1 Samuel 11:12-13

Sermon preached on January 18, 2009 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

This morning I'm going to be talking about something of the utmost importance. It's something that can give you a good idea of where you'll spend eternity—in heaven or hell. It's about showing mercy and whether you do it or not. If you do it—it's a sign that you're on your way to heaven. If you don't do it, it definitely means that you need to make some changes before you can be sure you're going to heaven. Remember what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount? (Matthew 5:7)

"Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy."

Now we're not saved by any of our works, including being merciful. We're saved by Jesus. We're saved by putting our trust in Him. Yet there are certain signs which show whether we have put our trust in Him. Having mercy is one of them.

The first thing I want you to see from our text is that

Saul was merciful to the men who had opposed him.

That was a very good sign for Saul. The people wanted to put those men to death. They said to Samuel,

"Who said that Saul should not reign over us?
Give us those men so we can kill them!"

At that point King Saul intervened and said,

"No one will be executed this day,
for today the Lord
has provided deliverance in Israel."

In that time and place the people who went to Samuel with the death request were correct. Those men deserved to be put to death. In verse 27 of the previous chapter they are referred to as, 'troublemakers' who despised him. They didn't bring him any gifts.

But it wasn't just Saul that they opposed. They disrespected God. Saul was God's choice to be king. That choice had been proclaimed by Samuel. So they were opposing God. They disrespected God's choice and they disrespected God's prophet Samuel. So this was not just a personal insult against Saul—it was an insult to God.

In doing so Saul was being very merciful. He didn't allow them to be punished.

Mercy is not always appropriate for a king. In our country it's usually in the last days of his presidency that the President grants some pardons. I've been reading a little about it in the news. The last I read is that President Bush has been pardoning people at about half the rate of his predecessor. If you need to be pardoned for some crime you've committed—now is your chance. But it wouldn't be very good in the President pardoned everyone, of if the judges of our land showed mercy on everyone. Justice must not be completely trampled underfoot. If a king or a president pardoned everyone, there would be no justice, no restitution, and many people would show great disrespect for the law.

But for a king, there are times when mercy is very appropriate. The day in which Jabesh Gilead was delivered was one of them. It was a great day of celebration for the deliverance that the Lord had given. The Ammonites were routed. Saul honored the day, and the Lord by being merciful to those who had despised him. It was very appropriate and fitting.

The application we should take from this is that,

you should be a merciful person.

We see this in many places in Scripture. I've already quoted from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

"Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy."

You'll also remember how pleased God was when Solomon asked for wisdom in governing God's people. You'll remember the story. God appeared to Solomon in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted God to give him. (1 Kings 3) Solomon asked for a wise and discerning heart so that he would be able to know between right and wrong that he would be able to govern God's people wisely. God was so pleased. He said to Solomon, (1 Kings 3:10-12)

"Since you have asked for this
and not for long life or wealth for yourself,
nor have asked for the death of your enemies
but for discernment in administering justice,
I will do what you have asked."

God was pleased that Solomon didn't ask for the death of his enemies. Solomon was not vengeful.

Being merciful is also one of the gifts of the Spirit. In Romans 12:6-8 Paul listed some of them. He wrote,

"We have different gifts,
according to the grace given us.
If a man's gift is prophesying,
let him use it in proportion to his faith.
If it is serving, let him serve;
if it is teaching, let him teach;
if it is encouraging, let him encourage;
if it is contributing to the needs of others,
let him give generously;
if it is leadership,
let him govern diligently;
if it is showing mercy,
let him do it cheerfully."

God wants His people to be full of mercy. As we read in James 3:17,

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven
is first of all pure;
then peace-loving,
considerate, submissive,
full of mercy and good fruit,
impartial and sincere."

After someone hurts you, you are to clear your heart and mind of bitterness, anger, hurt, rancor, thoughts of revenge. You are to forgive those who have hurt you. You are to be loving toward them. In a word, you are to be a person who is merciful. Remember what Jesus said in Luke 6:27-31?

"But I tell you who hear me:
Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
If someone strikes you on one cheek,
turn to him the other also.
If someone takes your cloak,
do not stop him from taking your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks you,
and if anyone takes what belongs to you,
do not demand it back.
Do to others
as you would have them do to you."

Mercy is illustrated in a few of those precepts. Mercy is essentially about doing good, showing good—to someone who has harmed you, wronged you.

Mercy has to do with people who have sinned and are undeserving. Thomas Watson writes, (The Beatitudes, p. 143)

"What is mercifulness? I answer, it is a melting disposition whereby we lay to heart the miseries of others and are ready on all occasions to be instrumental for their good."

