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Passing the Baton

This morning we’ll be looking at 1 Samuel chapter 12 – which is often labeled in our Bibles as Samuel’s Farewell Address. Samuel had led the people of Israel for most of His life now – not as their king, but as judge, prophet, and priest. And on this day, Samuel would pass the baton of leadership to their newly chosen King, King Saul.

And I know we’ve been making this transition for a while now – we started back in chapter 8 when all the people of Israel asked God to give them a king to lead them. Even though God was their king and He had led them faithfully for several centuries – now the people wanted a human king to lead them. And so God decided to give them what they asked for. He had Samuel privately anoint Saul as their king in chapter 10. Then, to make the public announcement some time after that, Samuel gathered together all the people of Israel and through the process of casting sacred lots to reveal God’s will, Saul was chosen and proclaimed as King.

And while most of the people were eager to embrace Saul as their king, some of the people were a little more hesitant. In fact, some were openly opposed – they didn’t feel like Saul had what it took to be king. But all that changed in chapter 11 as Saul led the Israelites into battle against King Nahash of the Ammonites. God gave Saul a tremendous victory and all the people finally affirmed that Saul was indeed God’s good choice to be their King.

And so now, with all of Israel firmly in support of their new King Saul, Samuel prepares to complete the transition and pass the baton of leadership to the next generation.

Then Samuel addressed all Israel: “I have done as you asked and given you a king. 2 Your king is now your leader. I stand here before you—an old, gray-haired man—and my sons serve you. I have served as your leader from the time I was a boy to this very day. 3 Now testify against me in the presence of the Lord and before his anointed one. Whose ox or donkey have I stolen? Have I ever cheated any of you? Have I ever oppressed you? Have I ever taken a bribe and perverted justice? Tell me and I will make right whatever I have done wrong.” 1 Samuel 12:1-3

As this chapter begins, Samuel, the judge of Israel, holds court one last time. And in essence, he puts himself on trial. Actually, as you read through the chapter, there are three parties that will be examined for guilt – but he begins with himself. He invites the Israelites to testify against him – to point out any way that he has wronged them. And if he has done wrong, then he vows to make it right.

And this is something that we just don’t see in most of our leaders today. How many leaders can you think of that would willingly subject themselves to the accusations of an entire nation? How many would choose to go on trial and answer for any wrongs that they may have committed during their time in leadership? If you follow the news, it seems most leaders invest a great deal of time avoiding such things!

But not Samuel. He invites scrutiny and accountability. He welcomes public examination of his life and ministry. What kind of man does that?

Well, I’ll you what kind of man does that – a man of integrity! A man who keeps short accounts. A man who – when he does something wrong – he quickly admits it and makes it right before things go any further.

I don’t think Samuel was perfect or sinless. In fact, I’m sure of it! I’m sure he made his fair share of mistakes in life. He sinned just like everyone else. After all, the Bible tells us clearly that all of us have sinned – I’m sure Samuel was no exception! But what allowed Samuel stand before the nation with complete integrity is that He when he sinned, he immediately dealt with it. He didn’t hide it. He didn’t deny it. He didn’t justify it. But rather he confessed, he repented, and he made things right.

Now of course, we don’t have an example recorded for us in the Bible of Samuel doing exactly that, but based on what we see in this passage, I would guess that Samuel had made this a pattern in his life. What he was doing now in front of the nation is something that he probably did on daily basis in his own heart. I can easily imagine him in his prayer time before bed asking God the exact same question – “Have I sinned against anyone today, Lord? Tell me and I’ll make it right.”

I wonder if this is something that perhaps King David a little later on learned from Samuel? Some years later, David would write this is Psalm 139.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;

    test me and know my anxious thoughts.

24 Point out anything in me that offends you,

    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Psalm 139:24-24

If you want to be a man or a woman of integrity – this would be a great prayer to pray on a daily basis. We are sinful creatures and we can slip into sin so easily – sometimes without even realizing it!  We need to regularly ask God, like David did, to search our hearts and point out anything in us that is sinful. And of course, with that, we need to be willing to address whatever issues God points out! We need to be willing to confess, to repent, and to make things right.

And it’s important that we invite others too – to keep us accountable and to help us maintain our integrity. That doesn’t have to be a public invitation like what Samuel did – we don’t have to put ourselves on trial before everyone we ever met. But there is a lot of wisdom in inviting two or three trusted friends to ask you the hard questions – questions about your relationships, about your thought life, about your motives – all that internal stuff that most people never see.

You don’t have to be sinless to be a person of integrity. You just need to be quick to confess, quick to repent, and quick to make things right. And a little accountability goes a long way to making sure that happens.

And it would appear that Samuel probably had some of that accountability in his own life because he is now willing to stand before the nation after a lifetime of leadership and to invite any accusations that anyone might have against him.

But as verse 4 tells us, no one had anything bad to say.

4 “No,” they replied, “you have never cheated or oppressed us, and you have never taken even a single bribe.”

