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Bible Passage: 1 Samuel 12
Let’s look at God’s Word together in 1 Samuel 12:
1 And Samuel said to all Israel, “Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. 2 And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day.
The people were probably thinking this is a retirement speech. Samuel was an old man. They now had a king. Samuel must be stepping aside. But that’s not what’s about to happen.
This is not a retirement speech. Samuel is only giving up one of his roles as a leader. This will be his last judgment as a judge. After this speech, there will be a new leadership dynamic in Israel, and it will continue throughout the age of kings.
There were three leadership offices in the Old Testament: Prophet, Priest, and King. Samuel loosely functioned as a leader in all three of those roles. He will continue to serve as God’s prophet and priest, but Saul is now the king. After Samuel, the roles of prophet and priest will become more distinct.
3 Here I am; (those are the same words Samuel spoke as a boy when God called him to service) testify against me before the Lord and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.”
Samuel uses trial language throughout this speech and there are two separate trials. The first trial is “The People vs. Samuel”.
Samuel defends his ministry, much like the Apostle Paul defends his ministry in the New Testament. Have I wronged you? Have I been a bad leader? Have I cheated you? Samuel took only what God had commanded for the priests.
Notice the emphasis on money and possessions. Paul does the same thing in his defense. The assumption is that bad leaders take. They use people. They are motivated by selfish gain. And that is universally true, even in the church.
This is why we think it is important to be extremely transparent about how we steward people’s gifts in this church. It’s also why we don’t spiritually abuse people into giving.
Jesus cleared the temple with a whip because worship was being used as a means to exploit people. May that never be said of us. And now the people respond to Samuel:
4 They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.” 5 And he said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.”
The first trial is over. The verdict is given. Samuel is innocent. He has finished well. But now Samuel leads a second trial. This trial is “God vs. the People”. Stay with me, this is a long passage.
6 And Samuel said to the people, “The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. 7 Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers. 8 When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. 9 But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them. 10 And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ 11 And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety. 12 And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king. 13 And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. 14 If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. 15 But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king. 16 Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. 17 Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king.” 18 So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.
Notice that Samuel provides all the evidence – historical evidence – and then he declares the verdict and he issues a judgment, and the people are given no chance to speak!
The verdict is this – God is faithful, and the people are not. God is vindicated and Israel is condemned.
Immediately, Samuel calls down rain and thunder. This was extremely uncommon at that time of year and could have ruined the entire crop. That’s why the people were afraid.
But this is not as bad as it could have been. He didn’t send an evil army. He didn’t send poisonous snakes. He didn’t send a flood. No one dies today. Instead, he was giving them a chance to repent.
And the people respond:
19 And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.”
The people admit they are guilty.
20 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.
Do not be afraid, Samuel says. Did you know that is the most frequent command in the Bible? Do not fear. Why? You have done all this evil – but don’t stop following the Lord.
In other words, you are sinners. You have failed. But you don’t have to stay in your sin. You don’t have to keep making the same decisions. Again, there is hope for change like we talked about last week. God takes us as He finds us, but He never leaves us where He found us.
But where does change begin? Samuel tells us!
21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.
This is the heart of the issue for us. Empty things is a reference to idolatry – not just false gods, but anything that we are trusting for provision or deliverance besides God. For Israel it was comfort, self-rule, and the desire to be like everyone else.
We can look for these empty things in our lives by focusing on the words profit and deliver, but let’s ask them as questions:
What do you think will profit you? What will make your life good?
What do you think will deliver you or rescue you?
If the answer to either question is something other than God, then Samuel calls it useless.
An idol is something that promises us better circumstances, but the promises are empty.
And I think it is important to recognize that Israel went a long-time ignoring God’s Word on this issue. Samuel has been warning them for years that their desire for a king was a rejection of God. And they are just now admitting it was sin – after they got what they wanted!
And even though they call it sin, they still aren’t willing to give up their king. And that is the lesson, I think. Idolatry is powerful and insidious. We often do not realize how enslaved we are to our own desires. We don’t realize how desperate we are to get what we want. We don’t see the danger. We don’t want to believe that the things we want are empty.
