Everyone loves to take pride in their accomplishments. They make us feel special, important, worth something to this world. I have heard it said that women will marry a man for one of two reasons: handsomeness or handiness. I’m not sure how accurate this statement is, but I do know that when we men look in the mirror we think… “well, I must be getting handier everyday.” Perhaps you’re the kind of man who looks in the mirror and, no matter how pot-bellied and balding the man staring back at you is, you think, “what a handsome devil.” It must have been a man who came up with the handsomeness or handiness idea because we love ourselves.
I remember, as a teenager, putting grease in my hair and thinking, “that’s a face that will attract the ladies.” We all think interesting things when we are young, but some of us grow up. After becoming an adult I learned that I am no better looking than the next guy who thinks he is. So, armed with maturity and wisdom I found pride in other areas of my life. Fixing a garden hose with duck tape isn’t just an ingenious idea, it’s worth boasting about later. What about the time I used zip-ties to reattach the power window in my car to the mechanism that moves it up and down. That was a stroke of genius! It feels good to be handy.
Why didn’t I just ask someone to come help me when I didn’t know how to fix something properly? Well, for the same reason that men don’t ask for directions. “I can do it myself!” we say… even if we can’t, and when it’s all said and done, whatever the final result, “that’s just the way it’s supposed to look.” Or, “I know that the cupboard door knocks against the other one when you close them, but what other house has three straight cupboard doors and one crooked one? Adds some character, don’t it?” There’s always something to be proud about.
We can be proud of our work, proud of our wife, husband, kids. There is nothing better than hearing someone say they are proud of you, but there is nothing worse than being proud of yourself. No, I’m not talking about the innocent duct tape jobs or the foolish grins we give ourselves in the mirror. Pride of the heart. So self-sufficient we don’t need God. So full of ourselves that we can’t do anything wrong, and everyone else is scum compared to us. Such pride can creep into our lives like a shoe that slowly comes untied as we walk. We don’t notice it until someone else points it out or it trips us up. Humble is the man/woman who lowers him/herself enough to tie that shoe. Pride may trip us up, but humility picks us up.
Chapter 10 of The Story starts with a humble woman in a difficult situation. Hannah is barren. She has no children and no hope. However, Hannah’s trouble was not as much with her womb but the woman she shared a husband with. Peninnah, her husband’s other wife, laughed at Hannah. She took every opportunity to raise herself up saying, “Elkanah, our husband, must love me more because he has given me children! I will carry on the family name!” She stuck her nose in the air and looked as far down its length as she could manage, never forgetting to spit on this woman who should have been family to her, but instead was lower than the dirt she walked on. Peninnah found pride in herself, considering Hannah scum.
Hannah was brought low and cried out to God for help. The LORD didn’t listen to Peninnah, the one who talked a lot and listened little. No, it was Hannah who caught the attention of the Author. Soon she found his pen stitching a new chapter for her life. God embraced her bringing the glory of His upper story down to the humility of hers. Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son named Samuel. She was of the few faithful left in Israel. In a time where many turned away and did what was right in their own eyes, Hannah looked up.
In Hannah’s story we are swept into a world where the LORD vindicates and protects the lowly and destroys the proud. She dedicated her son, Samuel, to the service of the LORD, and out of the thankfulness of her heart writes a song that speaks of her lower story, but even more than that, looks ahead to what God is doing in the years to come.
1 Samuel 2:7-9
7 The Lord impoverishes and makes wealthy;
he humbles and he exalts.
8 He lifts the weak from the dust;
he raises the poor from the ash heap
to seat them with princes
and to bestow on them an honored position.
The foundations of the earth belong to the Lord,
and he has placed the world on them.
9 He watches over his holy ones,
but the wicked are made speechless in the darkness,
for it is not by one’s own strength that one prevails.
Hannah felt the watchful eye of God over her, and witnessed the speechlessness of her rival Peninnah. She had no more jokes to jab at this woman who once was weak but now was made strong through the supernatural work of God.
Samuel followed in his mother’s footsteps. He was humble, poor, a nobody in the house of Eli. Dedicating him to the temple may have seemed good to his mother, but Samuel felt the loneliness of his position. Eli was the chief priest and his sons Hophni and Phinehas were priests after him. How could Samuel find his place in a house that was already full? There was no room for an adopted son.
But these priests did not do what was right in the eyes of God. They were supposed to represent God to the people, teach the people what it means to walk after a God who will be always with them and for them, lead by example. Instead of leading the people back to God Hophni and Phinehas took advantage of their status. Instead of introducing God’s ways into the culture around them, they introduced the pagan culture to God. They abused the sacrificial system, despised the practise of dedicating the best portions of the meat to God in fire. Instead they said, “what a waste! Why should God receive a sweet smelling cloud of smoke while we eat the leftovers?” They told all the people who came to offer sacrifices to give them the meat raw, forget the burn sacrifice, forget dedicating a portion to God; we are more important. To consider yourself better than God and desecrate the sacrifices is a great show of pride. Hophni and Phinehas did what was right in their own eyes, preserving the problems of the Judges before them.
