1 Samuel 12:1-25
And Samuel said to all Israel, Behold, I have listened to your voice in all that you said to me, and have made a king over you.…
1. The occasion of his admonitions was the full recognition of the first king of Israel -by the national assembly, and his retirement from the more active duties of his office as judge. He was not mortified at parting with power, nor did he wish to reverse the change which had been effected. He cheerfully acquiesced in the will of God, and cordially united with the people in giving honour to the" Lord's anointed" (vers. 3, 5). Yet he might not allow them to suppose that there was nothing blameworthy in their desire for a king, as they were apt to do, or enter upon their new career in perilous self-complacency, without warning them of the rocks ahead. He spoke not merely as judge, but also as a prophet and "faithful priest" (ver. 19).
2. The form which they assumed is varied. They consist generally of a dialogue between him and the elders; partly of an apology, or defence of his official conduct; partly of a narration of the dealings of God with Israel; and partly of exhortations, warnings, and promises closely connected together. The whole may be conceived of as a judicial scene occurring before the invisible Judge, in which Samuel, having vindicated himself as against the people, sets forth their sin against God, who himself confirms his words in the thunderstorm (Job 38:1), which leads them to confess their transgression and seek the intercession of the prophet, who consoles and admonishes them, and assures them of his continued help. The language is direct and rugged and full of force.
3. The main subject is the course of sinful perversity which Israel had pursued in desiring a king; the chief aim to produce a humble and penitent state of mind, and lead to the maintenance of a proper relation to the invisible King. His former words may be compared (1 Samuel 3:11-14; 1 Samuel 7:3-6; 1 Samuel 8:10-18; 1 Samuel 10:17-19); also the words of Moses (Numbers 16:25-30; Deuteronomy 29.), and of Joshua (Joshua 24.). He speaks of their course as -
I. ADOPTED WITHOUT SUFFICIENT REASON (vers. 3-6) in the light of his just administration. He sets himself, as it were, before the tribunal of the invisible Judge, and before the king, - himself, "old and grey headed," on the one hand, Israel on the other, - and seeks an open vindication (as public men are often under the necessity of doing); not, however, so much from regard to his own dignity as to their welfare and the honour of God. We have here -
1. A challenge, on the part of Samuel, to bear witness against him. "Behold, here I am," etc. (ver. 3). It is a common temptation for men in authority and power to use their position for selfish and unjust purposes, such as
(1) appropriating wrongfully what belongs to others,
(2) defrauding them of what is their due,
(3) oppressing the poor and weak, and
(4) perverting the proper course of justice, especially in the case of the rich and strong, for the sake of "a gift" or bribe.
How have these evils prevailed in every age! But Samuel had consciously wronged no one, and if any can show that he has done so, he stands ready to make restitution (Luke 19:8). His conscience is "as the noontide clear." "No doubt he found himself guilty before God of many private infirmities; but for his public carriage he appeals to men. A man's heart can best judge of himself; others can best judge of his actions. Happy is that man that can be acquitted by himself in private, in public by others, by God in both" (Hall).
2. A testimony, on the part of the elders, to his integrity (ver. 4); ready, explicit, and with one voice. It is almost impossible for men in public office to be faithful without making enemies. If Samuel had any, they now nowhere appear; and his character shines forth "as the sun when he goeth forth in his might" (Judges 5:31).
3. An invocation, on the part of both, to the Lord and his anointed to confirm the testimony (ver. 5); thereby making it more solemn and memorable. Why, then, seeing his government was so unblamable, did they wish to set it aside? Their testimony to him was a sentence of condemnation on themselves for their inconsideration, ingratitude, and discontent. The force of the testimony was increased by his further invocation of the Lord as he who had "appointed Moses and Aaron, and brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt" (ver. 6). As the appointed and faithful leader of Israel, even as they, no other was necessary, and his rejection was the rejection of the Lord. With this he passes on to speak of their course as -
II. MARKED BY AGGRAVATED TRANSGRESSION (vers. 7-12) in the light of the righteous dealings of God in past time. "Now therefore stand forth," etc. (ver. 7). He and they now change places; he becomes their accuser, and reasons or contends with them (in order to convict them of sin) "concerning the righteous acts of Jehovah," who had acted justly in his covenant relation with them throughout their whole history, faithfully fulfilled his promises, inflicted punishment only when it was deserved, and bestowed upon them the greatest benefits (Ezekiel 33:17; Micah 6:2). These acts include -
1. A wonderful deliverance (ver. 8) from a crushing oppression, in compassion to the cry of the needy, through the instrumentality of men raised up for the purpose, with "a mighty hand and an outstretched arm," and completed in their possession of the land of promise. This deliverance is always regarded as the foundation of their history. "History was born in that night in which Moses, with the law of God, moral and spiritual, in his heart, led the people of Israel out of Egypt" (Bunsen).
2. Repeated chastisements (ver. 9), rendered necessary by forgetfulness of God, varied (the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Moabites), and with a view to their moral improvement. "Notice here Samuel's prudence in reproof.
(1) By his reproof of their ancestors he prepares their minds to receive reproof;
(2) he shows that their ingratitude is old, and so worse, and they should take care that it grow no stronger;
(3) he chooses a very mild word, 'forget,' to express their offence" (Pool).
