So the LORD sent Jerubbaal, Barak, Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you from the hands of your enemies on every side, and you lived securely.
1 Samuel 12:8-12. (GILGAL.)
1. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (ver. 8). "It hath pleased the Lord to make you his people" (ver. 22). Of his own free and gracious will, always founded in perfect wisdom, he raises up a people from the lowest condition, confers upon them special blessings and privileges, and exalts them to the most eminent place among the nations of the earth (Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26, 27). As it was with Israel, so has it been with other peoples. His right so to deal with men cannot be questioned, his power therein is manifested, his undeserved goodness should be acknowledged, and the gifts bestowed employed not for selfish ends, but for his glory and the welfare of mankind.
II. THE SINFULNESS OF MEN. "They forgat the Lord their God" (ver. 9). So constantly and universally have men departed from God and goodness as to make it evident that there is in human nature an inherited tendency to sin. "It is that tendency to sinful passions or unlawful propensities which is perceived in man whenever objects of desire are placed before him, and laws laid upon him." As often as God in his great goodness has exalted him to honour, so often has he fallen away from his service; and left to himself, without the continual help of Divine grace, his course is downward. "In times past the Divine nature flourished in men, but at length, being mixed with mortal custom, it fell into ruin; hence an inundation of evils in the race" (Plato. See other testimonies quoted by Bushnell in 'Nature and the Supernatural'). "There is nothing in the whole earth that does not prove either the misery of man or the compassion of God; either his powerlessness without, or his power with God" (Pascal).
III. THE CERTAINTY OF RETRIBUTION. "He sold them into the hand of Sisera," etc. (ver. 9).
"The sword of Heaven is not in haste to smite,
IV. THE BENEFICENCE OF SUFFERING. "And they cried unto the Lord, and said, We have sinned," etc. (ver. 10). Underneath what is in itself an evil, and a result of the violation of law, physical or moral, there is ever working a Divine power which makes it the means of convincing men of sin, turning them from it, and improving their character and condition. A state of deepest humiliation often precedes one of highest honour. It is only those who refuse to submit to discipline (Job 36:10) and harden themselves in iniquity that sink into hopeless ruin.
V. THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER. "And the Lord sent...and delivered you," etc. (ver. 11). "Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses" (Psalm 107:6, 13, 19, 28). As it was with Israel throughout their history, so has it been with others, even those who have had but little knowledge of "the Hearer of prayer."
"In even savage bosoms
VI. THE PREVALENCE OF MEDIATION. "Then the Lord sent Moses and Aaron" (ver. 8). "And the Lord sent Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel" (ver. 11). He sent help by men specially raised up and appointed, and deliverance came through their labours, conflicts, and sufferings. One people also has been often made the medium of blessing to others. And herein we see a shadowing forth of the work of the great Mediator and Deliverer, and (in an inferior manner) of his people on behalf of the world.
VII. THE INCREASE OF RESPONSIBILITY on the part of those who have had the experience of former generations to profit by, and who have received higher privileges than they (vers. 12, 19). "Now all these things were written for our admonition," etc. (1 Corinthians 10:11). "Two things we ought to learn from history: one, that we are not in ourselves superior to our fathers; another, that we are shamefully and monstrously inferior to them if we do not advance beyond them" (Froude). - D.
And Samuel said unto all Israel.
I. VINDICATION OF PERSONAL CHARACTER AND ADMINISTRATION. In his splendid review what facts emerged that should commend the retiring leader to the gratitude and appreciation of the nation he had sought to serve?
1. His loyalty to the national request for a king. We know how acutely he had felt his supersession of himself, and how he had directed his prayer to God in respect of it; but he had waived his own strong objection, and had dutifully assisted in the appointment of the divinely selected monarch.
2. His long and blameless life. High position magnifies every human quality, heightens every excellency, and blackens every blot of human character. But Samuel's long career furnished no fault on which the most acute enquiry could fasten, no deviation from the right path that the sternest rectitude could condemn. What a magnificent challenge.
3. His upright administration. Samuel challenged the people on the question of his "official life," as well as on his personal character. His public duties had been as free from exaction and oppression as his private life from moral taint. Nothing is more common, it is said, in Eastern lands, even down to this day, than oppression and exaction on the part of rulers and public men having charge of the government and taxation of the people.