Watson continues,

"Love and mercy differ thus: love is more extensive… Mercy properly respects them that are miserable. Love is of a larger consideration. Love is like a friend that visits them that are well. Mercy is like a physician that visits only them that are sick. Again, love acts more out of affection. Mercy acts out of a principle of conscience. Mercy lends its help to another."

Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, (Sermon on the Mount, p. 99)

"to have a merciful spirit means the spirit that is displayed when you find yourself in the position of having in your power someone who has transgressed against you."

That's the essence of it. It's the exact opposite of the attitude that says,

"Don't get mad, get even."

So I ask you—are you a merciful person? Do you forgive those who have wronged you? I've heard people who claim to be Christians say,

"I'll never forgive him."

You just know by their attitude that if they ever got power over the other person, they'd punish him. They would take their revenge.

You should never be like that. You should never have that attitude. Indeed, as a Christian, you can never have that attitude because it's an un-Christian attitude. It's the attitude of someone who doesn't know Jesus. I've already quoted from Matthew 5:7 which says,

"Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy."

That says that if you don't show mercy, you're not going to receive mercy. It's the same way with the forgiveness of our sins. In Matthew 6:12 Jesus taught His disciples to pray saying,

"Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors."

Leon Morris writes, (Pillar Commentary)

"the prayer recognizes that we have no right to seek forgiveness for our own sins if we are withholding forgiveness from others,"

So you must forgive others and be merciful to them. It's not an option.

But what's the key to having a merciful spirit?

What's the key to being able to do acts of mercy? There are two things in our text that can help us in this regard.

The first shows what we are like by nature—

so very blind to our own sin.

I think that one of the things that we Christians are best at is being blind to our own sin. We are often totally oblivious to our sins or in total denial about them.

Consider the people of Israel here. In verse 13 they go to Samuel and say,

"Who said that Saul should not reign over us?
Give us those men so we can kill them!"

They're indignant against the troublemakers who had insulted Saul. They want to put them to death.

What's wrong with that picture? The problem is that they didn't see any fault with themselves—but only with the troublemakers. But I ask you, why weren't they concerned about the troublemakers earlier—when they were making the trouble? They should have jumped on these trouble makers as soon as they slighted Saul. As I said earlier, they had not only insulted Saul, but Samuel and God as well. But that was okay with them then. It was only after God's great deliverance of Jabesh Gilead through Saul that they became concerned.

I'm sure that God was looking at this very differently than they were. I hesitate to speculate here, but I suspect that God could have said to them,

"You were willing to put up with people despising me before. That was a great sin on your part. Now, after I've had my king deliver Jabesh Gilead, you don't see your own sin, and you're not concerned about it—but you're concerned about other people's sin. You hypocrites!"

How blind you are to your sin! We can usually see other people's sins very clearly—and we often don't see our own at all.

We are so blind to our sins. We see this in the book of Malachi. I actually think there's quite a bit of humor there. Or at least it would be humorous if it wasn't so serious? In Malachi God complains about some of the sins of the people or makes statements that illustrate the people's sin and how the people were totally oblivious about their sin. For example, in Malachi 1:2, God says,

"'I have loved you,' says the LORD."

The people respond,

"How have you loved us?'

They seemed to be unaware of God's great love and care for them. They were ignorant and ungrateful. To a great extent they closed their eyes to God's goodness to them.

Then in verse 6 God said,

"A son honors his father,
and a servant his master.
If I am a father,
where is the honor due me?
If I am a master,
where is the respect due me?
says the LORD Almighty.
'It is you, O priests,
who show contempt for my name.'"

How do the people respond? We read,

"But you ask,
'How have we
shown contempt for your name?'"

They were offering crippled and diseased animals to the Lord instead of pure ones as prescribed by the law.

In Malachi 2 God said that the people flooded the Lord's altar with tears and wondered why God paid no attention to their offerings. They asked, "Why?" God told them it was because they permitting divorce and acting unfaithfully with the wives of their youth.

God then said, (Malachi 2:17)

"You have wearied the LORD
with your words."

The people asked,

"How have we wearied him?"

They didn't have a clue about their sin. God said they that wearied Him,

"By saying, 'All who do evil are good
in the eyes of the LORD,
and he is pleased with them"
or 'Where is the God of justice?'"

Later God complained that they robbed Him. (3:8) The people responded,

"How do we rob you?"

God responded by telling them that they had robbed God because they didn't give the proper tithes and offerings.

Then God said, (Malachi 3:13)

"'You have said harsh things against me,'
says the LORD."

How do you think the people responded?

"What have we said against you?"

They said it was futile to serve God, that they gained nothing by carrying out His requirements.

