Series “After God’s own heart” Week 1
It’s all about heart
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah,………we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1Samuel 8: 4,20)
I watched that great concert for the Queen this week. What a tower of strength Queen Elizabeth has been for her family and her nation and even the Commonwealth. Didn’t the Brits show their love for her this week! Rightly so too, whether you’re a monarchist or a republican, you have to take your hat off to Lizzy!
Isn’t it true that in the hurly-burly of life, with all of its changes, challenges, suffering, mystery and insecurities, it would be good to have a king, or a queen, like Elizabeth, or a Winston Churchill or Ben Chiffley, or some other great person to “govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”(8:20)
Well, we hear this demand from God’s people. We begin this little season of a journey through the life of King David before we hear about him at all. We begin way back before he was born but we begin knowing that David was given such a high recognition and affirmation by the Lord throughout the Scriptures. David was “ a man after God’s own heart” says the Lord! (1Sam 13:14) Paul in his message to the people of Antioch recounts this in Acts 13:22.
What is to be a person after God’s own heart?
David was a sinner just like us and just like many before him and after him, and yet, God found in him a person ‘after my own heart’ says God.
I would like to be known by God as a “person after God’s heart” – a person of God’s qualities – generous, strong, faithful, loving, compassionate, a blessing to others….. I know David made a lot of mistakes. That is comforting to me. If he made mistakes and was still named by the Lord as a person after God’s own heart, then it is possible for me to be that too.
So let’s ponder David; chosen by the Lord for a huge task, doing the task in relationship with the Lord, the Lord’s word to him, David’s responses and see if we can hear of ourselves in David’s story and become even more a person after God’s own heart – to share God’s heart on things that face us and remain faithful to the Lord and loving to others through it all.
So we begin with God’s people in a bit of a squeeze and demanding something from God – demanding a king – someone to lead them and fight their battles for them and fix their problems….
Samuel, the first of the Prophets of God who had lived a faithful life of speaking God’s word into being among God’s people is now at the end of his life and his sons have left turned out to be unfaithful to the Lord.
The various tribal elders of the ramshackle “nation” of Israel know that once Samuel goes, things will get worse. Just like in the days of the Judges (Samson, Gideon, Deborah….) Israel itself would again descend into a tribal/feudal kind of people without any centre and so without any strength among their powerful neighbours. Samuel provided God’s word of hope. Once he goes. Things would return to hopelessness.
So, Israel, without any central strength that a monarchy would bring would always be at the mercy of these neighbouring peoples who had central government/monarchy) as they always crossed over Israel to fight their wars with each other or Israel! Israel was at the ancient crossroads of the world after all. A s far as they could tell, without a monarchy and the strength it may bring, God’s promise of a land, a name and an everlasting place and mission in the world would always seem so fragile and easily lost.
And of course there was always the troublesome Philistines who were always hell bent on destroying Israel, and at this time, they were gaining strength again. It was only a matter of time until they would appear on the horizon to subdue Israel and render the people slaves.
So, the request for a King comes….
“You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations”, they say to Samuel
Quite understandable really. We might ask for a king too when we consider what lies before us as a community of God in our time. We are not at the crossroads of the military world Down Under, but we are at the crossroads of the end of a “Christian World” or “Christendom” as the church has been called for 1500 years. Many would say we are living in the “Post Christian” world now where the power, influence and size of the church has reached its peak and is now on an inevitable slide into oblivion.
Australia, like all other western countries, is secularising, for sure. I always notice this a lot when it comes to how ANZAC Day and Easter fit together now. I wonder in my lifetime whether I will see the end of the Easter holiday weekend and it being replaced by an ANZAC weekend – nationalism and re-telling and embellishing of our Australian story replacing the story of God and his people?
It would be good to have a leader who would “show ‘em” – who would make the church a place of mighty force to fix this slide away from church we are experiencing……
Well, Samuel is offended by the request for a king to sure up the community and make it strong. When he tells the Lord about this, the Lord is also offended.
