“Obed and Samuel - the Promise of a King”
Ruth 4:13-22, 1 Samuel 1:9-2:10
December 16, 2012
God has given his people a King both powerful and compassionate.
I. The Lineage of the King - Ruth 4:13-22
II. The Servant of the Lord - 1 Samuel 1:9-2:10
Bobby had an interesting assignment for world history last week. He received a chart that looked like a grid for a playoff competition, but instead of teams there were kings and queens from hundreds of years of European history. His job was to compare the two rulers in each match-up, and decide who was the best and most influential. Those leaders would advance to the next bracket and compete again, until he finally chose the champion ruler of that whole period of history. In the end he chose Peter the Great, the Russian czar who almost single-handedly brought Russia into European civilization.
But I got to thinking ‘how do you make such a choice? What constitutes a really good ruler, or king?’ We all know a good king can hugely bless his nation; a bad king can bring evil and destruction. We even think we know what a good king looks like: he stands strong against his country's enemies, opposes evil, yet at the same time he is just and fair. Like Good King Wenceslas of Christmas legend, he does good for the poor and needy, shows compassion to the oppressed, and forgives the repentant. Historically few kings meet these criteria. Even Peter the Great has been long and soundly criticized for his cruelty toward perceived opponents, including even his own son, and for his failure to care for his people, evidenced by crippling taxes, making the serfs into virtual slaves, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of these serfs in his wars and building projects, like the great city of St. Petersburg. So even a great king doesn’t necessarily fit our definition of a good king.
In fact the only king who ever perfectly met our instinctive criteria is one who was rejected. And not just Jesus; God himself was rejected by Israel: he set up a theocracy for his chosen people and they rejected it – and him. Yet he always intended to give his people a king, and it was Jesus. The fact that they again rejected him does not make Jesus any less perfect, or any less king. In Jesus, God’s people received the promised and perfect king.
To focus our understanding of a perfect king, let's pursue two thoughts. First, that a king should be compassionate and merciful, a caregiver to his people. Second a king should be powerful, with sovereign authority, so that what he chooses to do is done. Jesus alone is this perfect king.
Our Christmas series explores these truths in Scripture’s stories of babies, given to punctuate God’s promises. Today we’re going to study two stories of babies, and explore how these stories came together in Israel’s first kings, and ultimately in the promised and perfect king, Jesus.
I. The Lineage of the King - Ruth 4:13-22
Like all good stories ours begin with ‘Once upon a time.’ ‘In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2The name of the man was Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, and his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.’
But out of faithfulness to her mother-in-law and allegiance to the God of Israel, one daughter-in-law, Ruth, leaves her homeland, Moab, to go to Naomi’s home town, Bethlehem. The two are in poverty there, because their inheritance is in the hands of another. When Elimilech left Bethlehem, he would have sold the family inheritance to another man, who would have the rights to the land. But if Elimilech found wealth in Moab, he could return and buy back the rights of his own land. Instead, Elimilech and his sons died, so the right to redeem fell to their nearest kinsman, their redeemer.
You know the story. Ruth goes to glean in the fields of a landowner named Boaz, and she impresses him, despite the fact that she was a Moabitess, despised in the eyes of the people of Israel. It turns out that Boaz is a near kinsman to Naomi; not the nearest, but since redeeming the land also involves marrying the widow, Ruth, to provide heirs for the land, the nearest kinsman was unwilling to redeem. So Ruth, and Naomi, were redeemed by Boaz; he bought back their land and married Ruth.
That's how we get to the first baby in today's story. Ruth 4:13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14The women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
Then the author of Ruth reminds us of the generations from Abraham to David, but I’m going to let Andrew Peterson do that from Mattthew’s begats:
Abraham had Isaac; Isaac, he had Jacob; Jacob, he had Judah and his kin; Then Perez and Zerah came from Judah's woman, Tamar; Perez, he brought Hezron up, and then came Aram, then Amminadab, then Nahshon, who was then the dad of Salmon, who with Rahab fathered Boaz; Ruth, she married Boaz who had Obed, who had Jesse. Jesse, had David who we know as king.
Two things to notice about that genealogy. First, it includes two foreigners: Rahab the Canaanite prostitute and Ruth the depised Moabitess; God is a God of unexpected rescue, and the rescues of Rahab and Ruth are just typical of the way he saves by grace the lowest and neediest among us. Second, the birth of Obed and ultimately the birth of David, the archetypal king of God’s people was no accident; it was clearly part of God’s plan and provision.
