This past week was a new experience for my wife, Jeannette, and for me – we became grandparents for the first time! After 25 hours of labor (on my daughter’s part), Taylor Nicole was born. There is always such a sense of joy and optimism at the birth of a child, something like the atmosphere at a wedding. But you and I know that this joy will be put into perspective in time. A lovely, helpless little newborn becomes a two-year old, and then a teenager! There are hard times ahead for the parents of a newborn, and all of us who have been there know it. There are also hard times ahead for the newlyweds.
When I think of our text in 1 Samuel, I am reminded of a picture I took years ago when I was in high school. Our family went on a camping trip . . . our first and only camping trip. This picture was taken in the mountains of Montana in Glacier National Park. The sky is blue, accented with a few clouds. My parents, my two sisters, and my younger brother are standing in front of our tent, all with smiling faces. What a wonderful thing camping is! How could we have missed out on such pleasures until now? A few hours later, there is quite another picture -- a picture which exists only in my mind, because things became far too chaotic for picture-taking then, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a mountain thunder storm, with a tent pitched in a little hollow already two inches deep in water. (Why didn’t anyone tell us we should pitch the tent on high ground with the door facing away from the prevailing winds?)
Things don’t always end up the way they seem to start, as we see with Saul, Israel’s new king. In 1 Samuel 8, the people demand a king to judge them, like all the nations. This implies that Samuel will retire and be replaced. Samuel does not like what he hears, and he is right. He warns the people about the high cost of a king, and the Israelites insist that they are willing to pay the price. So Samuel sends the people home, with the promise that they will have their king. Chapters 9 and 10 describe the events leading up to the public designation of Saul as Israel’s king. Chapter 11 tells of Nahash, the Ammonite, who besieges Jabesh-gilead and calls for the surrender of this Israelite city, announcing that when they surrender he will gouge out the right eye of each of his defeated foes. The people of this city ask for time to seek help from their brethren, something Nahash appears to think unlikely. When messengers are sent out from Jabesh-gilead with a plea for help, word of the plight of their Israelite brethren reaches Gibeah of Saul. When Saul comes in from the fields, he learns of this situation and is made angry by the Spirit of God. He slaughters a yoke of oxen, sending the pieces throughout Israel with the warning that anyone who does not assemble for war will find his oxen slaughtered in this same fashion. All Israel assembles -- 330,000 of them. God brings a great victory over the Ammonites, delivering the people of Jabesh-gilead from their tyranny.
So far as the people are concerned, this is proof positive that Saul is the kind of king they want. He is their man! The jubilant celebration which follows is something like the victory celebration of the winning team after the Super Bowl. It is like the television beer commercial, in which one Israelite turns to the other and says, “Brother, it doesn’t get any better than this!” It is like the news of his election reaching a presidential candidate at his campaign headquarters. If the Israelites had a band, it would play, “Happy days are here again. . . .”
At this very moment, Samuel summons the people to Gilgal, where they will “renew the kingdom” (11:14). Saul is made king, sacrifices are made before the Lord, and the “men of Israel rejoiced greatly” (11:15). But what is this matter of “renewing the kingdom”? If Saul is Israel’s first king, then he is their “new” king. How then can they “renew the kingdom” by making Saul king?
I have concluded that Samuel is not speaking of “renewing” the new kingdom, which had been inaugurated with the installation of Saul as king, but rather of “renewing” God’s kingdom, with God as King, as first established at the exodus. There are two strong reasons for this. First, there is the overall message and emphasis of chapter 12, which we will consider momentarily. Second, the “renewal” is to take place at Gilgal, and not at Mizpah (see 7:5ff.). Gilgal is the city located just across (west of) the Jordan River. It is the place where the Israelites first crossed the Jordan and entered into the promised land, the place where the memorial of 12 stones was built. It is the place where the (second-generation) Israelites were circumcised and where Israel renewed her covenant with God (see Joshua 4 and 5). Gilgal is the place from which the “angel of the Lord” came to remind the Israelites of their deliverance at the exodus, their covenant with God, and the reason for their struggle with the nations surrounding them (Judges 2:1-5). It is also one of the cities on Samuel’s circuit (1 Samuel 7:16) and the place where Samuel instructs Saul to wait for him (1 Samuel 10:8). Gilgal is a city closely related to God’s covenant with Israel.
