Its been quite a week for political leaders. We've had criticisms of the power exerted by Tony Blair's spin doctors, serious allegations tarnish the political careers of Helmut Kohl of Germany and Romano Prodi of Italy and President of the European Commission. We've had allegations against Ezer Weizman the President of Israel, political intimidation in the trial of Nawaz Sharif, the ousted Prime Minister of Pakistan; we've had the jailing of Egon Krenz of East Germany, the escape from Tibet of the Karmapa Lama. We've seen Vladimir Putin fly to Chechnia to award medals to Russian officers to prove he is as bullish as Yeltsin. And we've had charges of libel and threats of extradition against the historian David Irving over the extent of Hitler's crimes. Who would want to be a leader.
In our journey through the Old Testament, last week we came
to the story of the Judges. We discovered that the Promised Land didn't exactly
flow with milk and honey. God had to send a series of judges like Gideon, to
try and break the cycle of rebellion, defeat, repentance and deliverance as
the Jews failed to learn how to live in the Land God had given them. Today we
come to the next instalment and the first book of Samuel.
1 Samuel is the book of the transition from the Theocracy to the Monarchy. Our passage today explains how this change-over from the judges to the Kings came about. The Lord God had been King of Israel and had cared for the nation since its beginning; but now the elders of the nation wanted a human king to lead them. Lets consider their request, the reasons and the result.
1. The Request (1 Samuel 8:4-5)
The change from theocracy to monarchy came about through the democratic process. Through the insistence of the people themselves. The demand was not the outcry of some right wing monarchists or political extremists. It was the deliberate decision of the elders of Israel. Nor was it the mere impulse of the moment, but was the result of careful deliberation and discussion. They were not dissatisfied with Samuel personally. Samuel was growing old and nearing retirement.
The Jews were nervous about who would succeed him. Samuel's sons were not godly and the elders feared that they would lead the nation astray when Samuel died. Perfectly reasonable concerns to have. The government needed to be put on the new basis while Samuel was still alive so that like Yeltsin's handover to Putin, there could be a peaceful transition of government with the blessing of Samuel's authority.
Yes, they were deliberate and considerate; but no they were wrong. Their eyes were far away from God again. Such a request had never been born in prayer. They had held a committee meeting instead of a prayer meeting! And now they were determined on taking a retrograde step instead of going on with God. It had happened in the wilderness and it had happened under the Judges. How often unbelief is dressed up as the corporate wisdom! The Request.
2. The Response (1 Samuel 8:6-18)
Samuel's reaction to the request is given in verse 6. The Divine answer is given in verse 7. The Lord says to Samuel. "Don't take it personally Sammy... they have not rejected you, its me they have rejected." How many of us have done the same thing. We know what God's word says but we want to be like our friends, we rationalise our lifestyle, we excuse our behaviour, we fudge our commitments, and we pray asking for a special ruling, an exception clause, just this once Lord. How insidious is the temptation to lean on what is seen and human instead of resting in the invisible God and his authoritative Word! It is a temptation to which we are all prone; but to yield to it invites a harvest of regrets.
Instead of being gratefully anxious to preserve the liberties and public rights which were theirs under the theocracy, they insisted on being ruled as the surrounding peoples were ruled. In other words, they insisted on surrendering their present mild government for the overlordship, of a despotic human royalty. Samuel's reaction to their request shows that he fully understood the real reason - their unbelief and rebellion: they were rejecting the Lord God. In choosing Saul, the nation rejected the Father; Much later in choosing Barabbas, they rejected the Son; and when they chose their own leaders instead of the witness of Stephen, they were rejecting the Holy Spirit as well (Acts 7:51).
Samuel solemnly warns them of the consequences of what they are intending. Such a king would take their sons and daughters to wait on him and work for him and war for him. He would take their fields and vineyards, and the tenth of their seed and produce and flocks and other possessions; and he would do much more, so that they should cry out because of him. And without doubt, Samuel's words accurately depicted the monarchical governments which then existed round about Israel. The Request, the Response.
3. The Result (1 Samuel 8:19-21)
The nation listened to Samuel speak the Word of God and their request turned into a revolt. They demanded their rights. They claimed their "right to self-determination." They demanded equal rights just like the other nations, even though God had called them to be separate from the nations. What is most amazing is not that after all God had done for them and all that God had warned them through Samuel, they still wanted a king. What is even more amazing is that God gave them what they wanted. Here then is an illustration of God's permissive will: He granted them their request, but He warned them of the cost.
The historic transition from theocracy to monarchy was their decision. Chapter 9 explains how God gave them a king - Saul. But in giving them a king, God safeguarded the moral interests of the nation by constituting a kingship which preserved as far as possible the principles of theocratic government. The king is made directly responsible to God, and the people are no less responsible to Him through their king. Israel's king was not to be an autocratic king, but a theocratic king. The prophet and the priest, in their official capacity, co-operated with the king. They were not subordinate to the king.
