1 Samuel 12:1
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.
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(1) And Samuel said unto all Israel.—We believe we possess in this section of our history, in the report the compiler of these memoirs has given us of the dialogue between the judge Samuel and the elders of Israel at the solemn assembly of Gilgal, many of the very words spoken on this momentous occasion by the old man. It is doubtless a true and detailed account of all that took place on that day—the real inauguration of the earthly monarchy; that great change in the life of Israel which became of vast importance in the succeeding generations. In such a recital the words used by that grand old man, who belonged both to the old order of things and to the new, who was the link between the judges and the kings—the link which joined men like Eleazar, the grandson of Aaron, Gideon, and Jephthah, heroes half-veiled in the mists which so quickly gather round an unlettered past, with men like David and Solomon, round whose lives no mist will ever gather—the words used by that old man, who, according to the cherished tradition in Israel, was the accredited minister of the invisible King when the Eternal made over the sovereignty to Saul, would surely be treasured up with a jealous care. This gives an especial and peculiar interest to the present chapter, which contains the summary of the proceedings of the Gilgal assembly. The old judge Samuel, with the hero-king Saul standing by his side, presents the king to the people of the Lord under the title of the “Anointed of the Eternal,” and then in a few pathetic words speaks first of his own pure and upright past. The elders reply to his moving words. Then he rehearses the glorious acts of the Eternal King, and repeats how He, over and over again, delivered the people from the miseries into which their own sins had plunged them; and yet, in full memory of all this, says the indignant old man, “in the place of this invisible Ruler, so full of mercy and pity, you asked for an earthly king. The Lord has granted your petition now. Behold your king !” pointing to Saul at his side.—The old man continues: “Even after your ingratitude to the true King, still He will be with you and the man He has chosen for you, if only you and he are obedient to the old well-known Divine commandments.” At this juncture Samuel strengthens his argument by invoking a sign from heaven. Awe-struck and appalled, the assembled elders, confessing their sin, ask for Samuel’s prayers. The old prophet closes the solemn scene with a promise that his intercession for king and people shall never cease.

Behold, I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said unto me, and have made a king over you.—This should be compared with 1Samuel 8:7; 1Samuel 8:19-20; 1Samuel 8:22, where the proceedings of the deputation of the people to Samuel at Ramah are related at length. Their wishes expressed on that public occasion had been scrupulously carried out by him. He would now say a few words respecting the past, as regards his (Samuel’s) administration, would ask the assembled elders of the nation a few grave questions, and then would leave them with their king. The account, as we possess it, of these proceedings at Gilgal on the occasion of the national reception of Saul as king, is in the form of a dialogue between the prophet Samuel and the elders of the people.

1 Samuel


1 Samuel 12:1 - 1 Samuel 12:15

The portion of Samuel’s address included in this passage has three main sections: his noble and dignified assertion of his official purity, his summary of the past history, and his solemn declaration of the conditions of future wellbeing for the nation with its new king.

I. Probably the war with the Ammonite king Nahash, which had postponed the formal inauguration of the king, had been carried on in the neighbourhood of the Jordan valley; and thus Gilgal would be a convenient rendezvous. But it was chosen for other reasons also, and, as appears from 1 Samuel 10:8, had been fixed on by Samuel at his first interview with Saul. There the Covenant had been renewed, after the wanderers had crossed the river, with Joshua at their head, and it was fitting that the beginnings of the new form of the national life should be consecrated by worship on the same site as had witnessed the beginnings of the national life on the soil of the promised land. Perhaps the silent stones, which Joshua reared, stood there yet. At all events, sacred memories could scarcely fail, as the rejoicing crowd, standing where their fathers had renewed the Covenant, saw the blackened ruins of Jericho, and the foaming river, now, as then, filling all its banks in the time of harvest, which their fathers had crossed with the ark, that was now hidden at Kirjath-jearim, for their guide. The very place spoke the same lessons from the past which Samuel was about to teach them.

