SAMUEL'S EXHORTATION TO THE PEOPLE AT GILGAL. This speech of Samuel is not to be regarded as a farewell address made upon his resignation of his office; for though a new power had been introduced, and Samuel's sons excluded from the succession, yet it was only gradually that a change was made in his own position. He was still judge (1 Samuel 7:15), and on extraordinary occasions came forward with decisive authority (1 Samuel 15:33). But as Saul gathered men of war round him (1 Samuel 14:52), the moral power possessed by Samuel would be overshadowed by the physical force which was at Saul's command. But no formal change was made. It had been the weakness of the office of the judges that their power was irregular, and exercised fitfully on special occasions. Such a power must fall into abeyance in the presence of the regular authority of a king surrounded by armed men. Without any direct deposition, therefore, or even still retaining the form of his office, Samuel would henceforward chiefly act as the prophet, and Saul as Jehovah's king.
The address divides itself into three parts:—
1. The testimony to Samuel's integrity as judge (1 Samuel 12:1-5).
2. The reproof of the people for their disobedience and ingratitude (1 Samuel 12:6-17).
3. The Divine testimony to Samuel's uprightness and teaching (1 Samuel 12:18-25).
SAMUEL'S INTEGRITY (1 Samuel 12:1-5).
1 Samuel 12:1
I have hearkened unto your voice. See 1 Samuel 8:7, 1 Samuel 8:9, 1 Samuel 8:22.
1 Samuel 12:2
The king walketh before you. I.e. you have now one to protect and lead the nation, whereas my business was to raise its religious and moral life. The metaphor is taken from the position of the shepherd in the East, where he goes before his flock to guide and guard them. On this account the word shepherd or pastor is used in the Bible of the temporal ruler (Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 23:4, etc.), and not, as with us, of the spiritual guide. My sons are with you. This is no mere confirmation of the fact just stated that he was old, but a direct challenge of their dissatisfaction with his sons' conduct, as far at least as concerns any connivance on his part, or support of them in their covetousness. Samuel says, You know all about my sons; I do not profess to be ignorant that charges have been brought against them. Give full weight to them, and to everything said against them and me, and then give judgment.
1 Samuel 12:3, 1 Samuel 12:4, 1 Samuel 12:5
Witness against me. Literally, "answer," as in a court of justice to the formal question of the judge. His anointed. I.e. the king (see on 1 Samuel 2:10, 1 Samuel 2:35; 1 Samuel 2:1). Whose ox,... whose ass? See on 1 Samuel 8:16. Of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? Bribe should be rendered ransom. Literally it signifies a covering, and was used of money given by a guilty person to induce the judge to close or "blind his eyes," and not see his sin. It does not mean, therefore, any bribe, but only that given to buy off a guilty person. Such persons are generally powerful men who have oppressed and wronged others; and the knowledge that they can cover their offence by sharing their gains with the judge is to this day in the East the most fruitful source of bad government. The people all bear witness to Samuel's uprightness, nor is there any contradiction between this and their desire to have a king. His internal administration was just and righteous, but they were oppressed by the nations round them, and needed a leader in war. And in Samuel's sons they had men, not vicious or licentious, but too fond of money, and so neither fit to be their generals in war nor their judges in peace. We gather from 1 Samuel 22:2 that though Saul proved a competent leader in war, he was not successful in the government of the country in peace.
SAMUEL'S REPROOF OF THE PEOPLE (1 Samuel 22:6-17).
1 Samuel 12:6
It is Jehovah that, etc. In the Hebrew Jehovah is put absolutely, without any government, and the Septuagint rightly supplies is witness. Samuel had said, "Jehovah is witness against you;" the people in answer shouted the last word, "Witness" (see end of 1 Samuel 12:5, where He is is supplied). Then Samuel solemnly repeats Jehovah s name, saying, "Even Jehovah that advanced Moses and Aaron." This rapid interchange of words brings the whole scene vividly before us, whereas nothing could be tamer than the A.V. Out of the land of Egypt. Samuel begins with this as the first act of Jehovah as Israel's King; for the theocracy began with the deliverance from Egypt.
1 Samuel 12:7, 1 Samuel 12:8
Stand still. Literally, station yourselves, take your places, stand forth (see 1 Samuel 10:23). That I may reason with you. Literally, "that I may deal as judge," i.e. that with all the authority of my office I may declare that Jehovah has acted justly by you, and that you have dealt unjustly with him. Righteous acts. The margin, benefits, is wrong. Samuel vindicates God's dealings with them against the charge of his having failed to protect them implied in their demand for a king.
