God is working his purpose out
by Jack Wald | November 18th, 2007

I Samuel 7:15-8:22

There are a few exceptions, but most people do not like house cleaning.

One person wrote this little ditty:
If the shelves are dusty and the pots don’t shine,
it’s because I have better things to do with my time.

Erma Bombeck wrote:
My second favorite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.

Anne Gibbons with a view towards physics said:
Nature abhors a vacuum.  And so do I.

Part of the problem is that it is viewed as a woman’s duty to do household chores so there seems to be an inequality involved. If men were responsible to do house cleaning, how would they do it?

Dave Barry wrote:
The obvious and fair solution to the housework problem is to let men do the housework for, say, the next six thousand years, to even things up.  The trouble is that men, over the years, have developed an inflated notion of the importance of everything they do, so that before long they would turn housework into just as much of a charade as business is now.  They would hire secretaries and buy computers and fly off to housework conferences in Bermuda, but they’d never clean anything

And in this line, Roseanne Barr commented:
I’m not going to vacuum until [they] make one you can ride on.

There are a lot of reasons why house cleaning is not a favorite occupation, but the most frustrating part of it for me is that if I dust a shelf today, it will need to be dusted again next week. You don’t clean a house and then you are done with it. House cleaning is something that will need to be done again and again and again.

This led Phyllis Diller to say:
Cleaning your house while your kids are still growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing.

I’ve started this sermon talking about house cleaning because it came to me this week that God’s work is a lot like house cleaning.

As you read through the Bible, you see God work and clean up Israel and then in no time at all, Israel gets messy all over again. God sends a prophet to call the people to throw away their idols to Baal and Ashtoreth and just a few chapters later there they are again, worshiping the idols of Baal and Ashtoreth that they pulled out of the garbage dump.

We are in the eighth chapter of I Samuel but just seven sermons ago the story began in chapter one with Eli as high priest of Israel and his two sons who were wicked. Eli’s sons were not going to accomplish what God wanted to do so God went to work. With his unlimited intelligence and creativity, he created a brilliant plan that gave Hannah a son, Eli a young man to train, and Israel a prophet to take Eli’s place.

So there we are with the shelf dusted, the floor swept, everything in order.

But then as we continue the story, we read, to our dismay:
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel.  2 The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba.  3 But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.

If I were God, I would throw up my hands in disgust and say, “But I just cleaned up this mess! Now look at what has happened! Why do I have to start all over again! What’s wrong with you people!”

Fortunately, I am not God.

When God appeared to Moses at Mt. Sinai, he announced to Moses who he was:
“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,  7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

God is not indifferent to sin, but he is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

Daniel prayed with hope when he learned Israel would be in exile in Babylon for seventy years (Daniel 9:9):
The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him;

This is our God, the house cleaner, who does not tire but steadily works to draw us to himself. Over and over and over again he picks us up, cleans us off and sets us once again, on our way.

We see this illustrated in I Samuel 8. These first seven chapters have taken us through perhaps seventy years of Samuel’s life. He has been Israel’s judge for the past forty or so years, traveling around four cities west of Jerusalem.

Because of his age, Samuel realized others would have to take his place and he appointed his sons as judges who more resembled Eli’s sons than they did their father. This is such a disappointing part of Scripture. If I were writing a Bible to inspire people, I would take out sections like this. But this is a true history of God’s interactions with mankind and a true history has many stories like this one. I wish there were more positive examples of parenting in the Bible, but they are hard to find.

Samuel appointed his sons as judges in what has to be a lapse in his good judgement and the people complained. The elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel in his home town. They had apparently been meeting without Samuel for some time and came to him with the result of their discussions.
“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.”

You have to be sympathetic with the elders of Israel. Samuel was in the last years of his life and his sons were not judging justly, so what did the future hold? They looked at the example of the nations that surrounded them and they all had kings. This prophet thing had not worked out very well. Eli’s sons had failed as priests and now Samuel’s sons were failing as judges. Why not try a king?

Samuel took this request personally and felt it was a rejection of his own ministry. He had led Israel successfully for many years. Why did the elders not trust him?

But God reassured Samuel:
Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.

God told Samuel to warn Israel that the course they wanted to take would be a difficult one and that they would suffer if they took this course. Their sons and daughters would be taken to be servants of the king. The fruit of their land would be taken by the king. They would become slaves of the king.

Despite this, the elders persisted and asked that a king be appointed over them, as they saw in the countries around them.
the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us.  20 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.”

