The Herald of Jehovah's Kingdom
The Herald of Jehovah's Kingdom
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth.
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The International Association Jehovah's Witnesses

Bible Study

   Sweeping change comes to the national organization of Israel in 1117 B.C. Not that national existence had been loose and disorganized for the people Jehovah had freed from Egyptian bondage 396 years before; not at all. But the change of 1117 B.C. towers overshadowingly above previous ups and downs and changes. It is an era-marker: an ender of the era of judges, a beginner of the era of human kings. Jehovah God foreknew it and foretold it (Deuteronomy 17:14,15; 28:36); yet it came as a stunning blow to faithful Samuel. Around it swirl the principal events of a Bible book bearing the name of this prophet-judge, to wit, "The First Book of Samuel." Let us live them through the pages of that divine record.

   The opening chapter discloses Samuel as an answer to a woman's prayer. His name means "heard of God; name of God; appointed of God". Barren Hannah fervently prays for a man-child; she vows to devote him in life-long service to the Lord. The babe Samuel is her answer. When the child is weaned Hannah deposits him at the tabernacle at Shiloh to serve Jehovah, in vow-payment. Eli is high priest at the time, a weakling in zeal for Jehovah. Indeed all Israel's zeal for Jehovah is at a low ebb. Eli and his sons honor themselves ahead of the Lord and selfishly grasp for the best of the offerings, clergy-like. Divine messages against Eli and his house are climaxed by a dooming and ear-tingling judgment-message from Jehovah through the lips of young Samuel. (2:12-3:21) Years pass and fulfillment comes. In battle the religious Israelites superstitiously misuse the ark of God as a religious charm, bringing it from its place in the most holy out onto the battle-field. The religious ceremony fails, the Israelites flee, 30,000 are slain, Eli's sons are killed, and the ark is captured. Each woe coming on top of the preceding one mounts steadily higher to the disastrous climax. The heavy report struck the waiting ears of Eli with crushing force and brought his life to a mournful end.—4:1-18.

   Short is the ark's sojourn in Philistine strongholds. Set in the temple of Dagon, it causes the heathen idol to topple from its perch and shatter. The Ashdodites are afflicted with emerods, they send the ark to Gath; the Gittites suffer the same plague, they send the ark on to Ekron; many Ekronites die and those that remain are smitten with emerods. A plague of mice scampers over the land. After seven hectic months the Philistines return the ark to Israel, and 70 Israelites die before it is properly situated at Kirjath-jearim.—5:1-7 :1; 6:19, An Amer. Trans.

   With the passing years Israel laments after the Lord. They heed exhortation from Samuel to put away heathen gods-and turn to Jehovah's worship, and respond to a call to assemble in Mizpeh. With fanatical religious ire the heathen round about opposed this exercise of free worship and closed in to do battle. In answer to a prayer-call Jehovah thundered forth destruction from heaven upon the hated Philistine oppressors, and Israel joined in the victory fight and smote the confused and terrified enemy hosts. Apparently the blow delivered was a smashing one. It threw the enemy into a full rout and touched off a campaign of liberation of Israelite cities. Israel's affairs had taken a turn for the better, and Judge Samuel served zealously and tirelessly to keep all informed on Theocratic order.—7:2-17.

   Years roll by, and we find ourselves at the year 1117 B.C. in the stream of time. All the elder's of Israel are disclosed standing before elderly, gray-haired Samuel in Ramah. Dramatic events impend. The elders allude to the fact that the sons of Samuel elevated as judges are perverters of judgment and sellers of "justice" under cloak of bribes. (Deut. 16:18-20) Samuel is old; his sons are unfit successors. The elders come to the point: "Make us a king to judge us like all the nations." It is a sweeping change they demand! Monarchy preferred to Theocracy! Displeased, distressed, Samuel acted only upon instruction from Jehovah: "Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them." Samuel's inspired warning then paints a picture of loss of freedom to the Israelites and regimentation and taxation, and ultimate bitter crying unto the Lord because of the king; but this does not deter the Israelites in their determination to conform their national government to that of the heathen nations round about. (8:1-22) Chapters 9 and 10 reveal Samuel's meeting Saul and anointing him king, and the king's introduction to the people.

