Expositor's Bible Commentary
And Samuel said unto all Israel, Behold, I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said unto me, and have made a king over you.CHAPTER XVI.
SAMUEL'S VINDICATION OF HIMSELF.
1 Samuel 12:1-5.
IT was a different audience that Samuel had to address at Gilgal from either that which came to him to Ram ah to ask for a king, or that which assembled at Mizpeh to elect one. To both of these assemblies he had solemnly conveyed his warning against the act of distrust in God implied in their wishing for a king at all, and against any disposition they might feel, when they got a king, to pay less attention than before to God's will and covenant. The present audience represented the army, undoubtedly a great multitude, that had gone forth with Saul to relieve Jabesh-Gilead, and that now came with Samuel to Gilgai to renew the kingdom. As the audience now seems to have been larger, so it very probably represented more fully the whole of the twelve tribes of Israel. This may explain to us why Samuel not only returned to the subject on which he had spoken so earnestly before, but enlarged on it at greater length, and appealed with more fullness to his own past life as giving weight to the counsels which he pressed upon them. Besides this, the recognition of Saul as king at Gilgal was more formal, more hearty, and more unanimous than at Mizpeh, and the institution of royalty was now more an established and settled affair. No doubt, too, Samuel felt that, after the victory at Jabesh-Gilead, he had the people in a much more impressible condition than they had been in before; and while their minds were thus so open to impression, it was his duty to urge on them to the very uttermost the truths that bore on their most vital well-being.
The address of Samuel on this occasion bore on three things: 1. his own personal relations to them in the past (1 Samuel 12:1-5); 2. the mode of God's dealing with their fathers, and its bearing on the step now taken (1 Samuel 12:6-12); and 3. the way in which God's judgments might be averted and His favour and friendship secured to the nation in all time coming (1 Samuel 12:13-25).
1. The reason why Samuel makes such explicit reference to his past life and such a strong appeal to the people as to its blameless character is, that he may establish a powerful claim for the favourable consideration of the advice which he is about to give them. The value of an advice no doubt depends simply on its own intrinsic excellence, but the effect of an advice depends partly on other things; it depends, to a great extent, on the disposition of people to think favourably of the person by whom the advice is given. If you have reason to suspect an adviser of a selfish purpose, if you know him to be a man who can plausibly represent that the course which he urges will be a great benefit to you, while in reality he has no real regard for any interest but his own, then, let him argue as he pleases, you do not allow yourselves to be moved by anything he may say. But if you have good cause to know that he is a disinterested man, if he has never shown himself to be selfish, but uniformly devoted to the interests of others, and especially of yourselves, you feel that what such a man urges comes home to you with extraordinary weight. Now, the great object of Samuel in his reference to his past life was to bring the weight of this consideration to bear in favour of the advice he was to give to the people. For he could appeal to them with the greatest confidence as to his absolute disinterestedness. He could show that, with ever so many opportunities of acting a selfish part, no man could accuse him of having ever been guilty of crooked conduct in all his relations to the people. He could -establish from their own mouths the position that he was as thoroughly devoted to the interests of the nation as any man could be. And therefore he called on them to give their most favourable and their most earnest attention to the advice which he was about to press on them, the more so that he was most profoundly convinced that the very existence of the nation in days to come depended on its being complied with.
The first consideration he urged was, that he had listened to their voice in making them a king. He had not obstructed nor baulked them in their strong feeling, though he might reasonably enough have done so. He had felt the proposal keenly as a reflection on himself, but he had waived that objection and gone on. He had regarded it as a slur on the Almighty, but the Almighty Himself had been pleased to forgive it, and he had transacted with Him on their behalf in the same way as before. Nothing that he had done in this matter could have an unfriendly aspect put on it. He had made the best of an objectionable proposal; and now they had not only got their wish, but along with it, objectionable though it was, a measure of the sanction of God. "And now, behold, the king walketh before you."
