Dr. Elías Rodríguez | Cleveland, Tennessee
There was a man of God who had a great career leading God’s people. In today’s Pentecostal language we would say that revival broke out under his leadership. During the days of Eli, his predecessor, “the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1 NIV). Under the ministry of Eli and his sons, the tabernacle was in place, the Ark of the Covenant was in the Holy of Holies, the sacrifices were performed as ordered by God in the Law, but everything fell under the category of performance. God was absent and the priests and the people had not noticed. God was not missed in the picture. But with Samuel, things began to change, for with him, the voice of the Lord was heard again and “the Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word” (v.21).
Samuel was doing a great job judging and delivering God’s people from their enemies to the point that “throughout his lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines” (7:13). But one day, the elders of Israel came to him and told him some dreaded words: “Samuel, you are old.” Besides telling him something that he already knew, they added: “and your sons do not walk in your ways.” These two statements justified their request: “now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (8:4). This request for a king displeased Samuel. He was not thinking about retiring from his job, but now the people asked him to retire. He felt rejected by the same people he had served since his youth (12:2). Maybe his surprise was greater with God, who told him: “listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (8:7). Therefore, rejection of the leader was only a sign of having rejected God.
What do we learn from the life of Samuel as he transitioned from ministry to retirement?
Handle transition with grace despite rejection (1 Samuel 9, 10)
I think about Samuel as he is going through this process. He and his sons have been rejected. One because of age, the others because of corruption. If I would have been Samuel, I would had been thinking or expressing many things such as: these ungrateful people; see how they repay me for my sacrifice and the sacrifice of my children; I have given them my life and I only get their rejection. But that is me. We don’t know what went through Samuel’s mind.
One day, God told Samuel that he was sending a man from the land of Benjamin, whom he had to anoint to be the leader over his people, and that he will deliver his people from the hand of the Philistines (9:15). This man was taking over Samuel’s job. Maybe Samuel remembered when, under his leadership, God delivered Israel from the Philistines.
Now this man, whom he doesn’t know yet, is going to do his job. I don’t know what to think about the words that Samuel told Saul: “and to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and all your father’s family?” (9:20). I think that it takes a lot of courage to recognize that you and your family are no longer the desire of the people. That the people prefer another leader. And still, you honor that other leader with dignity as Samuel did, because at the end, he is God’s leader, and they are God’s people. Him you ‘seat at the head of the table, and give the special piece of meat laid aside’ (9:22—24). To him you offer hospitality, for he is not your enemy. He is your fellow servant (9:25). To him you give instructions about his new task (9:25). To him you give God’s words and anointing (9:27; 10:1), acknowledging God’s call on him. Upon him you want the Spirit of the Lord coming in power (10:6), because this is not about competition, but about servanthood. One servant empowering another. The older empowering the younger. Despite your pain, there is no place for jealousy or rivalry. Either forced or voluntarily, handle transition with grace. And when the time of transitioning comes:
Leave as you lived (1 Samuel 12)
We should have only one way of living. We have to live by the Word. When the day comes for us to leave, will we be able to face those whom we have served and look them in the eyes without shame and regret?
Samuel declared boldly: “Here I stand!” (12:3). Stand means to be in an upright position with all of your weight on your feet (Merriam-Webster). Just imagine the eyes of all the people on him, and Samuel standing amongst them. Some of you know what it is to have the eyes of everybody on you and the pressure that it brings. In my case, my mouth dries and it feels like sand. I remember my first sermon in Lima, Perú, a long time ago. I fainted. And that was just a small group of maybe 15 people. At this moment, Samuel, standing before the people, reminds them that he has been their leader from his youth until that day. They already know him. They know what kind of life he has lived. Samuel has nothing to hide. For that reason, with God and his anointed as witnesses, he calls them to testify against him if he had broken the law. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Ox and donkey are mentioned in the tenth commandment: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s ox or donkey” (Exodus 20:17). They replied: “You have not taken anything from anyone” (1 Samuel 12:4). Samuel then continues with the laws of justice and mercy aimed at dealings with your neighbor: “Do not accept bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous. Do not oppress an alien: you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt” (Exodus 23:8, 9).
And he asks: “Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these, I will make it right.” Again the answer of the people was: “You have not cheated or oppressed us” (1 Samuel 12:4).
Samuel was setting himself against Eli, Eli’s sons, and even his own children who disregarded and violated the law and used their position for their own benefit, and, maybe, setting the standard for the newly anointed king. And standing before them, after their negative response, he could say: “The Lord is witness against you, and also his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand” (v.5).
The people did not have any evidence against Samuel breaking the Commandments, but he had some evidences against them. Now he told them: “stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the Lord as to all the righteous acts performed by the Lord for you and your fathers” (v.7). Samuel retold them the Exodus story and how unfaithful toward God they had been. Instead of serving God, they served the Baals and Ashtoreth. As a result, God sold them in the hands of their enemies, but when they cried out to God, He delivered them sending the judges. So far, God had been sufficient to deliver them from their enemies. But now that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against them (v.12), they asked for a king to rule over them. They rejected God as their king, for an earthly king, because they wanted to be like the other nations. With this they also rejected their singularity as a nation. To demonstrate God’s displeasure (and I would add Samuel’s too), of the evil thing they did requesting a king, Samuel told them again “stand still and see this great thing the Lord is about to do before your eyes!” (v.16). In summertime, as an answer to Samuel’s prayer, God sent thunder and rain (vv.17, 18), “so all the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel.” Since Samuel always honored God’s Word, God honored Samuel’s words, too (3:19). Like Samuel, when leaving time comes, let’s leave how we have lived. Leave with clean hands and a good testimony.
As you leave, encourage those coming after you (1 Samuel 12:19–25)
Samuel lived an uncorrupted, spiritually healthy life. That enabled him to be able to continue praying and teaching the people of God. After seeing a supernatural manifestation of the power of God, who sent rain and thunder in summertime as an answer to Samuel’s prayer, those who rejected him asked him to pray for them. His answer to them was: “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing Here I Stand! to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right” (12:23). His clean hands and heart qualified him for continuing his ministry from backstage. There are some people that I would not like to pray or teach me, since they leave ministry spiritually sick, with bitterness and poisoned. Our goal should be to start uncorrupted, continue uncorrupted, and finish uncorrupted. We must also leave with words of encouragement for the people.
How you leave will make an impression on those coming after you. Don’t even pretend that you will leave in one piece. Remember that we are coming out of the battlefield. But leave with the best of you. Leave with a positive attitude, with a clean testimony that will encourage those coming after you.
The Battleground is a movie about 101st Airborne resisting Hitler’s fierce, final counteroffensive. The soldiers were facing a crude winter; outnumbered by the Germans; they were running out of food and ammunition, until one day the skies cleared, and the Air Force could help them defeat the enemy. They were tired, some were wounded, some had limbs affected by the cold, and they were in need of a good rest. Even though the sergeant received the order for their relief, when he called them into formation, he made them believe that they were going back to the battlefield. They began forming unwillingly, practically pushing their bodies into formation. But suddenly, the sergeant gave an order that they were not expecting: “About face!” and began to smile.
As they began marching out, they saw a column of new soldiers coming into the battlefield. One of the soldiers shows them to the sergeant, who immediately gets the group ready to give a good impression to those new soldiers coming in. The attitude of the soldiers changed as they began chanting their military cadence. They found strength, changing their discouraged walk to a strong march out of the battlefield.
For me, this is an inspiration for those coming after me, whom I want to say: “If that is the way you come from the battlefield, I want to go the battlefield.”
All the Scriptures are from the NIV unless otherwise specified.