"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 22





Chapter 22: The Strange Events of 1 Samuel



Chapter 22 Contents


22.1 Introduction & Overview

22.2 The Judgment of Eli & his family

22.3 The Judgments on the Philistines

22.4 Judgment back in Israel

22.5 The Importance of the Nature of God

22.6 The making of a King – his rise and fall

22.7 Summary-Conclusions



22.1 Introduction & Overview


1 Samuel leads us on from the uncertainties of life under judges, to their first prophet-judge and then their first king. It is still a topsy-turvy time but not a roller coaster as we saw in Judges. We have seen something of these judgments as we considered them in Part 1 but now we consider them in the historical context as God's acts of disciplinary judgment and even terminal judgment, depending on the requirements of the circumstances.




We might consider the following as a skeleton outline of 1 Samuel's history

Ch.1-4 The last days of the priest-judge, Eli

Ch.4-8 The days of a prophet-judge, Samuel

Ch.9-15 The days of the first king, Saul

Ch.16-31 The days of preparation for the second king, David



22.2 The Judgment of Eli & his family


The judgment fulfilled

We'll start with the judgment executed, the fulfilment of God's word.


1 Sam 4:10,11 So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. The ark of God was captured, and Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

1 Sam 4:18 When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man and heavy


The Sin of the family

1 Sam 2:12,17,22,25 Eli's sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD….. This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD's sight, for they were treating the LORD's offering with contempt….. Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting….. His sons, however, did not listen to their father's rebuke.

  • Read the above passages more fully and you will see the sins of these two sons of the Chief Priest, Eli, who
    • abused their role as priests in both the way they took meat for themselves from the sacrifices, and
    • the way they slept with women serving at the Tent of Meeting.
    • One might also add their disregard for their father.


Eli Confronted

1 Sam 2:27-36 (Parts only) Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, "This is what the LORD says….. Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel ?' …. The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father's house, so that there will not be an old man in your family line…. what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you--they will both die on the same day. will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his house, and he will minister before my anointed one always.

  • God confronts Eli with the sin of his sons and his own failure to deal with them.
  • He still had time to repent and deal with them but he didn't


1 Sam 3:11-14 And the LORD said to Samuel: "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family--from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons made themselves contemptible, B and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I swore to the house of Eli, `The guilt of Eli's house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.'”

  • Samuel receives the same message which Eli makes him tell him
  • Thus twice the Lord has warned Eli and given him opportunity to repent


The word being fulfilled

1 Sam 4:1-4 Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines…. Israel was defeated by the Philistines ….. the elders of Israel asked, "Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD's covenant from Shiloh …..they brought back the ark of the covenant …. And Eli's two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.

  • Thus the circumstances come about that ensured Eli's two sons appeared on the battlefield
  • This was because
  •   Israel did not realise that the Philistines were God's discipline (see Judges and previous chapter)
  •   Israel 's superstition thought that God would come with the Ark and help them
  • Thus, as we read at the beginning, the battle went badly and the two sons were killed and the Ark taken.
  • When Eli hears the news the shock of the Ark being taken makes him fall off his chair and (being a heavy old man) break his neck.


  • The judgment has been executed by what we might call ‘natural means' brought about by a combination of the failure of Eli to guide Israel properly and the people's superstition.
  • Ultimately they were casualties of the general discipline of the Lord through the Philistines as indicated in the previous chapter.


  • What is obvious is that the Lord stayed His hand and did not kill these three men directly and, in fact, gave two clear prophetic warnings of where their present lifestyle would lead, thus giving plenty of time for repentance which never came.



