I Samuel 12: You Would Go After Empty Things

This is a special chapter, full of foreboding and warnings for the people of God that dared to ask Him for a king when He was already their king. Samuel is old now and he seeks the attention of the people during Saul’s official coronation as king of Israel. As Saul claims, he has not done wrong by the people, and has always been a faithful man of God before them. Samuel establishes his integrity before the people by asking for them to witness his faithfulness and righteousness.

Samuel begins a sermon/history review of sorts to the people starting in verse 6, outlined as follows:

  • Moses and Aaron brought their fathers out of Egypt
  • The people forsook the Lord
  • The Lord gave them up to the Philistines
  • The people recognized their need for the Lord once they saw their condition
  • The Lord sent strong righteous men to deliver them from their enemies
  • Once back under the protection of God, the people deign to request an earthly king
  • God gave them Saul

After Samuel leads them through this brief history, he submits that God did grant them a king in Saul. We can interpret this act from God as grace because the Lord should have been their king and they truly had no need for an earthly king. But God gave them one out of grace and love, simply because they asked for it. The people would do well to heed Saul’s advice that nothing has changed in terms of their relationship with God:

“If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the Lord your God. However, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers.” I Samuel 12:14-15

Then Samuel rightly chastises them for not recognizing that they did not need a king to begin with. They should have recognized that God was the only king they needed. This is followed by a miraculous display of weather, prayed for by Samuel and meant to underscore the seriousness of their covenant with God and the precarious situation they find themselves in after having asked for an earthly king. They were at odds with God and it was increasingly unlikely that they would follow God in obedience given their history of leaving the Lord.

Despite the history and the warnings from Samuel, the people certainly seem like they understand their condition and that they are making the changes in their mind to obey and please God. They say in verse 19: “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves.” This statement from the people is a prime example of souls that serve God with words but not in action. Are we guilty of this sin? Most definitely.

Samuel then gives them the obvious advice in verse 20-24 that they need to follow in order to stay close to God. There are two verses in his guidance that stick out for us today:

  1. Verse 21: “…do not turn aside [from God]; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing.”
    • The meaning is remarkable because it applies to life in the Old Testament as well as life in our modern age. We might think that a new social perspective, new technology, or new ideas are worthy of our faith and belief, but the really only represent the same thing to us as the earthly king did to Israel. Things that bring us away from God seem initially to be important, and they demand and (we feel) deserve our attention due to a fabricated sense of urgency. But what is at the bottom of this journey? These fallible and temporary things eventually reveal their emptiness. We find ourselves then back where we began, and where we should have remained: God is the direction we should be pointed in, He is the place that best deserves our belief, our faith, our trust, and our hope.
  2. Verse 22: “For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people.”
    • This simple message underscores the grace and love that God constantly incorporates into His relationship with us. Did the people need a king? Certainly not. Would it help them get closer to God. Not likely. So then why did God give them one? Because He loved them. If you look at your life and are honest, you could find things you have asked God for and received that you did not need, or that might even make it more challenging to obey Him. If you received these things, why did God give them to you despite these failings? Because He loves you.
    • We can add the concept as well that any material things, resources, or generic blessings that God puts into our lives can also be used to teach us. They can be used to make us suffer, so that we come closer to God. The Israelites at this time will continue to fail repeatedly under the poor leadership of King Saul, and they will struggle with their faith as a people.

We can look at our lives in parallel with the history of the Jewish people as a model for how to be reconciled to God. We will hear God’s Word and at points in our life and in different degrees, we will rebel. But, if we come back to Him more times than we leave Him, He will always be there to welcome us just as in the parable of the prodigal son.

However, do not rely on God’s grace, as Paul warns against in Romans chapter 6. For if we stray too far away from God, we will not find our way back to Him. Instead, God will give us up to the consequences of our sins.

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