Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I Samuel 12

I Samuel 12: Samuel’s Farewell Speech


Now that Israel has a king, they no longer need Samuel’s leadership. So, in this chapter, he gives them a final address, before handing over the reigns to Saul. He begins the address thusly:
Samuel said to all Israel, “I have listened to everything you said to me and have set a king over you. Now you have a king as your leader. As for me, I am old and gray, and my sons are here with you. I have been your leader from my youth until this day. Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these, I will make it right.” (verses 1–3)
And of course the people affirm that Samuel has done none of these things. Samuel makes the point again, saying that the LORD is their witness, that they’ve said that he has not cheated them, and they confirm that yes, He is witness.

Having set the record straight on this point, Samuel then begins his address in earnest. He tells them that it was the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron, and brought the Israelites out of Egypt; and then he says: “Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your fathers.” (verse 7) He then offers the following brief history:
  • After Jacob entered Egypt, the Israelites cried out to the LORD for help, and He sent Moses and Aaron to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, and into the Promised Land.
  • But the Israelites “forgot the LORD their God” (verse 9), and served the Baals and Ashtoreths.
  • So He sold them into the hands of Sisera, the Philistines, and the Moabites.
  • Then they confessed their sin to Him, and he sent Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, and Samson to deliver them from their enemies’ hands, and He allowed them to live securely. (The footnote indicates that some manuscripts say “Samuel” and some say “Samson.” I chose to use Samson, although the NIV chose to use Samuel.)
But then, when Nahash king of the Ammonites moved against them, they asked Samuel for a king, even though the LORD was supposed to be their king. So, here is Saul, the man the LORD has appointed as their king. And now:
If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God—good! But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers. (verses 14–15)
And then, to show the Israelites what an evil thing they did in the eyes of the LORD when they asked for a king, Samuel asks Him to send thunder and rain, which He does. (The passage mentions that it’s the season for wheat harvest, but I don’t know if that means that it’s unusual for it to rain at this time, or if it’s just a loss to the Israelites to lose their wheat to the rain.)

The people repent:
The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.” (verse 19)
But Samuel tells them not to worry, and ends the passage thusly:
“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own. As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away.” (verses 20–25)


Before Samuel begins “confronting” the Israelites with what the LORD has done for them, he has a prelude in which he reminds them that it was the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron to lead them out of Egypt, and the LORD who actually brought them out. I think Samuel did this because the Israelites so highly venerated Moses; he had to remind them that, as great as Moses was, he was but a humble servant of the LORD Almighty. It’s all well and good to try and imitate Moses’ example, but never forget that it was actually the LORD who did all of the great works, not Moses—as Moses himself would surely agree.

When Samuel asks the LORD to send thunder and rain, and He does, the people repent, but they ask Samuel to ask pray to his God. I don’t know if this is just a phrase, or if it’s more significant than that, but it’s like the people don’t consider God to be their God, they consider Him to be Samuel’s God; sort of like, “God rules Samuel, and Samuel rules us.”

The last part I quoted from this passage includes a very famous line from Samuel: “… far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you….” (verse 23). I’m sure countless pastors have used this quote in sermons. If Samuel were to stop praying for the people—even if they disobey the LORD—it wouldn’t just be a dereliction of his duty, it would be a sin against the LORD. (Actually, that’s an artificial distinction; I guess dereliction of duty would be sin against the LORD—especially if one was a priest!)

When Samuel tells the people not to worry, and that the LORD will not reject them, what reason does he give? Why will the LORD not reject them? For the sake of His great name. God will not abandon them because of who He is, and because of His character. Not because they are good, and not because they deserve it, but because He is good. This was a lesson Samuel wanted the Old Testament Israelites to understand, and it’s a lesson that modern-day Christians need to understand as well.

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