His Farewell Address
The Life And Times Of Samuel The Prophet
(1 Sam. 12)
WE have now, in this chapter, Samuel's farewell address to the people to whom he had so long and so honestly administered justice. It is deeply interesting, and withal touching, as well as richly instructive, and will amply repay a detailed study.
"AND Samuel said unto all Israel, Behold, I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said unto me, and have made a king over you. AND now, behold, the king walketh before you; and I am old and gray-headed; and behold, my sons are with you: and I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day" (vers.1, 2).
He first of all reminds them that it was they, not he, who were responsible for the change of government. He well knew, having been a judge for so many years, the propensity of men in general to shift the blame of their troubles off onto the shoulders of somebody else. This insincere trait of human nature is as old as the race itself: "The woman Thou gavest to be with me;" "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat," said the first transgressors to the Lord God in the garden. "The people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief things which should have been utterly destroyed," Saul says to Samuel, shortly after here, when accused of having, disobeyed the Lord's commandment. So Samuel plainly reminds them that it was their choice, not his; for how apt, in after years, they would be, when in distress over the acting's of their king, to put the blame on Samuel to have made Saul king over them. But he will cut off all occasion for this, and therefore says, "I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said unto me."
He had, as the divinely appointed instrument, made Saul king, but it was at their instigation entirely, and only after he had earnestly and solemnly protested against their action. Now, they had their heart's desire, and he says, "Behold, the king walketh before you;" then he adds, "I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day."
Oh, how different were these two walks of which he speaks! What a contrast between them! Samuel walked in all meekness and lowliness, in obedience to God, and always sought their good. Saul, on the contrary, walked in self-will and brought ruin on the nation. He "walked in pride," and God abased him, even as it is written (Dan. 4: 37).
And his sons, whom they had made the ostensible occasion for their disaffection, were yet in their midst, "still with you," as he says. If their crimes had been so great, here they were, to be dealt with in impartial justice by their newly appointed king. If he, Samuel, had in any wise winked at their misdoings, here they were to be proceeded against according to due process of law. They had not fled the country because of the revolution, or gone into voluntary exile on their father's retirement from power. Thus another excuse in asking for a king is laid bare, as having no foundation, and would not serve them in after years when crying out under the oppression of their king.
Samuel then refers to his own conduct in his capacity as judge with them. "Behold, here I am," he says, "witness against me before the Lord, and before his anointed 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."
He had taken nothing at their hands, either by arbitrary oppression (as was common with rulers in those days), or to pervert the ends of justice. His successor, as he had told them (chap. 8: 11 - 17), would not only take their cattle and their goods, but their sons and their daughters, their menservants and their maidservants, with their "goodliest young men," to put them to his work for his own personal profit and aggrandizement, and be sacrificed in battle in his unsuccessful wars.
The people bear witness to the full truth of his statements: "And they said, Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken ought of any man's hand." Covetousness is a sin to which administrators are in a special degree exposed.
The prophet Amos describes the crookedness of those in whose hands was the judicial authority in his day, and he tells them what they might expect from the hands of the just judge, Jehovah, for "their manifold transgressions and their mighty sins" (Amos 5:7-12). Isaiah, on the other hand, tells of the blessedness of him "that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes" (Isa. 33: 15).
Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, describes the character of the men to be selected "to judge the people at all times." "Able men," he says, "such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousnes" (Ex. 18: 21). Samuel fulfilled all these conditions, and possessed the additional virtues of gentleness and loving sympathy. He was indeed the ideal judge, and the nation little realized what they were losing when he stepped down and out to make way for the ruler of their choice.
The people not only acknowledged that Samuel had neither defrauded nor oppressed them, but confess that he had taken naught from any man's hand for any purpose whatever. He had adhered closely to the law of Moses, "Thou shalt take no gift; for the gift blindeth the wise and perverteth the words of the righteous" (Ex. 23: 8). He well knew the blinding power of presents (even if not given directly to corrupt the court), and how easily judges may be influenced, almost unconsciously to themselves, by gifts, however small, received from the hands of litigants.
Nehemiah followed a similar line of conduct, "because of the fear of God," he says (Neh. 5: 15). Paul, too, in his farewell word to the elders of the assembly at Ephesus, says, " I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel." Yea, his own hands had ministered to his own need and of those that accompanied him (Acts 20 : 33, 34).
