Just Face the Facts People: If it Was Not For Little Old Sammy here, You Might Not Be On The Map, or Even Exist
Edna Hibels’ famous picture: “Samuel the Kingmaker.”
So here we have Samuel, after having returned to Gilgal, and after sacrificing to Yahweh in religious ceremonial pomp, indulging the nation in celebration of the person who was now king. The King-maker from Ramah then delivered a public address after the solemn re-instalment of Saul, before the convention at Gilgal separated. It was a speech that needs to be chewed on to enable us to grasp the heart of the son of Elkanah and Hannah.
Our prophet, it would seem, was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The whole asking for and granting of a king had grieved him as it had grieved God. And still, here he had seen a sight that if continued and persisted in would at least keep the nation in the pursuit of the ways of Yahweh. The King that they should not have asked for had led them to victory after submitting to the Spirit of God that came upon him, and was strongly supported by the masses because of it.
So what Samuel had now, was, paradoxically, the acceptable face of an unacceptable situation, that had to be accepted (if you get the gist!), and the bad and unwanted situation made irrevocable. To explain: For Israel to have a king was not good. It was an external expression of an internal rejection of both God and his prophet. But if they were to have a king, at least to have one who loved Yahweh, kept His covenant, and knew how to hear God was, of course, to be desired. And that is what they had – or so it seemed at that very moment.
Samuel perceived that, at least, the newly arrived at status quo was a, “making the best of a bad job!” If Samuel was to put the reins of the nation into the hands of another, his God anointed nature was such that he had to be happy with the reasonable future projections given the data that the prophet now had to base any rational, human foresight upon. He had seen for himself that by the Spirit of God coming upon Saul – and nobody knew the dynamics of such a phenomenon more than Samuel did –victory over the Ammonites had been achieved. Saul’s anointing had put backbone, efficiency and courage into the nation, and a long standing enemy had been thoroughly vanquished. All this left the national fighting resources free to concentrate on those nasty, gigantic ever present villains, the Philistines. The eastern border of Israel was to a greater degree calmed. The western border of Saul’s kingdom however, was still bristling with potential war. (1 Samuel 14:52 tells us that “the war against the Philistines was severe ALL the days of Saul; and when Saul saw any mighty man, or any valiant man, he attached him to his staff.”) (Italics mine)
Hitherto, as far as Hannah’s son could see, and by what the nation had experienced, the covenant people seemed to be in safe hands with the son of Kish, and Samuel could, to a degree, relax his governmental role as Judge, and lead a life that strongly concentrated on seeking God, worshipping Him, and initiating the prophet’s own “religious” or spiritual projects. But most of all, being free from governmental affairs, he could now feel free to release Saul into practical rulership, and withdraw himself to a position that would be, in public presentation at least, “two steps behind the king.” (For the uninitiated the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, always walks two steps behind the Queen on British State occasions.) Samuel had to become a priest and prophet only, and renounce all his governmental practices of Judgeship and quasi-kingship.
So, while Israel’s military were present at Gilgal, along with the elders, or, put another way: while Samuel had the most influential contingency of the nation’s mind, partying before his eyes – while they reminisced the marvellous victory over the Ammonites, the prophet from Ramah, hushed the people and jumped into the most amazing interaction with the vast crowd.
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”. This is yet another instance of Samuel’s great wisdom and integrity. He did not earlier launch into a heavy duty reproval for their sin in asking for a king whilst Saul was unsettled in his kingdom, lest through their accustomed negativity and reactionism, they should as hastily cast off their king, with as much superficiality as they had desired him. But he had waited for the right moment. And this was that moment.
This was a moment that, if rightly handled could bring the nation to properly see and understand the fallacy of having rejected Yahweh’s direct rule. Saul’s kingdom was now confirmed in people’s hearts by this eminent victory. The people rejoiced greatly and even applauded themselves for their desire of, and now, their ownership of a king. No doubt the people and the army in particular, interpreted the success which God had given them, as divine approbation of those desires and the installation of the king who was stood amongst them.
Samuel therefore thought fit to bring a little moderation to their joy, and to give the people impetus to repentance which he saw lacking, and which he knew to be necessary, to prevent the curse of the law upon their new king, and the whole kingdom.
The prophet gave them a short account of the late revolution, and of the present posture of their government, by way of preface to what he had further to say to them.
