Well Happy New Year to you! I hope you had a great Christmas & are looking forward to whatever adventures the year 2012 has in store for us. A new year is a great chance to take stock of where we’re at and where we’re going. And there’s no better way to do that than to open up God’s word and let him guide us. So let’s do that right now. Please grab a Bible from the pews and look up 1 Samuel 9.
I remember leading a sports camp one summer - back in the days when I could run without my knees complaining. I was just chatting with one of the other leaders in the dining room after dinner when one of campers rushed in. “There’s been an accident!” he cried: “Come quickly!”
As we rushed down the corridor the lad babbled slightly incoherently about “his leader” - and “an accident” - and “big trouble” - The mind boggled as to what we would find.
What we did find was one of my leaders in the dorm toilet with his hands where the sink used to be, desperately trying to hold back the torrent of water that was gushing from the pipe in the wall. He was soaking wet and looked heroic - until it emerged that this accident had actually occurred during a pillow fight which this leader initiated with his dorm members. Out-numbered and out-manoeuvred the leader had retreated to the toilet and had jumped up onto the sink in order to attain some higher ground from which to defend himself against his feather-weaponed assailants. At which point the sink had crumbled under his weight and started a flood of almost Biblical proportions.
AND as this guy frantically tried to hold back the flow of water and begged for our help to make it stop - Just for a moment I thought about saying: “Well if you’re going to be stupid enough to get into this mess, you don’t deserve me to get you out of it.” BUT I didn’t. I found the stop-cock, a mop and somehow also found the grace with which to not shout the guy out for putting the camp over-budget.
I wonder how you respond to foolishness? How do you respond when people let you down? Ignore you? Insult you even?
Well that’s the situation Samuel finds himself in as we step back into our studies in the book of 1 Samuel. We left it last March with God’s people, the Israelites saying that Samuel was over the hill and his sons were out of control – So they didn’t want him to lead them anymore. They wanted a king, so that they could be like all the other nations.
It was the wrong move! BECAUSE THEY ALREADY HAD A KING! As God told Samuel in chapter 8 verse 7: “... it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” God is King of all the earth so whenever you look to anything else to lead and satisfy you other than him - you reject God! It’s a scandal to want anyone else other than God to lead us! It’s a cosmic insult! So Samuel tries to warn them about the consequences of their actions. BUT verse 19 tells us that: “...the people refused to listen to Samuel. ‘No!’ they said. ‘We want a king over us. Then we will be like the other nations...’”
AND what does Samuel do? He keeps on serving. If this was me, I would be off in a huff to some log cabin on the Red Sea. But no! Not Samuel! He goes on serving in less than ideal circumstances.
AND so does God! For the key message here is not about Samuel. As always with the Bible our first question must be: “What is this teaching me about God? How is it revealing to me God’s character and ways? How God works?” AND what we find in these next 2 chapters is this: That God sticks with his people even in their folly and wrongheadedness. It’s not just Samuel who persists, but God. He goes on with his people even in their stupidity.
(1.) The Lord Is At Work Even When It Looks Like There’s Nothing Happening
1 Samuel chapters 9 & 10 starts with a donkey hunt and ends with the coronation of a king. It’s the opposite of the sublime to the ridiculous - it’s from the ridiculous to the sublime!
It all starts with what looks like just another day on the farm. Saul is still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes as he hovers over his bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes getting ready for the day. When all of a sudden his dad rushes in all hot and bothered because his donkeys have run off. Verse 3:
“Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost, and Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.” So he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and through the area around Shalisha, but they did not find them. They went on into the district of Shaalim, but the donkeys were not there. Then he passed through the territory of Benjamin, but they did not find them.” (9v3-4)
AND so it begins! The great donkey chase of 1 Samuel 9! Saul and one of his dad’s men go looking for the donkeys around Shalisha, Shaalim and then Benjamin County - but they can’t find them anywhere. It’s so frustrating!
AND by the time they make it as far as Zuph, Saul is ready to give up and go home. But his servant has a light-bulb moment – DING! - verse 6:
“But the servant replied, “Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take.” (9v6)
Saul isn’t so sure - they’ve got nothing to give this “man of God”. No chocolates, no flowers, not even a bottle of Schloer. BUT the servant is an organised kind of guy and just happens to have brought his wallet with him, so Saul goes along with the plan. Verse 11:
“As they were going up the hill to the town, they met some girls coming out to draw water, and they asked them, “Is the seer here?” “He is,” they answered. “He’s ahead of you. Hurry now; he has just come to our town today, for the people have a sacrifice at the high place. As soon as you enter the town, you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. The people will not begin eating until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward, those who are invited will eat. Go up now; you should find him about this time.” (9v11-13)
AND so they go on up into town.
