Meditations in 1 Samuel 23. The Same Requirements
1 Sam 12:14,15 If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God–good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers
I often find myself making the same comment about Scripture: we so often take it for granted as we read it. We concluded the previous meditation making the comment that the call is to remain righteous and go on being righteous and so acknowledging our failure doesn’t mean we are allowed to continue in it. Change is called for. Working through the passage where Samuel challenges the nation we did in fact note the above verses but only made a very brief comment about them.
Now these verses above show two very clear paths and so clear are they that there can be no doubt about them, and Israel in the years to come can make no excuses if they fail to abide by them. The first path speaks about fearing, serving, and obeying the Lord. Fearing is about having a strong respect and awe for who God is. He is the Lord, the Creator and Sustainer of all things. He is all powerful, all-knowing and all-wise. He knows best about everything. Serving here means not so much focusing on doing things for God as honouring Him in the way we live and thus obeying simply challenges us to live the way He designates.
He knows how we best ‘work’ as human beings. He has designed and we are foolish if we disregard this. Now, says Samuel, if both you and this king now do these things that is good…but! The ‘but’ is the second path, the path to be avoided, the path of disobedience and rebellion. Disobedience speaks of the acts of doing wrong, rebellion speaks of the heart or will that purposes against God. Now if you follow the second path you need to realise, he goes on, that God will be against you; you will be opposing the Creator of the Universe, the Lord of all things.
Now put like that the second path is clearly a path of folly. Life can be summed up this simply: You either acknowledge and obey God or you don’t. Now the fact was that Israel had the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible written by Moses, the Law as the Jews call it, and if they were wise this law would have been taught throughout the land. Now whether Samuel did this we don’t know but there are some indicators that he did. If he did then part of that would have included conveying the blessings and curses of Deut 28. They are quite remarkable in their clarity.
For instance they start, “If you fully obey the LORD your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the LORD your God.” (Deut 28:1,2) There then follow a long list of ways God will bless them and do good for them. However there is also the following: “However, if you do not obey the LORD your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” (v.15) The curses are things will go wrong and they are long and detailed. The warnings are absolutely clear.
Indeed earlier in Deuteronomy when Moses was giving his last instructions to Israel on the plains before entering the Promised Land he said, “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?” (Deut 4:5-8) The way they kept this wisdom from God would reveal Him to the rest of the world; that was what was on the line here, that is how important it is – and yet again and again the sinfulness of mankind as revealed in Israel meant they turned away and messed up!
It doesn’t matter whether it was priest, judge, prophet or king it was still the same calling throughout the life and existence of Israel. It all boils down, as we said above, to whether we will believe that God is, that He is Creator of all things and therefore knows best – and that we follow Him. Now when we come to the New Testament, although we are no longer a nation like Israel was in a special land, we are still God’s people and this still applies to us. The New Testament is full of teaching and revelation and it is a foolish person who says, oh this isn’t for me, I can live my own way.
Let’s put it another way: God has designed us to work best in a particular way and if we reject that way, we start to ‘break down’ and things go wrong. It doesn’t matter what sort of church you belong to, this still applies. Different churches exist simply to express their worship in different ways; the fundamentals are still the same. Without God we are lost and all we have left are rituals without meaning, rituals that do not satisfy. We need the salvation that God has brought, through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross and the subsequent work of His Holy Spirit in our lives. He still leaves us with free will and we can choose to accept and follow that, or reject it and do our own thing. The latter brings spiritual death and the former brings life. Nothing has changed!
Samuel’s call to Israel is the same call every godly leader has brought before and since: God knows best, follow Him and reject Him at your peril. It IS that simple.