Dagon’s temple, Yahweh is exalted and worthy of exclusive praise and honor. In 1 Samuel 6, after the arrival of the ark at Beth-shemesh, He teaches that He will not be an object of curiosity, either.
So if He is not a puppet or a trophy or an object of curiosity, how should Israel respond to Yahweh’s holy Presence? Exactly as they respond in 1 Samuel 7:
In repentance by faith: “And Samuel said to all the house of Israel, ‘If you are
returning to the LORD with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtaroth from among you and direct your heart to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.’ So the people of Israel put away the Baals and the Ashtaroth, and they served the LORD only” (1 Samuel 7:3-4).
In prayer: “And the people of Israel said to Samuel, ‘Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines…’ And Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him” (1 Samuel 7:8, 9).
With continual thankfulness for His redemption: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Till now the LORD has helped us’” (1 Samuel 7:12).
Notice that these elements were absent in the battle against the Philistines in 1 Samuel 4 when they lost the ark of the testimony. Yahweh’s Presence is the same; Israel’s reaction to Him has changed. And this change in reaction in part is
due to the change in spiritual leadership, from the corrupt house of Eli to Yahweh’s prophet, Samuel.
But according to the behavior of his sons in 1 Samuel 8:1-3, the resolution of Israel’s long term spiritual problems will not happen through raising up a prophetic dynasty. What should the Israelites do? They have suffered under corrupt priests and self-promoting judges. Maybe they need another kind of government: “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5).
Notice that Yahweh is not opposed to a monarchy as a system of government. The law includes instructions for the behavior of a king over Israel. What is important here is the kind of king that the Israelites want. For example among the laws described in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, Moses told the Israelites, “He must not acquire many horses for himself… He shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself
in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes” (Deuteronomy 17:16, 17-19). But now in 1 Samuel 8, they don’t ask for a king who lives in concert with Yahweh’s heart; they ask for: “a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). Therefore, Yahweh recognizes: “They have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7). And although they are
informed of the high cost they will suffer to support a king, the Israelites still say, “No! But there shall be 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” (1 Samuel 8:19-20). Although Yahweh commands them to be holy as He is holy, they respond that they don’t want to; instead, they want to be like all the rest of the nations around them.
Therefore, there is a big step forward in Israel’s repentance under Samuel’s leadership… and at the same time, a refusal to take another step forward when they reject a national government in line with Yahweh’s holiness. The attraction of a pagan lifestyle is very strong…