52 Major Stories of the Bible - Lesson 13

God is King

I Samuel tells of the shift from the nation being ruled by Judges to that of a king. Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, a kingdom ruled by God, and so the people’s desire for a king was a rejection of God. Saul, the first king, did not learn the lesson that God is still king, and what matters for us is to remain faithful. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake as Saul.

Update: When Dr. Mounce refers to "theodicy" at the first of the lecture, he means, "theocracy." We have updated the outline and the transcription. We will update the audio when we are able.

Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
Lesson 13
Watching Now
God is King

I. Samuel - the Last Judge

A. Birth of Samuel

B. Hannah's Song of Praise

II. Saul

III. 1,000 Years Later - Mary

  • Genesis 1 is the foundational chapter for the entire Bible. It not only tells us how everything started, but it establishes the basic teaching on who God is and who we are in relationship to him.

  • On the sixth day of creation we learn that people are the apex of creation, stamped with the image of God. This is the source of human dignity, and it is why we pursue spiritual growth, so we will look more like him.

  • Genesis 3 describes how Adam and Eve sinned, how their sin broke the relationship with God for them and for all people, and God’s promise of a redeemer.

  • Genesis 6–9 is not a children’s story. It shows God’s anger against our sin, and yet also shows that he is a redeeming God. Like Noah, it challenges us to step out in faith.

  • Genesis 12:1–15:6 focuses on one man, Abraham, who is part of the fulfillment of the promise God made in the Garden to redeem humanity. Abraham must do two things: believe, and act on that belief. When he does, God makes an eternal covenant with him and with all his descendants, Israel and the church. We too must follow the pattern of our father: believe, and act on that belief.

    The authors of the New Testament refer to Abraham as the person with whom God made the covenant as the father of the nation of Israel. At the time God established the covenant, the man's name was Abram. God changed it later to Abraham and that's how he is referred to in subsequent references.

  • The story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50 is an account of God’s faithfulness to his promises to Abraham, his omnipotence (all-powerful), and his omniscience (all-knowing). Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, but God worked through their evil to accomplish good — the salvation of the entire nation of Abraham’s descendants. We too are called to faith in God’s promises.

  • In Exodus 7:14–Exodus 10, we read of God’s salvation of the Israelite nation. The Egyptians had enslaved them, but through Moses God punished the Egyptians with ten plagues and secured the Israelite’s freedom. God is faithful to his promises, and all praise and honor go to him.

  • The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20, are not rules to follow, but they give form and structure to how our love for God (the Shema) should manifest itself in how we treat God and others.

  • Moses wants to see God. Exodus 33 contains the account of how God could not let Moses see him or Moses would have died; but he does allow Moses to see the back of his glory. This is the essence of Christianity: a desire to see God. After all, God created us to have fellowship with us. We were created for community with him.

  • The book of Leviticus is consumed with the holiness of God, that he is separate from all sin. The sacrificial system teaches us that sin violates God’s rules, which extracts the high cost of death.  But Leviticus also teaches us that God forgives, that a sacrifice can pay the penalty of our sin (if we repent), and in so doing prepares us for the cross of Jesus.

  • The Shema is the central affirmation of the Old Testament: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). It calls us to rigorous monotheism in which we refuse to worship idols of any shape.

  • The book of Judges shows the necessity of covenant renewal, how each generation must decide for itself if it will follow God. Once the Israelites were given the Promised Land, for the most part they failed to renew the covenant and failed to receive the blessings from God. The same is true of our own families.

  • I Samuel tells of the shift from the nation being ruled by Judges to that of a king. Israel was supposed to be a theocracy, a kingdom ruled by God, and so the people’s desire for a king was a rejection of God. Saul, the first king, did not learn the lesson that God is still king, and what matters for us is to remain faithful. Unfortunately, many people make the same mistake as Saul.

    Update: When Dr. Mounce refers to "theodicy" at the first of the lecture, he means, "theocracy." We have updated the outline and the transcription. We will update the audio when we are able.

  • This is not a story primarily about a young man defeating a great warrior (I Samuel 16-17). It is an account of how faith propels us to trust God, no matter what the appearances.

  • Psalm 23 is David's cry of faith that his divine Shepherd will provide and protect him in all situations, and that God is lavish in his love for his sheep.

  • Psalm 51 gives the pattern for true biblical confession, which admits our own guilt and God's justice, makes no excuses, and appeals not to our good works but to God's mercy.

  • Solomon was the wisest of all people, and yet he died a fool because he ignored his own advice (Proverbs). It is not enough to know the truth; you have to do it. Wisdom begins with knowing that God knows best.

  • Job learned that bad things happen to good people and bad people alike. The question is, will you continue to trust God in the difficult times? Is he worthy of our trust when we don’t know all the answers and our lives are filled with pain?

  • 1 Kings 14–18 tells the story of Elijah and his battle with false religion. The word of the day was “syncretism,” the mixing of two religions. In our day, we are faced with the same challenge, especially the mixing of Christianity and secular culture. Elijah challenges us to not have divided hearts or divided loyalties.

