“And all the people said to Samuel, ‘Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.’ And Samuel said to the people, ‘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.’”
1 Samuel 12:19-20
It seems like such an ironic statement: “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.” It makes more sense to have the opposite be true. Either “Be afraid; you have done all this evil,” or “Do not be afraid; you have not done all this evil.” But Samuel does such a great job in this passage, combining the glorious grace and faithfulness of God toward His people, and their responsibility to follow Him wholeheartedly going forward.
In his statements, Samuel is not lightening the weight of what the people have done. He isn’t excusing it or saying it’s not that bad. The people know that they have acted wickedly in rejecting God as their king and wanting a man to rule over them instead. Yet in his acknowledgment of what they have done, he tells them not to be afraid, and calls them to serve the Lord with all their heart. He goes on in his response, “And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty” (1 Samuel 12:21). It is not only a call to serve, but also a reminder that nothing else compares with the value and satisfaction and deliverance of our God. Everything else is empty. We cannot turn away from the Lord to other things—jobs, relationships, material wealth or possessions, various entertainments—and experience the pure joy, peace, and freedom promised in Christ.
Then Samuel gets to the reason why Israel need not fear, even in the wake of their sin. “For the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself” (1 Samuel 12:22) The Lord will not forsake His people. He has placed His great name upon them, and to forsake them would be to forsake Himself and show Himself unfaithful. This doesn’t just apply to “His people” in an Old Testament context—the Hebrews, the Israelites, the biological descendants of Abraham. Those of us who have placed our faith and hope in Christ, believing that He is the Son of God, perfect and pure and holy, who gave Himself up for us on the cross and paid the price for our sin, and who rose again on the third day to show His victory over death and the grave—we have this promise to claim:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
1 Peter 2:9-10
It has pleased the Lord to make us a people for Himself. It has pleased Him to choose us from the foundation of the world. To draw us to Himself. To write our days, our stories, and weave His grace through all of it. We need not fear no matter what our past holds, even if we are facing the consequences of a sin we just committed. Because God can redeem it. The blood of Jesus will cover it. Our God and His mercy are greater than our sin.
Our responsibility is not to change the past or to wallow in self-pity, excuses, or wishes to go back and do things differently. I think Samuel’s point is to acknowledge that what’s done is done, and to face forward and strive to be faithful from now on. To give the past to the Lord. Own up to what happened, sincerely admit to Him the wrong and the guilt, and entrust it to His grace. Trust Him to cover it and redeem even your sinful choices to bring Him great glory. Then move forward with your eyes on Christ. Serve Him with your whole heart. Love Him with all that you are. You may not have surrendered then, but you can surrender now and He will be faithful.