After finishing our look at the kings of Israel and Judah – having begun with David – I decided to back up and see how Israel ended up with an earthly king in the first place. And this is where we learn that once the twelve tribes of Israel (before the nation split into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Southern Kingdom of Judah) had settled into the “Promised Land” and divided it into the individual tribes’ own territories, there was no central government or leader.
Eventually Samuel set up a sort of circuit court – see First Samuel 7:16. Samuel and other judges also served as military leaders on many occasions. Sadly, the Book of Judges ends with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
“Israel had no king.” Israel had never had an earthly king and their behavior made it clear that Jehovah wasn’t respected as their Righteous King and Ruler.
Before we get to Israel’s first earthly king, we need to cover a little background. Yesterday I’d said that the Israelites had taken the Ark of the Lord with them into battle against the Philistines. The Ark was captured by the Philistines, but the Lord sent such a severe plague on the Philistines that they sent the Ark back to Israel. Still, the Israelites were terrified of the Philistines.
“Then Samuel said to all the people of Israel, ‘If you are really serious about wanting to return to the Lord, get rid of your foreign gods and your images of Ashtoreth. Determine to obey only the Lord; then He will rescue you from the Philistines.’ So the Israelites got rid of their images of Baal and Ashtoreth and worshiped only the Lord. Then Samuel told them, ‘Gather all of Israel to Mizpah, and I will pray to the Lord for you.’
So they gathered at Mizpah and, in a great ceremony, drew water from a well and poured it out before the Lord. They also went without food all day and confessed that they had sinned against the Lord. (It was at Mizpah that Samuel became Israel’s judge.) When the Philistine rulers heard that Israel had gathered at Mizpah, they mobilized their army and advanced.
The Israelites were badly frightened when they learned that the Philistines were approaching. ‘Don’t stop pleading with the Lord our God to save us from the Philistines!’ they begged Samuel. So Samuel took a young lamb and offered it to the Lord as a whole burnt offering. He pleaded with the Lord to help Israel, and the Lord answered him.
Just as Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines arrived to attack Israel. But the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven that day, and the Philistines were thrown into such confusion that the Israelites defeated them. Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer (which means ‘the stone of help’), for he said, ‘Up to this point the Lord has helped us!’” (I Samuel 7:3-10, 12, NLT).
Samuel set up a memorial stone to commemorate the Lord’s great victory over the Philistines and His protection over His people Israel. “He named it Ebenezer (which means ‘the stone of help’)…” Some of you may be old enough to recall the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” – you can see all it in its entirety here: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/c/o/comethou.htm. The words are powerful when you understand them:
“Here I raise my Ebenezer; Hither by Thy help I’m come.” Unlike most of us who sang it, the writer, 18th century pastor and hymnist Robert Robinson, understood what raising his Ebenezer meant – he was lifting up Jesus, the Stone of Help. Only in and through Christ do we have victory.
Jesus said, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to Myself” (John 12:32). Not only was Jesus lifted up in victory on a cruel rugged cross, He is lifted up in honor every time we call on His Name. Need a victory? Lift up your Ebenezer.
Copyright © 2013
Judy Woodward Bates