I. The Lineage of the King - Ruth 4:13-22
So, once upon a time, not many years after the birth of Obed, there was a man named Elkanah. He had two wives, probably never a good idea. “one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.” 1st Samuel 1 implies that he loved childless Hannah, probably more than Penninah. As a result Penninah provoked Hannah, making her long even more for a child; “she wept and would not eat. 8Elkanah her husband would say to her, "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?"
But Hannah was longing for a child, and cried out to God. 1st Samuel picks up the story at the tabernacle in Shiloh: After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. 11She 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.”
12As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink; I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of great anxiety and vexation.” 17Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you made to him.” 18And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
God is a God of unexpected rescue. Picking up at verse 19: They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”
Like Sarah before her and Elizabeth after her, Hannah is convinced she will never have a child of her own, but she cannot escape the longing. But in answer to her prayers, and Eli's, she now has a son. She calls him Samuel, which means ‘heard by God.’ Her cry of longing was heard by God.
When Samuel was very young, just after he was weaned, Hannah brought him to Shiloh and gave him into the service of God, serving Eli the priest. Then she prayed, or sang, a most remarkable prophecy: “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation. 2“There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. 3Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. 4The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength. 5Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry have ceased to hunger. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn." A little later she says “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. 10The 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.”
This prayer is remarkable for two reasons. First, it is remarkably like Mary’s famous song, known as the Magnificat, recorded in Luke 1: And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” We could spend days looking at the parallels. Mary must have been having her quiet time in 1st Samuel, and through the Holy Spirit she shared the same vision for ministry for her not-yet-born son Jesus as Hannah had for her dedicated-to-the-Lord son Samuel.
But the other thing is even more remarkable. Look at verse 10 of Hannah’s prayer: “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.”
Hannah expected, as the long term outcome of God’s work, that there would be an anointed king who would rule on his behalf. Not just kings, but the king, the messiah. Scripture had already foreseen this king: Deuteronomy 17 says “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you." And then God says that this king must not acquire many horses, or wives who would turn his heart away or too much silver or gold, and that he must keep a copy of God's law with him at all times so that he will learn it and obey it." That's the kind of king God had in mind for Israel.
So now we begin to see where the two stories come together. God has provided for Ruth and Naomi in such a way that the descendants of Judah now include Obed, Jesse and David. God has also provided Samuel, who became a strong Judge, the last of the Judges to rule Israel. Many years later, after Samuel had been bringing God’s word to Israel for a long time, and when the threats from the surrounding nations had grown severe, the people of the tribes came to Samuel and told him they wanted a king. Samuel was not pleased – partially, one suspects, because they told him outright that he was getting old and that his sons did not walk in his ways, partially because he’d been trying all this life to get the people of Israel to walk with the Lord as their King, and he knew that no human king would keep the ideal of Deuteronomy 17.
So he does what a godly man would do: instead of raking them over the coals, he prays. And God says give them a king; warn them about human kings, but give them a king anyway “for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them . . . only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
So Samuel tells them about human kings: about military service and forced labor for both their sons and daughters, confiscation of their lands, taxes on their grain and their vineyards, so that the people become slaves. This is the way of human kings, the way of Peter the Great. Samuel knows it, God knows it, but God gives them a king anyway. Their first king is Saul: big, strong, from the tribe of Benjamin, just the kind of poster boy they wanted. But of course, he doesn't do the things described in Deuteronomy 17. Specifically he does not obey what God tells him, through Samuel. He does what is right in his own eyes and excuses his sin. Eventually God rejected his kingship, saying “But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”
So once upon a time God spoke to Samuel again – you see how pivotal Samuel is - and he said to him “Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Jesse’s father, you’ll recall, was baby Obed, a child of promise, the son of Ruth and Boaz. Samuel is sent to anoint one of Obed’s grandsons as king over Israel. And after rejecting all the poster boy candidates among Jesse’s sons, the Lord instructs Samuel to anoint, to messiah, David.
David! The archetypal king of God’s people, the man after God’s own heart. He leads God’s army; he brings peace; he rules in splendor; he writes God’s hymnbook; he worships before the Lord with abandon; he seeks the Lord with all his heart. Yet David isn't a perfect king. He does not have sovereign power and can't put all his enemies to flight. He doesn't have perfect compassion or caring. Against the counsel of Deuteronomy 17, he takes for himself many wives. Probably as a result, he fails as a father to some of his sons. And of course, he sins with Bathsheba against Uriah the Hittite. David is a sinful man like any other, the kind of king Samuel warned against.
