I’m just finishing preaching the first half of 1 Samuel (1-15), and I’ve been struck by this paradoxical truth: often it is God’s greatest gifts that become our greatest trials.
Why does this happen? There are a number of reasons, but perhaps one of the most common is that people are quick to confuse the means with the end.
God is a giver because he is a lover. He gives gifts because he loves the people to whom he gives them. The gifts are the means of expressing his love to his creation, but they are not the end. The appropriate response to a gift is to thank the giver, and when this thanks is rightly directed to God, it becomes worship. In other words, God gives gifts as the means to the end of worship.
But people distort his gifts. We take them and use them as if they were meant solely for the purpose of our pleasure. We make ourselves the end, and this results in us worshiping the creation rather than the creator. When that happens—especially when it happens with God’s people—the gifts quickly become a source of trials.
The gifts that God gives us were not designed for the end purpose of making us happy. Marriage, salvation, material blessings, health, creation’s beauty, and even the gospel itself—all these gifts are designed to point us back to God. If we receive them in such a way that makes our happiness the end goal, then we have taken God’s means and made them an end, and God’s end and made it a means to our own happiness.
Of course, God does not share his glory with anyone. And so when his people confuse ends with means, it ends in judgment.
This is one of the main lessons of the first half of 1 Samuel (1-15). God has brought his people into the land, and has given them all they need for life and godliness. They are blessed with priests, with the ark, with God’s word, and with peace. But Israel quickly takes those gifts and pretends they were given for their own honor. They in turn try to use Yahweh as a means, and this ends poorly.
Israel eventually rejects God’s leadership, and God gives them a king who promptly rejects God himself. Everything good that God gave was abused, and it all turned into a trial.
The book of 1 Samuel then becomes a story of worthless men and their glorious God. In fact, the people are called “worthless” at least seven times in 1 Samuel, and it is usually as a result of their refusal to recognize God’s gifts as pointing back to his glory. This stands as an object lesson to us: when God gives us a gift (including the gospel), thank him and worship him. Trust the giver, not the gift, and find your joy in him. Remember, we are on his side, he is not on ours.