There is a very encouraging word for the people of God in 1 Samuel 12. God's covenant people, Israel, have sinned. They have rejected God as their King and have asked for a man-king so they could be like all the other nations (1 Sam 8:20). By the way, the whole point was that Israel NOT be like all the other nations! God gives them Saul as king, and Samuel the prophet stands up to address Israel. In Samuel's words we learn much about what to do when God's people fail.
Acknowledge Our Sin
First, we learn that we must own up to our sin. Don't try to sweep it under the rug. We must admit our guilt. Samuel told the gathered congregation of Israel, "...your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king" (1 Sam 12:17b). The people agreed (after God backed up Samuel's words with a sign - thunder and rain!): "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" (12:19 ESV).
When God's people fail, the very first thing we must do is admit our sin, confess our sin to God and repent. We must not water down the truth of our failure by using words that make it sound a little better than it actually is. Call the thing what it is. Samuel said, "your wickedness is great." The people understood that they deserved to die by sinning against the holy God, and referred to their failure as 'evil.'
We acknowledge our sin. But we do not stay in this place!
From Failure Go Forward In Faith
Samuel told 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)Once again Samuel acknowledged the people's sin. "You have done all this evil." Yet, this is not the final word! Samuel also said, "Do not be afraid." Admit your sin. But do not despair! With the Lord, their is grace and mercy for his people!
Samuel told Israel to go forward in faith from their failure. Don't wait until you've felt guilty for long enough (Dale Ralph Davis). Repent and then go forward in faith. Look back to the Lord and begin to walk in faithfulness to him "with all your heart."
Sometimes when we fall into sin we face the temptation to just give up. Samuel addressed this temptation. "Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD..." Yes, you have sinned. You've messed up BIG. But do not add to this by giving up, by turning from God. Repent and believe and move forward.
Embrace God's Grace
Samuel continues, warning Israel not to use their failure as a turning point to go after false gods:
And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 1 Samuel 12:22 (ESV)No god can satisfy but the Lord! Do not let failure tempt you to run to something else for consolation. Other gods are 'empty.' They cannot 'profit or deliver.' Admit your guilt and then run to the Lord!
Remember God's Faithfulness
Finally, Samuel reminds Israel of great truth that will fill them with hope:
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. I Samuel 1:23 (ESV)The source of our hope is not in US but in GOD! God's love for his people does not rest in the performance of his people, but in his own choice! Samuel reminds Israel that God will not forsake his people, 'for his great name's sake'!! God has chosen to glorify his great name through his people that he is saving and bringing near to himself. He has purposed to do this, and he will not relent. 'It has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.' For himself! God has put his love and affection on his people, not for any reason in us. The reason is in him. This is what he has chosen; this is what has pleased him. He does not change or lie or fail.
Is This True For Us?
This encouragement was given to God's old covenant people, Israel. But through Israel's line God sent his Son, Jesus Christ. And in Christ God has made a new covenant, with people from every tribe, tongue and nation. All who come to him, by grace through faith in Christ, are part of his people, the church. Jesus has redeemed us with his blood, poured out on the cross. He has risen from the dead. And he has done this for his people, 'that he might present the church to himself in splendor...' (Eph 5:27). We who are in Christ are his precious people, and these promises apply to us in him!
When believers fail, we must not wallow in our guilt. Jesus has already borne our sins in his body on the tree (1 Pet 2:24). So what do we do? We quickly confess our sin to God in repentance. And we put our eyes back on Jesus, going forward from our failure, in faith. We remember the great truth that God has loved us from before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4) and has chosen to glorify his great name by bringing his people to himself. We have hope, because the God who loves us is sovereign, and he cannot fail!