AND, by this point of the story you’ve got to be wondering what on earth is going on? This is just an aimless ramble around Old School Israel. What possible function has this got being in the Bible? Who cares about Kish’s donkeys and whether you need a gift to see a prophet. Who cares about these girls and their working knowledge of the local vicar’s diary! If you drifted off as I read these verses out I don’t blame you! This is so dull! There’s nothing of note going on here.
OR AT LEAST... it doesn’t appear so. Until suddenly we get to peak behind the scenes and we find that: GOD IS AT WORK! Verse 15:
“ Now the day before Saul came, the LORD had revealed this to Samuel: “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him leader over my people Israel; he will deliver my people from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked upon my people, for their cry has reached me. When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the LORD said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.” (9v15-17)
All this time God has been at work. God’s work often isn’t seen as it’s wrapped up in very ordinary happenings. Sometimes the momentous and the ordinary can be meshed together. Here we have Saul being set apart and being anointed as king, but it takes place through all these common, ordinary happenings like lost donkeys.
We need to take account of this fact: God Is At Work Even When It Looks Like There’s Nothing Happening.
Sometimes we might ask: Why don’t we see more of the Lord’s work? Why isn’t he more obvious? Why can’t we say - “Look there, look what God is doing!?”
Well often the Lord doesn’t work that way. Instead he hides his work in the shuffle of everyday bump-along routine, like in 1 Samuel 9. He tends to hide his hand and his work under the cover of the carpet-vacuuming, whisker-shaving, tooth-brushing, dinner eating routines of our lives. AND so we don’t always see his hand really clearly.
So we can often make a mistake in our thinking and say: “The Lord isn’t doing anything in our family or this home group, or that ministry area. We keep praying for the same things every week and I don’t see anything happening.” Well of course not. Often you don’t. BUT rest assured God is actively at work. He is working for the deliverance of his people even when we do not see it.
To which you might say “Well that’s great! If God’s at work then I can just sit back and wait for him to reveal what he’s been up to!” Well, rest assured that God wants to use you whether you know what he’s up to or not. For...
(2.) The Lord Uses His People’s Faithfulness In The Little Things To Bring About His Secret Purposes
Saul meets Samuel and is rather shocked to hear that he knows all about the lost donkeys and he’s going to be on the front cover of Israel weekly - ‘Cause his family is big news! So when Samuel says to him: "And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and all your father’s family?” (9v20)
Saul answers in chapter 9 verse 21:
“But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” (9v21)
Saul is just a nobody. Sure he was a strapping lad, but he was hardly upwardly mobile in the status stakes. He’s just a small town farmer boy out chasing donkeys for his dad. But within 24 hours Saul is anointed as King of Israel and anointed with the Spirit of God - in power! 1 Samuel 10 verse 9:
“As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying. When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, “What is this that has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” (10v9-11)
Which is basically another way of saying: “Well wonders will never cease!” As the wonder of seeing the transformation in Saul is jaw-dropping to the locals. AND how did it all come about? How was Saul’s life so miraculously transformed? Because The Lord Used His People’s Faithfulness In The Little Things To Bring About His Secret Purposes.
I mean, isn’t that the case with all the people involved in 1 Samuel 9 & 10? There’s a massive cast list, but nobody knows what God’s script is apart from Samuel. Not Saul’s servant or his dad know what God’s up to. Neither do the girls off to draw water or the cook at the post-sacrifice meal in verses 23-24. Not the two men with a word of knowledge for Saul who we meet later on at Rachel’s tomb at the start of chapter 10. Nor the three fellas heading on up to Bethel with their DIY sacrifice kit of goats, bread & wine. BUT God is using them in their faithfulness - their kindness, generosity, their willingness to listen to the Spirit’s leading. God is using them to bring about his secret purposes.
I remember catching sight of this a few years ago when reminiscing with a friend about the time she was a CU hall group leader and I was the local UCCF staff worker. I popped round to her hall one night to talk to her and her co-leader about the possibility of running an evangelistic event in the hall. I was just doing my job, but according to her I was an angel of the Lord! Apparently she was just about to do something that could have dragged her away from the Lord and she took my visit to be a message from him not to. She said to me: “If you hadn’t stopped by at that particular moment, my life could have taken a very different turn.”
Sometimes we don’t know it at the time, but God is using us and our actions to transform other people’s lives. To bring about God’s secret purposes. I guess that’s why Rick Warren the author of The Purpose Driven Life prays each morning: “Lord, I know that you are going to do some amazing things today, let me be a part of just some of them.” Because he knows that God has a plan and a purpose for his world and incredibly he uses ordinary people going about ordinary lives to accomplish it.
