So this past week you got a bird’s-eye view of a really, really dark time in the history of God’s people. It probably didn’t surprise you at this point that they have continued to move away from trusting God and wanting power for themselves instead of acknowledging Him. And what I want to do here is just so say that while we may be tempted to move past this and see ourselves as being different the truth of the matter is that we need to study them so that we can identify the patterns of our own sin. We see this huge shift in 1 Samuel 8 as the Israelites tell Samuel that they want a king. (1 Samuel 8:4-7 ESV)
To be honest, I think that the “wanting power for themselves” is a stretch. Consider their most recent experience with their Judge’s sons: Joel and Abijah concerned themselves with dishonest gain, accepted bribes, and perverted justice. The Judge’s sons had failed to keep the Law of Moses. Perhaps confidence in the Judge system had reached an all-time low. Perhaps they saw that as bad as things were, things would get far worse when Samuel died. Who knows? At least the verse does tell us that they wanted to be like all the other nations. Having a Judge made them different, but most of us really don’t want to be different at the end of the day – not when it singles us out as not like everyone else.
This is what God says, Samuel, they’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting Me. And that’s the heart of all of this pride all of this sin all of this selfish ambition that they, that we have. It makes us reject God. It’s when we refuse to see that He really is our king. Now he knows that they’re going to do this, He knows that we are going to. He’s given us that freedom, and when the people ask for a king, we see what he says to Samuel. (1 Samuel 8:9-10 ESV) Tell them they’ll regret it, that they’re making a mistake. But they don’t care. They want what they want. And so they say: listen, all the other nations have kings and we want kings. But the whole point is He brought them here to be set apart. To look different. And they want to look like everyone else. So they persist and God tells Samuel “Give them what they want.” (1 Samuel 8:22 ESV) … So He’s going to show them what it looks like in this ideal world where they have all the power and are ruling over things. Saul is elected, he’s handsome, he’s tall, he’s strong – from all these earthly standards he fits all these great criteria for who is worthy to be king. But GOd doesn’t judge according to what we see, He judges according to the heart and Saul’s heart was not right with God.
The Ancient World didn’t have much use for looking different or set apart. The world was a harsh place where the strong fought their way to the top and it didn’t matter how many lives were lost in the process. The system was a tried and true method for measuring oneself against the standards of the day. The Israelites didn’t have a concept of how looking different and being set apart could work in that context. They were used to seeing mighty, strong, and tall warriors. They couldn’t fathom an army of weak and short fighters could hold their own. They were using to seeing massive cities surrounded by thick stone walls. They couldn’t imagine how a straw village without a wall could survive given the dangers the region presented them. To them, having a king could have represented the graduation from having been a band of former slaves to being on their way to being a proper kingdom, one that had begun to take it’s very first steps into becoming a regional power. Imagine what it would be like to negotiate a truce between an alliance of three or four kings … and Israel’s sole judge. Did the Israelites think that they weren’t being taken seriously because they were different? That they weren’t seen as kingdom because they didn’t have a king? It’s really easy to read a verse and assume we know the motivation behind it, but it’s really, really difficult to actually be right.
1 Samuel 12:14-15 ESV… So here’s the deal, you can’t have two true kings. There is only room for one. Who are you going to serve? What does this look like in your life? Or are you worshiping a false master? Maybe it’s a job or a person. Maybe it’s a desire that you’ve elevated to the position of king. We’ve all got them and there’s one critical difference – it’s what matters in the end.
That’s probably one of the hardest “you” questions yet. We have a lot in common with the Ancient Israelites. Day in and day out we aren’t really sure we see proof of God. We don’t get the awesome displays of His power – our enemies destroyed or fleeing before us, lightening, storms, fire falling down, bursts of wind, hordes of insects or frogs. Worse yet, science explains to us a lot of the natural phenomena that the ancient world likely attributed to God because they didn’t know how things work and anything they don’t know how it works has to be a God-thing.
