The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second was Abijah. They were judges in Beersheba.
1 Samuel 8:1-3. (BEERSHEBA.)1 Chronicles 6:28: "And the sons of Samuel, the firstborn, and the second Abiah;" ver. 33: "Heman a singer, the son of Joel;" 1 Samuel 15:17; 1 Samuel 25:5: "Heman, the king's seer"). During the period of his judgeship they grew to maturity, and toward its close he made them judges over Israel, and sent them to administer justice in Beersheba, in the southern limit of the land. His influence as judge as well as prophet extended "from Dan even to Beersheba" (1 Samuel 3:20), and with advancing age he needed assistance in his labours. "It may be doubted whether Samuel acted wisely in making this appointment, especially if, as seems to have been understood, the nomination in his lifetime of his sons to fulfil the functions he had hitherto discharged alone was an intimation that he meant them to be regarded as his successors in such government as he exercised. Nothing of this kind had been done before. And thus, almost unconsciously, perhaps, he was led to give a kind of sanction to the hereditary principle of government which was soon to be turned against himself" (Kitto). He acted according to his judgment of what was best, and doubtless with disinterestedness. There is no reason to suppose that he failed to train his sons in the right way, or that he was aware of their conduct at Beersheba "and restrained them not." He is not, therefore, to be blamed. No man is infallible. The plans of the wisest men are often marred by the misconduct of others. And this appointment was, in its result, disastrous.
I. THEIR ADVANTAGES WERE GREAT. They were sons of one of the most faithful and eminent servants of God, had the benefit of his instruction and example in private and public, studied perhaps in a school of the prophets, were well acquainted with the law, held in honour for their father's sake, placed in responsible positions. All these things, we might have expected, would have made them circumspect, just, and devout; and they should have done so. How, then, can we account for their defection?
1. Goodness is not hereditary. "The sinner begets a sinner, but a saint doth not beget a saint" (M. Henry). Hereditary relationship exerts a powerful influence on the mind and disposition, but nothing but Divine grace can change the heart.
"Rarely into the branches of the tree
2. Education is not omnipotent. When children of a good man turn out badly, it may generally be traced to some defect of training, through attention to other duties, absence from home, inconsistency at home, unwise methods, excessive strictness, unjust partiality, undue indulgence, maternal carelessness, intimate association with evil companions (in some cases unknown and unpreventable). We do not know enough of Samuel's household to say that it was wholly free from such influences. But the most perfect education is limited in its power over character.
3. Power is a perilous trust. It presents temptations which are sometimes too strong for men who under other circumstances might not have fallen. It is a severe test, and a sure revealer, of character (Luke 12:45). Power shows the man.
4. Each man is responsible for his own conduct. He is endowed with the power of choosing or refusing good and evil, and no external circumstances can fully account for the choice he makes. "Every man shall bear his own burden" (Galatians 6:5). "As the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son," etc. (Ezekiel 18:4).
II. THEIR CONDUCT WAS BASE. "His sons walked not in his ways" of truth, integrity, self-denial, and true godliness; but "turned aside" from them to -
1. Covetousness, or the undue love of earthly possessions. "The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6:17-19). "Covetousness is idolatry" (Luke 12:15; Colossians 3:5). "It is the idolatry of the heart, where, as in a temple, a miserable wretch excludes God, sets up gold instead of him, and places that confidence in it which belongs to the great Supreme alone." It was one of the necessary qualifications of judges that they should be "men of truth, hating covetousness" (Exodus 18:21). Nothing is more corrupting than "the narrowing lust of gold."
3. Perversion of justice (Proverbs 17:15).
4. Their conduct in all these things was so persistent and flagrant that it was known to "all the elders of Israel." They openly abused their power for selfish ends, trampled on the law which they were appointed to "magnify and make honourable," and wrought against the purpose which Samuel spent his life in effecting.
III. THEM INFLUENCE WAS PERNICIOUS. Not only did they bring misery upon themselves, and occasion bitter sorrow to their aged father; but they also -
1. Inflicted grievous injury on those with reference to whom they "took bribes and perverted judgment."
2. Set a bad example to all men (Psalm 12:8).
3. Brought their high office into contempt.
4. Contributed directly to a national revolution. How true it is that "one sinner destroyeth much good!" - D.
And they said, Nay, but we will have a king over us.