In the next place, Samuel adverts to his age. "I am old and grey-headed; and, behold, my sons are with you, and I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day." You have had abundant opportunities to know me, and my manner of life. You know how I began, and you know how I have gone on, till now the circle of my years is nearly completed; a new generation has grown up; my sons are your contemporaries; I am old and grey-headed. You know how my childhood was spent in God's house in Shiloh, how God called me to be His prophet, and how I have gone on in that exalted office, trying ever to be faithful to Him that called me. What Samuel delicately points to here is the uniformity of his life. He had not begun on one line, then changed to another. He had not see- sawed nor zigzagged, one thing at one time, another at another; but from infancy to grey hairs he had kept steadfastly to the same course, he had ever served the same Master. Such steadiness and uniformity throughout a long life genders a wonderful weight of character. The man that has borne an honoured name through all the changes and temptations of life, through youth and middle age, and even to hoar hairs, that has served all that time under the same banner and never brought discredit on it, has earned a title to no ordinary esteem. It is this that forms the true glory of old age. Men instinctively pay honour to the hoary head when it represents a career of uniform and consistent integrity; and Christian men honour it all the more when it represents a lifetime of Christian activity and self- denial. Examine the ground of this reverence, and you will find it to be this: such a mature and consistent character could never have been attained but for many a struggle, in early life, of duty against inclination, and many a victory of the higher principle over the lower, till at length the habit of well-doing was so established, that further struggles were hardly ever needed. Men think of him as one who has silently but steadily yielded up the baser desires of his nature all through his life to give effect to the higher and the nobler. They think of him as one who has sought all through life to give that honour to the will of God in which possibly they have felt themselves sadly deficient, and to encourage among their fellow-men, at much cost of self-denial, those ways of life which inflict no damage on our nature and bring a serene peace and satisfaction. Of such a mode of life, Samuel was an admirable representative. Men of that stamp are the true nobles of a community. Loyal to God and faithful to man; denying themselves and labouring to diffuse the spirit of all true happiness and prosperity; visiting the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and keeping themselves unspotted by the world - happy the community whose quiver is full of them! Happy the Church, happy the country, that abounds in such worthies! - men, as Thomas Carlyle said of his peasant Christian father, of whom one should be prouder in one's pedigree than of dukes or kings, for what is the glory of mere rank or accidental station compared to the glory of Godlike qualities, and of a character which reflects the image of God Himself?
The third point to which Samuel adverts is his freedom from all acts of unjust exaction or oppression, and from all those corrupt practices in the administration of justice which were so common in Eastern countries. "Behold; here I am; witness against me before the Lord and before His anointed; whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it to you." It was no small matter to be able to make this challenge, which is as fearless in tone as it is comprehensive in range, in the very midst of such a sea of corruption as the neighbouring kingdoms of the East presented. It would seem as if, down to this day, the people in most of these despotic countries had never known any other regime but one of unjust exaction and oppression. We have seen, in an earlier chapter of this book, how shamefully the very priests abused the privilege of their sacred office to appropriate to themselves the offerings of God. In the days of our Lord and John the Baptist, what was it that rendered "the publicans" so odious but that their exactions went beyond the limits of justice and decency alike? Even to this day, the same system prevails as corrupt as ever. I have heard from an excellent American missionary a tale of a court of justice that came within his experience, even at a conspicuous place like Beirut, that shows that without bribery it is hardly possible to get a decision on the proper side. A claim had been made to a piece of land which he had purchased for his mission, and as he refused to pay what on the very face of it was obviously unjust, he was summoned before the magistrate. The delays that took place in dealing with the case were alike needless and vexatious, but the explanation came in a message from the authorities, slyly conveyed to him, that the wheels of justice would move much faster if they were duly oiled with a little American gold. To such a proposal he would not listen for a moment, and it was only by threatening an exposure before the higher powers that the decision was at last given where really there was not the shadow of a claim against him. From the same source I got an illustration of the exactions that are made to this day in the payment of taxes. The law provides that of the produce of the land one tenth shall belong to the Government for the public service. There is an officer whose duty it is to examine the produce of every farm, and carry off the share that the Government are entitled to. The farmer is not allowed to do anything with his produce till this officer has obtained the Government share. After harvest the farmers of a district will send word to the officer that their produce IS ready, and invite him to come and take his tenth. The officer will return word that he is very busy, and will not be able to come for a month. The delay of a month would entail incalculable loss and inconvenience on the farmers. They know the situation well; and they send a deputation of their number to say that if he will only come at once, they are willing to give him two tenths instead of one, the second tenth being for his own use. But this too they are assured that he cannot do. And there is nothing for them but to remain with him higgling and bargaining, till at last perhaps, in utter despair, they promise him a proportion which will leave no more than the half available for themselves.
