Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.
And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver for they are empty.
For the LORD will not forsake his people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD 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, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.
Only fear the LORD and serve Him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.
But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king. I Sam.12:20-25
I love these words of Samuel!
They hold out hope for the one who knows they have blown it. They point out a path of restoration. They demonstrate both the justice and the mercy of our King. And they invite us to follow Him still though we have failed Him grievously.
They are addressed to the people of Israel after they have rejected Samuel as their judge and God as their King and have insisted on having a ‘real’ king like the nations around them. They wanted a king to be their judge and most of all to go ahead of them and fight their battles. After all, Samuel, their priest and judge, was getting old. His sons were corrupt. And besides, the Ammonites were attacking! They were sure they needed a mortal king like the ones the nations around them had, despite Samuel’s warnings of what this would cost them--He will take your sons for his chariots and horsemen, his farmers, his arms makers. He will take your daughters as perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and orchards. He will take from your grain and your vineyards to feed his household. He will take your servants, and your donkeys to work for him. He will take from your flocks and “YOU SHALL BE HIS SLAVES”. (I Sam.8)
They were willing to be slaves for the perceived benefit of being safe and secure. And they would not be denied. They demanded to have a mortal king to reign over them in place of Almighty God! So God granted them their request and instructed Samuel to fulfill it. Tall, dark and handsome Saul was anointed king.
But in his final address to them Samuel is clear that this is not cause for rejoicing, as they have been doing up till this point (I Sam.11:15). He recites his own faithful track record in being their judge and then he recounts God’s righteous deeds on their behalf despite their apostasy. On each occasion that they have forgotten the Lord He has allowed them to be dominated by their enemies. And on each occasion that they have cried out to Him, God has sent a judge to deliver them and restore their peace and safety. God has been faithful but they have insisted on having a human king instead.
There is no indication up to this point that they even comprehend the evil they have committed. So now for the object lesson: It is the dry season, time for the wheat harvest. Samuel calls on God to send untimely thunder and rain as a demonstration of His might and His anger toward them. As He had once thundered to rout the enemy (I Sam.7:10), now God thunders against His own people to instill in them the fear of the LORD. They are terrified, and convicted and desperate for Samuel’s prayers on their behalf: “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” (I Sam.12:17)
And this is the point at which Samuel gives them the best advice a convicted sinner can hear:
Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil, [it is true], yet don’t turn aside from following the Lord…
The fear of the Lord is not meant to drive us from Him but toward Him. For He is the only one who can acquit us of sin and spare us from judgment. Unless we turn toward Him in repentance God remains our worst Enemy. This God of love who extends the offer of reconciliation to all who will come and bow the knee, will be our Judge if we opt to find peace and safety apart from Him. Why then do we run? Why do we hide? Why do we turn our backs even temporarily on the only One who can deliver us from our worst Enemy, the only One with whom we are safe!
I find Samuel’s words compelling.
- They compel me to pray for ones who have rejected God’s Kingship in pursuit of things that cannot profit or deliver.
- They encourage me with the reminder that the Lord will not forsake His own for His name’s sake. Our bad judgment, even our rebellion, is not the final word. He goes to great lengths to rescue lost and wandering sheep.
- And they show me the path back—the fear of the Lord that brings to conviction and repentance and a fresh zeal to follow Him. It is never too late to turn around.
Ours is a jealous God who will contend with all suitors that would draw our hearts away from His own. He is the One to whom all our praise and devotion is due. He will not yield it lightly to another. He hates the sin that would destroy us yet looks with compassion on the contrite sinner.
These are the things I am pondering this week, for myself and for so many others who have yet to realize, or have forgotten, the tender mercies of our fearsome God.
You will say in that day: "I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation." Isaiah 12:1-2
Consider the following passages that beautifully demonstrate both the discipline and the mercy of our God:
"Thus says the LORD: Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt on its mound, and the palace shall stand where it used to be. Out of them shall come songs of thanksgiving, and the voices of those who celebrate. I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will make them honored, and they shall not be small. Their children shall be as they were of old, and their congregation shall be established before me, and I will punish all who oppress them. Their prince shall be one of themselves; their ruler shall come out from their midst; I will make him draw near, and he shall approach me, for who would dare of himself to approach me? declares the LORD. And you shall be my people, and I will be your God." Jer.30:18-22
‘…my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.” Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." ... For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men. ...I called on your name, O LORD, from the depths of the pit; you heard my plea, 'Do not close your ear to my cry for help!' You came near when I called on you; you said, 'Do not fear!' You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life. Lamentations 3:17,19-24,31-33,55-58 ESV
And you will say in that day: "Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” Is.12:4-6