Connections 03.19.2023: How Long, O Lord?

1 Samuel 16:1-13

At least fifteen times in the Psalms, the psalmist asks God “How long?” How long will God allow God’s people to suffer (Ps 4)? How long will God hide God’s face (Ps 13)? How long will enemies triumph (Ps 13)? How long will God’s anger burn (Ps 79)? How long must God’s servant endure (Ps 119)?

In 1 Samuel 16:1, it is God asking the priest Samuel, “How long?” Samuel’s entire life had been dedicated to God. He grew up to be a faithful priest, and when the people wanted a king it was Samuel to whom they complained. Samuel communicated the people’s request to God. In response, God had relented and lifted up Saul to be king over Israel (1 Samuel 9), but Saul failed to be a faithful king. By the end of chapter 15 God was “sorry that he had made Saul king” (15:35).

The brief exchange between Samuel and God at the beginning of chapter 16 is easy to coast past. Just around the corner (16:3-13) is the surprising search for the next king, who will turn out to be a shepherd boy with a bunch of much better-looking big brothers. But here, in 1 Samuel 16:1-2, Samuel is struggling. He is having trouble letting go and moving on. The king he had petitioned God for (8:10, 19-21), the king God had selected (9:17), the king Samuel had faithfully anointed (10:1) is rejected. This is also the king God had warned against (8:11-18), the king God gave the people against God’s better judgment.

Samuel is struggling, and it is no wonder. Apart from his sorrow over Saul’s failure, it would be reasonable for him to feel guilty for his role in the drama. It would be reasonable for him to question his own discernment, and even to question his qualifications as a priest and servant of God. These two short verses do not give us much insight into the depths and shades of Samuel’s grief, but it is clear the priest was in such sorrow that he was not likely to “shake it off” anytime soon. If Samuel took his call lightly, he would not be too bothered when things went wrong; he grieves deeply because he is deeply faithful.

Maybe Samuel was surprised to hear the Lord ask, “How long,” O Samuel? “How long will you grieve over Saul?” (16:1). How long will you mourn before you are ready to serve me again? How long will you look back instead of looking forward? How long until you are ready to seek and find a new, faithful king for my people?

It is time.


  • How hard is it for you to let go of something that went wrong in the past?
  • Think of a time when you felt strongly that you were following God’s instructions or call. How confident were your choices and actions during that time? What was the outcome?
  • Has there ever been a time when you felt you were “talking God into” something? What was the outcome?
  • Has there ever been a time when you felt sure of God’s call and you tried to make faithful choices, but things ended badly? Were other people affected in that situation? How easy or hard was it to get over that situation? How did you move on?
  • Why do you think it is important for us to learn to let go of past mistakes, failures, or disappointments? How does hanging on to those things prevent us from following God’s leading in the present and into the future?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at


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