I'm reading through 1 Samuel right now, and the following passage from chapter 12 stood out.
1 Samuel 12:19-22
19And 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." 20And 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.
As you can see in verse 19, this is when Israel demands a king. In so doing, they reject God as their king (1 Sam. 8:7). Major sin. THE major sin, as a matter of fact.
One that I repeatedly commit. We all do. In chapter 12, the Israelites finally come to see what it is they have done, and acknowledge that it is sin, so they ask Samuel, who as judge and prophet of Israel is their mediator with God, to pray for them.
Samuel's response is what stood out to me. He doesn't downplay their sin in an attempt to soothe their guilt. "Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil." Yeah, you screwed up. You have rejected God.
But then he tells them to go back to doing what is right. "Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart." Pick yourselves up, turn from this evil, and do not do it again. It reminds me of John 8:11, where Jesus forgives the woman caught in adultery, saying "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." So often when we fail, we give up, supposing that there is no use in going on. That's not a valid reaction.
Next Samuel calls a spade a spade. "21And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty." Anything with which we replace God is empty; for the Israelites a human king, for me tv or sleep or comfort or any number of other things, and you know your own replacements. Samuel points out that these empty things cannot profit or deliver. Because they are empty. So don't turn aside after them. Duh. We can be so blind.
Finally, in verse 22 Samuel grounds everything on an infinitely precious truth: "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 can't serve God on your own. You never could. He's chosen you for himself. For his own name's sake.
This passage is such a great picture of how God responds to our sin. Yep, you sinned. Against me. It's bad. Now stop. Don't do it anymore. Serve me instead, with all your heart. Those things with which you are trying to replace me are empty. They're worthless. They have nothing to offer you but death. Even though you deserve it, I'm not going to forsake you. I'm going to keep you. And make you mine. Make you what you can't make yourself. And I'm going to do it for my own glory, because I'm the only one worthy of it.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.