Sermon prepared by Bernie Haan, Sioux Center, Iowa
Keywords: sin, salvation, God’s faithfulness, grace
Note: this is shorter than average sermon
No doubt every one of us here has done something which later on you bitterly regretted. Maybe it was a comment that you made; a cheap shot at someone. Perhaps it was a prank that you pulled or some harsh words of criticism that were poorly stated and poorly timed. You lost your cool; you stepped way out of bounds; you spoke way out of line. You did something or said something that hurt someone's feelings. You threw a verbal stone, and it hit that person right between the eyes. Oh, how you wish you hadn't done it! Oh, how you wish you wouldn't have said what you did! If you could only take it back; but it's too late. The damage has been done. And now you wonder what's going to happen.
In a sense one could say that this is what had happened with the people of Israel. As a nation they did something that they would later regret. Samuel knew that one day they would regret having wanted so badly a king such as all the other nations have. He warned them; having a king isn't all that it's cracked up to be; he'll make life miserable for you. But it was to no avail; they insisted on having a king. And so God gave them a king. Who knows, maybe some of the people were already having second thoughts.
But even as God allowed them to have an earthly king, he displayed his grace. And that's what we see in this Scripture passage before us today. Even though the people were wrong in wanting an earthly king, God would give them a fresh start; this could still turn out all right for them. But first, through Samuel's farewell address, the people needed to be reminded of a few things.
Reminded of God’s Faithfulness
First of all, the people needed to be reminded of God’s faithfulness. And Samuel did this in a couple of ways. First, Samuel defended his conduct as the one appointed by God to be judge. He challenged the people to find anything wrong in the way he had conducted himself in the office. You see, by implication he was therefore not to blame for Israel's demand for a king. He had been a faithful servant of the Lord; it's not like he had ever taken anything from the people; it's not like he was oppressive or scandalous. And the people acknowledged this; they testified that he had served the people well. Samuel could retire knowing that he had been totally fair and honest. And the Lord himself was a witness to Samuel's impeccable behavior. God had been faithful to his people by providing them with a judge who had served them well.
But stepping back and looking at the broader picture, God had been faithful to his people down through the ages, and Samuel reminded them of this as well. God had been gracious to Israel. "Stand here," said Samuel, "because I'm going to confront you with evidence before the Lord as to all the righteous acts performed by the Lord for you and your fathers." And those righteous acts he's talking about are God's saving acts on behalf of his people. His most outstanding act of caring was Israel's exodus out of Egypt under Moses and Aaron. Samuel refers to this event twice in his speech. But not only then, time after time God revealed his grace by coming to the people's rescue. Certainly the people could see how God had been gracious to them by providing them with judges like Gideon, Barak, Jepthah, and Samuel. And they should be especially grateful since they didn't really deserve such a favor from God, which is why the people, in Samuel's speech were also reminded of something else.
Reminded of Their Unfaithfulness
Secondly, Samuel reminded the people that even though God had been good to them, they had continually rebelled. In giving a synopsis of Israel's history, Samuel was really laying out evidence against the people, reminding them of their unfaithfulness.
In order to more fully understand Samuel's words as recorded in verses 6-15, we have to keep in mind what's recorded in Deuteronomy 28 where the Israelites, with Moses as their aged leader, are promised blessings if they remain obedient to the Lord and threatened with terrible curses if they fail to walk in the Lord's ways. Needless to say, the history of Israel's relationship with Yahweh had been a continuous cycle of sin and judgment, followed by repentance and divine mercy.
And now, Israel's request for a king was further evidence of their disloyalty to the Lord. In the face of Philistine and Ammonite threats, the people would sooner have an earthly king than put their trust in the Lord's ability to protect his people. Therefore their insistence on having a king was tantamount to rejecting the Lord.
While God had revealed his faithfulness time after time, the people kept displaying their unfaithfulness. And their demand for a king was simply more evidence of their sinfulness and rebelliousness.
Then comes this important word: Nevertheless. What a wonderful word this is. It sums up the gospel. Nevertheless; in spite of what the people had done; in spite of their unfaithfulness and disloyalty, the Lord gave them their king. But the Lord was also the one to determine who that king would be: "See," says Samuel, "the Lord has set a king over you." And so, not only were the people reminded of God's faithfulness and of their unfaithfulness, they were, thirdly, reminded of the covenant promises.