II. DEFENCE OF GOD'S PREVIOUS GOVERNMENT OF ISRAEL. Note: —
1. The principle of this government. The theocracy, under which Israel had so long lived and prospered, meant the supreme and recognised sovereignty of God. By the test of experience, the test of practical results on the national life, the theocracy had its amplest vindication. Under it the nation had enjoyed signal prosperity.
2. The agency by which administered. This unique method of national government was carried on by specially selected rulers, appointed as the exigencies of the times demanded. God raised up men — great men — to meet emergencies of national life as they arose.
3. The law by which controlled. This law was the nation's loyalty to God. When the nation was true to its best traditions, true to the faith and worship of the living God, true to the sublime morality of the Ten Commandments, God's benediction rested upon them, and national prosperity followed. In this memorable address Samuel referred also to: —
III. THE CONDITIONS OF CONTINUED NATIONAL PROSPERITY.
1. Changed political conditions do not change moral or religious obligations. King or no king, God's claim on the worship and service of Israel could not be abrogated or diminished. Amid all the changes of their national life, that was the one thing that was changeless. A new king on the throne, or a new form of government of the realm, did not and could not alter that. What is morally wrong cannot be politically right. What is wrong in England is wrong in India. If it is wrong to break the Sabbath at home, it is wrong to break it abroad. Christianity knows no geographical limits in the scope of its message, or the authority of its claims. Public opinion may change and vary, but it ought not, and must not, override the higher and more authoritative law of God.
2. Righteousness exalteth a nation. John Ruskin, in the opening paragraph of his "Stones of Venice," tells us that "Since the first dominion of men was asserted over the ocean, three thrones, of mark beyond all others, have been set upon its sands: the thrones of Tyre, Venice, and England. Of the first of these great powers only the memory remains; of the second, the ruin; the third, which inherits their greatness, if it forget their example, may be led through prouder eminence to less pitied destruction." No lesson is more urgently needed in our time than this. Vice means weakness and decay; virtue, devotion, humanity — these mean strength and permanence. The conditions of national prosperity, then, are clear and uniform. They are reverence for sacred things, obedience to the law of God in personal, social, and national affairs alike, consideration for others, and unselfish service to promote their interests and welfare.
1. After the feast, perhaps in the course of the afternoon, Samuel solemnly addressed the vast assembly. His aim, in the first part of his speech, was to show that they had nothing to justify their demand for a king in the character of his administration.
2. Samuel's aim in the second part of his speech was to show that they had nothing to justify their demand for a king in the character of the Divine administration.
3. But, after convicting them of slighting God in asking for an earthly sovereign, Samuel now speaks to them about their present duty.
1. 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.
2. In the next place Samuel adverts to his age. What Samuel delicately points to here is the uniformity of his life. He had not begun on one line, then changed to another. Such steadiness and uniformity throughout a long life genders a wonderful weight of character. 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?
3. 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. 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. 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 rivalling royalty itself? 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. 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 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," etc. 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.
(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
I. THE PUBLIC MAN'S INFLUENCE AND TEMPTATIONS. Samuel spent about fifty years in a public life like this. Consider the influence he would necessarily acquire. If he has become known for being a sound thinker, competent to advise and willing to do so, men never mention his name without respect. They will go and ask him for opinions on matters that it seems almost impertinent to trouble him with. He seems only to live to assist others. Every house is open to him, and he carries many matters of importance without opposition. With such influence, consider what will be his temptations! If he has given a decision favourable to a man. and that man, out of gratitude, sends him a handsome present, how tempting it will be to receive it. In going the round of his sessions he would probably receive hospitality from some of the richer men about; it would be his due. Now, suppose one of these richer men who had entertained him handsomely came into court, how tempting it would be to listen to him a little more favourably! What opportunities, too, he has to benefit his family. A man in such a position has sometimes disagreeable things to do. If he decides one way, he may make a powerful man his enemy. That enemy may annoy him much, may libel his character and torment him terribly. The temptation will then be to get rid of such a tormentor, by oppressing him and putting him down.
