1 Samuel 8:1-3
And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.…
Nearly all that is known of Samuel's household is here stated. He had at least two sons, Joel (Jehovah is God) and Abiah (my father is Jah), whose names were indicative of the devout spirit in which they were given (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
Doth human worth mount up: and so ordains
He who bestows it, that as his free gift
It may be called"
(Dante, 'Purg.' 7.)
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."
2. Bribery (Exodus 23:6, 8; Deuteronomy 16:18, 19).
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.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass, when Samuel was old, that he made his sons judges over Israel.