The words seem to hold a physical weight. The ark of God is held by the Philistines.
6 The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. (1 Samuel 5:6, NIV)
9 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. (1 Samuel 5:9, NIV)
The Philistines send the ark of God away, back to the Israelites.
Then all the people of Israel turned back to the Lord. 3 So Samuel said to all the Israelites, “If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the Lord only. (1 Samuel 7:2b-4, NIV)
They gather at Mizpah to fast and confess. Samuel is there to intercede for them. And this is the moment an enemy attacks–when the Israelites commit themselves and show devotion to the Lord.
10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.
12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” (1 Samuel 7:10-12, NIV)
Samuel serves as a leader to the Israelites, and when he is old, he appoints his sons to take his place. This is a familiar theme in the Bible: Good leaders who follow the Lord, followed by leaders who don’t.
4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. 7 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. 8 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. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (1 Samuel 8:4-9, NIV, emphasis mine)
I sit and think about these verses. I do not want the Lord’s hand against me. An enemy wants me as far from the Lord as possible and will send chaos and conflict my way to distract me from worshiping and keeping a focus.
The search for a lost donkey will lead Saul to Samuel. Saul will be appointed king in a future reading. But it’s in this moment that I see the start of a bigger journey, and Saul–just Saul. Saul before it all. His is one of the saddest stories to me. He makes good choices and bad choices. He struggles with uncertainty, insecurity, pride, jealousy, and anger. But that isn’t what makes his story sad–it’s that he could have done life with God, and he didn’t.
Just verses earlier, a group returns to God. And in the passing of time, they convince themselves there is a better way. God sees it as a rejection of him. It can be done by a people (all individuals acting in a group) and by an individual (Saul, who is to be appointed by God for a task–a very big one).
Father God, let me view each moment as an appointment by you. Let me journey each day with you. When I draw close to you, let me not be distracted by an enemy’s ploys, but help me always keep a kingdom focus.