And these are not exceptional instances - they are the common experiences of Eastern countries, at least in the Turkish empire. When such dishonest practices prevail on every side, it often happens that even good men are carried away with them, and seem to imagine that, being universal, it is necessary for them to fall in with them too. It was a rare thing that Samuel was able to do to look round on that vast assembly and demand whether one act of that kind had ever been committed by him, whether he had ever deviated even an hair-breadth from the rule of strict integrity and absolute honesty in all his dealings with them. Observe that Samuel was not like one of many, banded together to be true and upright, and supporting each other by mutual example and encouragement in that course. As far as appears, he was alone, like the seraph Abdiel, "faithful found among the faithless, faithful only he." What a regard he must have had for the law and authority of God! How rigidly he must have trained himself in public as in private life to make the will of God the one rule of his actions! What was it to him that slight peccadilloes would be thought nothing of by the public? What was it to him that men would have counted it only natural that of the money that passed through his hands a little should stick to his fingers, provided he was faithful in the main? What was it to him that this good man and that good man were in the way of doing it, so that, after all, he would be no worse than they? All such considerations would have been absolutely tossed aside. "Get thee behind me, Satan," would have been his answer to all such proposals. Unbending integrity, absolute honesty, unswerving truth, was his rule on every occasion. "How can I do this wickedness," would have been his question - "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?"
Is there nothing here for us to ponder in these days of intense competition in business and questionable methods of securing gain? Surely the rule of unbending integrity, absolute honesty, and unswerving truth is as binding on the Christian merchant as it was on the Hebrew judge. Is the Christian merchant entitled to make use of the plea of general corruption around him in business any more than Samuel was? Some say, How else are we to make a living? We answer, No man is entitled even to make a living on terms which shut him out from using the Lord's Prayer, - from saying, "Give us this day our daily bread." Who would dare to say that bread obtained by dishonesty or deceit is God-given bread? Who could ask God to bless any enterprise or transaction which had not truth and honesty for its foundation? Better let bread perish than get it by unlawful means. For "man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." "The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it." Instead of Christian men accepting the questionable ways of the world for pushing business, let them stand out as those who never can demean themselves by anything so unprincipled. No doubt Samuel was a poor man, though he might have been rich had he followed the example of heathen rulers. But who does not honour him in his poverty, with his incorruptible integrity and most scrupulous truthfulness, as no man would or could have honoured him had he accumulated the wealth of a Cardinal Wolsey and lived in splendour rivaling royalty itself? After all, it is the true rule, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
But ere we pass from the contemplation of Samuel's character, it is right that we should very specially take note of the root of this remarkable integrity and truthfulness of his toward men. For we live in times when it is often alleged that religion and morality have no vital connection with each other, and that there may be found an "independent morality" altogether separate from religious profession. Let it be granted that this divorce from morality may be true of religions of an external character, where Divine service is supposed to consist of ritual observances and bodily attitudes and attendances, performed in strict accordance with a very rigid rule. Wherever such performances are looked on as the end of religion, they may be utterly dissociated from morality, and one may be, at one and the same time, strictly religious and glaringly immoral. Nay, further, where religion is held to be in the main the acceptance of a system of doctrine, where the reception of the doctrines of grace is regarded as the distinguishing mark of the Christian, and fidelity to these doctrines the most important duty of discipleship; you may again have a religion dissociated from moral life. You may find men who glory in the doctrine of justification by faith and look with infinite pity on those who are vainly seeking to be accepted by their works, and who deem themselves very safe from punishment because of the doctrine they hold, but who have no right sense of the intrinsic evil of sin, and who are neither honest, nor truthful, nor worthy of trust in the common relations of life. But wherever religion is spiritual and penetrating, wherever sin is seen in its true character, wherever men feel the curse and pollution of sin in their hearts and lives, another spirit rules. The great desire now is to be delivered from sin, not merely in its punishment, but in its pollution and power. The end of religion is to establish a gracious relation through Jesus Christ between the sinner and God, whereby not only shall God's favour be restored, but the soul shall be renewed after God's image, and the rule of life shall be to do all in the name of the Lord Jesus. Now we say. You cannot have such a religion without moral reformation. And, on the other hand, you cannot rely on moral reformation being accomplished without a religion like this. But alas! the love of sinful things is very deeply grained in the fallen nature of man.
