Earthly Kings and Empty Things

On Monday of this week, during my devotional time, I was reading through 1st Samuel, chapter 12. The heading for this chapter in my Bible is, “Samuel’s Farewell Address.” This section of scripture takes place right after Saul defeats the Ammonites and is made king of the Israelites (chapter 11). You’ll remember, if you’ve read through 1st Samuel at any point in time, that God’s desire for His chosen people was not for an earthly king, but that He Himself might rule over them. In 1st Samuel 8:10-18, Samuel (at God’s command) warns the Israelites about the dangers of having an earthly king. They are sinful, prone to corruption, injustices of all kinds, and many times do not have the best interests of their people at heart. Despite these warnings, the people insist that an earthly king is what they really need, and God tells Samuel to obey their request (1st Samuel 8:22).

Fast forward to chapter 12 (where my devotional reading began this week), after Saul is made king, and we again see Samuel warning the people about their decision to seek out a king. This time, however, he designates their decision to seek a king as sinful. He tells them, “I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king.” Why was their decision evil? Because in asking for an earthly king, they had rejected God Himself. God desired to be their King! God desired to be their place of refuge! God desired to be their protector! But that wasn’t good enough for them. The decision to choose for themselves an earthly king, even one as highly praised and impressive as Saul (Saul is often described as tall, young, and handsome), was not only evil…it was unbelievably foolish. In effect, what Samuel is saying to the Israelites is this… “What kind of foolishness would cause you to choose this man (as impressive as he is) over the Lord your God!?” “What kind of insanity would move you to trust this young, sinful human being rather than God Himself!?” The Israelites had traded the God of this universe, the Creator of all that is, the One who had saved them from calamity, after calamity, after calamity…for a man.

As tragic as this story is (and we know that it goes from bad to worse for the Israelites from this point onward), we need to be careful that we don’t judge the Israelites too harshly. Why? Because we do the same thing today. I’m writing this blog post after the incredible upset that we saw in Tuesday night’s election. Donald Trump, the 2016 president elect of the United States, has promised to usher in an era of social, political, and economic conservativism unparalleled in recent memory. Christians in the United States tend to line up with Trump on most of these issues. And it would be easy for those who support Trump’s agenda to revel in the fact that things are finally going to get done. Progress towards conservative ideals will finally be made…right? But the unfortunate and sad truth is that we have no guarantee. I say this not because I distrust Donald Trump, but because this is the way a fallen world works. Sin creeps in and destroys even the best of human intentions. So, in whom and what then, do we place our trust? God, through His inerrant and infallible Word, gives us the answer…

Samuel, in his final farewell address and warning to the Israelites, tells them, “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” (1st Samuel 12:20-21). This is the answer to the above question, “in whom and what then, do we place our trust?” We trust the Lord. We follow the Lord. We serve the Lord with all our heart. And this answer, for those of us who worship Christ, remains the same regardless of who is in office. Samuel reminded the Israelites, and he reminds us, to “not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver.” There are many empty things in this world that do not satisfy, and that do not deliver. Money. Sex. Power. Religion. Social activism. Human relationships. The Republican Party. The Democratic Party. Patriotism. Social equality. Presidential candidates. None of these things will satisfy us. We (in our depraved human arrogance) think they will. But none of them truly profit or deliver. They can’t, because that role and function belongs to God alone. It is He alone who delivers us. He alone who profits us. He alone who satisfies us.

So, considering the above, here is my encouragement to us all. We need to remember that our citizenship and allegiance does not belong primarily to the United States of America (as wonderful as this country is), or to any political party, but to Christ and His Kingdom. It is Christ to whom we owe allegiance. God has made us alive together with Him, and has seated us with Him in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:4-6). And His Kingdom will endure long after these present “kingdoms” have passed away. It is our Lord, Jesus Christ, our King and our God, who we serve, love, and worship. My hope and prayer for us as a church is that we never forget this most paramount of truths. May we always seek His will and not our own.

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