II. FIDELITY TO TRUST. We are all in some places of trust. No man lives for himself alone. It is a very great mistake for any man to suppose that he has no influence. Who is more respected by any right-minded man than an honourable servant of standing character? I don't know anyone more entitled to sympathy and kindness than those who have grown hoary and grey in service. Well, then, you that are men and women in the prime of life, whatever be your occupation, put this model before you, this speech of Samuel's.
III. THE JOY OF A PURE CONSCIENCE. Children and young people, in this life of Samuel there is nothing that you cannot do in your way. Say to yourselves every day as you begin, "I am determined, God being my helper, to be so faithful in all that I do, that no man shall charge me with wronging him." You will fail sometimes, and be grieved at your failure. Yet be not discouraged, but persevere, and you may, if spared to be old and grey-headed, totter down the aisle of your church, or the streets of your village or town, with the consciousness of clean hands. There is no joy unmixed in this world. In his old age Samuel could have applied to himself the words of our great dramatist: — Tho' I look old, I'm lusty; For never in my youth did I woo the means of debility. Therefore mine age is as a lusty winter — Frosty, yet kindly. Let me be your servant. I'll do the service of a younger man. But no! the appeal had not its right effect. His countrymen were not grateful to him, as they ought to have been; they wanted this young king — something new — and the old man in his old age was to be forgotten. We must be prepared to be misunderstood — to find even a friend, who ought to know better, grow cool. But, firm in our upright course, we must fall back on the approbation of a pure conscience. A man need not skulk and hang his head if his conscience tells him that he has nothing to be ashamed of; rather will it whisper to him peace amidst the gloom that might dishearten him.
(H. Hiley, D. D.)
I. SAMUEL'S CONDUCT AFTER THE MORTIFICATION OF HIS OWN REJECTION. The people having accepted Saul as their king, had been dismissed, and Samuel was left alone, but his feelings were very different from those which he had in that other moment of solitude, when he had dismissed the delegates of the people. That struggle was past. He was now calm. The first moment was a terrible one. It was one of those periods in human life when the whole meaning of life is perplexed, its aims and hopes frustrated; when a man is down upon his face and gust after gust sweeps desolately over his spirit. Samuel was there to feel all the ideas that naturally suggest themselves in such hours — the instability of human affection — the nothingness of the highest earthly aims. But by degrees, two thoughts calmed him. The first was the feeling of identification with God's cause. "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me." The other element of consolation was the Divine sympathy. If they had been rebellious to their ruler, they had also been disloyal to Jehovah. Atheism and revolution here, as elsewhere, went hand-in-hand. We do not know how this sentence was impressed by the Infinite Mind on Samuel's mind; all we know is, he had a conviction that God was a fellow sufferer. The many-coloured phases of human feeling all find themselves reflected in the lights and shadows of ever-varying sensitiveness which the different sentences of His conversation exhibit. Be your tone of feeling what it may, whether you are poor or rich, gay or sad — in society or alone — adored, loved, betrayed, misunderstood, despised — weigh well His words first, by thinking what they mean, and you will become aware that one heart in space throbs in conscious harmony with yours. In its degree, that was Samuel's support. Next, Samuel's cheerful way of submitting to his fate is to be observed. Another prophet, when his prediction was nullified, built himself a booth and sat beneath it, fretting in sullen pride, to see the end of Nineveh. Samuel might have done this; he might have withdrawn himself in offended dignity from public life, watched the impotent attempts of the people to guide themselves, and seen dynasty after dynasty fall with secret pleasure. Very different is his conduct. He addresses himself like a man to the exigencies of the moment. Now remark in all this, the healthy, vigorous tone of Samuel's religion. This man, the greatest and wisest then alive, thought this the great thing to live for — to establish a kingdom of God on earth — to transform his own country into a kingdom of God. It is worthwhile to see how he set about it. From first to last it was in a practical, real way — by activity in every department of life. Now he is deposed: but he has duties still. He has a king to look for, public festivals to superintend, a public feast to preside over; and later on we shall find him becoming the teacher of a school. All this was a religion for life. His spirituality was no fanciful, shadowy thing; the kingdom of God to him was to be in this world, and we know no surer sign of enfeebled religion than the disposition to separate religion from life and life duties. Listen: What is secularity or worldliness? Meddling with worldly things? or meddling with a worldly spirit? We brand political existence and thought with the name "worldly" — we stigmatise first one department of life and then another as secular; and so religion becomes a pale, unreal thing, which must end, if we are only true to our principles, in the cloister. Religion becomes feeble, and the world, deserted and proscribed, becomes infidel.
