When I Make Poor Choices

Lesson Focus:  This lesson will assure you of God’s continuing faithfulness among His followers, even among those who have made poor choices.

Give Me What I Want: 1 Samuel 8:6-9.

[6]  But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." And Samuel prayed to the LORD. [7]  And the LORD said to Samuel, "Obey 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]  According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you.

[9]  Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them."  [ESV]

[1-5]  Samuel was a stronger and more gifted character than Eli and his ministry was much wider. But it appears that Samuel had not learned from Eli’s failures as a father. The similarities between Hophni and Phinehas and Samuel’s two sons, Joel and Abijah, are striking and again are almost certainly accentuated by the writer. The particular kind of corruption may have been different, but the pattern is exactly the same: his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice [3]. In other words, they abused their position and misused their power in exactly the same way as Eli’s sons had done. They showed the same contempt for God, the law and the people. They were clearly totally unsuitable for public service of any kind, let alone as leaders of God’s people. Yet their father, in spite of his own undoubted integrity and insight, was apparently unable to see them in their true colors and actually appointed them as judges.The elders of Israel, the tribal leaders, were well aware of Samuel’s sons’ corrupt behavior. They come to Samuel, asking the right questions. And their main motivation seems to be to find a way forward for Israel that will enable them to live rightly as God’s covenant people. The elders recognized that Samuel’s style of leadership was good, but his sons did not walk in his ways. Perhaps the appointment of a king would provide a good replacement for Samuel and enable his kind of ministry to continue. At this stage in Israel’s history there was no formally agreed method for a change of government; in fact, there was not really any formally recognized national government at all. The nearest they got to it was the gathering of the tribal elders and the sporadic leadership of judges and prophets. Samuel could be seen simply as the latest and perhaps the best of these judges. The elders came to Samuel asking him to appoint a king as an alternative to the leadership of his own sons. That they came to God’s representative to ask for a king suggests they were not primarily seeking to replace God as their true national King. The concern that the elders expressed about the inadequacy of Samuel’s sons and the fact that they are looking for a king to judge them seems to confirm this. However, the end of their request does introduce an element of ambiguity. They want a king like all the nations. This could simply be a way of describing what they meant by a king, but the Lord’s words in the next section strongly suggest that it did include the desire to imitate the other nations who seem to be more successful than them. We cannot avoid the implication that they thought that trust in God was not quite enough.

[6-9]  Samuel was displeased by the elders’ request. It seems clear that the main source of Samuel’s displeasure was his own feeling of rejection. But there was no suggestion of any rejection of Samuel’s work in the elder’s request. Their problem was not with what had gone before but with what might come next. At no point is there any suggestion that the facts the elders brought to Samuel were wrong. He was old and his sons did not walk in his ways. There is no doubt that some kind of change from the present position was necessary. The problem was that the people had come to Samuel, not in order to seek God’s help in finding a new way forward, which Deuteronomy 17 indicates may indeed have been kingship, but to ask him to set in motion their own predetermined solution. They were of the opinion that if they were to survive as a nation they needed to have a recognized leader with the military abilities and the international status that they thought a king would bring. The victory recorded in chapter 7 had not convinced them that God’s power was sufficient. They were not willing to trust God to be their Protector. They chose to walk by sight (a physical king) rather than by faith (trust in the unseen God). Their motivation may not have been entirely wrong, but verse 8 makes it abundantly clear that they were still following their ancestors in forsaking the Lord and serving other gods. They were, as God has pointed out to Samuel, still seeking security in something other than following God’s path. In this case their dependence was on kingship as a system of government which they perceived to have been at the heart of the success of other nations. They may not have been intending to turn away from God but they had failed to understand who God was, or the extent of His sovereignty and power. God’s response to their request is noteworthy. First He instructed Samuel to make sure that the people understood exactly what their request involved. In appointing a king they would be opening themselves up to tyranny. To grant even more power to an individual by creating a monarchy was to risk even more corruption and oppression. In the event of such consequences arising from a decision that they had freely and knowingly made, they would not be entitled to ask God to bring them relief [18]. Once Samuel has made certain that the people have heard the possible consequences of kingship, even if they had refused to listen [19], then God assented to their request. He instructed Samuel to give them a king. It is made very clear that the introduction of kingship was in no way an actual threat to God’s sovereignty. God is still in control and, in spite of his personal reservations, Samuel as God’s representative was the one who would take charge of the process of appointing and installing the king. In this way the institution of kingship can be seen as a rejection of God by His people and yet at the same time also as a gift from God to His people.

