Setting The Record Straight
Scripture: 1 Samuel 11:1
Setting The Record Straight1 Samuel 11:1-12:25
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Pastor Randy Smith
You have to really appreciate people who set the record straight. Those individuals who weed through all the exaggerations and misunderstandings and fabrications to present the unadulterated truth in its utmost clarity.
With the advent of electronic mail, news can travel the globe at the speed of light. What took months, now reaches countless people in a matter of seconds all from the convenience of our personal computers. As always, the advantages are tempered with disadvantages. Due to the myths circulating at record speed, websites have evolved such as "Snopes" and "Urban Legends" to set the record straight.
Fortunately, because of these sites, we don't have to believe that scientists drilling in Siberia punched through to Hell, or that St. Chad is the patron saint of disputed elections (that will take you back about 7 years), or that a group known as "The Second Coming Project" is seeking to clone Jesus from the DNA of holy relics, or that airlines will not pair Christian pilots and co-pilots out of fear that the Rapture will snatch away both crewmembers capable of landing the aircraft.
However, among the many myths, there is one story in the "religious section" that was affirmed as being valid. It has made it to many e-mail inboxes over the past seven years. I believe we can say Principal Jody McLeod set the record straight when he said these words over a PA system prior to a football game in Kingston, Tennessee.
It has always been the custom at Roane County High School football games, to say a prayer and play the National Anthem, to honor God and Country. Due to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, I am told that saying a Prayer is a violation of Federal Case Law.
As I understand the law at this time, I can use this public facility to approve of sexual perversion and call it "an alternate lifestyle," and if someone is offended, that's OK. I can use it to condone sexual promiscuity, by dispensing condoms and calling it, "safe sex." If someone is offended, that's OK. I can even use this public facility to present the merits of killing an unborn baby as a "viable means of birth control." If someone is offended, no problem. I can designate a school day as "Earth Day" and involve students in activities to worship religiously and praise the goddess "Mother Earth" and call it "ecology." I can use literature, videos and presentations in the classroom that depicts people with strong, traditional Christian convictions as "simple minded" and "ignorant" and call it "enlightenment."
However, if anyone uses this facility to honor God and to ask Him to bless this event with safety and good sportsmanship, then Federal Case Law is violated. This appears to be inconsistent at best, and at worst, diabolical. Apparently, we are to be tolerant of everything and anyone, except God and His commandments.
Like Dr. McLeod, Samuel, in our account this morning sought to set the record straight with God's people in Israel. The king had been selected, and the venerated prophet was nearing the end of his ministry. So in one of his closing speeches (although his death is not mentioned until chapter 28), Samuel wanted to make sure the nation was heading in the right direction, and it all related to their conception of God. I trust his words will have rich application for God's people today as well.
1. REVIEW OF SAMUEL'S MINISTRY (vs. 1-5)
In his effort to set the record straight, Samuel first begins with a review of his ministry.
Verse 1, "Then Samuel said to all Israel, 'Behold, I have listened to your voice in all that you said to me and I have appointed a king over you.'"
In compliance with their request, Samuel established their first king. He was not in favor of the idea, but in cooperation with God's permission he went forward with their emotional craving. The transfer of leadership had been established, and the people would now have to live with the consequences of their decision.
As verse one indicates, Samuel had listened to the voice of the people. Now in one of his final speeches, he asks for a return of the favor. He summons their attention and now wants them to listen to him. Beginning in verse 2, he says:
"Now, here is the king walking before you, but I am old and gray, and behold my sons are with you. And I have walked before you from my youth even to this day. Here I am; bear witness against me before the LORD and 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? I will restore it to you. They said, 'You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man's hand.' He said to them, 'The LORD is witness against you, and His anointed is witness this day that you have found nothing in my hand.' And they said, 'He is witness'" (12:2-5).
Two observations from these verses need to be noted.
First of all, we cannot miss the repeated use of the word "take." Back in chapter 8 we remember Samuel warned the people that a king would oppress them in a way they never experienced. He would take from them their land and their livestock and their children. We even hear of one king that took the wife of one of his loyal soldiers (2 Sam. 11). Yet in contrast to the king, Samuel did not take or defraud or oppress. He used his power to deliver to and not demand from the people.
