1 SAMUEL PART 8. (chapter 12)
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Think for a moment about some decision you made, or action you took that you now know was a mistake. What would you change today, if you could? How would your life be different?
We all know that you can’t go back and unsay those cruel words, or un-make that decision that led you to where you are today. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve found a way to do that. But I do think that through 1 Samuel chapter 12, God is offering grace even after we have stepped out on the wrong road. It isn’t grace to go back. It is grace to go on.
In first Samuel chapter 8, the people asked God, through Samuel, to give them a king. This was a rejection of God’s plan for them as a nation. It was a choice to exchange the freedom and protection they could have had in following the Lord for the false-security of a king who would take care of them, but also rule over them. Samuel, in his wisdom knew it was a mistake. He talked to God about it, who affirmed Samuel’s instinct that it was mistake. But the people were determined.
Not only did they want a king, they wanted a certain kind of king. Their requirements were also a mistake. But the people were determined. The Lord allowed them to choose their own way. They did, and their choice was a major screw up. Even so, God let them go ahead with it, and helped them to find a king. The man who met their specifications was Saul, a big impressive looking fellow was also insecure and spiritually insensitive and ignorant.
Even so, the Lord began to use Saul right away. In choosing him, the Lord removed an old shame from many thousands of people, and set up Israel with a magnificent big champion to match a Philistine giant whom no one yet knew about.
God chose Saul through the prophet Samuel. First Samuel anointed Saul in private. Later he was chosen by God in a public assembly of the leaders of Israel. Even so, nothing really happened. After the events we looked at last time – after a great military victory – the people finally made Saul an honest king.
15 So all the people went to Gilgal, and there in the LORD’s presence they made Saul king. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings in the LORD’s presence, and Saul and all the men of Israel greatly rejoiced. 1 Sam 11:15 (HCSB)
So you see, even their approach to the king was not one of faith in the Lord and his choice. They waited until Saul gave them something of what they were looking for – military victory – before they accepted God’s help in choosing the king.
After it was finally all official, Samuel stood before the people and made a speech. That speech is the text of 1 Samuel chapter 12.
First, Samuel wanted to make sure his conscience was clear. He also wanted to draw a contrast between his own actions, and the rights of a king. Samuel has never taken anything that wasn’t his. Yet he had warned the people in 8:10-18 that the King would have the right to take many things from the people in taxes to run his household and the kingdom. The people affirmed that Samuel had been a good and fair leader. There is an almost an unspoken implication to this part of Samuel’s speech “So – in me, God gave you a good and fair leader who listened to him and did right. But you wanted a king!”
Next, Samuel reminded them of God’s faithfulness. The Lord led them out of Egypt as a great nation – but without a king. They had Moses, a prophet, and Aaron, a priest, but no king. And the Lord cared for them and provided for them. Although Samuel doesn’t mention this explicitly, the troubles the people had in the wilderness during the exodus were not due to lack of a king, but rather to disobedience to the Lord.
During the time of the Judges, the people had troubles again. But Samuel points out two things. First, the trouble was their own doing, not because they lacked a king. It came because they quit following the Lord. Second, when they repented and cried out for God’s help, he was gracious and delivered them.
11 So the LORD sent Jerubbaal, Barak, Jephthah, and Samuel. He rescued you from the power of the enemies around you, and you lived securely.
The point Samuel is making is that when they followed the Lord faithfully, he delivered them protected them, and they lived in peace and security. All this took place without a human king. The Lord was their king. Samuel is saying – look, when you were faithful to God, the old way worked just fine. God did so much for you. Even so, you are ignoring everything he did for you. You are claiming it just isn’t working out, when the reason it isn’t working out is your own stubbornness, your own turning away from God.
After the people heard this, they recognized that Samuel was right. They felt bad about what they had done, and they were afraid. I would bet that no one reading this – even you folks who live outside the United States – has asked God to give you a king. But have you asked him for something that was a mistake? Have you ever determined to go ahead your own way, and later realized it was a mistake – maybe even a huge error of judgment?
1 Samuel 12 gives a picture of how God deals with us in those kinds of situations. I always want to go back and do it over, only correctly this time. I want to have my mistakes undone. But God doesn’t work that way.