“and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” (8:7)
The people’s request for a leader to lead them and fight for them is a direct assault on God’s name and ability to do this for them, not to mention a complete revision of their history! Had they forgotten Egypt, and Moses, and Red Sea, and the bodies of Pharaoh’s army floating on the sea shore, and the fall of Jericho under Joshua and Samson and Deborah and Gideon…….? The Lord had kept his promises and his people alive to this point, and now the people can’t trust this when under the pump. As they survey a testing and challenging scene they wilt and turn to more “trusted” human means. They keep up with the Joneses and trust what every other pagan community around them does to try and find strength and place and land and wealth – they ask for a show of human power – a king.
How about us as we ponder our secularising scene in our time and place? Will we go on the offensive and attack by power and influence? Will we turn to the power of a “king” or a great leader or some sure-fire business strategy or a tried and true way to get people to church out of guilt or fear or by pulling the emotional heart strong enough or by coming up with entertainment that really “brings ‘em in”?
Will we wilt and retreat back into what we once knew or can trust from our own experience. Will we try and bring back the old days. Will we board up the windows, cut the budget, downsize the ministry and wait out the storm of a nation secularising and moving the faith of the people of God to the margins more and more every day?
God’s people seem to want to go on the attack. They want a king to lead them into battle and make their lives safe.
Samuel repeats a long list of what their reliance on a king will mean for their life.
“These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you” Samuel says.
he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen;
he will appoint for himself commanders of his army,
He will appoint soldiers and support staff to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of 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 orchards and give them to his courtiers.
He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.
He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work.
He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves”.
In other words, this request for a king will really cost you and reshape the very way you live.
The Lord is really asking them if they are really sure they want to go down this path of reliance on a king instead of him.
When all of this dawns on the people then they will only have themselves to blame and it will be no good praying to the Lord to help them undo their rejection of him and their reliance on a monarch. It will be too late then.
“And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day”, the Lord says,( 8:18)
The people must be very desperate and fearful, because they don’t flinch at this!
And then it is done. God reluctantly allows his people to establish the monarchy.
This seems so contradictory. On the one hand, it is clear that the people’s demand for a king to fight their battles was an outright act of arrogant and unfaithful reliance on themselves to win their battles – a deep offence to the Lord – an offence that they had always been good at giving way back from Egypt until now.
But on the other hand, God allows their request! He directs Samuel to go to Gilgal and start the process.
Surely all we can put this down to is the gracious nature of the Lord and his willingness to stay in a living relationship with his often wayward but dearly loved people!
The people have their heart set on a thing that they think will solve their problems. God shows his heart for his people here. He does not reject his people, even though he knows that he is the solution to all their problems and that they don’t trust him!
Out of his love for his people, the Lord warns his people about the consequences of their rejection of his power and promises, and so, holds them accountable for their decisions – but he does not reject them.
This is God’s heart for us. He knows that his Living Word is all we really need, but when we cannot trust this, he still does not want to lose us. So, the Lord allows us to live out our trust in other things and so, remains faithful to his promises to us anyway. He remains present to pick up the pieces when it finally dawns on us that He was all we really needed in the first place and in the last place.
Friends, we actually have a perfect King who is not only human – but the Lord himself with us in a way that Samuel and the leaders of Israel never experienced. We are served by the King of all kings who lays down his life for us who constantly decide to rely on our human power, strength, wisdom and influence to keep safe and sure our lives up.
Being a person after God’s own heart is being like the Lord is for us toward others: Allowing others to make silly mistakes or unhealthy decisions, even warning them about the consequences of their decisions and actions but not rejecting them. Being a person after God’s own heart is about staying with people, like God stayed with his people in their desperate reliance on what they knew rather than the Lord’s promised in his Word.
Friends, we have a mighty king who serves us in love and puts up with our unreasonable and unwise demands at times, but he loves us enough to stay with us and teach us his love and wisdom. He calls us to be after his own heart of love by doing the same for each other.