5 “The Lord and his anointed one are my witnesses today,” Samuel declared, “that my hands are clean.”

“Yes, he is a witness,” they replied.

1 Samuel 12:4-5

So with that, Samuel is declared innocent. Which is pretty incredible! Samuel’s lived his entire live in the public eye – he’s led Israel since he was a boy – and no one has any accusations against him!? That’s pretty impressive!

Do you think you could do that? At the end of your life, will you be able to stand before every person who’s been touch by your life and have everyone say – “That man or woman is free from guilt. We have no accusations against them. Their hands are clean!” Would people say that about you?

Perhaps not, but thankfully, by the grace of God, at the end of our life we can stand before God and be declared innocent! Not because of how good we’ve been, but because of how good Jesus has been. 

You see, when we put our faith in Jesus, he takes all of our guilt and all of our sin and all of our wrong-doings – and He places it all on Himself. That’s why he went to the cross – to pay the penalty for all our sin. And in exchange for our sinfulness, Jesus gives us all of his righteousness. His perfect obedience. His sinless life – that’s all credited to our account when we put our faith in Him! 2 Corinthians 5:21 says…

21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 NET

That’s amazing! We may not live a sinless life, (not by any stretch of the imagination) but through faith in Jesus, we get credit for His sinless life because he took the punishment for our sinful life! What an incredible God! If you’ve never accepted God’s gift – his offer of this incredible exchange – I would encourage you to really consider doing that even today! Trust in Him as your Lord and Saviour!

But to get back to our passage, Samuel is declared innocent by all the people – and God and his anointed are witness of that. But as I mentioned earlier, Samuel is going to examine three parties for guilt in this trial. With the people declaring Samuel to be innocent, Samuel then moves to the next two parties – The Israelites and God Himself. He says in verse 6.

6 “It was the Lord who appointed Moses and Aaron,” Samuel continued. “He brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt. 7 Now stand here quietly before the Lord as I remind you of all the great things the Lord has done for you and your ancestors.

8 “When the Israelites were in Egypt and cried out to the Lord, he sent Moses and Aaron to rescue them from Egypt and to bring them into this land. 9 But the people soon forgot about the Lord their God, so he handed them over to Sisera, the commander of Hazor’s army, and also to the Philistines and to the king of Moab, who fought against them.

10 “Then they cried to the Lord again and confessed, ‘We have sinned by turning away from the Lord and worshiping the images of Baal and Ashtoreth. But we will worship you and you alone if you will rescue us from our enemies.’ 11 Then the Lord sent Gideon, Bedan, Jephthah, and Samuel to save you, and you lived in safety.

1 Samuel 12:6-11

Samuel reminds the people of Israel of their history. He reminds them of God’s faithfulness and goodness to them – even when they have not been faithful to God. He points out how every time they were in desperate need, God rescued them – even after they had ignored and forgotten all about Him! God sent judges in their times of need who led them to defeat their enemies and allowed them to once again live in safety.

And so you would think, that with such a great track record, the people of Israel would have learned to trust in the Lord! I mean, God has always been there for them! Why wouldn’t they trust in Him!? But Samuel continues in verse 12.

12 “But when you were afraid of Nahash, the king of Ammon, you came to me and said that you wanted a king to reign over you, even though the Lord your God was already your king. 13 All right, here is the king you have chosen. You asked for him, and the Lord has granted your request. 

14 “Now if you fear and worship the Lord and listen to his voice, and if you do not rebel against the Lord’s commands, then both you and your king will show that you recognize the Lord as your God. 15 But if you rebel against the Lord’s commands and refuse to listen to him, then his hand will be as heavy upon you as it was upon your ancestors.

1 Samuel 12:12-15

Even after the many times that God had rescued Israel, they still had’t learned to trust Him. When they were faced with the threat of King Nahash, in fear they asked God to give them a king to lead them. They failed to trust in God and they wanted to put their trust in another. 

And surprisingly, even though God had been rejected by the Israelites as their King – God still graciously provided for Israel – He gave them the king they asked for. In fact, Samuel said that as long as Israel and it’s king were obedient to the Lord – recognizing Him as their God, then God would continue to provide and protect.  

The NET translation puts verse 15 this way:

“If both you and the king who rules over you follow the Lord your God, all will be well.” 1 Samuel 12:15

All of this just highlights God’s goodness and faithfulness to the Israelites – even though they are fickle and faithless. I think if I were part of the jury in this trial that Samuel has presented here, I would have no trouble identifying the guilty party. It’s clear who has done wrong to whom. 

But Samuel is not quite done yet. He has one more piece of evidence to submit and it’s a doozy! Verse 16

16 “Now stand here and see the great thing the Lord is about to do. 17 You know that it does not rain at this time of the year during the wheat harvest. I will ask the Lord to send thunder and rain today. Then you will realize how wicked you have been in asking the Lord for a king!”

