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SAMUEL'S EXHORTATION TO THE PEOPLE AT GILGAL. This speech of Samuel is not to be regarded as a farewell address made upon his resignation of his office; for though a new power had been introduced, and Samuel's sons excluded from the succession, yet it was only gradually that a change was made in his own position. He was still judge (1 Samuel 7:15), and on extraordinary occasions came forward with decisive authority (1 Samuel 15:33). But as Saul gathered men of war round him (1 Samuel 14:52), the moral power possessed by Samuel would be overshadowed by the physical force which was at Saul's command. But no formal change was made. It had been the weakness of the office of the judges that their power was irregular, and exercised fitfully on special occasions. Such a power must fall into abeyance in the presence of the regular authority of a king surrounded by armed men. Without any direct deposition, therefore, or even still retaining the form of his office, Samuel would henceforward chiefly act as the prophet, and Saul as Jehovah's king.
The address divides itself into three parts:—
1. The testimony to Samuel's integrity as judge (1 Samuel 12:1-5).
2. The reproof of the people for their disobedience and ingratitude (1 Samuel 12:6-17).
3. The Divine testimony to Samuel's uprightness and teaching (1 Samuel 12:18-25).
SAMUEL'S INTEGRITY (1 Samuel 12:1-5).
1 Samuel 12:1
I have hearkened unto your voice. See 1 Samuel 8:7, 1Sa 8:9, 1 Samuel 8:22.
1 Samuel 12:2
The king walketh before you. I.e. you have now one to protect and lead the nation, whereas my business was to raise its religious and moral life. The metaphor is taken from the position of the shepherd in the East, where he goes before his flock to guide and guard them. On this account the word shepherd or pastor is used in the Bible of the temporal ruler (Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 23:4, etc.), and not, as with us, of the spiritual guide. My sons are with you. This is no mere confirmation of the fact just stated that he was old, but a direct challenge of their dissatisfaction with his sons' conduct, as far at least as concerns any connivance on his part, or support of them in their covetousness. Samuel says, You know all about my sons; I do not profess to be ignorant that charges have been brought against them. Give full weight to them, and to everything said against them and me, and then give judgment.
1 Samuel 12:3, 1 Samuel 12:4, 1 Samuel 12:5
Witness against me. Literally, "answer," as in a court of justice to the formal question of the judge. His anointed. I.e. the king (see on 1 Samuel 2:10, 1 Samuel 2:35; 1 Samuel 2:1). Whose ox,... whose ass? See on 1 Samuel 8:16. Of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? Bribe should be rendered ransom. Literally it signifies a covering, and was used of money given by a guilty person to induce the judge to close or "blind his eyes," and not see his sin. It does not mean, therefore, any bribe, but only that given to buy off a guilty person. Such persons are generally powerful men who have oppressed and wronged others; and the knowledge that they can cover their offence by sharing their gains with the judge is to this day in the East the most fruitful source of bad government. The people all bear witness to Samuel's uprightness, nor is there any contradiction between this and their desire to have a king. His internal administration was just and righteous, but they were oppressed by the nations round them, and needed a leader in war. And in Samuel's sons they had men, not vicious or licentious, but too fond of money, and so neither fit to be their generals in war nor their judges in peace. We gather from 1 Samuel 22:2 that though Saul proved a competent leader in war, he was not successful in the government of the country in peace.
SAMUEL'S REPROOF OF THE PEOPLE (1 Samuel 22:6-17).
1 Samuel 12:6
It is Jehovah that, etc. In the Hebrew Jehovah is put absolutely, without any government, and the Septuagint rightly supplies is witness. Samuel had said, "Jehovah is witness against you;" the people in answer shouted the last word, "Witness" (see end of 1 Samuel 12:5, where He is is supplied). Then Samuel solemnly repeats Jehovah s name, saying, "Even Jehovah that advanced Moses and Aaron." This rapid interchange of words brings the whole scene vividly before us, whereas nothing could be tamer than the A.V. Out of the land of Egypt. Samuel begins with this as the first act of Jehovah as Israel's King; for the theocracy began with the deliverance from Egypt.
1 Samuel 12:7, 1 Samuel 12:8
Stand still. Literally, station yourselves, take your places, stand forth (see 1 Samuel 10:23). That I may reason with you. Literally, "that I may deal as judge," i.e. that with all the authority of my office I may declare that Jehovah has acted justly by you, and that you have dealt unjustly with him. Righteous acts. The margin, benefits, is wrong. Samuel vindicates God's dealings with them against the charge of his having failed to protect them implied in their demand for a king.
