1 Samuel 12:1-25
This past year, I’ve picked up a few new skills and hobbies. Some of them were fads, and some were just things that I’ve had an interest in before, but had never tried.
Some turned out pretty well, and others… not so much.
For instance, I learned how to bake my own sourdough bread this past year. I got a starter from a friend, learned how to “feed” it, learned how to make the dough, and even had a couple successful batches of fresh sourdough bread.
However, it’s a much LONGER process than I realized, so I’m grateful for bakers and stores where I can buy bread that is already made.
Another thing I did was build a couple benches for our backyard. And while I had a great time measuring and cutting and assembling and staining, Megan saw the receipt from Home Depot and said something to the effect of “you spent HOW MUCH on supplies?!”
In hindsight, it probably would have been cheaper if I had just bought a couple benches from someone who specializes in making them.
And that got me thinking about how all of us benefit from specialists who improve our lives. Sure, we could TRY and do everything ourselves, but when you outsource certain things to people who are more gifted at them, you end up with a better end result.
We outsource to bakers and chefs and farmers all the time for the convenience of food that we just get to enjoy.
We outsource certain aspects of kids’ lives to coaches and activities so that they can learn teamwork and tumbling without breaking your lamps.
We trust others to curate the news for us. We use instacart shoppers to get groceries for us. We let netflix or disneyplus oversee our entertainment needs.
But there are some things you just CAN’T outsource. And while you might be able to think of many things, the one we are going to talk about today is faith.
You just can’t outsource a relationship with God. And in bringing it up, we need to ask ourselves, do we really want someone else to be acting between us and God? Do we really want that separation?
Israel seemed to want that separation all the time. When God brought them out of slavery in Egypt, they asked Moses to act as a mediator between them and God, because they were too afraid to approach God’s presence.
When they got to the promised land, they relied on priests and prophets to interact with God on their behalf.
As they encountered enemies or tragedies, they asked for leaders to protect them or pray for them, so that they wouldn’t have to deal with God on their own.
And today’s story picks up as Israel has asked for a king to serve as the one who leads the people, rather than letting God lead the people himself.
Last week, we saw how Samuel was led by God to choose and anoint Saul as king, and this week we’ll be looking at what happens next in 1 Samuel chapter 12.
What will God do now, since the people have rejected Him as king and demanded a different king?
Can the people manage to stay in God’s blessing with the leader they have chosen?
To find out, let’s read an excerpt from chapter 12:
PASSAGE: 1 Sam 12:1-15 (covering 1 Sam 11:14 – 12:25)
The section we just read comes directly after Saul has defeated Israel’s enemies and the people have renewed his kingship. They were committed to him as their king already, and now they have had a big celebration to confirm their decision to install Saul as their king.
The enemies have been defeated, Israel is victorious, their new king is a war hero, and spirits are flying high. You probably could have heard “We are the champions…” being sung throughout the crowd as they swayed arm in arm and overall felt really good about themselves. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience.
Then, the crowd starts to hush a bit as Samuel, the aging prophet and judge motions that he’s going to say something.
The din quiets down as everyone turns their smiling faces to him, ready to hear a speech about the great victory, or the strength of Israel and their God.
And once Samuel gets the attention he needs, he starts to speak by saying, “I have listened to your requests and have set a king over you.”
There was probably a cheer that went up from the crowd when he mentioned the new king. People are happy, life is good!
Then Samuel continues and turns the focus on himself. He’s been their leader for a long time. And he starts justifying his own leadership.
“Testify against me with God and your new king as your witness! Have I been a bad leader?”
Maybe some of the cheer in the crowd starts to wane a bit as people start shuffling their feet back and forth, but Samuel doesn’t slow down.
“Have I stolen anything? Have I cheated anyone? Have I abused my power? Have I been corrupt?”
For us, we might be wondering why “old man Samuel” is being such a killjoy. Can’t they just have a nice party? Is he that insecure as the leader who is on his way out that he has to turn the attention back on himself all the time?
But we should know that in leadership transition situations in the Ancient Near East, it was unfortunately common for the new leader to smear the name of their predecessor.