They were directly dependent on God; though, as men and
citizens they were subject to the king, like all others. We don't have time
to explore the details other than to say Saul had everything going for him:
(1) a strong body, 10:23; (2) a humble mind, 9:21; (3) a new heart, 10:9; (4)
spiritual power, 10:10; (5) loyal friends, 10:26; and most of all, (6) the guidance
and prayers of Samuel. Yet in spite of these advantages, he failed miserably.
Why? Because he would not allow God to be the Lord of his life.
The people of Israel got what they wanted and ultimately paid a high price defeated, subjugated and exiled by the very nations they aspired to be like. God's rescue mission would pick up with David, but more of that next week. Three things we ought to note about this demand for a king.
First, the superficial reason for the request, as we have seen, had been the reasonable anxiety over finding a suitable successor to Samuel. His own sons were not suitable.
Second, the inner motive was really that the people wanted to be like the other nations - they wanted to join the MEC - the Middle East Community. They looked at the farm subsidies available and the benefits of a common currency, the open borders and free trade... sorry I digress...
Third, the deeper meaning, the more fundamental issue however was that Israel had now rejected the Lord as their King. The request, the response, the result. What lessons can we draw in our very different world?
1. Don't idolise your leaders or one particular style of leadership
Israel was afraid when they saw Samuel getting frail. They were nervous when they looked at the behaviour of his sons. So they asked for a king. Don't make the same mistake. Don't be fooled into thinking one particular political system is potentially less corrupt than any another.
Don't make idols of political figures like Tony Blair or Bill Clinton. And don't make exceptions for famous people like Mike Tyson or Augusta Pinnochet. The same applies in the Christian world. Don't idolise a John Stott or a Nicky Gumbal or even your local vicar or curate.
Just because someone is famous or popular doesn't make them right. Those who serve you at Christ Church in leadership roles are not infallible. We are not immortal and we are not incorruptible. We are accountable if not to you, to God whom we serve. When ever I read of another fallen angel in the newspapers I recognise 'there but for the grace of God, and your prayers, go I" Pray for us, serve with us. We are God's messenger boys. Listen to the message. Learn from our example. But weigh both by the standard and the authority of Jesus. So lets not play games of power politics and over the ownership of this corner of the ministry or that initiative.
When the Millennium extension is complete there are going
to be no memorials on the wall glorifying the benefactors because that is secret.
There will be no name plates showing who supervised it or opened it because
that's irrelevant. The temporary builders board outside will suffice and is
very clear. The Millennium extension is for the glory of God and the future
of Virginia Water. That's my first point. Don't make idols of your leaders because
they will fail for the same reason you will.
We are sinners saved by grace through our Lord Jesus Christ. We serve Him and Him alone. Only He is worthy of praise and honour. Don't settle for human substitutes, for that's all we will ever be.
2. Don't assume children will share the faith of their parents.
We lose a lot of sleep over this one. We cause a lot of heart ache if we neglect to notice that even Samuel had two rebellious sons, for a time, for we don't know what happened to them so we cannot judge. We only get a snap shot of them here. The lesson is clear however. Faith cannot be inherited or passed on through the genes or implanted by genetic engineering. We saw last Sunday evening that Jesus himself was a member of an unbelieving family. Just think about that.
One of seven or eight and only after the resurrection do some of them join the church. Don't assume that if your were a saint or an angel, or were raised from the dead, or could perform spectacular miracles, your family would automatically believe. If they won't believe the Word of God, says Jesus, they won't believe, even if someone came back from the dead. Its not your fault if they don't. Its not your fault if your children grow up to reject your faith, or your husband or wife or your mother or father. Be faithful and trust God with them.
The flip side of this is we should not judge each other if we or our families fail. Don't expect more of other people or their children than God expects of you. How should we respond to unbelievers in our families? Love them unconditionally. Pray for them continuously. Never give up on them or write them off. Why not? Because thankfully God didn't with you. Entrust your family to Him, as I am sure Samuel did.
3. Recognise this rebellion is in us all.
Rejecting the word of God and these specific warnings given through Samuel was one of the dummest and destructive decisions ever made by the Jews. But with every wrong step God had a plan. Because of a Saul there was a David. Because their was a Fall there was a cross.
God's plan would not be ruined or thwarted by Israel's stubborn
rebellion. Yes they would suffer. Yes they would have to learn the hard way.
But God never stopped loving them, never stopped leading them. And with every
step sideways or backward he turned it into one step closer to the day when
he would send his own Son to be their King, knowing they would reject Him too.
The left wing would demand a Barrabas, the right wing would adore a Caesar.
The Father knew they would mock his Son, beat Him and kill Him, but three days
later he was rise again. He had conquered death, paid the price and set us free.
I am indebted to Campbell Morgan and Gordan Keddie for material used in this sermon.