There is just a faint trace of Samuel’s disapproval of the new order in his first words. He takes care to throw the whole responsibility on the people; but, at the same time, he assumes the authoritative tone which becomes him, and quietly takes the position of superiority to the king whom he has made. 1 Samuel 11:15 seems to imply that he took no part in the rejoicings. It was ‘Saul and all the men of Israel’ who were so glad. He was still hesitant as to the issue, and obeyed the divine command with clearer insight into its purpose than the shouting crowd and the proud young king had. There is something very pathetic in the contrast he draws between Saul and himself. ‘The king walketh before you,’ in all the vigour of his young activity, and delighting all your eyes, and ‘I am old and gray-headed,’ feeble, and fit for little more work, and therefore, as happens to such worn-out public servants, cast aside for a new man. Samuel was not a monster of perfection without human feelings. His sense of Israel’s ingratitude to himself and practical revolt from God lay together in his mind, and colour this whole speech, which has a certain tone of severity, and an absence of all congratulation. Probably that accounts for the mention of his sons. The elders’ frank statement of their low opinion of them had been a sore point with Samuel, and he cannot help alluding to it. It was not for want of possible successors in his own house that they had cried out for a king. If this be not the bearing of the allusion to his sons, it is difficult to explain; and this obvious explanation would never have been overlooked if Samuel had not been idealised into a faultless saint. The dash of human infirmity and fatherly blindness gives reality to the picture. ‘I have walked before you from my youth unto this day.’ Note the recurrence of the same expression as is applied to Saul in the former part of the verse. It is as if he had said, ‘Once I was as he is now,-young and active in your sight, and for your service. Remember these past years. May your new fancy’s record be as stainless as mine is, when he is old and grayheaded!’ The words bring into view the characteristic of Samuel’s life which is often insisted on in the earlier chapters,-its calm, unbroken continuity and uniformity of direction, from the long-past days when he wore ‘the little coat’ his mother made him, with so many tears dropped on it, till this closing hour. While everything was rushing down to destruction in Eli’s time, and his sons were rioting at the Tabernacle door, the child was growing up in the stillness; and from then till now, amid all changes, his course had been steady, and pointed to one aim. Blessed they whose age is but the fruitage of the promise of their youth! Blessed they who begin as ‘little children,’ with the forgiveness of sin and the knowledge of the Father, and who go on, as ‘young men,’ to overcome the Evil One, and end, as ‘fathers,’ with the deeper knowledge of Him who is ‘from the beginning,’ which is the reward of childhood’s trust and manhood’s struggles!

Samuel is still a prophet, but he is ceasing to be the sole authority, and, in his conscious integrity, calls for a public, full discharge, in the presence of the king. Note that 1 Samuel 12:3 gives the first instance of the use of the name ‘Messiah,’ and think of the contrast between Saul and Jesus. Observe, too, the simple manners of these times, when ‘ox and ass’ were the wealth. They would be poor plunder nowadays. Note also the various forms of injustice of which he challenges any one to convict him. Forcible seizure of live stock, fraud, harsh oppression, and letting suitors put gold on his eyes that he might not see, are the vices of the Eastern ruler to-day, and rampant in that unhappy land, as they have been ever since Samuel’s time. I think I have heard of politicians in some other countries further west than Gilgal, who have axes to grind and logs to roll, and of the wonderful effects, in many places of business, of certain circular gold discs applied to the eyes. This man went away a poor man. He does not seem to have had salary, or retiring pension; but he carried away a pair of clean hands, as the voice of a nation witnessed.

II. Having cleared himself, Samuel recounts the outlines of the past, in order to emphasise the law that cleaving to God had ever brought deliverance; departure, disaster; and penitence, restoration. It is history with a purpose, and less careful about chronology than principles. Facts are good, if illuminated by the clear recognition of the law which they obey; but, without that, they are lumber. The ‘philosophy of history’ is not reached without the plain recognition of the working of the divine will. No doubt the principles which Samuel discerned written as with a sunbeam on the past of Israel were illustrated there with a certainty and directness which belonged to it alone; but we shall make a bad use of the history of Israel, if we say, ‘It is all miraculous, and therefore inapplicable to modern national life.’ It would be much nearer the mark to say, ‘It is all miraculous, and therefore meant as an exhibition for blind eyes of the eternal principles which govern the history of all nations.’ It is as true in Britain to-day as ever it was in Judea, that righteousness and the fear of God are the sure foundations of real national as of individual prosperity. The kingdoms of this world are not the devil’s, though diplomatists and soldiers seem to think so. If any nation were to live universally by the laws of God, it might not have what the world calls national success; it would have no story of wholesale robbery, called military glory, but it would have peace within its borders, and life would go nobly and sweetly there. ‘Happy is the people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is the people, whose God is the Lord.’

The details of Samuel’s resume need not occupy much time. Note the word in 1 Samuel 12:7, ‘reason,’ or, as the Revised Version renders, ‘plead.’ He takes the position of God’s advocate in the suit, and what he will prove for his client is the ‘righteousness’ of his dealings in the past. The story, says he, can be brought down to very simple elements,-a cry to God, an answer of deliverance, a relapse, punishment, a renewed cry to God, and all the rest of the series as before. It is like a repeating decimal, over and over again, each figure drawing the next after it. The list of oppressors in 1 Samuel 12:9, and that of deliverers in 1 Samuel 12:11, do not follow the same order, but that matters nothing. Clearly the facts are assumed as well known, and needing only summary reference. The new-fashioned way of treating Biblical history, of course, takes that as an irrefutable proof of the late date and spuriousness of this manufactured speech put into Samuel’s mouth. Less omniscient students will be content with accepting the witness to the history. Nobody knows anything of a judge named Bedan, and the conjectural emendation ‘Barak’ is probable, especially remembering the roll-call in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where Gideon, Barak, and Jephthah appear in the same order, with the addition of Samson. The supposition that ‘Samuel,’ in this verse, is an error for ‘Samson,’ is unnecessary; for the prophet’s mention of himself thus is not unnatural, in the circumstances, and is less obtrusive than to have said ‘me.’