So Samuel took these concerns to the Lord and he answered:
“Listen to them and give them a king.”

Then Samuel said to the men of Israel, “Everyone go back to his town.”

And the stage is set for the next chapter when Saul is anointed as the first king over Israel.

This will be the end of this year’s sermons from I Samuel. I began this series wanting to focus on Saul but have been surprised by the lessons I learned from Samuel and we have spent our time in these first eight chapters. Perhaps next fall we will return to I Samuel and pick up with Saul.

For this morning, let me point out three lessons of encouragement from this part of Israel’s history.

First, when you are doing God’s work and meet opposition and rejection, it is not you they are rejecting but God.
when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD.  7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.

Samuel led Israel as a prophet/judge and I think he thought he had done a pretty good job. So it hurt when the elders of Israel came and said they wanted to discontinue the current arrangement and have a king to rule over them.

Samuel took it personally but God spoke to him and let him know that it was he who was being rejected, not Samuel. Samuel may or may not have been used to rejection but this was not the first time God experienced rejection.
As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.

God is an expert at dealing with rejection and the love of God is strong enough to handle all the rejection that comes. Rejection is difficult for us to handle but God is much better equipped than we are to deal with it.

When your family or friends reject you, belittle you because of your faith, God in his love for you wants you to allow that rejection to slip past you. God will carry the rejection, not you.

When Jesus sent out the disciples to minister in his name, he told them that if they were rejected in a town, they were to wipe the dust off their feet and continue on to the next town. The rejection the disciples received in towns that did not receive them came not because of who they were but because of Jesus whom they represented.

The Sunday after 9/11 when the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon in the US were attacked, the American ambassador came to church. As I preached, it was clear that she was upset with what I said. I thought she was going to get up and leave the church before I finished preaching.

That night there was an interfaith service at the Catholic cathedral and I was scheduled to speak, but she gave instructions that I was not to be permitted to speak. A pastor from Casablanca spoke at that service and said similar things to what I had said that morning and I watched her as she sat in the front row, next to the Prime Minister of Morocco, shaking her head in disagreement. This pastor watched her and told me he thought she looked like she wanted to leave in the middle of his preaching as well.

I was rejected that evening but I knew that I had spoken God’s truth that morning and it was God she was rejecting, not me.

We have to be very careful how we apply this. It is easy to put God’s mark on everything we do. There is a possibility, given our sinful human nature, that we are not speaking God’s truth, that we are not working in ministry as God is directing us. We need to be humble and open to constructive criticism. But if we believe in our heart that we are doing God’s work and we face rejection, then it is God who is rejected, not us.

Knowing that it is God who is being rejected is helpful because we know that if God is being rejected, than we are on the right side. Better to be rejected along with God than to receive the world’s praise by moving away from God’s truth.

A second lesson of encouragement is that when we make mistakes and move in a direction that is not God’s design for us, God will not abandon us.

It was God’s plan for Israel to be ruled by prophets he chose. Other nations were ruled by kings but God wanted to be Israel’s king. Samuel was proof positive that God was a good king. God was in charge and would not leave his people without a leader. God provided Moses to lead Israel out of captivity in Egypt. He provided Joshua to lead Israel into Canaan. He provided Gideon, Deborah, Samson and the other men and women who led Israel in the time of the Judges. He provided Eli and he provided Samuel. God would have continued this way of leading Israel but the elders came and demanded a change.

What is so amazing is that God agreed to the change they demanded. It is like a stream of water coming to a stone wall and instead of the water finding a way to get around the stone wall, the stone wall opens up to allow the water to flow through uninterrupted.

Who has all the power? God. Who is in control? God. In a game of cards God has all the high cards, all the trump cards and all we have are twos and threes. Psalm 46 says that God lifts his voice and the earth melts.

God does not have to listen to our complaints or put up with our willful disobedience and yet he allows us to move out in our own direction, choosing what the world offers rather than what he offers us. It is our will versus God’s will and God allows our will to prevail.

What is more amazing is that God does not abandon us when we move out in our own path. God did not abandon Israel when they choose the world rather than him. In the chapters to follow, God led Samuel to Saul, Israel’s first king and then to David, Israel’s second king. And as history continued, God never gave up on Israel and worked through the kings they chose to rule them. There were good kings and bad kings but God did not give up on his children who had chosen a more difficult path than the one he had planned for them.

When we choose our own direction, God will not abandon us, but that does not mean we will not pay the price of our disobedience. God told Samuel to tell the people they could have their king but to warn them of the consequences.
Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.

