After three weeks of traveling, and a week of recovery, Tillie and I are back on our regular schedules. So I am able to pick up the thread of our studies on 1 Samuel. Because of the long lay off, I will give a more extensive review than usual.
We have been studying Saul’s selection as king. And we have seen that the process was in two parts, one private and one public. In the essay before last, we studied the private aspect of it. Saul was a tall, handsome young man from the tribe of Benjamin who was sent to look for some straying donkeys belonging to his father.
While on the search, Saul and his servant consulted Samuel who happened to be in the same town they were in. Just the previous day the Lord had informed Samuel that he would meet the person who was to be anointed king the next day. And when Samuel saw Saul, the Lord revealed to him at that moment that Saul was the one. So Samuel immediately went into action. He honored Saul in various ways; and then the next morning, Samuel took oil and secretly anointed Saul to be the first king of Israel (10:1). He did it privately because there was a public process of selection that was necessary for the benefit of the people.
Then in the last essay we studied the public portion of Saul’s selection as king. The Scripture was chapter 10, verse 17, through chapter 11. There we saw the public selection being accomplished by the casting of lots, a common method of discerning God’s will in that culture. But this case was unusual in that the Lord already secretly had revealed his choice; and Samuel was trusting that the Lord would manipulate the lots to confirm what already had been revealed. And that is what the Lord did.
Before casting the lots, Samuel warned Israel once more of the mistake they were making in wanting a king. He reminded them that it was a rejection of the Lord. But they didn’t want to hear that. They wanted their king, and that was that (vv. 18-19).
After the selection of Saul by lot, Samuel informed the people of the rights and duties of the kingship. Then he wrote it in a book and laid the book before the Lord. That is, he placed it in the sanctuary where it would be both safe and accessible (v. 25). The purpose of it was to provide a kind of constitution so that the kings of Israel would not become cruel despots. And then he sent the people to their homes.
Interestingly, Saul also went to his home. That is, he didn’t immediately set up a government as such. But that is understandable. The only government any of them had ever known was that of the judges, especially that of Samuel. And Saul, in spite of being officially chosen as king had not yet proven himself in battle, which was often the way the judges gained the confidence of the people. Nor had Saul begun to judge the people, because Samuel still was doing that. So Saul didn’t exactly have a base of authority to lead the people. In other words, it took more than an announcement to become the king of Israel.
A month later Saul came face to face with his first opportunity to provide leadership to the nation. Nahash the Ammonite launched a major campaign against the eastern tribes by laying siege to Jabesh-gilead.
The people of Jabesh were willing to cut a deal and serve Nahash rather than suffer heavy casualties in a battle; but Nahash made the terms so severe that they asked for a week to seek help before making a decision. Nahash was willing to allow Jabesh a week to seek help for two reasons. First, he also didn’t want to take the heavy losses that would be necessary to take the city by force. And second, Nahash was confident that Jabesh would not get any help from the western tribes. So he could afford, he thought, to wait a week, after which Jabesh would surrender to him on his terms. But Nahash did not know about Saul.
Saul, under the power of the Holy Spirit, rose to the occasion. He took two oxen, cut them in pieces, and sent the pieces throughout Israel with the message from himself and Samuel that any person who didn’t “rally to the flag,” so to speak, at Bezek (which was located just across the Jordan from Jabesh-gilead) would have their oxen cut up. And 370,000 of the people came to Bezek (vv. 6-8).
As soon as the people were gathered, Saul sent a message to Jabesh-gilead that they would be delivered the next day (v. 9). And that was what happened (v. 11). The chapter ended with a grand celebration of Saul as king, a celebration that was not possible when Saul was first publicly elected, because Saul had not yet proved himself. Samuel realized that this was the time to cement Saul’s monarchy with the people. So he led the people to Gilgal, which was the place where Israel first camped when Joshua brought them into the promised land (Josh. 4:19), and which was easily accessed by the eastern tribes. And there they held another ceremony of making Saul king. This time all of Israel participated in the ceremony, and thus all Israel was committed to Saul as king in a way that was not true the first time.
Turning to application, we looked at Saul himself. Saul at this stage of his career provides a sterling example of leadership, and thus becomes an outstanding model for us. He was humble (9:21), trustworthy (10:16), patient, (10:26), self-controlled (10:27), decisive (11:6-7), courageous, faithful to the Lord, (11:13), and merciful (11:13).
All right, the passage for today is 1 Sam. 12 in which Samuel hands over the reigns of power to Saul. No specific context is given for Samuel’s speech in chapter 12; but it seems safe to assume that the previous context is continued; and that it took place at Gilgal after Saul was once again proclaimed king.
Samuel began by reminding the people that they now had a king because of their own desire, and that he now was their leader. Then Samuel began to justify his own life-long leadership.
In verses 1-5 you easily can see how Samuel vindicated his personal integrity. He invited anyone whom he had cheated or defrauded in any way to come forward and accuse him, with a promise that he would make it good if anyone did so. No one did.