II. SAMUEL'S TREATMENT OF HIS SUCCESSOR, AFTER HIS OWN REJECTION, IS REMARKABLE. It was characterised by two things — courtesy and generosity. When he saw the man who was to be his successor, he invited him to the entertainment. This is politeness; what we allude to is a very different thing, however, from that mere system of etiquette and conventionalisms in which small minds find their very being, to observe which accurately is life, and to transgress which is sin. Courtesy is not confined to the high bred; often theirs is but the artistic imitation of courtesy. The peasant who rises to put before you his only chair, while he sits upon the oaken chest, is a polite man. Motive determines everything. Something still more beautiful marks Samuel's generosity. The man who stood before him was a Successful rival. One who had been his inferior now was to supersede him. And Samuel lends him a helping hand — gracefully assists him to rise above him, entertains him, recommends him to the people. It is very touching. Samuel and the people did the game thing — they made Saul king. But the people did it by drawing down Samuel nearer to themselves. Samuel did it by elevating Saul above himself. One was the spirit of revolution, the other was the spirit of the Gospel. In our own day it specially behoves us to try the spirits, whether they be of God. The reality and the counterfeit, as in this case, are singularly like each other. Three spirits make their voices heard, in a cry for Freedom, for Brotherhood, for human Equality. And we must not forget, these names are hallowed by the very Gospel itself. Unless we realise them we have no Gospel kingdom. Distinguish, however, well the reality from the baser alloy. The spirit, which longs for freedom puts forth a righteous claim; for it is written, "If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed." Brotherhood — the Gospel promises brotherhood also — "One is your master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren." Equality — Yes. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free." This is the grand Federation, Brotherhood, Emancipation of the human raze. Now the world's spirit aims at bringing all this about by drawing others down to the level on which each one stands. The Christian spirit secures equality by raising up. The man that is less wise, less good than I — I am to raise up to my level in these things. Yes, and in social position too, if he be fit for it. I am to be glad to see him rise above me, as generously as Samuel saw Saul. And if we could but all work in this generous rivalry, our rent and bleeding country, sick at heart, gangrened with an exclusiveness, which narrows our sympathies and corrupts our hearts, might be all that the most patriotic love would have her. Once more there is suggested to us the thought that Samuel was now growing old. They might forget Samuel — they might crowd round his successor — but Samuel's work could not be forgotten; years after he was quiet and silent, under ground, his courts in Bethel and Mizpeh would form the precedents and the germs of the national jurisprudence. A very pregnant lesson. Life passes, work is permanent. It is all going — fleeting and withering. Youth goes. Mind decays. That which is done remains. Deeds never die.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
I. THE GREATNESS OF SAMUEL IS SEEN IN THE THREE-FOLD ASPECT OF HIS LIFE. He was great as a judge in an era of considerable political confusion; he was great in that he founded, or was considered to have founded, what was called the school of prophets; and he was great also in that, in an era of transition, he acted as a consummate statesman. We have only to recall the significance of those three statements to see how widespread and enduring was that quality of Samuel's greatness. As a judge in an era of confusion he showed exactly those qualities which were so much needed. And you mark that he had seen some of the symptoms of moral deterioration in his early days. He had seen the loose habits which had crept in in all quarters, he had seen the immoral sons of Eli, and how far the immorality had crept into the people when in the very precincts of the sacred place there was such immorality! But that was not all. Where there is a moral deterioration there is always a deterioration of the religious conception. And that is what Samuel had perceived, and therefore he realised that alike in religious thought and in social manners there needed a great reformation. Now there are a great many ways in which you bring about reformation. You may do it by legislation, you may do it by sending broadcast through the world the pressure and persuasion of men. Samuel chose the latter. He knew the only valuable reformation was a reformation which would strike the heart of the people. Watch him now as the statesman. There comes a change; there is inevitably a change in all human life. The development of national life, like the development of individual life, must go on. And this development must mean the passing away of things which are very dear. He showed us the example which will always be the example of wise men in eras of change. When you see a movement has become movement of the people's thought do not be so unwise as to endeavour to withstand it, unless it be a question of right and wrong, but be wise and direct what you cannot oppose. That is the attitude of Samuel. If you watch him you see him, a man possessed of singular gifts, of great vigour in action, practical, with great insight into the causes which underlie national greatness, and at the same time with that marvellous flexibility that even in his old age he was ready to adjust himself to the new conditions of the life in which he found himself.
