All the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray to the Lord your God for your servants, so that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of demanding a king for ourselves.’ And Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart; and do not turn aside after useless things that cannot profit or save, for they are useless. For the Lord will not cast away his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.’
It might seem strange to begin a discussion about hell with the story of King Saul. Hell isn’t even mentioned in the book of 1 Samuel. What does this wicked man have to do with our understanding of the afterlife?
It’s important to remember that the world of the Old Testament was different from our own. The language of a personal savior or a relationship with the son of God would have been completely foreign to the Israelites. God spoke to his people through others, usually prophets, but He was their sovereign ruler, not an idol. He chose his messengers. There was no pharoah who claimed to be the son of God. YHWH revealed himself in moments to the select few, but the covenant established between God and the people of Israel meant that He was King. Moses, Joshua, Gideon, and other Hebrew leaders were chosen by God to be his voice and the intermediary between Him and His people.
So it’s significant in the verses above that the Israelites ask Samuel, the prophet, to choose a king to lead them. They may not be rejecting God outright, but they are putting a representative in place of the true King. They are trying to do God’s job. God himself appoints representatives throughout scripture, and all of them fail except one: God the Son. But for the people to try to circumvent God and choose a representative for themselves is an insult to the perfect King.
Fortunately, Samuel intercedes on behalf of the people and they are not destroyed, but the rest of the story reveals what happens when we attempt to remove God from our lives.
Hell is the absence of God.