Think of how many ways you hear the question being asked today, “How long?” It may be about the virus that people are asking how long it will go on and how long it will be before there is a vaccine or a cure of some kind to stop it from spreading all over the place. It may be how long it will be before the government acts on some of the issues that people are faced with today. It could be how long it will be before the police receive a different kind of training that leaves people less fearful. For many, it is how long must we go on as a nation before the problems between the races will be solved. Or you may think of a thousand different ways you might ask the same question of “how long” with regard to some personal problem or challenge in your own life.
Look at a time with me when God raised the question of “How long?” In I Samuel 16:1 “The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” Samuel had anointed Saul to be king of Israel on the charge of God himself. The people of Israel cried out for a king so they could be like the nations around them and God allowed them to have one. He appointed Saul when he was a man of humility and looked to God for the lead. But power, opportunity, or responsibility changed Saul and it wasn’t for the better. He stopped following God’s commands completely. There were always reasons for his disobedience to God and I am certain that he believed his reasons were legitimate. But God didn’t give his commands for him to decide which he would obey and which he would change to fit what he wanted. It started when God sent Saul to lead the army of Israelites in battle but he was to wait for Samuel to arrive in seven days to offer a sacrifice to God and then lead out in battle. He waited for the seven days and Samuel still hadn’t arrived and instead of waiting a little longer, he became afraid that all the men would forsake him since many were becoming overly discouraged that Samuel hadn’t arrived. He determined to go ahead and offer the sacrifice himself and not wait for Samuel any longer. No sooner had he made the offering when Samuel showed up. Later God had Samuel to tell Saul to lead the army out against the Amalekites and to completely destroy them for the evil they had done to the nation of Israel. Saul understood the command completely. But when in the battle and winning easily with God’s blessing, he decided to not destroy the animals there were healthy and to spare the life of king Agag.
When he returned God sent Samuel to meet him and told him that Saul had refused to follow the commands. Saul came out, it seems, cheerfully to say to Samuel that he had fully obeyed the Lord. Samuel asked, “When then is the meaning of the bleating of the sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of the cattle that I hear?” Saul blamed it on the men that they wanted to keep the animals and make them an offering to God. Samuel explained that obeying is better than sacrifice and to listen to God better than anything we could give the Lord as worship. God had Samuel to say to Saul that He was riping the kingdom away from him and would give it to a man more honorable than him.
Obviously, after that happened and Samuel went back home his reaction was one of mourning over Saul. He saw all the lost opportunity. Saul had so many chances to get things right. But he constantly sinned again and instead of repenting of the sin, he always had an excuse that usually involved blaming someone else for his problems. Samuel was an old man when he anointed Saul as king. He likely thought he would be the one who could take the lead in Israel that he had kept for many years now. But Saul failed. God’s point to Samuel was that it was now time to face the reality that Saul wasn’t going to make it and to get on with the job of anointing someone else for the job. So, get up and go to Bethlehem and anoint one of Jesse’s sons as the new king. He was afraid of Saul if it became known what he was doing so God told him just to say he was going to make an offering and to invite Jesse and his sons. David the youngest son, who was still a rather young teenager, was chosen by God and Samuel anointed him to become king. It would be some fifteen years before David would actually become king of Judah and another seven years before he became king of all Israel. So, God’s actions weren’t a quick change. It did lay out a plan that would bring them a king after his own heart.
There is a powerful lesson for us in this short story. it is easy when something we have done, believing it was God’s plan and will for us to do, and it doesn’t work out in a good way at all, to begin to grieve and mourn over the failure and give up doing anything to make things better. We can easily become crippled by past mistakes or poor judgments. This is especially true if we are criticized loudly for the past moves. It is good to look back at past mistakes and learn from them. But if instead of learning and moving on we simply grieve over the mistakes and do nothing else it becomes a devastating blow. The truth is everyone and every group of people make mistakes. If we are talking about the home then parents often realize they made poor judgments in raising their children. It’s hard to face that reality. But if I simply stop and mourn over the failures then nothing good can come from it. In church the elders are often stalled by the fact they made a poor decision in the past so now they simply avoid making any decision. In business, a board of directors or the CEO of a company can get stuck where they are because of a wrong decision that led to terrible press so now they sit and watch hoping for problems to solve themselves. School boards, principles and superintendents fall into the same trap. After making a bad decision they are too often thrown into a hole where they can’t make any decision, so they decide to utterly fail.
If you look back over the past in your life and realize you have made some horrible mistakes, don’t get stuck there. You can’t make better moves the next time by not making any move at all. Just prayerfully move on and strive to make better decisions in the future. David would become king and be the greatest king Israel ever had. He would actually become the standard by which they judged all future kings. Instead of grieving over the past mistakes, determined to make better ones in the future and who knows it might be the best one you could have made. Sitting and mourning works for a little while but soon action is needed.