If you think we have nothing to learn from the Old Testament, you are missing some really important stuff.
Lately, my church has been studying the kings of Israel, and there are some sinful, self-centered people on that throne. God never wanted Israel to have a king, though. The people begged for one, even though God warned them that a king would oppress the people (1 Samuel 8).
It isn’t until much later that the people realize their mistake. They faithfully follow their first king Saul into battles and create monuments to him. Samuel, their former judge, recognizes Saul’s secret wickedness and tries one last time to show the people their mistake. In the middle of the driest time of the year, he calls on God to bring thunder and rain (1 Samuel 12).
Finally, the people repent, and Samuel has an amazing response:
“Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.” (1 Samuel 12:20-25)
What a powerful warning! This is an important reminder for anyone who claims to follow God. There are two really important facts we need to understand before we can apply this, though:
1. It’s not about us, it’s about him.
2. He makes much of us, but only for him.
Samuel says that God will not leave his people, because it would go against the promises he made to his people, the people whom he chose because they pleased him. They exist “for his great name’s sake.” We, by extension as Christians, exist for him, not him for us.
Samuel also isn’t afraid to tell the people they’ve done wrong. There is no “it’s okay, we all make mistakes.” He warns that wickedness will lead to destruction. More than that, he gives them the formula for avoiding wickedness: turn away from evil and serve God with all your being. Easy to say, very hard to do.
How do we avoid evil and stay focused on God? Samuel warns to stay away from the “empty things that cannot profit or deliver,” and instead focus on what God has done for us. He created us to be in community with him. He saved us when our human natures condemned us to death. He gives us the wisdom and power to do the work he calls us to. What is there that could draw us away from him?
Unfortunately, I know how easy it is to get distracted. So, like Samuel, I will do my best to pray ceaselessly for you, and I hope you will do the same. As Jesus, our righteous and eternal kind, said,
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
Kaitlin Silvey, Impact at IUPUI Student President