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20th March

1 Samuel 4-8; Psalm 79

Bible in a Year
6 minutes
In this article
20th March

1 Samuel 4-8; Psalm 79

Bible in a Year
6 minutes


So far in 1-2 Samuel we've read through the rise of Samuel. His mother, Hannah, was unable to have children, and every year when they went to Shiloh to worship at the tabernacle, she would pray to God for a son. She promised God that if he gave her a son, she would give that son back to God to serve him. Eventually, she gave birth to a son named Samuel and when he was old enough, gave him to the priest Eli to serve in the tabernacle.

We read as Samuel grew up in God's presence and grew in favour with God. But in contrast, Eli's own sons were disobedient and rebellious. They took offerings that were dedicated to God, and then slept with different women that would work at the tabernacle. Eli knew about this and rebuked them but never intervened or stopped them, so God curses Eli and his family for their disobedience.

Then we read as Samuel heard directly from God and gains a reputation of being a prophet of God. 

1 Samuel 4-8

During this time, the Israelites decide to go to war with the Philistines and get defeated. Stepping back, they ask why did God not go with.

Unfortunately, they don't take the time to ask God himself and decide they already know the answer. They take the Ark of the Covenant out in front of them when they go back to battle. This might have made sense. In previous battles that Israel has won, the Ark of the Covenant has gone ahead of them.

But the issue is while the Ark of the Covenant represents God, it’s not some magic weapon the people can use as they will. God’s presence goes with them when they are obedient and faithful, not when they are disobedient.

So God doesn't go out with them. The Israelites are defeated, and the Ark of the Covenant is taken by the Philistines. During this battle, both of Eli's sons are killed. A survivor runs back to Shiloh and tells Eli the news and on hearing of his sons' deaths and the loss of the Ark of the Covenant, he fell over backwards on his chair and broke his neck, dying immediately. All this was to fulfil the promise God gave Eli back in 1 Samuel 2.

So the Philistines foolishly take the Ark of the Covenant and put it next to a statue of their god Dagon. While the Israelites may fail him, God will never submit to any other 'gods'. So when the Philistines awake the next day they find their statue fallen over, laying face down before the Ark of the Covenant, as though he is bowed down to it.

The Philistines think this is odd and so just put the statue back up and get on with their day. The next day they find the statue of Dagon once again laying down before the Ark, but this time with its head and hands cut off. It's at this point that they realise that the God of Israel is waging war against their gods and destroying them. Just because they defeated the Israelites doesn’t mean they defeated the God of Israel.

God then starts spreading tumours round the Philistines, not unlike when he sent plagues upon the Egyptians. The Philistines try sending the Ark to one of their other towns, but wherever the arks went, the people would get tumours.

Finally, they realise the only thing to do is send the Ark back to the Israelites. With it, they include 5 golden tumours and mice as an offering in the hope that once the Ark was gone, God would heal them. They then send the Ark off on a cart pulled by cows and watched where it went.

They'd decided if the cows took it straight to a town called Beth-shemesh, then their punishment was from God. If, however, the cows just wondered around, then it was all a big coincidence. Lo and behold, the cows went straight to Beth-shemesh. Unfortunately, for the Israelites, the people at Beth-shemesh didn't take the Ark seriously and tried to look inside, and so God struck 70 of them down.

Samuel encourages the Israelites to recommit themselves to God and obey him, to which they agree. While this is happening, the Philistines decide to attack again, but this time, with God's help, the Israelites easily defeat them. Where previously they had failed due to disobedience, here their obedience and faithfulness led to their victory.

Samuel proceeds to be Israel’s judge and lead them into a period of peace. Unfortunately, as Samuel gets older and gives more responsibility to his sons, they prove to be wicked and rebellious. Because of this, the Israelites decide they want a king. This on its own isn't bad. God made preparations for a king in the laws we read back in Torah (Deuteronomy 17).

The problem was they wanted a king who would go out into battle and fight for them and rule over them. This was God's role. Samuel tries to persuade the people against but they won't budge. Samuel asks God what to do and God tells him to give the people what they want.

So Samuel agrees, but he gives the people a warning. This king will rule over them. He will take their sons away to battle, and their daughters away to support his house. He will take their grain and their livestock as taxes. They will be like slaves.

But the people are determined in their disobedience and demand a king. Considering we know that disobedience never ends well for the Israelites, we’re to expect that this king isn’t going to be good for them.

Psalm 79

This psalm is attributed to Asaph and falls into the category of lament psalm. It is set after the exile as a reflection on Israel’s enemies came, sacked Jerusalem and its temple, and carted off its people.

Psalm 79:1-5 - Complaint

Psalm 79:6-12 - Request

Psalm 79:13 - Declaration of trust

This psalmist starts with their complaint. Foreign nations have come, defiled the temple, destroyed Jerusalem. They killed God’s people and left their bodies to the wild animals. And now God’s people are captive and mocked by their enemies.

The psalmist asks that familiar question, how long, O Lord? How long will God be angry at his people for their disobedience? How long will he treat them like this? This leads the psalmist to their request, point that anger at the nations. These nations also don’t know God and honour him. They devour God’s people and destroy God’s land.

As God turns that anger towards his enemies, may he forgive his people. May he no longer hold their disobedience and rebelliousness against them. May he have compassion and save them, if for no other reason than for his own glory. That all the earth would know he is the God that saves his people. Avenge those that these nations have already killed and rescued those still held captive.

The psalmist then ends with trust. For all their flaws and failings, the people are still God’s flock. They will thank him for his goodness forever, for God will not allow them to be wiped out.

Implicit in this psalm is an appreciation of the failings of God’s people. How their own poor decision led them to this place. In the same way, we must be honest with ourselves and with God when we bring our complaints about how we’ve contributed to the issues we find ourselves in.

Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.

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