As we read through the rest of I & II Samuel and I & II Kings, we see that what Samuel warned Israel about was not an empty warning. The people of Israel groaned under the oppression of their kings. Uriah was murdered to cover up the sin of King David. Naboth was murdered so King Ahab could have his vineyard. These are two well known incidents but there must have been hundreds more stories of injustice as kings took the young men and women of Israel into their service.

We pay the price of our disobedience but even in our disobedience there is hope because God does not abandon us.

God’s words to Israel who had rejected him over and over again in the wilderness were words that promised his presence. Deuteronomy 31:8
The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

Paul wrote in Romans 8:38
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This is one of the two great promises of scripture. God will never leave us or forsake us. God will be present with us. We can turn away from God. We can reject God. But God will not abandon us.

The third lesson of encouragement from this passage is that God is working his purpose out and he will not be thwarted by our disobedience. He will accomplish his purposes. He will build his kingdom and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

What was God’s plan for salvation before I Samuel? We know that there would be a messiah to come. We know that the law would be unable to save us, not because there was anything wrong with the law but because we are unable to keep the law in its perfection. We know that Jesus would have to come. But that Jesus would come from David’s line, this was not part of God’s original plan.

Whatever God had in mind for bringing the Messiah to Israel, it was not through kings because God wanted Israel to regard him as king and his intention was to raise up prophets who would lead Israel as he directed.

But when the elders of Israel demanded they have a king to lead him, God said,
“Listen to them and give them a king.”

This is not a minor concession of God. This decision completely altered God’s plan of salvation. Plan A had to be torn apart and reworked to come up with Plan B. It is from this point on that the prophets begin to talk about the Messiah who would be in David’s line, a Messiah who would come from Bethlehem, a Messiah who would be a Nazarene. The fulfillment of these prophecies is the fulfillment of Plan B that God with his creativity and intelligence devised to take into account the demand of Israel’s elders.

When we read Matthew’s gospel and see all the prophecies fulfilled in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, it seems as if it is a seamless pattern but this was not God’s original pattern. God did not intend for Israel to have kings.

What this reveals is the incredibly creative mind of God that can take our mistakes and bad choices, in this case Israel’s deciding they wanted a king like all the countries around them; God can take our rejection of his plan for our lives and make what we do a beautiful seemingly seamless pattern which reveals his love for us.

Isn’t this what Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (8:28):
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

God allows us to do what he knows is not best for us and when we head off in our own direction, God works in a new way to get our attention and draw us to himself. It is not that we can do whatever we want and God will bless us. The consequences for making our own way still have to be paid. We suffer because we choose to go our own way. It would be far better if we submitted to God’s best plan for our lives. But God continues to work to draw us to himself.

Even though Israel’s elders heard the consequences for wanting a king, they choose that way and suffered. But they suffered with God’s eye on them. They suffered but God worked in their choices to bring them back to himself.

God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year. This is the first line of the song we will sing in a few minutes. This is the best good news from this passage of scripture. God will not be thwarted by our disobedience. God will allow us to freely choose to reject him and go our own way and he will work in our lives even after we have rejected him to bring us to our senses and submit to his love.

What this says is that no matter what course you have chosen, God is at work in you, to draw you more closely to himself. Not one of us has made perfect choices in our lives. Each one of us has chosen paths of disobedience and yet God has not abandoned us. As we look back on our lives, we can see time after time the patient love of God that creatively worked to make us aware of him and to encourage us to turn to him.

In the light of this amazing love, how can we not fall on our knees in reverent submission to the God who has pursued us and extends his hand to save us?

Are you suffering this morning because of choices you made that were not God’s plan for you? Reach out to the hand God offers to help you and sustain you as you suffer the consequences for your decision.

Some decisions cannot be undone, but God can bless you and transform your circumstances as you submit to him and allow him to create beauty in the chaos of your life.

If you have never bent your knee in submission to God, today is a good time to start. Let God know that you want to choose to follow him, to submit your will to his. Pray this morning and ask God to forgive you for your sinful nature and to start a new life as his child.

The love of God that does not force us to submit but encourages us with great creativity and patience and persistence to come and offer our lives is amazing love. What response can we have but to fall on our knees in worshipful gratitude?

This Is My Desire
This is my desire, to honor you,
Lord, with all my heart, I worship you.
All I have within me I give you praise
All that I adore is in you.

Lord, I give you my heart,
I give you my soul;
I live for you alone.
Every breath that I take,
Every moment I’m awake,
Lord, have your way in me.