It’s always both disheartening and encouraging when I read Scripture and relate all too well with the nation of Israel. Knowing that there’s “nothing new under the sun” gives hope that I am not unique in my inadequacies and sin. However, seeing my own struggles held up in the mirror of Scripture brings them sharply into focus when I would often be content to let them linger unexamined. The books of Samuel are no exception.
When Israel was led out of Egypt and camped in Sinai, they had been ransomed into deep communion with the Lord God unlike any other. Moses specifically pointed this out as he reminded them of their identity in Deuteronomy- “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon Him?” (Deut 4:7) God’s abiding presence with them offered intimacy and provision, making them uniquely set apart from everyone else. This is how they (and we!) were intended to live from the very beginning: “I will be your God, and you will be my people,” and He stopped at nothing to free them to do just that.
However, fast forward through the wandering, coming into the promised land, and the season of the judges, and the writings of Samuel recount the struggles of a people pushing away the presence of God and putting other things in His place. Three things, in particular, have always struck me as entirely too relatable:
- Trusting in men,
- Trusting in religion, and
- Trusting in desires.
Struggles as old as time, but as fresh as this very day, if my heart is any metric. Old habits die hard, it would seem.
I. Trusting in men
In 1 Samuel 8, the people of Israel outright demand a king “like the other nations,” who would “judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (8:20) Here you can see the heartbeat of a people who wanted all the benefits of being “God’s nation,” but set up idols to worship and follow instead. The Lord replies to Samuel’s frustrated prayers with a distillation of what they’re really saying, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:7) They were again enslaving themselves to men because that was what they saw the world around them doing. We do this too, trusting in political representatives, social influencers, church leaders, and even our own families and friends… People who were meant to serve, not become, our God, and we seek and trust them to judge us, go before us, and fight our battles. All the things the Lord Himself wants to do as our King and Father.
II. Trusting in religion
And then there’s King Saul’s run-in with what it meant to actually trust and walk with God. He knew intellectually that God was with him and for him, but he didn’t agree with the Lord’s instruction; Saul took matters into his own hands. When God said to wait, Saul decided to go. (1 Samuel 13) What God said to destroy, Saul decided it was better to preserve. (1 Samuel 15) Saul made sacrifices HE thought would appease the Lord, rather than seeking and obeying the fullness of God Himself. Ultimately, the kingdom was stripped from Saul because his HEART was not for the Lord, though he offered acts of obedience. He was so busy trying to determine and do the “right” thing, that he lost sight of the main thing… abiding in God Himself.
III. Trusting in desires
And then there’s the all-too-familiar account of King David, who decided to lean into his own desires and stay home from battle. (2 Samuel 11) This gesture of pushing God’s presence away when it was undesirable paved the way for what ended up being one of the most destructive experiences in his life (not to mention others around him): taking & raping Bathsheba, and then killing her husband and one of his own faithful mighty men, Uriah, to cover it up. (2 Samuel 11) David betrayed the trust of his own people and exchanged God’s presence and leading for his own desires. How often do my desires rule the day, rather than my pursuit of the abiding presence of my God?!
We are intended to lean into the presence of God with us, to walk out what it means to be His people and He, our God. I so often rely on men, religion, and desire to lead, when my Shepherd King is calling, “Come to me… I will give you rest.”
I pray this season would be a time of toppling those things we’ve made our kings, and pursuing the presence of the only worthy One for the throne of our hearts. May we not be content to simply know of God when we have been bestowed the holy gift of our God abiding WITH US.