1 Then Samuel said to all Israel, “Behold, I have listened to your voice in all that you said to me, and I have appointed a king over you. 2 “And now, here is the king walking before you, but I am old and gray, and behold my sons are with you. And I have walked before you from my youth even to this day. 3 “Here I am; bear witness against me before the LORD and His anointed. Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken, or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed, or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? I will restore it to you.” 4 And they said, “You have not defrauded us, or oppressed us, or taken anything from any man's hand.” 5 And he said to them, “The LORD is witness against you, and His anointed is witness this day that you have found nothing in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.”
In this paragraph, Samuel places placing himself on trial before God and all the people. It is based, I believe, on Israel’s implied or stated charges against Samuel in chapter 8, which the people consider compelling reason for Samuel’s replacement by a king. Rather than tiptoe around these charges, Samuel brings them out into the open, publicly challenging anyone to successfully accuse him of wrong doing, especially in relation to his official duties.
Several allegations are made in chapter 8, all of which Samuel confronts in our text. The first thing Samuel says to the people is that he listened to them and granted them that for which they asked. Don’t expect this from a king. Samuel has not been insensitive to their desires, nor has he been unresponsive. Second, he calls attention to his age, telling them he is “old and gray.” In chapter 8 they implied he was too old to carry out his task of judging the nation. What a foolish conclusion the Israelites reached. Is age somehow incompatible with the ability to judge with wisdom? Look at the Supreme Court of our nation. Is it best to have a court filled with young people fresh out of high school or college, or people who have been seasoned by years of experience? Samuel is not too old to carry out his calling as a judge. He will continue to serve this people well for some time. He is not “over the hill.”
Samuel’s ministry is a public one, and his sons are there with the Israelites. His integrity and generosity should be apparent, as should be his failures. In chapter 8, the Israelites draw attention to the conduct of Samuel’s sons. They accuse them of not “walking in Samuel’s ways” (see 8:5), and these accusations against his sons are true (see 8:1-3). The question is whether Samuel dealt with his sons as he should. Every indication is that he is without fault in this matter, unlike his predecessor, Eli.
If Samuel is not at fault with regard to his family, is he at fault with regard to his ministry? Does Samuel in any way fail at his job so that the Israelites can call for his resignation and replacement by a king? The answer is a very clear, “No!” Samuel maintains his innocence and integrity in ministry in three statements. First, Samuel does not defraud anyone. He has not judged unjustly so that people are defrauded of anything due to a twisting or abuse of the judicial process. Second, unlike his sons, Samuel has not taken bribes to distort justice in his judgments (see 8:3). Third, Samuel asserts that he has not oppressed anyone. He has not abused his position of power so as to lord it over those he judges. He is a “servant,” not a “master.” Finally, Samuel has not “taken anyone’s ox or donkey.” I do not think Samuel is talking about theft here. I think he means he has not taken oxen or donkeys as their kings will do:
16 “He will also take your male servants and your female servants and your best young men and your donkeys, and use them for his work” (1 Samuel 8:16).
Like the apostle Paul, Samuel does not charge for his ministry. He certainly lives from his portion of the sacrifices, but he does not charge a high price for his ministry. His services are most certainly not as expensive as the services of the king will be.
If Samuel is found “not guilty” of all the charges the Israelites have made against him, then by inference Israel must be guilty of having falsely made these charges. These first five verses of chapter 12 demonstrate that Samuel is qualified to judge Israel and therefore qualified to prosecute God’s case against them in the following verses. Samuel is innocent, and thus Israel wrongly seeks his removal. Samuel is innocent and therefore able to call this wayward nation to account for its sin of rejecting him and God.