So secure was Samuel in his leadership skills and gifting, that he unashamedly and incontrovertibly stated the facts. “You asked me for a king. I sought God, as you wanted; I received God’s mind, as you desired; I installed a man in kingship before you all, and I stepped back while he ruled as a king for the first time in the battle against Nahash and his hordes.” So, although Samuel was a most charismatic leader, he owned up to the fact that he had given them exactly what they asked for. This was the spoonful of sugar dosed out to help the medicine that he was to feed them with a few moments later, go down.
“And now, behold, the king walks before you.” He undoubtedly had Saul standing next to him when he made this remark. I envisage Samuel even sat down on some kind of bench that gave deference to the prophet’s age and fragility.
“I am old and gray headed” This was possibly a note of comparison to the people, i.e. “Here am I old and gray presented before you, sat down to speak to you, and here is your king the very picture of strength, youth, vitality and authority.”
“Behold, my sons are with you”. I find it difficult to understand this contribution to his valedictory address. I cannot see it as being to highlight their lack of integrity as Judges. It was more likely to profile them to the people as adults, and therefore identifying both his sons and himself with the masses. His sons would undoubtedly have been in the army fighting to save Jabesh Gilead.
“I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day.” He is recounting to the mass of soldiers, the present political status of national leadership, and how it had been arrived at. To paraphrase, the, “aged P,” of Israel, while aligning himself with, and visibly comparing himself to the new king, he blatantly declared: “To the king I have fully resigned my governing power, and own myself as one of his subjects, even though I have, since childhood been an acknowledged prophet, and later a quasi-king over you all. I am old now – and therefore unable to bear the burden of government. My sons are among you, private persons, as you are”.
Samuel’s Preaching, Teaching, Prophetic and Judging Circuit.
There are inferences to be seen behind even these opening words – a, “reading between the lines,” if you will. These are the thoughts and insights that, even though they are not spoken, are communicated to the audience of hearers, or in our case, readers. “If my sons have injured any of you, the law is now open against them; any of you may accuse them, your king can punish them, I do not intercede for them. I have walked before you, that is, I have been your guide and governor; partly, as a prophet; and partly, as a judge but the autumnal days of my life lead me to say these few words to you. As my sons are with you, you may, if you please, call them to account for anything they have done amiss. They have not, upon this revolution, fled the country. They are on level with you socially, subject to the new king as well as you and I. If you can prove them guilty of any wrong intent greater than you own in requiring a king, you may prosecute them now by a due course of law, punish them, and oblige them to make restitution.’
The reference to him having walked before them since childhood would have brought to the surface his track record and the nation’s long and wonderful memories of the previous few decades. Samuel embodied all that Israel was at this snapshot and moment of history. As soon as he had been illuminated with the light of God’s revelation, and the prophetic word in his early days, he began to be a burning and shining light to and for Israel. “And now my best days are done: I am old and gray,” therefore their unkindness to cast him off for the sake of a king, was all the more obvious. Yet he was the more willing to resign, finding the weight of government heavy upon his stooping and rounded shoulders. He was old, and therefore the more able to advise them, and the more observant they should have been of what he said. “Days shall speak and the multitude of years shall teach wisdom.” Also, there is a particular reverence due to the aged, especially magistrates and ministers of God who have served long and in integrity of heart. “I am old, and therefore not likely to live long, perhaps I may never have an opportunity of speaking to you again, therefore take notice of what I say.”
“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 whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? And I will restore it you.”
My paraphrase is blunt. “Behold – I here present myself before the Lord, and before your king (whom he refers to as “anointed of the Eternal.”) ready to give an account of all my administrations.” In this protestation, Samuel insists his integrity, not out of braggadocio, but for his own just vindication. He did this so that the people might not ever defend their own lack of integrity or reproach his government of previous years at a later date. Samuel knew that being publicly acquitted from all faults in his government, he might a little later in his speech, more freely, reprove the sins of the people, and, particularly, that sin of desiring a king, when they had so little reason for it. Samuel’s speech and character is here seen as being wise, transparent and Christ like. God wants this kind of confession to be a pattern for all who have any responsibility, especially in public service.
“Witness against me, whose ox have I taken?” Observe his design in this appeal. He intended, to convince them of the injury they had done him in setting him aside, when they had nothing amiss to charge him with (his government had no fault but that it was too cheap, too easy, and perhaps too righteous for them). He also wanted to highlight the injury they had done themselves in turning away from one that did not so much as take an ox or an ass from them, and then to put themselves under the power of one that would take from them not only some Oxen, but their fields and vineyards, as well as their very sons and daughters; so unlike Samuel’s manner would the manner of the king be.
Chuck Swindoll’s take on an outline of 1 Samuel. Good stuff!