1 Samuel 12:9
When they forgat Jehovah their God. The theocracy, as we have seen (1 Samuel 10:18), was a moral government, under which idolatry and the immorality attendant upon it, as being rebellion, were punished by Jehovah's withdrawing his protection, and the consequent subjection of the nation to foreign rule. It was the repeated sin, therefore, of the people which made Israel's history so checquered. Sisera ( 4:2), the Philistines ( 3:31), and Eaton, king of Moab. ( 3:12), are mentioned as three of the earlier oppressors of Israel, but are given here in the reverse order to that found in the Book of Judges.
1 Samuel 12:10
We have served [the] Baalim and [the] Ashtaroth. I.e. the numerous Baals and Astartes, which were worshipped under various titles by the heathen. For though representing the same power, each people had their own epithets for their own particular personification of the god (see on 1 Samuel 7:4).
1 Samuel 12:11
Bedan. Numerous ingenious explanations of this name have been given, but the only probable account is that Bedan is a misreading for Barak. The two names are very similar in the Hebrew, and the two most ancient versions, the Septuagint and the Syriac, actually have Barak. And Samuel. This is even more puzzling than Bedan. We cannot suppose that Samuel, who hitherto had confined himself to the old deliverances, would thus suddenly introduce his own name. In mentioning only them he had avoided everything that would grate upon the ears of the people, but this would look like giving way to personal vexation. Some, therefore, would read Samson; but this, though found in the Syriac, is supported by no other version. Possibly some scribe, mindful of Samuel's recent achievement at Mizpah, wrote his name in the margin, whence it was admitted into the text. And ye dwelled safe. Literally, "in confidence," in security. With sin came danger and unquiet; upon repentance, not only was their country free from danger, but their minds were at rest.
1 Samuel 12:12
Nahash the king of the children of Ammon. This makes it probable that there had been threats of war, and even incursions into the Israelite territory, by Nahash before his attack on Jabesh-Gilead. We thus, too, should be able to account for the rancour displayed in his wish so to treat the men of that town as to make them a reproach to all Israel; for his hatred of Israel may have grown in intensity in the course of a harassing war, or he may have learnt to despise a people incapable of offering a regular resistance. At all events, Samuel describes Nahash as giving the final impetus to the desire of the nation for a king. When Jehovah your God was your king. See 8:23.
1 Samuel 12:13
Behold the king whom ye have chosen!... behold, Jehovah hath set a king over you. We have here the two sides of the transaction. The people had desired a king, chosen and appointed by themselves, to represent the nation in temporal matters; Jehovah gave them a king to represent himself, with authority coming from God, and limited by God. Most, too, of the kings of Judah were as truly representatives of Jehovah as any of the judges had been, and David even more so. Desired is rather "demanded," "required." They had done much more than desire a king.
1 Samuel 12:14
If ye will fear, etc. This verse, like Luke 19:42, is left unfinished, and we must supply well, as in Exodus 32:32. For the verse cannot be translated as in the A.V but is as follows: "If ye will fear Jehovah, and serve him, and obey his voice, and not rebel against the commandment (Hebrew, the mouth) of Jehovah, and if both ye and the king that reigneth over you will follow Jehovah your God, it shall be well." Samuel piles up one upon another the conditions of their happiness, and then from the depth of his emotion breaks off, leaving the blessed consequences of their obedience unsaid. "To follow Jehovah" implies willing and active service as his attendants, going with him where he will, and being ever ready to obey his voice.
1 Samuel 12:15
Against you, as it was against your fathers. The Hebrew has "against you and your fathers," and so the Vulgate, for which the Septuagint reads, "against you and your king," as in 1 Samuel 12:25. The text is probably corrupt, and to make sense requires the insertion of some such words as those given in the A.V with which the Syriac also agrees.
1 Samuel 12:16
Stand. Better stand forth, as in 1 Samuel 12:7; take your places in solemn order.
1 Samuel 12:17
Wheat harvest. Barley was fit for reaping at the Passover, and wheat at Pentecost, i.e. between the middle of May and the middle of June. Jerome, on Amos 4:7, testifies that during his long residence in Palestine he had never seen rain there during June and July; but Conder, says, "Storms still occur occasionally in harvest time." He shall send thunder. Hebrew, voices, and so in verse 18 (see 1 Samuel 2:10; 1 Samuel 7:9).
DIVINE TESTIMONY TO SAMUEL'S INTEGRITY (verses 18-25).
1 Samuel 12:18
Jehovah sent thunder and rain. Rain in Palestine falls usually only at the autumnal and vernal equinox, and though thunder storms are not unknown at other times, yet, by the general testimony of travellers, they are very rare. Naturally, therefore, this storm deeply impressed the minds of the people. Though not in itself miraculous, the circumstances made it so.
1 Samuel 12:19
Pray for thy servants. On Samuel's mediatorial office see 1 Samuel 7:5, 1 Samuel 7:8.
1 Samuel 12:20
Ye have done all this wickedness. The ye is emphatic, and to give its force we should translate, "Ye have indeed done all this evil." From following Jehovah. See on 1 Samuel 12:15.
