A. Testimony to Samuel's integrity.
1. (1-3) Samuel talks about his leadership over Israel.
Now Samuel said to all Israel: "Indeed I have heeded your voice in all that you said to me, and have made a king over you. And now here is the king, walking before you; and I am old and grayheaded, and look, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my childhood to this day. Here I am. Witness against me before the LORD and before His anointed: Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I received any bribe with which to blind my eyes? I will restore it to you."
a. Samuel said to all Israel: After the victory of Saul over the Ammonites in 1 Samuel 11, Samuel knows the nation will now begin to look to this king for leadership. Here, in this chapter, he is helping Israel to make the transition from Samuel's leadership to Saul's leadership. Samuel makes this clear when he says, "now here is the king" and "I am old and gray headed." Samuel is telling Israel that his day is over, and Saul's day is beginning.
i. It is true that Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life (1 Samuel 7:15), but now that a king has been raised up, his role will change and diminish. Samuel never officially "stepped down" from leading Israel as a judge, but he would not allow his shadow to eclipse Saul. Perhaps he knew Saul would have enough trouble on his own, and didn't want to be accused of subverting Saul's reign as king.
ii. In this, Samuel shows himself as a truly godly man. He is willing to pass from the scene when God raises up another leader. His heart is the same as John the Baptist's heart towards Jesus: He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). Samuel would not grasp onto a position when God was changing it.
b. Indeed I have heeded your voice in all that you have said to me: Samuel wanted it clearly known that it was not his idea to appoint a king over Israel. This idea began in the hearts of Israel, not in the heart and mind of God. God allowed it, and directed its execution, but it was the voice of the people that prompted it.
c. My sons are with you: In 1 Samuel 8:1-5, Samuel was challenged to take his sons out of leadership in Israel, because they were not godly men. Though it must have been difficult, he did it. The words my sons are with you are proof; Samuel's sons were simply a part of the assembly of Israel, not "up on the platform" with Samuel.
i. "It is generally agreed that these words intimate that Samuel had deprived them of their public employ, and reduced them to a level with the common people." (Clarke)
d. I have walked before you from my childhood to this day: Samuel remembers his humble beginnings as a child, dedicated to the LORD and serving Israel and the LORD at the tabernacle (1 Samuel 2:18, 3:1).
i. I have walked before you is not the idea "I have been on display before you." Instead, it is the idea of a shepherd walking before his flock, leading it on. Samuel had been a godly leader and shepherd for Israel these many years.
e. Witness against me before the LORD: As Samuel speaks to the nation about the transition of leadership, he wants it clear that he has not defrauded or oppressed or been corrupt in anyway. He simply challenges the nation: "If I have wronged you or been corrupt, come forward now and declare it."
i. This is impressive as an example of the godly character of Samuel. Certainly, few people could give such an invitation to accuse!
ii. Why? Why does Samuel do what seems to be a purely self-justifying and self-glorifying thing? From what we know of the character of Samuel in other passages, we have to believe this is more than him saying, "Look at how good I am." Instead, it seems that Samuel wants the nation to know that he has passed a good legacy of leadership to the new king Saul. He wants Israel to recognize that he hasn't handed Saul a mess that he has to clean up. If Saul should prove to be a poor leader, no one could say it was because of the bad example set by Samuel.
f. I will restore it: It seems as if Samuel is saying, "I may have wronged someone without knowing it. If that is the case, state it now, so I can make it right. I don't want to leave any unfinished business." This testifies to Samuel's humble heart.
2. (4-5) Israel affirms the blameless leadership of Samuel.
And they said, "You have not cheated us or oppressed us, nor have you taken anything from any man's hand." Then he said to them, "The LORD is witness against you, and His anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand." And they answered, "He is witness."
a. You have not defrauded us or oppressed us: Israel knew Samuel had been a good, godly leader. He had not led them for what he could get from them, but for what he could give to them.
i. This is a priceless testimony for any leader. How precious to stand before your own people, and to hear them affirm the integrity of your leadership! Samuel could only make the challenge of 1 Samuel 12:3 because he knew the answer ahead of time.
b. The LORD is witness against you, and His anointed is witness this day: Samuel settles the matter. All parties agree that he has led Israel well. This is the second time Samuel has mentioned His anointed in this passage, and the phrase refers to Saul, because he was anointed as king (1 Samuel 10:1). Samuel deliberately included Saul in all this to make the idea of a transition between his leadership and Saul's clear.
c. In what sense was the LORD witness against them? If Israel were to later accuse Samuel of wrong, he could call them back to this time, and what they said here would be a witness against them. As well, if Israel ever tried to blame Saul's problems as king on Samuel, what they said here would be a witness against them.
