During the first 30 years of Israel’s history in the land, as in the wilderness before then, the Lord ruled over them (Num. 23: 21; Jud. 8: 23). This theocratic form of government was the highest they ever had. They were the days of their pristine strength and glory. Spiritually it was the high water mark of their history. The Lord ruled over them through those whom He had specially fitted and raised up to be their leaders and elders, and by His word through them. This period of their national life has its counterpart in the early days of the church, as recorded for us in the Book of the Acts, as well as in the principles laid down for us in the Epistles to the churches. (Comp. Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Cor. 14:37.)
With the death of Joshua and his associate elders departure set in. National declension and disintegration were followed by periods of increasing servitudes to the surrounding nations. The spiritual and moral declension on the part of the Levites, the custodians and exponents of the law, was largely responsible for the existing state of affairs. “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Ordered government was lacking. Anarchy prevailed.
It is of a similar condition that Paul warned the Elders at Ephesus. Externally there would be conflicts with wolves, whereas internally there would be confusion through false leaders (Josh. 8: 35; chap. 24; Acts 20: 17-37; 2 Tim. 2: 18). In the days of Samuel Israel demanded a king (1 Sam. 8: 6, 19, 20). This was interpreted by the Lord to Samuel in unmistakable language. “They have rejected Me that I should reign over them.” Thus theocracy was supplanted and superseded by monarchy. God’s rule was set aside for man’s rule, even though the consequences were clearly revealed to them (1 Sam. 8: 10-19). The period covered in the first book of Samuel is one of the saddest in Israel’s long and chequered history. In fact, the first book of Samuel is possibly the saddest in the Bible. Its history centres around three persons: Eli, the priest; Samuel, the prophet; and Saul, the King. Failure, to a greater or lesser degree, characterized all three. Eli died the death of an unredeemed ass (5: 18), and Saul as though he had not been anointed with oil (2 Sam. 1: 21). The gross failure of Eli and his sons led to his dismissal and death. The family of Samuel was no improvement on Eli’s, whereas Saul was a complete failure. At the commencement we read of the Ark taken by the Philistines, and at the end, of Saul stripped by them, while his life, his crown and bracelet were taken by an Amalekite. “Ichabod” is written in bold letters over their history.
The names and characters of Israel’s enemies at various times seem to reflect Israel’s spiritual condition at the time. During this period, except in Samuel’s day (1 Sam. 7: 13), the Philistines were their aggressive foes and oppressors. Israel’s conformity to a mere externalism, a feeding on husks, was marked by taking the Ark to the battle, the rejection of the prophet, and the demanding of a king. But the man who failed to judge the Amalekites, who were the first of the nations, and represent the flesh in its desire for place and pre-eminence was no match for Goliath. For his failure to exterminate the Amalekites Saul had been rejected (16: 1), and Samuel had reluctantly anointed David to be his successor. First, the natural – Saul, and afterward the spiritual – David (1 Cor. 15: 46). He that was “after the flesh” persecuted him that was “after the Spirit” (Gal. 4: 29). So the victor of Elah became the victim of Saul’s cruel hatred and jealousy. The cave Adullam and the strongholds of Engedi became David’s hiding places and the birthplaces of many of his immortal Psalms. Men of faith and vision sought him out in his rejection and were a solace to him. They became his faithful followers and some of them his mighty men. On the other hand Saul, who at times had prophesied and at other times had expressed his sorrow for his sin in persecuting David, went from bad to worse. Troubled by an evil spirit, harassed by the Philistines, and abandoned by God, he at last seeks out a witch! How typical of the end of Christendom, “the latter times,” “the last days,” and “perilous times,” with moral and spiritual chaos on every hand. A form of godliness not only bereft of its power, but denying it and its need. Yet along with it men giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons.
This persecution and sifting had a very salutary effect on David’s soul. It developed a rugged faith and a robust spirituality, as such have always done in the lives of the remnant according to election of grace, who are prepared to “go forth unto Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”