As a child, our logic is very simple. If we do something bad, something bad will happen to us. Likewise, if we do something good, something good will happen to us. If we displease our parents, they will withdraw their help and benefits. But, if we please our parents, they will help us.
And as adults, we often take that same child-like logic and apply it to our relationship with God.
Yet any parent knows that relating to your children is not that black and white. Sometimes, love will prompt mercy, while at other times, love will prompt punishment. What occurs between parent and child is not a cut-and-dried behavioral bartering system, but rather a delicate dance between mercy and discipline.
This is the complex interaction you see in 1 Samuel chapters 11 and 12. In chapter 11, God intervenes to rescue His people, despite their rejection of Him. And the people misread their victory as a sign of God’s approval, rather than His mercy.
In chapter 12, the people brace themselves for God’s punishment, because they’ve gone against Him in asking for a king. Yet, out of His love for them, and His desire to uphold His reputation to the world, God promises not to abandon them.
Why can’t it just be cut-and-dried? Why can’t the people stick with the rules and why can’t God be consistent in His discipline?
Because, it’s not about rules. It’s about relationship. God loves His people. Sometimes He directs with mercy, and sometimes He directs with consequences. God will do whatever has the most impact on His people, in order to draw them back into a love relationship with Himself. He patently and persistently keeps turning the dial to the combination that will open our hearts to Him.