Do you see the pattern? Time after time God upbraided the people for their sins, even naming the sins in a general way—and the people said,

"How have we done that?"

They were totally oblivious to their sin.

It was the same with the Pharisees in the New Testament. Jesus called them blind guides. In Matthew 23:27-28 He said,

"Woe to you,
teachers of the law and Pharisees,
you hypocrites!
You are like whitewashed tombs,
which look beautiful on the outside
but on the inside are full of
dead men's bones and everything unclean.
In the same way,
on the outside you appear to people
as righteous but on the inside
you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

Thus one of the reasons you should cultivate a disposition of mercy in your life is because you aren't even aware of so many of your sins that God—and God has been merciful to you about them. So be merciful. He doesn't treat us as we deserve. As we read in Lamentations 3:22-23,

"Because of the Lord'S great love
we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness."

Every day God treats you with mercy. How can you not be merciful to others?

This is the second thing. Saul said,

"No one will be executed this day,
for today the Lord
has provided deliverance in Israel."

Saul recognized that the Lord had given deliverance to Israel. His eyes were on the Lord and the Lord's kindness to them.

The key to being merciful is to remember how merciful the Lord has been to you.

Christians, why do you have your sins forgiven? Why do you belong to the family of God? Why is it that you are headed for glory? It's purely because God had mercy on you. You didn't deserve God's mercy. He was merciful to you when you were dead in trespasses and sins. He was merciful to you when you were His enemy.

Now, in light of that—how can you not be merciful to others? If you are not, you are like the unmerciful servant Jesus spoke about in Matthew 18. Peter had asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother when he sins against him. He suggested up to seven times. But Jesus told him not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Then He told the story of the unmerciful servant. A king wanted to settle accounts and one of his subjects owed him the equivalent of several million dollars. He didn't have the money to pay so the king order that he and his wife and his children and everything he had be sold to repay the debt. But the man begged the king to be patient with him, telling him that he would repay him. The king had mercy on him and canceled the debt.

But when he left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him just a few dollars. He began to choke him and demanded that he pay him what he owed. The fellow servant begged him to be patient with him and he would pay him back—but he wouldn't listen and had the man thrown into prison.

When the king heard about it he rebuked the unmerciful servant and told him that he should have had mercy on him as the king had on him. Then the king, "in anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed." Then Jesus said,

"This is how my heavenly Father
will treat each of you unless
you forgive your brother from your heart."

The third thing we should see about the quality of mercy is that

it's something that you should always have.

The mercy that comes from Jesus, the mercy that shows that we're on the right track, is not mercy that expresses itself once and is done with it. No. The mercy that we need to have is the kind of mercy that shows itself over and over.

Saul was merciful here—but that was about it. Later he was merciful to Agag—but that was in direct violation of God's command and so it was not virtuous—it was a great sin.

After this we hardly see any mercy in King Saul. In chapter 14 we see that Jonathan initiated a great victory over the Philistines. His father had given an order that no one was to eat anything. Jonathan didn't know about the order and ate some honey. When Saul found out about it he was going to kill Jonathan. He was going to kill his own son for nothing. It was only the intervention of the men that saved Jonathan. There was no mercy in Saul for Jonathan. It was the same later with David. David didn't do Saul any harm and yet time after time Saul tried to kill David. There was no mercy for innocent David. It was the same for Ahimelech the priest and the other priests of the Lord at Nob. Saul mistakenly thought that they conspired with David against him. They were innocent and told Saul so. But there was no mercy for them. Saul had them all murdered.

So, just because you're merciful once, doesn't mean that you're a merciful person. Every day you need to be merciful.

How thankful we should be for the fact that God doesn't miss a day in being merciful to us. Can you imagine what it would be like if He did miss a day? For example, if God had not been merciful to us last Wednesday—what would that have been like? That would have been the end of us. We wouldn't be here today.

Christians, be full of mercy.

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians,

what you should realize is that more than anything else you need mercy.

If those troublemakers had gotten what they deserved, they would have been put to death that day. If the people of Jabesh Gilead had gotten what they deserved that day, they would have had more than their eyes gouged out—they would have been destroyed. What human beings need more than anything else is mercy. Without it you're going to be lost.

For those of you who haven't believed in Jesus, I ask you,

why are you disrespecting the one that God has chosen?

You're doing the same thing that those troublemakers of old did. They rejected King Saul. You're rejecting Someone much greater. Don't do it. He is the chief cornerstone.

God to Jesus and ask for mercy. Be like the tax collector in the temple, who said to God, (Luke 18:13)

"God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Jesus said that he went home justified. Go to God and ask for mercy—it's what you need and what you will receive. Go to Him as ask for mercy. Do it now.