22.3 The Judgments on the Philistines


The Judgments

1 Sam 5:2-4 Then they carried the ark into Dagon's temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the LORD ! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained

1 Sam 5:6,8-12 The LORD's hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation upon them and afflicted them with tumors…. "Have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath ." So they moved the ark of the God of Israel . But after they had moved it, the LORD's hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumors. So they sent the ark of God to Ekron . As the ark of God was entering Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, "They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people." So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, "Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people." For death had filled the city with panic; God's hand was very heavy upon it. Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven


Strange Elements


  • The Philistines, you may remember were enemies of Israel, often plundering from the south west.
  • They had, seen in a previous verse, observed that the presence of the Ark represented ‘a god'
  • When they put this ‘god' next to theirs, their god Dagon suffers badly. It is almost laughable.
  • But that was not all; the people of Ashdod started having tumours (large boils) break out on them.
  • They quickly associate these with the arrival of this ‘god' and so pass it on to the next town, Gath.
  • Tumours break out there and so they move it quickly on to Ekron.
  • But there is gets worse for death breaks out and the people there know straight away what was happening and so the Ark gets sent back to Israel.
  • The purpose of the tumours was obviously to discipline and bring this people to their senses so that they would realise that this God was not one to be trifled with.
  • The best we might say is that they had plenty of warning with the tumours in the first two towns before the judgment turned worse.



22.4 Judgment back in Israel


The Judgment on the return of the Ark

1 Sam 6:14-21 The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the LORD. The Levites took down the ark of the LORD, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the LORD. But God struck down some of the men of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the LORD had dealt them, and the men of Beth Shemesh asked, "Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?" Then they sent messengers to the people of Kiriath Jearim, saying, "The Philistines have returned the ark of the LORD. Come down and take it up to your place.

  • The Ark is returned to Israel and initially the Levites treat it well.
  • However some of the men of the area treat it almost as a tourist attraction and look inside it – and they die. We aren't told how but it is attributed to the Lord.
  • The clear message again, is that the Lord is holy and you should be very careful how you treat Him.
  • It is all part of God's overall requirement that Israel convey what they nkow of Him faithfully to the rest of the world. This is All-mighty God we are dealing with here - Creator of all things! Let's expand on this some more.



22.5 The Importance of the Nature of God


In the chapter 20 in Part 20.5, ‘The Critical Nature of this action', we pointed out that what was at risk here, in the instructions to Israel to be distinct from the Canaanites, was the very future of Israel, the possibility of the Gospel and, indeed, the very future of the world which hinged on these things. We also noted that it is all about the question, will Israel be able to be a holy nation that reveals God and His goodness to the world, and will they remain in existence as that people into which the Son of God may eventually come?


In chapter 21 we considered that perhaps one of the reasons the Lord persevered with Israel was to reveal His persevering grace and mercy in the face of the ongoing sin and stupidity of the human race as seen in Israel.


But all these things are different elements of the revelation of or about God. You may remember that the early chapters of this book are all about the character of God and we focused on His love and goodness and His perfection or holiness. It is that latter element that comes to the fore here in 1 Samuel.


The Lord has tolerated the driftings away again and again of Israel (seen in Judges) and has simply disciplined them in an effort to draw them back to Himself and to a place where they can receive His blessing on their life as a nation. You would have thought that the Law of Moses, and how it was received after the Exodus and at Mount Sinai, would have been passed on to generation after generation who would have learned from it, but one of the things that comes through in the Bible, is that every generation has to learn for itself.


In our respective nations we may have had godly people and many godly experiences recorded in history but we, the present generation, have to come to these things and come to belief for ourselves. Thus it is that the Lord expressed Himself to subsequent generations in the Old Testament to reiterate or confirm what earlier generations knew – that He is holy, perfect, complete, morally upright and lacking nothing and therefore utterly different.


Unfortunately, because of the presence of Sin in every one of us, that propensity to self-centredness and godlessness, it means He is having to confront a resistance to repentance in all of us. We saw it earlier in this chapter in respect of Eli and his sons, having been warned prophetically twice, but refusing to repent. But, as we said before, the entire life and future of the nation is at stake here and so there are times when, for the sake of the nation and the sake of the world, it is as if He has to up the stakes of judgment to shake up those who should have known better and to maintain His reputation that He is

  •   the God who is all-powerful and all knowing, the Creator of this world, and is also
  •   holy and perfect and good and loving, but holding His people to account

so that the rest of the world will see and understand. How they then respond is up to them and He will hold them accountable at the end.