  • Isaiah 6:1-8 tells us of Isaiah’s visit to God’s throne, and there we learn the true meaning of worship: the cycle of revelation and response. As God reveals himself to us, and we must respond appropriately. It asks the question, ”How big is your God?”

  • Isaiah 52–53 give us one of the most exact and theologically helpful looks into the death of Christ. Isaiah prophecies about a servant who was to come, whom God would punish for our sins. This, of course, is a prophecy about Jesus. Here we learn that there is no sin God cannot forgive, and that peace comes not from within ourselves but from outside, from God.

  • Micah prophesied three sets of what we call a “Woe” (judgment”) and “Weal” (restoration). The Israelites believed all they had to do was go through the external motions of worship, and then they could live any way they wanted the rest of the week. This brings judgment, but with judgment God promises a future restoration.

  • Hosea prophesied to people who were caught in persistent sin. Their sin caught them in a downward spiral beginning with idolatry and enforced by luxury. But even at the bottom of spiral, after the people have experienced the necessary punishment, God is still present to forgive. Sinners are called “whores,” living unfaithful lives.

  • Habakkuk asks the question of why do the wicked appear to flourish and the righteous suffer. At the root of his question is whether or not God is righteous. Because Habakkuk asks in faith, God answers his question by telling him to wait. Eventually, the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded. In the meantime, the righteous person lives by their faith that God is a righteous God. 

  • Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied before and during the exile, when God’s people were conquered by the Babylonians, preaching God's judgment as well as the promise of hope. The hope was the New Covenant where God's law would be written on the person's heart and empowered through the work of God's Spirit.

  • The book of Lamentations teaches us that there is an end to God’s patience with sin. It is a national lament in which Israel expresses their deep sorrow over sin. It starts by being honest about the cause of sin, not blaming anyone but themselves. But it concludes by expressing their faith in the God who forgives.

  • Back in Genesis 3:15, God promised to do something about sin. The Old Testament shows God working to keep his promise, a promise that is eventually fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But unlike popular expectation, Jesus was more than just a human being. He was fully God at the same time he was fully human. But it is not enough to know these facts; you must receive God’s blessing in order to walk in relationship with God.

  • The Old Testament ends on a note of promise, that God would send Elijah to prepare the people for their coming savior, the Messiah. This Elijah turns out to be John the Baptist, who prepares the people by teaching them about repentance. Much to their surprise, the people learned that being born Jewish was of no advantage, and that they too had to learn that they have nothing of value to offer God if they are to enter his kingdom.

  • Perhaps the most common term used about Christians is being “born again,” or “reborn.” This comes from the account of the Jewish leader Nicodemus. Jesus tells him that if he is to enter God’s kingdom, he cannot get there naturally, through what he can do. Only the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in making us new — so new that it is a rebirth — can accomplish our salvation. All this is explained by the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16.

  • Do you want to be blessed by God? Jesus tells us how this happens with eight statements at the beginning of his famous “Sermon on the Mount.” Contrary to popular belief, blessing comes through recognizing our spiritual depravity, mourning over our sin, and as a result being meek, pure in heart, and pursuing peace. How will the world respond? It will persecute you, which is also a blessing.

  • Jesus teaches us that prayer begins with us orienting ourselves to our heavenly father, being most concerned with his glory and the advance of his kingdom, and concludes with our admission of total dependence on him for our physical and spiritual needs. Prayer is primarily about God.

  • Worry carries the illusion that we have some control and that worry can accomplish something. Of course, it can do no such thing. Disciples are to have unwavering loyalty to God. As we see Gods care of his creation, we can rest assured that he will also care for us. Our focus is to be on his kingdom and his righteous; in return, he will simply give us what we need.

  • Many years before Christ, God told Moses that his name is “I AM.” Jesus picks this name up to assert that he is in fact the Great I AM, and as such he says things like, “I am the bread of life,” “I am the light of the world.” The mystery of the Trinity is that there is one God, and yet God is three – Father, Son, Spirit. This is difficult to understand, and yet we should not expect to know everything there is to know about God.

  • When Jesus calls us to follow him, as one person has said, he bids us come and die. Die to our personal ambitions, and live daily as one who has died to himself and lives for God. Only disciples are in heaven.

  • What is the single most important thing you can do? What is the central thing required of us by God? It is to love him him with everything we are. Our love must be emotional (not just obedience) and it must be personal (loving God and not things about him). But if we love God, we must then love our neighbor.

  • Two major events await the disciples: the destruction of the temple and Jesus’ return. There will be signs, warning them to flee Jerusalem, which happened in A.D. 70. But there are no warning signs for when Jesus will return and this age will end. The disciple’s role is not to wonder about when this will happen — not even Jesus knows — but to live a life of preparedness.

  • In Jesus’ last teaching before his death and resurrection, among other things he taught the disciples about the coming Spirit who will convict the world of its sin, show the world Jesus’ righteousness, and convict the world of its coming judgment. We know this “Spirit” to be the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.