1 Samuel 12:21
For then should ye go after vain things. The word for is omitted in all the ancient versions, and the sense is complete without it: "And turn ye not aside after tohu," the word used in Genesis 1:1, and there translated "without form." It means anything empty, void, and so is often used, as here, for "an idol," because, as St. Paul says, "an idol is nothing in the world" (1 Corinthians 8:4). So Isaiah (Isaiah 44:9) calls the makers of idols vanity, Hebrew, tohu, i.e. empty people, with no sense in them. The word is used again at the end of the verse—which idols cannot profit nor deliver; for they are tohu, emptiness.
1 Samuel 12:22
For his great name's sake. Though Samuel in 1 Samuel 12:14 had described their well being as dependent upon their own conduct, yet in a higher light it depended upon God's will. He had chosen Israel not for its own sake (Deuteronomy 7:7, Deuteronomy 7:8), but for a special purpose, to minister to the Divine plan for the redemption of all mankind, and so, though individuals might sin to their own ruin, and the nation bring upon itself severe chastisements, yet it must continue according to the tenor of God's promises (see on 1 Samuel 2:30), and through weal and woe discharge the duty imposed upon it.
1 Samuel 12:23
God forbid, Hebrew, "Far be it from me." That I should sin... in ceasing to pray for you. In no character of the Old Testament does this duty of intercessory prayer stand forward so prominently as in Samuel (see 1 Samuel 12:19); nor does he rest content with this, but adds, I will teach you the good and the right way. This was a far higher office than that of ruler; and not only was Samuel earnest in discharging this prophetic office of teaching, but he made provision for a supply of teachers and preachers for all future time by founding the schools of the prophets.
1 Samuel 12:24
For consider, etc. Samuel concludes his address by appealing to the mighty deeds wrought in old time by Jehovah for his people; literally, it is, "For consider how grandly he hath wrought with you."
1 Samuel 12:1-5
Character a power.
The facts are—
1. Samuel reminds the people that he
(a) has carried out their wishes in setting a king over them,
(b) is now a very old man, and
(c) has spent the whole of his life among them.
2. He appeals to God in asserting that the whole of his official life has been free from self-seeking.
3. The people freely admit that his public conduct has been honest, considerate, and free from greed. The meaning of Samuel's reference to himself is to be sought not in egotism, but in a desire to find a basis for his intended argument and appeal. The actual weight of counsel depends not on the abstract wisdom of the language used, but on the readiness of the hearers to give heed to the speaker and their conviction of his integrity of purpose. Samuel appeals to character in order to secure moral power in argument. He availed himself of the privilege of honoured age.
I. CHARACTER IS A GROWTH. A human being is mutable in purpose and disposition, and time is requisite in order to insure fixity of either. Character lies in determinateness, permanent fixity. Morally it is the form, style, and expression the life eventually assumes. It remains a long unsettled question as to what determinateness some men's nature is to come. In so far as instability itself is an undesirable quality, its presence is the sign of permanent badness. But even in the absence of instability, men suspend their judgment of their fellow men because all good qualities in them are regarded as only tentatively established in the soul. The true progress of a life is secured when holiness of disposition becomes so gradually master of every faculty as to be the distinctive, invariable mark of the man. Obviously, this character is a passing of an inner silent force into all the avenues of thought, feeling, and action, repeating its self-manifestations in these day by day, till those who know the individual are compelled to see that such is the natural, fixed, reliable style of his life.
II. The CONDITIONS OF ITS POWER ARE TWOFOLD—one in the individual himself, and the other in observers.
1. Constancy and steadiness of growth is one condition. It is this which creates a belief that the man is true. There is a strong belief that fluctuations in conduct and opinion are signs of either weakness or actual badness. Those who watch the steady, early growth of a doubtful plant, and observe how by the action of a powerful law it at length assumes a given type of leaf and bud, know then what they have in sight, and treat it accordingly. So a quiet advance in goodness is essential to the acquisition of power in character.
2. The existence in observers of a sense of right is another condition. The power which a holy, consistent character has over all grades of men implies that there is something in them which, in virtue of its own nature, pays homage to goodness. Men know and inwardly revere the right. In this moral necessity of judgment we have a clue to the deference often paid by bad men to the good; the uneasiness of the vile and unjust in presence of purity; and the strong hold which the holy gospel of Christ has secretly over even the most daring of its opponents.
III. The POWER OF CHARACTER IS SOMETIMES DEVELOPED BY UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES. It may exist as the result of a growing, unconscious influence over observers. Neither party may be aware of its real force. Many a man exercises more power on society than either he or others contemplate. The degree to which the present condition of the world is owing to this silent, unconscious influence of holy, consistent characters is beyond all conception. The fact should be a comfort to those whose lives seem to be barren of usefulness because no great deeds are chronicled. But now and then events transpire which bring out the depth of reverence and respect cherished for, it may be, an ordinary quiet Christian man.
