1 Samuel 12:3-5
Behold, here I am: witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose donkey have I taken?…
Samuel knew that he might tell his grief to the God of all comfort. Such acts of prayer are the soul's noble confessions of weakness, self-distrust, and self-surrender; but like the turning of the flower to the light, they are its equally noble efforts after strength, fulness of life, and power. In Samuel's private, personal prayers there is one fact that is specially noteworthy; and that is their consistence with his public life and duty. For it does not always follow from a man having to pray in public and offer to God the desires of others that he will as certainly, and fully, and reverently pray in private, and turn to God with bin own need and trial. Every man is in danger of professionalism, especially in sacred things; and one form of its occurrence is in the possibility that the intercedings at the bedside of the sick, or in public service, may lead to forgetfulness of private intercourse with God. They are truly blessed souls who, the more frequently they are called to speak to others for God and pray to God for their fellows, are able also to preserve freshness and continuousness of personal life with God in prayer. Such a man was Samuel. The same noble and consistent trust in God, and prayer to God, marks the aged prophet, when, Saul having been chosen and anointed king, and having beaten Nahash the Ammonite, the people assembled at Gilgal for the renewal of the kingdom, as it was called. To Saul and the people renewing the kingdom meant jubilation, shouting, and sword brandishing, as much as anything else. To Samuel it meant the re-affirming of their sinfulness, the re-assertion of God's supremacy, and the solemn declaration that their new and jubilant king was as much under the law and power of God as the meanest peasant that hung on the skirts of the army. See how Samuel dealt with them.
1. First of all, though rejected by them, he challenged judgment on his own life. And this was in order to show the unfitness, the unfairness of the occasion that they had seized for rejecting the Lord his God. It was well for the Jews in after times to be reminded that if, in Samuel's time, there had not been so much fighting and military pageantry as in David's reign, nor so much taxation and kingly show as in Solomon's, nor so much devil worship as in the ceaseless wars and ambition of subsequent kings, yet there had been justice, and judgment, and knowledge, and some little approach to the fear of the Lord. Such rulers and such governments have been rarities and curiosities ever since. But Samuel went farther than challenging judgment on his public life. He offered to restore if anyone had been wronged by him. Most of us are capable of the sentiment of penitence, regret, shame for wrong doing; especially where detected. Many of us say, I will do so no more; but the number fines off into a very small one of those who live to restore to God or man the loss by wrong done or right withheld. Deeper still may be put the probe into our hearts when we think of Paul's farewell to his friends: "I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel." The men who occupy the space in history that Samuel and Paul take up, and of whom such things can be said, are to be remembered more vividly than they have been for such excellencies. Think of the few great honest men of God that have had power over nations, especially those whose names are in this Book; and remember that while none of us can expect to have much success and admiration among men, yet all of us, even the lowliest and the simplest, may be like Samuel and Paul; all of us may be approved of God; all of us may be honest men of God. Think of the men who have occupied public stations with unselfishness and uncovetousness, and honoured it chiefly by integrity and holiness; and let the popular idols fall before your heavenly desire and purpose to be like such men.
2. The next thing that Samuel did was to rehearse the historic goodness of God to them. Though the illustrations of the same truth may not have been so vividly traced in other histories, yet we need to learn and remember that the principles which may be found in Samuel's words are of worldwide significance. There may not be chosen people now as Israel was then; though, perhaps, if we knew the purposes of God, we might see as much of calling and election among nations as in the olden time. History, as now slowly working itself towards solemn changes among the nations, witnesses abundantly to faith that, as with ancient Israel, so now, God gives no abiding to iniquity among peoples and communities; but that His wrath abides on those who take hands with the wicked, and identify their welfare with the vile of the earth.
3. When Samuel recounted God's goodness to the Hebrews it involved him in the reassertion of their wickedness. And this he accompanied with a prayer to God, who in answer sent thunder in the midst of wheat harvest, and terrified the sinful nation. Would that God would thunder now when nations do wrong and rulers sin unchecked! It is not for lack of sin that the heavens are silent; and the earth is blood-stained enough to bring more than thunderous voices from heaven to stay the follies and miseries of reckless men. Perhaps God's people, it may be Christ's Church, is not praying enough; that the eyes of His covenanted ones are not towards Him for these things; that Christian faith and longings are running in shallow selfish grooves, or round little rings of merely local and personal desire, instead of believing and hoping in Him as the God of all nations and families. With deeper necessities and wider knowledge than ancient Israel, we, at least, might take the spirit of Isaiah's word, and say to one another in these days of fear and foreboding, "Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence, and give Him no rest till He establish" the nations, and make all lands a praise in the earth.
4. Samuel's answer to this is one of the tenderest things that ever fell from the lips of man. He counselled them to serve the Lord, and promised them his continued prayers. The almost womanlike tenderness of Samuel to the erring people is seen in his answer to their call for his prayers: "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing, to pray for you: I will teach you the good and right way." If he could not judge them, he could pray for them; if he could not rule, he could teach. Yet he did not say this to please and soothe them. It would have been sin against the Lord to do otherwise. A man's Divine work, a prophet's vocation, a Christian duty is not altered by the rejection or the petition of men. He is the Lord's servant; whether men will bear or forbear, whether men approve or not, his duties and privileges are too solemn for him to take them up or lay them down at the voice of man. Samuel would still teach, though they forgot his word: he would still pray, for it was God's will. He did not give them up in shame and sadness: he prayed and taught the more. Is not this altogether worthy in him? Is he not to be admired? But do not the like duties press on us? Are there not times in all our lives when we smart from undeserved injury, or fret over unwarranted neglect and despite? If at such times we but silenced our self-conscious complaints, we might hear a voice calling us to as august and noble an act as Samuel's.
(G. B. Ryley.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Behold, here I am: witness against me before the LORD, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you.
WEB: Here I am. Witness against me before Yahweh, and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Of whose hand have I taken a ransom to blind my eyes therewith? I will restore it to you."