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TEXT: I Samuel 9-12
SUBJECT: The Life of Samuel #8: Israel's King
How many of you are living with regrets?
I would ask for a show of hands, if I needed to, but I don't need to because I already know the answer. Everyone is living with regrets. You regret the things you did-and shouldn't have. You regret the things you didn't do-and should have. You also regret the consequences of what you've done or left undone. Worst of all, you regret that many of the consequences cannot be reversed or lessened, at least not in this life.
All of us are living with regrets. Read the book of Ecclesiastes and you'll see this is how life is under the sun, a life chock-full of regrets.
I Samuel, chapters 9 to 12 tell the story of a people who did something wrong and failed to do something right. The wrong thing they did is demand a king they did not need and whom God did not want to give them. The right thing they failed to do is to trust God to be their King and thus, to wait for Him to give them a king after His own heart.
Before long, the people would come to regret their sins, and regret them dearly. But their sins, that were so wrong and hurtful, did not frustrate God's purpose to save them from their enemies, to be their God and to make them-as stupid and sinful as they were-His People.
The message of this Story, therefore, is not for a people who lived long ago in a place far away. It's for people living here and now, people living in regret. Who ought to be living in hope.
If I just gave away the punchline of the sermon, that's fine with me. We may not live to the end of it, and if we don't, I want to tell you-and I want you to believe-that your sins, as serious and hurtful as they are, have not thwarted God's plan to save you, but are, in fact (and in a way I cannot explain) part of that plan.
In other words, if you're a Christian, you don't have to live with regrets. Even the worst things in life,
Work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Don't get me wrong: bad things are not good, and God doesn't make them good. Neither do the bad things work out in the end naturally or by themselves. No! The Almighty, All Wise, and All Loving Lord is personally involved, in fact, more than 'involved', He is in control and promises to mix them up in such a way as to bring Himself eternal glory and you, eternal life!
This is what our Story is about. Let's get to it.
I hope you remember its backdrop. We read it two weeks ago and I explained it in some detail. For more than two hundred years, God had saved and ruled His people by a string of Judges, the greatest of whom was Samuel, who was still alive and fairly active.
The people should have been deeply grateful to these men and the God who sent them, but they were not. Wanting to live by sight and not by faith, they demanded a king they could see and trust, and whose succession they could count on for the future (as if the Lord could not be counted on!).
When Samuel heard their demands, he got mad. And not only he, but the Lord too. The people were not rejecting a mere man (ungrateful as that would be), they were spurning their God and Savior.
Samuel thought the Lord would say No to their wicked demands, but He didn't. He said warn the people of what their king will do to them, and if they still want one, I'll give them what they want (and they'll wish I hadn't!).
The people hear all the evils a king will bring them. And they want one any way.
There's a rich man in Benjamin whose donkeys got out of the shed last night and run off who knows where. His name is Kish, whose son is a tall, good looking man called Saul (whose name, ironically, like Samuel, also means 'asked for'). Saul and a servant are sent out to find and bring back the lost livestock. Which they do.
Without success. After days on the road, they realize God only knows where the donkeys are. So why not ask Him? There's a prophet in Ramah the Lord speaks to, and maybe He'll tell the man where to find the animals.
Good idea-Saul says-but what about his fee? Though a wealthy man, Saul has got no money with him, apparently because he has been gone far longer than he expected. The servant fishes around in the baggage and finds a fourth of a shekel of silver. It's not much, but it's all they've got, and maybe Samuel is a Discount Prophet!
The night before God had told Samuel to invite thirty people to dinner, and one of them will be the Lord's anointed, the future king. How will he know which one it is? The man will come looking for his donkeys!
To us this sounds funny: a king looking for donkeys. But remember, donkeys are what kings rode on in those days. Think of Zechariah's prophecy and how it was fulfilled-
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey.
Not long before dinner, a man comes knocking on Samuel's door, wondering if he would help him to find his father's lost donkeys. Samuel has got his man!
'Forget about the donkeys-he says-'they've been found. I've got something more important to tell you:
All the desire of Israel is set on you.
Saul is confounded by what he's heard, and confesses that neither he nor his family is worthy of this honor. Worthy or not, he's going to receive it.