1 Samuel 12:9
When they forgat Jehovah their God. The theocracy, as we have seen (1 Samuel 10:18), was a moral government, under which idolatry and the immorality attendant upon it, as being rebellion, were punished by Jehovah's withdrawing his protection, and the consequent subjection of the nation to foreign rule. It was the repeated sin, therefore, of the people which made Israel's history so checquered. Sisera (Judges 4:2), the Philistines (Judges 3:31), and Eaton, king of Moab. (Judges 3:12), are mentioned as three of the earlier oppressors of Israel, but are given here in the reverse order to that found in the Book of Judges.
1 Samuel 12:10
We have served [the] Baalim and [the] Ashtaroth. I.e. the numerous Baals and Astartes, which were worshipped under various titles by the heathen. For though representing the same power, each people had their own epithets for their own particular personification of the god (see on 1 Samuel 7:4).
1 Samuel 12:11
Bedan. Numerous ingenious explanations of this name have been given, but the only probable account is that Bedan is a misreading for Barak. The two names are very similar in the Hebrew, and the two most ancient versions, the Septuagint and the Syriac, actually have Barak. And Samuel. This is even more puzzling than Bedan. We cannot suppose that Samuel, who hitherto had confined himself to the old deliverances, would thus suddenly introduce his own name. In mentioning only them he had avoided everything that would grate upon the ears of the people, but this would look like giving way to personal vexation. Some, therefore, would read Samson; but this, though found in the Syriac, is supported by no other version. Possibly some scribe, mindful of Samuel's recent achievement at Mizpah, wrote his name in the margin, whence it was admitted into the text. And ye dwelled safe. Literally, "in confidence," in security. With sin came danger and unquiet; upon repentance, not only was their country free from danger, but their minds were at rest.
1 Samuel 12:12
Nahash the king of the children of Ammon. This makes it probable that there had been threats of war, and even incursions into the Israelite territory, by Nahash before his attack on Jabesh-Gilead. We thus, too, should be able to account for the rancour displayed in his wish so to treat the men of that town as to make them a reproach to all Israel; for his hatred of Israel may have grown in intensity in the course of a harassing war, or he may have learnt to despise a people incapable of offering a regular resistance. At all events, Samuel describes Nahash as giving the final impetus to the desire of the nation for a king. When Jehovah your God was your king. See Judges 8:23.
1 Samuel 12:13
Behold the king whom ye have chosen!... behold, Jehovah hath set a king over you. We have here the two sides of the transaction. The people had desired a king, chosen and appointed by themselves, to represent the nation in temporal matters; Jehovah gave them a king to represent himself, with authority coming from God, and limited by God. Most, too, of the kings of Judah were as truly representatives of Jehovah as any of the judges had been, and David even more so. Desired is rather "demanded," "required." They had done much more than desire a king.
1 Samuel 12:14
If ye will fear, etc. This verse, like Luke 19:42, is left unfinished, and we must supply well, as in Exodus 32:32. For the verse cannot be translated as in the A.V; but is as follows: "If ye will fear Jehovah, and serve him, and obey his voice, and not rebel against the commandment (Hebrew, the mouth) of Jehovah, and if both ye and the king that reigneth over you will follow Jehovah your God, it shall be well." Samuel piles up one upon another the conditions of their happiness, and then from the depth of his emotion breaks off, leaving the blessed consequences of their obedience unsaid. "To follow Jehovah" implies willing and active service as his attendants, going with him where he will, and being ever ready to obey his voice.
1 Samuel 12:15
Against you, as it was against your fathers. The Hebrew has "against you and your fathers," and so the Vulgate, for which the Septuagint reads, "against you and your king," as in 1 Samuel 12:25. The text is probably corrupt, and to make sense requires the insertion of some such words as those given in the A.V; with which the Syriac also agrees.
1 Samuel 12:16
Stand. Better stand forth, as in 1 Samuel 12:7; take your places in solemn order.
1 Samuel 12:17
Wheat harvest. Barley was fit for reaping at the Passover, and wheat at Pentecost, i.e. between the middle of May and the middle of June. Jerome, on Amos 4:7, testifies that during his long residence in Palestine he had never seen rain there during June and July; but Conder, says, "Storms still occur occasionally in harvest time." He shall send thunder. Hebrew, voices, and so in verse 18 (see 1 Samuel 2:10; 1 Samuel 7:9).
DIVINE TESTIMONY TO SAMUEL'S INTEGRITY (verses 18-25).
