Change the last word, king, and you can substitute a myriad of other vocations — coach, preacher, principal, teacher, civic leader, government official, receptionist, newscaster, or maybe the vocation you worked at doing for years, only to find yourself on the outside looking in at what used to be your job... your role... your identity.
These words, or something similar to them, were said to Samuel, the great leader of God's people over three thousand years ago (1 Samuel 8:1-5). The only difference was that Samuel had to find his own replacement. He had to anoint and empower the new king who would replace him.
After serving God's people for decades, after helping turn around the disorganized and disunified tribes of Israel and after calling them to a more holy purpose in serving the LORD, the people he helped asked Samuel to find them a king. And he did:
Samuel said to all Israel, "I have listened to everything you said to me and have set a king over you. Now you have a king as your leader. As for me, I am old and gray, and my sons are here with you. I have been your leader from my youth until this day. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right" (1 Samuel 12:1-3 NIV)
In fact, when this first king, King Saul, rebelled against God and began his long spiral into madness, Samuel was still needed. Not needed to resume leadership of God's people, but to help the people find a leader after God's heart who could step into the role of king. This new king would be David the son of Jesse, the shepherd and warrior and singer whose rule as king would forever redefine God's people.
The hero of our story today, however, is not David, but Samuel. Samuel was God's bridge from chaos to stability, from disunity to an organized and aligned kingdom, from being a battered collection of tribal groups to an army and nation to be feared and respected.
Samuel's power was his integrity as a leader and the power of God's anointing of Samuel's life and ministry:
The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel's words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word (1 Samuel 3:19-21).
What strikes me as most honorable about Samuel was his unwillingness to simply vanish into the twilight of rejection and old age. He was hurt (1 Samuel 8:6-8). He talked to God about it. God talked to Samuel about it. But most importantly, Samuel didn't sulk, run off, and spend the remaining years of his life in bitterness and blame. Instead, he tried to help Saul by being a righteous example and spiritual mentor. When this failed — not because of Samuel, but because of Saul's growing rebellion and madness — God had Samuel find Israel's next king.
So at great personal risk, Samuel anointed, encouraged, empowered, and supported King David (1 Samuel 16:1-13). David's rule is on the rise and Samuel's mission is largely accomplished when Samuel's old body fails and he is finally laid to rest (1 Samuel 25:1). By the time Samuel's life ended, he had accomplished his life's mission and offered himself as the bridge between the chaos of the judges — the bridge over the crisis caused by Saul's failures, and the bridge that brought God's people to a stable leader, a protected land, more passionate worship, and the promise of God's better future.
And the message for us? Well, I'd love to hear from you what you think the most important message of Samuel's life is for you — use the Facebook plugin on the website below or send me a personal email (firstname.lastname@example.org and I will post it online. But for me, there are some take away points that I don't want to miss. I hope that they bless you as well:
- Disappointment and rejection are part of leadership and should be expected.
The character and value of a leader is determined by HOW she or he handles the rejection and disappointment, not IF he or she has to face rejection and disappointment.
- Human rejection of God's leader does not nullify the call of God in the leader's life.
While the people of God rejected Samuel as leader and wanted a king, God's call to Samuel to be his mouthpiece, his prophet, his righteous leader was to be used at God's discretion and was to remain vital all of Samuel's life. Samuel fulfilled that role till the very end of his life.
- God's leader must not become bitter because of rejection, but remain open to being used by God to bless God's people again.
When rejection and hurt come to God's leader — and this inevitably happens to nearly every leader — that leader can become bitter and withdraw blaming the people he or she once served, or that leader can be open and honest with God and have God lead them to another way of serving his people.