The Third Time's a Charm (I Samuel 12:1-25) 5-30-10
Topic: I Samuel Passage: 1 Samuel 12:1–12:25
Crying for a King
I. Forwards and Backward
Anytime we get in the car as a family, we never move forward unless I first look backwards and see that all of the kids have their seatbelts on. I know those of you who have kids, do that or did that when your kids were younger.
If I tried to go forward without first looking backwards, I would be putting our family in jeopardy. It's a simple principle. It's really a no-brainer, isn't it?
Turn with me this morning to I Samuel chapter 12. (page 233)
II. The Passage: "The Lord is Witness Against You" (12:1-25)
As we dive into this chapter this morning, I want you to consider how this passage is similar to a legal proceeding. From the language used to the structure of the 'proceedings', I think it can be helpful to look at this chapter through a legal lens. So imagine we’re in a courtroom here!
A. The Integrity of the Prosecutor (12:1-5)
Let’s look together at I Samuel 12, verses 1-5:
And Samuel said to all Israel, “Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. 2 And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day. 3 Here I am; testify against me before the Lord and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.” 4 They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man's hand.” 5 And he said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.”
Did you notice the legal language in these verses? The word “testify” is used twice and the word “witness” is used three times.
Now, we’ve got to remember what is going on here. The end of chapter 11 reveals the setting. The nation of Israel is in Gilgal and they are there celebrating the coronation of their first king, Saul. They are also celebrating the first military victory of that first king (cf. chapter 11).
So with this setting in mind, what in the world is Samuel doing? The rest of the chapter makes it clear what Samuel is doing: he is establishing his integrity as a prosecuting attorney. Samuel wants to make sure that everyone is agreement that he is in good standing, that he is “above reproach”, before he begins to address the court.
So what case is Samuel going to make as a prosecutor in good standing?
B. The Prosecutor’s Evidence (12:6-12)
Look at verses 6-12:
And Samuel said to the people, “The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. 7 Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers. 8 When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. 9 But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them. 10 And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ 11 And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety. 12 And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king.
So here is where Samuel turns to address the jury and begins to make his case. But it becomes clear very quickly that the every member of the jury is also a defendant. The indictment handed down is against them. And look at this ‘rap sheet’!
The case that Samuel is making here is intended to do two things. First, it is meant to prove the innocence of God, and second, it is intended to prove that the Israelites are repeat offenders. God has consistently shown them mercy; he has consistently rescued them, and they, in turn, have consistently forgotten God and served man-made gods instead.
Not only are they guilty as creatures before a holy, and loving Creator, but they are guilty as God’s covenant partners. In Exodus 24:3 we read:
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” (Exodus 24:3)
To what were they committing themselves? Listen to Deuteronomy 30:16-18:
16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. (Deuteronomy 30)
And the final line of this indictment in verse 12 is the most incriminating piece of evidence in regard to all the people listening to Samuel’s words.
The very reason they have gathered, the very reason they are celebrating, is the very reason their guilt is so certain. In spite of God’s mercy and deliverance, the people have sought a human king to rescue them; to lead them. Saul, is in fact, their newest object of worship…he's just another man-made substitute for God. (Do you have any of those in your life?)
C. The Plea Deal (12:13-15)
But look at what Samuel goes on to tell them in verses 13-15:
And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. 14 If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. 15 But if you will 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 and your king.
What has Samuel given them here? He’s given them a plea deal, hasn’t he? God has given them a plea deal. Their guilt is certain, God’s judgment is real and devastating, and yet, God continues to hold out mercy to them.
In spite of their foolish decision to ask for a king, in spite of their ever-straying hearts, God wants to redeem their circumstances and use them for the good of His people.
He wants them and their king to be faithful to the terms of the covenant; to turn from their foolishness, to obey his commands, and to serve Him and Him alone.
D. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (12:16-18)
Now, Samuel knows the people he’s addressing and he knows many of them are beginning to think to themselves, “What’s this old man talking about? Why is he trying to ruin our celebration? Sure we’ve had our ups and downs, but it can’t really be that bad, can it? Hasn’t God just given us victory through this new king? How ‘in the wrong’ could we be?”