1 Samuel 12:18
Jehovah sent thunder and rain. Rain in Palestine falls usually only at the autumnal and vernal equinox, and though thunder storms are not unknown at other times, yet, by the general testimony of travellers, they are very rare. Naturally, therefore, this storm deeply impressed the minds of the people. Though not in itself miraculous, the circumstances made it so.
1 Samuel 12:19
Pray for thy servants. On Samuel's mediatorial office see 1 Samuel 7:5, 1 Samuel 7:8.
1 Samuel 12:20
Ye have done all this wickedness. The ye is emphatic, and to give its force we should translate, "Ye have indeed done all this evil." From following Jehovah. See on 1 Samuel 12:15.
1 Samuel 12:21
For then should ye go after vain things. The word for is omitted in all the ancient versions, and the sense is complete without it: "And turn ye not aside after tohu," the word used in Genesis 1:1, and there translated "without form." It means anything empty, void, and so is often used, as here, for "an idol," because, as St. Paul says, "an idol is nothing in the world" (1 Corinthians 8:4). So Isaiah (Isaiah 44:9) calls the makers of idols vanity, Hebrew, tohu, i.e. empty people, with no sense in them. The word is used again at the end of the verse—which idols cannot profit nor deliver; for they are tohu, emptiness.
1 Samuel 12:22
For his great name's sake. Though Samuel in 1 Samuel 12:14 had described their well being as dependent upon their own conduct, yet in a higher light it depended upon God's will. He had chosen Israel not for its own sake (Deuteronomy 7:7, Deuteronomy 7:8), but for a special purpose, to minister to the Divine plan for the redemption of all mankind, and so, though individuals might sin to their own ruin, and the nation bring upon itself severe chastisements, yet it must continue according to the tenor of God's promises (see on 1 Samuel 2:30), and through weal and woe discharge the duty imposed upon it.
1 Samuel 12:23
God forbid, Hebrew, "Far be it from me." That I should sin... in ceasing to pray for you. In no character of the Old Testament does this duty of intercessory prayer stand forward so prominently as in Samuel (see 1 Samuel 12:19); nor does he rest content with this, but adds, I will teach you the good and the right way. This was a far higher office than that of ruler; and not only was Samuel earnest in discharging this prophetic office of teaching, but he made provision for a supply of teachers and preachers for all future time by founding the schools of the prophets.
1 Samuel 12:24
For consider, etc. Samuel concludes his address by appealing to the mighty deeds wrought in old time by Jehovah for his people; literally, it is, "For consider how grandly he hath wrought with you."
1 Samuel 12:1-5
Character a power.
The facts are—
1. Samuel reminds the people that he
(a) has carried out their wishes in setting a king over them,
(b) is now a very old man, and
(c) has spent the whole of his life among them.
2. He appeals to God in asserting that the whole of his official life has been free from self-seeking.
3. The people freely admit that his public conduct has been honest, considerate, and free from greed. The meaning of Samuel's reference to himself is to be sought not in egotism, but in a desire to find a basis for his intended argument and appeal. The actual weight of counsel depends not on the abstract wisdom of the language used, but on the readiness of the hearers to give heed to the speaker and their conviction of his integrity of purpose. Samuel appeals to character in order to secure moral power in argument. He availed himself of the privilege of honoured age.
I. CHARACTER IS A GROWTH. A human being is mutable in purpose and disposition, and time is requisite in order to insure fixity of either. Character lies in determinateness, permanent fixity. Morally it is the form, style, and expression the life eventually assumes. It remains a long unsettled question as to what determinateness some men's nature is to come. In so far as instability itself is an undesirable quality, its presence is the sign of permanent badness. But even in the absence of instability, men suspend their judgment of their fellow men because all good qualities in them are regarded as only tentatively established in the soul. The true progress of a life is secured when holiness of disposition becomes so gradually master of every faculty as to be the distinctive, invariable mark of the man. Obviously, this character is a passing of an inner silent force into all the avenues of thought, feeling, and action, repeating its self-manifestations in these day by day, till those who know the individual are compelled to see that such is the natural, fixed, reliable style of his life.
II. The CONDITIONS OF ITS POWER ARE TWOFOLD—one in the individual himself, and the other in observers.
1. Constancy and steadiness of growth is one condition. It is this which creates a belief that the man is true. There is a strong belief that fluctuations in conduct and opinion are signs of either weakness or actual badness. Those who watch the steady, early growth of a doubtful plant, and observe how by the action of a powerful law it at length assumes a given type of leaf and bud, know then what they have in sight, and treat it accordingly. So a quiet advance in goodness is essential to the acquisition of power in character.
