Nov 9 - Chapter 10 - "Standing Tall, Falling Hard"

“The Story”
“Chapter 10: Standing Tall, Falling Hard”
1 Samuel 1-15 (selected)
Israel is unable to consistently be a holy nation that will draw people to
God. Under strong, godly Judges they are faithful. But, on their own,
they turn away from God and are oppressed by their enemies. The
elders of Israel think the solution is a human king, forgetting that God
alone is sovereign in their lives. In rejecting God, Israel will face 1000
years of tragic history until the birth of Jesus the true King.
Previously on The Story...
The people of Israel continue to struggle in the Promised Land of Canaan.
Under the leadership of a godly Judge, they know peace and prosperity.
Without a strong, godly leader, they fall back into sin and oppression until God
again raises up a Judge to deliver them.
But God is always working behind the scenes on the Upper Story for a way to
bring all people into a loving relationship with God.
Last week, we saw a Moabite woman named Ruth show extraordinary love and
faithfulness to her mother-in-law, Naomi.
God uses Ruth to bring blessing to Naomi and her family, to the people of Israel,
and ultimately to the world.
Have you ever been rejected? Perhaps you didn’t make the team or the concert
band; or the girl you like turned you down for a date; or worse yet, you proposed
marriage and were rejected. Perhaps you were turned down for a job. Perhaps you
were served with divorce papers. Do you remember how it felt? – the hurt – the anger
– the embarrassment – the loneliness. There is no pain like it.
So, imagine how God feels when the people of Israel reject God’s rule and ask for a
king...It’s bad enough when they seem to forget God and begin to worship idols again.
But now, the rejection is clear – we don’t want God for our ruler; we want a king like
everyone else.
The setting is the time of the Judges. Eli is the current religious leader and a weak
one at that. He lets his sons do what they want as priests. They stole portions of the
offerings intended for God. They slept with the women who served at the entrance of
the Tabernacle. Toward the end of Eli’s life, God gives a son to a childless woman
named Hannah. At the age of 3, Samuel is dedicated to God and brought to Shiloh to
be raised as an apprentice to Eli. And Samuel grew in favor with the Lord and the
people. God calls Samuel to service while still a youth with a difficult prophecy – the
family of Eli will not be forgiven for their sins and will die in disgrace.
Meanwhile, the Philistines continue to plague the Israelites. After one defeat, the
elders decided to bring the ark of the covenant to the battlefield to lead the army. Did
they consult God? – no... Did God help them? – no... Thousands of soldiers died, Eli’s
sons were killed, and the ark was taken by the Philistines. When Eli received the
news, he fell off his chair, broke his neck and died.
Samuel is very successful as a judge – the last judge. He calls the people to get rid
of their idols and return to the Lord – and they do. As a result, God goes with them
into battle and they push back the Philistines. During his tenure, there was peace –
none of Israel’s enemies dared attack. Samuel traveled around Israel, administering
God’s justice. But, like all of us, Samuel gets older and the stage is set for God’s
rejection as ruler.
As we explore Israel’s story, I want us to think about what it means to reject God as
Lord of our lives. I’ve had several discussions this week about what it means to
accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is the primary question we ask for
baptism or membership. Most of us gladly accept Jesus Christ as Savior – who
doesn’t want to know their sins are forgiven and God loves them? But do we make
Jesus Christ the Lord of our lives? Do we consult him when we make a decision?
Do we ask in the morning – what do you have for me today, Lord? Do we actively
love God, neighbor, and self or do we merely speak about it? So it’s important to
understand what it means to reject God as Lord of our lives.
First of all, what is the cause of this rejection? Turn to p. 135,
“When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name
of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they
served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside
after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
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.’”
There seems to be two issues here – weak leadership and the pull of culture. Samuel
was getting older so he turned over more and more of the work to his sons. But they
were dishonest. Who could the people turn to? The people of Israel seem to do
their best – to live faithfully – under strong leadership. We saw it over and over with
the Judges. But now there is a vacuum. Where do they look – to God? No.
They look around themselves to other cultures who seem to be doing OK. We want a
king just like everyone else – we want to be like everyone else. Israel has forgotten
their purpose as a nation – God’s Upper Story. Israel was to be set apart as a special
people for God. God spoke to them through Moses – “Now if you obey me fully and
keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.
Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy
nation.” (p.59) They weren’t to be like other nations/cultures – they were to draw
other nations/cultures to God!
The same is true for us today. We seem to be struggling in our families, our
communities, our workplaces, our churches. We need to raise up godly leadership.
