Sermon preached on 1 Samuel 12 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 3/8/2015 in Novato, CA.
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1 Samuel 12
“Both You And Your King”
The classic Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol, describes a man named Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by three spirits, one dealing with his past, one dealing with his present, and one dealing with his future. The spirits help Ebenezer see the connection between his past, present, and future. And that is a truth we would all do well to remember. Our past history is important. And it has a bearing on our present and ultimately on our future. And that is seen in this passage for today. For Israel, the prophet Samuel confronts the people with their past history. A past that involved the saving work of God in their lives, but also a past that involved many failures on their part. Most recently, that failure involved their asking for a king. God gave them that request, despite it being a great evil that they asked for one. But now in the present, they will have to deal with the consequences of their past choices. How will this play out in their present and ultimately into the future? That’s the point, here. There’s a connection between the past, present, and future. But Ebenezer learned in the Dickens book that past events and even bad previous decisions don’t necessarily have to lead to a bad future. That, of course, leads us to the best story in an even better book. The story of the gospel in the Bible tells us that there is hope for us who have checkered pasts; which is frankly all of us in one way or another. So then, let’s join with the Israelites here in thinking about their past, present, and future, and see how we find our connection in this as well.
Let’s begin then with the past. Remember that we left off in the story of 1 Samuel with God using Samuel to install Saul as the first king of Israel. Before Samuel operated among the people as a prophet, priest, and judge. Now the era of the judges was coming to an end among Israel. Now, going forward, there would be a regular king instead of the occasional judges leading the people. Samuel’s speech here then marks an end to his work as judge among the people and a final way in which Saul’s kingship is established. And so in this speech, he starts out recounting the past history of Israel. Samuel recounts some of their more distant past, and some of their more immediate past. And the subject of the history lesson seems to be two part. One, it’s about Samuel’s own personal history with them. Two, it’s about God’s history with them.
Why does Samuel give this history lesson? This is important to understand, because it helps us to get our heads wrapped around the point of this speech. This history lesson is inspired by how the people had asked for a king. As stated, this is the whole context and occasion for Samuel’s speech. It’s in light of the new leadership of a king. That’s verses 1 and 2. He starts out by saying that you asked for a king, and here now you have one. Well, remember then back to their original request for a king. We saw them make that request back in chapter 8. In chapter 8, it seems that Samuel was tempted to take it personally, as if they were rejecting himself as their leader, since he was the judge at the time. And yet God encouraged Samuel by telling him that it wasn’t that the people were rejecting Samuel, but they were rejecting God. And so when Samuel gives them this history lesson, it’s really in light of their evil request for a king. It’s a way that Samuel clears his name and God’s name before the people. And so why does Samuel give this history lesson? It’s a way for Samuel and God to be vindicated before the people as their leaders, in light of their request for a new leader.
And so look at the history lesson about Samuel. This is verses 2-5. In recounting his personal history among the people, it’s not put so much as a speech. It’s actually, more of a courtroom type setting. He calls the people to come forward with any legal testimony against him. He gives them an opportunity to present any formal accusations against himself, before the witnesses of God and the new king. Samuel himself asserts his innocence. His statements about himself in verse 2 are particularly relevant to his service as their judge. In the context of his service among them, Samuel says he has not stolen from them, he’s not defrauded them, he’s not oppressed them, and he has not received any bribes so as to pervert justice. Samuel is basically saying that he’s performed his role as judge in a righteous way. He speaks this publically before the witnesses of God and king, and gives the people the chance to challenge this. They have opportunity to make a legal accusation against him. But they do not. Rather, in verse 4 they affirm that Samuel has treated them well, and in verse 5 they acknowledge that this was established in the presence of the LORD and his anointed king as witnesses.
So then, the first part of the past history that is recounted is about Samuel’s personal service as judge among the people. He performed his duty in righteousness, not in wickedness. The people can offer no complaint about Samuel’s leadership here, which of course makes you wonder why they asked for a king then. Next, Samuel turns to recount the past history of the people in terms of their relationship with God. It’s clear in this book that up to this point God was asserting that he was the people’s real king, and that is why they didn’t need any human king. God was their help, their salvation, and their deliverer. And so Samuel goes into a history lesson about this. In verse 6, he begins with the classic example of the Exodus from Egypt. That was God’s initial mighty deliverance and salvation that he brought the people. But then goes into several examples during the era covered in the book of Judges, verse 9. He mentions Sisera, and the Philistines and the Moabites. Those are clearly just a few examples out of so many more than could have been recounted from the book of Judges. And in verse 10, Samuel reminds them why they had troubles in the first place with these neighboring peoples during that history covered in the book of Judges. It was because of their great sin, going after false gods, and worshipping idols. And yet, when they confessed their sin, and turned back to God, and called out to him for help, God time and time again was faithful. God would deliver them from their enemies. And I love the emphasis on how God would provide that deliverance. Through human leaders, even judges. God’s the one who provided Moses, and Aaron, and people like Jepthath and Jerubbaal (which was another name for the judge Gideon, by the way). God raised up these and many other judges to help the people.