I. The request of the Israelites brings before us a melancholy view of the PROGRESS OF DEGENERACY IN A COMMUNITY. It requires no effort to perceive in this desire of the Israelites the renewed manifestation of the discontented and rebellious disposition which prevailed in the camp at the Red Sea, and on subsequent occasions in the wilderness; but now it was marked by a greater fixedness of criminal resolve and of God-dishonouring purpose. It was the sin of the fathers living over again, but with greater intensity, in the persons of the children. This view of the case is, in a high degree, admonitory. None of us, perhaps, think enough of the connection between ourselves and the future. Each age exerts a very considerable influence on that which succeeds it, and the men of any particular age are responsible to God in a very large and affecting measure for the characteristics of the period which may come after them The degeneracy of communities is after all the degeneracy of individuals; and he who makes the effort to prevent in the conduct of a single individual the continuance of sin — who attempts in the case of a single individual to raise the tone of morals, does so far provide a better State of things for the age that shall come after him. If looking at the clamorous assembly which the narrative brings before us as now surrounding Samuel and asking a change in the form of government, we inquire whence learnt they those low thoughts of God which led them so much to dishonour Him as to wish to put Him aside in order to make room for an earthly ruler? the only proper and correct reply would be, "From those who went before them." We live for a future age, and virtually we have the character of that age in our hands, whether as it concerns the nation, the church, or the family
II. The scene brought before us by this demand of Israel for a king, teaches us the PERILOUSNESS OF ALLOWING OUR THOUGHTS TO RUN IN AN IMPROPER DIRECTION AND OUR WISHES TO CENTRE UPON A WRONG OBJECT. And this for a reason which is very distinctly conveyed to us in the tenour of the narrative — the absorbing effect of one wrong thought, and its consequent power to throw into oblivion all those counteracting thoughts and objects which from any other source might be suggested. Trace the progress of this one wrong desire, in Israel, of having a king. Was there nothing to be said on the other side? Rather we might ask, Is it not exceedingly easy to conceive of the counteracting effect which at the first stage might have been presented to such a wish by a recollection of their actual privileges at the moment? There is a matchless sublimity — the sublimity of condescension and graciousness — about the very idea of a theocracy. But if its sublimity did not appeal to their moral sense, its peculiar advantageousness might have appealed to their self-regard. The God-honouring wish grew stronger and stronger. At least, however, it might have been expected that they would be moved by a vivid delineation of the unwelcome consequences which God declared would attend on the new arrangement. Yet, after all, this is but a picture of real life, applicable to every age. It contains a faithful warning. It says — "Beware of the first wrong desire, give it no encouragement. Beware of the first misdirection of thought. Be sure you are right at first in your plans and purposes, because afterwards, by reason of the very force with which wrong thoughts indulged exclude all suggestions to the contrary, it may be too late to alter." To the young it especially says — "In the purposes you cherish, the plans you propose, the changes you contemplate, the objects on which you allow your affections to rest, beware of a mistake at the first."
III. It is of importance that we should carefully study THE ESSENTIAL EVIL OF THE MOTIVE WHICH HERE OPERATED IN THE MINDS OF THE HEBREW NATION. That motive was — that they might be like other people. And if in a thoughtful mood we take a survey of the causes which have wrought to produce moral desolation in communities from that day until the present, there will appear none whose operation has proved more widely mischievous, more intensely active to harm than this — a desire to be like others. Many a time has that young man left the house of God full of conviction, and ready to resolve that, whatever others did, he would serve the Lord. But he turned to take another look at the world, and the thought came along with the look, float much of his worldly interest depended upon the friendship of those around him, and that if he expected them to be his friends, his opinions and his habits must not be opposed to theirs. He gave in to the principle of being like them; and, having resembled them in time, his lot now throughout eternity resembles theirs too. Alas! the wreck of souls which this principle involves! and, we must, add, the wreck of earthly comfort, too.
(J. A. Miller.)
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