“And do not turn aside after empty things
that cannot profit or deliver,
for they are empty.”
1 Samuel 12: 21 ESV
Empty nesters, a phrase applied to a couple whose children have flown the coop. I resist the label. This season doesn’t feel as empty as I thought it would. My life is full with both joy and angst. Really nothing has changed, except the circumstances.
These days, I have more time to contemplate my tendency to chase emptiness. How can empty things be so appealing? As God told the Israelites through Samuel, “Empty things are empty. They don’t gain you anything and they definitely cannot deliver you from the emptiness that you have been running away from.” The Israelites had been delivered from bondage in Egypt, moved into the Promised Land, got distracted by the local gods, then cycled through their judges like fans and their American idols.
They tired of God and the judges, so they asked Samuel for a king. Samuel consulted with God, who told him the downside of having a king. But if his people were bent on having a king, he’d give them one, and so started the cycle of kings.
In Samuel 12, Samuel confronts the Israelites one last time about their tendency to worship other gods, and their foolish desire to have a king. A surprising twist in the narrative finds me marveling at God’s frankness about their sin, and His gracious desire to remain in relationship with His wayward ones.
And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.” (1 Samuel 12: 19-25 ESV)
Basically, God says “Yes, you have done all this evil, but I really want you to follow me. Return to me and stop chasing emptiness. I have loved you with an everlasting love, and I am drawing you back with cords of kindness. I will not give up on you; however, if you go back to your wicked ways, there will be consequences.”
God tells us the truth and He gives us the way out. He loves us and He warns us where the empty life leads…to separation and destruction.