18 So Samuel called to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day. And all the people were terrified of the Lord and of Samuel. 19 “Pray to the Lord your God for us, or we will die!” they all said to Samuel. “For now we have added to our sins by asking for a king.” 1 Samuel 12:16-19

Finally it seems the Israelites realize how wicked they have been in rejecting God and asking Him for a King. It took a pretty dramatic turn of events to convince them, but finally they got it.

I don’t know how severe this thunder and rain storm was, but apparently it was enough to make the Israelites think they were going to die! Maybe not because of the storm itself, but simply at the hand of the God who sent it! It says they were terrified of the Lord and of Samuel.

It seems God had to shock them out of their complacency. He had to do something severe to get their attention!

And you know, sometimes God has to do that with us. Sometimes He has to take us through some pretty severe things in life to get our attention!

If we continually ignore God’s quiet whispers, if we brush off his gentle nudges, if we tune-out his repeated warnings, then sometimes God has to take more drastic measures to get our attention. He loves us too much to just abandon us in our foolishness!

And so sometimes He sends a thunderstorm to interrupt our harvest. Sometimes he has us thrown out of a boat to get swallowed by a great fish. Sometimes he allows us to get captured by the Philistines and have our eyes gouged out while we grind grain. Sometimes he allows us to lose our kingdom and lose our mind and eat grass like a cow. And if you’re not catching all these Bible references, that’s ok, how about something a little more familiar…. Sometimes he allows our relationships to fall apart. Sometimes he allows our business to go bankrupt. Sometimes he allows our health to fail. Sometimes he allows a pandemic to turn our lives upside down.

And of course, He doesn’t do these things because He hates us. He does these things because He loves us and passionately wants to get our attention. He wants us to realize that we’re going in a wrong direction and that He’s got something better for us if we’d just listen to Him.

I’d just encourage you to listen to God while he’s still whispering. Pay attention to what God is saying before He has to bring on the storms.

Don’t be like the Israelites – who were now terrified of both God and Samuel because they had ignored God’s warnings and made some terrible mistakes. 

But thankfully, all was not lost. God can redeem every situation for his glory – even our greatest mistakes or most terrible sins. God can take those things and use them for good. Look at verse 20.

20 “Don’t be afraid,” Samuel reassured them. “You have certainly done wrong, but make sure now that you worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him. 21 Don’t go back to worshiping worthless idols that cannot help or rescue you—they are totally useless! 22 The Lord will not abandon his people, because that would dishonor his great name. For it has pleased the Lord to make you his very own people.

23 “As for me, I will certainly not sin against the Lord by ending my prayers for you. And I will continue to teach you what is good and right. 24 But be sure to fear the Lord and faithfully serve him. Think of all the wonderful things he has done for you. 25 But if you continue to sin, you and your king will be swept away.”

1 Samuel 12:20-25

Even though the Israelites had sinned greatly and had made a very foolish mistake in asking for a king – God doesn’t give up on them. He doesn’t abandon them. Instead, now that they have acknowledged and confessed their sin, God’s ready to move forward with them. Samuel tells them, don’t be afraid. You’ve certainly sinned, but now that we’ve dealt with it, let’s make sure we don’t do that again. Worship the Lord with all your heart and don’t turn your back on Him.

That’s all part of repentance. It’s not just confessing your sin, but it’s also changing your ways so that you don’t repeat the same sin again and again and again.

And Samuel promises to help them with that. Even though he is passing the baton of leadership to Saul, Samuel promises to keep teaching them what is good and right. He promises that he will keep praying for them. In fact, he considers it to be a sin if he were to stop praying for them!

That’s always impressed me about Samuel. Everybody knows it’s good to pray for people – but do you consider it a sin if you don’t? Samuel seems to think so – and I think James might agree. James 4:17 says..

17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. 

James 4:17

That’s pretty convicting, isn’t it? If you know that you ought to pray for someone, and you don’t do it, that’s a sin. That’s disobedience. And of course, that can apply to all kinds of situations. 

    • If you know that you ought to go talk to your neighbour, and you don’t do it, that’s a sin. 
    • If you know that you ought to help a family in need, and you don’t do it, that’s a sin.
    • If you know you ought to go apologize to someone for something you’ve said or done, and you don’t do it, that’s a sin.

It is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. 

For Samuel, he knew he ought to keep praying for the Israelites and their new King, and so that’s exactly what he did.

And on that note, Samuel then passes the baton of leadership to King Saul. From this point on, Saul will be seen as the leader of Israel. Although, as we’re going to see in the weeks ahead, Samuel would still be around – giving guidance to King Saul – teaching him and the rest of Israel what is good and right just as he promised. But it will be Saul who is making decisions and providing leadership for the nation of Israel.

And of course, we’ll have to come back in the weeks ahead to see what kind of leader Saul turns out to be.

But for today, I think we’ll close here. Quite often I like to close the message with a clear take-away point for you to ponder and apply to your life – but I think there have been lots of mini-take-away points throughout the message today and so I’ll just leave that part up to you and God. If God’s been whispering to you this morning, then I’d just encourage you to listen to Him – response before He has to send a storm to get your attention, and then to do what you know you ought to do.

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