All the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray to the Lord your God for your servants, so that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of demanding a king for ourselves.’ 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; and do not turn aside after useless things that cannot profit or save, for they are useless. For the Lord will not cast away his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. 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. Only fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.’
In these days of ‘false news’ it’s quite refreshing to read some honest-to-goodness, up-front truth. The people had done wrong. They knew it. Samuel knew it. God knew it. Samuel did not soft-pedal their sin, saying “Oh, don’t worry. It’s alright.” It wasn’t alright. “You have done all this evil”, he says.
Such bluntness is not fashionable today. In decades past, people flocked to the Hellfire and damnation preachers to hear the drunkard, the glutton, the gossip denounced, and their Hellish destination depicted – gnashing teeth and all. These days this type of preaching is much less fashionable.
Samuel was very clear; the people had sinned. But there’s no ‘I told you so’ here, no gloating over someone else’s downfall. Samuel stands with the sinning community and plays his part in their restoration. For there is restoration.
Yes, they had sinned. Yes, the consequences would follow them through hundreds of years of bad kings, idolatry and eventual sweeping away to Exile. But yes, God was with them. He did not abandon them because they had messed up (and that is seriously Good News!), but called them to turn back to him again, and again.
I am much more like the disobedient, inconstant, faithless children of Israel than I like to admit. Have I today loved the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Have l loved my neighbour as myself? Nope.
God did not soft-pedal the Israelites’ sin. Neither does he soft-pedal ours. He does not sweep it under the carpet and pretend it never happened. But neither does he reject us as no-hope failures. He knows that (to quote ‘Frozen’) “Everyone’s a bit of a fixer-upper”, and in his love and mercy, takes on the job of fixing us up.
Merciful Lord, I confess that I have turned aside from following you and followed useless things that cannot profit or save. Grant me mercy and strength as I turn to you again. Help me rightly fear you, serve you faithfully with all my heart, and consider what great things you have done for me. Amen
Fay Rowland is a graduate student at Wesley House, Cambridge, and worships at St Botolph’s Anglican Church, Northamptonshire.