Why Political Change is Often So Slow

In 1 Samuel chapter 13 God had rejected Saul as king, and in chapter 16 David is anointed, yet Saul remains in authority for 40 years! Waiting for God to fix politics can feel agonizingly slow unless you look behind the scenes and realize God is always at work, using the very politics we hate to work for His good.


One of the things in 1 Samuel that I suspect some of you will be able to identify with is the frustration of how long it took to get King Saul out of office. Saul was in office for a total of 40 years and his son was in office over the northern tribes for another 7 ½ years after that. Now the first two years of Saul's reign were actually pretty good, but that still makes 45 years of frustration.

You see, God rejected Saul from being king in chapter 13, way back at the beginning of his third year of ruling. But nothing happens. In chapter 15, God once again makes it clear that Saul is not fit to rule. But nothing happens even though this is Saul's 25^th^ year in power. In chapter 16 David is anointed, but Saul will continue to rule over the south for another 15 years, and Saul's dynasty will rule over the north for another 22½ years after David's anointing. Waiting for God to fix politics can sometimes be excruciatingly slow—unless you look behind the scenes and realize that God has been working all along, and He has using the very politics that we hate to bring discipline, to wake people up to their need of Christ, to give awareness of the evil fruits of humanism, and to raise up a remnant who have a will to pray and to fight, and in other ways to work these things together for the good of the church. And when you begin to see God's victory behind the scenes, it is not quite as frustrating. You suddenly get excited to realize that what is happening in America today is absolutely needed to wake the church up.

The fact of the matter is that in chapter 16, the people would not have been ready to experience liberty anyway. Even the magistrates were cowardly puppets under Saul. Certainly they did not like Saul and were fearful of civil government. But like Christians today, they were not ready to take the radical steps needed to have Biblical government. And so God used Saul to make citizens more and more distrustful of centralized government, and to have such a bad taste in their mouth over politics that they are ready to go back to Bible. And it's my desire that this would happen in America. In chapter 16, they are not ready for that yet. But in your outlines I've given you ten additional reasons why political change for the better is often so slow.

Failure to bring God's message to all the people (v. 1a with chapters 13 and 15)

The first reason is that God's message about Saul being disqualified didn't get down to the people. Verse 1 indicates that this is yet another message from the Lord. "Now the LORD said to Samuel…" As a prophet, Samuel was always a perfect receptacle and transmitter of God's Word. When the Spirit spoke, Samuel always spoke the word infallibly. In fact, he couldn't help but speak even though he was fearful. The Spirit moved him. 2Peter 1:20 says, "for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." So Samuel's failure was not in receiving or speaking prophecy. He couldn't help but infallibly do so. The failure came that Samuel didn't always like God's Word, and didn't always implement God's Word.

And in this chapter, because of fear and other reasons, what God said through Samuel to the king never made it to the people or even to other civil magistrates who could do something about it. In chapter 13 Samuel knows that Saul is rejected. He talks to Saul privately, but this message is never distributed to other people or acted upon by Samuel. Instead he goes home.

God sends Samuel again in chapter 15, and Samuel again gives his message of God's rejection to Saul by himself. Once the prophesying was over, Samuel could have acted upon the Word, but he did not. He could have called upon Saul to step down right then and there, and since the people still respected Samuel as a judge, he could have taken over, and started a co-regency with David until David came of age. But the word of the Lord never gets to the people who need to hear it.

In fact, look at 1Samuel 15:30. Saul begs Samuel, saying, "I have sinned, yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the LORD your God." Saul knows that if his rejection by God gets to the people or to the other magistrates, he could lose the kingdom that very day. He wants Samuel to endorse him as king in front of the elders. But to do that is the engage in the exact opposite of what God had just infallibly communicated through Samuel. It is to honor what God rejected. Well, Samuel succumbed to the pressure, and by worshipping together with Saul implied a spiritual endorsement and by executing Agag in front of Saul, implied a political endorsement. The message of God's rejection never gets to the people so that they can act upon it.