IV. It is ALLOWABLE TO USE CHARACTER AS A MEANS OF URGING IMPORTANT CLAIMS. Samuel was right in referring to his long consistent life. He could honestly, and without self-glorying, speak of his having never enriched himself by his office. He was within the limits of modesty in claiming some credit for consistency, for his object was to enforce the claims of God. Thus the Apostle Paul referred to his manner of life, his self-denying labours, in order to win among Corinthians attention to the message he delivered, and counteract the insinuations of false brethren (2 Corinthians 11:1-33.). There are occasions when a pastor, a teacher, and parent may fitly refer to their general character as furnishing a reason for attention to their appeals.
1. It is of supreme importance to be well established in strong religious principles early in life; roots set in virgin soil strike deep and thrive steadily.
2. We should watch carefully against tendencies to instability, and at the same time not think over much about what men think of us.
3. No man who is ambitious to obtain power of character will get it: it comes to those who are concerned to be good rather than to have the power which goodness conifers.
4. We honour God when we pay honour to those who bear his image.
5. The quality of holy self-sacrifice is that in official persons which most impresses observers, and should, after the Saviour's example, be cultivated by all persons in things small and great.
1 Samuel 12:6-15
The immutable condition of well being.
The facts are—
1. Samuel, having shown his right to be heard, calls on the people to hearken to his argument.
2. He refers to historic instances to show that trouble always came with unfaithfulness to God, and prosperity with a return to fidelity.
3. He reminds them that their desire for a king implied distrust of God.
4. Recognising the new order of things, he insists that the adversity or prosperity of the nation rested where it always had—on their own disobedience or obedience to God. Samuel, having gained a respectful hearing, proceeds to urge his argument with the view to convince Israel that constant obedience to God will be in future, on their part, the only rational conduct. The principles involved are universal, and they imply what some have recklessly denied or questioned, namely, the essential reasonableness of religion. Changing the historic allusions for corresponding facts in modern experience, the identical argument could be urged with equal force upon many who fain would escape the yoke of Christ as being inconsistent with the claims of human reason.
I. CONFORMITY TO THE WILL OF GOD IS THE SUPREME CONDITION OF WELL BEING. Israel would, as a people, dwell in safety, be rich, prosperous, and, in fact, realise all the best ends of national existence, in proportion as they obeyed the Lord God. The interactions of material agencies, and the habits of irrational beings, in so far as they flow from necessary physiological laws, are conformed to the Divine will. The possession by man of moral freedom renders it possible for him to be resolutely and knowingly out of accord with the same. The will of God is variously expressed, though always one. In external nature, in constitution of mind, in moral relations, in social laws, in Scripture there are harmonious expressions of will varying according to the subject matter and occasions. It being in the power of man, as free, to conform in feeling, in purpose, and actual outward movement of will to what God reveals of himself, perfect life, personal, social, and national, lies in that conformity, and that alone. The continuous act of obedience is conformity. Observing physical, mental, and moral laws in every detail of life; acting in harmony with the revealed requirements of repentance and effort after holiness; constant exercise of faith in Christ as the revealed means of the highest spiritual life—this course of action is a fulfilment of the conditions of blessedness, the prelude to final likeness to Christ.
II. THAT SUCH CONFORMITY IS THE CONDITION OF WELL BEING IS A TRUTH ATTESTED BY HISTORY. It could be shown by independent lines of proof that religion, as consisting in true conformity to God's will, is essentially reasonable, and that, conversely, sinful men are most irrational. But Samuel knows human nature, and, therefore, he deals with the concrete facts of history, and points out how the past records of Israel's national life establish his contention. GOD gave them freedom from Egypt by Moses and Aaron. Disobedience and neglect entailed subjection to Sisera and the Philistines. A return to God brought deliverance once more. Therefore history connected prosperity with due recognition of God, adversity with disobedience. Every sinful nation and individual is deluded by fallacy. There is induced, by the blinding effect of moral corruption on the intellect, a belief that the miseries endured are not connected with moral causes. But a fair induction of the facts of public and private life will demonstrate Samuel's position, that when the soul of the nation has been true to God it has enjoyed the truest prosperity. The very prosperity of fools is in the long run their destruction, The merriment of the impious, like the brilliant glare of a rocket, yields to a more conspicuous reverse. Pious men may not in some instances be equal, in power and general social usefulness, to men not pious; yet, given men of equal natural abilities, the pious will do more and better than the not pious. Every day life is full of cases in which men, by conforming to the gospel law of repentance and faith, at once place themselves and their homes in a new and better relation to all material and mental laws; and rise from poverty, disease, ignorance, and shame to comfort, health, fair attainments, and honour. A nation of true Christians would be a model to the world in all excellence and acquisitions and happiness.