The dinner party begins and Saul is put at the head of the table. And not only that, he's served a special cut of meat:
The thigh and its upper part.
In the sacrifices of Israel, this is the cut reserved for the priests. It was Samuel's portion, which he was giving to Saul, and with it, the leadership of God's People. The old man is saying, in effect,
He must increase, but I must decrease.
Did the other people at the dinner party 'get it'? We don't know. But whether they did or not, it's a sign of things to come.
When the party ends, the people are sent on their way, except for Saul and his servant, who are kept overnight. Next morning, Samuel pulls the man aside to tell him,
The Word of God.
The Lord has appointed you commander over His inheritance.
To care for the Lord's People is a job too big for Saul to do alone, but he won't be alone. God's Spirit will be with him, whose coming is symbolized by precious oil poured on his head.
At this time in his life, Saul is a humble man, who cannot believe he has been chosen to defend and rule God's People. Not even the Word of God and the symbolic anointing will convince him. Knowing his weakness and fear, Samuel props him up with three further signs.
The signs are not arbitrary, as if Saul should meet a fat man in a red shirt scratching his head with his left hand. Like other signs in the Bible, they signify something.
If God has found the straying donkeys and brought them home, so He will re-gather His People under the leadership of their king.
If men give Saul the bread belonging to God's chosen servants, so he himself has become a servant of God, picked out of the whole nation to perform a special task.
Since the king will need God's Word and Spirit, they will be given to him in a way everyone who recognize:
Is Saul also among the prophets?
On his way home, all the signs take place, and Saul is assured that-unworthy as he is-God has chosen him to be the king.
Only two men know the king has been anointed, he and Samuel. For now, he's a secret king, but not for long. Samuel calls the people to join him in Mizpah. There he rehearses their common history, which is summed up under three heads:
The first of which is God's faithfulness to His people-
Thus says the Lord God of Israel: I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians and from the hand of all kingdoms and from those who oppressed you.
Way back in the days of Abraham, the Lord promised to give His people a rich and safe land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But there were a lot of enemies between them and their land. First the mighty Egyptians who enslaved them and wanted to keep them that way forever. But with ten plagues God broke their power-and for good measure-sank them to the bottom of the sea!
On the way to their homeland, the Amalakites attacked them, first with a powerful army, then with beautiful women, but they too were beaten back by an Almighty Arm.
When they got to Canaan, they found the land overrun with strong nations, including the giants Anakim, who made them look like grasshoppers by comparison. But they, too, were no match for the Lord who drove them out of the land, sometimes with Israel's help, and sometimes without it.
This is their God, a Faithful God, a God loyal to His Covenant, a God who kept His Promises, a God who could be counted on!
This was the first point of Samuel's great sermon. The second point was Israel's deep and longstanding disloyalty to their God-
But you have this day rejected your God, who Himself saved you out of all your adversities and your tribulations; and you have said to Him, 'No, but set a king over us!'
The third point is the application: Do this-
Present yourselves before the Lord by your tribes and by your clans.
Lots were then cast to find the king. This was done, not for the Lord to find out whom He wanted, but for the people to see there is no crookedness involved: the king is not Samuel's man, but the Lord's.
First, the tribes were called in order:
Will it be: Ruben? No. Simeon? No. Levi? No. Judah? No. When Judah was passed over, every thoughtful and learned man in Israel must have jerked in surprise. When Jacob lay dying many years before, he blessed his twelve sons, and gave the best one to Judah, Genesis 49:10-
The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
Nor a lawgiver from between his feet.
The Promised Monarchy belongs to Judah. But the king they're about to get is not of that tribe. Meaning, whatever else he is, he is not, in the words of Martin Luther--
The Man of God's own choosing.
Benjamin is the chosen tribe; Matri is the chosen clan; Kish is the chosen family, and the chosen man is.Saul.
You'd think he would step forward, proud of the honor. But he's not a proud man, not yet he isn't. At the moment, he is little in his own eyes, and feels himself not up to the task! The people wonder if he's here; they inquire of God, who says-
There he is, hidden among the baggage.