6 Then Samuel said to the people, “It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and who brought your fathers up from the land of Egypt. 7 “So now, take your stand, that I may plead with you before the LORD concerning all the righteous acts of the LORD which He did for you and your fathers. 8 “When Jacob went into Egypt and your fathers cried out to the LORD, then the LORD sent Moses and Aaron who brought your fathers out of Egypt and settled them in this place. 9 “But they forgot the LORD their God, so He sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them. 10 “And they cried out to the LORD and said, 'We have sinned because we have forsaken the LORD and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth; but now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve Thee.' 11 “Then the LORD sent Jerubbaal and Bedan and Jephthah and Samuel, and delivered you from the hands of your enemies all around, so that you lived in security.
Here we see another case of “historical thinking” in the Bible. Samuel takes the Israelites back to the beginning of the “kingdom,” which God established at the exodus, and briefly traces their history to the present. His goal is to prove to them that their present demand to have a king like the rest of the nations is but one more instance of their rebellion against God -- like the rebellion which characterized their forefathers.
Israel’s history as a kingdom begins at the exodus. The first thing Samuel emphasizes to the Israelites of his day is that, ultimately, it was not Moses and Aaron who delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage -- it was God (verse 7). It was God who “appointed Moses,” and it was God who “brought their fathers out from the land of Egypt.” From the very beginning, it has never been men – not even great men like Moses – who were Israel’s deliverers, it was God. God raises up leaders, and God delivers His people. God uses men, it is true, but men do not save the people of God.
Based upon this central truth – that God was Israel’s deliverer and not men – Samuel summons the Israelites to take their stand before God (verse 8). The Israelites are on trial, and Samuel is their prosecutor. History is the first witness against Israel. Israel’s history is not about Israel’s righteousness and the blessings which resulted; Israel’s history is about God’s righteous deeds, performed on Israel’s behalf, and always in the context of Israel’s sin. It is God’s righteousness which delivered the forefathers of those Israelites who stand before Samuel at Gilgal.
Briefly, Samuel scans Israel’s history from the day of the nation’s birth at the exodus to the present moment, when Israel now has the king they demanded. Citing illustrations from the major periods (the exodus and Israel’s wilderness wanderings, the possession of the land under Joshua, and the period of the judges, ending with Samuel), Samuel seeks to demonstrate a very consistent pattern of behavior on Israel’s part, and on God’s part in dealing with His people.36 Although God graciously gives His people deliverance from their enemies, Israel forgets God and turns to other gods. God gives the nation over to its neighbors, who are the enemies of Israel and who oppress and afflict God’s people. The Israelites then acknowledge their sin and cry out to Him for deliverance, which He graciously grants. They acknowledge their idolatry and forsake it, promising to serve God if He will deliver them yet again.37
12 “When you saw that Nahash the king of the sons of Ammon came against you, you said to me, 'No, but a king shall reign over us,' although the LORD your God was your king. 13 “Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen, whom you have asked for, and behold, the LORD has set a king over you. 14 “If you will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God. 15 “And if you will not listen to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the command of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers. 16 “Even now, take your stand and see this great thing which the LORD will do before your eyes. 17 “Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to the LORD, that He may send thunder and rain. Then you will know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the sight of the LORD by asking for yourselves a king.” 18 So Samuel called to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day . . . .
In verse 12, Samuel links the history he has just recited to the present situation. Like the Israelites of old, God’s people are once again oppressed by a neighboring nation. This time Nahash leads the Ammonites. The response of the Israelites of Samuel’s day to the threat of the Ammonites is not like the Israelites Samuel has just described in the preceding verses. When oppressed by their enemies, the Israelites of earlier times viewed their circumstances in the light of the Mosaic Covenant, especially Deuteronomy 28-32. They understood that the oppression they suffered at the hands of their enemies was due to their sin. The Israelites of old repented of their sin and cried out to God for deliverance. This is no so with those who now stand before Samuel at Gilgal. These folks do not acknowledge that the reason for their troubles is sin. They attribute their problems to “bad leadership,” specifically Samuel and his sons’ “bad leadership.” Their solution is not to repent of their sin and cry out to God for deliverance; their solution is to get rid of Samuel and obtain a king just like the other nations have.