Second, we cannot miss Samuel's desire to show how he conducted himself "above reproach." Near the end of his tenure, with God as his witness, accusations could not be brought against his integrity. Both his ministry and the memory of his character are closed with a clean slate. (Will the same be said of us as we reach the end of the line?) Any problems going forward will lie at the feet of Israel's foolish decision in discarding a better man in Samuel for a bigger man in Saul (9:1-2).
Samuel is innocent. The standard of godliness has been established. The transfer of authority is completed. And the burden for the nation will now rest on King Saul.
2. REVIEW OF ISRAEL'S COVENANT-PART I (vs. 6-15)
As we move to the second point, it is now time for the tables to be turned. Samuel takes the attention off himself and puts it on the nation. The innocent defender now turns into the aggressive prosecutor. With his own character free from accusation, Samuel begins to instruct and reprove the people (cf. Mt. 7:3-5). Before, in the first point, the contrast was with Samuel's service and the king's oppression. Now, in the second point, the contrast is between Samuel's faithfulness and the nation's unfaithfulness.
Reading like something out of Deuteronomy, Samuel starts by reciting the history of the Israelites.
Beginning in verse 6, "Then Samuel said to the people, 'It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and who brought your fathers up from the land of Egypt. So now, take your stand, that I may plead with you before the LORD concerning all the righteous acts of the LORD which He did for you and your fathers" (12:6-8).
As Samuel recites these "righteous acts of the LORD" or we could say the goodness of God to His people, it is important that we view this account as more than a history lesson. After all, every Israelite out of diapers was well acquainted with this narrative. Samuel had a distinct theological purpose in mind. As I read verses 8-12, see if you can detect the lesson, the main point that the prophet is trying to stress as he recalls a cycle of events from the period of the Exodus and then from the period of the Judges and then from the present time.
"When Jacob went into Egypt and your fathers cried out to the LORD, then the LORD sent Moses and Aaron who brought your fathers out of Egypt and settled them in this place.
But they forgot the LORD their God, so He sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain 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. 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 from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve You.' Then the LORD sent Jerubbaal and Bedan and Jephthah and Samuel, and delivered you from the hands of your enemies all around, so that you lived in security.
When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, 'No, but a king shall reign over us,' although the LORD your God was your king" (12:8-12).
Did you catch anything specific within these cycles? Did you notice any pattern that repeated itself?
During the time of the Exodus we see: A crisis - slavery in Egypt, then a cry for deliverance, then God raising up faithful leaders to the likes of Moses and Aaron, then deliverance. During the time of the Judges we see the same cycle. The people forget the Lord so there was a crisis - the Moabites and the Philistines, then a cry for deliverance, then God raising up faithful leaders to the likes of Gideon and Jephthah and Samuel, then deliverance.
As Israel forgets her God, God in His mercy permits affliction to drive their hearts back to Himself. When they realize their sin and need for divine assistance, God hears their cry and brings sweet deliverance.
Throughout the history of Israel we encounter this cycle time and time again. Samuel's point - Once again the nation has slipped into their habitual pattern of disobedience. "They forgot the Lord their God" (12:9)! As their forefathers were dissatisfied with manna, the present generation is dissatisfied with the theocracy. Even after God has blessed them with a miraculous victory over the Philistines in chapter 7, Israel demanded a king in chapter 8. And now that Nahash and the Ammonites are threatening in chapter 11, Israel cries not to God (as they should have) but rather to her newly appointed king for deliverance. "When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, 'No, but a king shall reign over us,' although the LORD your God was your king" (12:12).
We have to ask, as the nation has been so faithful to fall away, will God once again be faithful to bring restoration? Will Israel see her sin, repent, and cry to God Himself for deliverance? What will it take this time to catch their attention?
People have called this "Samuel's Farewell Speech." Possibly it would be better to see it as a renewal of Israel's covenant with Yahweh (11:14). The nation sinned in asking for a king in the manner in which it did. God interpreted this as a rejection of Himself (8:7). But when God makes a covenant He is faithful to keep it. Despite Israel's sin, God is prepared to give His people another chance. Despite the presence of the king that stood as a monument of their rebellion, God is disposed to persevering with His people. Despite a long line of wicked kings that the nation will endure, God is willing to incorporate their failures for the best of His people.