3. Continued help (vers. 10, 11), through penitence and prayer, by means of successive "saviours," - Jerubbaal (Gideon), Sedan (Barak), Jephthah, Samuel (1 Samuel 7:10; referring to himself in the third person, because now speaking as the advocate of Jehovah), - against their "enemies on every side," and in their safe preservation unto the present time. "And ye dwelled safe." But what return did they make for all his benefits? As soon as they saw the threatening attitude of Nahash (ver. 12), they forgot the lessons of the past, lost their confidence in God, trusted in an arm of flesh, and recklessly and persistently demanded a king, virtually rejecting the Lord as their king. Former experience of the goodness and severity of God greatly aggravates present transgression (ver. 19).
III. INVOLVING PERILOUS RESPONSIBILITY (vers. 13-15) in the light of present circumstances. "Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen," etc. Although they had taken the initiative in the matter, he had reserved to himself the authority of appointing him, and abides the supreme Ruler over both people and king (ver. 12). In the new order of things -
1. They are specially liable to forget this primary truth, and to trust in man, and hence he impresses upon them once and again the fact that "the Lord God is their king." No earthly monarch can release them from their responsibility to him, and no human help can save them apart from him. "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes" (Psalm 118:9).
2. They can prosper only by being faithful to him. "If ye will fear the Lord," etc., it will be well with you and your king. But -
3. If unfaithful, they will expose themselves to heavy judgments, as their fathers had done before them. Wherein, then, have they improved their condition? What a perilous course have they entered upon! And how can they hope to avoid its consequences except by profound humiliation, and seeking the Lord "with full purpose of heart"?
IV. NECESSITATING SINCERE REPENTANCE (vers. 16-18) in the light of approaching judgment. "Now therefore stand and see this great thing," etc. Hitherto the words of Samuel appear to have produced little effect; something further was necessary that they might not be spoken in vain; and, in response to his prayer, the thunder crashed above the heads of the great assembly, and the rain fell in torrents around them - things "incomprehensible to a Hebrew" in time of harvest. The miraculous sign -
1. Corroborates the word of truth as well as the Divine commission of him who uttered it, and confirms the testimony borne to his integrity. The voice of the supreme Judge answers the appeal which had been made to him (ver. 5), and there is "an end of all controversy" (Hebrews 6:16).
2. Is significant of the Divine displeasure at their sin, and of terrible judgments (Exodus 9:28). "Hereby the Lord showed his power, and the people their foolishness in not being contented to have such a mighty God for their protector, who could with thunder and rain fight for them against their enemies, as he did for Israel against the host of Pharaoh, and not long before this against the Philistines. And, beside, it appeared with what small reason they should be weary of Samuel's government, who by his prayer could fetch down rain and thunder from heaven" (Willet). "God had granted their desire; but upon them and their king's bearing toward the Lord, not upon the fact that they had now a king, would the future of Israel depend; and this truth, so difficult for them to learn, God would, as it were, prove before them in a symbol. Did they think it unlikely, nay, well nigh impossible, to fail in their present circumstances? God would bring the unlikely and seemingly incredible to pass in a manner patent to all. Was it not the time of wheat harvest, when in the East not a cloud darkens the clear sky? God would send thunder and rain to convince them, by making the unlikely real, of the folly and sin of their thoughts in demanding a king" (Edersheim).
3. Is designed to effect a moral end, in filling them with salutary fear. "That ye may perceive that your wickedness is great" (ver. 17). And it is not in vain; for "all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel" (ver. 18), thus solemnly avouched to be his prophet. God is never at a loss for means to accomplish his purposes, and goes beyond his usual method of operations when the occasion demands it. The end of his dealings with men is to bring them to repentance and make them holy.
V. NOT EXCLUDING CONSOLATION AND HOPE (vers. 19-25) in the light of the great name and merciful purposes of God. By means of repentance and faith men place themselves within the circle where the "consuming fire" of Divine wrath (Romans 1:18; Hebrews 12:29) is transformed into the genial beams of Divine grace; and "he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). We have here -
1. A description of a penitent people (ver. 19), overwhelmed with fear, freely and fully confessing their sin, rendering honour where they had formerly shown ingratitude and disrespect, and seeking Divine mercy in the way in which they had reason to believe it might be obtained.
2. An exhortation to an amended course of life (vers. 20, 21).
(1) A consoling word. "Fear not."
(2) A reminding and humbling word. "Ye have done all this wickedness."
(3) A restraining word. "Turn not aside from following the Lord" (as ye have done in your distrust and self-will).
(4) A directive word. "But serve the Lord with all your heart" (in faith, and love, and entire consecration).
(5) A warning word. "And turn ye not aside" (from God to any false object of trust, idols).
(6) An instructive word. '" For they are vain" (utterly empty and disappointing).
3. An assurance of mercy and grace (ver. 22), resting on -
(1) His relationship. They are still "his people."
(2) His name - his revelations of power and salvation to his people, and his honour and glory before all the nations.
(3) His good will. "Because" (he will not forsake his people, because) "it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people." Whatever benefits he has conferred have proceeded from his pure benevolence, and are a pledge of further benefits (Jeremiah 31:3). His free and unmerited love is the sinner's chief hope.
4. A promise of continued aid, on the part of Samuel, in intercession and instruction (ver. 23). "In this he sets a glorious example to all rulers, showing them that they should not be led astray by the ingratitude of their subordinates or subjects, and give up on that account all interest in their welfare; but should further persevere all the more in their anxiety for them."
5. A final admonition to steadfast obedience (vers. 24, 25), without which both people and king will be overwhelmed in destruction. In keeping with the tone which pervades these admonitions, and as in foresight of coming evils, they end with a warning. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.