Individuals who know God – who listen to God. Individuals who talk the walk and
walk the talk. It begins in our families and churches and then spreads out to our
workplaces, communities, and nation. Our Nominating Committee is at work to
partner with God in calling our next class of leaders. Please support this process with
prayer. And be open to God using you as a leader in this congregation. Strong
leadership is not a function of how good or capable you are but whether you are willing
to let God use you and guide you.
The desire to be like others is usually a step away from God. We are not to look like
others – to act like others. We are to look like Jesus Christ – to act as he did. Peter
puts it a little differently in his first letter – “But you are a chosen race, a royal
priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty
acts of the one who called you out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.” (2:9) The
people reject God because of weak leadership and the pull of culture.
Second, we need to understand that this rejection breaks God’s heart. On p.135 we
continue reading,
“But 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.
As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day,
forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.’”
My friends, God has a heart that can be broken. Back in Genesis 6:6, when the
people of earth were wicked and violent because of the spread of sin, we read, “And
the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on earth, and it grieved him to his
heart.” At the end of Jesus’ earthly life, after he’s entered Jerusalem but before his
crucifixion, he laments, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and
stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children
together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.”
(Matthew 23:37)
Israel’s decision to reject God will literally affect the rest of The Story. From Adam
and Eve, people seem to think that they know better than God. So for 9 Chapters,
we’ve seen God present Plan B and Plan C in an attempt to form a relationship with
people in a land that will bring them God’s blessing. By asking for an earthly king,
Plan C has finally failed. Yes, God will work with Saul and then David and a whole
succession of kings. But for the next 11 chapters in The Story we will see the
consequences of this choice – the tragedy of this choice.
I asked at the beginning of this message if you knew what it was to be rejected. If you
love God, choose to obey. If you love God, look to God as the sovereign of your life.
If you love God, listen to God’s loving guidance.
Third, we need to understand that there is a cost in rejecting God. Back to The Story
on p.135 “Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a
king. He said, ‘This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his
rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses,
and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders
of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap
his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his
chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them
to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and
give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the
best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a
tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day
comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will
not answer you in that day.’
But the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king
over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to
go out before us and fight our battles.’
When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord.
The Lord answered, ‘Listen to them and give them a king.’‘
Now, understand that the earthly kingdom was not God’s creation, it was God’s
concession to the people of Israel. And there would be a cost. One was being
drafted into the king’s army. As we approach Veterans Day, we know the cost of
maintaining our country’s freedom. A king does not have a volunteer army. Serving
in the king’s household from farming to cooking to cleaning. And there will be taxes –
a king means big government.
Plus, human leaders are flawed – consider Saul. He looks good – a head taller than
most men, physically strong, with plenty of charisma. He starts out well, defeating the
Ammonites and giving the credit to God. But before a battle with the Philistines,
Samuel tells Saul to wait until he comes so the army can worship the Lord. Samuel is
delayed and Saul gets antsy. So, Saul offers the burnt offering himself. Then, when
he leads the army of Israel against the Amalekites, he’s told to destroy all living
creatures – men, women, children, livestock. But, Saul spares King Agag – maybe
he’s good for ransom. But, Saul keeps the best of the livestock. When Samuel
challenges him, first he lies – “I don’t hear any bleating sheep or lowing cattle.” Then
he makes an excuse – “I wanted to make a sacrifice to God.” King Saul’s fate is
sealed but he refuses to step down.
We aren’t much better when it comes to electing our leaders. Tuesday was Election
Day. Indiana County had one of the best turnouts in the state – 47%. That leaves
53% who failed to take part in the process. We say that we are dissatisfied with the
direction our leaders are taking, yet most of the time we re-elect the incumbent. Tom
Wolf’s victory was the first time in 38 years that an incumbent governor had not been
reelected. There is a change of leadership in the Senate – we’ll see if it makes a
difference. Pray for God to use our leaders to bring life, liberty, and justice for all.
But human leaders are flawed and by themselves cannot bring about the blessing God
desires for all people.
Brothers and sisters, there is hope – there is a cure for rejecting God. About 1000
years after God begins Plan C with Abraham and Sarah, Saul becomes the first
earthly king. About 1000 years later, God comes to live among the people of Israel in
Jesus. Jesus called people to repent and believe the good news that the kingdom of
God is here. Yes, Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” So, his
kingdom is real. But his kingdom is different. It’s spiritual, not political. It’s found in
the hearts and minds of his followers. It’s lived out through them. The cure for
rejecting God is to repent and believe the good news that Jesus has brought the
kingdom of God to earth.
Jesus is the Savior who forgives our sin and brings us back to God. Jesus is the Lord
who shows and empowers us to live in a way that pleases God and blesses us and the
world. Who will you choose as ruler in your life? Amen