The brutal irony of 1 Samuel is revealed in the overarching foil of the story. Israel desired a king. But the entirety of the narrative urges them to behold the glory of the one whom they already have. The one who has desired them. The one who has brought them up out of the land of Egypt, who has delivered them into the Land of Promise, and who would send the Messiah.
The Philistines had been mighty in battle. Surely the hand of the god, Dagon, had delivered them from the Israelites. Even the ark of the Israelite God, which the elders had brandished like a good luck charm, had been captured, and 30,000 Israelite soldiers had perished. The ark would go to the temple of Dagon in Ashdod. The priests of Dagon would oversee it — and so they placed the ark before the god of the Philistines. A proper judgment in their eyes.
However, when the priests entered the temple the next morning, the idol of Dagon was lying on its face before the ark. The priests repositioned the statue, posturing the ark of the covenant once more before it, but again, when the priests returned the next day, Dagon had fallen prostrate once more, and this time, with its head and hands cutoff. Then the tumors came upon the Philistines. The lords of the Philistine cities gathered and determined that the ark must go from Ashdod to Gath, but the tumors followed with it. And so they sent the ark from Gath to Ekron, but the tumors came to the people of Ekron, as well. The men who did not die were struck with tumors, and the cry of the city went up to heaven. Thus, the Philistines offered a guilt offering and sent the ark back to Israel. For the hand of the Lord was heavy upon the Philistines.
Much of our popular readings of 1 Samuel focus on the primary narrative excerpts. The beautiful story of Hannah and Elkanah receiving the Lord’s blessing of a child. The stand alone novella of David and Goliath, which has been extrapolated to both secular and sacred application alike. The nation of Israel desiring — and receiving — the king, Saul. At times, we look for inspiration in wholly individualistic contortions of the David and Goliath story, divorcing ourselves from the central display of the glory of God in the defeat of “that Philistine.” While other times, we shake our heads condescendingly at the obvious foolishness of the nation Israel calling Saul as their king. How could a people place their hopes, their security, their identity in a man? We know the characters, we know the stories, we know the applications — even the ones that drift astray — but, do we know the people who desired a king?
Throughout her history the people of God have sought to be like the world. We have sought to run from our Lord. We have sought to remain in or return to our sin and separation from Him. From Adam and Eve hiding their sin in the Garden to the wayward churches of Revelation, we hone expertise in the practice of running from our God. Do we know the people who desired a king?
Chris Tibbetts is a ruling elder in the Bartow Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Bartow, Fla.