This isn’t a foreign concept for us, because new leaders everywhere, from local government, to national politics, to company staffing changes all have the common habit of blaming bad things on the previous person in order to win a few early points and establish a new direction.
So this helps us make sense of what Samuel is doing. He’s clearing his name in front of everyone before the new leader fully assumes power. He’s proving his point that it’s not because he was a bad leader that the people wanted a king.
“If I’ve done any of these awful things, I will make it right.” Samuel is challenging everyone, anyone, to bring forth evidence of his failures as a leader. No one takes the bait.
And it’s interesting to me that Samuel’s case for his effectiveness as a leader is not based on any appeal to authority, or skill in strategic leadership, or even to whether or not the country prospered under him.
No, Samuel’s litmus test for good leadership is based around normal, everyday examples of economic justice. He’s not bringing up his military prowess or how well the harvest has gone. He’s talking about simple instances of person-to-person kindness and decency.
For Samuel, a good leader isn’t someone who wants something FROM their people; a good leader wants something FOR their people.
And that’s why he asks whether there is proof he has taken from or abused ANYONE under his care.
“You have not done any of these things,” all the people say. And so Samuel puts a stamp on it by saying “The Lord is witness of this, and your new king, the Lord’s anointed, who is standing right here, is witness that you all affirm my leadership tenure.”
You can almost hear the monotone reply from the crowd, as if they are a bunch of preteen kids answering their mom, “Yes, he is witness.”
But Samuel isn’t finished. His time as prophet over Israel is coming to a close, but he doesn’t just want to vindicate himself. So he takes this moment to share his final words as Israel’s leader.
He’ll still appear in the remainder of the narrative moving forward, but this marks his final statement as the one in authority over the people. And so, these next words are important to hear from Samuel.
First, he walks back to the Exodus part of Israel’s story, highlighting the fact that Moses and Aaron were appointed by Yahweh, not the people. Then, he starts going through a list of all the ways that the Lord pursued them and rescued them and provided for them.
God brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt and settled them here, in the Promised Land. But the people forgot God, so they came under attack from the Philistines and others.
They cried out for help and repented of their sin. They promised to follow only God, and so God sent judges who helped rescue the people from their enemies and return them to a time of safety.
This happened over and over again.
Things are good, but then people forget God and turn away to OTHER things as their MOST IMPORTANT focus in life.
Then they find themselves in trouble, they call out to God and promise to turn to him only, He rescues them, and then things are good…and the cycle continues.
But then something changed in the lifetime of Samuel. The people saw a new enemy looming against them, led by a powerful king. And instead of calling out to GOD to rescue them, they asked for a king.
You can almost hear Samuel’s first response: A king?! But God is your king!
Instead of all the people repenting from their sin and asking God to send a judge to deliver them, like Samuel would have expected, they asked for a king. A human king.
In a single moment, Israel turned away from their long-established and reliable relationship with Yahweh. Even though Yahweh has always come through and sent a deliverer, a protector, Israel has changed their mind.
Even though Yahweh has proven himself to be a faithful and just ruler, Israel has said “no, we want a king to rule over us.” (1 SAM 12:12)
And at this point in Samuel’s recap, you probably could have heard a pin drop as Samuel gazed out at the crowd, his voice even as he states, “Well, here you go, the king you asked for, Yahweh has fulfilled your request.”
“But listen closely, this will only work out if you honor the Lord and obey him. This is only going to end well if you, AND your king, follow Yahweh.”
And then Samuel, the great prophet of the Lord, the leader of the people, performs a miracle to prove that what he says lines up with the fact that Yahweh didn’t approve of the people’s request for a king.
He calls upon the Lord to send a thunderstorm, even though it was harvest time, and there were NEVER rainstorms during harvest time.
So, God sends thunder and rain, (1 SAM 12:18) and all the people are dumbfounded and shamed into silence.
God has spoken. They have done wrong.
Even though Samuel started out by justifying his own leadership, he has also vindicated the Lord’s leadership, because the people’s request for a king not only made Samuel look bad, but was also a direct charge against the Lord.
