God or Vain Things

1 Samuel 11-12

It is a perennial temptation to trust in things rather than trust in God. One can sympathize with the struggle. It is a hammer after all that drives in nails. It is a ham that satisfies hunger. It is a king who defends from invasion. The world has a certain way of working. And that is a fine way of speaking. But, it is better to say that God has a certain way of working the world. You can say, “the world has a certain way of working,” while forgetting God altogether. You can speak that way and not upset the man who believes in a mechanistic universe. But, to say, “God has a certain way of working” turns the mind’s eye to behold the God of providence through the operation of creation. We must not forget Him and find ourselves trusting in vain things. 1 Samuel 11-12 helps us avoid doing just that.

The Text – A Summary

Nahash the Ammonite threatened all Israel by coming up against Jabesh-gilead (11:1). He agreed not to war against them under condition that he would line up the Israelites and pluck out their right eye. When word of this came to Saul, the Spirit of God rushed upon him and he was angry (11:6). He summoned Israel to fight the Israelites which they did victoriously (11:11). Saul acknowledged that the LORD worked salvation in Israel (11:13). Israel gathered to Gilgal to renew the kingdom, where they made peace offerings and rejoice greratly (11:14-15). 

Samuel then delivered a farewell address calling the Lord to testify that he had not oppressed Israel. Samuel clarified that he had not done what the king like the nations would do (12:1-5). Samuel turned Israel’s eyes to the Lord, saying God Himself ws the one who had raised up their leaders Moses and Aaron. (12:6). Samuel reminds the assembly that when their fathers forgot the LORD their God, he sold them into the hand of Sisera (12:9). Samuel developed a theme: You can have your king, but don’t forget God. God has both the streams of water and the king’s heart in His hand.

As a great sign to Israel, Samuel called upon the LORD to send thunder and rain during wheat harvest. Rain was not expected during the dry season. So this storm led Israel to see their great sin in forsaking God for a king like the nations. Samuel comforted and counseled them saying, “Fear not . . . but serve the LORD with all your heart; And turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things” (12:20-21).

You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody

Bob Dylan got it right, “It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” The options before us are serve God or serve vain things. These two are always set before you and you can’t escape serving one or the other. Israel fell to serving the creature, the king like the nations. There he was, in the flesh. And there Nahash the Ammonite was demanding to wring out their right eye. This is a pattern. Trouble comes, and man puts his hope in the creaturely device that seems to solve the trouble. 

The point is not to avoid using the creaturely device. Remember Israel could have a king. We can use the hammer, the roasted chicken, the doctor, and the ballot box. What we must avoid is going after those things with our whole hearts, and forgetting the LORD. And the solution is not merely liking God more than tools, food, and politics. Many Christians fall to this unhealthy seperation of things. They know they must love God more than things so they try to tamp down their love of things and simply spend more time in the spiritual disciplines. Well, amen for the spiritual disciplines. But, what is needed is a clear aprehension that God gave you the hammer, provided the roast, and governs the ballot box. That’s the very direction God pointed Israel with the sign of rain in dry season. Tha’ts the very message Samuel drove home in his farewell address: God raised up Moses. God brought you out of Egypt. God delivered you from your adversaries.

We do not live in a mechanistic universe. The biggest man doesn’t always win the battle. God uses shepherds to bring down Goliaths. He stops the sun in the middle of the day. He parts the sea. He sends thunder in months when there ought not be any. He walks on water. And, when things run in their normal channels, it is still God who runs things according to plan. Christ upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). We ought to reason from the miracle—rain in dry season—to the truth that God is the one always sending the rain no matter the season. 

Learn to reason like Lewis, and you’ll be well-equipped to avoid following after vain things—

The miracles in fact are a small telling of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see . . . God creates the vine, teaches it to draw up water by its roots, and with the aid of the sun to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine. That men fail to see . . . When Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off. The miracle only has half its effect if the it only convinces us that Christ is God. It will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine, we remember that here works he who sat at the wedding party in Cana.[1]

[1] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock