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Giving Up, Giving In or Freely Giving

Why does God give up so quickly on God’s chosen people?

by Roy M. Terry IV

Old Testament Reading:  1 Samuel 8:4-20 (11:14-15)

For Sunday, June 10, 2012:  Year B − Ordinary 10

Numerous times I have been in conversations centered on what has caused the most detrimental problems throughout the history of the Church.

Without fail there are usually three primary events offered as to why the people of God have screwed up:

  1. Israel wanted a king over God.
  2. Constantine turned the Church into an institution.
  3. We (America) took prayer out of schools.

Sure, a few of these were dramatic and significant historical factors, but where is God in all of this – are we avoiding the elephant in the room?

Political Dung

1 Samuel 8 and 11 stinks of politics! Now I know, “There is politics in everything” but this story is ripe with it.

Samuel, high priest, judge and prophet of Israel has just been told by his flock that it is time for a leadership change. Samuel, the anointed man of God, was not ready to hear this news. After all, wasn’t the “age of Judges” doing a good enough job? No! The people long for security, guidance and a visible presence to lead them. Samuel, the spiritual leader of Israel, is not able to keep up with the concerns, needs and desperation of the people. Not only is he getting older, but those from his lineage are seen by the people as inept and unfit to take his place.

As Samuel approaches the Lord with their concerns and petition – signed by thousands – he is taking things personally. God responds through Samuel’s prayer and basically let’s Samuel off the hook. “The people have not rejected you but me!”

Hands Up

What is even more perplexing (for me) in the story is God’s response. God basically appears to be throwing divine hands in the air.

In a matter of one verse God tells Samuel to let them do what they want but make sure you warn them of what is to come. All the years of calling, forming, liberating, wandering, feeding, encouraging and giving to these ungrateful, whining and self-loathing people – done! It would appear that God is finished with the whole matter.

Is God giving up? Or, does God see the need for change as well? Have you read Judges lately?

Slavery or Bust

The fear of lost security drives many engines. The world’s understanding of security comes with a price.

The largest part of the assigned text is God’s warning to Israel through Samuel. Over eight times Samuel references the actions of a king as “He will take”. Hierarchies and systems will be put into place through which people will be bound as slaves to their king. No longer will there be freedom and no longer will they know peace. The kingdom which will be built will not be a reflection of God but of humanity and the sacrifices made will not be unto the Lord but unto self-preservation.

The narrative of people’s lives will ultimately be one bound to the world. If you want to play in the sandbox of the world, go ahead, the problem is everyone else is going to want your toys. The result will be slavery. Why would anyone ever want to bow down (again) to slavery? Is God not good enough? Or, are God’s anointed not good enough?

The Hardest Question

In light of the human need for security why doesn’t God act more decisively and do something about it? Why does God give up so quickly?

  Rev. Roy Terry serves as the pastor of Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples, FL. In addition to working at the church, Roy enjoys supporting his wife and daughters equestrian pursuits, playing in the Holy Moly Band, getting a few tattoos and singing classic rock tunes at the local sports pub. He has been published in Christian Century, Duke Divinity Schools publication Divinity, The Ekklesia Project, and was a contributor in Diana Butler Bass’s work on re-traditioning churches, From Nomads to Pilgrims and Christianity for the Rest of Us.


  1. Nick says:

    I love this post – very thought provoking.

    My own thoughts: God doesn’t stand in their way. God gives them what they want. He’s not giving up on them, he’s just not robbing them of their freedom to make decisions.

    In the same way, we have the ability to choose. We can choose what is life affirming and “Godly” and choose “heaven”, or we can choose what is life denying and destructive and choose “hell”. In 1 Sam., Israel chose hell.

    Actions have natural consequences. The natural consequence for choosing a king, in whom all power would be stored, is that the king would use the power against the very people who empowered them. And we see it happen especially with Solomon.

    Even when scripture talks about God’s wrath, it is nothing more than the natural consequences of the actions of the people. God is simply stepping aside, choosing not to protect them from the consequences of their actions. Because in his love for us, he gives us what we choose. If we choose heaven, we get heaven. If we choose hell, we receive hell.

  2. Roy Terry says:

    Nick: thanks for sharing! I agree that this text is a great example of God’s gift of freewill and the consequences that might result through offering such freedom. The gift of freewill exemplifies God’s desire for authentic relationship and also highlights the great risk God is willing to take in order for freedom to exist. That risk is played out very well in this text. Israel chooses slavary over freedom.

  3. Rebekah says:

    Maybe the author of 1 Samuel was just trying to insult monarchists.

How do you read?