B. Samuel challenges Israel to serve God under their new king.
1. (6-12) Samuel gives a brief history lesson.
Then Samuel said to the people, "It is the LORD who raised up Moses and Aaron, and who brought your fathers up from the land of Egypt. Now therefore, stand still, that I may reason with you before the LORD concerning all the righteous acts of the LORD which He did to you and your fathers: When Jacob had gone into Egypt, and your fathers cried out to the LORD, then the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. And when they forgot the LORD their God, He sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab; and they fought against them. Then they cried out to the LORD, and said, 'We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD and served the Baals and Ashtoreths; but now deliver us from the hand of our enemies, and we will serve You.' And the LORD sent Jerubbaal, Bedan, Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side; and you dwelt in safety. And when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, 'No, but a king shall reign over us,' when the LORD your God was your king."
a. The righteous acts of the LORD: Samuel, in this remembrance of God's work from the time of the Exodus until his present day, focuses not on the history of Israel, but on the history of the righteous acts of the LORD.
b. Who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place: Israel should remember their salvation from slavery and the new life God gave them in the Promised Land. This is one of the righteous acts of the LORD.
c. He sold them into the hand of Sisera: Israel should remember how God allowed a disobedient Israel to be under the domination of their enemies, as a chastisement intending to bring them to repentance. This is one of the righteous acts of the LORD.
i. We should recognize God's chastisement as one of the righteous acts of the LORD. His discipline is just as righteous as His deliverance.
d. They cried out to the LORD . . . now deliver us from the hand of our enemies, and we will serve You . . . And the LORD sent . . . and delivered you: Israel should remember that when they cried out to God, confessed their sin and humbled themselves in repentance before Him, that He delivered them. This is one of the righteous acts of the LORD.
i. The list of the deliverers God used (Jerubbaaal, Bedan, Jephthah, and Samuel) shows two things. First, it shows Israel was constantly in need of deliverance because of their sin, and God kept delivering them when they repented. Second, it showed that God didn't need just one man. He could use many different leaders to do His work in Israel. So, even if Samuel is old and gray headed (1 Samuel 11:2), God can now raise up a Saul.
ii. Jerubbaal was another name for Gideon (Judges 6:32). Who was Bedan? We have no mention of him in the book of Judges. Perhaps he was a deliverer known in their history, but no recorded in the book of Judges. Or, Bedan may be a variant spelling or name for Barak, mentioned in Judges 4:6. The Septuagint, an ancient translation of the Old Testament, translates the name as Barak. Other ancient translations have Samson, and some commentators believe Jair is intended. But really doesn't matter!
iii. Youngblood feels that one reason Gideon is mentioned is "because he specifically refused to establish dynastic as opposed to divine rule over his countrymen . . . for which refusal he must surely have been one of Samuel's heroes."
iv. "The language of vv.9-11 is heavily dependent on terminology characteristic of the Book of Judges. The dreary cycle of rebellion-retribution-repentance-restoration described throughout that book . . . is reprised here." (Youngblood)
e. Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you: Samuel remembers the most recent example of God's deliverance for Israel (recorded in 1 Samuel 11). Samuel is tying together the story of God's deliverance for Israel, from the time of the Exodus to the present day. Each of these were examples of the righteous acts of the LORD.
i. Why the history lesson? Because as Israel makes the transition into monarchy, they need to remember the righteous acts of the LORD. Everything the LORD wants to do in our lives now is in the setting of what He has already done in our lives.
f. You said to me, "No, but a king shall reign over us," when the LORD your God was your king: As they begin to live under the king, Samuel reminds the nation of their disobedience desire for a king. The LORD had been a good king for Israel, but they wanted a king for carnal, fleshly reasons.
2. (13-15) If you fear the LORD: a choice for Israel.
"Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen and whom you have desired. And take note, the LORD has set a king over you. If you fear the LORD and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the LORD your God. However, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers."
a. Here is the king whom you have chosen and whom you have desired: Samuel probably had the feeling, "Here is the king you wanted. You will find that he isn't quite the king you need, but he is the king you wanted."
b. If you fear the LORD and serve Him and obey His voice: Samuel presents Israel with an important choice. They had been disobedient in their desire for a king, yet God had given them a king. Even so, if they would fear the LORD and serve Him, God could still bless them.
i. One wrong turn had not put them out of God's plan forever. Yes, Israel should have never sought a human king. But now they had one, and Samuel simply calls them to serve the LORD where they are at now. We need to know that one wrong turn doesn't wreck our lives before God! Instead of agonizing over the past, get right with God today. Fear the LORD and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, and God will bring good even out of yesterday's wrong turn.
c. However, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD . . . then the hand of the LORD will be against you: Samuel puts the choice before Israel. They had made a wrong turn, yet God puts them at fork in the road. On one side is submission to God and obedience; on the other is rebellion and disobedience. If they choose the wrong path, they can trust God will not bless it.
d. As it was against your fathers: Every individual every generation is tempted to think of itself as a special exception. They know of the righteous acts of the LORD in previous generations, yet somehow feel they are excepted from God's correction or judgment. Samuel is reminding Israel they are not any different from their fathers, and God will not deal with them any differently than He did with their fathers.