He also intended to assert his own reputation for the present generation and thus for posterity. Those in future years, that heard of Samuel being rejected, would be ready to suspect that, “he had certainly done some evil thing, or he would never have been so ill treated.” “There’s no smoke without fire,” say many. It was therefore necessary for him to make this challenge, that it might appear clearly in the written records as well as the oral traditions of the nation, that it was not for any iniquity in his hands that he had been laid aside, but to gratify the dissatisfaction of a wilful and headstrong people, who could not have had a better to rule them, only they desired a bigger. There is a just debt which every man owes to his own good name, and Samuel was paying it.
Samuel also designed hereby to leave his successor a good example. Let Saul sing after Samuel’s song, and he will sing well. Samuel also wanted to reprove the people. And so he begins with this vindication of self. He that wants to tell another of his sin must see to it that he himself is clean. So let’s look close and see what Samuel acquits himself from.
Firstly he had never, under any pretence whatsoever, taken that which was not his own, ox or ass. He had never seconded their cattle for tribute, fines, or forfeitures, nor used their service without paying for it.
Secondly he had never defrauded those with whom he dealt nor oppressed those that were under his power.
Thirdly he had never taken bribes to pervert justice, nor was ever biased to give judgement in a cause against his conscience. This was amazing. Knowing human nature as we all do, if he had offended just one family in the whole of Israel over the period of decades that he had been the Judge over the twelve tribes, that one instance would have never been forgotten by the victim, and this forum would have without doubt heard every detail of the facts as well as a few added exaggerations. But the crowd remained silent in response to Samuel’s appeal for any accusers..
See how, with great passion and controlled emotion, he calls upon those that had slighted him to bear witness concerning his conduct: “Here I am. Witness against me. If you have anything to lay to my charge, do it before the Lord and his anointed, the proper judges.” So adroitly circumspect is Samuel’s delivery that he gives elevation and honour to King Saul, by owning himself accountable to him if guilty or any wrong.
By this appeal he is, of course, honourably acquitted by all present. He did not expect that they would do him honour at parting, though he well deserved it, and so mentioned none of the good services he had done them, for which they ought to have applauded him, and returned him the thanks of the nation. All he desired was that they should do him justice, and that they did, readily owning that he had not made his government oppressive to them, nor used his power to their wrong.
And they said, “You have not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither have you taken ought of any man’s hand.” Samuel, having challenged a review of his public life, received a unanimous testimony to the unsullied honour of his personal character, as well as the justice and integrity of his public administration. This writer for one has stomachache yearning for such character and wishing for such a testimony.
So “he said unto them, “Yahweh is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found ought in my hand”. And they answered, “He is witness”.
Samuel’s tomb from the air.
By their own acknowledgement, for a second time, he had given them no cause to weary of the divine government by judges, and that, therefore, the blame of desiring a change of government rested with themselves. All this that I comment on was only insinuated. But I feel confident in asserting that they did not fully perceive his drift or where he was leading them in their thoughts and conclusions, and the vociferousness with which they acclaimed his character.
He had not made it costly to them all through life as prophet and judge. Like Nehemiah, he did not require, “the bread of the governor,” had not only been righteous, but generous, and had coveted no man’s silver, gold, or apparel.
This honourable, “solid gold” testimony borne to Samuel’s integrity is left upon record to his magnificent godly character. Note, the testimony of neighbours, and one’s own conscience that one has lived honestly, will be one’s greatest strengths under the slights and contempt that may be thrown at us in life. Samuel was like another of whom the scripture says “Demetrius was a happy man, that has a good report of all men and of the truth itself” 3 Jn.12.
Samuel said unto the people, “It is Yahweh that appointed Moses and Aaron, and that brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. Now therefore stand still, so I may reason with you before Yahweh of all the righteous acts of Tahweh, which he did to you and to your fathers. When Jacob was come to Egypt, and your fathers cried unto Yahweh, He sent Moses and Aaron, which brought forth your fathers out of Egypt, and made them dwell in this place. When they forgot Yahweh 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 Yahweh, and said, We have sinned, because we have forsaken Yahweh, and have served Balaam and Ashtaroth: but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve You. And Yahweh sent Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side and you lived safe. And when you saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, you said unto me, No; but a king shall reign of us: when the LORD your God was your king!