And I believe this is the primary reason for the failure of the church to make a difference in America. Do Christians in DC hear God's clear Word as they read the Bible? Yes they do, just as much as Saul heard God's Word. But do they bring that word with them into politics? No. They say, "Well, my personal opinion is… but I don't bring that into politics." As if neutrality can ever be pleasing to God. But when they fail to bring the Word into politics, automatically they are engaging in humanism. It may be a humanism with conservative values and conservative politics, but they still short-circuit the power of God's Word. And then you have churches endorsing these candidates who reject God's commandments simply because they are professing Christians. The majority of Americans call themselves Christian, yet both conservatives and liberals engage in a Bible-less politics. Last week we saw that because of this desire for pluralism, God was going to shove the church's nose into the mess of Saul for a long time until they were ready to embrace a man who wanted a Biblical politics. That may indeed be what is happening here in America.

Loyalty to what is good in a God-rejected candidate (v. 1b)

The second reason was a misplaced loyalty in a God-rejected candidate. Verse 1 again: "Now the LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul…?" We are not told all the reasons why Samuel wished that Saul could be accepted by God. Commentators have suggested personal reasons such as admiration for Saul's good qualities (and he had some), or a lost friendship. Others have suggested public reasons, such as wanting to avoid civil war, or pragmatic reasons of wanting a successful commander to continue protect Israel against the Philistines. We aren't told. These are all guesses on the part of commentators. But what is certain is that God disapproves of Samuel's loyalty to Saul and his grieving over God's rejection of Saul. On that, commentators are agreed.

And in our own day it is easy to allow loyalty to a party, or loyalty to a candidate to make us blind to what the Scripture says about that candidate's positions. In the last election I was astonished at the naïve support that Christians gave to various candidates simply because they claimed to be Christian. And they ignored the fact that these men were disqualified by Scripture. Our loyalties in politics must be first and foremost to God. Blind loyalty has allowed many Christians to be manipulated by politicians. We need to grieve over the right things. Rather than grieving over a loss by a candidate or a party, we ought to grieve that very few in DC are thinking Biblically.

Failure of magistrates to engage in interposition (v. 1c with 8:1-5; 13:14 and 15:22-35)

A third failure was a lack of interposition. We have already sort of looked at that concept in chapter 15. But look again at verse 1. God said, "How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel?" God doesn't just say that Saul lacks qualifications. He's been rejected from reigning any more. Each time the word came to Samuel, God made it clear that Saul should no longer reign. And commentators have pointed out that Samuel is being severely rebuked here. The NICOT commentary points out that the Hebrew is sharply contrasting God's behavior with Samuel's behavior. I believe he is rebuked for two things: first, for his recent endorsement of Saul in chapter 15, and second, for disagreeing with God's rejection by his mourning. Now that's scary when you think about whom Christians are endorsing nowadays and whom they have set their hopes on.

And just in case you think this is being a little hard on Samuel, I want to remind you of chapter 7:15, which says that Samuel ruled as judge over Israel all his days. Samuel was never to step down from his office. He was supposed to be a co-regent with his adopted son, Saul until his death. He had the authority to stop Saul's tyranny. But he is fearful of interposition.

Perhaps some of you have never heard the term "interposition" before, so let me define it. To interpose means simply to come in between two people or two bodies. In theology it refers to what a mediator does. You know the hymn by Robertson, "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." Well one of the verses says, "Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood." So His blood came between the Father's wrath and us. That's interposition. And by the way, liberal hymnbooks have taken that phrase out of their hymnbooks because they don't like to think of wrath of God even needing interposition. But Jesus very literally came in between the wrath of God and us, and rescued us from certain punishment. So there is a Christocentric aspect to interposition that ought to be the foundation for this doctrine in politics. I'm not interested in humanistic interposition. Every magistrate needs to see himself as a servant of Jesus, the great interposer. We need to be looking to the interposition of Jesus as Savior as well as Jesus as Judge if we are to have long-term success.

