For the week of July 1, 2006 / 5 Tammuz 5766
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 16:1 - 18:32
Haftarah: 2 Samuel 11:14 - 12:22
"Do not be afraid," Samuel replied. "You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart." (1 Samuel 12:20)
The people of Israel had asked for a king just like the nations around them. Up until that time they relied on their tribal elders and upon specially inspired leaders, called Shoftim (English: Judges). During the time of the Shoftim the nation was in a cycle of drifting from God until a new leader came on the scene. The people would then repent (turn back to God), but would remain faithful only as long as that leader lived. After his or her death, the people would drift again. After many years of this, the people grew weary and thought that by establishing a monarchy they would have the stability they desired. They made this request to Samuel, who was judge at the time.
Even though it appears that it was in God's plan to eventually establish a monarchy in Israel, this request was born out of the people's lack of trust in God. They didn't want to rely on God's provision for leadership, but wanted instead the same kind of human organization as that of the other nations.
Although this amounted to the rejection of God as king, God decided to grant them their request anyway. It's really something how God puts up with how we mismanage our lives, but that is not the issue I want to address.
After Saul was established as Israel's first king, Samuel confronted the people regarding the nature of their request. They finally realized how bad it was - something they couldn't or wouldn't see until this point. Once they realized what they had done, they greatly feared God's judgment on their lives. So Samuel comforted them with the words I quoted at the beginning:
These words underscore an important aspect of how God relates to us. While he is very strict with his people, he is also very accepting. But his acceptance does not negate the reality of his strictness. The assurance Samuel gave the people arose out of their realization of their wickedness. I don't think these same words would have been given to them had they continued in their rebellious attitude.
That God forgives us whatever our wrongs have been, is beyond our comprehension. There are so many examples of people in the Bible whom God accepted even after they had done terrible things. But in those cases his acceptance was dependant on their turning from their evil ways.
Samuel's assurance to the people was given along with his urging them to remain faithful to God. This reminds me of the story of Yeshua and the woman who was accused of adultery (see John 8:1-11). The religious leaders were so harsh towards her. All they cared about was that justice be done. Yeshua confronted the leaders with their own sinfulness. Once all her accusers had left, Yeshua and the woman had this interaction:
For many this illustrates the absolute nature of God's acceptance of us. No matter what we have done, we are accepted by God. But this is not the end of the story. Yeshua then said, "Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11b).
As in the case of Israel and Samuel, God accepts the repentant, but it is the repentant that he accepts. And a truly repentant person seeks to live aright. That we regularly fail in our attempt to live godly lives is one of the reasons why we needed the Messiah's sacrifice. It is because of God's loving acceptance that we can and should live for him. To do otherwise is to reject his acceptance.
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