I paraphrase the same as, “Since you grant your inability to lay any ill to my charge, come on now, and listen while I speak freely with you. You have been guilty of great sin against Yahweh, in asking for a king. It behoves you to remember that our grandfather Jacob went down into Egypt, by reason of a famine, with only seventy in the family, and that their posterity multiplied to a couple of million, whom the Egyptians brought into slavery and hard oppression. Note also, that God Himself, upon the prayers of our fathers, sent Moses and Aaron, and gave them grace to deliver Israel from their distress, and all this without a king. These brought us into this land which you possess. Now, whilst enjoying these blessing from God, you betrayed him. Moreover, when you were brought under your enemies, he delivered you, first by rendering you superior to the Midianite and their forces, he then made you to overcome the Ammonites and the Moabites, and last of all the Philistines; and these things have been achieved under the conduct of men like Jephthah and Gideon. All this done, and without a king. What madness therefore possessed you to fly from God, and to desire to be under a king? – Yet have I ordained for you the very king whom he chose for you”.
“I will reason with you.” Learn that pursuing God has reason on its side. The work of the Word of God is to reason with minds, not only to exhort and direct, but to persuade, to convince men’s judgements, and so to gain their wills and affections in submission to its precepts. Let the reasoning of the Word rule men, and they will be good and Godly.
Empty Things – some people.
Samuel puts them in mind of God’s favour to this present generation, in giving them a king, when they cried to God, via the prophet, for such a one to save them out of the hand of Nahash king of Ammon.
He shows them that they are now men behaving godly, they and their king. He did not want to let them think that they had now cut themselves off from all dependence upon God, and that having a king of their own, the making of their own “fortunes and dates,” was in their own hands. No! Still, their judgement must proceed from the Lord. He tells them plainly.
“Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen, whom you have desired! See! Yahweh has set a king over you. If you will fear God, and serve him, and obey his voice, and not rebel against the commandment of Yahweh, then shall both you, and also the king that reigns over you, continue following Yahweh your Elohim: But if you will not obey the voice of Yahweh, but rebel against His commandment, then shall the hand of Yahweh be against you, as it was against your fathers.
Observe how the promise is expressed: “Then you shall continue following Yahweh your God,’ that is, “You shall continue in the way of covenant with God, which will be your honour and comfort.” Take note! Following God is a work that is its own wage. It is a matter of promise as well as of precept. “You shall be after the Lord”, so it is in the original, that is, “he will go before you to lead and prosper you, and make your way plain.”
“Don’t think that having a king will secure you against God’s judgments, and that having in this instance made yourselves like the nations you may sin at as cheap a rate as they. Israel is special to God. As Matthew Henry puts it: “We make a mistake if we think that we can evade God’s justice by shaking off his dominion. If God shall not rule us, yet he will judge us.”
Bedan – The Septuagint reads “Barak”, and for “Samuel” some versions read “Samson,” which seems more natural than that they prophet should mention himself to the total omission of the most dramatic of the judges.
God shall still go before you, as he hath hitherto done, as your leader or governor, to direct, protect, and deliver you; and he will not forsake you, as you have given him just cause to do. Sometimes this phrase of going, “after the Lord,” signifies a man’s obedience to God; but here it is otherwise to be understood, and it notes not a duty to be performed, but a privilege to be received upon the performance of their duty; because it is opposed to a threatening pronounced in case of disobedience, in the next verse.
“Now therefore stand and see this great thing, which Yahweh will do before your eyes”.
He had just told them stand and hear; but, probably because he did not see that his reasoning with them affected them (so stupid were they and unthinking), now he bids them stand and see.
“Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call unto Yahweh, and he shall send thunder and rain; that you may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of Yahweh, in asking you a king. I will call upon the Lord, and he will send thunder, and will send it just now, to confirm the word of his servant, and to make you see that I spoke truly when I told you that God was angry with you, for asking a king.”
Wheat harvest in Israel occurs at the end of June or beginning of July, when it seldom or never rains, and the sky is serene and cloudless. There could not, therefore, have been a stronger or more appropriate proof of a divine mission than the phenomenon of rain and thunder happening without any prognostics of its approach, upon the prediction of a person professing himself to be a prophet of the Lord, and giving it as an attestation of his words being true.
We move into an awesome exercise of the miraculous. He told them what he was going to do, and the doing of the act brought the predicted result. The response of the people and the magnificence of the word picture painted by the bible in great simplicity must have drawn form the masses a response similar to the disciples of Jesus when they saw and heard the words, “Peace be still!” They saw it, but they were not quite sure they believed what they saw. Then, when the “penny dropped,” they were suddenly God conscious like they had never been before, and in a breath-taking state of awe.
