The Pleasure of God in His Name
For the Lord will not cast away his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.
Israel's Demand for a King
The situation behind this text is that Israel had demanded that Samuel appoint a king for them so that they could be like all the other nations. You can see this in 1 Samuel 8. Samuel is old. His sons Joel and Abijah have become judges in his place and they are corrupt. So the elders of Israel come to Samuel and say (in verse 5):
Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations.
Samuel is very displeased and goes to God for counsel. In verse 7 God says,
Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.
But then in verse 9 God says,
Only, you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.
So Samuel tells the people how their kings will take their sons and daughters into his service and demand a tenth of all they have for his purposes. But he can't talk the people out of their desire for a king. They give their final response in verse 19:
No! But we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.
Saul's Anointing and Inauguration as King
So Samuel anoints Saul king over Israel in chapter 10. In chapter 11 Saul defeats Nahash and the Amonites, and Samuel calls all the people together at Gilgal to renew the kingdom — to give Saul an official installation.
Then in chapter 12 comes Samuel's inauguration speech, and it was not exactly what the people wanted to hear! He does have some astonishingly good news for them. But before he tells them, he wants to make sure that they know and feel the magnitude of the evil they have done in wanting to be like the other nations and being dissatisfied with God as their king.
So in verse 17 he says,
Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain; and you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king.
When God sends thunder and rain, the people fear and confess their sins in verse 19:
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.
Repentance and the Giving of Good News
When the people have been brought to fear and repent of their sin, then comes the good news in verse 20:
Fear not; 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 vain things which cannot profit or save, for they are vain.
This is the gospel — even though you have sinned greatly and terribly dishonored the Lord, even though you now have a king which it was a sin to get, even though there is no undoing that sin or its painful consequences that are yet to come, nevertheless there is a future and a hope. Fear not! Fear not!
The Ground of the Good News
And then comes the great ground of the gospel in verse 22:
For the Lord will not cast away his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.
What is the basis of the fearlessness of God's people according to this verse? First of all it is the promise that he will not cast them away. In spite of their sin in wanting a king, the verse says, "The Lord will not cast away his people."
But that is not the deepest foundation of hope and fearlessness in this verse. Why will God not cast away his people? The deepest reason given is in the phrase, "For his great name's sake." The rock bottom foundation of our forgiveness and our fearlessness and our joy is the commitment that God has to his own great name. First, he is committed to act for his own name's sake. And then, for that reason, he is committed to act for his people.
How does Samuel make that connection for us in this verse? Why is it that God's commitment to his own name results in not casting away his people? How does his commitment to his name produce a commitment to this people?
The last part of the verse gives the answer: "Because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself." Or to put it another way, it was God's good pleasure to unite you to himself in such a way that his name is at stake in your destiny. Or to put it another way, it was God's good pleasure to possess you in such a way that what becomes of you reflects upon his name. And therefore, for his name's sake, he will not cast you away.
Two Sermons in This Text
Now there are two sermons in this verse, this week's and next week's. So let me just point to next week's and then focus on this week's. Next week's sermon is entitled, "The Pleasure of God in Election." God has freely, according to his own good pleasure, chosen to make Israel a people for himself. That is next week's message. God delights in the freedom of unconditional election.
But there is another pleasure of God implied in this verse, namely, that God has pleasure in his name. When he chooses a people, it says, he chooses them for himself, so that when he acts to spare them, he acts for his great name's sake. Therefore beneath and behind God's delight in choosing a people there is a deeper delight, namely, the pleasure God has in his own name. That is this week's message.
What It Means for God to Have Pleasure in His Name
Now what does that mean — that God has pleasure in his name? It might not mean anything different than what we saw three weeks ago, namely, that God has pleasure in his own perfections, in his own glory. The name of God in Scripture often means virtually the same thing as God's glorious, excellent character.
But it often means something slightly different, namely, the glory of God gone public. In other words, the name of God often refers to his reputation, his fame, his renown. This is the way we use the word "name" when we say someone is making a name for himself. Or we sometimes say, that's a "name" brand. We mean a brand with a reputation.
This is what I think Samuel means in 1 Samuel 12:22 when he says that God made Israel a people "for himself" and that he would not cast Israel off "for his great name's sake."
God's Commitment to His Reputation and Renown
Let me point you to some other passages that bring out this idea of God's reputation or fame or renown.
In Jeremiah 13:11 God describes Israel as a waistcloth that had been chosen to highlight God's glory, but had been found unusable.
For as the waistcloth clings to the loins of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.
Why was Israel chosen and made the garment of God? That it might be a "name, a praise, and a glory." The words "praise" and "glory" in this context tell us that "name" means "renown" or "reputation." God chose Israel so that the people would make a reputation for him.
David teaches the same thing in one of his prayers in 2 Samuel 7:23. He says that what sets Israel apart from all the other peoples is that God has dealt with them in such a way as to make a name for himself.
What other nation on earth is like thy people Israel, whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name, and doing for them great and terrible things, by driving out before his people a nation its gods?
