Last words communicate core values. Samuel served God and the people of Israel all his life. After a stern warning from Samuel to the people, Saul has just been named king and leads them to a great victory over the Ammonites. When the people gather to celebrate Samuel presents them with two challenges.
First, he challenges them to confirm his integrity. He asks the people if he has cheated or oppressed them in any way. The people affirm that they have nothing to accuse him of and then Samuel takes on his prophetic role and confronts them. As is typical in this kind of prophetic speech Samuel begins with a review of Israel’s history with particular focus on God’s role. God responds by sending thunder and rain out of season to confirm the message and awe comes over the people.
Samuel completes his speech with the following words:
But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.” (1 Samuel 12:24-25 NIV)
The people must choose. They can respond to God’s power and might with faithful worship, or they can reject God and perish. The good news is that God is powerful and good and desires to protect and provide for His people. The bad news is that God is just and will punish those who rebel against Him.
What about us?
It is easy to look back at the history of the Israelites and criticize them for the choices they made. With a few exceptions they chose rebellion over obedience. Sometimes in the short-term individuals experienced greater pleasure and prosperity in their rebellion. However, I would argue that this individual pleasure was outweighed by the lack of justice and the misery of many.
I often wonder why God has been so patient with us as a nation. The United States is often described as the most prosperous and powerful nation on earth. Yet few of us live as obedient citizens of the kingdom of God. Instead, many live in open rebellion against God’s kingdom. We are a selfish people. Our short-term gain takes priority over long-term sacrifice and generosity toward others. Fortunately, there are exceptions. One of the men in our small group took time this past week to help with the clean-up in Louisiana after hurricane Ida.
I think the lie we have believed for all of human existence is that the pleasure and prosperity we desire are found by choosing to put me first. We believe that if we did things God’s way we would be less prosperous, and we might actually suffer.
We do have positive examples of Christians making good choices in spite of painful consequences. Afghanistan requires that everyone carry an identification card which includes their religion. Since the takeover by the Taliban that identification as Christian is being used to hunt down, torture, and kill believers. I am grateful for the example of believers who are willing to make a stand for Jesus regardless of the consequences. Pray that God will give them courage to remain faithful. Pray that their example would give us the courage to remain faithful in a culture becoming more and more hostile to people who choose to follow Jesus.