Sometimes, I enjoy playing computer games. One of the great things about computer games, is that you can screw up, you can even die – and it doesn’t matter. You just start the game over from the last point at which you saved it. I have often thought – and maybe you have too – wouldn’t it be cool if life was like a computer game? If you screw up, you just get a “do-over.” If you make a bad choice, you go back to that point and make a right choice now.
But there is something else about computer games. They are fun, but they are also meaningless. I don’t mean that it is evil or wrong to play them. But the choices you make within a computer game are meaningless. Death in a computer game is meaningless in real life. Life in a computer game is meaningless. We need to understand something here: choices without consequences have no meaning.
There is a famous old story about a young man faced with a choice to open one of two doors. Behind one is a beautiful maiden. If he chooses her door, he will be married to her immediately. Behind the other door is an angry, hungry tiger which will surely kill him. He doesn’t know which door holds the lady and which holds the tiger. The young man’s lover knows the secret of the doors. If she tells him to open the tiger-door, he will be killed in agony. But if she tells him to open the lady-door, he will be married to another woman, one who is quite beautiful, and the woman who loves him will be left alone. She signals him secretly to open the door on the right. What was behind that door?
This story has endured for over a hundred years, in part because there is an agony in knowing that their choices matter. But suppose that no matter which door he chose, the tiger would be there. Or, no matter which door he chose, he would get the princess. The story is no longer compelling if the choices do not result in some consequence.
Imagine I held in one hand a bag containing a candy bar, and in the other hand, a bag containing a piece of scrap wood that was good for nothing. If you think you might have a shot at the candy bar, it would be fun to try and make the right choice. If you knew that no matter what you chose, I would give you the wood, you wouldn’t bother even playing. If you knew that no matter what you did, I would give you the candy bar, you might be happy about the candy, but you would probably think going through the motion of choosing is pretty pointless and stupid – in fact, meaningless.
So we see that with the Israelites, the Lord gave them their free and meaningful choice. He cannot undo it without actually taking away free choice. If He undid their choice, it would mean their choices would have no consequences, and therefore no meaning, and therefore they would not actually have free choice. The same is true of our choices. So he doesn’t undo them.
God is golfer. He plays the ball from where it lies, even that is off in the bushes somewhere. But he is a master golfer. He can put a ball that is the most ridiculous position, back into play in one stroke. What he does do for the Israelites is promise to walk with them through the consequences they have brought on themselves. Samuel encourages them to walk with the Lord NOW.
20 Samuel replied, “Don’t be afraid. Even though you have committed all this evil, don’t turn away from following the LORD. Instead, worship the LORD with all your heart. 21 Don’t turn away to follow worthless things that can’t profit or deliver you; they are worthless. 22 The LORD will not abandon His people, because of His great name and because He has determined to make you His own people.
23 “As for me, I vow that I will not sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you. I will teach you the good and right way. 24 Above all, fear the LORD and worship Him faithfully with all your heart; consider the great things He has done for you. 25 However, if you continue to do what is evil, both you and your king will be swept away.” (1 Samuel 12:20-25)
It was not God’s plan for Israel to be led by king. Once they made that choice they had some difficult consequences to follow, as we will see. But even so, God worked through that mistake. In fact he worked through it in a mighty and amazing way. Eventually he used the monarchy of mistake as a way to bring his salvation to the entire world; Jesus, in his human ancestry, was descended from the kings of Israel.
Maybe it was a mistake for you to take the job you have right now. Perhaps the Lord was calling you to something else, but you just didn’t have the faith to take the risk. OK, so you screwed up. But don’t turn away from following the Lord. He can do great things through this. Just be sure to let him.
Maybe you married the wrong person. People think this all the time. They think that somehow they missed out on their real soul mate, and now their entire marriage was a mistake. Fine, what if it was? God can and will work through this, if you let him. Even now, don’t turn away from following the Lord. Don’t follow worthless things. God will redeem your mistake and make it beautiful, if you allow him to.
I’m not only talking about honest mistakes, either. The people of Israel knew that God didn’t want them to have a human king. They did it anyway. Sometimes we deliberately make a sinful choice. God can redeem even those choices; maybe especially those choices.
God is so good. He wants our lives to have meaning, so he allows our choices be free and real. And yet, even when we make the wrong choice, if we turn back to him, he can work through any circumstance we might create for ourselves, and make good come out of it.