Human interposition can be engaged in by an individual, a church, or a magistrate. When it comes to state's rights, here's a definition of interposition from Black's Law Dictionary: "Interposition—The doctrine that a state, in the exercise of its sovereignty, may reject a mandate of the federal government deemed to be unconstitutional or to exceed the powers delegated to the federal government." The dictionary goes on to give all kinds of examples. This is really the middle ground between servile submission to all tyranny (on the one hand) and rebellious chaos (on the other). America's war for independence was not technically a revolution. It was an interposition of several lower magistrates resisting the tyranny of King George and of the Parliament.

Well, having defined interposition, I want you to turn with me to chapter 8. This shows that Samuel's lack of will to resist tyranny started at least 25 years earlier.

1Samuel 8:1 "Now it came to pass when Samuel was old that he made his sons judges over Israel."

1Samuel 8:2 "The name of his firstborn was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba."

1Samuel 8:3 "But his sons did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice."

It was precisely this injustice that made the elders ask for a king in the first place. We've already seen last week why God was displeased with their request for a king. He wasn't displeased with their interposition against these lower magistrates Joel and Abijah. He was displeased that they didn't think Biblical law worked and they wanted a magistrate like all the pagan nations around them had. But let's forget about the elders for a moment. The point is that Samuel should have engaged in interposition long before chapter 8. We would never have had that mess if he had. Samuel was over Joel and Abijah as a judge over the nation, which meant that each of the sons was a local judge that he had appointed. If Samuel appointed them, then Samuel could impeach them. He didn't want to. So the elders' form of interposition was wrong, showing that interposition is not a magic bullet, and Samuel's failure to engage in interposition was wrong, showing that we cannot ignore this subject.

Let me quickly give you some examples of interposition that were good. When Joab sought to keep David from giving a census of Israel that was way less intrusive than our government's census, he was engaging in godly interposition. It was not successful, but it was a godly attempt.

When the Levitical city of Libnah seceded from Judah under the reign of the ungodly king Jehoram, that city was engaging in one godly form of interposition, and did so successfully. Secession is always a right of any governmental unit.

Rahab's hiding of the spies was a godly form of individual interposition. So even non-magistrates can do it to some degree. You see, interposition means stepping in between a tyrant and innocent people to protect them. So Corrie ten Boom's family was interposing itself between the Nazis and Jews in order to protect them.

In America there have been sideways interpositions between various branches of the same government. For example, the Supreme Court has in the past protected citizens from an ungodly grab of executive power by declaring that grab of power unconstitutional and worthy of resistance. Likewise, presidents like Andrew Jackson have vetoed tyrannical actions of congress and congress has done so to some presidents.

But churches can do it too. When Ambrose excommunicated the emperor Theodosius in 359 AD, he was engaging in a rather unique form of interposition. And it was successful. Though the emperor initially tried to force his way with the pastor, he eventually repented and asked Ambrose to help him craft Biblical laws for the empire. There are many wonderful examples like that of interposition. And the book of 1Samuel defines it, gives limits to it, and shows what each different position can and cannot do.

If you don't understand interposition, you don't understand the history of America or of England. In England the Magna Carta is perhaps the most famous example. What is interesting about this is that the joint use of clergy and magistrates parallel's the kind of interposition that the high priest and magistrates took against Athaliah in the Bible when they deposed her and put Josiah on the throne. King John of England was not deposed, but the churchmen took the lead, got together with the nobles, and in a meeting with King John gave him an ultimatum - sign the Magna Carta or be kicked off the throne. That's what Samuel should have done. That's in part why God rebukes him. He was not fulfilling his responsibilities as a magistrate. When you understand the requirements God gave to magistrates of interposition, you can see that God expected Samuel to act against Saul in chapter 13, 15, and 16. Samuel failed, slowing the process of political change down even more. Political change in America is incredibly slow because we aren't using all of God's means for change that are authorized. Can you imagine what would happen if every state started engaging in interposition of one kind of another? It would be incredible. Now, there might be some incredible evil that might come out of interposition, but there could also be some incredible good.