Godlessness and selfishness are frightfully powerful in unregenerate hearts. The will of God is a terrible rule of life to the natural man - a rule against which he rebels as unreasonable, impracticable, terrible. How then are men brought to pay supreme and constant regard to that will? How was Samuel brought to do this, and how are men led to do it now? In both cases, it is through the influence of gracious, Divine love. Samuel was a member of a nation that God had chosen as His own, that God had redeemed from bondage, that God dwelt among, protected, restored, guided, and blessed beyond all example. The heart of Samuel was moved by God's goodness to the nation. More than that, Samuel personally had been the object of God's redeeming love; and though the hundred-and-third Psalm was not yet written, he could doubtless say, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases, who redeemeth thy life from destruction, who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies, who satisfieth thy mouth with good things, so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's." It is the same gracious Divine action, the same experience of redeeming grace and mercy, that under the Christian dispensation draws men's hearts to the will of God; only a new light has been thrown on these Divine qualities by the Cross of Christ. The forgiving grace and love of God have been placed in a new setting, and when it is felt that God spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, a new sense of His infinite kindness takes possession of the souk Little truly does anyone know of religion, in the true sense of the term, who has not got this view of God in Christ, and has not felt his obligations to the Son of God, who loved him and gave Himself for him. And when this experience comes to be known, it becomes the delight of the soul to do the will of God. "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
And Samuel said unto the people, It is the LORD that advanced Moses and Aaron, and that brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt.CHAPTER XVII.
SAMUEL’S DEALINGS WITH THE PEOPLE.
1 Samuel 12:6-25.
2. HAVING vindicated himself (in the first five verses of this chapter, 1 Samuel 12:1-5), Samuel now proceeds to his second point, and takes the people in hand. But before proceeding to close quarters with them, he gives a brief review of the history of the nation, in order to bring out the precise relation in which they stood to God, and the duty resulting from that relation (1 Samuel 12:6-12 vers.).
First, he brings out the fundamental fact of their history. Its grand feature was this: "It is the Lord who advanced Moses and Aaron, and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt.” The fact was as indisputable as it was glorious. How would Moses ever have been induced to undertake the task of deliverance from Egypt if the Lord had not sent him? Was he not most unwilling to leave the wilderness and return to Egypt? What could Aaron have done for them if the Lord had not guided and anointed him? How could the people have found an excuse for leaving Egypt even for a day if God had not required them? How could Pharaoh have been induced to let them go, when even the first nine plagues only hardened his heart, or how could they have escaped from him and his army, had the Lord not divided the sea that His ransomed might pass over? The fact could not be disputed - their existence as a people and their settlement in Canaan were due to the special mercy of the Lord. If ever a nation owed everything to the power above, Israel owed everything to Jehovah. No distinction could even approach this in its singular glory.
