From my regular daily readings, some scriptures have stood out which have gelled together nicely for a devotional reflection. They centre on the nation of Israel but have plenty of application for Christians today. They remind us once again of the condition of humanity – both redeemed and unredeemed – and the incredible grace of God.
My first passage is actually the very last verse of the book of Judges: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). I will refer to the kingship part in a moment, but the second half of the verse is found often in the book.
The KJV puts it this way: “every man did that which was right in his own eyes”. Now this of course is how we expected the unredeemed to act, but sadly the book of Judges is discussing the Israelites – they were supposed to be God’s covenant people. It is a very telling and sad commentary indeed.
Next go over to the book of 1 Samuel. In ch. 8 we read about Israel’s demand for a king. Verses 4-9 say this:
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.” But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 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. 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. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
Plenty can be said about this text. As to the plea for a king, it was not an altogether wrong idea. In fact, in Deuteronomy 17 we read about provision for such kingship. Verses 14-20 give details about what sort of king they should have, and how he should be appointed.
So kingship as such is not wrong, but it seems here to be a case of the wrong place and the wrong time. Indeed, the real worry was they wanted to be just like the other nations. Instead of enjoying their unique relationship with Yahweh, they wanted to imitate all the surrounding nations.
And they wanted that kingship for security reasons. Instead of trusting in God alone, they wanted to trust in their own political power. Tragically, in doing so, as God told Samuel, “it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king”. So God was displeased with this request, yet allowed them to proceed.
But another important part of this passage, related to this rejection of the true King, is what we read in v. 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.”
Wow, that is a damning indictment of the people. They have been one big pain in the neck, Yahweh informs Samuel. They have been a pain in the butt for their entire existence. They have been a rebellious people from day one. That is a very striking and shocking assessment of the Israelites.
Yet it was God who chose the Israelites. Why choose such a stubborn and stiff-necked people? He knew what they would be like, yet he sovereignly chose them over all the other peoples of the earth. So why did he select them, and why did he put up with them?
Before answering that directly, let’s look at why God did not choose them. He did not choose them because they were great shakes. He did not select them because they were such hot shots. Indeed, this is made quite clear in Scripture. Consider a few passages here:
Deuteronomy 7:7,8: 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 forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 9:4-6: After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.
So there was no inherent goodness in the Israelites that caused God to choose them. It was all of his grace. He chose them of all the peoples of the earth for his own sovereign purposes. They certainly did not deserve this calling and election. Indeed, grace has nothing to do with any human merit.
It is of course the same today. God does not call us or choose us because of anything in us that strikes his fancy. We are all sinners who spurn God and reject his claims upon us. Yet he graciously pursues us and reaches out to us. And there is no reason why he should, other than his own mercy and grace.
Indeed, if the people back then rejected God as their King, nothing has changed. A thousand years later they were still rejecting the real King. Jesus came as the one true king, but was nailed to a cross, with even his own people consenting to his death. “We will not have this man to be king over us” they screamed (Luke 19:14).
And another 2000 years on and things are still the same. We still shake our fists at God and reject his kingship and lordship. Indeed, we even hold conferences where we mock God and celebrate his supposed non-existence. We of course expect atheists and secularists to act thusly.
But how many believers are also in the same boat? How many Christians want to be just like all the other people, just as ancient Israel did? How many of us look to human security and safety instead of trusting solely in our one true King? How many of us long for what the world has, and are happy to turn our churches into pale imitations of worldly institutions, using worldly methods?
How often do we simply leave the Holy Spirit out altogether, as we rely on worldly techniques, marketing schemes, and modern advertising gimmicks to make our churches appealing and trendy? How often have we substituted fleshly means for the work of God as we seek to do church?
Sadly it is far more often than we might care to admit. Those who are more honest amongst us can readily agree that the words of God spoken to Samuel apply fully to the church today: “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. ”
How many millions of times has the church of God let down its Lord? How many times have believers rebelled and shamed their Lord? How many times have I? Far too many to count. So why does God put up with us? Why does he put up with me?
There can be only one answer to those questions. It is all due to his amazing grace alone. Nothing else can explain it. It is his riches of mercy and his abundance of grace that accounts for the fact that he still chooses to use us and to have relationship with us.
We fail him daily, but he remains faithful always. So next time you shake your head and murmur about those hard-hearted Israelites of old, just remember that we are no better. We are just as bad. We would have done just the same things that they did.
It is only because of his glorious grace that any of us can stand. All we can say, along with John Newton, former slave ship captain and author of the hymn Amazing Grace, is this: “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great savior.”
Or as C.H. Spurgeon said, “God’s mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of its light, or make space too narrow, than diminish the great mercy of God.”
Let us never for a moment take his matchless grace for granted. Without it we would all be toast. We need it every second of our life.
“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6-7)