And yet, after all this, they had nonetheless asked for a king. It says in verse 12, that when a new enemy threatened them, they didn’t do any self-examination to see if they were sinning. No, they asked for a king. They should have learned from the past history of the repeated cycles of sin, enslavement, repentance, and deliverance. But they apparently had not. And now we come to our second point for today; to consider the present timeframe for the people in our passage. Samuel had recounted the past. Now they need to reckon with the present. At the present, they have sinned very greatly by asking for a king. In verse 17, Samuel says this in no uncertain terms. It says that this was a great wickedness that they had done in asking for a king. Just think about this, in light of the history that Samuel just recounted. For starters, their request for a king shows such tremendous ingratitude for all that God had done for them, not to mention what Samuel had done. How could they demand a king like this, a king to be their deliverer and savior, without it looking like they are completely disregarding how many times God had faithfully saved them and delivered them? Imagine if you wanted socks for Christmas, and your Grandmother makes you a whole bunch of homemade socks, more socks than you could even want, and yet you don’t like them. And so then your Grandmother overhears you telling someone else that you still want socks. She will know that you rejected her socks. It’s something like that here between God and the people. After all the salvation God brought the people, they want a human king now to be there savior.
Another way this is so evil of them, is that it shows that they hadn’t put the blame in the right place. In light of the history that Samuel just recounted, they should have seen that it was their own sins that got them into trouble. Yet, by asking for a human king, it’s like they are not acknowledging that it’s their sin that is the problem. They make it sound instead like it’s God’s leadership that’s the problem. In other words, this is evil as well because it shifts the blame for their troubles off of themselves and onto God.
And so those are just a couple reasons why their request for a king was so evil, particularly in light of their past history. And I love how God confirms this to the people. He won’t let the people just take Samuel’s word for it, that their request was evil. God then confirms this prophetic word of Samuel by a sign. This is verses 16-18. Samuel calls to God to send thunder and rain right then as a sign to the people. This was during the wheat harvest which would have been early summer, and thus not a time you would have expected thunder and rain, let alone for someone to be able to call it down on command! This was to confirm that this wasn’t just an idea that Samuel was making up. This was a word from the Lord that said the people sinned greatly in asking for a king. And it struck the people with great fear, verse 18.
So that was their present situation. They had sinned greatly in asking for a king. But God nonetheless gave them a king. What then should they do now in the present, in light of this reality? Well, what should any of us do, when God confronts us with some major sin in our lives? Well, the answer is simple. We need to repent. We need to confess our sin to the Lord and turn back to him. And that is what the people do, praise the Lord! Verse 19, “And all the people said to Samuel, ‘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.'”
And so then I love verse 20. Samuel’s immediate reply is to encourage them. Verse 20, he says to them, “Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart.” And so here in the present reality of their great sin, they confess their sin, and turn to God. And God in the present immediately encourages them of their forgiveness. Having feared the Lord, they do not need to fear his judgment. They have found in him, yet again, grace and mercy. He further encourages them by pointing them to the doctrine of unconditional election in verse 22. The LORD will not forsake them, because in his good pleasure, and for his own glory, he has elected them unto salvation and life. What encouraging words in the present for these people of God who have struggled again to follow God. Praise God.
And yet Samuel’s words in verse 20 and elsewhere in this chapter, then look to their future. Yes, they had sinned in asking for a king. But they have been forgiven. So then, what will the future hold them for them going forward? This turns now to our third point for today, to look to the future of the people. Well, in the most basic level, they are told to now live for the LORD. In their repentance, they need to serve God going forward. But what I think is especially interesting here is that this is connected now with their new king. There are two references here that connect their future obedience with their king. In other words, even though it was a great sin for them to ask for a king, now that God has given them the king, they can’t go back. They have to live with this request. God has given them the king. Their repentance hasn’t undone what they did. They now have a king, and though they’ve been forgiven of their sinful request for such a king, in the aftermath, they still have a king. They will need to live with their king, going forward. But there is a way they can do this.
And so we see this in both verses 14 and 25. Both verses have the language of both the people and their king. In verse 14, it’s stated positively; it envisions how the people and their king can together go forward into the future following God. The implication is that this would be good for them. But verse 25 also envisions what would happen if they don’t do that. If they still do wickedly, then king or not, they will be wiped away. Or to clarify, it says king and all, they will be wiped away.
