In Bondage Again

Chapter 24

Many people have been led to believe that the Jewish age was one of darkness, superstition, and ignorance, and that the Hebrew religion consisted only in forms and ceremonies. They have come to believe that repentance, faith, and divine enlightenment were reserved for the Gospel dispensation. This, however, is a great deception. The children of Israel were taken into close relation to God, as a peculiar people, a holy nation. The Lord gave them evidences of His presence, that they might fear His name and obey His voice, and that they might know that He was leading them to the Promised Land. The power of God, which was revealed in so remarkable a manner in their deliverance from Egypt, was seen from time to time through all their journeyings.

Upon Israel's settlement in Canaan, they acknowledged the principles of God's government; and so long as they remained faithful to their high calling, the nation prospered. Soon after the passing of Joshua and the generation of which he was a part, a change took place as a result of an increase of population and dealings with other nations. The people adopted many of the customs of their heathen neighbors and thus lost to a great degree their own peculiar, holy character. Gradually they lost their reverence for God and ceased to prize the honor of being His chosen people. Jealousy and envy sprang up between the tribes. Internal dissension made them weak; they were continually exposed to the invasion of their heathen neighbors. The people came to believe that in order to maintain their standing among the nations, the tribes must be united under a strong, central government. The demand for a monarchy became widespread throughout the nation.

Since the days of Joshua, the government had never been conducted with so great wisdom and success as under Samuel's administration. The nation had prospered under his wise control. But with advancing years, the prophet was forced to share with others the cares of government, and he appointed his two sons to act as his assistants.

With the full consent of the people, Samuel had appointed his sons to act as judges. Sadly, the sons of the prophet had not patterned their lives after the pure, unselfish life of their father. They openly accepted bribes and by their injustice helped foster dissatisfaction among the people. Though the people never brought their concerns to Samuel, giving him the opportunity to correct the matter, the situation now furnished them with a pretext for urging the change they secretly wanted. "Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, and said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations."

The Lord had, through His prophets, foretold that Israel would be governed by a king; but it does not follow that this form of government was best for them or according to His will. He permitted the people to follow their own choice because they refused to be guided by His counsel.

Samuel was perplexed and took the people's request to the Lord. "And the Lord said unto Samuel, 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. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken Me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee."

Though instructed to grant the people's request, Samuel was instructed to warn them of the Lord's disapproval and also make known what would be the result of their course. Faithfully Samuel pointed out to them the burdens that a king would lay upon them and showed the contrast between such a state of oppression and their present, comparatively free and prosperous condition. However burdensome it might become, when once a monarchy was established, they could not set it aside at pleasure.

But the people returned the answer. "Nay; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles."

With deep sadness, Samuel listened to the words of the people; but the Lord said to him, "Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king." The prophet had done his duty. Though it had been rejected, He had faithfully presented the warning as God had instructed him. With a heavy heart, he dismissed the people and left to prepare for the great change in the government.

From the time they entered the land of Canaan, Israel had fixed their hopes on national greatness. Under their first three kings, the nation prospered. During the early years of Solomon's wise reign, Israel became wealthy and achieved superiority among the nations. If they had continued to walk in obedience to God, He would have exalted them above all nations; but they developed a disregard for the commandments of God and followed the ways of the heathen; they turned from God to idols. Under their kings, Israel's wickedness was greater than that of the heathen. In vain God sent them warning by His prophets. In vain they suffered chastisement of heathen oppression. Every reformation was followed by deeper apostasy.

Following the death of Solomon, the northern ten tribes broke away, leaving only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south to form the nation of Judah. Apostasy developed more rapidly in the northern kingdom of Israel, leading to their eventual captivity to the nation of Assyria about 725 B.C. Taken from their homeland, they were scattered among the other nations, never to return again.

These calamities did not come to Israel because they were obedient to the Law of God, but because they disregarded that Law. God had told them that if they did not obey His commandments, He could not keep His covenant with them. By their ingratitude and rebellion; their contempt for God's restrictions and reproofs; their persecution of those whom He sent to save them from utter degradation and ruin; by their relapse into idolatry; their hardness of heart in following a course Satan chose for them, rather than the way of obedience in the path of truth, they brought misery upon themselves. When in the grief and bitterness of bondage and suffering under the cruel tyranny of the heathen, they called upon God, He heard them. Again and again, He worked in their behalf, as only a loving God could, that He might bring them into a closer relationship with Himself.

Israel had great light and exalted privileges, yet they did not live up to that light nor appreciate their advantages. As a result, instead of following God's leading, they walked in the light of their own eyes. Their sad history has been repeated again and again by God's people since the fall of Adam. In a similar way, the church of today has turned from God's Law, and followed fables of human devising. Often they have made God's requirements a matter of convenience, and men have obeyed or disobeyed, as business or inclination dictated. But the Lord means what He says, and men cannot set aside His Law without reaping the sad results.

If we will study the history of God's dealings with His people in the past ages and learn the lessons that are preserved for our instruction, we who live in these last days, may avoid following the same example of unbelief and avoid the calamities that Israel experienced.

In keeping the commandments, we have the assurance that there is great reward, and no earthly consideration should induce Christians to follow a course that leads them into conflict with the revealed will of God. It is far better to gain a knowledge of God's will through an understanding of His Word than have the praise of men and the honor of the world. Riches, ease, pleasure, ambition, and worldly honors will all be lost in the passing of time, but spiritual interests have eternal value.

Judah, the southern kingdom remained, an independent nation for approximately one hundred and twenty years after their brethren to the north went into captivity to Assyria. Then, because of their continued transgression, God allowed them to go into captivity to Babylon for seventy years. Following their return, much attention was given to religious instruction. All over the country, synagogues were built where the Law was taught by the priests and scribes. Schools were established and, along with the arts and sciences, instruction was given in religious principles. During their captivity, however, many of the people had adopted heathen ideas and customs; and these were now brought into their religious service, corrupting even these agencies.

The people whom God had called to preserve the truth and in their lives show its power to transform the character had become representatives of Satan. They were doing the work that he desired them to do, taking a course to misrepresent the character of God and causing the world to look upon Him as a tyrant. The religious leaders lost sight of what was represented by the offerings; and instead of seeing in them a symbol of Christ, they became an end in themselves. The ordinances which God Himself had appointed as avenues of truth were made the means of blinding the mind and hardening the heart. God could do no more for man through these channels. The whole system must be swept away.

Only in the coming of the promised Messiah was there hope. None but Christ can lift men up from the dust, to reshape the marred character after the pattern of His divine character and to make it beautiful with His own glory.

This chapter is based on 1 Samuel 8