AND I’ve got to say that if this is the case, then everything in life is sacred and is the place where God is active and working out his purposes. As Christians we so often major on the “big” decisions in life such as who we will marry, what jobs we will do, where we will live, what major purchases we will make. However, the big decisions are really everyday ones such as: “Am I going to follow Jesus in my family and at work today? Am I going to love my husband or wife and not exasperate my children? Will my TV watching enhance or harm my relationship with God?” It is in the normal and everyday that God loves to work and where He expects us to demonstrate our faithfulness to him.
Isn’t that why Hebrews 13 verse 2 tells us that in just the simple act of exercising hospitality we may often entertain angels unawares? BECAUSE when we stop and make time for that work colleague who’s got trouble at home, or offer to mow the lawn of an elderly neighbour, or take the initiative and talk to the class loser, we may be drawing people to the things of God.
So let’s remember that: The Lord Is At Work Even When It Looks Like There’s Nothing Happening AND The Lord Uses His People’s Faithfulness In The Little Things To Bring About His Secret Purposes. BUT more than that let’s remember that:
(3.) The Lord’s Heart is Always For His People
If you lose something you love you will do anything to get it back. I remember experiencing a sense of that when shortly after my first child had been born. My wife and I were out for lunch with some friends at Pizza Express AND as we were leaving I stuck Lucy in her car seat and sat her on the table. There was some more brief chit chat round the table and when I turned round to pick up Lucy she was gone. I can’t fully describe the rising sense of panic that entered my chest that lunchtime. Panic gave way to planning as I tried to decide which door of the restaurant I would run to first and where I could find a sub-machine gun because no one was leaving that place until I found my little girl! I had lost Lucy and there was no way I was letting that happen – ‘Cause she’s mine.
That’s what a Father’s heart for his child is like. It’s also what one of my friend’s twisted sense of humour is like - that he’d hide my child under a table and then run with me to the exit to see if anyone was making off with her down the street. BUT if you love someone you do anything to keep them safe. AND that’s what God’s heart for us is like.
Check out 1 Samuel 9 verses 15-17 again:
“Now the day before Saul came, the LORD had revealed this to Samuel: “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him leader over my people Israel; he will deliver my people from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked upon my people, for their cry has reached me.” When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the LORD said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.” (9v15-17)
God is fixated on his people. DO you see that there? 3 times he talks about “my people”. “My people, my people, MY PEOPLE!” He just can’t stop thinking about HIS PEOPLE!
AND remember who it is who are his people here - It’s the people of chapter 8! It’s the people who really don’t want him to reign over them. They are the ones who have made the wrong decision about the king at the wrong time. They’re trusting in a kingship to deliver them from their enemies and provide them with the peace and prosperity. Just as we trust in money, status, success or relationships to secure our future happiness. BUT incredibly the message here is that foolish, stubborn people do not cease to be the objects of the Lord’s compassion. Israel’s stupidity cannot wither His compassion. Our idolatry, does not lessen his love.
Now we must not trivialise Israel’s sin here - or our own too. Sin is sin and must not be glossed over - Sin damages others and has the potential to destroy you! Let no-one excuse it’s God-denying wickedness.
BUT neither must we minimize God’s mercy. For if you are a child of God, you must surely rejoice to see that your God is “mule-ish” on mercy. For your sin does not dry up his compassions. He refuses to let go of His people.
As I was preparing this sermon in the week before Christmas - I spoke to someone who really needed to hear that message. They were stuck in a cycle of sin that they just couldn’t crack. They’d tried everything, but still kept falling into temptation. AND as they poured out the whole sorry story to me they said: “Surely there’s a point when God says: ‘Enough Is Enough!’”
To which the answer is: “Yes there is. But not yet.” One day, we will stand before the Lord in judgement and it will be too late. BUT until that day the Lord looks on our struggles and is committed to doing everything possible to rescue us from them.
Aren’t there times you need to hear that? When you’re fighting an addiction OR your anger gets the better of you... again! When you pray and think “What’s the point?” OR you groan at the thought of another giving review. When your feelings don’t match up with your beliefs, your faith is dry, and full of doubt. When you find yourself valuing an experience or an ambition more than the Lord. When you find yourself despairing over the state of the nation or the capitulation of the church in this nation. It’s at times like that you need to know this vital truth: That in spite of your folly & stubbornness, the Lord’s care for you never ceases. You are the focus of his intentions and he is fixated on your security. You are always on his mind!
Which is why he sends us not only temporary deliverers like Saul, and the rest of the kings. BUT he sent us King Jesus. For God’s purpose here is not to pamper the people with a king who will temporarily rescue his people from troublesome enemies like the Philistines. No! His purpose is to bring down our mortal enemies of sin, and death and the devil once and for all through King Jesus’ death and resurrection centuries later. The Lord is always working for his people’s deliverance, because the Lord’s heart is always for his people.
“My people, my people, my people,” cries the Lord. He never gives up on us... so don’t give up on him!