Failure to even consider un-electable candidates that are men after God's own heart (v. 1d,7-11 with 1 Sam. 23–2 Sam. 4)

There is a fourth reason that I see in these verses—a failure to even consider un-electable candidates that are men after God's own heart. In verse 1 God says, "Fill your horn with oil, and go: I am sending you to Jesse the Bethlehemite. For I have provided for Myself a king among his sons." How unlikely is that? David doesn't have an army; he is young; he is totally unknown; he is poor, comes from an insignificant part of the country, and is not from the noble class; he has no political connections. Even his father did not consider David to be kingly material. David's brothers certainly do not, as chapter 17 makes clear. And yet, we know the rest of the story. God makes him king, doesn't He?

Too many times humans look past those who are biblically qualified because these men haven't served in an expected office, don't have powerful connections, are politically incorrect, don't have money, etc. They are just not electable. I think we are making slow progress in America because Christians keep voting only for those that they think are electable. If every Christian would start voting by seeking the mind of the Lord in Scripture, we would see revolutionary changes happening. But the citizens and leaders in chapters 8-16 were for the most part still thinking about what is possible with man, and not what does God expect. Which means that they were not approaching politics with faith. And Romans 14:23 tells us, "whatever is not from faith is sin." Just serve God in politics and leave the results with Him.

Fear of the dangers of trying to "unquo the status" (v. 2a, 4)

The fifth reason for lack of solid change is fear. Look at the fear in verse 2: "And Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me." You see the same fear in the magistrates of verse 4: "So Samuel did what the LORD said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, ‘Do you come peaceably?" Here were leaders who were scared to death of even being seen anywhere near Samuel for fear that Saul might take it out on them. When they are asking if Samuel is coming peaceably, they know he had the power of office to upset the status quo. They are hoping that Samuel will keep the status quo. Are you coming peaceably? You're not going to rock the boat are you?

Fear can paralyze citizens and magistrates from taking necessary actions. I asked one governor of Nebraska over lunch if he would be willing to interpose himself on the issue of abortion. He claimed to be prolife, but even though he understood the doctrine of interposition, he was afraid of the repercussions. It was fear of arrest that made most pastors in Nazi Germany silent and unwilling to apply the Scripture to the events that were happening. The same fear gripped good magistrates and made them keep silent. It is fear of losing tax-exempt status that has made most pastors America fearful of preaching the whole counsel of God. It is fear of losing positions, or losing elections that neutralizes many would be reformers. And Samuel had his own fears.

If Samuel had not given in to fear, there is no reason that I can see why Samuel, who was co-regent with Saul, could not have deposed Saul and made David to be the new co-regent. He had the authority, but Samuel wasn't up to the task; nor were the elders. And God sovereignly allows this to happen because the people themselves were not ready for liberty. I think verse 4 makes that clear.

Letting others define the argument (vv. 2-5)

The sixth reason is that we have a tendency to allow others to define the argument. Commentators point out that Saul would no doubt see Samuel's actions as treason. Treason is not a happy word. God repaints the picture as submission to Him, which automatically means that if this resistance is submission to God, then Saul's lack of submission is itself treason. Verse 2 continues:

But the LORD said, "Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.' Then invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for Me the one I name to you."

By juxtaposing sacrifice to the Lord with removal of a king, God was in effect saying, "Resistance to tyrants is obedience to God," a favorite saying in early America. So resisting Saul is not treason. Since Saul has engaged in treason to God, resistance to Saul is obedience to God. Look at verses 4-5 where the fearful magistrates are trying to define the argument in a wrong direction.

So Samuel did what the LORD said, and went to Bethlehem. And the elders of the town trembled at his coming, and said, "Do you come peaceably?" And he said, "Peaceably; for I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Sanctify yourselves, and come with me to the sacrifice." Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice.