The three instances we have seen so far in this chapter have had the same end result but there are two different elements to be observed:

  •   Eli, and his sons, and no doubt others who heard about it, had had warnings from the Lord through His (prophetic) word.
  •   The Philistines would have known about Israel's history even though they compartmentalised it off from their own and their own experiences and own gods, and it is clear from their responses that they were superstitious and this at least would have put them on their guard against offending ‘the gods'. They knew what they were doing as soon as tumours started appearing and after Dagon was brought down.
  •   The men back in Israel should have known better about how to treat the Ark. Israel were a people of history and that history was all to do with God and His dealings with them. Some of them surely would have passed on the teaching and the testimony, and so they should have known better.


Again and again in these accounts we have to say, the people “should have known better”. In the early chapters of Romans the apostle Paul makes it clear that God holds us responsible according to the knowledge or revelation we have and that comes in two ways:

  • The revealed word of God, the Bible
  • Our consciences.


Disregard for both of these means we have an issue with God for which He will hold us to account. It was so in the people we've considered and is so today.



22.6 The Making of a King, his rise and fall


As the account of the life of Israel progresses through this book we come to a point of time where we would expect a judgment, but don't get one – at least not in the obvious way.


Israel want a king


1 Sam 8:4,5   So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, "You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

  • Yes, the truth was that Samuel's sons “did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice,” (v.3) but that wasn't a good excuse for what they wanted.


1 Sam 8:7-9 And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do."

  • The Lord sees their heart and sees through their excuses
  • Samuel spells out to them the cost of a king (v.11-18) but they refuse to heed him even though he warns them, “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.”( v.18)


The Lord gives them a king and blesses him


Now what is incredible about all this is that, despite the people rejecting the Lord, the Lord gives them exactly the man they are looking for Saul was, “an impressive young man without equal among the Israelites--a head taller than any of the others.” (9:2) Even more than this we find the Lord providing for Saul and encouraging him in every way possible.


To fill the picture more fully the Scriptures show

  •   the Lord has Samuel anoint Saul, (10:1)
  •   He changes Saul's heart, (10:9)
  •   He gives him words of knowledge that are fulfilled to encourage his belief, (10:2-7)
  •   He sends His Spirit on him in power to release him in prophecy, (10:10)
  •   He reveals him as king through the drawing lots process, (10:20,21)
  •   He comes upon him by His Spirit to stir him to rise up to lead His people, (11:6)
  •   He sends fear on the people to encourage them to rise up and obey Saul. (11:7)


i.e. In SEVEN ways the Lord is there for Saul to equip him and enable him to be the king the people want. No one could say that the Lord hadn't helped Saul. Seven is the number of perfection and so we might say that the Lord has done everything He could to establish Saul.


Saul's failure


The tragedy of Saul is that despite all of the Lord's help, Saul uses his own human reasoning again and again and gets it wrong. He gets it wrong

  •   at Gilgal where he impatiently and wrongly acted as a priest (13:8,9)
  •   when he failed to destroy the Amalekites as instructed (15:2-9)

For these he receives the Lord's censure through Samuel:


1 Sam 13:13,14 “Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command."


1 Sam 15:22,23,28 " Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king." …… "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors--to one better than you.”


From chapter 16 on we see the rise of David although he does not become king until Saul is eventually killed on the battlefield (at the very end of the book). Whereas we might have expected the Lord to judge and remove Saul, quite a long period of time passes before he dies in battle and there is no reference to the Lord having a hand in it.


David was known as a man after God's own heart (1 Sam 13:4 / Acts 13:22) and we see this heart expressed when

a) David twice refuses to raise his hand against ‘the Lord's anointed' (1Sam 24:6,10 & 26:9,11,16,23) – if the Lord wants to remove him that is something else, and

b) anguishes when Saul and Jonathan die (2 Sam 1:17-27), and

c) anguishes when Abner was murdered (2 Sam 3:31-36)


Although he was clearly a warrior, a man of war, he respected even his enemies and did not rejoice in their deaths. As with God, death was not something to rejoice over.