This collective declaration of Samuel's guiltlessness is made under the witness of their God and King, "The Lord is witness against you, and His anointed is witness this day," he says. This being settled, he gives them a short resume of their past history, noting only those events that would have a bearing on the subject in hand, viz., their great wickedness, and the vindication of God's anger at the setting up of a kingly form of government in preference to His own.
"AND Samuel said unto the people, It is the Lord that advanced Moses and Aaron, and that brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. Now therefore stand still, that I may reason with you before the Lord of all the righteous acts of the Lord, which He did to you and to your fathers. When Jacob was come into Egypt, and your fathers cried unto the Lord, then the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, which brought forth your fathers out of Egypt, and made them dwell in this place. AND when they forgot the Lord their God, He sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the host of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them. And they cried unto the Lord, and said, We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord, and have served Baalim and Ashtaroth: but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve Thee. And the Lord sent Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and ye dwelled safe" (vers. 6-11).
It is to be noted that, after securing from their very mouths a most complete vindication of his magisterial character with them, Samuel does not proceed to upbraid them for their base ingratitude towards him in his life-long service for their good, as he might very justly have done. It is God's honor he has in view - not his own. He shows them that God is sovereign; He is able to care for His interests on earth, as vested in His people, and can save by any, and by whom He will, by many or with few.
It is the Lord that advanced Moses and Aaron; "it was He that brought them safely out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, and preserved them forty years in "that great and terrible wilderness," in the midst of dangers and enemies innumerable. Samuel bids them "stand still," as Moses told the people, when hedged in at Pi-hahiroth, between the hosts of Pharaoh and the sea: "Stand still," he said, "and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will show to you today" (Ex. 14: 13). This is never an agreeable attitude to the flesh, but a very necessary one to the spirit, if we are to hear to profit what God the Lord would say to us.
"Be still, and know that I am GOD," is His word to the restless creature (Ps. 46: 10). This attitude of quiet waiting becomes the soul that would know the power and resources of the Almighty, "Swift to hear and strong to save." (See Isa. 30: 7.) "That I may reason with you of all the righteous acts of the Lord," says Samuel. (Benefits, the margin reads.) "He reasons," Matthew Henry says, "of the righteous acts of the Lord, that is, both the benefits He hath bestowed upon you, in performance of His promises, and the punishments He has inflicted on you for your sins. His favours are called His righteous acts, because in them He is just to His own honor."
Samuel does not allow them to overlook the fact that it was for their sins that Jehovah allowed them to be sold captive into the hands of their enemies. When they forgot the Lord their God, He sold them into the hand of Sisera," etc. And whenever they cried to God in sincerity, confessing their backslidings, and the special sin which had thus brought them into straits, He always heard them, and sent for their deliverance men like Jerubbael, and Bedan,* and Jephthah, and Samuel.
*Jerubbaal is Gideon, we know, but of Bedan we have no record. The LXX reads Barach, for Bedan ; others suppose Samson is meant, who was a son of Dan-Ben Dan. "The Spirit of the Lord began to move him at times in the camp of Dan" (Judges 13: 25).
If Samuel speaks of himself, it is not in egotism at all, but to add conviction to their consciences; for the judge they were now rejecting was as truly raised up of God for their deliverance as were Moses and Aaron, Gideon, Jephthah and Bedan.
"And ye dwelled safe," he says. Even then, or up to then, they dwelt safely; for we are told, back in chap. 7: 13, that "the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel" - which means the days of his official, not his natural life. It was only after the people had cast him aside, that the Philistines lifted up their heads and dare again to invade the land. What a comment on the folly of the change they desired!
Now we are for the first time made wise as to the underlying reason for their desiring a king like the nations. "And when ye saw that Nahash, the king of the children of Ammon, came against you, ye said unto me, Nay; but a king shall reign over us: when the Lord your God was your King." Yes, the Ammonites had a king, and the people, in their unbelief, seeing the Ammonitish king invest Jabesh-Gilead, want a king too - one they could see, and lead their army. God was their king, true, but He was out of sight, and made their conduct the condition of His delivering them. This was not at all to their liking. They wanted a protector that their eyes could see; faith they did not possess, so they could only look at "the things that are seen," an object of sight - and this they had in Saul." Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen, and whom ye have desired! and, behold, the Lord hath set a king over you," he says.
Then Samuel sets before them, for their choice, a promise and a threat:
If ye will fear the Lord, and serve Him, and obey His voice, and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then shall both ye and also the king that reigneth over you continue following the Lord your God: but if ye will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then shall the hand of the Lord be against you, as it was against your fathers " (vers. 14, 15).