And so going forward, they now have a king. This is living in the consequences of their past choices. Repenting of asking for a king found forgiveness, but they still have a king. And so now, the obligation for them to live for God is still the same, but now includes their king too. They and their king need together to live for the Lord. If they do that, they will do well. If they don’t, they should expect the same sorts of things as in the past. In other words, the history lesson here will still apply. If they and their king follow God, they will experience blessing and peace in the Promised Land. If they do not, and go after vain and empty idols in the past, then the fact that they have a king won’t change their outcome. They’ll experience the same kind of trouble as before, and all the more. The lesson is really the same, with or without this new king. And yet the emphasis now that they have a king is their solidarity with their new king. Now, in light of their past decision to get a king, they will either stand or fall together with their new king.
But God will be there help. We see that reflected with Samuel here in verse 23. The people asked for Samuel’s prayers. He says that not only with he be praying for them, but he will continue to teach them. In other words, even though he won’t be there judge anymore, he’ll continue to serve as a prophet and a priest for them. This is an expression of how the people will continue to have God’s spiritual shepherding of them in their lives.
Well, this chapter almost seems to end in a positive note. And yet, the final verse is certainly a bit ominous. Will the people with their king follow the LORD? Or will they be swept away with their king? Sadly, the next chapter will begin the failure and downfall of King Saul. And even though God will replace him with King David, the future still is going to be very difficult for Israel. In their newfound solidarity with their king, they will find under the period of the kings an ongoing back and forth, up and down, spiritual rollercoaster. In other words, much like during the time of the judges where the people had repeated cycles of sin, chastisement, repentance, and restoration, there will be a similar cycle with the kings, really centering around the king. When a righteous king takes the throne, he leads the people in righteousness. But when an evil king takes the throne, he leads them in the wrong way, and they face God’s chastisement. Sadly, there are more evil kings than righteous ones in their future. Finally, God will have enough and he will fulfill the threat of verse 25. He’ll use the Assyrians and the Babylonians to sweep the people and their kings away. It will be horrible. All because of their united sin against the Lord. How sad that they did not heed the message of their past and what was told to them in the present to seek a better future. And it’s especially sad that it seems the king they asked for lead them in their downfall. In other words, this chapter seems to emphasize how the people could take ownership and bring their king along with them in the way of righteousness. But, as could be expected, the kings provided the leadership, and lead the people repeatedly in the way of wickedness. Their solidarity and connection with their king brought them destruction along with their evil kings.
And yet it’s in this judgment of God, that there yet comes hope. And it is in this that we find our connection as well with this story. For God, yet in his election, and in his faithfulness, brought forth from those ashes the Messiah King. He raised up the Lord Jesus Christ, and has been using him to turn his lost and wayward people back to God; Even us, who were formerly Gentiles according to the flesh, he has brought near into his covenant of grace. Now, he circumcises our hearts, and puts his Spirit within us, that we would know the Lord and love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
And so now when we hear the words of “both you and your king” we take heart. For, we don’t have to worry that our wickedness will lead King Jesus astray. Rather, we know that the opposite is true. That he is the king who is faithful and true; the righteous one who leads us in righteousness. And that is what Jesus is doing right now in the present. Jesus then continues to lead us in all the ways we need, as prophet, priest, and king.
And so then as Christians, this is the story of our past, present, and future too. In the past, God has saved us from our sins by the work of Jesus Christ at the cross. That salvation was effectually applied to us when he called us by his Word and Spirit to turn to him in faith. We realized our sin, confessed it to God, and he forgave us and saved us. Now as we live presently in this world, we do live in many ways in the ramification of our past sins and bad decisions. But yet Christ our king is with us. And so we walk with him, united in that solidarity in Christ. We walk forward, following the Lord, looking to serve him. And we have confidence and joy knowing that our future holds the return of the king to usher us into our eternal reward and glory.
In closing, I give us a final application from this passage. I want to bring out the idea here of “fear” in all of this. As we think about our past, present, and future, this notion of “fear” is brought into the discussion, according to this passage. As we think about the gospel, and how we are saved, this is a fitting thing to notice. You see, there’s something here that I’m sure the spiritually ignorant would call a contradiction of sorts. But that’s only from the mind that doesn’t know the things of God. For in reality, there is a wonderful truth here. In other words, on the one hand there is a call to fear God here. On the other hand, those who do are assured that they don’t need to fear. For example, they are told in verse 24 to go forth in fearing the Lord. But when they were afraid according to verse 18 because of their sin, Samuel turns around in verse 20 and tells them to not be afraid.
In other words, there’s a kind of fear you can have that drives out fear. As a Christian, this is what we’ve come to know in the gospel. Fearing the judgment of God, and fleeing to Christ, we now no longer fear this judgment! And so we fear, and that drives out the fear. For this is what we are called to do in the gospel. We begin with the fear of the Lord, and that casts out any fear of judgment. And so we continue to go forth living in light of that righteous fear, while also living in that joy and confidence and quiet of conscience knowing that we are his. Praise be to God. Amen.
Copyright © 2015 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.