"They have continually abandoned me and followed other gods."
God's words to Samuel have been prodding my heart these last few weeks as I contemplate all the ways I abandon Him.
The Israelites were unsatisfied with their heaven-sent arrangement. Unlike the neighboring nations, they had no king… only a judge in Samuel. As Samuel grew old and they imagined what their future might be under the leadership of Samuel's "greedy" sons who "perverted justice," they essentially said, "That's enough of this nonsense; we'll have option B now, thank-you-very-much." And they asked Samuel for a king "like all the other nations have."
Samuel is frustrated with them, but nonetheless he goes to God with their request and the Lord says, "Do everything they say to you, for it is me they are rejecting, not you. They don't want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt, they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods."
Do you see that? God is saddened by the fact that his people abandon him, choosing other gods over him. They are imagining a future -- not a current reality -- where Samuel's evil sons will rule unjustly, and they are choosing not to trust God for future provision, preferring instead to take matters into their own hands to ensure their well-being.
They're building safety nets and backup plans.
I am not so different. I have lots of lesser gods… but like the Israelites, the one I worship most frequently is simply named security. No matter how faithful God has been in my past, I grope in the darkness of my future, trying to construct some vague semblance of a plan to protect myself and those I love.
In the temple of security, I call my idols names like "responsibility" and "planning ahead." They sound less devious that way.
But what it really boils down to is a matter of trust. I am saying to God, "That's enough of this nonsense; I'll take Option B now, thank-you-very-much." I abandon him by refusing to accept his peace and his comfort in present uncertainty; by refusing to trust in his promise of provision. I ignore him as He sadly shakes his head and warns me about the consequences of taking my life back into my hands; as he warns me "about the way a king will reign over me." I trade my freedom in him for bondage to my fears.
God references Egypt in this passage… They have been abandoning him "ever since [he] brought them out of Egypt."
I flipped back a few books to Exodus to re-read the story of the Israelites journey out of Egypt. Here's a quick overview…
Chapter 14: God parts the Red Sea and saves the Israelites.
Chapter 15: The Israelites sing a "Song of Deliverance" and praise God for all sorts of wonderful things… for his power, and his strength, and for his unfailing love.
Chapter 16: The Israelites were hungry in the desert, and the very people who praised God for "guiding them to their sacred home" in Chapter 15 start moaning and groaning in Chapter 16: "If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt! There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death."
Where are their songs of praise and deliverance? Where is their faith in God's goodness and protection? He's just parted the Red Sea!!! Being the ever-optimistic-in-the-human-spirit kind of person that I am, I immediately assumed that if the Red Sea was already such a distant memory, they must have been hungry for a really long time, wandering in that awful desert. But the Exodus story tells us their moaning and groaning came one month after leaving Egypt!
So when talking to Samuel, this is what God identifies as the beginning of their abandonment of him… his deliverance of them from Egypt.
We're like that, aren't we?
We sometimes long for the comfort of our bondage… The predictability of our chains. Give us a taste of freedom and it scares us. It doesn't feel safe. It doesn't feel predictable. Give us Egypt. Give us a King.
Just whatever you do, don't give us a wild, untamed God. A God whose passionate love for us means He isn't content for us to sit in our shackles, but whose paths of redemption sometimes sweep us out of the predictable and safe prisons where we're willing to settle down into wild, uncharted territory… Territory where He can show us the places in our hearts where we do not trust and where we abandon him for other gods. Territory where we are forced to rely only on him and learn to rest in the shadows of his wings.
He's calling us out... will we go? Or will we say, "Give us Egypt. Give us a King."
Exodus 16:3 and 1 Samuel 8:1-9