When Samuel speaks of Nahash and the Ammonites in verse 12, he exposes the real reason the Israelites want a king. They do not acknowledge their sin and trust God to deliver them.38 It is not really that Samuel is so old, too old to judge any longer. It is not really that his sons are corrupt. It is that the Israelites are afraid of an enemy who threatens them and fails to acknowledge the root problem to be their own sin. They pin the blame on bad leadership, and thus feel justified in having the king they really want anyway.39
Years ago, I taught high school courses in a medium security prison, which enabled inmates to obtain a high school diploma. One day, the subject of evolution arose, and I indicated that I believed in creation rather than evolution. I will never forget one inmate’s statement: “I’ll tell you why I believe in evolution,” he boldly announced, “because I won’t believe in God.” I fear the Israelites of Samuel’s day are like this. Notice the “No” at the beginning of the Israelites’ response to Samuel in verse 12. They do not want deliverance God’s way; they want deliverance their way. They do want deliverance, but in a way that excludes God. No wonder God tells Samuel that the people have not rejected him, but they have rejected their God.
In spite of the sin Israel commits against God by asking for a king, God is gracious to His people, giving them “a way of escape” in verses 13-15 (see 1 Corinthians 10:13). The first thing Samuel tells the people about this king is that he is their king, not His king. This king is the one they have chosen, the one for whom they ask (verse 13). God sets this one over them as king, but he is their king. Verses 14 and 15 should give the Israelites much pause for thought. Do they look upon this king as their deliverer? Have they pinned all their hopes on this man, or on any (mere) man? If so, Samuel’s words must come as a shock.
It seems as though the Israelites of Samuel’s day have the same view of leadership so popular today, which goes something like this:
“As goes the leader, so goes the nation.”
There is an element of truth in this. Corrupt kings do tend to lead the nation into sin. Righteous leaders tend to lead the nation toward righteousness. But here, Samuel is saying something very different. Are the Israelites looking to their king as a “god,” one whom they think will be their savior? Do they think having the right man will assure them of military victory over their enemies, producing peace and financial prosperity? Samuel seems to say that the obedience of the nation to the command of the Lord is the key to national peace and prosperity -- not the prowess of their leader. If the people “will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both they (literally “you”) and their king who reigns over them will follow the LORD their (literally “your”) God” (verse 14).
The king is not the key to Israel’s success. The key is Israel’s trust in and obedience to her God. An unrighteous nation will have an unrighteous king. A righteous nation will have a righteous king. Absolutely nothing has changed by the appointment of a king over Israel. The governing principle is still the Mosaic Covenant, as summed up in Deuteronomy 28-32. Israel will be blessed as she trusts in her God and obeys His commands, and she will likewise be cursed for turning from God and His laws. If the nation trusts God and obeys Him, Israel will have a righteous king and experience God’s promised blessings. If the nation turns from God, her king will most surely not save her from the judgment of God. God’s conditions for divine blessings are the same as they have always been and having a new king will not change this. God has not stepped down from being the King of Israel. His covenant is still the constitution of the land.
At the peak of Israel’s success under her new king, God sets the record straight. The same covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, still governs God’s dealings with His people. Samuel informs the Israelites of the magnitude of their sin in asking for a king as they have done. Even so, his words do not bring forth the proper response, so he underscores the seriousness of their sin in God’s sight by calling down divine discipline. In a fashion, which appears Elijah-like, Samuel announces divine judgment as an indication of the seriousness of Israel’s sin in asking for a king. He makes it clear that judgment will come in relation to the wheat harvest, which is imminent. Though it is not the time for storms or great rain, in response to Samuel’s prayer, a great thunderstorm breaks upon the nation. This king-business is serious business to God, and now it is serious to His people.
The storm reminds the people that Samuel is God’s prophet, and that rejecting him is not a good idea. It gives great emphasis to Samuel’s words, which exposes the demand for a king as a sin. Perhaps most of all, it reminds Israel of a very important truth: both calamity and blessing come from God:
5 “I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; 6 That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, 7 The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these” (Isaiah 45:5-7, emphasis mine).
