Samuel was a priest, a prophet, and the last judge over Israel. Samuel’s life was at the intersection of two time points in Israel’s history: (1) when Israel was a theocracy and judges conveyed God’s will to the people and (2) when there was an earthly king over Israel. Samuel was about 65 years old when the leaders of Israel came to his home at Ramah. There, Israel’s leaders requested a king. Their reasons were 1) Samuel was old; 2) his sons did not walk in his ways; i.e, Samuel’s sons’ perverted justice by accepting bribes; and 3) like other nations the Israelites wanted a king who would protect them and fight their battles for them.
Samuel was not pleased that Israel’s leaders asked for a king. Most likely, Samuel was hurt, perceiving that the Israelites were rejecting his judgeship. For approximately 350 years, Israel was ruled by God through judges. Now, during Samuel’s tenure as judge, they asked for a king. Despite his feelings, Samuel took the elders’ request to God. Possibly, Samuel thought God would be jealous of his divine rule and reject the Israelite’s request. God’s response was to assure Samuel that the tribal elders were not rejecting Samuel, but that they were rejecting him (God). God told Samuel to accede to the Israelites request for a king; but to first warn the Israelites what a king who ruled over them would do. Acting on God’s direction, Samuel told the Israelites that a king would:
- Take their sons to man and equip his chariots and horses, serve as warriors, make weapons of war, plow the kings ground, and reap the king’s harvest.
- Take their daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers.
- Give to his officials and attendants the best of their fields, vineyards (grapes), and olive groves and 1/10th of their grain and vintage (wine).
- Take the best or their cattle and donkeys and 1/10 of their flocks.
- Take for his use their menservants and maidservants
Samuel warned the Israelites that they would become the king’s slaves. When this happened, the Israelites would cry out to God, but God would not answer them. The Israelites refused to listen to Samuel’s warnings; emphatically, they asked for a king. Once again Samuel took their demands to God. God’s response was, “Listen to them and give them a king” (1 Samuel 8:22). Chapter 8 ends with Samuel telling the men of Israel to go back to their own town. Chapter 9 begins with the story of the first king of Israel.
The Grape Vine
The plant that illustrates Samuel’s message to the Israelites is the grapevine. The grapevine is one of the seven plants that God told the Israelites would be available to them in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:8). In ancient Israel, grape vines were a principle crop because grapes were used fresh or dried or made into wine. Taking the best of an Israelite’s vineyards could deprive a family of food and/or affect their income. Vitis vinifera is the botanical name for the grape that grows in Israel. In ancient Israel when a family had only a few vines in the yard, often the vines remained laying on the ground. The V. vineifera fruit is the grape. The best grapes are obtained when vines are pruned. Wine is fermented grape juice. Although the Negev was a popular area for wine growing in ancient times, today there are wine regions all over Israel.
The grape vine and vineyards are mentioned over 500 times in the Bible. At times the vine referred to peace and prosperity (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4, and Zechariah 3:10). At other times, the vine was associated with the Israelites and their destiny as God’s chosen Old Testament people (Psalms 80:8-16 and Isaiah 1:5-8). Destiny means a predetermine course of events. Israel’s destiny was that God be their king; he was to be the watchman over the vineyard Israel (Psalm 121:3-4). In Old Testament Israel, large vineyards were surrounded by a thorny hedge or stone wall. A tower was placed in the vineyard for a watchman to guard the vineyard from thieves and/or destroyers.
Psalm 80 provides a succinct description of Israel as a vine and Israel’s destiny. God brought a vine out of Egypt and drove out the nations and planted the vine in Canaan/Israel. Initially the vine grew and flourished. Then, the Psalmist laments, “why have you broken down its wall so that all who pass by pick its grapes?” (Psalm 80:12). Regardless of the Psalmists lament, we must remember that the Israelites, not God, changed their destiny. Had they continued in obedience and trust, God would have remained their watchman. Certainly, Samuel’s warned the Israelites what their destiny would look like under an earthly king and numerous prophets warned them against rejecting God and turning to idolatry.
Despite Israel rejecting their God-given destiny, God did not leave the Israelites without hope. In Zachariah, God told the Israelites that he would send them his servant, the Branch and remove the sin of the land in a single day (Zechariah 3:8–10). The branch is a title for the Messiah. On the day Christ was crucified a way was opened to removed sin from Israel and the world.
What this story means for the 21st century
God has appointed a destiny for Christians, unbelievers, men, and women. This life or death destiny applies to all people. Jews and Gentiles no longer have separate pathways to everlasting life (Ephesians 2:11-22). Saint Paul described that destiny as, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The true and absolute pathway to life is through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Reflection. Spend some time reflecting on your final destiny. Are you sure about it or do you have some doubts? If so, read Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, and John 3:16. Then, talk to God about your life. Ask God to forgive your sins through belief in his son, Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of every man and woman
I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/.
Copyright November 4, 2011; carolyn a. roth