Doing Our Best Work In Our Golden Years

In the previous passage, Samuel prophesied, foretelling what the procedure of the king would be. Before this, Samuel’s ministry, which lasted until he was old (8:1), was routine. Samuel would travel the same circuit judging Israel (7:15-17). He had appointed his sons as judges because of his old age (8:1-2). Now, in his old age, there is a paradigm shift. As we have seen in the text over the previous couple weeks, Samuel was displeased, but this is God’s plan.

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This morning’s text tells the story of how Saul came to meet Samuel and How Samuel, in his old age, continued to honor God and do God’s work according to God’s word. 

1 Samuel 9:1-14

Now there was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah, the son of a Benjamite, a mighty man of valor. He had a son whose name was Saul, a choice and handsome man, and there was not a more handsome person than he among the sons of Israel; from his shoulders and up he was taller than any of the people. Now the donkeys of Kish, Saul’s father, were lost. So Kish said to his son Saul, “Take now with you one of the servants, and arise, go search for the donkeys.”

He passed through the hill country of Ephraim and passed through the land of Shalishah, but they did not find them. Then they passed through the land of Shaalim, but they were not there. Then he passed through the land of the Benjamites, but they did not find them. When they came to the land of Zuph, Saul said to his servant who was with him, “Come, and let us return, or else my father will cease to be concerned about the donkeys and will become anxious for us.”

He said to him, “Behold now, there is a man of God in this city, and the man is held in honor; all that he says surely comes true. Now let us go there, perhaps he can tell us about our journey on which we have set out.”

Then Saul said to his servant, “But behold, if we go, what shall we bring the man? For the bread is gone from our sack and there is no present to bring to the man of God. What do we have?”

The servant answered Saul again and said, “Behold, I have in my hand a fourth of a shekel of silver; I will give it to the man of God and he will tell us our way.”

(Formerly in Israel, when a man went to inquire of God, he used to say, “Come, and let us go to the seer”; for he who is called a prophet now was formerly called a seer.)

Then Saul said to his servant, “Well said; come, let us go.” So they went to the city where the man of God was. As they went up the slope to the city, they found young women going out to draw water and said to them, “Is the seer here?”

They answered them and said, “He is; see, he is ahead of you. Hurry now, for he has come into the city today, for the people have a sacrifice on the high place today. As soon as you enter the city you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat, for the people will not eat until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward those who are invited will eat. Now therefore, go up for you will find him at once.”

So they went up to the city. As they came into the city, behold, Samuel was coming out toward them to go up to the high place.

Introducing Saul

Saul is a Benjamite (v. 1). He is a tall, dark, and handsome bachelor (v. 2). He works hard (v. 3). He values family (v. 5). He is hospitable and respectful (v. 7-8). This guy seems like kingly material. It has already been prophesied by Samuel, as he declared the word of the Lord, that Saul will not be a good king and will not obey God’s law for the kings, which was set forth in Deuteronomy 17 (about 200 years before this event takes place). Even though, from a human perspective, this guy has everything that might be desired in a leader, he is not a man who will honor God. He will not be a man after God’s own heart.

Last week we saw that at least from almost 200 years prior to this event, God was planning this. God is working things together to bring Israel a king after His own heart as He prepares His own throne (the throne of Christ) within His own creation. It is interesting, here, that God is bringing a man from the tribe of Benjamin to be anointed and appointed as king over Israel. According to God’s word through Jacob, who was renamed Israel, it was the tribe of Judah, not Benjamin, that would always have a king on the throne. God revealed this in Genesis 49, as Moses wrote down the history of Israel. God revealed this information about 600 years prior to this part of the narrative in 1 Samuel through Jacob. 

When Jacob was about to die, he revealed to his sons what would befall them. To Judah, he said,

“Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. He ties his foal to the vine, And his donkey’s colt to the choice vine; He washes his garments in wine, And his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are dull from wine,

And his teeth white from milk” (Genesis 49:8-12).