The retrospect here given points the lesson of the sin and folly of the demand for a king. The old way had been to cry to God in their distresses, and the old experience had been that the answer came swift and sufficient; but this generation had tried a new method, and fear of ‘Nahash the Ammonite’ had driven them to look for a man to help them. The experience of God’s responses to prayer does not always wean even those who receive them from casting about for visible helpers. Still less does the experience of our predecessors keep us from it. Strange that after a hundred plain instances of His aid, the hundred and first distress should find us almost as slow to turn to Him, and as eager to secure earthly stays, as if there were no past of our own, or of many generations, all crowded and bright with tokens of His care! We are always disposed to doubt whether the power that delivered from Sisera, Philistines, and Moab, will be able to deliver us from Nahash. The new danger looks the very worst of all, and this time we must have a king. All the while Israel had God for its king. Our dim eyes cannot see the realities of the invisible world, and so we cleave to the illusions of the visible, which, at their best, are but shadows of the real, and are often made, by our weak hearts, its rival and substitute. What does the soldier, who has an impenetrable armour to wear, want with pasteboard imitations, like those worn in a play? It is doubtful wisdom to fling away the substance in grasping at the shadow. Saul was brave, and a head and shoulders above the people, and he had beaten Nahash for them; but Saul for God is a poor exchange. Do we do better, when we hanker after something more tangible than an unseen Guide, Helper, Stay, Joy, and Peace-bringer for our hearts, and declare plainly, by our eager race after created good, that we do not reckon God by Himself enough for us?

III. The part of Samuel’s address with which we are concerned here closes with the application of the history to the present time. The great point of the last three verses is that the new order of things has not changed the old law, which bound up well-being inseparably with obedience. They have got their king, and there he stands; but if they think that that is to secure their prosperity, they are much mistaken. There is a touch of rebuke, and possibly of sarcasm, in pointing to Saul, and making so emphatic, as in 1 Samuel 12:13, the vehemence of their anxiety to get him. It is almost as if Samuel had said, ‘Look at him, and say whether he is worth all that eagerness. Do you like him as well, now that you have him, as you did before?’ There are not many of this world’s goods which stand that test. The shell that looked silvery and iridescent when in the sea is but a poor, pale reminder of its former self, when we hold it dry in our hands. One object of desire, and only one, brings no disappointment in possessing it. He, and only he, who sets his hope on God, will never have to feel that he is not so satisfied with the fulfilment as with the dream.

Israel had rejected God in demanding a king; but the giver of their demand had been God, and their rejection had not abolished the divine government, nor altered one jot of the old law. They and their king were equally its subjects. There is great emphasis in the special mention of ‘your king’ as bound to obedience as much as they; and, if we follow the Septuagint reading of 1 Samuel 12:15, the mention is repeated there in the threatening of punishment. No abundance of earthly supports or objects of our love or trust in the least alters the unalterable conditions of well-being. Whether surrounded with these or stripped of all, to fear and serve the Lord and to hearken to His voice is equally the requisite for all true blessedness, and is so equally to the helper and the helped, the lover and the loved. We are ever tempted to think that, when our wishes are granted, and some dear or strong hand is stretched out for aid, all will be well; and we are terribly apt to forget that we need God as much as before, and that the way of being blessed has not changed. Those whose hearts and homes are bright with loved faces, and whose lives are guarded by strong and wise hands, have need to remember that they and their dear ones are under the same conditions of well-being as are the loneliest and saddest; and they who ‘have none other that fighteth for’ them have no less need to remember that, if God be their companion, they cannot be utterly solitary, nor altogether helpless if He be their aid.

1 Samuel 12:1. Samuel said unto all Israel — While they were assembled together in Gilgal. And this is another instance of Samuel’s great wisdom and integrity. He would not reprove the people for their sin, in desiring a king, while Saul was unsettled in his kingdom; lest, through their accustomed levity, they should as hastily cast off their king, as they had passionately desired him; and therefore he chooseth this season for it, because Saul’s kingdom was now confirmed by an eminent victory, and because the people rejoiced greatly, applauded themselves for their desires of a king, and interpreted the success which God had given them as a divine approbation of those desires. Samuel, therefore, thinks fit to temper their joys, and to excite them to that repentance which he saw wanting in them, and which he knew to be necessary to prevent the curse of God upon their new king and the whole kingdom.