My friends, as Christians, we too are in a covenant with this God. We too have a tendency to (verse 9) "forget the LORD" and (verse 10) "forsake the LORD." And when we stray like wandering sheep, we should be greatly encouraged that our Heavenly Father will do whatever it takes to call us back to Himself, back to His benevolence and the umbrella of spiritual safety.
Oftentimes He will lovingly afflict us to humble us, and that affliction will only increase until He gets out attention (cf. Psm. 119:71). And as many of you can attest, the fullness of His healing will not come until we are broken, empty of self, repentant and humble. For only when we reach this point will we sincerely cry out to Him. And when we do, only then will we receive grace upon grace. God breaks us in order to bless us. We must see the greatness of our sin that only God can show us in order to understand the greatness of His grace that only God can give us. In God's economy, humility is the gateway to grace. James 4:6, "God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (cf. Psm. 138:6; Pr. 3:34; 1 Pet. 5:5).
So whether it is salvific or sustaining grace, God's grace always results from a humble heart. Moreover, as we just learned, it is God's grace that brings this humble heart by getting our attention through affliction and showing us our sin. That brings a humble cry to God, which opens the floodgates of grace. "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved" (John Newton, Amazing Grace)
Take for example the church in Laodicea. Turn if you would to Revelation 3. We have examined the Old Testament cycle of God's people. Let's take a look at the same cycle from God's New Testament people.
The church in Laodicea is forever known as the "lukewarm church." They straddled the fence. They were neither in nor out. They settled for mediocrity and compromise. They were "lukewarm" and being "lukewarm" God said, "I will spit you out of My mouth" (Rev. 3:16).
You see, God saw beyond their religious façade and declared they were "wretched and miserable" (Rev. 3:17). That is their crisis. The solution is wholesale repentance - Rejection of their sin and complete submission to God. How would God turn their hearts back to Him? Answer: Affliction! Verse 19, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent." Would God receive them back when they cry out to Him for deliverance? Answer: Absolutely! Verse 20, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me."
The lesson in all this? Though we, like Israel, so often cast God off, God will never return the favor and cast us off! My friends, that is the unconditional love found in the unmerited grace of the Gospel!
Back to our account. Verse 13, "Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen, whom you have asked for, and behold, the LORD has set a king over you."
Now in verses 14-15, with unmistakable terminology, Samuel spells out the stipulations of the covenant (11:14) for all His people, king included: "If you will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God. (Interestingly, the blessing for following the Lord is the ability to follow the Lord!) If you will not listen to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the command of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers."
Even though Israel got the king she wanted, they were not to be cut off from her dependence on God. Everything changed regarding their government, but regarding their relationship to God, nothing changed. They had entered into a covenant, and God loves His promise and His people way too much to let them go.
The two options are very clear: Live faithfully under God's word or suffer justly under God's hand. Or put another way, with obedience comes blessing and with disobedience comes chastisement. Or as Matthew Henry said in his commentary, "We cannot evade God's justice by shaking off God's dominion. If God shall not rule us, He will judge us."
How would the Israelites respond? Would they like former generations finally see their wickedness and "cry out to the Lord?" (12:8, 10)
3. REVIEW OF ISRAEL'S COVENANT-PART II (vs. 16-25)
As we move to the third point, it seems that Israel has yet to be fully humbled. The reasoning of Samuel did not impact their hearts. But when we refuse to listen to God's "still small voice," He speaks with greater intensity. In this case, perhaps the dread of thunder would catch their attention. Maybe the people needed a visual aid to back up the verbal truth. Regardless, Samuel gave Israel little time to speak.
Verses 16-18, "Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not the wheat harvest today? (Harvest was from May-June-It scarcely rained during this period. Significant, because…) I will call to the LORD, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the LORD by asking for yourselves a king. So Samuel called to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel."
The people finally appear to get the point. Sadly, it took thunder. The same weapon God used to destroy His enemies in wrath (in chapter 7-verse 10, cf. 2:10) now is used to discipline His people and get their attention. They finally realize they too were imitating the failures of their forefathers. They begin to see their sin. Finally, they cry out to the Lord for deliverance.
