The gift that keeps on taking (1 Samuel 8)

A sermon preached at St Augustine’s Anglican Church, Neutral Bay.

Yearning for security

Is your life secure? The quest, the yearning, for security lies behind much of our daily experience, doesn’t it? We long to be secure, safe, protected from the ups and downs and ravages of fortune. We yearn to be financially secure—with a good property in the right location, with a viable nest egg for retirement. To be secure in our careers—our positions and influence over others—respected and known. To be secure in our health, with the right doctors, eating the right food. To be secure in our relationships, our friendships, marriage, children, family.  Not to mention secure in our community and our nation: safe from Hackers, safe from ISIS, safe from Ebola.

Of course, the most typical response when we feel insecure is to look around at what everyone else is doing, and what they’ve got, and try to emulate them. To look at the real estate magazines, to discover the most sought-after location to get the views. Or to climb the corporate ladder above your peers, to get that promotion, to extend or maintain your influence. Or to have the inside info about the perfect health food, to avoid the right toxins, to exercise, or join the body-building scene. To get caught up in the chick flicks and try to emulate the perfect romantic experience they’re selling you. Parents want security for their children, and they want their children to have what all the other kids are having. “Hermione is learning the flugelhorn? You’d better have flugelhorn lessons too…” We look around at what everyone else has got or seems to have, and say, “I want what they’ve got. That’s what I need to be secure.”

Is your life secure?

The people’s problem: bad rulers (vv. 1-3)

You see, this is the issue that faced the little confederacy of tribes called “Israel” in the time of Samuel, in our Bible passage, 1 Samuel chapter 8. There was a security crisis. And the root of the security crisis, was a leadership crisis.
Verse 1 starts,

When Samuel grew old…

Samuel, for many years, had been a good leader for Israel. We learn in chapter 7 about Samuel’s leadership. He was called a “judge”—which means he brought law and order, like in the time of the book of judges. How did he bring law and order? By judging, yes. But even more importantly, by keeping the people in touch with God through his word and prayer.

Samuel called people back to God: 1 Samuel 7:3

And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, “… commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only” (1 Sam 7:3)

And he called on God to have mercy on Israel and save Israel

[Samuel] cried out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf, and the LORD answered him (1 Sam 7:9)

Samuel’s leadership had been very good!

But now he’s old—and things aren’t going so well. He’s appointed his sons as judges. It seems he wanted to share the load. Samuel’s base was in the mid-north of Israel. He needed a bit of a presence in the south too, in Beersheba. So he sent his sons to the south, to judge there. But, well, you could probably have predicted the disaster that followed. The whole idea of hereditary leadership is fraught with danger, isn’t it? Just because Samuel was a good judge doesn’t mean his sons would be too. And actually, judges in Israel weren’t supposed to appoint their sons to lead. Gideon made that clear back in Judges 8:22, 23. Earlier in 1 Samuel we read about old Eli and how his two sons were priests, their bullying and extortion and sex scandals. They weren’t a great model of hereditary leadership either, were they? And so we learn here in chapter 8 that:

[Samuel’s] sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

All good leaders come to an end. Peace and security, justice, law and order, was going down the tube again. And the people of Israel, this confederacy of tribes, was in a crisis.

The people’s solution: Give us a king! (4-9)

So—the people had a solution. And it seemed to them like the obvious solution.

Give us a king! Verse 5:1 Samuel 8 Podcast Picture

They said to [Samuel], “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

Notice what Israel did when they felt insecure. They did what we naturally do. They looked at the people around them and they said, “What we really need… is what they’ve got. Look at those Amalekites! Look at those Ammonites! They don’t have these woosy judges. They’ve got a modern form of government. They’ve got kings! Kings get things done. Kings make it happen. Kings rule! Real leadership, that’s what we need, Samuel. Give us a king, Samuel!”

Samuel was a bit upset; after all it was a slap in the face to him, wasn’t it? But Samuel was still Israel’s leader, so did what he always did, and what he should do. He prayed to God.

And God answered, verses 7-9. And God’s answer gets right to the heart of the problem.

The problem with the people’s request, you see, wasn’t just that they’d rejected Samuel. Of course, that was a problem. To have and love a leader for years, decades, and then discard their wisdom at the end because they’re too old, that’s both ungrateful and unwise. But that wasn’t the biggest problem.

And the problem wasn’t just that it was a silly idea. Of course, it was a little bit silly. It’s ironic: Israel’s problem involved hereditary leadership, and their solution was a form of hereditary leadership—a king! Wrong ideas are always incoherent—that’s one way to spot them. But that’s not the heart of the problem either.

The real problem, the problem God focuses on, was that in demanding a king, they’d forgotten that they already had a king! Verse 7:

And the LORD told [Samuel]: “it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (1 Samuel 8:7)

Israel had a king—God! But Israel’s new idea of a king made no reference to God. They weren’t even looking for a king like God. They didn’t even mention God. Their ideal of a perfect king came straight from their desire to be like all the nations around about them. And that meant essentially that they were rejecting God. They were supposed to be a holy nation. God’s people. Trusting him, listening to his word, praying to him. And God promised that if they did that, they would have everything they needed as well: blessing and security and everything. They were supposed to be trusting God. But instead they demanded a source of security and stability apart from God.

Does it remind you of Jesus’ words Jesus to his disciples in his sermon on the mount? Matthew 6:31-33:

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Don’t we so easily fall into the same trap? Israel was not seeking first God’s kingdom. They were seeking a king like all the pagans around them.