Now, there is a little bit of subterfuge going on here. God doesn't make Samuel tell them everything that is going on, because that will get reported right back to Saul. But these cowardly magistrates were trying to define the term "peaceably" in secular terms of not rocking the boat. That's not God's idea of peace. It reminds me of King Ahab who accused Elijah of being a troubler of Israel. And Elijah refused to allow the king to define the terms. He said that the king himself was the troubler of Israel. He who defines the terms wins the argument.

You see, the media likes to define terms in ways that make Christianity look stupid. Christians must learn how to let God's Word define the terms. I refuse to call abortionists "pro-choice." They are baby killers; murderers. When I talk with homosexual activists, I don't like to call them Gay. I call them homosexuals or sodomites. What has happened in America is that Christians are on the defensive, instead of on the offensive. And a lot of the defensive is that we are being painted into a corner by letting new definitions rule.

Choosing from appearances and other superficial criteria rather than whether the person is fundamentally biblical (vv. 6-10)

A seventh reason is that we all have tendencies to look at appearances and other superficial criteria rather than whether the person is fundamentally Biblical. Obviously one of the reasons for this is that none of us can really see the heart. But we certainly can judge candidates by their adherence to God's law.

Look at verses 6-10—"So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, ‘Surely the LORD's anointed is before Him!' But the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." But I especially want you to notice the phrase, "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him." Though we can't know who are hypocritical Christians because we can't see the heart, we can certainly reject those candidates who don't meet the Biblical qualifications for a ruler. We don't have infallible revelation like Samuel did to hear God saying, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one" as each candidate passes before your eyes. But when a candidate clearly does not meet Biblical criteria of magistrates, then we are being faithless if we pick what God discards. Too many Christians choose candidates on pragmatic conservative principles rather than choosing based on Biblical criteria. There can be lots of room for disagreements on specifics—but most candidates out there right now do not qualify biblically, and it is time that we put our efforts and prayers behind candidates that do.

Ignoring those under our nose (vv. 11-12)

An eighth reason is that we have a tendency to ignore good candidates for office that are right under our noses. This is what happened to Jesse. Verses 11-12: "And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all the young men here?' Then he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, and there he is,keeping the sheep.' And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here.' So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the LORD said, ‘Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!"

I remember a primary where there was an outstanding candidate to run for Congress. And all my friends agree that this guy is by far the best pick. When I asked them if they were going to vote for him, they said "No. He doesn't stand a chance of winning." And they were all shocked after the election to find that the good guy who supposedly didn't stand a chance for winning actually got more votes than the guy they voted for. That's always stood in my mind as a reminder to vote for whom you think God would vote for, and leave the results in his hands.

If a Jesse comes to you and says, "These are the only candidates that are credible. These are the only candidates you should vote for," ask him if there is a David. He will say that David is unelectable. Vote for David anyway. You are serving God, not that man, when you vote.

We have stopped looking at public officials as "ministers" (Rom 13; Is. 44:28) who are called by God (Is. 45:1-7), and anointed by God (45:1)

The ninth reason is that we have stopped looking at public officials as "ministers" of God who are called by God and anointed by God. David is anointed and called in verse 13: "Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward."

Oswald Chambers once said, "One man or woman called to God is worth a hundred who have been elected to work for God."1 I think we recognize that in the area of ministry. We see people who have the obvious gifting, anointing, and calling of God upon their lives. And we see other pastors who just seem to go through the motions. They have been elected to office, but God has not called them. And Jeremiah blasts these hirelings who run when God has not sent them.

But I think it is just as true in the area of civil government. Very few Christians consider politics a calling, but it should be. Romans 13 says that a magistrate is supposed to be every bit as much a minister of God as a pastor is. It calls him, "God's minister to you." Isaiah 44:8 calls Cyrus God's pastor or shepherd. Obviously he wasn't a pastor or a shepherd of a church, but he was a pastor of the civil realm. And there are many passages that indicate God calls people to civil office and anoints them with power when they are His choice. Out duty in electing men should be to discern God's choice. And none of the choices offered to us may be His choice, in which case you can leave that blank.

