to be a soldier, even though women were not allowed to be soldiers back then and women certainly were not allowed to go against their husbands. But Jael did both, because it was what God required of her.

We answer to God first, always.

There are many denominations still today of Christianity that tell women they are not equal to men. That women are only supposed to do and behave certain ways. But we see clearly in this story that that is not God’s rule. Deborah and Jael are far from the only women in the Bible to make decisions for God and to lead and to do things that society may not view as appropriate for women. We already talked about Rahab, who hid Hebrew spies from her people. We will talk about Ruth, Naomi, Esther, Anna, Dorcas, Junia. There are so many women who are for more than the boxes that society has tried to place them in.

Can someone flip to the New Testament, Galatians 3:28. Remember Galatians was a letter written by Paul to the Church at Galatia.

28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

What Paul is saying here is that it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy, a Jew or not, poor or rich, oppressed or privileged, before God in Jesus we’re all the same. God can and does use us all for his glory and purpose. We are all here to serve God. We are all held to the same standard and we all serve the same God.

And this is why I think the story of Deborah and Jael is so important. It’s one of the few Biblical examples we get of women, doing exactly as God wants them to do, living the life God wants them to, and that includes traditionally non-feminine activities.

Male or female, you are not beholden to societies views of gender roles. You are beholden to God. The most important role in your life is being a follower of Christ.