A Timeless Message For All Believers

The twelfth chapter of First Samuel is a thumbnail sketch of the history of our up and down relationships with God. We see it in and through the prism of the Jewish people’s experiences here, but this is really our story too. While on one side, the story seems a sad commentary on our human weaknesses, on the other, it is a continuing revelation of the total and absolute faithfulness of God.

Samuel has gathered the people before him in his old age. He is at the end of his life and of his long ministry to the people as their leader. The people have begun, once again, to lose their faith in God and to put too much faith in earthly things. They have looked around them and seen the power of kings in other countries and they have demanded that Samuel give them a king. Samuel has done so, but now, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he is reminding them that they are in danger of repeating their own history…again. He reminds them of the history of God’s mercy toward them, and how they continually forget that it was he, and he alone, who saved them, every time. He recounts how God appointed Moses and Aaron to bring them out of captivity in Egypt, but they “forgot the Lord their God; so he sold them into the hand of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them.” (verse 9) Samuel reminds them of how they cried out to the Lord each time and begged him to deliver them from the hands of their enemies. And how the Lord answered their prayers every time sending them a succession of prophets, from Jerub-Baal, Barak, Jephthah to Samuel himself.

Well, this is our story too, isn’t it. Our unfaithfulness happens for many reasons, not the least of which is fear. Sometimes we fall away because we become too comfortable and too enamored with the fleeting pleasures of the world. We lose sight of the deeper things, the eternal things. We begin to think that this is it, that the world is all there is and we begin to fall into the traps of materialism and pleasure seeking, power and the desire for fame. Worse, we sometimes fall into the spirit of the age, and become cynical. In our own times there seems to be a kind of growing universal sense that life is meaningless. This nihilism seems to affect the young in particular. Nihilism does not argue that there is nothing, it argues that everything in meaningless. This nihilistic despair is directly related to the present and growing loss of faith in a loving God in our own times. This nihilism, this idea that life is essentially meaningless, is manifested in our current culture through things like abortion, euthanasia, the inattention to the problem of homelessness and poverty, in the horrific murder rates found in so many of our city neighborhoods, and in the growing rates of drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide rates. Thing that were once held sacred, that once promoted the idea of the universal dignity of every human being, are now called vices, or injustices, and are condemned as intolerant behaviors by the current nihilistic and relativistic intelligentsia, both on college campuses and in the media.

What Samuel is presenting to his listeners in this passage is important for us to hear as well. We are being called once again to examine our own consciences, personally and collectively as a society. We are challenged to pay attention to the past for its lessons, and to grow more and more in our ability to discern and to do what is really good and true in the present, in order to shape a better future for ourselves and our culture. Through Samuel, the Holy Spirit is once again calling us to return to the fear the Lord. “Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart.” This is as powerful a message for us to hear today as it was for the Jews in Samuel’s day. Fear of the loss of God’s love is wisdom. And, when we serve God faithfully, we are in the service of nothing less than Love. In our daily examination of conscience, should we not, “Consider the great things he has done for us”? Why should we do this? Because it is in seeing his goodness and responding to it in loving service to all others that we find the deepest meanings and the greatest purposes for our lives. Only then will we be living fully. Only then will we know the kind of happiness that can transcend even the world’s suffering.

Lord, it is true, we have turned away from you many times, but, to our great awe, we have come to realize that you have never stopped loving us. Help us to reflect on your faithfulness every day. Give us hearts worthy of your love, and the courage to live that love outwardly in our daily lives within our families, our neighborhoods, our places of work. Give us the strength to imitate your goodness, your mercy and forgiveness, your encouragement and your generosity of love in all that we say and do. We pray these things in your name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.