Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Divine Sign that Wanting a King was Bad

After King Saul was anointing king, after he had already led the people to great victory over the Amorites, Samuel has the people come to Gilgal where they renew the kingdom.  Samuel challenges the people to tell him of any injustice he has done and they can’t come up with anything, which exonerates him as a judge.  He also reminds them of the great things God had done for them and their ancestors and he warns them that although they have what they wanted –a king—they have to remember to keep the commandments.

Then Samuel does something rather unusual. 

16 ¶Now therefore stand and see this great thing, which the Lord will do before your eyes.
17 Is it not wheat harvest to day? I will call unto the Lord, and he shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking you a king.
18 So Samuel called unto the Lord; and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day: and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.
19 And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king.
20 ¶And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart;
21 And turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain.
22 For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people. (1 Sam. 12:16-22)

Samuel declares a sign the Lord will do to show them Israel’s wickedness was great in asking for a king.  The sign is that Samuel will pray for the Lord to send thunder and rain in the middle of the wheat harvest that day.  (As a reader I get the impression that in the natural course of things it was unlikely for it to rain at that time of year, so that would be an effective sign.)

The sign happens as Samuel said, and all the people realize their wickedness and begin pleading with Samuel to intercede for them to God so that they wouldn’t die for adding this national sin to their individual sins.

Samuel reminds them to keep following the Lord and serve with all their hearts and assures them that the Lord would not forsake them for his own name’s sake.

The question that came to me as I was reading this was, “Why does the Lord give them this sign now once they already have a king and can’t get rid of him?  Wouldn’t it have been better to give it before they had a king?”

I have several thoughts about this.  First I recall the principle that signs follow those that believe and that signs can condemn the unbeliever.  It may be that if the sign had been given in addition to the arguments against having a king it would have condemned the Israelites if they had continued to go against it.

To give the sign afterward reinforced the message of “wanting a king is bad” to show that just because the Lord gave them a good man for a king and just because the king had helped them STILL did not mean that the Lord had changed His stance that wanting a king was bad.

The sign also demonstrates that even if the people thought Samuel was going to take a backseat to Saul’s leadership, Samuel continues to speak for the Lord.  Samuel is still a prophet and he’s not going away just because Saul is a king chosen by God.

This is going to sound obvious, but the most important thing the sign demonstrates to the people is that they have all sinned, so it becomes a dramatic call to repentance.  You can see that they instantly feel the need and they ask Samuel to intercede for them to God.  (This makes Samuel a type of Christ here.)   Yet while the sign shows the people their estrangement from God, it also demonstrates that God has not given up on them.  If God had forsaken them, He would not take the trouble to tell them where they had sinned.  Samuel reminds them of this.  “For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people” (v22).

I hope I can see the signs I have sinned before it comes to dramatic displays of thunder and rain.  One of the easiest ways is to listen to conscience and read the scriptures.

Another thing this shows us is that switching leaders or government systems doesn’t negate the commandments of God.  In the church, if we think we need new leaders it is usually because we are the sinful ones.  Our disobedience isn’t changed by a change of leaders.  Sin is the problem.

You can also see that Samuel has an understanding of the perfect love of God when he says, “The Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake.”  God doesn’t stick with Israel because of anything Israel has done to deserve it; Israel may be humble enough to answer the call, but Israel is prone to wander.  God sticks with Israel to show His unfailing love.  It is who He is. 

It’s taken a long time for me to learn that.  And like Israel, who is prone to wander, so I also forget it from time to time and begin to worry that this time I have gone too far and the Lord will hold a grudge against me if I try to repent, like some people I’ve known.  And then somehow the Lord shows me that He is more willing to forgive than I give Him credit for.  That gives me the courage to repent and try again and again and again.