Consequences of My Choices:  1 Samuel 12:13-19.

[13]  And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the LORD has set a king over you. [14]  If you will fear the LORD and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God, it will be well. [15]  But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your king. [16]  Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the LORD will do before your eyes. [17]  Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the LORD, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king." [18]  So Samuel called upon the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. [19]  And all the people said to Samuel, "Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king."  [ESV]

[10-17]  Beginning with the Torah’s most famous example of oppression, supplication, and deliverance – the Exodus event, Samuel notes that though human agency was employed to accomplish the work, the liberators acted at the Lord’s bidding: He appoints [6], and He sent [8] them. The Lord had provided this deliverance in response to their cry for help. The Lord’s acts of deliverance did not cease once Israel entered the Promised Land; four of Samuel’s five examples provide testimony to God’s active presence among Israel within the land. Before mentioning these examples, however, the prophet was careful to clarify the reason for Israel’s need of rescue. It was not because Israel served a weak god; rather, it was because Israel served a jealous and just God. The nation had broken the first and most important requirement of the Sinai covenant – they forgot the Lord their God [9]. Having done so, the Lord brought upon them one of the prescribed penalties of the covenant, foreign oppression. As a result of their suffering and loss, Israel cried out to the Lord [10]. Of great significance is the fact that their plea was not expressed as an explicit call for help; instead, it was an admission that they had violated the terms of the Sinai covenant. Their basic offense was twofold and complementary in nature: we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth [10]. Israel’s troubles were the direct result of one fundamental sin; they had violated the sacred relationship with their divine King. When they turned aside from devotion to the Lord, the people had not created a spiritual vacuum in their lives; instead, they had replaced the one God with many gods, filling their lives with a polytheistic fertility cult marked by devotion to Canaanite male and female deities. Yet when Israel repented, the Lord responded graciously to the peoples’ pleas. In response to Israel’s repentant words, the Lord delivered them [11]. He did so by sending human agents who led them to impressive victories over their enemies. These human deliverers – and the freedom that they won for the nation – did not come as a result of the people’s demands; instead, they were the by-product of Israel’s return to the Lord. Israel’s oft-repeated pattern of repentance and return to the Lord in the face of a foreign threat was broken, however, in their demand for an earthly king [12]. Instead of first repenting of their sin, with the certain knowledge that the Lord would afterwards raise up a deliverer for them, they attempted to gain the benefits of a right relationship without actually returning to Yahweh. Far from being an act of repentance, their demand for a king [13] was an act of insidious rebellion. Through their sin the people had chosen to have a king such as all the other nations have [8:5], and the Lord set a king over them [13]. Samuel recognized their act for what it was and warned the people of the consequences of continued rebellion [15]. However, Samuel also makes it clear that Israel could experience blessing under the new system of government, but that blessing was possible only as long as the Lord’s position of superiority in society and religion was retained. Even the king must be a servant of the Lord. Before the assembled group Samuel announced that the Lord would confirm the prophet’s indictment with a great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes [16]. Though this convocation was occurring during wheat harvest in the early part of the dry season (May-June), at Samuel’s request the Lord would send a rainstorm [17]. This highly unusual meteorological event would be a sign, helping Israel to realize how displeased the Lord was that they had asked for a king [17].

[18-19]  Exactly as predicted and requested, the Lord sent thunder and rain [18], an event that would have damaged the heads of ripe grain, thereby causing grains of wheat to fall to the ground and the harvest to be reduced. The timing and nature of this occurrence were so striking that all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. Why were the Israelites so moved by this event? Because they understood this disruption of the God-ordained pattern for the natural world to mirror Israel’s disruption of the God-ordained pattern of relationship that was to exist between the nation and the Lord. As Israel moved out of her proper relational orbit with the Lord, the Lord had ordained that nature would move out of its proper orbit with the people. The present demonstration terrified the Israelites, for they understood it to be a precursor of the more severe disturbances of nature prescribed in the Torah. The event produced the desired effect, a contrite confession of sin [19]. It is important to note here that the request for a king was not in itself sinful; the Torah envisioned a day in which Israel would decide to have a monarchy and made provisions for the establishment of this institution [see Gen. 17:6; Deut. 17:14-20]. But for Israel to entrust its future to a human deliverer instead of anchoring it in their relationship with the Lord was both wicked and futile. Appropriately, Israel asked Samuel to pray that the Lord would not strike them all dead [19].