We all know politicians who have been elected, but they are not acting as ministers of God. Here is a king who had been called to be a king before he was born, has just now realized his calling in this chapter, has been empowered for that calling, and yet the people for the most part do not bring him into his calling for another 15 years. They don't even think of calling to office those whom God has called. His friend Jonathan would acknowledge God's calling upon David's life, and there would be a minority of citizens who would acknowledge it. But Israel would have to wait for another 15 years before they could enjoy the benefits of a king who was truly walking in his calling.

But here's my question: If civil magistrates need to be called, empowered, anointed, and equipped for civil office, why do so few Christians take voting for a civil magistrate as seriously as they take voting for a pastor? After all, it is the responsibility of the people to recognize God's calling and gifting. Church members really analyze the qualifications for a deacon or an elder before they will vote him in as an officer of the church. And well they should. So why are God's qualifications for civil magistrate (which are on the back of your outlines) completely thrown out the window when it comes to electing a civil minister? We started looking at this last week as we contrasted what the people were looking for in a king with what God was looking for in a king. That disparity can be so frustrating. But many times it is we ourselves who have caused the disparity because we are trying to guess who is electable rather than voting our conscience. Until Christians start studying the principles that we looked at last week, we will continue to have this frustrating disparity.

Character issues in others (v. 13 with 17:28-29)

The tenth reason that I have included in your outlines is character issues in others. Verse 13 says that David was anointed as king in the midst of his brothers. They knew that this was God's calling upon David's life. But whether it was out of jealousy or some other reason, his brothers didn't take kindly to this. In chapter 17 Eliab, who was the first brother to get passed by, is very testy with David, whom he thinks of as an upstart. And similar character issues in voters can poison people's minds against a perfectly good candidate.


There are lots of other lessons that I could have taught this morning. And perhaps I should have. 1 Samuel is not only teaching us about civil government and magistrates. It was also teaching them to look forward to the Messiah who would be the perfect King, and as King of kings would cause His kingship to be more and more perfectly lived out over time in the magistrates of this earth. Isaiah 9 promises that of the increase of His government and of peace there would be no end. Why would God choose to establish Christ's kingship so slowly? David was a type of Christ. We don't always know. But we know it is in our best interest to experience the Sauls of this world so that we will be driven back to Christ's grace, and back to His Word over and over again. Each of these points should drive us back to the Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. Where Samuel failed to bring God's opinions to the people, we can ask Jesus to give us so much grace that we will never be ashamed of bringing His Word before men.

  2. Where loyalty to a party has caused us trouble, we can ask Jesus to take our hearts completely and make us loyal to Him above everything. That is bringing God's grace into our politics.

  3. Where magistrates fail to interpose themselves, we can thank God that Jesus was willing to be the ultimate interposition for our salvation. And we can ask Him to continue to bring the interposition portion of his priestly and kingly work to bear on our country. He can come between our country and disaster. And He can rule through Christian magistrates and give them the courage to interpose themselves where necessary. Interposition must be seen Christocentrically.

  4. Where citizens frustrate us by voting for superficial reasons, we can ask God to help us by His grace to think His thoughts after Him. And since Jesus enlightens every man who comes into the world (John 1), we can ask Jesus to wake citizens up to what the stakes really are.

  5. Where fear grips our hearts, we can ask God to remove cowardice and to let His perfect love cast out fear.

If you go down through all of these points, I think you can see how each one makes us long for more of Christ's grace, more of His kingdom, and for all things to eventually be placed under His feet. May it be so Lord Jesus. Amen.


  1. Oswald Chambers, Disciples Indeed (London: Morgan & Scott, Ltd., 1955), 10.

Why Political Change is Often So Slow is part of the Life of David series published on August 29, 2010

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