The people couldn’t see, or control, or coerce the Lord, so they ask for a leader of THEIR choosing.
Finally, the people see what a big mistake they made, and they beg Samuel to pray for them to turn away God’s anger at their evil request of asking for a king. (1 SAM 12:19)
And Samuel’s response is interesting to me, because he doesn’t shy away from the fact that this was a really bad thing they did. But he also doesn’t bring up the option to go back to the way things were.
In Samuel’s mind, the monarchy was here to stay. After all, the people didn’t offer to renounce their demand for a king. They just ask to be spared punishment.
In the Old Testament, there are two different Hebrew words for this sort of thing, one meaning “to be sorry,” and one meaning “to turn” or “turn back.” One is a feeling word, while the other is an action word.
Most of the time, when the prophets are calling the people to repent, they are looking for the second kind of repentance.
But here, when the people are confronted with Samuel’s words, they offer the first kind.
If we’re honest, that’s what most of us do as well. Rather than committing to any change, we say “Sorry! Don’t be mad!” and then slip back into normal life.
The Israelites just want to avoid the punishment for the thing that they now realize was wrong.
There is no undoing of the hurtful thing Israel did. There is no wiping away of their decisions and actions. But what is amazing is that Samuel settles for this form of repentance.
Samuel says, “Do not be afraid,” (1 SAM 12:20) “you have done this evil thing, BUT don’t turn away from God. Serve him with your whole heart.”
Even though it’s too late to undo the introduction of the monarchy, the people can still commit themselves to walking God’s way moving forward.
That doesn’t mean it will be easy. This new lifestyle is going to make it tough.
Following a king, or serving a master other than God, makes it almost impossible to follow God.
But Samuel still gives this as his marching orders: you can’t trust in other leaders or idols or money or status or family to rescue you.
Trust in God. Honor him, serve him with your whole heart. Remember all the ways he has provided for you and cared for you and rescued you.
Because if you keep turning away and trusting in other things to be your provider and protector, then you AND your king will perish. (1 SAM 12:25)
There’s no going back for Israel, they have a king now.
But the king isn’t special. He’s deliberately mentioned under the same outcomes as the people. The king is not outside of God’s jurisdiction, and if the people follow God, then they and the king will experience the type of life that comes when we enter into the things God is leading us in.
And when the people turn away from God, the people and the king will experience the effects of stepping away from where God is leading them.
In Samuel’s speech here, the king isn’t some specialist that the people can outsource decisions to. He’s just another member of the people.
The only thing that matters is God and his people. Will the people follow God?
Will they trust him to provide for them and their new king? Will they trust God to protect them and their new king?
Or will they put their trust in something else?
This passage is important — even for us today — because we have the same decision before us. Even though we don’t live in a monarchy, our culture constantly presents us with alternative leaders to follow, alternative protectors to trust, alternative saviors to turn to.
But Samuel’s warning to the Israelites holds truth for us as well: we can’t outsource our faith.
We are each called to follow God and trust Him and serve him wholeheartedly. But it’s so easy to slip under the influence of other things in our life, pulling at our attention, poking our anxiety, or stroking our aspirations.
The demands of work and family pull at our attention.
News articles, outrageous events, and the infringement of rights grab our attention and demand that we act. Now!
Get fired up! Stop what you’re doing and share this with others now! Demand justice! Assert yourself!
These things that pull at our attention start to change us. Pretty soon, they don’t even need to try very hard anymore. We are primed and ready, trained well in how we follow and respond.
There’s current events that trip our anxiety. Word of changes to our world and way of life scare us. Decisions being made by those in authority above us trigger an anxious clutching at what we can hold on to, just to make sure there is SOMETHING secure around us.
Wait! Don’t take that from me! Hurry! Fix this so I can feel safe again! No, no, NO! I just NEED this to feel normal.
But there’s also things like financial ventures that stroke our desires and aspirations. Shopping online makes us feel content. Working and earning money, or checking our investments gives us a rush. We feel we have power, agency.
I can provide for myself. I’m killing it right now. New stuff in my house means new joy each day.