And yet there was a want of cordiality on the part of the people in acknowledging it. They were partly at least blind to its surpassing lustre. The truth is, they did not like all the duties and responsibility which it involved. It is the highest honour of a son to have a godly father, upright, earnest, consistent in serving God. Yet many a son does not realize this, and sometimes in his secret heart he wishes that his father were just a little more like the men of the world. It is the brightest chapter in the history of a nation that records its struggles for God's honour and man's liberty; yet there are many who have no regard for these struggles, but denounce their champions as ruffians and fanatics. Close connection with God is not, in the eyes of the world, the glorious thing that it is in reality. How strange that this should be so! "O righteous Father," exclaimed Christ in His intercessory prayer, "the world hath not known Thee." He was distressed at the world's blindness to the excellence of God. "How strange it is," Richard Baxter says in substance somewhere, "that men can see beauty in so many things - in the flowers, in the sky, in the sun - and yet be blind to the highest beauty of all, the fountain and essence of all beauty, the beauty of the Lord! "Never rest, my friends, so long as this is true of you. Is not the very fact that to you God, even when revealed in Jesus Christ, may be like a root out of a dry ground, having no form or comeliness or any beauty wherefore you should desire Him - is not that, if it be a fact, alike alarming and appalling? Make it your prayer that He who commanded the light to shine out of darkness would shine in your heart, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Having emphatically laid down the fundamental fact in the history of Israel, Samuel next proceeds to reason upon it. The reasoning rests on two classes of facts: the first, that whenever the people forsook God they had been brought into trouble; the second, that whenever they repented and cried to God He delivered them out of their trouble. The prophet refers to several instances of both, but not exhaustively, not so as to embrace every instance. Among those into whose hand God gave them were Sisera, the Philistines, and the Moabites; among those raised up to deliver them when they cried to the Lord were Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel, The name Bedan does not occur in the history, and as the Hebrew letters that form the word are very similar to those which form Barak, it has been supposed, and I think with reason, that the word Bedan is just a clerical mistake for Barak. The use the prophet makes of both classes of facts is to show how directly God was concerned in what befell the nation. The whole course of their history under the judges had shown that to forsake God and worship idols was to bring on the nation disaster and misery; to return to God and restore His worship was to secure abundant prosperity and blessing. This had been made as certain by past events as it was certain that to close the shutters in an apartment was to plunge it into darkness, and that to open them was to restore light. Cause and effect had been made so very plain that any child might see how the matter stood.
Now, what was it that had recently occurred? They had had trouble from the Ammonites. At ver. 1 Samuel 12:12 the prophet indicates - what is not stated before - that this trouble with the Ammonites had been connected with their coming to him to ask a king. Evidently, the siege of Jabesh-Gilead was not the first offensive act the Ammonites had committed. They had no doubt been irritating the tribes on the other side of Jordan in many ways before they proceeded to attack that city. And if their attack was at all like that which took place in the days of Jephthah, it must have been very serious and highly threatening. (See Jdg 10:8-9.) Now, from what Samuel says here, it would appear that this annoyance from the Ammonites was the immediate occasion of the people wishing to have a king. Here let us observe what their natural course would have been, in accordance with former precedent. It would have been to cry to the Lord to deliver them from the Ammonites. As they had cried for deliverance when the Ammonites for eighteen years vexed and oppressed all the tribes settled on the east side of Jordan, and when they even passed over Jordan to fight against Judah and Benjamin and Ephraim, and the Lord raised up Jephthah, so ought they to have cried to the Lord at this time, and He would have given them a deliverer. But instead of that they asked Samuel to give them a king, that he might deliver them. You see from this what cause Samuel had to charge them with rejecting God for their King. You see at the same time how much forbearance God exercised in allowing Samuel to grant their request. God virtually said, "I will graciously give up My plan and accommodate myself to theirs. I will give up the plan of raising up a special deliverer in special danger, and will let their king be their deliverer. If they and their king be faithful to My covenant, I will give the same mercies to them as they would have received had things remained as they were. It will still be true, as I promised to Abraham, that I will be their God and they shall be My people."
3. This is the third thing that Samuel is specially concerned to press on the people; and this he does in the remaining verses (1 Samuel 12:13-25). They were to remember that their having a king in no sense and in no degree exempted them from their moral and spiritual obligations to God. It did not give them one atom more liberty either in the matter of worship, or in those weightier matters of the law - justice, mercy, and truth. It did not make it one iota less sinful to erect altars to Baal and Ashtaroth, or to join with any of their neighbours in religious festivities in honour of these gods. "If ye will fear the Lord, and serve Him, and obey His voice, and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then shall both ye and also the king that reigneth over you continue following the Lord your God; but if ye will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then shall the hand of the Lord be against you, as it was against your fathers."
