I find this passage remarkable:
“Pray to the LORD your God for us, or we will die!” they all said to Samuel. “For now we have added to our sins by asking for a king.”
“Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the LORD with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless! The LORD will not abandon his people, because that would dishonor his great name. For it has pleased the LORD to make you his very own people.
“As for me, I will certainly not sin against the LORD by ending my prayers for you. And I will continue to teach you what is good and right. But be sure to fear the LORD and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away.”
(1 Samuel 12:19–25 NLT)
Samuel scolds and reassures the people of Israel after they have insisted God give them a king— in the same sentence! “You have certainly done wrong” Samuel says, and he’s right. “Don’t be afraid” he counsels. That’s because of who God is: holy, so wrongdoing is not ignored, and gracious, so that even though they have committed a serious offense against God, even that is not sufficient to end the relationship of God with his people.
God neither winks at our self-centeredness nor walks off in a huff when offended. It’s a good thing he loves us and isn’t like us!
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king." (1 Samuel 8:4–7)
Samuel has been serving the LORD since his youth. He is now an old man, and troubled by the request that’s come to him. What does he do? He talks to the LORD as if it is the continuation of a lifelong conversation. The LORD is quite specific in his response! What we don’t know is how long it took for Samuel to get an answer, or how he prepared himself to hear from God. At the very least we can assume Samuel cleared his head and his schedule so he could be ready.
What would it take for you to be ready to hear from God?
Note the three sentences I have put in bold face type:
The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.
One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the LORD, where the ark of God was.
Then the LORD called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
A third time the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle." (1 Samuel 3:1–11)
Samuel has been earnestly serving in the Tabernacle, working for the LORD under Eli’s supervision. But working for God is not enough. Samuel needs to hear from God, and he needs to respond to God. So do you. Blessing, trouble, power, and joy come to those who hear and respond.
We are reading this week in 1 & 2 Samuel. Here’s what caught my eye from the first pages:
After [Samuel] was weaned, [Hannah] took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD at Shiloh. When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.” (1 Samuel 1:24–28)
What a tremendous gift Hannah gives the LORD in gratitude for what the LORD has done for her! It’s not hard to imagine what the boy Samuel must have meant to her as her only son. I marvel at how much she loves God, at how grateful she is.
What would it take for you and me to have faith like that?
The book of Judges chronicles a strange period full of odd and twisted situations. One such is Micah and his personal priest:
Then Micah said to him, “Live with me and be my father and priest, and I’ll give you ten shekels of silver a year, your clothes and your food.” So the Levite agreed to live with him, and the young man became like one of his sons to him. Then Micah installed the Levite, and the young man became his priest and lived in his house. And Micah said, “Now I know that the LORD will be good to me, since this Levite has become my priest.” (Judges 17:10–13)
Micah had already made idols from silver for his personal shrine, and now he has someone to serve as his personal priest. He has made his religion to be all about himself and his prosperity. He is acting as if God of Israel can be leveraged for blessings. He is about as wrongheaded as a person can be.
It is tempting in our consumer age where customization is everywhere to fall into a similar trap. We are led to think that if only we can arrange our part of the world to suit ourselves, then life will be good. But idolatry like this always disappoints, then destroys.
Yet another reason Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil”!
Lord, have mercy.
Judges is a difficult book, don’t you think? It is darker, more sordid, and more depressing than almost anything else in Scripture. Why read it? It happened, and we can learn from it.
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD…. (Judges 6:1)
The same Israelites that stood and promised in unison ...
And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.” (Joshua 24:24)
...were unrecognizably crass and violent within a generation or two.
The failure of their good intentions and promises ought to give us pause. If wanting to and promising to obey God and cooperate with his purposes isn’t enough to actually make it happen, what does it take?
What does it take?
We’re into our second week if the Immerse Reading Experience. We’re reading the book of Judges to start the week, and this caught my eye:
But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant I ordained for their ancestors and has not listened to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died. I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep the way of the LORD and walk in it as their ancestors did." (Judges 2:19–22)
The people of Israel had earnestly promised to be loyal to the LORD and to follow in his ways, yet here they are within a generation they are spiraling downward away from love and holiness toward self-indulgence, self-centeredness, and violence.
God’s punishment is to remove at least some of his protection of them, and they will be severely tested. What will the tribes do in response?
Stay tuned; keep reading….
Pastor Mark loves his wife and grown children, the Word of God, and words. And coffee,