We all know what it’s like to come under the influence of things like this. I know I do.
It’s intoxicating. It’s invigorating.
And it’s idolatry.
Anything that takes our trust away from God as our provider and guide is idolatry.
God is calling us back to him. God is calling us to turn back to him and put our trust in him, and to serve him with our lives, and to use the things we have in life in the ways HE is leading us.
And we can’t outsource this. The answer isn’t to find better leaders or pastors. The Israelites learned that the answer to their idolatry was not a political one. God wasn’t looking for good leaders over the people, he wants God-fearers among the people.
We can’t outsource our faith. We can’t just show up to church and hope that undoes our week-long trust in other things. We can’t just listen to a pastor talk ABOUT a Bible passage and hope that will be enough to keep Jesus in our lives.
Because Jesus ISN’T supposed to be in OUR lives.
Wait, what?! Did he just say what I thought he said?
I’ll say it again: Jesus isn’t supposed to be in OUR lives.
We’re not supposed to fit him into our lives.
WE fit into GOD’S story.
That’s why Samuel had recounted all those parts of their history. Samuel’s trip down memory lane accomplished more than vindicate Yahweh’s leadership over Israel. It also served to remind the people of how they fit into the story of God.
So often we live our lives, and then try and add God into them. But God knows that none of the other things we put our hope in will heal us and deliver us. None of the other things we trust in will perfectly provide for us.
But here’s the good news: God is ALWAYS inviting us to turn and follow him, no matter what idols we’ve turned to in the past.
It’s never too late to turn back to God.
God’s grace lasts longer than our rebellion. And God’s grace will keep lasting longer than our next rebellion, too!
If you’re sitting here and realizing that God is tapping you on the shoulder, understand that he’s inviting you to surrender to him whatever you’ve been putting your trust in.
He’s inviting you to turn over that thing that has been poking your anxiety.
He’s inviting you to let go of that thing that you’ve been trying to satisfy your desires with.
This season of Lent doesn’t need to be another year of saying you’re giving up sugar or red meat. Maybe God is inviting you to give up something that has become an idol in your life.
But Lent isn’t just a time to give up something. Fasting is feasting. We say no to something so that we can say yes to something else. We fast from something that is not of God so that we can feast on the goodness of God.
So what’s your next step? Ask God what next step he’s inviting you to take this season.
Maybe you’re being invited to start reading a new Bible study on your own or with some friends. There’s one that gets sent out via email three times a week from Grace that could be a good option. Email us or text us to find out more about that.
Or maybe you can join Pastor Chris’s Wednesday night Zoom study that goes deeper on the passages from Sunday.
Or maybe those are things that have already been a part of your life, and God is inviting you to not use someone else’s words ABOUT the Bible, but to just engage Scripture for yourself? If you need resources on reading plans or where to start, we’d love to come alongside you with that.
What is God inviting you to take as your next step? I can’t prescribe anything for you, because I don’t know all the details of where each of you are coming from.
But God knows you to the very core. And he’s inviting you to take a small next step towards him. He’s inviting you to turn away from something that has become an idol and towards Him.
God doesn’t just want your allegiance or membership. He wants your whole life!
You were created to partner with God in his mission of restoring our world and welcoming everyone in to his family.
Being a Christian isn’t about DOING the right things, or picking the “right” leaders for God to bless. God already HAS blessed us!
He already HAS pursued us and claimed us and made us righteous. Now he’s INVITING us to walk with him.
He’s inviting us to grow to become like him. He’s inviting us to do the same things he does.
Following God isn’t a “have to.” We GET to learn how to follow him better, no matter how many times we turn away.
We get to learn how to hear his voice of compassion and justice for ourselves and others.
We get to learn how to generously share with others and provide for their needs.
We get to learn how to extend mercy and healing to those around us, including those who are against us.
We get to announce that the King who is over US is FOR us, and he commissions us to go and do likewise.
Because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, we get to learn how to receive God’s grace and share it with others, no matter how many times we’ve turned away. God’s grace lasts longer.
God’s grace is calling YOU. Isn’t that good news?