22.7 Summary- Conclusions


Judgments within Israel


The judgments we have observed in 1 Samuel tend not to be so dramatic as some of the earlier ones we have seen in the Pentateuch. The reason for this is that deaths – which do appear to occur in line with divine pronouncements – appear in more understandable circumstances, for example

  •   Eli's sons die in the midst of battle
  •   Eli himself falls and with the rigidity of old age breaks his neck
  •   Saul also dies in the heat of battle


In none of these cases is the Lord specifically ‘implicated' although prophetic words beforehand suggested life would be terminated early.


Judgments over the border


When it comes to the Philistines and the Israelites just over the border, the Lord is specifically mentioned and the tumours can be attributed to Him as can the death of some of the Philistines and the seventy Israelites over the border.


The Holiness of God


Maybe because of this there is clearly an air of holiness and a requirement to acknowledge the holiness of the Lord that runs right through the book:

  •   Eli's sons are clearly disregarding the Lord and ignoring any holy aspects of the priesthood and the priestly service.
  •   Eli himself is similarly doing exactly the same, as he fails to hold his sons to account.
  •   The Philistines find themselves in trouble when they seek to demean the name of the Lord, putting the Ark alongside their idol and then for casually moving it around and instead of seeking to quickly return it to Israel they pass it on one to another, knowing bad things are associated with it and that it is obviously holy.
  •   The Israelites clearly have forgotten that the God who brought them into being at Sinai is a holy God and who warned people not to even touch the mountain on which He would be revealed without His consent.
  •   Those watching Saul must have looked back over the part years how he had suffered with an evil spirit and remembered how he had been chastised by Samuel and realised that here was a man who fell short of the requirements of the Lord God of Israel .


The Learning Element


In each case there is a learning element associated with what happens. They all involve death but they are all observed by onlookers and that is what makes them so important, things that will stem the tide of unbelief and godlessness and the temptation to worship ‘other gods'. Yes, each of these things will say things to the onlookers:

  •   When the Ark is taken and Eli and his sons die, his daughter-in-law recognizes the awfulness of this and names her newly born son, Ichabod, “the glory had departed (1 Sam 4:21,22). She knows that Israel are in a terrible place where God's glory, His presence has left them.
  •   The Philistines recognize that they have something or someone in their midst who is more powerful than their inanimate idol, Dagon, and they quickly realise His power and hence pass the Ark on to the next unsuspecting city. They don't have full understanding but they are starting to grasp that that there is something here bigger and more powerful than anything they have known before.
  •   The Israelites, watching their friends die off, because they have looked inside the Ark , suddenly realise they are dealing with a holy God who holds us accountable when we disdain Him. They realise they are vulnerable and are also in the firing line if they behave wrongly.
  •   We aren't told how people felt about Saul's death but we do have David's song of anguish over it, declaring, what a waste this was, and implied behind that was how tragic it was that this man had not learned and had not repented when he had been chided by the Lord through Samuel. There were goods things about him but he had failed to deal with the bad things.


Warnings to Israel


This is the key point that we must emphasise here, that these various deaths were vital warnings to the rest of the nation that they were a special people, a different people, a people marked out to reveal God to the world. Part of that was to show that when we live contrary to God's design, it always ends badly. Sometimes that is things brought specifically by God while at other times they are things that are just the natural outworkings of wrong behaviour.


To balance this we should also emphasise the Lord's activity to warn, help or encourage.

  •   Eli received two prophecies to try to stir him to take action and bring change before disciplinary judgment came
  •   Saul, as we saw above, received at least seven things to help and encourage him as he became king.
  •   After he twice failed, he also received two sets of chastising which, surely should have brought repentance in anyone less set in their ways.

What we can say from these things is that again and again God's grace is revealed, enabling opportunities for people to repent and succeed. The judgments only come after those expressions of grace have been ignored.


So, each of the things in this chapter come in a context of information and warning. Prophecy abounds and where prophecy abounds people can never say they were not warned. They may say they chose to disregard it but that simply places the responsibility for the bad outcome on them. These are serious lessons, powerful lessons and they are true.


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