The Israelites look upon their king as their deliverer. In their minds, this king is the key to success. They believe he will deliver them from their oppressors, and he will bring the nation into prosperity. God reminds Israel that, ultimately, He is both the source of their distress, and He is the source of their blessings. Calamity comes upon the nation because of their sin. Blessing does not come upon the nation for its righteousness, but because of God’s mercy and grace. Their prosperity is not due to Israel’s doing good, but because in Israel’s suffering, she cries out to God for deliverance. Israel’s devotion to God and her serving Him is the outgrowth of God’s grace, not the source of God’s blessings. This truth is clearly communicated in our text.
. . . and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel. 19 Then all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil by asking for ourselves a king.” 20 And Samuel said to the people, “Do not fear. You have committed all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 “And you must not turn aside, for then you would go after futile things which can not profit or deliver, because they are futile. 22 “For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself. 23 “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way. 24 “Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. 25 “But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king shall be swept away.”
The Israelites have placed too much stock in their new king, and Samuel’s words and deeds put this into its proper perspective. As a result of Samuel’s preaching – and especially the storm – the people “greatly feared the LORD and Samuel” (verse 18b). This is as it should be. While it is not stated, I think we may safely imply that the people’s opinion of the king goes down as their attitude toward Samuel and God improves. Now, the people are beginning to comprehend the greatness of their sin in general, and specifically their sin in demanding a king. They seem to fear further discipline. They plead with Samuel to pray for them. Samuel’s words in response to the petition of the people are truly “wonderful words of life.” Let us focus on several elements in this paragraph.
First, notice that the people do not look to their king for deliverance, but to Samuel. The Israelites now recognize that their foremost problem is not political “leadership,” but sin. They rightly understand that they are deserving of God’s wrath. They know the deliverance they most need is not from their surrounding neighbors, but from the righteous wrath of the God they have rejected. They know they are unworthy of deliverance and sense their need for an intercessor. For this, they beseech Samuel to pray to the Lord on their behalf (verse 19).
Second, observe that Samuel urges the people of Israel to trust in God rather than in men. Samuel’s words are full of mercy, grace, and hope. His message is not one of “sour grapes” for being rejected by the people. He tells the people not to fear. The fear he seeks to set aside is not a healthy fear of God, but an unhealthy fear of having no hope, a fear which would lead to giving up. The Israelites seem to be in danger of concluding that they have failed so badly there is no hope of recovery. Without minimizing the magnitude of their sin, Samuel gives them good reason for faith, hope, and endurance. They must not “turn aside from following the Lord” (verse 20), but they most certainly must turn aside from going after “futile things which can not profit or deliver” (verse 21). Israel’s deliverance from her sins, and her hope for the future, requires that the people cease to worship and serve idols, and seek to worship and serve God alone. Specifically, the “futile thing which cannot profit or deliver Israel” is a king who trusts and serves in place of God. It is not wrong, per se, to have a king. It is wrong to trust in any man for salvation and deliverance from the guilt of your sin. Only God can truly save and deliver.
Third, Israel’s salvation is not based upon her faithfulness or good works, but upon the grace of God. Nowhere does Samuel urge the Israelites to “try harder” or to do good so that God’s blessings may come. Samuel urges the Israelites to trust in God, whose faithfulness is the basis for their hope and salvation. Israel’s obedience and service to God is spoken of as the result of God’s grace, not its cause.
24 “Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you” (1 Samuel 12:24).
When Samuel reviews the history of the nation from the exodus up to his own day, he consistently emphasizes the Israelites’ sins and God’s mercy and grace. Never does Samuel speak of God’s salvation as His response to the good works of His people. God comes to the rescue of His sinful people because they “cried out” (12:8, 10) for God’s deliverance, not because they are worthy of it. God rescues them because of His grace.
This is a very important point which must be clarified and emphasized in light of the Mosaic Covenant. Samuel makes it very clear in this chapter that having a king does not change the basis on which God deals with His people. The Mosaic Covenant speaks of God’s conditional blessings and cursings (see Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28-32). In this covenant, less emphasis is placed upon the promises of blessing for obeying God’s law than on the promises of cursing for disobedience. There is good reason for this, as Paul points out in Romans 3:
19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. 21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:19-26).