3. (16-18) God confirms Samuel's word with a sign.
"Now therefore, stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes: Is today not the wheat harvest? I will call to the LORD, and He will send thunder and rain, that you may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking a king for yourselves." So Samuel called to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.
a. Now therefore, stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do: Samuel will pray and ask God to send a sign to confirm His word. This is a concession to the wicked hearts of the people, because Samuel knows only a sign from God will impress them.
b. That you may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking a king for yourselves: Why would Samuel and the LORD wait until now for such a dramatic sign? Why not do it when Israel first asked for a king, so they would have known their sin right then, and taken back their request for a king?
i. Because God had a purpose in allowing the "people's king," Saul, to come first.
ii. Because if it had happened in the first days of Saul's reign, the people would have cast him off just as quickly, and just as wrongly, as they asked for him. Now, that his reign has been confirmed by the victory of 1 Samuel 11 and accepted by the people, they can be more directly confronted with their sin.
iii. Because Samuel might have been accused of reproving the people out of a personal sense of hurt. By waiting until now, everyone knows that Samuel isn't saying, "Get rid of Saul so I can lead the nation again."
iv. Because now, Israel rejoiced greatly (1 Samuel 11:15). They were perhaps a little too excited about their new king, and Samuel wants them to have a more spiritual perspective.
v. "This is an excellent way of preaching - to mingle promises and threatenings. Sour and sweet make the best sauce." (Trapp)
c. The LORD sent thunder and rain that day: Thunder and rain were unusual during the wheat harvest. This was a truly remarkable sign from God.
i. The sign was especially meaningful because one of the common gods of that day was Baal, who was thought to be the god of thunder and rain. The LORD was showing that He was the true God of the weather.
ii. Because it was the wheat harvest, the sign displayed not only God's power, but His judgment also. Heavy rain during the harvest could destroy all their crops. The sign was a warning. "In that part of the world not only is 'rain in harvest . . . not fitting' (Prov. 26:1), it is so totally unexpected that it could easily be interpreted as a sign of divine displeasure." (Youngblood)
d. The people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel: The result was good, but it shows something weak and carnal in the hearts of the people. Didn't they know God was this powerful before? Perhaps their knowledge of it was purely intellectual knowledge. They could have known the power and majesty and sovereignty of God in their hearts before this, and then it would have been unnecessary to bring a sign before the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel.
i. Even more impressive than thunder during harvest time is the thunder of the Holy Spirit's conviction in the heart. Even more impressive than rain during harvest time is the love of God poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The inner work is more effective in making us serve God than any outward sign, no matter how impressive.
e. I will call to the LORD, and He will send thunder . . . So Samuel called to the LORD: This is an impressive example of power in prayer. Samuel is known in the Bible as a mighty man of prayer (Psalm 99:6, Jeremiah 15:1).
4. (19) Israel sees their sin of desiring a king.
And all the people said to Samuel, "Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves."
a. Pray for your servants: Samuel had just shown himself a mighty man of prayer, and Israel now knows how much they need prayer. It made sense to ask Samuel to pray for them!
b. We have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves: Finally, Israel sees their sin of wanting a king. They see it too late; if only they had realized it in 1 Samuel 8, when Samuel first warned them! Now they are stuck with a king, yet God can still turn it for good if Israel will repent and seek the LORD.
i. It is sad that it took thunder and rain for Israel to be impressed with God's power and majesty. What will it take for us to fear the LORD and treat Him as a God of power and majesty?
ii. Trapp on we have added to all our sins: "By occasion of this sin, they came to the sight and recognition of many more. Our lives are as full of sins as the firmament is of stars, or the furnace of sparks."
5. (20-25) Samuel exhorts Israel to walk right with the LORD today.