But Samuel wasn’t just vindicating himself personally. He also was vindicating the type of rule he represented. Samuel was the last of the judges, and his successful rule suggested that rule by judges could work. He had not enriched himself; he had not favored the rich by taking bribes. Instead he had been just to all. And the Lord himself was a witness to that fact, as was the Lord’s anointed (Saul, the new king). And the people acknowledged that the Lord was witness to Samuel’s integrity and rule.
Next, in verses 6-11, Samuel continued his justification in a different way. In the balance of the speech Samuel wanted to press home to Israel that they had sinned in demanding a king, and that their sin was part of a long-standing pattern. So he called upon the Lord as a witness. The Lord not only was witness to Samuel’s integrity, he was a witness to Israel’s history. And throughout Israel’s history, the Lord had been faithful to Israel, while the people had been unfaithful to the Lord. And he gave specific examples
The Lord had brought the people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land (verses 6-8). But their ancestors had forgotten the Lord and sinned, which led to oppression by foreign powers (v. 9). But when the people repented of their sins, the Lord delivered them by raising up judges such as Jerubaal, which was Gideon’s other name (Judg. 6:32), Barak, Jephthah, and Samuel himself (vv. 10-11).
There is a bit of controversy about two of the names here. The Hebrew text has the name Bedan instead of Barak; but since no judge named Bedan is known, it is assumed that the Greek Old Testament is correct with its reading of Barak. Bedan probably represents an early copyist’s error. In addition the Greek reads Samson instead of Samuel, and some scholars believe that Samson is the original reading. That may be the case; but it would have been appropriate for Samuel to mention his own name, because he was a legitimate judge of real stature. Moreover it would have been a further demonstration that the people made a mistake to demand a king when Samuel’s rule had been so successful.
In verses 12-15 we see Samuel turning from Israel’s past to their present. You see the shift from past to present in verse 12, “But when you saw that king Nahash of the Ammonites came against you.” And then he charged them with demanding a king. The implication was that they were being disloyal to the Lord just as their ancestors had been.
But having said that, Samuel noted a huge positive in the situation. If Israel and her new king would both fear and follow the Lord from that time forward, all would be well (v. 14). What a great truth that is! It is as valid today as it was then. If we as God’s people will repent of our sins, and trust and obey him, all will be well.
But the opposite also is as true today as then. Samuel went on to say in verse 15: “but if you will not heed the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.” The blessings of God for his people never have been automatic. We are God’s people, because we have a relationship with him; and we cannot continue to be blessed by him if the relationship is impaired or broken.
Then in verses 16-25 we see Samuel challenge the people. Samuel wanted to impress his words on the hearts of the people in dramatic fashion. So he challenged them, “Now therefore take your stand and see this great thing that the Lord will do.” And then he called upon the Lord to perform a miracle.
It was the time of the wheat harvest, which is roughly from the middle of May to the middle of June. Since it rarely rains in Palestine during the wheat harvest, Samuel called upon the Lord to send thunder and rain on the land that very day as a sign. And it happened (vv. 17-18)! The miraculous thunderstorm caused the people to fear; and they repented of their sins, including the sin of demanding a king (v. 19). But Samuel quickly soothed their fears, reminding them again that by serving the Lord with all their hearts, and keeping focused on that instead of on side issues, the Lord would never forsake them (vv. 20-22).
Then Samuel concluded by reassuring them that he would continue to pray for them and instruct them in moral matters in his retirement (v. 23). Thus did Samuel make the transition from leadership to adviser and prophet. Saul was now the ruler and judge. He was the king.
Turning to application, as we try to get at the key idea in the passage, we may find it in verses 3-5, where a topic that is appropriate to our day is found; namely, that of integrity in public office. Samuel’s example sets forth a magnificent pattern of public integrity.
First, public office is beset with temptations. When one is in a position of power, be it political, social, religious or otherwise, temptations are rampant. One can be tempted to prefer ease to service, to enrich oneself or one’s own family at the expense of others, to defraud or oppress the disadvantaged, to seek the praise of men rather than God, or to take sexual advantage of vulnerable persons. The temptations of public servants are many, but Samuel did not yield to those temptations.
Second, public office is open to public criticism. In Samuel’s case he invited criticism. But persons in public office are open to it in any case, because their position and decisions affect so many others that the public assumes a certain right to make judgments about the individuals’ activities. How often have we seen persons in public office seek to cover up their activities rather than to invite criticism as Samuel did.
Third, public office occasionally requires vindication. Sometimes people in public service are falsely accused of wrongdoing. And when that happens the individual needs vindication. Samuel felt that necessity here, because his kind of rule as a judge was being replaced by a monarchy; and he wanted it made clear that the change was due to the sins of the people, not due to a breakdown in God’s rule through judges. Another example is the apostle Paul who defended his apostleship when false teachers spread false tales about him.