Conclusion – God Is In Control:  1 Samuel 12:20-25.

[20]  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. [21]  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. [22]  For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself. [23]  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. [24]  Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. [25]  But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king."  [ESV]

Relying on the pattern of history, Samuel allayed Israel’s fears of imminent destruction. Israel had sinned many times in the past, yet the Lord had mercifully and patiently endured their misconduct. He had responded this way before and would do so again for his great name’s sake not because of Israel’s worthiness. Israel’s previous efforts had never been the basis for God’s selection of the nation, and their failures would not send Him away. The nation had not chosen this relationship with the Lord; nevertheless, because of it Israel possessed inescapable and eternal responsibilities. The nation’s ongoing tasks were threefold: to serve the Lord with all your heart [21,24]; to fear the Lord [24]; and to consider what great things He has done for you [24]. This final task involved expectantly looking for evidences of the Lord’s presence in the arena of national life, and giving due recognition to Him for the attendant blessings. Taken as a whole, these three obligations required a total involvement of each person; they mandated external, observable activity as well as internal motivations, attitudes, and perceptions. Deities other than Yahweh might prove enticing, but they are all useless idols. Being nonentities, they offered no benefits and certainly no deliverance [21]. As a Levite in the tradition of Moses, Samuel possessed two additional responsibilities, prayer and instruction. The Torah required Levites to instruct the people in the Lord’s Law [Deut. 24:8; 33:10]. Likewise, Samuel was duty-bound to pray for Israel. Throughout his lifetime Samuel had been a prophet like Moses; thus it was appropriate and even morally necessary that Samuel should follow Moses’ example of prayer for the nation’s welfare. Thus, for Samuel to fail to pray – that is, to bring the people’s needs before God – or to fail to teach – to bring God’s words before the people – would be a sin [23]. The final sentence Samuel spoke to an all-Israelite assembly is perhaps the most ominous of his career. In eight Hebrew words it summarizes the judgments of the Torah and foresees the ultimate futility of Israel’s experiment with kingship. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king [25]. The message is a pointed one, and strikes at the heart of Israel’s problem. The nation’s real threat was not external, that is, one that could be faced and defeated by a king who would go out and lead Israel in battle. Rather it was internal and spiritual. The malignant faith condition that caused Israel to demand a king in preference to restoring a relationship with God was what would ultimately cause the nation to be swept away. No king, however mighty, could stop the tide of divine judgment that would roll against Israel in the day of the Lord’s wrath.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         We can come to God for the right reasons and even with good motives but still be in disobedience to Him. This was the case with the elders of Israel. They were concerned about who would lead the nation after Samuel died. They knew that Samuel’s sons were not capable of leading them rightly as God’s covenant people. But the elders made a crucial mistake. What was it? Do you make the same mistake when you come to God with good concerns for yourself, your family, your church, etc.?

2.         Why did God tell Samuel to go ahead with the elders’ request? What did God intend to teach the people of Israel? Have you seen God act this way in your life or in the life of your church? What did you learn?

3.         In chapter 12, God, through Samuel, confronts His people with their sin in requesting an earthly king. Their fundamental sin was that they had forsaken and forgotten their covenant relationship with their sovereign Lord. The essence of all sin by believers is lack of faith in their covenant God. Think about the above statement in relation to your own Christian walk. Do you see how your willful sinful decisions are a result of a lack of trust in God as both your loving Lord and faithful Provider? What instruction and warning do verses 12:14-15 provide for living a life of faith? Think about how you can grow in your ability to fear, serve and obey the Lord.

4.         What does verse 12:24 add to the instruction given in 12:14? Make it a focus of your devotional time this week to consider what great things He has done for you.

5.         Why did God remain faithful to His people [12:22]? What does for his great name’s sake mean? How is it a comfort to you that God’s faithfulness to you does not rely upon what you do but on who He is?

6.         What two responsibilities did Samuel have as a leader of his people [12:23]? Aren’t these two responsibilities essential for any spiritual leader? Thank about your responsibility to exercise these two tasks in whatever leadership role God provides to you (church, family, relationships, etc.).


1, 2 Samuel, Robert Bergen, NAC, Broadman.

The Message of Samuel, Mary Evans, Intervarsity Press.

The First Book of Samuel, David Tsumura, NICOT, Eerdmans.

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