Then Samuel said to the people, "Do not fear. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing. For the LORD will not forsake His people, for His great name's sake, because it has pleased the LORD to make you His people. Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way. Only fear the LORD, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king."
a. You have done all this wickedness; yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart: Samuel will not minimize Israel's sin. Yet, he does not want them to dwell on the sin of the past, but to get on walking with the LORD today.
i. The Living Bible puts the thought well: Make sure now that you worship the Lord with true enthusiasm, and that you don't turn your back on Him in any way. We can't do anything about yesterday, and at the present moment we can't serve God tomorrow. At the present moment, all we can do is not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. Satan would love for us to live in the past or in the future; to do anything but serve the LORD with all we have right now!
b. Do not turn aside; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing: Samuel wants Israel to know that rejecting the LORD, and turning aside from Him, just doesn't work. If they will not serve God out of spiritual reasons, then let them do it for pragmatic reasons: nothing else can profit or deliver!
i. It is precious place in our walk with God when we realize this. It isn't easy to come to this place; we usually learn by bitter experience that nothing else can profit or deliver. But how wonderful to say with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). What a gift to know that as tough as it might be serving God, it is only worse to turn aside from Him!
c. For the LORD will not forsake His people . . . it has pleased the LORD to make you His people: Samuel wants Israel to know that God loves them. This is why, despite the sin of their past, they can get on with serving the LORD and still see His blessing. Because God loves them. His favor towards Israel was not prompted by good they had done, were doing, or promised to do. It was for His great name's sake, because it pleased the LORD to do it. The reasons were in Him, not in Israel.
i. Why doesn't God give up on Israel? Because He loves them. Why is God willing to put away the sin of the past? Because He loves them. Why is God willing to give them a new start? Because He loves them. Only God's love makes any sense of this!
d. Far be it for me that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: Samuel knew the best thing he could do for Israel was to pray for them. His words to them would make no difference if the LORD was not working in their hearts, and the best way to cultivate the working of the LORD in their lives was through prayer.
i. Samuel could have felt hurt that the people rejected him and the LORD as leaders over the nation. He might have been bitter against the people, and refused to pray for them. But Samuel was a more godly man than that. "Think not that because you have so highly disobliged and rejected me, that I will revenge myself by neglecting to pray for you, or by praying against you, as I have now done for your conviction and humiliation, and so for you preservation; I am sensible it is my duty, as I am a man, an Israelite, a minister, a prophet, to pray for you." (Poole)
ii. Many would say, "I promise I will start praying for you." For Samuel, starting to pray was a non-issue, because he was already praying. For him, the issue was ceasing to pray. "Samuel had become so rooted in the habit of prayer for the people that he seems to start at the very thought of brining his intercession to an end." (Spurgeon)
iii. This statement of Samuel makes it plain: it is a sin for a leader of God's people to stop praying for them. It is the most basic of his duties as a leader. If it is sin to stop praying, how much worse must it be to even fail to start praying!
iv. But the blessing of unceasing prayer is not the property of the preacher or leader alone. All can share in it. "Perhaps you will never preach, but you may pray. If you cannot climb the pulpit you may bow before the mercy-seat, and be quite as great a blessing." (Spurgeon)
e. I will teach you the good and the right way: Samuel would pray, but he would not only pray. There was still a place for teaching, and Samuel would faithfully fulfill that role as well.
i. So, is it better to preach or to pray? "Whether a minister shall do more good to others by his prayers or preaching, I will not determine, saith one; but he shall certainly by his prayers reap more comfort to himself." (Trapp)
ii. Samuel wants the people of Israel to know that even as he is stepping back and allowing Saul to emerge as a leader, he will not forsake Israel. He will continue to lead and to serve them, but more in a spiritual way, through prayer and teaching. Saul will take the more visible reins of leadership.
f. Only fear the LORD . . . for consider what great things He has done for you: All of our service, all of our obedience, all of our love for God should be put in this context. We do it because of the great things He has done for us. We don't serve God so as to persuade Him to do great things for us. He has done the great things, and asks us to receive them by faith. Then we serve Him because of the great things he has done for us.
i. We can only keep perspective in our Christian lives if we keep focused on what great things He has done for you. And if we lose perspective, everything is distorted. Police in Seal Beach, California, got an urgent call from a resident looking through his new telescope: a pink Corvette was being ravaged in the surf, and the caller was afraid that someone might be trapped inside. Officers rushed to the scene, but couldn't find the car. The man confirmed he could still see it, so officers came to his house to take a look. Through his telescope, they saw it too: a "Barbie-sized" toy car on the beach, highly magnified by the powerful lens. "Had he panned his telescope up a little from the ocean . . . he would've realized what he was looking at," said police Sgt. Rick Ransdell. The cops recovered the toy, which was less than a foot long, he said. Many people tend to magnify their problems and lose sight of what great things He has done for you.
g. If you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away: This warning became the sad legacy of Israel, when they were conquered and taken from the land in captivity.
i. "Never was a people more fully warned, and never did a people profit less by the warning." (Clarke)