Of Benjamin, he said,

“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; In the morning he devours the prey, And in the evening he divides the spoil” (Genesis 49:27).

In Genesis 49:28, Moses clarifies that these prophecies applied to the tribes and not necessarily the individual people. 600 years before this moment, God has already said that the tribe of Benjamin will be a ravenous wolf that divides his spoils. 200 years before this moment, God reveals to Israel what kind of king Israel shall have. In these moments, Samuel has explained to the people exactly what this first king, a Benjamite, will do. He will be a ravenous wolf who divides his spoils, exactly like God declared through Jacob 600 years earlier. It turns out that God has been planning this and working this out for more than 200 years. It has been at least 600 years and has been in the works at least since Israel was first becoming a nation (if not from the foundation of the world). According to God’s word, spoken 600 years earlier, the tribe of Benjamin will not keep the throne. The throne will be occupied perpetually by the tribe of Judah and according to Deuteronomy 17.

This text is careful to point out that Saul is desirable from a human perspective but, according to God’s will and plan, is unfit to be positively used by God. Make no mistake, God is using Saul as He uses every person. Saul is being used in a negative, not a positive, way. The question is: Are we used as vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22) or as vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory (Romans 9:23)?

There are certain things we look for in leaders. This can include elected officials, pastors, elders, kings, bosses, etc… What we learn, here, is that the person we would choose to lead, a president, governor, or even a pastor, is not necessarily the one who will honor God. Saul was the full package, a Renaissance man (anachronistic, I know), young, dashing, with a powerful and charismatic presence. A capable, multitalented, successful, charismatic, looker is not who God would use positively in Israel. He would positively use a shepherd boy from the tribe of Judah who didn’t really have any leadership skills because it was His will, which He declared long beforehand (c.f. Isaiah 42:9, 46:10, 48:1-11). When we choose church or government or education leaders, we do not do so based on the capabilities we perceive but after much prayer and striving to discern God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will. If we think too highly of ourselves, let us be careful lest we be like Saul. If we are convinced that we cannot do something because of our insufficiencies, let us be encouraged by what we see God working out here. Our work and our success in anything depends solely upon the will and work of God, not upon how good our grades were in high school, how many degrees we have, how charismatic we are, how good we are at planning, how healthy we are, how good-looking we are, how powerful our presence, how intelligent we are, how knowledgable we are, how athletic we are, how technical we are, how robust our resumes are, where in the world we are located, how large of a following we have, what our specific theologies are, how much money we have, how friendly we are, how much experience we have etc… This is a great encouragement and a deep conviction for us.

Some thoughts about Samuel’s ministry

As we have seen, Samuel is having to do something different in his old age. Samuel is probably between 38 and 55 years old. Life expectancy through A.D. 1900 was about 45.6 years for men. It is not until the last 100 years that life expectancy has increased, particularly due to western medicine. One thing I wish someone would have taught me growing up is how to age well. Everyone was so busy trying to be relevant that they could’t prepare me to do this. What I have learned about aging well, I have learned from God’s word. When people have tried to teach me from their experience, I discovered, when the time came, that the advice was terrible advice. While we can learn from our experience, we cannot assume that anyone else will have the same sort of experiences that we do, and we cannot assume that our experience is really profitable for anyone else because different people are different. This is why this world, and many churches, is so bad at raising up younger generations. We have assumed that our experience is authoritative and it is not.

How can I teach about aging well without that experience? The answer is simple. I am simply teaching what God has given. It is God’s word, not anyone’s experience, that is our authority for life and ministry and it is sufficient. I have learned more, theologically and practically (this doesn’t necessarily include informational facts), from God’s word than I ever have from anyone’s experiences or from tradition or from history or from science or from math or from any other subject. I can be a genius and still not have a right heart or bear good fruit.

As we have seen, God really is working all things together, even in the way that Saul was brought before Samuel. I notice in the story that almost nothing is recorded about Samuel’s youth. He, as with Moses and Abraham and Noah and the Apostle John, did his best work before the Lord in his old age. Too many people stop serving in their old age, but it seems that God has a special place for those who serve Him well as they age on this earth. God doesn’t only use young men and women. If we are steadfast, I think God will bring us to do our best work in our old age as well. He is the one who, as we see in this story, distributes faith, gifts, and opportunity. 