There is nothing very similar to this in the circumstances in which we are placed. And yet it is often needful to remind even Christian people of this great truth: that no change of outward circumstances car ever bring with it a relaxation of moral duty, or make that lawful for us which in its own nature is wrong. Nothing of moral quality can be right for us on ship-board which is wrong for us on dry land. Nothing can be allowable in India which could not be thought of in England or Scotland. The law of the Sabbath is not more elastic on the continent of Europe than it is at home. There is no such thing as a geographical religion or a geographical Christianity. Burke used to say, looking to the humane spirit that Englishmen showed at home and the oppressive treatment they were often guilty of to the natives of other countries, that the humanity of England was a thing of points and parallels. But a vocal humanity is no humanity. Those who act as if t were, make public opinion their god, instead of the eternal Jehovah. They virtually say that what public opinion does not allow in England is wrong in England, and must be avoided. If public opinion allows it on the continent of Europe, or in India, or in Africa, it may be done. Is this not dethroning God, and abrogating His immutable law? If God be our King, His will must be our one unfailing rule of life and duty wherever we are. Truly, there is little recognition of a mutable public opinion affecting the quality of our actions, in that sublime psalm that brings out so powerfully the omniscience of God, - the hundred and thirty-ninth, "Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit, and whither shall I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven. Thou art there; if I make my bed in hell, behold Thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall Thy hand lead me and Thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from Thee, but the night shineth as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to Thee."
It was Samuel's purpose, then, to press on the people that the change involved in having a king brought no change as to their duty of invariable allegiance to God. The lessons of history had been clear enough; but they were always a dull-sighted people, and not easily impressed except by what was palpable and even sensational. For this reason Samuel determined to impress the lesson on them in another way. He would show them there and then, under their very eyes, what agencies of destruction God held in His hand, and how easily He could bring these to bear on them and on their property. "Is it not wheat harvest to-day?" You are gathering or about to gather that important crop, and it is of vital importance that the weather be still and calm. But I will pray the Lord, and He shall send thunder and rain, and you will see how easy it is for Him in one hour to ruin the crop which you have been nursing so carefully for months back. "So Samuel called unto the Lord; and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day: and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God that we die not; for we have added unto all our sins this evil: to ask us a king." It was an impressive proof how completely they were in God's hands. What earthly thing could any of them or all of them do to ward off that agent of destruction from their crops? There were they, a great army, with sword and spear, young, strong, and valiant, yet they could not arrest in its fall one drop of rain, nor alter the course of one puff of wind, nor extinguish the blaze of one tongue of fire. Oh, what folly it was to offer an affront to the great God, who had such complete control over "fire and hail, snow and vapours, stormy wind fulfilling His word"! What blindness to think they could in any respect be better with another king!
Thus it is that in their times of trial God's people in all ages have been brought to feel their entire dependence on Him. In days of flowing prosperity, we have little sense of that dependence. As the Psalmist puts it in the thirtieth Psalm; "In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved." When all goes well with us, we expect the same prosperity to continue; it seems stereotyped, the fixed and permanent condition of things. When the days run smoothly, "involving happy months, and these as happy years," all seems certain to continue. But a change comes over our life. Ill-health fastens on us; death invades our circle; relatives bring us into deep waters; our means of living fail; we are plunged into a very wilderness of woe. How falsely we judged when we thought that it was by its own inherent stability our mountain stood strong! No, no; it was solely the result of God's favour, for all our springs are in Him; the moment He hides His face we are most grievously troubled. Sad but salutary experience! Well for you, my afflicted friend, if it burns into your very soul the conviction that every blessing in life depends on God's favour, and that to offend God is to ruin all!
But now, the humble and contrite spirit having been shown by the people, see how Samuel hastens to comfort and reassure them. Now that they have begun to fear, he can say to them, "Fear not." Now that they have shown themselves alive to the evils of God's displeasure, they are assured that there is a clear way of escape from these evils. "Turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart." If God be terrible as an enemy, He is glorious as a friend. No doubt you offered a slight to Him when you sought another king. But it is just a proof of His wonderful goodness that, though you have done this. He does not cast you off. He will be as near to you as ever He was if you are only faithful to Him. He will still deliver you from your enemies when you call upon Him. For His name and His memorial are still the same: "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and in truth, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty."