III. ALL ATTEMPTS TO EVADE THE CONDITION OF WELL BEING ARE FRUITLESS. Samuel's reference to Israel's desire for a king, in connection with his argument and closing appeal, evidently means that the people were under the delusive impression that their troubles and dangers were in some way associated with the external form of government under which they had hitherto lived. But Samuel points out the sin involved in this thought—it was distrust of God's all-sufficiency; and he also indicates that the attempted substitution of a form of government for the practice of righteousness is utterly vain. Human nature is constant in its self-revelations. This attempted substitution of what is formal and outward for what is moral and inward is of common occurrence. Nations often cry out for changes of form of government when the real need is a change in disposition and conduct. Nominal Christians present an outward, and, in emergencies, a more elaborate, form of worship in place of the sacrifice of the penitent and contrite heart. It is hard to learn the lessons of history; but all its testimony confirms what could be, a priori, shown to be true—that however good external arrangements may be per se, they are as fruitless to secure a nation's highest good, a Church's truest prosperity, and an individual's most vigorous and joyous piety, in the absence of a faithful conformity to the whole will of God, as was Israel's acquisition of a king fruitless to insure, apart from righteousness of life, safety from danger and internal prosperity. "Abide in me." "For without me ye can do nothing."
IV. THE TRUTH THUS VINDICATED CAN BE VERIFIED IN SPITE OF PAST SINS AND ERRORS. Samuel admits the existence of the king as a fact, though having its origin in sin and folly. He does not cut Israel off from the hope of proving the truth of his contention, that well being depends on conformity to the will of God. Under their new and, as he thinks, unjustifiable arrangements they may, if they will, verify the correctness of his teaching; and hence the urgent appeal. The sins and errors of men in the past have had the natural effect of placing them in disadvantageous circumstances for the fullest development of piety. Even in so called Christian countries the social arrangements and customs, the habits of thought, the methods and principles of commerce, the form and spirit of legislation, and the attitude of class toward class, are the expression of the faults as well as of the virtues of our ancestors. They to that extent impede the full expression of the gospel spirit. The same holds good of antecedents in private and Church life. Nevertheless, God gives to nations, Churches, and individuals opportunities for testing the value of conformity to his will, and each may prove its sufficiency by new acts of obedience. Here we have a philosophy of life which each may experimentally establish.
1. Conformity to the will of God being the immutable maxim of life, care should be taken to ascertain that will as distinct from our own wishes; and, when ascertained, all the force of our nature should be bent on insuring its observance.
2. It is well to fortify conduct by an appeal to the reasonableness of a religious life, since in a struggle reason and faith are both helpful.
3. In all times of restlessness and dissatisfaction deeper search should be made than into the outward forms of life, for the outward change is no sure cure for the inward unrighteousness.
4. Gratitude to God for permission to recover lost prosperity best shows itself in renewed consecration to him.
1 Samuel 12:16-25
The outward sign.
The facts are—
1. Samuel, to confirm his argument, calls for thunder and rain during the wheat harvest, thus imperilling their property.
2. The people, awed by the event, entreat for his intercession.
3. Samuel encourages hope on the ground of God's mercy, and promises to pray for and instruct them.
4. He makes a final appeal, setting forth the blessed and sad alternative consequences. Samuel knew well with whom he had to deal; and, therefore, besides securing a deferential hearing in virtue of age and character, and enforcing the reasonableness of conformity to God's will, he now calls attention to a display of Divine power in a form suggestive of the material disasters that may come if they should, by disobedience, come into collision with that power. Men soon feel the force of an argument that touches their property. The natural force of his previous statements would compel the assent of reason, and secure the echo of conscience. But in morally weak men the clear light of reason is apt to become eclipsed by the uprising of wilful desires, and the voice of conscience dies away amid the clamours of passion. It was, therefore, great kindness, an act of beautiful, Divine consideration, to introduce another means of insuring the impressment of the lessons conveyed.
I. OUTWARD SIGNS ARE HELPFUL TO RELIGION. Manifestations of God's presence and power in impressive forms, in some instances miraculous, are aids to faith and practice. There is a modern tendency to dispute this. Even some Christian apologists speak of the miraculous events recorded in Scripture as rather a hindrance than an aid to faith. The difficulty proceeds from a defective comprehension of all the facts that enter into a consideration of the question. No doubt moral truth is its own witness; no doubt reason recognises what lies within the range of her vision. The whole sum of truth we have in Christ, and in the records associated with his name, enables us to say, "This is the Son of God." The personal experience of the man who is one in life with Christ is superior to all "external evidences." But obviously all this applies to men in the full light of Christian truth, and can have no appreciable bearing on the gradual education of the world by a chosen nation, through "here a little and there a little," as men were morally and intellectually fit to receive it. Observe more specifically—
1. General education by outward signs is universal. By education we mean development of the entire nature, rational and moral We have to regulate life and unfold its capabilities by means other than the mere subjective effect of what is perceived and appreciated as rational or moral.