Knowing this tendency, look at what happens in verses 16-18:
Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. 17 Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king.” 18 So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.
God gets their attention doen't he? Listen to how one commentator explains the sudden fear of the people:
“Why this sudden “insight”? Because Israel knew this was no mere thunder and rain. Samuel had said it was wheat harvest (v. 17), that is, May-June, the beginning of the dry season. Every Israelite knew rain was extremely rare at this time, something like six inches of snow in Miami on Memorial Day. Not impossible, but so unheard of that it tends to make one think. Hence Yahweh got Israel’s attention.” (Dale Ralph Davis)
This “thunder and rain” is not simply an arbitrary display of power. In their covenant with God they were told that if they did not love and trust and serve God alone, they and their land would be cursed. This bizarre thunderstorm was simply a remind of what God could do.
So the case has been proven way beyond any reasonable doubt. The people are guilty and they know it.
E. The Confession and the Advocate (12:19-25)
But look at how the people respond to the reality of their guilt and the reality of God's very real judgment, judgment which they deserve.
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 this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” 20 And Samuel said to the people, “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. 21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22 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. 23 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. 24 Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. 25 But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”
The defendants are entering a guilty plea here, aren't they? They have confessed. And now they are asking the prosecuting attorney to be their defense lawyer. In light of the judgment they know they deserve, they beg Samuel to be their advocate.
Don't you love Samuel's heart in light of God's infinite mercy? Verse 20: “Do not be afraid. You have done all this evil. Yet don't turn aside from following the Lord... (verse 23)...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.”
Remember, Samuel functions as a prophet, priest, and judge. The people want him to be their advocate, but Samuel is already their advocate. He knows that's his job. He simply reminds them of the mercy of the court, the mercy of the Judge; he reminds them of the plea deal God is offering them. They would be foolish not to take it.
III. Perspective: Forward and Backwards
Now, when you think about this chapter as a whole, there is so much here we could think about. But what I want us to think about this morning has to do with Samuel's perseverance, his persistence as God's prophet.
Now if your Bible is anything like the ESV, then the title that someone gave to this chapter may be something like “Samuel’s Farewell Address”. Now when I think of a farewell address, I think of someone saying goodbye, someone who might list of all the people they want to thank, or they might recite all of their accomplishments in a particular job, or they might just describe some of the highlights, those “good times” that stand out when you look back, or maybe it’s simply a tearful thank you and wishing the very best to those listening.
But that's not what we have here, is it? This doesn't sound like a typical farewell address, does it?
For one thing, Samuel is not going anywhere. He doesn't die until chapter 25. But his role as judge over the people is coming to an end because of the new king.
But notice what a killjoy Samuel is. Samuel is not the kind of guy you want to invite to your next party. Here they are celebrating not only a great military victory, but also celebrating their new king. It was Samuel who said to the people at the end of the last chapter, in 11:14, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingdom.”
But at the end of the coronation, Samuel takes off his party hat and puts on his prosecutor’s hat. Now listen to the following verses with chapter 12 in mind:
And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. 8 According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. (8:7, 8)
And after telling them about the king they requested, and how this king will take, take, and take more from them, Samuel says, “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” 19 But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. (8:18, 19)
That was chapter 8. Listen to chapter 10: Now Samuel called the people together to the Lord at Mizpah. 18 And he said to the people of Israel, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all the kingdoms that were oppressing you.’ 19 But today you have rejected your God, who saves you from all your calamities and your distresses, and you have said to him, ‘Set a king over us.’ (10:17-19)
So chapter 12 is the third time...the third this book has mentioned the people's oppression in Egypt, the third time we read about God's deliverance, the third time that the readers of this book are reminded of the fact that in asking for a king, Israel has rejected God as their king.
So what is going on here? Why is Samuel such a broken record? I mean, come on, Samuel, enough already. You've told the people what you need to tell them. But seriously, everything seems to be working out just fine. Why three times?
Listen to Deuteronomy 19:15...Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. The first readers of this book needed to know that this charge was established. Those listening to Samuel needed to understand this.