In other words when God went to redeem his people in Egypt and then bring them through the wilderness and into the promised land, he was not just favoring the people, he was acting, as Samuel says, for his own great name's sake (1 Samuel 12:22); or, as David says, he was making himself a name — a reputation.
The Point of the Exodus
Let's go back to the Exodus for a moment. This is where God really formed a people for himself. For the rest of her existence Israel has looked back to the exodus as the key event in her history. So in the exodus we can see what God is up to in choosing a people to himself.
In Exodus 9:16 God speaks to Pharaoh a word that lets him and us know why God is drawing out the deliverance to ten plagues instead of making short work of it in one swift catastrophe. This text is so crucial that Paul quotes it in Romans 9:17 to sum up God's purpose in the exodus. God says to Pharaoh,
But for this purpose have I let you live, to show you my power, so that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.
The point of the exodus was to make a worldwide reputation for God. The point of the ten plagues and miraculous Red Sea crossing was to demonstrate the incredible power of God on behalf of his freely chosen people, with the aim that this reputation, this name, would be declared throughout the whole world. God has great pleasure in his reputation.
The Testimony of Isaiah
Did the later prophets and poets of Israel interpret the Exodus that way? Yes, they did.
Isaiah says that God's aim in the exodus was to make for himself an everlasting name. He described God as the one "who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, who led them through the depths. Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble. Like cattle that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest. So thou didst lead thy people, to make for thyself a glorious name" (Isaiah 63:12–14).
So when God showed his power to deliver his people from Egypt through the Red Sea, he had his sights on eternity and the everlasting reputation that he would win for himself in those days.
The Teaching of the Psalms
Psalm 106:7–8 teaches the same thing:
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider thy wonderful works; they did not remember the abundance of thy steadfast love, but rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name's sake, that he might make known his mighty power.
Do you see the same gospel logic at work here that we saw in our text of 1 Samuel 12:22? There the sinful people had chosen a king and angered God. But God does not cast them off. Why? For his great name's sake. Here it says that the sinful people had rebelled against God at the Red Sea and failed to consider his love. Yet he saved them with tremendous power. Why? Same answer: for his name's sake, to make known his mighty power.
Do you see that God's first love is his name and not his people? And because it is, there is hope for his sinful people. Do you see why the God-centeredness of God is the ground of the gospel?
Take Joshua as another example of someone who understood this God-centered gospel logic and put it to use like Moses did (Deuteronomy 9:27–29; Numbers 14:13–16) to plead for God's sinful people. In Joshua 7 Israel has crossed the Jordan and entered the promised land and defeated Jericho. But now they have been defeated at Ai and Joshua is stunned. He goes to the Lord in one of the most desperate prayers in all the Bible.
O Lord, what can I say, when Israel has turned their backs before their enemies! For the Canaanites and all the inhabitants of the land will hear of it, and will surround us, and cut off our name from the earth; and what wilt thou do for thy great name? (Joshua 7:8–9)
Do you cry for mercy on the basis of God's love for his name? The great ground of hope in all the God-centered servants of the Lord has always been the impossibility that God would let his great name be dishonored among the nations. It was inconceivable. This was bedrock confidence. Other things change but not this — not the commitment of God to his name.
Ezekiel's Witness in Exile
But what, then, are to make of the fact that eventually Israel proved to be so rebellious that she was indeed given into the hands of her enemies in the Babylonian captivity during the time of Ezekiel? How does a God-centered prophet like Ezekiel handle this terrible setback for the reputation of God?
Listen to the word of the Lord that came to him in Ezekiel 36:20–23. This is God's answer to the captivity of his people which he himself had brought about:
But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that men said of them, "These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land." But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel caused to be profaned among the nations to which they came. Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: it is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them; and the nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.
In other words, when every other hope was gone and the people lay under the judgment of God himself because of their own sin, one hope remained — and it will always remain — that God has an indomitable delight in the worth of his own reputation and will not suffer it to be trodden down for long.
The Foundation of All Our Hope
This was the great ground of hope that sustained the rise of the modern Protestant missionary movement in the 18th century. David Brainerd, the missionary to the Indians in New England, wrote to a young ministerial candidate in 1747 just a few months before his death, "Give yourself to prayer, to reading and meditation on divine truths: strive to penetrate to the bottom of them and never be content with a superficial knowledge."
Strive to penetrate to the bottom of divine things! Because at the bottom of things you find a granite foundation of hope for victory in the global mission of the church. You find a God whose commitment to the cause of his people is grounded not in his people but in himself. His passion to save and to purify feeds itself not from the shallow soil of our value but from the infinite depth of his own.
At the bottom of all our hope, when everything else has given way, we stand on this great reality: the everlasting, all-sufficient God is infinitely, unwaveringly, and eternally committed to his great and holy name. For the sake of his own great name he will act. It will not be profaned forever. The mission of the church will be victorious. He will vindicate his people and his cause in all the earth.
Fear not; 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 vain things which cannot profit or save . . . For the Lord will not cast away his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.