“He will take…” (vv. 10-18)

But did you notice that God actually doesn’t refuse them a king? Instead he tells Samuel to talk to the people, to spell out a legal contract, as it were, and make it perfectly clear what their request for a king involves.

Actually verses 10-18 I’m sure is something any of our American friends will be right up to speed on! “Tribes of Israel,” says Samuel, “do you want security? Do you want to become the United States of Israel? Do you want a strong defence force? Do you want big government? Do you want a king like all the other nations around about? That means one thing!”

Tax!

What’s the main thing you need to know about the king? He will take! Israel, you’d better get used to those 31st of October deadlines. Because this king will tax you. He will take.

He will take your sons (v. 11)

He will take your daughters (v. 13)

He will take the best of your fields (v. 14)

He will take a tenth of your grain (v. 15)

Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take.

He will take a tenth of your flocks (v. 17)

And you yourselves will become his slaves

“Israel”, says Samuel, “if you want a king, then there will be income tax. There will be a 10% GST” (That is a 10% grain and sheep tax, verses 15 and 17) “And, there will be a family tax benefit. That is, the king will take your family, for his benefit. Part A, he will take your sons. Part B, he will take your daughters. He will take.

On the surface, this is just expressing a political and economic reality of governments. But remember what’s really going on. This isn’t an economic issue. This is a spiritual issue. If Israel rejects God as king, and runs after another source of security, then that source of security will actually end up being a massive burden. “He will take.”

And if you look around to see what everybody else is doing to be happy and secure, and if you try to find your security in those things, those things will take. If you try to find that ultimate security in investment or property, it will take. It will take your time, your evenings, your weekends, your desires, your life. If you try to find security in your career, your position, your status, it will take. It will take your best efforts, your energy, your passion, your life. If you try to find security in a relationship, a relationship maybe with somebody who doesn’t know Jesus, he will take. she will take. Will take your passion, your soul, your life.

How utterly different is this to Jesus. Because Jesus gives.

Jesus said,

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

Jesus removes our burden. Jesus gives rest.

Indeed Jesus gives himself. He said, about his death on the cross,

This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world (John 6:51)

He gave his own body up for us on the cross to pay for our sin!

Jesus gives eternal life:

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish (John 10:28).

Indeed, this is what “grace” means. God’s gift.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8)

And if you trust in Jesus, you are not a slave of God:

So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir (Galatians 4:7)

This is what it means to be a Christian. To live with God as King, and his Son Jesus Christ. And this King does not take, take, take. He gives. Of course, he commands our allegiance, but only because he gave first. He gives his life. He gives eternal life. He does not take our children and make us slaves–he buys us back from slavery and he makes us his children! Secure in his loving care. Full of that sure and certain hope of everlasting life, no matter what.

A number of us in our church family here have experienced tragic loss very very recently. As I preach[ed] this sermon, my wife [was] in the UK at the funeral of a young man, a very close friend. And our dear brother and sister here at church have just lost their own young son. An awful, awful tragedy. It rocks our world, doesn’t it? What is the only thing that can keep us going in all this? Where is our only source of security? What is our rock? It is remembering the kind of King God is. He is a King who gave his Son, and who loves us, deeply, even in the midst of such earth-shattering loss. He is a King whose son knows grief and sorrow. He is a King who gives life.

The tragedy of getting exactly what you want (vv. 19-22)

But sadly, this chapter ends with a note of deepest tragedy. Israel rejects God as King. They want a king like everyone else. And God says he will now give them exactly what they want. Do you see the hardening of their hearts in verses 19-20?

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.”

They get more insistent, and their demand gets more specific, and their rejection of God becomes complete. Back in chapter 4, they got God’s ark to come and fight their battles and rescue them from their enemies. Yes, it was superstitious and stupid, but at least God was in the picture there. Now, God’s gone entirely. They just want a king to fight their battles, with no reference to God whatsoever. In verse 20 they themselves want to be like all the other nations. They want to be without God, they want to be self-sufficient.

And the most tragic words are uttered in verse 22. The LORD answered,

Listen to them and give them a king.

God might have refused. But God says, yes, you can have what you want. This is not a good thing, is it? Israel refused to listen to God, and God judged them by telling Samuel, their leader, to listen to them! Israel wanted to be free from God’s rule, and God judged them by allowing them to be free from his rule, and to suffer all the consequences.

The greatest tragedy that can ever befall you is when God allows you to have exactly what you want. If you want to live a life for a king, a ruler, like all the people around; if you want to find your ultimate security in something else–in money, career, health, relationships–then that thing, that king, will take your life, and you will be without God. Now—and always. Listen to him now, will you?

And yet—there is also a tiny glimmer of hope at the end of this chapter. The chapter doesn’t end with a king. It’s open-ended. The rest of the story will tell us more about what God did with their request for a king. We’ll read about Saul, who was the people’s choice. But we’ll also read about David, who was God’s choice. And the rest of the Bible tells us about David’s son the king, and his son the King, and so on, to Jesus, the Son of David.

When Jesus stood before Pilate in John 18:36, he said

My kingdom is not from this world

Jesus is not a king like other kings.

And when Jesus was crucified, giving his life for the sins of the world (John 19:19), Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read:

JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS

Here is a king who gives, and gives, and gives. Not a king who takes. Here is the king who said (John 10:27-28),

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.

This is the king who gives real security—security now, security forever. Will you listen to him?