Up until the “thunder and rain”, up until God's little preview of potential judgment, the people did not get it. Even though Samuel kept telling them, they held on tightly to the idea that having a human king was their greatest need.
But Samuel knew better. He knew, he understood this simply principle: you really can't move forward until you first look backwards.
The people desperately wanted to move forward. They were scared of their circumstances. They knew they needed change. They knew they needed leadership. And now that Saul was chosen, now that Saul had proven himself as a military and political leader, they thought the path ahead was straight, smooth, and shining.
But Samuel could really see where they were heading. He knew that if they did not 'look backwards' and recognize their transgression and confess their sin and turn from a man-made solution to God himself, he knew that they would be putting themselves in jeopardy' they would be moving forward on a path of destruction.
In a world like this, with people like us, true obedience is always preceded by true repentance.
When you are lost at sea, you first have to come to grips with your mistakes before you turn to the compass or to the stars. When you are sick from years of smoking, you first have to come to grips with the poisonous nature of your habit before you can improve your health and be smoke-free. When you are being crushed financially, you first have to come to grips with your budgetary indiscretions and unwise purchases and lack of fiscal discipline before you can move forward into a place of stability.
And when we do ‘look backwards’, and really do understand, not just what we did wrong, but how wrong our wrong really is, we will then find something amazing. God, in His infinite mercy, can redeem, even our most foolish decisions, and use them for His glory.
Just ask the teenage mother who learns to be a strong and wise parent, by God's grace; just ask the couple who, after a string of selfish, broken marriages, learn to love each other with Christlike love and faithfulness, by God's grace; just ask the man who, after earning millions by greed, indifference, and neglect, is learning to be a good steward and a needed blessing, by God's grace……You really can't move forward until you first look backwards.
IV. Practice: Just Over Your Shoulder
This morning, I have to ask you, “Have you look backwards?”...in regards to this week, in regards to this month, this year...in regards to your life? If you have 'looked backwards', have you looked long enough?...Have you seen what God wants you to see?...Have you come to grips with the true nature of what you've done...what you are?
I know you want to move forward in your faith. I want to move forward. I want to grow. But we can't really grow unless we see what God wants us to see first. It can be like wearing a ball and chain. God calls us to run, but we find ourselves moving pretty slow. It's only when we look back do we see this big, metal ball behind us, chained to our ankle.
We might repent of sinful decisions we've made, but that doesn't mean we've repented of the heart-attitude that produced those decisions. You can be sorry that you snapped at a loved one, but fail to come to grips with your anger. You can be sorry that you gossiped about a friend, but fail to come to grips with your jealousy. You can be sorry that you lied about a situation, but fail to come to grips with your fear.
Ultimately, in all of our foolish choices God wants us to come to grips with the same thing He wanted these Israelites to recognize and reject: He wanted them to see that every sin is ultimately a rejection of God as our king.
Look at how clearly Paul could talk about moving forward in light of how clearly he saw what was backwards: For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)
It can be painful to look backwards. But God turns that pain into gain. He helps us to see how wonderful and amazing and unspeakable his grace really is by helping us to see how wrong our wrong really is.
And just as Samuel here stands as a prophet before the people, a prophet’s voice is God’s word to the people. To look backwards, to look just over our shoulder, we need to place ourselves very deliberately before the word of God. We need to let it indict us; we need to let it reveal our guilt.
But when we do that, our hope is only and always Jesus. After this, Samuel's listeners would once again fail. Their king would once again fail. Even David, the second king would fail. But by God's grace, David gave us a glimpse of how a man led by God could lead God's people into God's blessing. And that leadership would only be fully and finally be realized in David's descendant, in the “son of David’, in Jesus Christ.
This morning, the same mercy extended to the Israelites at Gilgal is extended to us in the promises of the gospel, the “good news”. Forgiveness. Peace. New birth. A new heart. But it all begins with repentance and confession…it all begins with looking backwards.
And when we do turn to Jesus, each day, in repentance and faith, just listen to how sweet Samuel words become. Listen to how sweet they are in light of the assurances of grace:
“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. 21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22 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...24 Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.