Amidst all of this pride we find a humble man. Right after talking about the great sins of Eli’s true-born sons 2:26 says, “Now the young man Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the LORD and also with man.” Such words foreshadow Jesus, a child who pleased the LORD more than Samuel did. Luke 2:52 echoes these same words about Jesus saying, “And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.”
Samuel humbly accepted his place in Eli’s house, but it does not come without surprises. It seems that God has almost given up on his people. 3:1 shares that “word from the LORD was rare in those days, visions were infrequent.” And who would expect any different. How could God speak through such corrupt priests full of themselves? Instead, God chose Samuel. He calls to him in the dead of night.
The pride of Hophni and Phinehas trips them up, but Samuel’s humility raises him up. Eli’s sons go out with the army to battle the Philistines. They are swelling with pride, parading the Ark of the Covenant before them like a trophy. “Look at us!” they say. “Look how we have been chosen to carry the Ark!” But God’s presence does not reside with those who despise his name. God brings them low in their moment of perceived glory. The Philistines win the battle, steal the Ark, and kill the corrupt priests. When Eli hears about such devastation, he is so distraught that he falls over and dies. Now Israel is left without a judge, a priest, a leader. Along comes Samuel, raised up from his humble place in Eli’s home to be high priest to the nation.
God is not just interested in our outward appearance; he wants our heart. When we walk about with our shoes untied, thinking that something so small like a little shoe-lace can’t trip up someone like us, that’s when we fall on our face. But if we humble ourselves, that is when God can be raised up as LORD, and he will do far more for us than we can do for ourselves. We can echo Hannah’s prayer (2:8), “He lifts the weak from the dust; he raises the poor from the ash heap to seat them with princes and to bestow on them an honoured position.”
We Want a King
Along with Samuel’s new position comes new responsibility. He tries to turn the people back to God, show them how precious life can be when looking to God for all their need. God as LORD. God as King. But the Israelites, so caught up in themselves, reject God. They want a king like all the other nations, not God to rule over them.
1 Samuel 8:4-5
all the elders of Israel gathered together and approached Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons don’t follow your ways. So now appoint over us a king to lead us, just like all the other nations have.”
Samuel feels the weight of such a request, rejected. It may seem smart considering the circumstances for the people to want a king. The judges brought them back to God, but couldn’t hold them there. They had no right to rule the people. The priests didn’t rule either, simply gave them spiritual guidance. They needed a king to keep them in check, and not only that it was prophesied that a king would come from the line of Judah. Who better to choose this king than Samuel the priest? Who better? God. He chose the King before the foundations of the world were laid. He prophesied the King to come with every glimpse of his Upper Story: “the seed of woman who would crush the serpent’s head though his heel is bruised.” Jesus, King of the Jews that sign would hang above his thorn-pierced head, and with his death he became king of the world. He is the prophesied king, not some human figure. The best they could hope for was a mere shadow of what is to come.
The problem wasn’t their desire for a king, but their motivation. They didn’t want a king like the prophesied Jesus yet to come. The didn’t desire a king to serve and help them cling to God but simply, “to be like other nations.” They wanted to find security in the strength of their leader and the might of their army instead of in the all-sufficient arms of God. They were raising themselves up saying, “God, we don’t want you to rule over us anymore. We want someone else to fight our battles for us.”
So Samuel, feeling slighted by the Hebrew’s waywardness, cries out to God. And he answers…
1 Samuel 8:7
The Lord said to Samuel, “Do everything the people request of you. For it is not you that they have rejected, but it is me that they have rejected as their king.”
They rejected God because they didn’t want to be different. They wanted to fit in with the corruption around them. They didn’t want to be unique anymore. Remember, the nation was called to be a “holy priesthood” set apart to show the people around them what it looks like to serve God. That’s why God gave them all those laws with Moses. That’s why He came down to lead them by His presence in the tabernacle. They were supposed to be different! They were supposed to be special, finding their strength in God instead of the world around them… but they are growing tired of such a high calling. They are saying, “It’s too hard to follow God as king. It would be so much better if we had someone else.”
Samuel warned them that it wouldn’t be better. He said, “serving God is great! That’s what we are supposed to be doing! We should show all the people around how amazing life is with God! That’s been his design from the start! If you want an earthly king, I will give you one, but it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. The best they could hope for is a shadow of the coming King, but Israel’s first king was far from the best. He was bad news, a man who didn’t follow after the heart of God. God wanted to be with his people and for them, but this new king only wanted what’s best for himself.”