2. Spiritual education of men by appropriate outward signs is a fact recognised throughout all time. The three means, irrespective of inspiration of the heart by the Holy Spirit, of spiritual education—presentation of truth to the moral perception, the convincing of the judgment by reasons, and the suggestive power of outward signs—are found in the whole course of history, from the day when Adam's conscience recognised the moral force of the Divine command because Divine, appreciated the argument of life or death as the alternative of obedience or disobedience, and looked on the "tree" as a visible sign of a power worthy to be feared, unto the latest observance of the Lord's Supper, affording an outward sign of a power merciful in its almightiness.
3. Spiritual education by outward signs is very reasonable. This will be admitted so far as relates to our children, and also the formation of character by outward signs of power that are not miraculous. Therefore the controversy is limited to the reasonableness of the outward miraculous signs related in the Bible. Here observe, those who admit that the Incarnation, "God manifest in the flesh," was a reality, and not a figure of speech, have conceded the principle; and if it was the Divine intention by this miracle to save men in Christ, where is the difficulty of admitting that by miracle God wrought the way for Christ, and educated the world for the event? If the escape is sought in the supposed number of miracles in Old Testament times, then who is to tell God how many he shall work? Where do wisdom and propriety begin and end? Let any one try and settle what and how often God shall work. Moreover, it is all a delusion as to the vast number of miracles. Genesis covers at least 2800 years, and yet not over twenty-two miracles, or strictly open manifestations, are recorded during that period, giving an average of one in 127 years. Further, what more reasonable than, e.g; this of the "thunder"? The people have had the truth, and reason has been appealed to; but they are weak, as history proves. God is the supreme Power, but they evidently need to be impressed, so that the lessons just given may abide. Fear thus produced will act with consciousness of moral truth and force of reason, and consequently it is an act of great mercy to render them this additional aid, just as it is an act of kindness to enforce lessons on children by an authority which they can appreciate.
II. THERE ARE SPECIAL ENCOURAGEMENTS TO CONFORMITY TO GOD'S WILL set forth by his prophets, justified by reason and conscience, and supported by outward signs. It is instructive to note how God's methods have respect to the whole man. Moral obligation is placed before the conscience (verses 13-15), reason is appealed to (verses 7-11), fear of disobedience is aroused by outward sign of supreme power, and now the hopes of the soul are to be sustained by appropriate considerations. Would that men who sneer at the Old Testament records had the heart to study its spiritual teaching! They would see how beautifully the terrible and the mild blend to meet the needs of the real man. The encouragement is threefold.
1. An assurance of God's great mercy. "Fear not." He "will not forsake his people. This "fear not" comes to the sinful soul still. It came with the angels' song over the plains of Bethlehem; it was heard by the "little flock;" and the conscience smitten jailor heard the same. God "hath not forsaken" mankind. Not for what virtue he sees in perverse, ungrateful men, but" for his own sake" he saves the penitent. As Israel had "for his own sake" been made his people, with prospective reference to the introduction of the Messiah and the future education of the world, so in the redemption wrought by Christ every man on earth is embraced in a covenant of mercy, sealed with the "blood that cleanseth from all sin." To know that God is merciful and gracious, that all his terrible displays of power are in love, this brings cheer to the entire race of man. If only despisers of the gospel knew the richness of its mercy for all men, they would surely not seek to hinder its acceptance by this sorrowing world.
2. The prayer and sympathy of the faithful. Samuel assures Israel that he will bear them on his heart. His affection for them and his spiritual duty to them were such that not to continue to pray would be sin (verse 23). This encouragement has every one who is called on to conform to the wilt of God. The Church pleads "for all men." The penitent and struggling are especially on the heart of God's faithful children. In thousands of homes daily prayer is made for persons never seen and unknown by name.
3. Continuous instruction. As long as Samuel lived he would teach them "the good and the right way." No doubt, like the Apostle Peter, he would also devise means so that they should have his wise words "after" his "decease." It requires "line upon line, precept upon precept," to keep men in the safe and blessed pathway; and how fully is this secured to us in the "lively oracles"! By the written word, by the suggestions of the Holy Spirit, by the wise counsel of friends, God teaches us the way in which we should go. We are not left to wander at our will, or to follow the contradictory voices of men. There is "a sure word of prophecy which shineth as a light in a dark place."
1. A study of the signs of God's presence in human affairs will prove a salutary restraint on sinful tendencies.
2. It becomes the true Christian to manifest tender sympathy for men who are spiritually weak and erring.
3. Great influence is gained over men when we can convince them that, though they are very sinful, God is merciful and waiting to bless.
4. The element of fear in religion, to be healthful, must be supplemented by that of hope and confidence.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
1 Samuel 12:1-25. (GILGAL.)
Samuel's admonitions to Israel.