1 Samuel 13:14 ESV… What was different between Saul and David? True repentance … the pure expression that results when someone realizes that he or she has grieved the heart of God … True repentance is us saying to God: “I have failed to make you king and as much as these consequences wound me they don’t touch the pain that comes when I realize how they have wounded you.” … 1 Samuel 15:24-26 ESV … Saul gives the perfect confession right? Wrong. All the right words don’t change a heart that’s wrong with God … Psalm 51:1-2 ESV … David use the same words (like transgressed) but his repentance was true because he realized that he had offended a holy God. True repentance doesn’t have a selfish motive. It simply has selfless acknowledgement.
I’ve noticed that much of the focus isn’t exactly on the seamless story of the entire Bible, but there’s a side-plot that points a common evangelism scheme – it’s in the subtle use of the language. I guess I noticed it because I don’t talk this way: “If we understood that he’s a holy God” “I know that we don’t deserve to be in his presence.” It suggests an assumed Calvinistic framework that highlights certain aspects of the story by glossing over other parts of it. We talked about sin in the first session. Eve’s sin, the sin that causes the Flood – that “these really weren’t good people” and the sin of the tower of Babel. They sin, we sin. The second lesson focuses on name changes, how we’re destined to get a white stone that absolves us of sin with our new name on it. But how? Here we are talking about repentance. While we’re talking about the seamless story of the entire Bible, we’re also hitting the major highlights of the Roman’s road, just the Old Testament version: There’s none righteous. God made a way to forgive us. It’s repentance – turning from our sins. If his whole side-plot was eliminated, that would represent a large chunk of time that could actually be spent talking about the seamless story of the entire Bible.
David’s not allowed to build God’s temple. Solomon did. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the same heart for God that David did. The kingdom splits apart and eventually the Israelites are taken from their land into captivity. During the time before the captivity all the way to the eventual return of the exiled portion of the Israelites, God raises up prophets to warn the people and their goal is to urge the people to remember God and honor Him. Now let’s think about this, we’ve seen chapter and chapters with disregard, disbelief, disrespect for God. We’ve watched towers being raised and cities being swallowed. If it were a movie, we’d be furious at the antagonist at this point. We see this loving groom take on his unfaithful wife. Over and over again he’s stood by her, she’s cheated on him, she’s snuck away in her sin, she’s offered herself to the highest bidder. She doesn’t care about Hosea and in the movie version that maybe we see in our mind, there is no cinematic score that could bring us to a place where we even care what happens to her next. She’s had her chance. She’s had more chances than we could count. If we were watching the movie we would be tempted to say give up Hosea, she doesn’t want anything to do with you. You’ve tried. But God is an altogether different director. In the book of Hosea we see Hosea track down his wife and as she goes up for auction, he takes out the money that he has brought with him and he ransoms her. Don’t miss the subtle language that happens right before this though, it is so beautiful. God is telling Hosea what He is wanting him to do. And keeping in mind that Hosea’s relationship with Gomer is symbolic of God’s with the church, listen to what God says. Hosea 3:1 ESV… This ungrateful, selfish bride – He’ll ransom her because He loves her. And as the Old Testament closes, things are spinning out of control. His bride has made it clear that He wants nothing to do with Him. She wants another king, she wants any other king. She’s refused him over, and over, and over again. And where we would just be likely to just shake our heads and turn our backs, he does nothing of the sort… The story continues 400 years later and we’ll be looking at a husband standing before his bride offering the highest ransom so that he can bring her home once and for all.
As a student of language (a hobby really) I find that unclear language is terribly frustrating. In this section, I’m not really sure if she’s talking about Hosea and Gomer, God and Israel, God and Judah, God and the Church, or God and you or me or us … it strikes me that she’s leaving it open as if to say that she’s talking about all of the above. I know, this marriage metaphor appears frequently in scripture, but God is also divorce. The Bible uses divorce as a metaphor to explain why Israel and Judah lost his favor shortly before the Babylonian captivity. You know that if/obey thing? They couldn’t manage it. Isiah 50:1 and Jeremiah 3:8 go into more detail, I suggest you read both chapters fully. If we count Israel and Judah as God’s first two wives – maybe the third, the Church – will be the charm … the lucky one that doesn’t repeat history. The thing is, if it’s contingent on our obedience, then we’ve already lost. But it’s not. That’s where the redeemer / ransomer comes in. He’s the only one who can be obedient. It’s not even a question of “if”. He was born for that.