  • The greatest act of salvation before the cross was God freeing the Israelites from Egypt. To celebrate that event, God instituted the Passover celebration, commemorating God’s graciousness act of passing over the Israelite houses and killing the first-born of only the Egyptian homes. But now God is about to perform and even greater salvation event, Jesus dying on the cross. Christians are to celebrate Passover not looking back to Egypt but looking at Jesus’ death and forward to his eventual return.

  • The death and resurrection of Jesus is the culmination of not only Jesus' life but of all history to that point. Jesus died on the cross so that we can be friends of God, and he was shown to have conquered death by his resurrection from the grave. The temple curtain, which symbolized the separation between God and people, was torn in two, from the top to the bottom, and we can now live in direct relationship with God.

  • Jesus’ final act on earth was to commission his followers. Their central mission is to make disciples. They are to make new disciples by sharing the gospel and baptizing them; and they are to make fully-devoted disciples by teaching people to obey everything Jesus taught. Because God is sovereign over all, we must do this. Because he will never leave us, we are able to do this.

  • During the Jewish festival of Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, Jesus’ promise was fulfilled and the Holy Spirit came and empowered all of Jesus’ followers, giving them supernatural power to, among other things, speak in human languages they had not learned. Peter explains the phenomena as a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and then preaches the basic message found throughout Acts: Jesus lived, died, was raised form the dead, and therefore all people are called to repent of their misunderstanding of who Jesus is.

  • The church is not a building or an activity. The church is the sum total of all true believers. Christ is the head. We are the body. We are a family. We are the temple of God, the place that he inhabits.

  • Justification is the doctrine of being declared not guilty of our sins. It is a work of God alone; we do not help. In Romans 1:16–17 and 3:21–26, Paul makes it clear that this declaration of righteousness is based not on what we do (“works”) but on what we believe about Jesus (“faith”), that Jesus did on the cross for us what we could not do for ourselves.

  • We are not only saved by God’s grace, but his grace continues to sustain us throughout our life. One way that God’s grace shows itself is in how we give, financially. God’s grace enables to to both want to give and to be able to give. If someone is not giving, they should wonder about the condition of their heart and why God’s grace is not active in it.

  • In Romans 5–8, Paul reminds us of the many reasons why we are joyful. We are at peace with God. We are reconciled to him. We have been set free from sin. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The Holy Spirit lives within us. We are adopted into God’s family, assured that we are his children. This is the joy of the righteous life.

  • Paul wants the church in Philippi to understand humility. They should agree on one central focus, and that is a humility that stems from a right understanding of who you are in Christ. As an example, we look no further than Jesus, who is God, lowering himself to be human, and in return being exalted. In response, we should take great care at working out the implications of what it means to be saved.

  • Christians are people of the book. We believe that all of Scripture came from the very mouth of God. It is true in all it affirms and authoritative over our lives. The challenge is to come to the point where you really believe this.

  • The book of Hebrews is a deep theological study on the superiority of Christ over everyone and everything else. Interspersed throughout the teaching are the “Warning” passages in which the author encourages his readers to not fall away from their faith. If people do leave the Christian faith, they can have no assurance that they truly are Christians.

  • James tells us that there is nothing more difficult to control than  the tongue. It destroys people’s reputation, often under the guise that what is being said is accurate. We are hurt, so we verbally lash out. We want to be well thought of, so we feign piety. The only way to gain any victory over the tongue is to work on the heart, since it is out of the heart that the mouth speaks. Unfortunately, gossip often is the natural language of the church, but there can be victory.

  • 1 Peter asks one of the fundamental question of life is, how can an all-powerful, all-good God allow pain and suffering. It helps us grapple with this question by pointing our attention to the realities of our lives, especially the fact that we are exiles on earth and our true home is heaven. We are to recognize in the midst of suffering that God is still at work for our good.

  • The letter we call 1 John is primarily about love. We have been loved by God, and so we should love others as well. Love is not  some simplistic emotion but it involves action: God loved us and therefore sent his Son. Love is the giving of oneself for the benefit of the other.

  • The Bible closes with the prophecy of how all things will end. While there are many questions as to the precise meaning of this book, it’s central message is crystal clear. God will not keep us from suffering and persecution; it is going to get worst; God calls us to be faithful in the midst of our pain. If we are faithful to the end, we will be rewarded. This is what we are waiting for, a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no pain, no sorrow, no sin. The Garden of Eden will be restored, at last. We were created for fellowship with God, and we long for the day when Jesus will return again and take us home.

English | Hindi | Swahili

The Bible is one continuous story filled with adventure, heroes and villains, triumph and defeat, good and evil, love and jealousy, plot twists and ultimately, a happy ending. As you read each of the short Bible stories along the way, you begin to see how the Bible stories combine to form the structure of the one big story. The individual characters and their experiences of tragedy and triumph draw you into their Bible stories and help you see the overarching themes of cosmic love, judgment and redemption.

Telling stories is an effective way of communicating ideas so you remember them. Immersing yourself into the 26 Bible stories from the Old Testament and 26 from the New Testament helps you to understand and internalize the character of God, the splendor of his creation, his love for humans, the evil and destructiveness of sin, the wonder of the plan of redemption and the completeness of restoration at the end of history.