   "I gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath." (Hosea 13:11) These words of Jehovah sum up Saul's career as king. Jehovah's anger was manifested when Samuel's reproof to the Israelites for demanding a king was divinely seconded from heaven by miraculous thunder and rain during wheat harvest. (12:16-19) Saul gains many war victories, but invariably acts foolishly, displaying presumptuousness, uttering rash vows, and even violating Theocratic instructions. Prominence spoiled his spirit, and after two short years of kingship presumptuousness costs his house the kingdom. Made panicky at the prospects of an overwhelming Philistine assault, and loath to wait upon the Lord by awaiting the arrival of Levite Samuel to offer sacrifice, Benjamite Saul usurped the Levitical duty of sacrificing priest and offered a burnt-offering. The divine judgment was rendered: "Thou hast done foolishly: . . . now thy kingdom shall not continue." —13: 1-14.

   Taken away in wrath! The reasons therefor steadily mount down through the remaining thirty-eight years of Saul's reign. (Acts 13:21) There was the time he spared the Amalekite king, Agag, and the Amalekites' choicest sheep and oxen, contrary to Theocratic instructions. His attempt to shift blame to the people failed; no such easy exit for the disobedient king! "To obey is better than sacrifice!" was the judgment, and once more Saul's rejection as king was declared. (15:1-35) Thereafter David is anointed king-elect, the Lord's spirit leaves Saul, and the first king goes from bad to worse. The demons take over his mind and body. David's slaughter of Goliath and numerous victories over the Philistines only irritate jealous, envious Saul. On several occasions his smoldering hate bursts forth into flaming fury as he attempts to murder David. Once he even destroyed an entire city of priests because of the aid rendered to the shepherd lad now forced to live as an outlaw in Israel. (21:1-6; 22:18, 19) In the end he turns to demon spirits, whose human agents he once destroyed. Samuel has by this time died (25:1), and in a seance with the witch of En-dor religious Saul seeks to speak with the dead prophet. A demon impersonates Samuel. Morose, moody Saul gets no comfort from the hoax, but he is left in an unnerved and collapsed state. He dies a suicide in the battle on Mount Gilboa.—28: 3-25; 31:1-6.

   In sharp contrast is David. His zeal and courage for Theocracy win many friends and supporters, including Saul's son Jonathan. (18:1; 20:16, 17, 42; 23:18; 22:1,2) He had several opportunities to slay persecuting Saul, but steadfastly refused to lift his hand against the Lord's anointed. Leave vengeance with Jehovah, was David's guiding watch-word. (24:1-15; 26: 5-11) Toward the end of Saul's reign David even took refuge in Philistine territory for sixteen months to avoid a showdown fight with the demon-driven king. (27:1-7) There he remained in a sort of exile till Saul's death, but still battling against the enemies of Jehovah and His people.—30:1-31.

   In the original Hebrew manuscripts First and Second Samuel were one book or volume. Its present division was first made in the Septuagint, and called First and Second Kings. The Vulgate (and hence the Catholic Douay Version of today) adopted these names. The King James Version recognizes them in a secondary way, giving them as alternate titles. The one original book has as co-writers Samuel, Nathan, and Gad, the two latter being contemporaries of David the king. "The acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel the seer, and in the book of Nathan the prophet, and in the book of Gad the seer." The first twenty-four chapters of First Samuel are generally conceded to have been written by Samuel; the remainder of First Samuel and all of Second Samuel are recognized as from the pens of Nathan and Gad. (1 Sam. 10: 25; 25:1; 1 Chronicles 29: 29) The book of First Samuel takes up its narration just prior to Samuel's birth and carries it through to the end of the reign of Israel's first king. Samuel died about five years before Saul, and at the age of about 110. Hence the first book of Samuel spans a period of more than 115 years.