Possibly this moment, more than any other in his life, vindicated Samuel to all of Israel’s fighting men as God’s prophet. Samuel made it clear not only what a powerful influence God has upon this earth, but also what a powerful interest he, himself, a man, had in heaven.
He showed them their folly in desiring a king to save them, rather than God via Samuel, promising themselves more from an arm of flesh than from the arm of God, or from the power of prayer. Could their king thunder with a voice like God? Could their prince command such forces as the prophet could by his prayers? He intimated to them that however serene and prosperous their condition seemed to be now, that they had a king, like the weather in wheat-harvest, yet, if God pleased, he could soon change the face of their heavens, and persecute them with his tempest.
They greatly feared both the Lord and Samuel at that moment. That is an immense understatement. Though when they had a king they were ready to think they must fear him only, God made them know that He is greatly to be feared as well as his prophets for his sake. Now they were rejoicing in their king, God taught them to rejoice with trembling.
They owned their sin and folly in desiring a King. Samuel did not extort this confession from them till the matter was settled and the king confirmed, lest it should look as if he designed by it rather to establish himself in the government than to bring them to repentance. Now that they were flattering themselves in their own eyes, their iniquity was found to be hateful.
I would love to see this signpost in reality.
“Pray for your servants, that we die not.” They were apprehensive of their danger from the wrath of God, and could not expect that he should hear their prayers for themselves, and therefore they beg Samuel to pray for them. Now they see their need of him whom awhile ago they had slighted. “Pray’ to the Lord your God; we know not how to call Him ours, but, if you have the slightest investment in Him, move it for us.”
He did not want the terrors of the Lord to frighten them from him, for they were intended to frighten them to him. “Fear not; though you have done all this wickedness, and though God is angry with you for it, yet do not therefore abandon his service, nor turn from following him.” Every transgression in the covenant, though it displease God, does not throw us out of covenant, and therefore God’s just rebukes must not drive us from our hope in his mercy.
“Moreover as for me, 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.” They asked him to pray for them at this time, and upon this occasion, but he promised to continue his prayers for them and not to cease as long as he lived. To Samuel’s mentality it would have been sinful to ever stop praying for Israel. He may not have been the High Priest, yet even though he did not have the twelve stones of the twelve tribes on his heart and shoulders, he did, in absolute reality wear the entire nation in his heart of love and carried them on his broad shoulders of responsibility.
They asked him only to pray for them, but he promised to do more for them, not only to pray for them, but to teach them; though they were not willing to be under his government as a judge, he would not therefore deny them his instructions as a prophet. He puts them in peace with an assurance that he would continue his care and concern for them. He might have said, “Go to Saul, the king that you have put in my room, and let him pray for you.” However, so far is he from upbraiding them with their disrespect to him that he promised them much more than they asked. They asked it of him as a favour; he promised it as a duty, and is startled at the thought of neglecting it. “Pray for you?” says he. “God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in not doing it”.
“And do not turn aside: for then will you go after vain things, which cannot profit you nor deliver you, because they are vain.” The hand of God on Israel, and the practical effects of the effectual word of God working in them, would keep the people of Israel from idols. Once they neglected the revelation and the scriptures that they had been given, idolatry was the normal digressive pathway.
“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.”
The Lord’s idea of covenant did not change by mood or convenience. He had committed Himself to Israel and that commitment would persist.
“Only fear the LORD, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he has done for you. But if you shall still do wickedly, you shall be consumed, both you and your king”.
Could anything be clearer? “Seek me and prosper! Forsake me, and while you become subject to the nonsensical beggarly elements of the world, you will be put aside. I, Yahweh, only relate to you by a covenantal, faith relationship.”
The Bible does not give us any details of how the gathering broke up. I suppose it is because none was necessary. It didn’t really matter whether or not they appreciated and accepted Samuel’s words, or whether they rejected him. The truth was (and is) the truth, loved or hated, wanted or not. Truth stands there interfering with all of our life. The truth never leaves us. Truth is intrusive, invasive and totally distracting.
This was, ultimately a farewell speech like no other. Not that Samuel was about to die, or leave the country, or stop praying for them. He had covered all this in his address. But it was all up to Saul to run the political side of Israel now, excepting any moment if and when God would give Samuel a word that required the king to do something. Samuel was about to withdraw from that aspect of life. If Saul was to carry on walking with God, following God and hearing God’s word, ll seemed rosy and healthy.
Just in case!
One never knows! Samuel had to keep his hold on the situation via his priestly role, for the nation’s sake. Now Samuel yearned for a gentle retirement! But would he get it with Saul on the throne of Israel?