Each of these stories can be considered as Bible stories for kids because the plot and main teaching of the story is something that most children will understand. They are also Bible stories for youth and adults because if you are wise, the examples you see and the lessons you learn will guide you for a lifetime.


Recommended Books

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

The Bible is one continuous story, from the story of creation to the story of Jesus' future return at the end of time. And yet there are smaller, pivotal stories that...

52 Major Stories of the Bible - Student Guide

Dr. Bill Mounce
52 Major Stories of the Bible
God is King
Lesson Transcript



We are now going to look at the thirteenth story in the Bible, the thirteenth out of my favorite 52. We are going to look at the story of I Samuel, the story of Samuel and of Saul, and then look at the theological doctrine that God is King.

Let’s pray. Father, You are truly King. Despite appearances of human strength and human will, we acknowledge before You that You are King and in control of history. We acknowledge that You are in control of the people who appear to be making history. Father, there are many things we do not understand, we do not understand how such evil can exist in a universe governed by a good and all-powerful God. Yet we do assert by faith that we believe You are good all the time, that You are King. As we look at Hannah’s song this morning, we especially pray that we will come away convicted or encouraged, whatever the case may be, and understanding that You are sovereign and You are in control of history. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Samuel - the Last Judge

Samuel was the last judge in the history of Israel. He was also a prophet and a priest. In the book of I Samuel, we read about Samuel and Saul’s lives. We read about Saul as the first major king of Israel and then we are introduced to David, who becomes the second major king in the history of Israel. But I Samuel also witnesses to an especially important transition in the history of Israel; in I Samuel we see the transition from theocracy to monarchy. Israel was designed to be a theocracy, a country that was governed by God. He certainly would have worked through people, judges and prophets, but a theocracy means that God is the head person. So in I Samuel we see the transition from theocracy to monarchy. The children of Israel wanted a human king to be over them, they did not want to be under the theocracy of God. It is an important book historically, but it is also an important book theologically. This is the ongoing drama of God’s intervention in history.

Birth of Samuel

I Samuel starts with the story of a man names Elkanah who had two wives, Peninah and Hannah. Hannah was barren; Hannah was unable to have children. As you can imagine, having one of two wives incapable of having children did not make for a good home life. Elkanah and his family went every year to Shiloh to sacrifice to the Lord. In I Samuel 1, we see them on this journey to Shiloh and we see the story of Hannah’s beautiful prayer. I Samuel 1, starting at verse 9, “After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. And she was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, 'O Lord of Hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life and no razor shall touch his head.'” In other words, Hannah will have her son take a Nazarite vow and be dedicated to God all his life. Evidently she was so fervent in her prayer, that the priest thought she was drunk, verse 12. “As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart only her lips moved and her voice was not heard.” Therefore, Eli took her to be a drunken woman. “And Eli said to her, ‘How long will you go on being drunk? Put away your wine from you.’ And Hannah answered, ‘No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.’ And then Eli answered, ‘go in peace and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to Him.” Hannah could not have children and there was no greater curse in the ancient world than being barren. It was interpreted as a sign of God being displeased with you. So she had no children and she did not get along with her husband’s other wife. Good argument for monogamy it seems to me. But she knows who to turn to. She turns to the Lord and pours out her heart with such great energy and such great vexation that Eli thinks she’s drunk. I wonder if I have ever been so desperate in my prayer before the Lord that somebody would think that I was drunk or out of my mind. But she leaves Shiloh, goes home, and Eli’s words are true. Samuel was born and when he was old enough to live without his mom, they went back to Shiloh and Hannah finds Eli. In Chapter 1, verse 26, we read, “And she said, [and this is to Eli], ‘O my Lord, as you live my Lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence praying to the Lord.” In other words, remember the woman you thought was drunk? It’s me! “For this child I prayed and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to Him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. For as long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” It is a great story of a woman who is desperate before her God, and He answers her prayer and she keeps her vow. It probably was not an easy thing to do. To have wanted a son so desperately and then when you receive him to keep your vow and to give him back into the service of the Lord. That is what she did and Samuel stayed and grew up with Eli in the temple.

Hannah’s Song of Praise

Chapter 2 is Hannah's prayer and is, I think, the most important chapter in all of I and II Samuel. It is a song of praise to God. In light of her situation and in light of everything that God has done for her, she breaks forth in praise, and we can see what Hannah learned through these verses. These are the questions I want to keep going through your mind: what did Hannah learn? What were the experiences of life in Gods intervention that caused her to learn things about herself, and learn things about God? In Chapter 2, verse 1, she starts by declaring that she is going to praise God with absolutely everything that she has. Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord. My strength is exulted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies because I rejoice in Your salvation.” Hannah is saying, “I’m going to praise God and I’m going to praise Him with everything I have, with me heart, with my strength, and with my mouth.” And then in good Biblical fashion, she actually praises God. Saying “Praise God” is not praise, right? Praising God is the declaration of who He is and then of what He has done. That is what praise is. Verse 1 is the call to praise. She says, “I am going to praise Him with everything I have. Now let me praise God for who He is,” verses 2 and 3. “There is none holy like the Lord. There is none beside You. There is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly. Let not arrogance Come from your mouth, for the Lord is the God of knowledge and by Him actions are weighed.” What a beautiful reaffirmation of the first commandment. A beautiful reaffirmation that there is only one God and that in Hannah is not going to make Him compete with other so-called gods. There is no pantheon of gods in Hannah’s life. There are not a collection of gods with Yahweh at the top. There is only one God. “There is none holy like the Lord. There is none beside You.”