The king is fetched and when the people see him, he takes their breath away, standing a foot and a half taller than any man in Israel.
The people shout, Long live the king! But he's got no taste for their praise (yet), and he goes home, along with a few crack soldiers-
Whose hearts God had touched.
If the nation is in awe of their king, there are a few who remain unimpressed. I wonder if they're the men who thought they would be chosen-
How can this man save us?
Not after the king was chosen, another king started menacing Israel. He was Nahash the Ammonite. Some years before, under the leadership of Jepthah, Israel had beaten the Ammonites in war, and taken some of their land. The Ammonites had long memories, and now decided to take back what was theirs.
Including their lost honor, which they thought, could only be avenged by humiliating Israel. They laid siege to Jabesh Gilead, and said they'd only go home if every man in that city gouged out his right eye and gave it to them as a 'sin offering'.
The men were not eager to do that, of course, and sent messengers into Israel, hoping to find someone to stand up for them.
Saul got the news while plowing his fields behind a team of oxen. When he heard it-
The Spirit of God came upon him
He cut the oxen in pieces and sent one to every tribe with the threat, 'If you don't rally to my cause, I'll cut your livestock into little pieces too!'
330,000 men were either patriotic or scared enough to heed the call, and they marched to save their brethren under the leadership of their king.
Saul, perhaps following the strategy of Gideon, divided the troops into three companies, and routed Nahash and his men, so much so that-
Those who survived were scattered,
So that no two of them were left together.
God used Saul to save His people from their enemies. Despite their folly and sin, He remains faithful who promised.
From the Exodus on, Israel had two enemies: the nations and themselves. The Judges saved them from both, fighting the Amorites, the Hittites, the Jebustites, and others, and in ruling the Jewish people under God.
What they did back when, Saul is now doing. He beat the Ammonites, and now, he remembers the men who rejected his leadership.
His loyalists say, 'Kill them too!' But Saul knows better. God's king did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them'. And so, in one of the great acts of generosity, he sides with his critics-
Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today, the Lord has accomplished salvation in Israel.
Samuel and the people are so proud of their king, they go up to Gilgal (where there shame had once been rolled off them) to formalize the kingdom-
There they made sacrifices of peace offerings before the Lord, and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.
Today's story started badly and ended well. The people demanded a human king because they did not love or trust a Divine King.
God gives them the king they deserve, and then blesses that king and the foolish people who wanted him.
This brings us back to the message I gave away in my opening remarks: Our mistakes and sins do not frustrate God's purpose.
This does not mean our sins are not 'really sinful'-they are! It does not mean our mistakes do not 'really hurt' other people-they do! It does not mean our wrongs do not dishonor to God-they sure do!
What it means is: God and His grace are bigger than our evil and foolish ways! There's a Bible verse to this effect, Romans 5:20-
Where sin did abound, grace did much more abound.
We sing a hymn to this, too-
Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all our sins.
Broader than the scope of my transgression,
Greater far than all my sin and shame!
The verse and the hymn are not examples of 'wishful thinking'. Does God use disgraceful human sin to bring about His Divine and saving purposes? Yes He does. This is what our story is about, and the Bigger Story in which it is set. For the whole Bible testifies to our sin and to God turning it inside out-you might say-to save us from it. For final proof, I point you to the cross, where we committed our greatest sin and where God saved us from our sin. Peter said-
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you murdered, by hanging on a tree.to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sin.
If we know and sing God's grace, why don't we believe it? Why don't we feel it? And why don't we live it?
Practically, this means: Don't dwell on your sins. Confess them, of course, and make restitution when it's called for, but don't brood over your sins. Because they've been forgiven.
Don't feel useless or disqualified from serving God, as though the Lord can only use perfect or near-perfect people. If He can use a man like Saul and save the people who rejected God in his favor, He can use you. Simon Peter could not 'make up for' denying the Lord three times, and the Lord didn't ask him to. He only asked him only to love Him and to care for His people. Not beat himself up.
One last thing and I'm done. Saul (as we'll see later) was not a good man. But He was still the Lord's Anointed, and through him, God saved His People. If He can do that with a man like Saul, what do you suppose He can do with a Man like Jesus, who is also God?
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