Reminded of the Covenant Promises
Look, says Samuel, you didn't get to this situation with clean hands. But nothing is lost yet. You--and your king--have a chance. The Lord is gracious. The Lord is good. He is giving you a fresh start; he is willing to make a new beginning with you, right here at Gilgal. This is where he renewed the covenant with you once before when you crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land. The Lord stands ready, once again, with all his promises. If you and your king will walk in God's ways, God will bless you. But if not, he will surely turn against you.
"Do you want to know this for sure?" Samuel then asks. "Let me ask the Lord for a sign. Is it not harvest time, the dry season? It never rains at this time of the year, does it? (A thunderstorm in harvest time in Judea was as unlikely as snow falling during one of our summers.) But I will ask the Lord for thunder and rain right now." And it happened. The Lord's power was displayed with flashing lightning in the dark sky!
The people understandably were awestruck by this. They sensed God's speaking to them through this phenomenon, and it became another moment of conversion and repentance. "Pray for us," they pleaded, "for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king." They realized that they had done a terrible thing and were beginning to regret it.
But here again we see the beauty of that covenant relationship. In response, Samuel didn't say, "Sorry, it's too late! There's nothing I can do and there's nothing you can do. God doesn't care about you anymore." No, in response, Samuel exhorted the people to be faithful to the Lord and not to trust in worthless idols. Furthermore, Samuel assured them that God would not reject them, "for the sake of his great name." And "God's name" here represents his character--the character of a saving God, not a vindictive God. God had chosen Israel to be his people, and that choice would stand.
And Samuel also assured the people that he would pray for them. You see, failure to do so would be sinful on his part. Verse 23 is a sermon in itself, reminding us of how important intercessory prayer is: “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.” Even though Samuel was giving up his kingly office as judge, he would continue to serve as a prophet (by speaking on behalf of God) and as a priest (by interceding on behalf of the people).
In conclusion, let me point out that the key verse in this entire chapter is verse 22. The Lord, for his own name's sake, would not abandon his people. In these words we see the triumph of grace. God's grace is victorious over sin. Samuel was convinced that Israel's sin and rebellion could not ultimately thwart God's saving intentions toward his people.
God's great love for Israel would prevent him from destroying them forever. You see, God's discipline is like that of a parent with a child. A loving parent dislikes intensely scolding his/her child and often experiences the punishment inflicted on the child as his or her own pain. "This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you." God's anger against sin is great, but his desire to show mercy and compassion is even greater. Ultimately God will find a way to bring his wayward child back to himself. And he does that supremely in Christ, the King of love and peace whom God has sent us.
The covenant relationship between Israel and God mirrors how God desires to relate to the world as a whole. He wants to save it; that is why he sent his very own Son. But if people reject God's offer of reconciliation in Christ, that's the end of the matter. God has nothing more to give. There is no other way of salvation. Reprobation and condemnation are always self-reprobation and self-condemnation. God didn't reject his Old Testament people, and God hasn't rejected the world. But there can come a time when people ultimately and definitely reject God. Hell, a terrible reality, is peopled with those who wanted it no other way.
But again, God can be generous to us because Jesus died for us. This was true even of Old Testament believers. The death of Jesus works backwards and forwards in time. Even Old Testament believers were forgiven in the light of what God would do on the cross. And the promise of the gospel is this: God will be merciful and will remember their sins no more. Amazingly, God can even accommodate himself to what you did, and somehow those sins are turned around and used for your own good. The sin of Jonah, for example, led to some pagan sailors being blessed, even though what he did was wrong and he was severely punished for it. Furthermore, the wicked deeds of those who crucified Jesus were God's way of bringing salvation to the world.
God is sovereign; he can do with us as he pleases. He doesn't have to give anyone another chance; he doesn't have to give anyone a fresh start. But he often does. He has done it for us; and he will do it for others. But this is what we must do. We must humbly acknowledge what we have done or haven't done, and then make the most of the gracious opportunity the Lord has given us to serve him in this world.
Heavenly Father, we praise you and thank you for your covenant faithfulness. You keep on loving us, even in spite of our unfaithfulness. We live with many regrets, and we are sorry for our sins. In your mercy you have given us a fresh start through the atoning work of your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to be loving and faithful people in response. Amen.
Song of Response—Psalter Hymnal #263