And then she moves into using the beautiful metaphor of the rock, a metaphor that goes all the way through especially the Old Testament. When she declares that there is no Rock like our God, she is declaring that it is in God that she found protection. It is in God that she found security, strength, stability and refuge. That God is my Rock, He is my salvation and He will not be moved. Those are wonderful declarations of who God is, that there is only one and that He is the Rock for His children. In verse 3, she also asserts that God is a just God and that He is the ultimate judge and that ultimately He will judge by what He knows to be true. It is very important as the theology of the song unfolds itself that God the judge will not be swayed by arrogance. We find as we look at the life of Saul, God’s judgment will not be swayed by human achievements, but God knows what is true and He will judge based on what He knows is true. This is a wonderful statement of praise for who God is. Having done that, she moves to the next stage of praise, which is praising God for what He has done in verse 4 and following. Hannah is going to declare that in God’s grace, in His sovereignty, He chooses to bless some and curse others. Now the language of cursing and blessing does not actually occur in Hannah’s song, although it has been all the way through the Bible. For example, there is a point in time in which the Israelites conquered the land and they went to two mountains and half the tribes were on one mountain stating the blessings of God, and the other half of the tribes were on the other mountain declaring the cursings of God on people who would be disobedient. The theme of blessing and cursing has been all the way through the Old Testament up until this point. She does not use the actual words, but that is what she is talking about. She is talking about the reversal of fortunes and that God in His grace and in His sovereignty is powerful and is free to reverse people’s fortunes. With that, she is going to set up seven sets of contrasts. The first one is strong and weak. It is the idea is that God has taken the strong and made them weak and God has taken the weak and made them strong. He is able to reverse the fortunes of people. So the contrasts are strong and weak, full and hungry, barren and fertile, dead and alive, sick and healthy, poor and rich, humble and exalted.

Let’s look at the verses. “The bowls of the mighty are broken but the feeble bind on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread but those who are hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has born seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life. He brings down to Sheol (or hell) and He raises up.” That is the sick and the well contrast. “The Lord makes poor and makes rich. He brings low and He exalts.” Then she emphasizes the point on richness. “He raises up the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.” I need to parenthetically add that not everyone who is sick or hungry is necessarily wicked. That is not what is being taught here. But what is being taught is that God is in control and He can do (good theological term here) jolly well whatever he wants to do. If that means reverse the fortunes of people, it is within His sovereignty and within His graciousness to do so. Now you may be thinking, “How? How does He think He can do this? Why does God think He can get away reversing the fortunes of people?” Well, the answer is in the second half of verse 8, “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them He has set the world.” The reason God can reverse the fortunes of anyone He jolly well chooses is that everything belongs to Him. The earth is His; even the foundations upon which the earth sits are His. Everyone and everything that lives on the earth is His. He is sovereign and He is free to do whatever He wishes. He is king. He is in control. Well, given the fact that God can do what He wants to do and given the fact that He is going to bless some and He is going to curse others, the natural question is, “How do you get on His good side?” Who is it that He will bless? I mean, God is not capricious. He does not inexplicably go off and do whatever He wants, in a sense. But who is he going to bless, and who are the wicked that He is going to punish? Well, the answer is in verse 9 and 10. “He will guard the feet of His faithful ones.” They are the ones He is going to bless. “But the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man or a woman prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces. Against them He will thunder in heaven.” It is a great metaphor that occurs all the way through the Old Testament. God will thunder against the wicked and will punish them. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth, He will give strength to His kings and exalt the power of His anointed.” Whose good fortunes does God reverse? Against whom does God thunder? The wicked. Whom does He bless with strength and food and life and health? His faithful ones. I need to take a minute and spend some time with what that word "faithful" means. It is one of the most important words in the entire Old Testament. We have already learned the Hebrew word for God’s personal name: “Yahweh.”