And that is the heart of the issue for us. But what is the heart of the issue for God? Why does God care that we are giving our hearts to these empty things? Verse 22:
22 For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.
The heart of the issue for God is His glory. God will always finish what He starts because His glory is at stake – and He is not going to share His glory with empty idols. He is not going to let His people stay committed to things that will not profit or deliver them.
This verse is absolutely packed with theology that will completely change the way you think about your life.
First, God is not going anywhere. He’s not going to walk away from His children. He’s not going to abandon His people. He will finish what He starts because that’s who God is.
Second, we do not own ourselves. We are HIS people. He owns us. We belong to Him. My life is not my own. Your life is not your own. If you are making plans and decisions without considering the will of God, then you are missing the point of your life.
Third, we exist for God’s glory. I’m not on this planet for myself or to make a name for myself. I’m not here to make my name great. I’m not here to spread my legacy. I’m here to make God famous. I’m here to participate in the family business of God.
Finally, all of this is true because God wants it to be true. It is true because He was pleased to make it true. His faithfulness, His ownership of my life, my purpose, His plans for me – it is all true because He says so. I didn’t create this reality. It was a gift from Him to me.
God is not part of my life by my choice. I’m part of His universe and now part of His family by His choice. God is not orbiting me. I am orbiting God.
Do you see how all of this will change your life if you believe it? Look at how Samuel ends his speech.
23 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. 24 Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. 25 But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.
I’m going to do my part. I will pray for you and teach you. But I can’t make you follow. This is the frustration of every preacher. All we can do is preach the word and pray. Everything else is in the hands of the Lord.
And Samuel ends with a warning. Fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully. Otherwise, you will be swept away, both you and your king.
Some of us may be uncomfortable with the idea that the Bible uses fear of punishment as a motivator. But the Bible does it often and unapologetically and as a parent, I understand.
I can explain all the reasons why my children should obey me as a father, but sometimes the only thing that works is fear of consequences … because we are stubborn people.
But is there a contradiction here? A few verses earlier, Samuel commands us not to fear. And now, he says, fear the Lord. The key word is “only”. ONLY fear the Lord.
How should we think about this? Well, let me ask you: What is the purpose of pain? Why do we feel physical pain? Biologically, pain tells us that something is wrong. We have an illness or an injury that needs to be treated. If I touch a hot stove, the pain prevents me from leaving my hand and letting it burn worse.
Fear serves a similar purpose. It warns us of danger. Biologically, my brain is hardwired to experience fear when something dangerous is happening.
The Bible, then, is trying to convince us that the greatest danger we face is God Himself. If we are being commanded not to fear, except to fear God alone, then that has to be the point. God Himself is the greatest danger we face. If something else causes fear, then we are giving it too much power. It may be an idol.
And that has always been our dilemma. We think living an unhappy life is the worst thing that can happen to us. Or living a short life. But not even death is the worst thing that can happen to us. Listen to the words of Jesus:
Matthew 10:28 – Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
At the end of 1 Samuel 12, there is a clear threat – that they will be “swept away” if they reject God. That phrase, swept away, was used in Genesis 19 when the angels begged Lot and his family to run from Sodom and not look back – lest they be “swept away” with the wicked. Think of a tornado cutting a path through town. If you are caught in the path, you are swept away.
Lot’s wife looked back, and God killed her. Why, practically speaking, did that happen? It was because she feared losing her home more than she feared God’s wrath. Or to say it another way, she loved the things of the world more than she trusted the God who made her.
If that seems unfair, then I will remind you of one last thing Samuel said. “Consider what great things God has done for you.” All the salvation, all the protection, all the provision given by God throughout the history of Israel had a purpose. It foreshadowed the person and work of Jesus.
And here’s the good news – Jesus was swept away with the wicked in our place. Our king was swept away with the wicked, so that we – the unfaithful – could be counted among the faithful. He placed Himself in the path of God’s wrath. Because the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make us a people for himself.