The Law of Moses (and thus the Mosaic Covenant) was never given to men as the means of their salvation. The Mosaic Covenant was most certainly God’s means of demonstrating the sinfulness of man. The Law condemns every man as a sinner, worthy of God’s eternal wrath. Doing the deeds of the Law saves no man, for no man has ever kept the Law without fail. When Samuel points the Israelites to the Mosaic Covenant, he does so to show them that God’s judgment (in the form of God’s giving the Israelites over to oppression by their neighbors) is due to their failure to abide by His Law. But when he speaks of Israel’s hope, Samuel does not urge God’s people to try to earn God’s blessings by keeping His Law. Rather, he urges them to trust in the God of mercy and grace, who chose them as His people, and who will bring about their salvation for His glory.
Here is the basis for hope, for confidence, and for serving God. God is faithful:
22 For the LORD will not abandon His people on account of His great name, because the LORD has been pleased to make you a people for Himself (12:22).
Before God had even finished giving the Israelites the Law, they had already turned away from Him and from Moses, as we read in Exodus 32. Like Samuel, Moses interceded for the Israelites. He did not appeal to God on the basis that the people would try harder, that the people would keep His Law. He appealed to God on the basis of His character and His nature. God had chosen this nation, and He had purposed and promised to bring them into the promised land. God’s reputation and glory were at stake in Israel’s destiny. Thus God can be trusted to complete what He begins -- not because of who we are -- but because of who He is. The Law can only demonstrate men to be sinners, worthy of divine judgment. It is grace that saves and sanctifies, It is grace that empowers and inspires faith and obedience. And it is grace, God’s grace, that Samuel proclaims to this guilt-ridden people, assuring them that God’s salvation is sure because of who He is.
This salvation is by grace -- for those who by His grace “fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all their heart,” based upon “all that God has done for them” (verse 24). But for those who reject this grace, divine judgment is just as certain as divine salvation:
24 “But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king shall be swept away” (verse 24).
If God is gracious and faithful to His covenant with Israel, so is Samuel. The people now ask Samuel to intercede with God on their behalf, even though they have rejected his leadership over them. Like God, Samuel acts graciously and in accordance with his character. He assures the people that he will not sin against God by forsaking his calling to pray for them and to teach them “the good and right way” (verse 23). As in the New Testament, “prayer and the ministry of the Word” (see Acts 6:4) are priorities for spiritual leaders. Samuel has no intention of sinning against God by giving up this ministry.40
Our text says a great deal to men in our time, even as it has instructed men through the ages. One of the things it teaches us is to be careful not to secularize sin. The Israelites of Samuel’s day fail to discern that their problems (the oppression they experience from the neighboring nations) is of divine origin, and that it is divine discipline as a result (and corrective) of their sin. The Israelites of Samuel’s day see their subjection to foreign powers as the result of inadequate leadership. God exposes the real problem as sin. I fear we do the same thing. We define a sin problem in secular terms and then seek to find a secular solution.
The church of Jesus Christ has become almost accustomed to defining sin in secular terms and looking for the solution through human means. When the church deals with finances, it turns to the same methods and men who raise large sums of money for secular causes. When the church deals with its organization and structure, it turns to the same secular models employed by massive corporations. When the church sets out to evangelize, it uses the same marketing models as Madison Avenue does to sell soap or shaving cream. And when the church seeks to solve personal and interpersonal problems, it turns to secular psychological terminology and methodology. When we define “sin” in secular terms, and look for its solution by secular means, we are in trouble.41
What a commentary this text is on the character of God and His servant, Samuel. It is no wonder that the rejection of Samuel is the rejection of God. Neither is it any wonder that the faithfulness of God to His people Israel is paralleled by the faithfulness of Samuel in ministering to this people. Samuel’s character is God-like, and its source is from God. What a gracious God we have, who disciplines us when we sin so that we might once again turn to Him in faith, obedience, love, and gratitude.
