God promises us His blessing and protection when we believe in Him, and place Him in the highest position of authority in our lives. However, this life is not so simple, as we are traversing a world that is constantly trying to replace Him--and, majority of the time, the world succeeds. When we make other people/ideas/material things/political parties (etc.) the kings of our lives, we reject the authority of God over ourselves--we seek something that fulfills our own agenda, and allows us to feel comfortable in the world of our own making, rather than trust in God’s way.
This was the case for the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, and we see the root of their problem stemming from a people who consistently turn away from God. The nation of Israel was the nation determined by God--according to the Tanakh (Old Testament)--who would be the inheritors of the promises given to Abraham (back in Genesis). It was through Israel that God’s Blessing would come--the blessing that is Jesus, who fulfills the promises God had given to Abraham, and brings it to the entire world.
1) Return to the Lord with all your heart
We see a continual pattern throughout the Old Testament of God blessing His people, but then those same people turning away from Him and growing distant in their hearts. This brings us to 1 Samuel chapters 7 and 8. Chapter seven begins with the people of Israel being in a state of fear towards the Philistines (a sea-faring enemy; a constant nuisance and danger to Israel), who had defeated their entire army in a recent battle. It was in this defeated setting that the prophet Samuel spoke to them and said, “If you return to the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths [Canaanite goddesses] from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only; and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” (1 Samuel 7:3).
After Samuel speaks this, we see the people of Israel actually turn and serve only the Lord once again. Following this, Samuel tells the people of Israel to gather into a place called Mizpah, where he would pray for them. And once they were gathered in Mizpah, the Philistines saw their opportunity to destroy the Israelites, and went to do so. In this setting, the Israelites are quite terrified--understandably so--and say to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” (1 Samuel 7:8). Samuel then offers up a sacrifice to God and prays for Israel. The text then says that, “the Lord answered him.” (1 Samuel 7:9).
Soon after, the Word says that “the Lord thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day, and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel” (1 Samuel 7:10); thus the Israelites defeated the Philistines and drove them very far away--to put it simply--and the Philistines “did not come anymore into the territory of Israel” (1 Samuel 7:13).
Why do I recount this series of events? Because it’s important to see that God’s hand was extended towards Israel, despite them worshipping other gods and spiritually submitting to authorities other than Himself. It is also important to notice that God told Israel to return to Him “with all your hearts” (1 Samuel 7:3). Why must we turn to Him with all our hearts? Because it demonstrates--as was the case for Israel in this instance--the action of turning away from what is wrong in God’s eyes, and re-submitting to His authority in our lives. And after the Israelites turned, we see God’s blessing by Him intervening and empowering the Israelites to overcome their enemy.
2) Israel rejects God as their authority once again
Now, having taken this relatively straightforward story of Israel into consideration, it is also important to address what Israel does shortly after. At the beginning of chapter 8, we see Samuel is now old and he has made his sons judges over Israel (1 Samuel 8:1). Samuel is passing on some of his authority as a “judge” (in this sense, someone who helped govern/rule in the wisdom of the Lord--an authoritative figure) to his sons.
Samuel’s sons, however, were corrupt leaders, and Samuel is confronted by the elders of Israel who say to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (1 Samuel 8:5). This displeased Samuel, who then brought it to the Lord in prayer, of which God responded, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day--with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods--so they are doing to you also.” (1 Samuel 8:7-8).
Essentially, the people of Israel were rejecting the role that Samuel had been fulfilling, which was a prophetic role that expressed the authority of God. By doing this, the Israelites are rejecting God in a way, because it is pretty much saying, “We don’t want your authority, we want a king like the other nations,” since Samuel represented God in an authoritative sense. And in a direct sense, it is rejecting Samuel, and neglecting what he had done in the battle against the Philistines. And although in Deuteronomy we see God outline the necessary steps to establish a king appointed by Him (Deuteronomy 17:14-15), the Israelites fail to acknowledge God’s reasoning thereof, and instead seek to establish one for their own reasons.
We see their motive through their response to Samuel’s warning--a warning that outlined the behavior the king would have (which, I believe, was outlining the behavior of all the kings to come--our typical ideas of a selfish tyrant; 1 Samuel 8:11-18)--of which they responded: “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).
3) God wants to go before us and fight our battles
The funny thing about this series of events is that God extended His hand to restore Israel to Himself, which the Israelites accepted and turned back to God--winning the battle over the Philistines in doing so; but then in just a few years, had forgotten what God did for them and sought after an earthly king to rule over them and “fight their battles.” Instead of seeking after God as their authority, the elders of Israel looked around at the other nations of the world and wanted what they had: a king. The sad truth is that the Israelites already had an Authority that judged them, went before them, and fought their battles--but instead of realizing that authority found in God, they wanted to find it in the world. This backfires on Israel in many ways, and leads to terrible kings who run the nation into destruction and eventual captivity under Babylon. At the same time, however, God's promise stood through it all...
This transition to a monarchy for Israel led to Saul being chosen by God as Israel’s first king. Saul doesn't do too well straight-out, and eventually David ascends the throne and succeeds him. And it’s with David that God gives His promise; a promise that talks about a King that will rule forever, whose Kingdom will never end (2 Samuel 7:12-16). This prophecy is talking about Jesus, who fulfills the role of that King, and establishes God’s kingdom in the very place He cares about most: our hearts.
From the same place that God called the Israelites to turn in their ways back in 1 Samuel 7:3, Jesus rules from within the heart of man and is the authority that “may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:20). God desires to be the authority within our lives so badly, that He is still fighting the same battle within our hearts as He was when Samuel called the Israelites to repentance. And even as the Israelites sought a king that would act as a judge for them, so too will Jesus judge all of us one day.
However, unlike the Israelites in this story, we live in a time where the promise has been fulfilled; where God has already provided the King that we need. We do not live in the same times as the Israelites in First Samuel; a period where the people of Israel had to look forward to the fulfillment of God’s promise. God wanted nothing more from Israel then their obedience and their exclusive worship to Him; but where they failed time and time again, God’s faithful hand never left them.
In everything God did, He foreshadowed His character in Jesus: the relentless grace He gives us when we turn back to Him; His total destruction of those who oppose Him and do evil; and His longing for us to realize Him as our Ultimate Authority and King. Where David and the kings that followed failed, Jesus succeeds in every aspect. He fights battles for us that we can’t even see or comprehend, and He has gone out before us: where we walk, He has already been. All that this God requires from us is to return to Him with all our hearts, and put our trust in His authority, and in doing so, He will assume the responsibility of our lives that nothing else was ever supposed to take.