II. SAMUEL'S TRAINING FOR SERVICE. If we take him as marked by these features of greatness, we ask, what was the source, what were the forces which came to the formation of a character so strong, so youthfully great. There are two things, surely, which make up the complete man in his later days. One is, of course, the surroundings of his early life, and the other is the character which was originally his. The dramatic interest of life surely lies in this, that you have the raw material of life exposed to certain influences in the home, in the early training of the school, and in the environment of the dawn of life. Watch the environing circumstances in the case of Samuel. No person who understands the influence of home life will, I think, be tempted to undervalue it. Do you not pity Samuel in the second stage of his life? The child who is suddenly withdrawn at a tender age from home and is planted down amidst surroundings which, I think, one may venture without disparagement to call unsympathetic. He could not find sympathy in the wild men who were leading the loose lives of Hophni and Phinehas, and Eli must have been but a grave companion for the young child, but as you watch him he somehow or other identifies himself with the quiet gravity of the old man. Watch him a step further. There comes a moment in which the third influence is seen. The first is home, the second is the general companionship, and the third is the silent influence of the unseen world come into his life. There comes a moment when he is aware that life does not consist merely in those factors of home life which he has known, nor in these various powers of official and national life of which he has had some youthful experience, but behind all activities of the human life there is the great presiding power of the unseen; and in the silent watches of the night there is disclosed to him a consciousness of the great power, the great formative spirit, the great influence of the Divine which is always at work in the hearts and lives of men. And now watch the character which is exposed to these influences. Is there any character in the Bible of which you may say, "The quiet piety of his life was like a growing thing?" There were no startling changes. There was the one solid change from the home into the sanctuary, but for the rest his days were bound each to each by natural piety. Quietly he ripened under the solemn and sweet influences of the sanctuary.
III. THE RIPENED CHARACTER. And now watch him in his later life, and see the other characteristics. One would have imagined that this child who ripened under these circumstances would have been a person deficient in practical activity, deficient in those stronger and manlier virtues which we think can only be gained in the rude struggle of the more active life. But the man who has been brought up in this fashion had the qualities within him of that dogged determination and that entire devotion to duty which never stumbled at any duty, however arduous, and never shudders or shrinks from any danger; and, therefore, when he takes the reins of power what promptitude and what decision there is in all that he does! This is the man who, in the climax of his life, can show the one great solid quality which was, after all, the true characteristic of his life — the most complete and absolute disinterestedness. What are the conditions which we desire to see established in national life? If Samuel is to be an expression, or a type, or a teaching to us, then surely we want men who are absolutely free from self-interest. The danger of nations lies in self-interest. May I venture to say it without being misinterpreted? — this danger of self-interest in national affairs becomes much more dangerous as the complexity of life grows, and therefore the opportunities of manipulating affairs for personal interest begin to multiply upon us. What is the secret of having a disinterested mind? Jesus Christ was the supreme teacher, remember, and remember those words which He said, which we ought to write forever in our hearts — I would emblazon them upon the walls of our Law Courts and our political assembly rooms — "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." Is there any inspiration of single-mindedness, is there any way that we can get the power to rid ourselves of self-interest? The voice of God heard always, the voice of God in the still hours of the night. That which makes the difference between man and man lies in this: his relationship to God. And it was because Samuel had found God in his life so early that God was in his life all through, and wherever he stood it was God that he saw. How much may we not be warped by personal interests, by the desire of some gain, by the opportunities which so often in the hurly-burly of affairs come in temptations before us! What need there is that we in such hours should be, as Samuel would have the people, purged from our own offences, all our gods of covetousness and idolatry put far away, and standing once more as a people hearing the voice of God.
(W. Boyd Carpenter, D. D.)
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