Yet God chose him and made promises to him and about him that lead us directly to Christmas. Don’t miss this: the whole king thing was God’s doing. Yes, God knew the dangers of a human king; everything Samuel warned against was true. God knew his people had rejected him as king. Yet God also knew that the people he created longed for a perfect king, one who would rule with sovereign power, yet with perfect justice, compassion, protection and provision. This longing leads to many Scriptural promises from the time of David to the very end of the Old Testament and is the heart of what Mary, Zechariah, Simeon and so many others in the New Testament expected.
God told David that “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” This is, first of all, Solomon, but this promise is about someone greater than Solomon, and that’s how it was understood. Solomon himself writes Psalm 72, which is an incredible testimony to an eternal king who judges God’s people with righteousness and his poor with justice, who bring prosperity for the people, defends the cause of the poor, delivers the children of the need, crushes the oppressor, so that righteousness flourishes and peace abounds as he has “dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!” This is Solomon looking forward to Jesus.
Many of the Christmas prophecies point to this greater Davidic king. Isaiah 9 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
Isaiah 11: There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” That’s the king we long for. Psalm 132 “There I will make a horn to sprout for David; I have prepared a lamp for my anointed. – A horn is a symbol of strength and a lamp a symbol of wisdom “18His enemies I will clothe with shame, but on him his crown will shine.”
All these verses are implied in the words of men and angels at the birth of Jesus. Gabriel says to Mary “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Jesus will be this longed for king! Zechariah sings “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old."
An old Christmas carol recently remade by Andy Gullahorn and Jill Phillips captures this fulfilled promise: "Nations that long in darkness walked; Have now beheld a glorious light; On them who dwelt in shades of death; The light hath shined a heav’nly bright. For lo! the virgin’s Child is born; To us the Son of God is giv’n. Upon His shoulders shall be laid The government of earth and heav’n. His Name is called Wonderful, The Counselor, the mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace; Peace dearly purchased with His blood. His government shall know no bounds, But far and wide o’er all extend; And happy peace, the glorious fruits Of His just reign, shall know no end. And everything is gonna change And everything’s already changed."
They wanted a king, they were promised a king who is sovereign, compasisonate, wise and just. We want a king like that too. We do not want a king with power and no mercy, we’ve had enough of those kings, those Peter the Greats. We do not want a king who has compassion but lacks the power to provide. I often think of Alfred the Great, one of the early kings in England. He ruled Wessex, the most important kingdom in England, from 871 to 899 AD. Though forced to fight many wars against the Viking invaders, Alfred is best known for his commitment to learning, to the creation of a just code of law, and for his devotion to God and to Jesus. He was a great king, in fact the only king of England to be called the Great. But all Alfred’s reform and teaching and just reign had little long term impact against the darkness of his time. Like so many kings and rulers over so many centuries, he knew a lot about what was right and just but he couldn’t make those things work.
We need a king who is both sovereign and merciful; powerful and compassionate, just and gracious, able and true, present and eternal. We need Jesus. David and all the kings that followed him were but shadows of this king. Peter the Great, Alfred the Great and all the greats who ever lived are Peter the weak and Alfred the small and all the not-so-greats when compared to this king.
So how do we embrace all this? We have such a king, Jesus, who defeated every enemy by his sacrifice, death and resurrection. He defeated Satan, he defeated sin, his rose to rule and reign until death, the last enemy, dies. He is gloriously sovereign. But he is also graciously merciful. He does not treat us as our sins deserve, but forgives and loves and heals and renews and makes us into new people empowered to follow him. He sympathizes with our weaknesses, offers us rest, gives us His Holy Spirit as ‘God with us’ and promises that all will be well, all justice will be done, every promise will be kept, the wrong shall fail and right prevail and there will be peace.
I wish I had time to end this teaching in all the ways I want to end it. I would play for you again S. M. Lockeridge’s great message ‘That’s My King’ because we all need to embrace all that Jesus is and all that Jesus has done as all our own. I would play Kevin Branaugh’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Henry V before Agincourt, because we all need to know that ours is a king who calls us to follow, and that following, even in a world still embattled, is the most glorious calling we can ever have. I encourage you to go to Youtube this week, and listen to both of these as part of your Christmas celebration. Because we have received the promise. Jesus is the king we long for. He’s that king now and he will be that king forever.