Our text is a commentary on leadership and the idolatry some practice in regard to their leaders. Leadership is vitally important, whether in the life of a nation, a family, or a church. Godly leaders are the standard (see 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; Ephesians 5:22-33). But leaders always pose a certain danger. God is our ultimate and final leader; He is over all. Satan will never be content with his leadership role. He wants more. He wants to be “like God,” to hold the position God alone is worthy of holding. Some Christians elevate their leaders above that which is fitting. We can wrongly “idolize” our leaders and put our faith in them rather than in God. This is what the Israelites did with Saul, and this is why Israel’s sin is dealt with in such dramatic terms. It is a danger always before us. Let us never give to men that which belongs only to God. Let us not suppose that “a man” will save us, that our future or the future of our church or of our nation depends on one man. This is especially important to remember in presidential elections. Men ought never to idolized. God is the ultimate source of our trials and testings and chastening, and God is ultimately the source of our salvation and blessing. Men are, at best, only God’s instruments.
Our text stands as a word of caution to those who seem to be successful. It certainly puts the apparent “success” of Saul into perspective. The people are jubilant after Israel’s victory over the Ammonites, but they tend to look upon this “success” as the result of Saul’s leadership. In fact, this deliverance, like all others before it, is a reflection of God’s grace, and not the evidence of magnificent leadership. Those who seem to be successful must be careful of their definition of success, being sure to regard every human success as the result of divine grace, not human skillfulness and wisdom.
Our text offers a word of hope and encouragement to those devastated by their sin and failures to live up to God’s standard. Many are those who think they have failed irreversibly, and that there is no future hope for them, so that they are tempted to give up in their Christian life. “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). By God’s standard, no man is successful, and all men are failures, deserving of God’s eternal wrath. Our hope of salvation is not based upon our performance, but upon God’s grace. It is ultimately not our choice of Him, but His choice of us, not our faithfulness, but His. God is faithful. God is merciful. God is gracious. God is our salvation. Jesus Christ came not to minister to the righteous, but to save sinners. Let all who believe they are failures ponder the wonder of this.
This text is a commentary on salvation. The Israelites of Samuel’s day look to Saul (their king) for their salvation, their deliverance. They view salvation in military and monetary terms, not spiritual terms. Our text informs us that no human “king” can save or deliver men from their sin. What Israel’s “king” could not do, God’s “King” has accomplished – salvation for sinful men who call upon Him for grace. All of Israel’s “kings” failed, even the best of them -- David, Solomon, and others. The Israelites are tempted to take a man, appoint him as their king, and trust him as their god. Such a king cannot save. But God sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be the “King of the Jews,” for all who would believe in Him. God (the second person of the Trinity) became man, coming first to live a perfect life, die for the sins of men, and then be raised from the dead and ascend back into heaven. This One, Jesus Christ, is God’s King. He came first to save men from their sins, and He will return soon to establish His kingdom. He is our hope! He is our salvation! What man’s king could never do, God’s King has accomplished.
You do not have to become good enough for God to save. You are already bad enough to qualify for His grace. If you have not acknowledged your sin as your ultimate problem, as that which deserves God’s eternal wrath, I urge you to do so now. And when you acknowledge your sin, trust in Him who came to bear the penalty of your sin, Jesus Christ. He is truly God and truly man. He is now raised from the dead and is seated at God’s right hand in heaven. He is coming soon to bless His saints and to defeat His enemies. Look to this King and Him alone for salvation from your sin, and for the sure hope of living forever in His kingdom.
37 The sequence of deliverance and then serving God here in 12:10 is very important. Israel is never once said to have repented, turned to God in obedience, and then God delivered them. God first delivers His people, and then they serve Him.
39 The king which the Israelites demand is a kind of idol to them, and thus God speaks strongly about their sin in asking for such a king. This does not mean that every king is an idol, or needs to be one. This is why God grants them a king. The king is an idol when men place their trust in him, rather than in God. The king is an idol when the people sacrifice to him (by the things he will take, as described in chapter 8) and thus give him glory above God.
40 It should be remembered that there did come a time when God fulfilled the threat of verse 25, and at that time Jeremiah was instructed not to pray for the people because God was intent on judging them (see Jeremiah 7:16-20; 11:14).
41 I understand the danger of spiritualizing a problem that isn’t really spiritual, such as trying to cast a demon out of a person rather than getting them the medical attention they need. But in our day the opposite extreme prevails, and that is secularizing a spiritual problem.