1 Samuel 9.1-10
[This was my first ever sermon on an Old Testament passage and also my first time preaching in Wycliffe Hall Chapel]
Saul Chosen to Be King
3 Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, had strayed. So Kish said to his son Saul, ‘Take one of the boys with you; go and look for the donkeys.’ 4He passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. And they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then he passed through the land of Benjamin, but they did not find them.
5 When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to the boy who was with him, ‘Let us turn back, or my father will stop worrying about the donkeys and worry about us.’ 6But he said to him, ‘There is a man of God in this town; he is a man held in honour. Whatever he says always comes true. Let us go there now; perhaps he will tell us about the journey on which we have set out.’ 7Then Saul replied to the boy, ‘But if we go, what can we bring the man? For the bread in our sacks is gone, and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What have we?’8The boy answered Saul again, ‘Here, I have with me a quarter-shekel of silver; I will give it to the man of God, to tell us our way.’ 9(Formerly in Israel, anyone who went to inquire of God would say, ‘Come, let us go to the seer’; for the one who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.) 10Saul said to the boy, ‘Good; come, let us go.’ So they went to the town where the man of God was.
I believe in a big God. A God so big, so wise, so powerful and so all knowing that nothing can stop Him. I believe in a God who, as we said together, is the “Sovereign Lord, Ruler and Judge of all.” I believe 2000 years ago God came to Earth, to this seemingly insignificant space rock in a vast, vast, universe, and people did see His face, His Glory, His Wisdom and His Power. And it is knowing this God that allows me to rejoice in the gift of this new day, it is knowing God is so great, yet still, beyond all imagination, cares and loves someone like me, that sets my heart on fire with love for Him, Who whilst I was still a sinner came and met me in His Son and died for me.
There are two things to take from the Old Testament reading we just heard and, with the full acceptance of those, a challenge. Firstly, we need a new vision of just how proactive in history and our lives God has been, a new and fresh vision of the provisions God has made. Secondly, we need to see that all of these provisions were working toward the most important event in history, the death of Jesus which grants us, by Grace, a free and open relationship with God.
One of the great things about Old Testament narrative is how it so often flows so well, it tells a compelling story; at least once you get past the lists of names. But it is not only internally coherent: when you read the whole revelation as revealed in Scripture you see a God who knew what He was doing, a God who set up a history that was written act by act and scene by scene to fulfil His Divine Will. Often it can be hard to see how something relates to the bigger picture, how it relates to Jesus the Messiah who saved us all, but it always does, because, to paraphrase the correct translation of Revelation, Jesus is the Lamb of God slain before all ages, from the foundation of the world – Jesus is plan A, always was and always will be, in fact He is plan Alpha, and plan Omega, and everything else in-between. That all of history builds up to the coming Saviour is a work of artistic genius, which is hardly surprising seeing as history, and the Old Testament, were written by the Author of Salvation who through His Word spoke the universe into existence.
In the reading we find a series of events which happen to just the right person, at just the right time, and in just the right place that he may be crowned king over Israel. As we know, God doesn’t seem too enamoured with the idea of there being a human king ruling over His people. And yet, God says at the end of the previous chapter “Listen to them and give them a king.” This is where we need to take the wider view of history. God has often used, and always planned to use, certain things to bring His people and the world to a point where the time was right for Him to come and reveal Himself in Jesus.
As it says in Romans 5.6: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” “AT JUST THE RIGHT TIME.” This amazing revelation is found in the middle of an argument about the Law given to Moses. Why was the Law given to Moses? It was not that people may live in harmony with God under the Law – for God knew that was impossible. As Paul makes clear the whole purpose of the Law was to reveal to us just how sinful we are and how powerless we are to save ourselves – the purpose of the Law was to show our need for Jesus.
And so it was with kingship. Israel needed to have a king. Why? Not because the people wanted one, not because Israel was under attack, but because of Jesus. Israel needed to know that human kings fail, that they need a divine king to come and save them. Before Jesus came there needed to be a messianic hope based on Davidic Kingship. The people also needed to misunderstand the nature of the Messiah that He might be crucified, that He might not build by strength of arm an army to combat Imperial Rome, but rather build an army of saints to combat Satan Himself.