12:1-5 Samuel not only cleared his own character, but set an example before Saul, while he showed the people their ingratitude to God and to himself. There is a just debt which all men to their own good name, especially men in public stations, which is, to guard it against unjust blame and suspicions, that they may finish their course with honour, as well as with joy. And that we have in our places lived honestly, will be our comfort, under any slights and contempt that may be put upon us.Made Saul king - The Septuagint has another reading, "and Samuel anointed Saul king there." The example of David, who, besides his original anointing by Samuel 1 Samuel 16:12-13, was twice anointed, first as king of Judah 2 Samuel 2:4, and again as king over all Israel 2 Samuel 5:3, makes it probable that Saul was anointed a second time; but this may be included in the word "made king" (see 1 Samuel 12:3, 1 Samuel 12:5). CHAPTER 12

1Sa 12:1-5. Samuel Testifies his Integrity.

1-4. Samuel said unto all Israel—This public address was made after the solemn re-instalment of Saul, and before the convention at Gilgal separated. Samuel, having challenged a review of his public life, received a unanimous testimony to the unsullied honor of his personal character, as well as the justice and integrity of his public administration.


Samuel having appointed a king unto the people, testifieth his own integrity, to which they witness, 1 Samuel 12:1-5. He setteth before them the sins of their ancestors, and their own sin in asking a king, 1 Samuel 12:6-13; comforts them if they will obey the Lord; threateneth the disobedient; terrifies them by thunder in harvest: they confess their sin, and desire to be reconciled to the Lord, 1 Samuel 12:14-19. He comforts and exhorts them to fear and serve the Lord; promising also to pray for them, 1 Samuel 12:20-25.

Samuel said this to all Israel, whilst they were assembled together in Gilgal. And this is another instance of Samuel’s great wisdom and integrity. He would not reprove the people for their sin, in desiring a king, whilst Saul was raw, and weak, and unsettled in his kingdom, and in the people’s hearts, lest through their accustomed levity they should as hastily cast off their king as they had passionately desired him, and so add one sin to another; and therefore he chooseth this season for it; partly because Saul’s kingdom was now confirmed and illustrated by an eminent victory, and so the danger of rejecting him was out of doors; which circumstance was also considerable for Samuel’s vindication, that it might appear that his following reproof did not proceed from any selfish respects or desires, which he might be supposed to have of retaining the power in his own hands, but merely from the conscience of his duty, and a sincere desire of all their good: and partly because the people rejoiced greatly, as is said in the next foregoing verse; and upon this occasion applauded themselves for their desires of a king; and interpreted the success which God had now given them, as a Divine approbation of those desires; whereby they were like to be hardened in their impenitency, and might be drawn to many other inconveniencies. Samuel therefore thinks fit to temper their excessive joys, and to excite them to that repentance and holy fear which he saw wanting in them, and which he knew to be absolutely necessary, to prevent the curse of God upon their new king, and the whole kingdom.

And Samuel said unto all Israel,.... When assembled at Gilgal, after they had recognized Saul as their king, and he was established in the kingdom, and while in the midst of their mirth and joy:

behold, I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye have said unto me; respecting the affair of a king, to which it must be limited, as appears by what follows; otherwise it is possible, in some things they might apply to him about, he did not think fit to hearken to them, and grant their request, or speak for them:

and have made a king over you; that is, had by the direction and appointment of God chosen one by lot, anointed and declared him king; for it was the Lord alone, that, properly speaking, made him a king.

And Samuel said unto all Israel, Behold, I have {a} hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said unto me, and have made a king over you.

(a) I have granted your petition.

1. I have hearkened unto your voice] Cp. 1 Samuel 8:7; 1 Samuel 8:9; 1 Samuel 8:22.

Verse 1. - I have hearkened unto your voice. See 1 Samuel 8:7, 9, 22. 1 Samuel 12:1Samuel starts with the fact, that he had given the people a king in accordance with their own desire, who would now walk before them. הנּה with the participle expresses what is happening, and will happen still. לפני התהלּך must not be restricted to going at the head in war, but signifies the general direction and government of the nation, which had been in the hands of Samuel as judge before the election of Saul as king. "And I have grown old and grey (שׂבתּי from שׂיב); and my sons, behold, they are with you." With this allusion to his sons, Samuel simply intended to confirm what he had said about his own age. By the further remark, "and I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day," he prepares the way for the following appeal to the people to bear witness concerning his conduct in office.
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