While they had Samuel, representative of the living God, as their guide and protector," the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines; "here he tells them that if they rebelled against the commandment of the Lord, His hand would be against them. It is the old alternative of Gerizim and Ebal, the blessing, or the curse the blessing for obedience, and the curse if they rebelled (Deut. 27). We know the melancholy outcome - it was disobedience and rebellion all the days of Saul; and not till David's reign (who was a figure of the King that is to come) was the nation blessed and the Philistines finally subdued.
And as with Israel here, so with mankind at large - man in the flesh, man not "born again," man unrenewed by grace; he can only sin and bring down the judgment of God upon his guilty soul. Only in Christ, Son of David and Son of God, is his eternal blessing secured. "The flesh profiteth nothing." "It is the Spirit that quickeneth" (John 6: 63). In Christ alone are all the promises of God secured; in Him is the yea and the Amen of all the blessing that God has ever pledged to man. Apart from Him there is only Ebal, the cursing for man.
In the above passage cited from Deuteronomy, there is no blessing pronounced from Gerizim only the curses from mount Ebal are enumerated. When the blessings are pronounced later, under Joshua (Saviour, as his name means), it is only after he had built an altar in mount Ebal unto the Lord God of Israel, emblematic of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary (Josh. 8: 30, 33; see also Deut. 11 : 29).
To clinch and to confirm what he had told them, Samuel gives them a sign - "a sign from heaven:"
"is it not wheat harvest to-day ? " he says: "I will call unto the Lord, and He shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking you a king. So Samuel called unto the Lord; and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day: and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel" (vers. 17, 18).
Wheat harvest was at Pentecost, about the beginning of our June, when rain was most unusual - extraordinary, really (Prov. 26: 1). This would make the coming of thunder and rain at the call of Samuel all the more convincing to the assembled multitudes. Unbelief could not say it was but a coincidence, or that Samuel could discern the thunderstorm coming, or that he had merely given a clever guess. No; God gave them such a demonstration of His approval of Samuel as could not be gainsaid, so that if they did not lay his words to heart, they were left altogether without excuse. But they are convinced, and beseech Samuel for his prayers; "And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king." They never asked their king to pray for them; no, for when conscience is at work, it is the godly whose prayers are sought. Saul could do anything but pray. David and Solomon, and Hezekiah, and other kings of the nation prayed for their subjects; but we do not read, even once, of Saul praying, either for himself or for the people over whom he had been set to rule.
Samuel, father still to the beloved though erring people, and faithful shepherd of the flock, answers them, not with words of wrath and condemnation, but in words of hope and exhortation, and encouragement:
"And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness, yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart; and turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain. For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name's sake: because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people " (vers. 20-22).
What is most beautiful and wholly characteristic of this beloved and loving man of God is added here. He says, "God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you; but I will teach you the good and the right way; "and this he at once proceeds to do: "Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider how great things He hath done for you."
He places their obedience not on the ground of obligation merely, but on the higher plane of gratitude; " For consider," he says, " how great things He hath done for you." There is only one higher reason seen in the creature: the holy angels in heaven obey God for what He is in Himself, in the infinite perfections and glories of His Being. This motive is not absent in the worship and obedience of the redeemed; in them it is coupled and augmented with the sense of gratitude and obligation; and we would not have it otherwise. The "great things He has done for us," shall be our wonder and delight to sing in the coming ages of that glad eternity that awaits us, through the grace of God, on the alone ground of "the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Alleluia!
"Only fear the Lord," Samuel says encouragingly. "Fear not," he had said assuringly to them before. We need both exhortations. Our Lord, in Luke 12, also speaks to the multitude in a similar manner: "Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell." And then to give it effective emphasis, He adds, "Yea, I say unto you, Fear HIM!" Oh, that we all might have His holy fear before us. He had said, Fear not," i. e., with a slavish fear; but here, "Fear the Lord," with a filial fear. "Only fear the Lord," he says, after the manifestation of God's power and presence in the giving of rain and thunder: "All the people greatly feared the Lord, and Samuel," we read. But Samuel is jealous for the glory of his God, so he calls upon the people to fear Jehovah only.
Samuel closes, not with a benediction (which at such a time would have been most unsuited), but leaves with them this solemn warning: "But if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king!".
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