My studies of the Come, Follow Me lesson took me to 1 Samuel 8-10; 13; 15-18. The lesson was titled “The Battle Is the Lord’s.” As we learned last week, Samuel was known to be a prophet in Israel. This lesson is about the battles of the children of Israel with their enemies surrounding them. It is also a tale of what happens when we reject God. The lesson was introduced by the following statement:
Ever since the tribes of Israel had settled in the promised land, the Philistines had been an ongoing threat to their safety. Many times in the past, the Lord had delivered the Israelites from their enemies. But now the elders of Israel demanded, “We will have a king … [to] go out before us, and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20). The Lord relented, and Saul was anointed king. And yet when the menacing giant Goliath hurled his challenge to the armies of Israel, Saul – like the rest of his army – was “greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:11). On that day, it wasn’t King Saul who saved Israel but a humble shepherd boy named David, who was wearing no armor but was clothed with impenetrable faith in the Lord. This battle proved to Israel, and to anyone who has spiritual battles to fight, that “the Lord saveth not with sword and spear” and that “the battle is the Lord’s”
(1 Samuel 17:47).
According to the Old Testament student manual, the background for the lesson is found in 1 Samuel 4-7, which deal with “Israel’s loss of the of the ark of God to the Philistines.”
… The Israelites viewed the ark as the visible symbol of the presence of God, but bringing the ark from Shiloh on this occasion was a demonstration of Israel’s state of spiritual wickedness rather than a demonstration of their faith.
“They vainly supposed that the ark could save them, when the God of it had departed from them because of their wickedness. They knew that in former times their fathers had been beaten by their enemies, when they took not the ark with them to battle; as in the case of their wars with the Canaanites, [see Numbers 14:44-45]; and that they had conquered when they took this with them, as in the case of the destruction of Jericho, [see Joshua 6:4]. From the latter clause they took confidence; but the cause of their miscarriage in the former they laid not to heart.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:219.)
Great disaster followed the appearance of the ark among the troops because of Israel’s wickedness. Israel suffered a resounding defeat, Hophni and Phinehas were slain, and the ark was captured. News of the capture of the ark and of the death of his sons caused Eli such consternation that he lost his balance on his seat, fell over backwards, and died, thus fulfilling the prophecy that his house would come to a tragic end (see 1 Samuel 2:27-36).
The Israelites were living in a theocracy or a government under the immediate direction of God. Jesus Christ was the King of Israel, and He had helped the children of Israel to win their battles many times – such as when Israel conquered Jericho – when they were righteous. However, the children of Israel wanted to be like their neighbors: they wanted a king that would lead them into battle.
19 Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, Nay; but we will have a king over us;
20 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)
The elders of Israel rejected Samuel as their judge and leader because his sons set bad examples. They rejected the teachings of their youth and began taking bribes and giving bad judgments. However, there was an underlying problem: the Israelites were not keeping God’s commandments and had become sinful and weak. For some reason, they began to desire the same type of government as that of surrounding kingdoms, even though those governments were oppressive and wicked. The behavior of Samuel’s sons was their excuse, but their wickedness was the real problem. The student manual shared the following quote:
“The people of Israel traced the cause of the oppression and distress, from which they had suffered more and more in the time of the judges, to the defects of their own political constitution. They wished to have a king, like all the heathen nations, to conduct their wars and conquer their enemies. Now, although the desire to be ruled by a king, which had existed in the nation even from the time of Gideon, was not in itself at variance with the appointment of Israel as a kingdom of God, yet the motive which led the people to desire it was both wrong and hostile to God, snice the source of all the evils and misfortunes form which Israel suffered was to be found in the apostasy of the nation from its God, and its coquetting with the gods of the heathen. Consequently their self-willing obstinacy in demanding a king, notwithstanding the warnings of Samuel, was an actual rejection of the sovereignty of Jehovah, since He had always manifested himself to His people as their king by delivering them out of the power of their foes, as soon as they returned to Him with simple penitence of heart.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 2:2:78).
The people did not realize what they were doing, but the Lord understood the situation. He told Samuel, “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). The Lord told Samuel to give the people a king, and He revealed to Samuel that Saul should be the king. The Lord supported Saul until Saul turned away from God. Then the Lord revealed to Samuel that David would be the king. The principle taught by this lesson is, “God calls people by prophecy and revelation to serve in His kingdom.”
Elder Harold B. Lee taught that we need a certain amount of spiritual preparation before we can receive divine communications.
The Lord will bring us his blessings to that extent that we have diligence in keeping his commandments. Each of you, in other words, must stand on your own feet if you will receive the great blessings which the Almighty has in store for you….
Stand upon your own feet, so the Lord can speak to you. In humility be prepared to say with Paul, “Lord, what wilt thou have me do?” And with dauntless courage say with the boy Samuel “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth.” Be humble, be prayerful and the Lore will take you by the hand, as it were, and give you answers to your prayers. (“But Arise and Stand upon Thy Feet” – and I will Speak with Thee, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, Provo, 7 Feb. 1956, pp. 7, 11.)
The Lord needs His leaders and people to be willing to listen to Him. Life is good when leaders are righteous and listen to God, but it becomes unbearable under unrighteous leaders. I am grateful to belong to a Church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – whose leaders follow God. I want to live in a nation where the political leaders also listen to Him.