Verse 19, "Then all the people said to Samuel, 'Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.'"
The prophet's response begins in verse 20. "Samuel said to the people, 'Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. You must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile. For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased 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; but I will instruct you in the good and right way. Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king will be swept away" (12:20-25).
Two key observations:
From Samuel we see a tremendous example of service to God's people. Remember, in asking for Saul, the nation cast a vote of no confidence in his leadership. Samuel could have easily said, "Not my problem anymore. Go find your brave and handsome king. Why should I care for you when you have cared so little for me?" Though this is often the response of many Christians, Samuel considered God's glory and the good of God's people more important than his own ego. "If the rejected God refuses to forsake His people, how can His rejected servant (not so the same)?" (Davis, 1 Samuel, p. 130).
In these verses he first makes a commitment to pray for the people. Not only does he respond to their plea, but he also intimates that he has and will continue to pray for the nation despite their unloving actions and momentary emotional requests. They ask for a favor. He treats it as a duty. In verse 23, using very strong language, he says, "Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you."
Second, also in verse 23, Samuel pledges his promise to instruct the people as well. He remarks, "I will instruct you in the good and right way." It is interesting to note the context of these words. After he pointed out their evil in verse 20, Samuel's instruction consisted of admonitions such as, verse 21, "(Avoid) futile things," and verse 24, "Fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart," and verse 25, "But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king will be swept away." Many professing believers wanting to have their ears tickled do not wish to hear these things. But if this is what it takes to bring God's grace these words are the most loving thing God's servant can deliver. According to Samuel, this instruction is not "harsh" but rather, as verse 23 says, "good" and "right."
After the display of God's power, the people were terrified. But as it is with any trial in our life, these difficult situations or displays of God's power are not intended to drive us away from the Lord, but rather draw us closer to Him in greater dependence. Though the people were terrified, Samuel wanted the repentant people to approach this awesome God. In spite of all their former sin, he responded to their terror in verse 20 by saying, "Do not fear."
The same is said for us today. "Do not fear." But how, when we rightly understand the majesty of this holy God and our subsequent sin, can we stand before this Consuming Fire without fear? The answer is found in verse 22. "For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself."
When we by God's grace, verse 21, "reject futile things" (like kings) that cannot deliver and cast ourselves into God's loving arms, we enter into a covenant relationship. Verse 22 says, "The LORD has been pleased to make…a people for Himself" (emphasis added). When we commit to, verse 24, serve Him with all our heart, God commits to deliver us from our sins and mold us into the image of His blessed Son. Why? Verse 22, because this relationship pleases the Lord!
I believe the greatness of God is most displayed not in the frightful claps of thunder, but in His magnificent pleasure to love us unconditionally. Though we, like Israel, are covenant breakers, God is faithful to maintain and restore our relationship. Though we want to give up, "He who began a good work in (us) will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6). And though we stray as sheep, we have a Good Shepherd in Jesus Christ who not only laid His life down for the flock (Jn. 10:11), but also continually calls us back to Himself (Rev. 2-3), even if it means leaving the ninety-nine and going after the one.
Yet when we are so faithless what hope do we have that God will be faithful? Verse 22 again, "For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name" (emphasis added).
The ultimate hope for us sinners is not our goodness to uphold the covenant, but God's unwavering commitment to His name. We do not hear about this often, but the essence of our salvation is not simply for God to give people a happy life and keep them from hell (although that is included), but rather to exalt the reputation of His glorious name. 1 John 2:12, "Your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake" (emphasis added).
God wants us joyful. God wants us persevering. God wants us satisfied. He wants to see all of this in us and more so that He can show the whole cosmos what a Great Shepherd He is!
When we reject the shifting sands of this world and build our house on the rock of Christ Jesus, our hope comes from the covenant keeping God who will not forsake His people on account of His great name. John Piper once said, "God's first love is His name and not His people. And because it is, there is hope for His sinful people." 2 Timothy 2:13, "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself."
The people of Israel needed to learn this lesson. Samuel set the record straight. By God's grace, may we also humble ourselves and cast ourselves fully into the arms of our covenant keeping God to uphold the glory of His name and experience the fullness of our joy!