“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 12:20, ESV)
This is Israel’s life verse. As steady as the seasons, they follow God, then don’t. They obey, then disobey. They enjoy a season of bright devotion only to be followed by wintery cold-heartedness. This is not the first time that Israel has “done all this evil,” nor is it the last. The incessant recurring theme from the fall in Genesis 3 to the end of the Old Testament is this – Israel is a fickle lover. At times, she is not just fickle, but adulterous, even harlotrous. Like stereo, this tinny treble regularly emanating from the left speaker collides with the deep bass of God’s steadfast love from the right. These noises comprise our Bible.
God’s love washes over Israel’s lack of love, yet both are present. In its being washed, Israel’s faithlessness demonstrates God’s faithfulness like a sparkling sunrise framed by a dark and cold night as the sun slowly rises above the black horizon. The beauty of a sunrise is in the fact that light breaks into the darkness. It is in the contrast of colors of this world with those of another star. Israel’s black sins frame the white-hot grace of God’s faithfulness. Yes, there are cold, dark nights when God’s light is only seen indirectly like the sun’s beams reflected on the moon, but the morning always comes. As they say, it is always darkest before the dawn. Come, Lord.
But we, enlightened New Testament Christians do not have this problem. We do not regularly sin like Israel did. We don’t “do all this evil” like they did. That was then, this is now. Israel has a different relationship with God than we do! Or do they? Perhaps we have the same relationship with God because we are Israel. Romans 11 says that Israel is like a tree, and New Testament Christians are the branches of that tree. We are spiritually part of Israel, as integrated as branches are in a tree. They are the trunk, and we are the branches. Israel’s story is our story. We have been “grafted into” the “cultivated olive tree” of Israel (Rom. 11:24).
As such, we’re really not that different from Israel. We sin. We falter. We’re fickle. In fact, sometimes we sin so much we’re like spiritual adulterers, giving all our allegiance to someone else, forgetting about God. This is why it’s so dangerous to constantly see ourselves as David, or Moses, or Abraham – the heroes of the story. If we do, what do we do when we have bad days and act like wayward Israel rather than steadfast Moses? Do we then lose our identity? Do we cease to exist?
The similarities between Christians and Old Testament Israel are not just in our sinfulness. We have the same relationship with God. Though our lives are often darkened with sin, His light shines down upon us like it did them. That’s why this prayer applies to you, not just Old Testament Israel: “May the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Num. 6:25). We need His light and grace in our darkness and sin. We’re not perfect Christians. We’re not much of an improvement from Old Testament Israel. God didn’t get an upgrade when He sent Jesus. We’re the same old bride. But, He is the same good God.
Samuel doesn’t tell Israel, “It’s OK. You’re not that bad. Don’t worry about it.” He tells them, “Yes, you did evil. You are sinners. You messed up big!” But he also says something fascinating: “Do not be afraid” (1 Sam. 12:20). God’s grace will cover their sins. Cover, not ignore. The difference between Israel and New Testament Christians is that we know it is Jesus’ blood that covers our sins. We simply know how much it cost God to forgive us. We’re all God’s children covered by the same blood living in the same family. Prone to wander, Lord we feel it; prone to leave the God we love. Here’s our heart Lord. Take and seal it. Seal it for your courts above! It is in God’s forgiveness that fear is banished. Though midnight is dark, the Son is coming. We know this to be true. Though we walk through the valley of the shadow of the death of sin, we fear no evil for He is with us.