Despite our repeated unfaithfulness to God, we are still loved and accepted by him.
1 Samuel 12:1-25
Samuel said to all Israel, “I have listened to everything you said to me and have set a king over you. 2 Now you have a king as your leader. As for me, I am old and gray, and my sons are here with you. I have been your leader from my youth until this day. 3 Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”
4 “You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.”
5 Samuel said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and also his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.”
“He is witness,” they said.
6 Then Samuel said to the people, “It is the Lord who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your ancestors up out of Egypt. 7 Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the Lord as to all the righteous acts performed by the Lord for you and your ancestors.
8 “After Jacob entered Egypt, they cried to the Lord for help, and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your ancestors out of Egypt and settled them in this place.
9 “But they forgot the Lord their God; so he sold them into the hand of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them. 10 They cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned; we have forsaken the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths. But now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve you.’ 11 Then the Lord sent Jerub-Baal, Barak, Jephthah and Samuel, and he delivered you from the hands of your enemies all around you, so that you lived in safety.
12 “But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’—even though the Lord your God was your king. 13 Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the Lord has set a king over you. 14 If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good! 15 But if you do not obey the Lord, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your ancestors.
16 “Now then, stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes! 17 Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call on the Lord to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the Lord when you asked for a king.”
18 Then Samuel called on the Lord, and that same day the Lord sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel.
19 The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”
20 “Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. 23 As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. 24 But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. 25 Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.”
Saul is anointed as King (1 Sam 10:1-16), he is proclaimed King (10:17-27), he wins a military battle as King (11:1-11), and his Kingdom is renewed (11:12-15). Out with the old leader, Samuel. In with the new King, Saul! Everything should be looking up for Israel – they finally have their long-desired for King. Finally, they are like the other nations. Time to sit back and enjoy the peaceful life.
So what’s with 1 Samuel 12 and Samuel’s speech? It seems to be a review of history, asking the key question: who has been faithful to God?
Is there any evidence that Samuel has done wrong to Israel? No – never!
Is there any evidence that Israel has rejected God? Yes – lots! Repeatedly!
Will Israel now serve God faithfully because they have a King? No – not a chance!
The very act of asking for a King like the nations was proof that Israel is still Israel. Nothing has changed. They aren’t interested in having God as their King. They’d rather swear allegiance to someone like Saul, than trust their lives to their God who has done so much for them (1 Samuel 12:6-8).
Despite all the evidence of history, despite that it appears that things are on the up with Saul, Israel is still in deep trouble. It’s like Samuel drags them into the Principal’s office and gives them a good talking to – telling them to “shape up”, but with very little expectation of real change.
This is because Israel has a heart problem. Their heart is devoted to the world and its leaders. In their own strength, they can’t serve the LORD faithfully with all their heart (1 Sam 12:24). They even confess their sin (12:19), knowing they have rejected God.
But knowing your sin doesn’t mean you repent of it. It’s a good thing to do – to identify your sin – but knowing your sin does not mean you can or you will get rid of it from your life. If we learn anything from the history lesson of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, it is this: our sinful hearts mean we reject God – and we know it. And we can’t do anything about it.
This is pretty bleak… but there is good news in 1 Samuel 12. Despite all of Israel’s evil, Samuel reassures them of God’s love for them. 1 Samuel 12:22 assures them that: “For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own.” Israel was God’s own people. God loved them, despite their rejection of him. This is not your average trip to the Principal’s office.
This pattern of repeated sin and repeated unrepentance, and of God’s unconditional love, is the story of the whole Bible. Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. Jesus didn’t wait until you knew you weren’t perfect, or until you showed remorse. He didn’t wait until you improved your behaviour, or until your heart was beginning to “soften” to him. He came, and he died. He did it “for us” when we couldn’t do it for ourselves. And his Spirit changes our hearts. We don’t need changed hearts to know that we do wrong in this world – that’s usually pretty self-evident. But God changes our hearts so we can see Jesus’ faithfulness to his Father; so we see that Jesus’ death pays for our sin; so that our dead hearts can be brought to life with his resurrection. This means we can live with the reassurance that, despite our repeated unfaithfulness to God, we are still loved and accepted by him. We are “his own”.
Head: Do you think of yourself as “his own” – as unshakably a part of God’s people? Reflect on Jesus’ death in Romans 5:6-8 and pray that you will believe this reality in your own life.
Heart: When you notice a sin in your life, do you respond with guilt (“God can’t love me when I sin like this… I’ve failed him again”) or complacency (“God has forgiven me, my sin doesn’t really matter”)? How does the resurrection of your heart change these responses to sin?
Hands: Ask a trusted friend or ask people in your Growth Group to help you not just identify sin, but to thank God for your forgiveness and new life in Jesus, and to pray for real change in him.
Prayer: Father God, thank you that I am yours. That before I even had a hint of love for you in my heart, Jesus came and died for me. Thanks for his resurrection and that in him, my heart is also resurrected. Thank you that when you look at my heart, you see the faithfulness of Jesus’ heart, and not the sinful desires that once ruled it. Help me to want to repent of my sin, but also keep me from crushing guilt. Thank you that Jesus’ death has paid for every last bit of my sin. Help me to look forward to the new creation, when my unfaithfulness will be done away forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
A song to listen to: Resurrecting
Katharine Yock- Creek Road Presbyterian Church- South Bank