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. 21And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22 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. 23Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. 24 Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. 25But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”
This has come to be one of starkest passages in my mind when I think of the gospel and repentance in the Old Testament. The contrast in the first verse sums it up: “Don’t be afraid, you have done evil.” This is absolute nonsense apart from the gracious self-sacrifice of a Holy God. You ought to find comfort, though you have done all the evil you were afraid to unveil. Your suspicions about your life, and the way you have acted are absolutely true. Yet, in spite of this, do not be afraid.
In fact don’t be afraid, and serve the Lord. Don’t turn from your sin to despair, or to wanton worldliness “empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.” Self-pity in the sight of great sin leads only to death (II Cor. 7), or to filling yourself with empty things to distract yourself.
Instead, you ought to continue to walk in the Lord’s ways. Walk with Him, serve Him, love Him. Your sin has made you unfit to serve Him, but His kindness calls you to serve Him in spite of your weight of guilt.
How? Why? “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.“
You belong to the Lord, and because of this He is gracious to you. He has promised to you that He is your God, and will make atonement for your sin. It is because of this that you can freely serve Him in the face of your sin.
You can look your sin right in the face, and yet say boldly, “I belong to the Lord, and will serve Him because His kindness beckons me in”.
Of course, the passage also ends with Samuel warning that if they continue to disobey the Lord, then they have no reason to expect the Lord to bless them. That is, if they disregard His grace, His claiming of them as His own, and don’t repent then they have no reason to expect Him to protect them. Thankfully the Lord is exceedingly patient with us, and yet it seems that we have no reason to expect the Lord to bless us in the face of unrepentant sin.
This is a great example of the two sides of the covenant of grace. Yes, still a covenant of grace. There is nothing we have done, or can do to merit or bind the Lord to call us His people. He has done this for His own name’s sake. We also don’t stay in the covenant by our works. It is not as if these people Samuel is talking to are still in God’s favor because of their goodness. In fact, it is in the context of Samuel’s rebuke for the sin that he calls them to God’s grace. YET, if we hate the Lord, walk against Him, we may be like Ishmael, not a member of the covenant, yet watched over.
We have all known this: those who have heard the Word of God, and yet rejected it face a greater condemnation than those who have never heard it. Here it applies to people who are part of what God is visibly doing in the world, (i.e. the covenant community) and yet who turn against the Lord in the face of His calling them back to His side. Through stubborness they will not enter into His rest.
I find this passage more comforting than anything else. It confronts my sin, and calls it evil. Yet right along side it, the Lord calls me to return to Him despite my backsliding. It is true repentance to return to the Lord and obey, than to sit and mourn in self-pity.