1 Samuel 12:20-25 Serve the Lord with All Your Heart

1 Samuel 12:20-25     Serve the Lord with All Your Heart                         WC McCarter
In chapter ten of The Story we read about Hannah, a devout woman who turned to the Lord in her misery; Eli, who was a priest and leader of the people; Samuel, who was a prophet, priest, and great leader of Israel; and Saul, who was Israel’s first king. These individuals were significant during a crucial time in Israel’s history. Things would happen during their lives that would change the course of Israel’s history forever.
The paragraph we will read as our main text today is often considered part of Samuel’s farewell address. By the way, the farewell addresses of the Old Testament are outstanding. Think of Moses and Joshua in their final speeches which we have read in past weeks. Yet, I’m not so sure that this is exactly a farewell speech because Samuel promises to keep working for the people, although it is akin to a covenant renewal ceremony as we will see.
The paragraph follows just after the people saw a mighty act performed by God and they confess their wrongdoing. Samuel stated clearly in his speech that the people were rebellious and sinful, most notably in asking for a king over them like the surrounding nations. (It sounds almost childish, doesn’t it? We want what everyone else has. . .). He tells them to stand and watch God’s witness against them as He made thunder and rain to come during the harvest time, which was dry season. “So all the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel. The people all said to Samuel, ‘Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.’” Today’s reading from the Scripture is Samuel’s direct response to the people.
Scripture Reading (p. 141) – This is the Word of God
You’ve Done Evil, But You Don’t have to be Afraid (20)
What a great comfort it is to know the gracious God of the universe. He does not strike us dead when we sin against Him. He does not cast us into the lake of fire as soon as we slip up. His mercy endures forever! Samuel tells the people to not be afraid. Of course, there is nothing to fear if you are not living in rebellion to God. But these people had done evil, how can Samuel tell them to not fear? They did not have to be afraid because God had allowed them an opportunity to repent and turn back to Him. All they would have to do is confess their sins and turn again to serve Him.
A major component of the Christian Gospel is that we have sinned. I know that we do not like to talk about it in the contemporary culture, but the truth of the matter does not change no matter how far along humanity progresses through history. We have done evil; whether slightly or majorly, we have sinned against God almighty. If you cannot understand that or are not willing to admit that fact, then you will not enter the kingdom of God.
Therefore, we have established that fact that we have all done evil. What do we do about it? Samuel tells the Israelites of old, and us by extension, what not to do, “Do not be afraid. . . . Do not turn away from the Lord.” Sometimes we need to hear the answer from a different angle. We want to know what to do, but it is best for us to first of all hear what not to do. Although the people had turned away from God by asking for a king, it can be made right by not turning away from the Lord anymore. I think of the phrase, “Go, and sin no more.” Jesus told a man he had healed, “Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”
After learning what not to do, we are told what we are to do. Instead of being afraid, you are to cling closely to God and serve the Lord with all your heart. This is a fairly common expression in the Bible. What does it mean? I think it means to have your heart set on Him. Although your heart may be weak at times, it must still be set on Him. All of who you are should be focused on Him. When you are weak, lean on Him. When you have sinned, confess it to Him. When you are making a decision, consider Him. When you are blessed, thank Him.
God is not looking for perfect people. If He were, He would not find any. God is looking for those who will turn to Him by faith; people who will serve Him with all their hearts, people who will seek out His heart. To be faithful is not to be perfect. We are striving everyday to meet up to God’s standard. We want to be perfect because our God is perfect, but we will not achieve that perfection on this side of heaven. God wants you to trust Him on the good days and on the bad days. He wants to you to look at Him when things are going great, and He wants you to look at Him when you mess up. This is called “progressive sanctification.” Each and every day you are progressing into holiness. You study the Bible, you pray, you serve others, you worship God, and you gain more and more experiences until the day you die. You do not ever stop doing these things and little by little you grow in your faith. You progress in your holiness. That is what God wants in your life.
Idols are Useless (21)
How can you not love the blunt truth of this next verse? “Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless.” An idol can be anything that is adored or trusted. Anything that is set up in place of God is useless, even a human king. These things can do a person no good. Only God is good and every good and perfect thing comes from above. These things cannot ultimately rescue a person. Only God can save us from the present wicked age, from ourselves, from the effects of sin, from the deceit of the devil, and from the wrath to come. God is our Redeemer and Savior. All these other things, whether they be people or things, all of them are useless.
For the Sake of His Great Name (22)
Samuel made clear to the people that they did not have to be afraid because God would not forsake them, but they had done wrong against Him. God had established for Himself a great name among the nations by the way He had led the Israelites thus far. He had shown His love and might by bringing them up out of the land of Egypt and then conquering the land of Canaan for them to settle.
God had taken it upon Himself to gather Israel to Him. He made them into a nation. They were nothing before, but now they were something. He had chosen them. He had formed them. Notice that Israel had done nothing to earn this right. Israel had not built their own nation. Israel had not saved themselves from the hand of the Egyptians. Israel had not conquered the land of Canaan on their own. God had done all of this for them. The people were told back in Deut 7, “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors. . . .”
Far Be it from Me (23)
The last thing the Israelites needed at this time was for their leader to throw up his hands and quit on them. Although they had sinned against God, they needed Samuel to work that much harder for them. In fact, because they had sinned against God they needed their priest and prophet to pray for them and teach them what is good and right. That one statement from Samuel is a wonderful picture of a leader of God’s people. That is what a leader is supposed to do. He is to pray for the people, and he is to teach them the word of God. Samuel was saying what the Apostle Paul would say hundreds of years later, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” If the people were going to live lives that were pleasing to God, they would need to continue to learn. Woe to Samuel if he did not pray and teach. Woe to Israel if they did not learn and live godly.
A Final Plea (24-25)
Is it not odd that in verse twenty Samuel said to not be afraid, but then in verse twenty-four he says to fear the Lord? I find that to be strange at the very least. You really have nothing to be fear if you are following after God, but you must always have the fear of God in your heart knowing what He expects and that He must judge your sin if you continue in it. In his final plea, Samuel instructs the people to do three things: fear the Lord, serve the Lord, and consider what great things he had done for them. If you count your blessings, you will be more likely to continue in your pursuit of holiness.
The people had heard plenty of warnings as well as many encouragements to do what is right in the eyes of God. Now the choice would be up to them. If they persisted in doing evil, they would perish along with their king. They would be swept away if they continued in wickedness. We know that the northern tribes of Israel were swept away by Assyria in 722 B.C. never to be seen again. They continued in rebellion and God had to judge them. Judah was also swept away by Babylon in 586 B.C., but God restored a small remnant to the land in order to continue His plan of redemption.
Conclusion- Finding Your Story in God’s Story
1) There is an even greater reality of the phrase, “Do not be afraid” now that Christ has come.
2) What kind of idols are in your life?
3) God made you His. You are a child of God.
4) It is a sin to not do what you are called to do.
5) If you do what is right in your eyes, you will die. If you do what is right in the Lord’s eyes, you will live. There is a proverb that is repeated a couple of times (Prov 14 and 16):
            There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.