The people reply:
1 Samuel 8:19-20
19 But the people refused to heed Samuel’s warning. Instead they said, “No! There will be a king over us! 20 We will be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”
If it’s a king they want, despite all the warning, a king they would have. We are introduced to a king that looks promising. The son of a prominent Benjaminite.
1 Samuel 9:2
He had a son named Saul, a handsome young man. There was no one among the Israelites more handsome than he was; he stood head and shoulders above all the people.
He looks like the kind of man you would want as a king. Strong, good looking, tall. He could command respect with a look, but it is not those who have it all that God looks for but those who recognize how little they have so that God can fill them. If Hannah and Samuel were humble, Saul was anything but. Nonetheless, he is the man that God chose as king. Not because he was a good king, but because he wasn’t. The people wanted to know what it was like to serve someone other than God, so he showed them. They quickly discover that merely having a king was not the solution to their problem. They needed the right king, one who would rule after God’s own heart. Saul followed his own heart, taking pride in what he had and not what God had given him.
Much could be said about Saul, some good and a lot bad. Giant portions of scripture are dedicated to the telling and retelling of his tale. From the time when he went out looking for his father’s camels, but forgot to ask the nearby prophet for directions to the time when he hid among the baggage because he didn’t want to be king. From the glorious moment of his anointing to the time when he lost his crown. If one thing can be said about Saul it is that he was proud, and if one event in his life can be picked out as a vital mistake, it is his battle with the Amalekites. No it wasn’t his war tactics or weaponry that failed, nor his armies or chariots. It was Saul’s heart.
1 Samuel 15:3
“Go now and strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have. Don’t spare them. Put them to death—man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike.”
Saul likes this job. He can hold his head high above the army, march out and take pride in his accomplishments. Nothing feel better than conquering the enemy. So Saul armed with his sword and his flaws defeats the enemy. However, he does not follow through with what God wants. Why should the king die? Would he not serve better as a POW? What about the flocks, cattle, valuables? What kind of king would he be if he let all that go to waste? He would be a king after God’s own heart, doing what God says even when it doesn’t make sense… but that is not who Saul is.
8 He captured King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but he executed all Agag’s people with the sword. 9 However, Saul and the army spared Agag, along with the best of the flock, the cattle, the fatlings, and the lambs, as well as everything else that was of value. They were not willing to slaughter them. But they did slaughter everything that was despised and worthless.
Saul let his pride come between him and God’s commands. Not only that, but he turns a blind eye to his sin. He thinks that perhaps God was mistaken. He wanted Saul to keep the good things for himself, his kingdom and glory. This shows up in his response to the situation.
13 When Samuel came to him, Saul said to him, “May the Lord bless you! I have done what the Lord said.”
14 Samuel replied, “If that is the case, then what is this sound of sheep in my ears and the sound of cattle that I hear?” 15 Saul said, “They were brought from the Amalekites; the army spared the best of the flocks and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord our God. But everything else we slaughtered.”
Even when Saul is confronted with his sin, he doesn’t back down. He is so proud of what he has done that he justifies it saying, “it wasn’t really me who did it, but the army. It was their idea! Besides, it’s not really that bad. We are going to sacrifice what we kept to the LORD!” He sounds righteous and looks great doing it, but no amount of cover-up can block out the sight of God. Man looks at the outward appearance—Saul’s stature, strength, and fake religiousity—but God sees his heart.
When we are not willing to face our struggle, problems, pain, do we make excuses like Saul? Do we say, “God, I know what you want, but I think I have a better idea!” That’s like looking at the instruction manual and then tearing it up and saying, “I think I know a better way to put this life together.” The instructions aren’t there to hinder, but to help, not to restrict but to guide. And when we fail, we should admit it’s because we threw out the instructions not say we weren’t given the right pieces.
As the saying goes, “pride comes before a fall.” Saul’s fall is yet to come, pride nipping at his heels. Vs. 26 prophecies the trouble coming his way.
Samuel said to Saul, “I will not go back with you, for you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel!”
A new king is coming, one who would follow after God’s own heart, but first Saul would have to be brought low before another king would be raised up. It is never those who elevate themselves that God favours, but the lowly. Humility is what causes us to rise above our circumstances, not because of anything of ourselves, but everything of God. As Hannah said so beautifully in her song:
9 He watches over his holy ones,
but the wicked are made speechless in the darkness,
for it is not by one’s own strength that one prevails.
Let us not live like Saul, so full of ourselves that there is no room for God. Instead, let us be like Samuel who had thinking in and of himself, but everything because of God. Without God’s miraculous healing of Hannah’s womb, he wouldn’t have ever been born. Without the dedication of a faithful mother, he would have never been placed in Eli’s house. Without his own humility, he would never have become the high priest of Israel.
Let us not seek to have it all together on the outside. No good sentence comes without a few Ts to cross and Is to dot, and not good life comes without a few Is to let go of. Let us seek to be like empty vessels waiting to be filled with holy water.