1. The occasion of his admonitions was the full recognition of the first king of Israel -by the national assembly, and his retirement from the more active duties of his office as judge. He was not mortified at parting with power, nor did he wish to reverse the change which had been effected. He cheerfully acquiesced in the will of God, and cordially united with the people in giving honour to the" Lord's anointed" (1 Samuel 12:3, 1 Samuel 12:5). Yet he might not allow them to suppose that there was nothing blameworthy in their desire for a king, as they were apt to do, or enter upon their new career in perilous self-complacency, without warning them of the rocks ahead. He spoke not merely as judge, but also as a prophet and "faithful priest" (1 Samuel 12:19).
2. The form which they assumed is varied. They consist generally of a dialogue between him and the elders; partly of an apology, or defence of his official conduct; partly of a narration of the dealings of God with Israel; and partly of exhortations, warnings, and promises closely connected together. The whole may be conceived of as a judicial scene occurring before the invisible Judge, in which Samuel, having vindicated himself as against the people, sets forth their sin against God, who himself confirms his words in the thunderstorm (Job 38:1), which leads them to confess their transgression and seek the intercession of the prophet, who consoles and admonishes them, and assures them of his continued help. The language is direct and rugged and full of force.
3. The main subject is the course of sinful perversity which Israel had pursued in desiring a king; the chief aim to produce a humble and penitent state of mind, and lead to the maintenance of a proper relation to the invisible King. His former words may be compared (1 Samuel 3:11-14; 1 Samuel 7:3-6; 1 Samuel 8:10-18; 1 Samuel 10:17-19); also the words of Moses (Numbers 16:25-30; Deuteronomy 29:1-29.), and of Joshua (Joshua 24:1-33.). He speaks of their course as—
I. ADOPTED WITHOUT SUFFICIENT REASON (verses 3-6) in the light of his just administration. He sets himself, as it were, before the tribunal of the invisible Judge, and before the king,—himself, "old and grey headed," on the one hand, Israel on the other,—and seeks an open vindication (as public men are often under the necessity of doing); not, however, so much from regard to his own dignity as to their welfare and the honour of God. We have here—
1. A challenge, on the part of Samuel, to bear witness against him. "Behold, here I am," etc. (verse 3). It is a common temptation for men in authority and power to use their position for selfish and unjust purposes, such as
How have these evils prevailed in every age! But Samuel had consciously wronged no one, and if any can show that he has done so, he stands ready to make restitution (Luke 19:8). His conscience is "as the noontide clear." "No doubt he found himself guilty before God of many private infirmities; but for his public carriage he appeals to men. A man's heart can best judge of himself; others can best judge of his actions. Happy is that man that can be acquitted by himself in private, in public by others, by God in both" (Hall).
2. A testimony, on the part of the elders, to his integrity (verse 4); ready, explicit, and with one voice. It is almost impossible for men in public office to be faithful without making enemies. If Samuel had any, they now nowhere appear; and his character shines forth "as the sun when he goeth forth in his might" ( 5:31).
3. An invocation, on the part of both, to the Lord and his anointed to confirm the testimony (verse 5); thereby making it more solemn and memorable. Why, then, seeing his government was so unblamable, did they wish to set it aside? Their testimony to him was a sentence of condemnation on themselves for their inconsideration, ingratitude, and discontent. The force of the testimony was increased by his further invocation of the Lord as he who had "appointed Moses and Aaron, and brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt" (verse 6). As the appointed and faithful leader of Israel, even as they, no other was necessary, and his rejection was the rejection of the Lord. With this he passes on to speak of their course as—
II. MARKED BY AGGRAVATED TRANSGRESSION (verses 7-12) in the light of the righteous dealings of God in past time. "Now therefore stand forth," etc. (verse 7). He and they now change places; he becomes their accuser, and reasons or contends with them (in order to convict them of sin) "concerning the righteous acts of Jehovah," who had acted justly in his covenant relation with them throughout their whole history, faithfully fulfilled his promises, inflicted punishment only when it was deserved, and bestowed upon them the greatest benefits (Ezekiel 33:17; Micah 6:2). These acts include—
1. A wonderful deliverance (verse 8) from a crushing oppression, in compassion to the cry of the needy, through the instrumentality of men raised up for the purpose, with "a mighty hand and an outstretched arm," and completed in their possession of the land of promise. This deliverance is always regarded as the foundation of their history. "History was born in that night in which Moses, with the law of God, moral and spiritual, in his heart, led the people of Israel out of Egypt" (Bunsen).
2. Repeated chastisements (verse 9), rendered necessary by forgetfulness of God, varied (the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Moabites), and with a view to their moral improvement. "Notice here Samuel's prudence in reproof.