Here is your second Hebrew term, and you need to swallow your spit to say it: “hesed.” it is a word central to the theology of the Old Testament and it has absolutely no corresponding term in English or other languages as far as I know. “hesed” basically denotes faithfulness or loyalty. However, what is difficult to translate in the phrase is that it refers to a faithfulness or a loyalty that exists within a relationship. It is just not faithfulness or loyalty in general, but it is a word that says God has entered into a relationship with His people. We call it a covenant. Within the context of that covenant God has said, “I will be your God and do all that that entails. That means I will be your rock, I will be your deliverer, I will be your sanctifier, I will be your savior, I will be your protector. These are all the things that I commit Myself to do within the context of the covenantal relationship.” There are a lot more times that the Bible talks about God being “hesed” than you and I being “hesed.” And yet, you and I are also called to be “hesed.” You and I are called to be faithful and loyal to God within the context of our relationship, within the context of our covenant. That is what the word "hesed" means, and that is why there is no single English word to translate it. It is steadfast loyalty, faithfulness because there is a relationship that has been established between God who will be our God and us who will be His people. That is what the word “hesed” means. So when Hannah says, “He will guard the feet of His faithful ones,” she is asserting that the covenantal God will be faithful in His part of the covenant to those people who are faithful in their part of the covenant. This is not a promise to people in general. This is not the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man and that kind of gibberish. This is God’s covenantal commitment to His people and Hannah’s commitment back to her covenantal God that He will be faithful and she will be faithful.

We earlier said that God will judge by what is true. We now know what is true. The standard by which God judges is the covenant. The standard by which God judges people is His faithfulness to His covenantal people and those people who are in relationship with Him, how they have been faithful back to their covenantal God. If you and I live outside that covenantal relationship, if we break the covenantal relationship, then Hannah says God will thunder against us. God will curse us; however, if we live within the context of the covenant, if we respond to God by loving Him with all your heart, and all your soul and all your might, if you respond in believing that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do and that flows out into joyful obedience, then those are the people He will bless. Those are the people whose feet He will guard. That is what “hesed” means. Hannah’s song is a cry of faith. It is one of the greatest cries of faith in the entire Bible. One of the fundamental questions is: do you and I really believe that God is all good all the time? That is the fundamental question of life as far as I can tell. Hannah’s cry of faith is, “yes that is exactly what I believe.” Let me read Hannah’s song again. You will hear it this time if you did not hear it before. “My heart exalts in the Lord, my strength is exalted in the Lord, my mouth derides my enemies because I rejoice in Your salvation.” Regardless of everything else in life, this is Hannah’s cry of faith. “There is none holy like the Lord. There is none besides You. There is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth for the Lord is the God is knowledge and by Him actions are weighed. Let me praise God for what He has done. The bowls of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. Those who are full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who are hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has born seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life. He brings down to Sheol and He raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich. He brings low and He exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.” How can He do this? “For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s and on them He has set the world.” There are two kinds of people in this world. “He will guard the feet of His faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness for not by might shall a man prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces. Against them He will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king and exalt the power of His anointed.” Now if that is not faith, I do not know what is. That is Hannah’s cry in light of what she sees and what she has learned. Hannah has learned several things.

Hannah has learned that the battles of life are not won through human strength. There is a neat phrase in verse 9, “For not by might shall one prevail.” It is not by our might that we win the battle but the battle belongs to our Lord. He was the warrior in Judges, was He not? He still is the warrior. There are any passages that pick up this theme. One of my favorites is Jeremiah 9 starting at verse 23, “thus says the Lord, ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this: that He understands and knows Me [meaning God], that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, [There is “hesed”] justice and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,” says the Lord. It is God who makes the strong weak and makes the weak strong. It is God who turns winners into losers and losers into winners. He is the warrior who has done this. Hannah has learned that God blesses his faithful ones. Out of that faith flows faithful obedience. Believing that God is our rock, that God is our refuge, of living a radically God-centered, monotheistic life. We are not forcing God to compete for our affections. Hannah has learned that either He is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all. She is an intense monotheist. She is refusing to compartmentalize God. I like thinking in those terms more and more. There is a tendency in many of us to compartmentalize God, to think that, "okay, I will give Him Sunday mornings, but I am going to keep everything else for myself." Hannah knows nothing of that, and neither does Jesus. There is no compartmentalization; there is either one God or we worship many gods. There is no gray area in between. That is Hannah’s cry of faith and that is what she has learned. Now why am I spending so much time on I Samuel 2? Well, I like it. But there is more to it than that. The theology that Hannah is expressing in her song provides the theological structure and emphases for all of I and II Samuel. In fact, David sings a similar song of praise at the end of II Samuel. It is remarkably like Hannah’s, so much so that Hannah's and David's songs of praise act as theological bookends for all of I and II Samuel. They help us understand what is theologically occuring as we read about the kings and the transition from theocracy to monarchy. So, as we read through those chapters, we keep seeing the same things. God is King and, for our part, we are called to “hesed,” we in fact are called to become “the hesedim. Same word in ancient Hebrew as in modern Hebrew.


