They pleaded with Samuel, "Pray to the LORD your God for your servants, so we will not die! For we have added to all our sins the evil of asking for a king."
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.
Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God.
The Thinker.1. This Lesson contains Samuel's official farewell to the people — that is, as Judge. There is something touching in all farewells. Retirement from long and distinguished service has ever a shade of melancholy; it reminds us of the transitoriness of human life and human greatness.
2. There was one link with the old Judge which they were anxious to retain. The king might rule them in times of peace, and go forth with them as leader in times of war; he might be the representative of national unity and the keystone of national greatness; but it was to Samuel they turned when they wanted to be remembered before God. With one voice they besought him, "Pray for thy servants," etc.
I. THE REQUEST. "Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not."
1. It is the language of fear. The people were terrified with the thunder and rain. God had shown His displeasure by this sign
2. It is the language of faith. Samuel's power as an intercessor with God was a recognised fact. It was not the discovery of a passing emotion.
3. It may not be presumptuous to inquire wherein his great strength in this respect lieth. First, his vocation as a prophet brought him very near to God. Secondly, the office without the life is not of much avail. Samuel lived for God, and it appears that, according to the degree of sanctity to which individuals attain, so is the efficacy of their intercessions.
II. THE REASONS FOR THIS REQUEST. Their sense of sin in having asked for a king. They feared death, lest a glittering flash of lightning — a symbol of Divine wrath — should at once consume them.
1. What was their fault? Viewed in reference to Samuel, it was ingratitude.
2. But, regarded in reference to God, the asking for a king was a rejection of His direct rule. (1 Samuel 8:7).
3. Yet, what, looked at on the side of the spontaneous action of God's people, was a grave fault — "wickedness;" when viewed in relation to the course of events, was a result of a variety of causes.
4. But God can bring good out of evil. The formation of a kingdom was in His providence overruled to the ultimate fulfilment of His designs. Through it looms the kingdom of Christ and Christ the King, and, with the realised unity of the nation under a king, the carrying out of the Levitical Law as to one sanctuary; and in the temple, which was a result of this change, and its service and its Psalter, we have an image of the Catholic Church and her solemn ritual to the end of time.
1. To quicken our belief in the efficacy of intercessory prayer.
2. To remember that Christ is our invisible King and the Head of His Church; and that obedience to an outward rule must be accompanied by inward obedience, for though the kingdom of God, that is, the Church, is visible, yet it is also an inward kingdom of "righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Ghost."
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