3. Continued help (verses 10, 11), through penitence and prayer, by means of successive "saviours,"—Jerubbaal (Gideon), Sedan (Barak), Jephthah, Samuel (1 Samuel 7:10; referring to himself in the third person, because now speaking as the advocate of Jehovah),—against their "enemies on every side," and in their safe preservation unto the present time. "And ye dwelled safe." But what return did they make for all his benefits? As soon as they saw the threatening attitude of Nahash (verse 12), they forgot the lessons of the past, lost their confidence in God, trusted in an arm of flesh, and recklessly and persistently demanded a king, virtually rejecting the Lord as their king. Former experience of the goodness and severity of God greatly aggravates present transgression (verse 19).
III. INVOLVING PERILOUS RESPONSIBILITY (verses 13-15) in the light of present circumstances. "Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen," etc. Although they had taken the initiative in the matter, he had reserved to himself the authority of appointing him, and abides the supreme Ruler over both people and king (verse 12). In the new order of things—
1. They are specially liable to forget this primary truth, and to trust in man, and hence he impresses upon them once and again the fact that "the Lord God is their king." No earthly monarch can release them from their responsibility to him, and no human help can save them apart from him. "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes" (Psalms 118:9).
2. They can prosper only by being faithful to him. "If ye will fear the Lord," etc; it will be well with you and your king. But—
3. If unfaithful, they will expose themselves to heavy judgments, as their fathers had done before them. Wherein, then, have they improved their condition? What a perilous course have they entered upon! And how can they hope to avoid its consequences except by profound humiliation, and seeking the Lord "with full purpose of heart"?
IV. NECESSITATING SINCERE REPENTANCE (verses 16-18) in the light of approaching judgment. "Now therefore stand and see this great thing," etc. Hitherto the words of Samuel appear to have produced little effect; something further was necessary that they might not be spoken in vain; and, in response to his prayer, the thunder crashed above the heads of the great assembly, and the rain fell in torrents around them—things "incomprehensible to a Hebrew" in time of harvest. The miraculous sign—
1. Corroborates the word of truth as well as the Divine commission of him who uttered it, and confirms the testimony borne to his integrity. The voice of the supreme Judge answers the appeal which had been made to him (verse 5), and there is "an end of all controversy" (Hebrews 6:16).
2. Is significant of the Divine displeasure at their sin, and of terrible judgments (Exodus 9:28). "Hereby the Lord showed his power, and the people their foolishness in not being contented to have such a mighty God for their protector, who could with thunder and rain fight for them against their enemies, as he did for Israel against the host of Pharaoh, and not long before this against the Philistines. And, beside, it appeared with what small reason they should be weary of Samuel's government, who by his prayer could fetch down rain and thunder from heaven" (Willet). "God had granted their desire; but upon them and their king's bearing toward the Lord, not upon the fact that they had now a king, would the future of Israel depend; and this truth, so difficult for them to learn, God would, as it were, prove before them in a symbol. Did they think it unlikely, nay, well nigh impossible, to fail in their present circumstances? God would bring the unlikely and seemingly incredible to pass in a manner patent to all. Was it not the time of wheat harvest, when in the East not a cloud darkens the clear sky? God would send thunder and rain to convince them, by making the unlikely real, of the folly and sin of their thoughts in demanding a king" (Edersheim).
3. Is designed to effect a moral end, in filling them with salutary fear. "That ye may perceive that your wickedness is great" (verse 17). And it is not in vain; for "all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel" (verse 18), thus solemnly avouched to be his prophet. God is never at a loss for means to accomplish his purposes, and goes beyond his usual method of operations when the occasion demands it. The end of his dealings with men is to bring them to repentance and make them holy.
V. NOT EXCLUDING CONSOLATION AND HOPE (verses 19-25) in the light of the great name and merciful purposes of God. By means of repentance and faith men place themselves within the circle where the "consuming fire" of Divine wrath (Romans 1:18; Hebrews 12:29) is transformed into the genial beams of Divine grace; and "he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). We have here—
1. A description of a penitent people (verse 19), overwhelmed with fear, freely and fully confessing their sin, rendering honour where they had formerly shown ingratitude and disrespect, and seeking Divine mercy in the way in which they had reason to believe it might be obtained.
2. An exhortation to an amended course of life (verses 20, 21).
3. An assurance of mercy and grace (verse 22), resting on—
(1) His relationship. They are still "his people."
4. A promise of continued aid, on the part of Samuel, in intercession and instruction (verse 23). "In this he sets a glorious example to all rulers, showing them that they should not be led astray by the ingratitude of their subordinates or subjects, and give up on that account all interest in their welfare; but should further persevere all the more in their anxiety for them."
5. A final admonition to steadfast obedience (verses 24, 25), without which both people and king will be overwhelmed in destruction. In keeping with the tone which pervades these admonitions, and as in foresight of coming evils, they end with a warning.—D.
1 Samuel 12:2. (GILGAL.)
Piety in old age.
"Old and grey headed." On speaking of himself as "old and grey