It is in light of this great picture that this story fits into place. It just so happens that the donkey’s of Kish go missing. It just so happens that this is at the time that Israel is calling for a king. It just so happens that the donkeys head off in a particular direction. In the time of Samuel losing your donkeys was not an amusing cliché but economic disaster, it could lead to hardship, loss, debt and starvation. Often things in our lives seem to be going wrong, be going bad, we ask ‘how can this possibly fit with a divine and all powerful God who loves me.’ Such a thing is what many of us feel about the death of Jo from St. Aldates.
But Scripture reveals some home truths for us. Speaking prophetically of Jesus Christ Joseph declares right at the end of Genesis to his brothers “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then don’t be afraid I will provide for you and your children.” What an awesome message, what an awesome Good News - though we humans fail and try to harm God and one another Jesus used that very evil to bring about our salvation.
St. Paul writes in one of the most challenging Scriptures: “we know that in ALL THINGS, God works for the good of those who love Him.” ALL THINGS work together for your good. The donkey’s of Kish going missing and bringing potential financial ruin upon him worked together for your good. The tough things in life work together for your good even if you can’t see it at the time, know that God is Emmanuel, God is with you, God is FOR you and God knows what He is doing.
Now, the very reason all this needed to happen is seen in what occurs prior to Saul seeing Samuel – and seen in the contrast to how things work today. The boy suggests Saul ask God about the donkeys, but there is a hitch, they have been searching for these donkeys for so long they have no food, no supplies, nothing to offer to the prophet that they might hear God’s revelation. To hear what God has to say Saul couldn’t just get down on his sinful knees and pray, he had to pay a prophet to hear God’s word. Thankfully this doesn’t really happen in the same way today, but if you feel moved by the Spirit to make a donation for this sermon then there will be an offering plate passed around shortly, no just kidding. To those of us today who can just pick up a Bible and dive into God’s revelation, to those of us today who are justified at the Cross and can speak freely to God without the stain of sin in our hearts, the idea of paying to hear what God says seems preposterous.
So yet again, we see that the Author of life is doing something to point to something, or rather someone. I find it fascinating that it just so happens that the boy has some silver coins with which to pay to hear the words of God. Jump forward to the first century and we find something very different happening, here were find the religious leaders paying Judas with 30 pieces of silver to shut up not just God’s words to His people but the very Word of God Himself. What a terrible turn of events, the man they wanted to crown the new Davidic king, the one they thought was the Messiah, the one who did miracles, they now pay to kill. But as we know, it was in killing Him that we were to be saved.
In all of history, never has 30 pieces of silver bought so much. And what has it bought? Well for one, we who by nature are Gentile sinners, having been washed in the blood of the Lamb, are made completely clean and given free access to come before the Holy God! We no longer pay to know about God and what He wants, we know it because in Jesus He revealed Himself. As the author of Hebrews puts it, summing up the history of salvation: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe.”
I believe in a big God who was willing to sacrifice His life for me. I believe in a big God who takes all the pain and suffering and lingering questions in my life and makes all things work together for my good. Do you believe that this God, who so clearly has always acted in history, from making donkeys go astray to coming down in person to meet us, actually makes all things work together for your good? Do we take hold of the gift of having The Holy Spirit constantly praying inside of us? Do we take hold of the gift of having King Jesus interceding without ceasing for us? Do we take hold of the gift of the Father who searches our hearts that He might do what is best for us? Do we take hold of the gift of prayer, of a free relationship with God and rejoice each day about the great things God has done for us? Do we each day come up with a new testimony to His greatness?
Do we always, without fail, value the mercy and grace of God who allows us to address ourselves to the Eternal Father anywhere, anytime – not just in a mosque like Muslims? Do we with happiness and excitement daily read God’s revelation and not have to pay for it like those in the so called ‘church of scientology’. Do we daily know that when we pray Jesus hears us unlike the chunks of wood and stone worshipped by Hindus? Do we daily have a personal relationship with the Divine King Jesus and not just a self-destroying philosophy of nothing like the Buddhists? Do we truly grasp the great joy it is to be a follower of the one and only God who authored all of history, to be a follower of Christ, a Christian – and are we going to share this joy with everyone we meet? Because it is only in Jesus anyone can know God and be saved.