So with those set as the theological bookends and themes of I and II Samuel, we move out of Hannah’s song and begin reading about Samuel and eventually get to the story of Saul. I am going to jump forward to I Samuel Chapter 8 because it is a pivotal time. At this point, the children of Israel want to change. In essence, they want to get out of the covenant. They look at Samuel’s children who are wicked and realize there is not going to be any succession similar the succession of kings. They are fed up with being unique and want to be like everyone else. They want a king who will go out and fight the battles for them. So in I Samuel 8, starting at verse 4, “Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, ‘Behold you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.’ But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ And Samuel prayed to the Lord and the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you.” Why? “For they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being King over them.” It is important to understand what is going on. God created the nation Israel. He brought them out of Egypt. He fought for them. He game them a Promised Land so that they would become a theocracy, so that they would become a nation whose God ruled over them. As far back as Exodus 19, the chapter before the Ten Commandments, God tells the children of Israel, “You are to be different from everyone else. You are to be a kingdom of priests and it is going to be through you that the blessing will come that I promised Abraham, this blessing that is going to go out to all the world. You are supposed to be different. God is your King and you are to be a kingdom of priests mediating God’s blessing to the nations around you.” And the children of Israel said, “Nah, don’t want it.” That is why what they were doing was so wrong, so sinful. They are rejecting God; they are wanting out of the covenant. God says, “Okay, Samuel, warn them. Tell them what it is like to have a king; it is not a pretty picture. Give them what they want. Give them Saul.” That is how the story unfolds. Please hear this very clearly. Even when Israel shifts from a theocracy to a monarchy, God has not abdicated His throne. If you are going to read I and II Samuel, you have to hear this going all the way through these two books. Just because there is a king does not mean that God has ceased being the King. He is still the King. He is still in absolute control, and the king of Israel (small 'k') is God’s vice regent. He is answerable to the King and is ruling in His place. God has not abdicated His rule and His authority and His control to Saul or David or Solomon. He is still King. So the story goes on and, as is so often the case, Saul starts strong and ends weak. We used this phrase in connection with Judges: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” That is still the case. Things start off well. They defeat the Ammonites in I Samuel 11, verse 13, Saul says’ “The Lord has worked salvation in Israel.” Here he is still giving glory to God. He is the king, small 'k'; he understands that God is still the King, large 'K', that God is still the warrior and His is the victory to give. Times are still good. Chapter 14, his son Jonathan goes out and defeats the Philistines and Jonathan says, “For nothing can hinder the Lord from saving.” Both the father and his son understand that God is still the warrior and it is God who still gives the victory.

Then things start to go downhill, and they go downhill fast. Saul is not a priest; he does not have the authority to sacrifice. He is waiting for Samuel. Samuel does not get there and so Saul goes ahead and sacrifices, which is a big no-no. Unless you are a priest, you do not sacrifice. He gets in trouble for that. God calls for Saul to kill all the Amalakites, which Saul refuses to do. Finally in Chapter 15, God tells Samuel to go talk to Saul and tell him that God has rejected him. Please notice why God rejects Saul as king. I Samuel 15, verse 26, Samuel said to Saul, “For you have rejected the Word of the Lord and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” The standard of success and the standard of failure is not something external. It is not how many wars you win or how big your church is. The standard of success is faithfulness to the covenantal God. That is the standard by which God’s success is measures. And Saul rejected the Word of the Lord. He was not faithful to the Word of the Lord and, therefore, God deems him a failure and tells him he no longer will be king over Israel. The standard of God’s judgment, which Hannah knew, is faithfulness to our covenantal God. It is not all the external trappings of life. Do I love the Lord with all my heart, and all my soul, and all my might, and has that love for God and that faith in Him overflowed in joyful obedience as is defined by the covenant? That is God standard by which He judges. That is the standard that is true, and that is what Hannah understood and Saul did not understand. So Saul is told that he is no longer king and life just goes straight down for Saul. He repeatedly tries to kill David and it appears that he almost goes insane. After Samuel dies, he needs information so he goes to the witch at Endor and gets him to conjure up Samuel. Really big no-no. Eventually he is killed by the philistines, beheaded, and his body is stuck on the wall of the city. So much for the king of Israel.

What did Hannah know that Saul did not? Hannah understood that God is King. Hannah understood that God is in control. Hannah understood that God is the Rock and in Him alone is salvation, in Him alone is protection and refuge and all the things that we so desperately crave. Hannah understood that what matters for us is not externally, worldly defined success. What matters for us is that we be faithful, that we live a radically God-centered life, that we do not force God to compete with the gods of this age. We need to be radical monotheists. There is only one God and it is Yahweh. It is Him and Him alone that we serve with every ounce of passion that we have in our bodies. That is what Hannah knew and Saul did not. The Old Testament is a witness to the fact that people generally just do not get it. I am not the one picking these Old Testament stories; Gary Pratico is picking them. I wanted someone who knows the Old Testament much better than I do to pick them. He teaches Old Testament at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary where I used to teach. It has been agonizing for Gary to cut it down to 25 or 30 stories. I called him a few days earlier because I was frustrated with the sermon, and I said, “Gary, the problem with the stories that you are giving me is that the names of the players are different, but it is the same thing over and over and over again. Yahweh is God. He is in control. He is in charge. We are called to love and we are called to be faithful to Him and have that faith overflowing into joyful obedience.” And in a very Harvard PhD way, Gary said, “Duh! That is the whole point, Bill. It is the whole point of the Old Testament that people do not get it. You tell them over and over and over and over. You send them judges; they don’t get it. You send them kings; they don’t get it. You send them prophets; they don’t get it. They don’t get it. In fact, the point is that they never will get it.” While there may be some unusual people like David, Hannah and Joshua, very unusual people who get more than the rest, the majority of the people in the Old Testament do not get it. In fact, they cannot get it, and that is one of the major points of the Old Testament.