Samuel, moreover, reminds them that it was not they that had chosen God; it was God that had chosen them. "The Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name's sake, because it hath pleased the Lord to make you His people." This was a great ground of comfort for Israel. The eternal God had chosen them and made them His people for great purposes of His own. It was involved in this very choice and purpose of God that He would keep His hand on them, and preserve them from all such calamities as would prevent them from fulfilling His purpose. Fickle and changeable, they might easily be induced to break away from Him; but, strong and unchangeable, He could never be induced to abandon His purpose in them. And if this was a comfort to Israel then, there is a corresponding comfort to the spiritual Israel now. If my heart is in any measure turned to God, to value His favour and seek to do His will, it is God that has effected the change. And this shows that God has a purpose with me. Till that purpose is accomplished. He cannot leave me. He will correct me when I sin. He will recover me when I stray. He will heal me when I am sick, He will strengthen me when I am weak; "I am confident of this very thing: that He which hath begun a good work in me will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ."
Once more, in answer to the people's request that he would intercede for them, Samuel is very earnest. "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you." The great emphasis with which he says this shows how much his heart is in it. "What should I do, if I had not the privilege of intercessory prayer for you?" There is a wonderful revelation of love to the people here. They are dear to him as his children are dear to a Christian parent, and he feels for them as warmly as he feels for himself. There is a wonderful deepening of interest and affection when men's relation to God is realized. The warmest heart as yet unregenerate cannot feel for others as the spiritual heart must do when it takes in all the possibilities of the spiritual state - all that is involved in the favour or in the wrath of the infinite God, in the predominance of sin or of grace in the heart, and in the prospect of an eternity of woe on the one hand or of glory, honour, and heavenly bliss on the other. How is it possible for one to have all these possibilities full in one's view and not desire the eternal welfare of loved ones with an intensity unknown to others? We know from experience how hard it is to get them to do right. Even one's own children seem sometimes to baffle every art and endeavour of love, and go off, in spite of everything, to the ways of the world. Entreaty and remonstrance are apparently in vain. The more one pleads, the less perhaps are one's pleas regarded. One resource remains - intercessory prayer. It is the only method to which one may resort with full assurance of its ultimate efficacy for attaining the dearest object of one's heart. Does the thought of giving up intercessory prayer come to one from any quarter? No wonder if the insinuation is met by a deep, earnest "God forbid."
"I bless God " said Mr. Flavel, one of the best and sweetest of the old Puritan divines, on the death of his father - "I bless God for a religious and tender father, who often poured out his soul to God for me; and this stock of prayers I esteem the fairest inheritance on earth." How many a man has been deeply impressed even by the very thought that someone was praying for him! "Is it not strange," he has said to himself, "that he should pray for me far more than I pray for myself? What can induce him to take such an interest in me?" Every Christian ought to think much of intercessory prayer, and practice it greatly. It is doubly blessed: blessed to him who prays and blessed to those for whom he prays. Nothing is better fitted to enlarge and warm the heart than intercessory prayer. To present to God in succession, one after another, our family and our friends, remembering all their wants, sorrows, trials, and temptations; to bear before Him the interests of this struggling Church and that in various parts of the world, this interesting mission and that noble cause; to make mention of those who are waging the battles of temperance, of purity, of freedom, of Christianity itself, in the midst of difficulty, obloquy, and opposition; to gather together all the sick and sorrowing, all the fatherless and widows, all the bereaved and dying, of one's acquaintance, and ask God to bless them; to think of all the children of one's acquaintance in the bright springtide of life, of all the young men and young women arrived or arriving at the critical moment of decision as to the character of their life, and implore God to guide them - O brethren, this is good for one's self; it enlarges one's own heart; it helps one's self in prayer! And then what a blessing it is for those prayed for I Who can estimate the amount of spiritual blessing that has been sent down on this earth in answer to the fervent intercessions of the faithful? Think how Moses interceded for the whole nation after the golden calf, and it was spared. Think how Daniel interceded for his companions in Babylon, and the secret was revealed to him. Think how Elijah interceded for the widow, and her son was restored to life. Think how Paul constantly interceded for all his Churches, and how their growth and spiritual prosperity evinced that his prayer was not in vain. God forbid that any Christian should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for the Church which He hath purchased with His own blood. And while we pray for the Church, let us not forget the world that lieth in wickedness. For of all for whom the desires of the faithful should go up to heaven, surely the most necessitous are those who have as yet no value for heavenly blessings. What duty can be more binding on us than to "pray for her that prays not for herself"?