We can see this truth explicitly stated in the Bible. When we read and strive to know something about God from the narrative portions of Scripture, it is important that we not only use what we see in the narrative to make vague doctrinal points. We want to go to the rest of Scripture and use Scripture to interpret Scripture. We want to find those places in Scripture where doctrine is spelled out explicitly and read God’s story in light of what God has explicitly revealed about Himself- not making assumptions about God based on what we can read into a narrative.

I went to a revival once and heard the second-worst preacher I have ever heard in my life. He was preaching on Noah’s Ark. He referred to himself as a “pistol packin’ preacher.” This guy spent an hour adding so many details to the biblical flood story, some fantastical, in an effort to try and scare the hell out of people. By the time he finished, the story was unrecognizable as anything present in God’s Bible and many things were said about God that God did not reveal in His Bible. The worst part was that the congregation, almost the whole congregation, ate it up. They loved his exuberant personality and the fact that he could tell a good story. As a result, they believed that the Bible says some things that it never says. Many people do. There are many ‘churches’ in which things are being taught that God did not give to be taught in His church. People mistake that for Christianity. So, I just want to go to the Bible with you to see what God says about Himself and His own work. I simply want to plead with you to believe God.

Concerning faith and gifts

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:3-8).

It is God how allots to each person a measure of faith. I can’t belittle someone for lacking faith and I cannot cause myself to have more faith. My responsibility according to Scripture explicitly is to steward the faith that God has allotted as member of Christ’s body for the benefit of other members.

The gifts we each have are in accordance with the grace given to each of us and we practice our gifts according to the grace given to us. And we use these gifts according to the proportion of faith that has been allotted to each of us perspectively.

Concerning gifts

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

Scripture states clearly that God is the one who works all things (gifts, ministries, and effects) in all persons. Each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit (gifts, ministries, or effects) for the common good. We do not get the credit even for working these things in ourselves or in others. God takes the credit for working all things in all persons.

Concerning opportunity

“Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isaiah 46:8-11).

In the context of this passage, God is reminding those who think little of Him who He is. God has no equal and can be compared to no one (Isaiah 46:5). God’s sovereignty is the foremost thing presented about Him throughout His Bible. Why do we think that the primary confession of the believer is in His lordship (Romans 10:9)? If we do not confess that Christ is absolutely Lord, we have not received salvation according to Romans 10. We may hold to some sort of religious looking thing, but if we do not confess that Jesus Christ is absolutely Lord over all things, Scripture says that we do not know Him and that we do not have eternal life in Him. This is this first confession of the genuine believer. This sovereignty, according to Scripture explicitly, extends to every event. This means that God doesn’t merely give opportunity, He is working out the result. So, we do not fear failure.

For those who are old, we have purpose in our old age. God has provided faith, gifts, and opportunity for us to serve. The temptation is that we take on the retirement mentality. When we read the story of Samuel, we realize that Samuel was preparing things to operate without him. God’s plan was different. While most of his ministry was routine, Samuel would do his best work for the kingdom in his old age. Many who retire from secular work use retirement as an excuse to simply seek comfort, be happy, accumulate stuff, and be served. “I did my part, now it’s time for me to relax.” Scripture would call us to use our final years to sacrificially serve and give, possibly doing our best work in these years. Secular retirement simply gives us the opportunity to dedicate ourselves more to the service of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Perhaps, like Paul, we might be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). There will be great treasure in Heaven laid up for these men and women of the faith. Honestly, younger generations need the older generations to be a fierce example of what it means to live for Christ.

For those who are young, our goal cannot be merely to survive as long as possible or earn for ourselves comfort for the end of life. We are here to serve. We seek to learn as much as we can, training our bodies in righteousness, becoming mature and complete; so that in our old age we might also do our best work for our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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