1000 years later - Mary

A thousand years after the time of Hannah, Samuel and Saul there was another woman who had never had children. God gave life to her womb and Mary responded to God’s gift of life in a way that is remarkably similar to how Hannah responded. I am going to read the Magnificat later on, but it is in Luke Chapter 1. It is interesting to look at Hannah’s song, to look at David’s song, and then look at Mary’s song of rejoicing. You will see that they are all going to say the same basic thing. Mary’s son was born, He lived and he died, and in the process Jesus did what no one else could do. He perfectly loved God with all of His heart and all of His soul and all of His might. When Jesus died on the cross, He not only paid the penalty for sins. Sin is committed by people who like God some of the time. But His death also brought in what was called the New Covenant, which is much like the Old where God is still King and we are still called to faith. But what is new in the New Covenant and in answer to the prophecies in Jeremiah is that with the New Covenant comes the power to love God in a way that without the Holy Spirit simply is not possible. And when He died on the cross, remember he told His disciples in the Upper Room Discourse, “It is a good thing that I go away because when I leave, them the comforter can come. And He will lead you into all truth and He will convict the world of sin.” And by His death on the cross, Christ ushered in the New Covenant, a covenant that empowers the people who are part of the covenant to obey the covenant. To love God with all their heart and all their soul and all their might. It is by this power that comes through the Holy Spirit that we can know fully that without faith it is impossible to please God and that true faith always overflows into faithful and joyful obedience. It is through the power of this Holy Spirit that we understand in a deeper way than is possible without that we cannot ask God to compete with the gods of this world. That the Holy Spirit when He convicts us of sin, is convicting us that there is only one God, and human sinful tendency is to worship other gods, small 'g'. And yet the Holy Spirit says that there is only one who is God and either you will love Him and hate the world, or you will love the world and you will hate Him. There is no gray, there is no in between. I John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eye, and pride in possessions is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God, whoever are the “hesedim”, whoever is faithful, abides forever. This is the challenge of a pluralistic world. A world that says there are many gods and you can pick the one you want to serve. And Hannah, David and you and me, through the work of the Holy Spirit, understand that that is unacceptable. We are called to cry out, and in the words of Hannah back in Chapter 2, that “There is none holy like the Lord. There is none besides You. There is no Rock like our God.” It is through the power of this Holy Spirit that at the end of the day we understand that it’s not the pleasures of this world that are important. It is not a half-hearted commitment to God like Saul had.

At the end of the day, the Holy Spirit tells us that it is not an issue of human achievement; that is not the basis of judgment; rather, the basis of judgment is the covenant and God saying, “This is what matters to me. What matters to me is a soft and gentle heart.” A heart that is molded by the hand of God, empowered by His Spirit, ready to do His bidding, sold out entirely to God, radical monotheist, radically committed to a God-centered life. All of this is possible because in the New Covenant God sent His Spirit to empower us to fulfill our part of the covenant.

Celebrate the victory of our King (I Cor. 11:23ff)

I would like to invite you to celebrate the victory of our King, and that is a capital 'K'. Because when Jesus ushered in the New Covenant, He did so by His death. In His death, He won victory over the greatest of the enemies, and that is death. And Satan fell. And it is through Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Jewish festival called Passover that we are called to proclaim that it was Jesus’ death that paid the penalty for sins. It was Jesus’ death that ushered in the Covenant in which we can now, empowered by His Spirit, love God with all our soul and all our might, with everything that we have. In I Corinthians 11 Paul tells us how Jesus reinterpreted this Jewish festival and he says, “For I receive from the Lord what I also delivered to you that the Lord Jesus, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, ''my'' body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also He took the cup after supper saying, ‘This cup is the New Covenant in My blood. Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” I invite you to join in with the celebration that our King was victorious over all and it is through the New Covenant that He brought in by His death, that we can now become the “hesedim”. That we could become faithful to Him, as He has always been faithful to us. We’re going to share the bread. I ask that you hold it and that we can take it together. There is none holy like the Lord. There is none beside You. There is no Rock like our God. And this is the God who created all things and wants a relationship with you to be your God and for you to be His people, made possible because His Son died for your sins and for mine. May we proclaim that death together now. I know these are solemn times, but they are also joyful times. Hear Mary’s cry of faith in the Magnificat. And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me and holy is His name. And His mercy is for those who fear Him [the “hesedim”]. From generation to generation He has shown strength with His arm. He has scattered the proud and the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exulted those of humble estate. He has filled hungry with good things and the rich He has sent empty away. He has helped His servant Israel in remembrance of His mercy as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior. With smiles from ear to ear, let us rejoice together in the gift of our God. May you go as people who have a victorious God who is King. And even when we cannot see it, that just gives us an opportunity to affirm by faith even more so that God was in control of history in I and II Samuel. Guess what? He is still in control today. May you go in peace.

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