2. The existence in observers of a sense of right is another condition. The power which a holy, consistent character has over all grades of men implies that there is something in them which, in virtue of its own nature, pays homage to goodness. Men know and inwardly revere the right. In this moral necessity of judgment we have a clue to the deference often paid by bad men to the good; the uneasiness of the vile and unjust in presence of purity; and the strong hold which the holy gospel of Christ has secretly over even the most daring of its opponents.
III. The POWER OF CHARACTER IS SOMETIMES DEVELOPED BY UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES. It may exist as the result of a growing, unconscious influence over observers. Neither party may be aware of its real force. Many a man exercises more power on society than either he or others contemplate. The degree to which the present condition of the world is owing to this silent, unconscious influence of holy, consistent characters is beyond all conception. The fact should be a comfort to those whose lives seem to be barren of usefulness because no great deeds are chronicled. But now and then events transpire which bring out the depth of reverence and respect cherished for, it may be, an ordinary quiet Christian man.
IV. It is ALLOWABLE TO USE CHARACTER AS A MEANS OF URGING IMPORTANT CLAIMS. Samuel was right in referring to his long consistent life. He could honestly, and without self-glorying, speak of his having never enriched himself by his office. He was within the limits of modesty in claiming some credit for consistency, for his object was to enforce the claims of God. Thus the Apostle Paul referred to his manner of life, his self-denying labours, in order to win among Corinthians attention to the message he delivered, and counteract the insinuations of false brethren (2 Corinthians 11:1-33.). There are occasions when a pastor, a teacher, and parent may fitly refer to their general character as furnishing a reason for attention to their appeals.
1. It is of supreme importance to be well established in strong religious principles early in life; roots set in virgin soil strike deep and thrive steadily.
2. We should watch carefully against tendencies to instability, and at the same time not think over much about what men think of us.
3. No man who is ambitious to obtain power of character will get it: it comes to those who are concerned to be good rather than to have the power which goodness conifers.
4. We honour God when we pay honour to those who bear his image.
5. The quality of holy self-sacrifice is that in official persons which most impresses observers, and should, after the Saviour's example, be cultivated by all persons in things small and great.
1 Samuel 12:6-15
The immutable condition of well being.
The facts are—
1. Samuel, having shown his right to be heard, calls on the people to hearken to his argument.
2. He refers to historic instances to show that trouble always came with unfaithfulness to God, and prosperity with a return to fidelity.
3. He reminds them that their desire for a king implied distrust of God.
4. Recognising the new order of things, he insists that the adversity or prosperity of the nation rested where it always had—on their own disobedience or obedience to God. Samuel, having gained a respectful hearing, proceeds to urge his argument with the view to convince Israel that constant obedience to God will be in future, on their part, the only rational conduct. The principles involved are universal, and they imply what some have recklessly denied or questioned, namely, the essential reasonableness of religion. Changing the historic allusions for corresponding facts in modern experience, the identical argument could be urged with equal force upon many who fain would escape the yoke of Christ as being inconsistent with the claims of human reason.
I. CONFORMITY TO THE WILL OF GOD IS THE SUPREME CONDITION OF WELL BEING. Israel would, as a people, dwell in safety, be rich, prosperous, and, in fact, realise all the best ends of national existence, in proportion as they obeyed the Lord God. The interactions of material agencies, and the habits of irrational beings, in so far as they flow from necessary physiological laws, are conformed to the Divine will. The possession by man of moral freedom renders it possible for him to be resolutely and knowingly out of accord with the same. The will of God is variously expressed, though always one. In external nature, in constitution of mind, in moral relations, in social laws, in Scripture there are harmonious expressions of will varying according to the subject matter and occasions. It being in the power of man, as free, to conform in feeling, in purpose, and actual outward movement of will to what God reveals of himself, perfect life, personal, social, and national, lies in that conformity, and that alone. The continuous act of obedience is conformity. Observing physical, mental, and moral laws in every detail of life; acting in harmony with the revealed requirements of repentance and effort after holiness; constant exercise of faith in Christ as the revealed means of the highest spiritual life—this course of action is a fulfilment of the conditions of blessedness, the prelude to final likeness to Christ.
II. THAT SUCH CONFORMITY IS THE CONDITION OF WELL BEING IS A TRUTH ATTESTED BY HISTORY. It could be shown by independent lines of proof that religion, as consisting in true conformity to God's will, is essentially reasonable, and that, conversely, sinful men are most irrational. But Samuel knows human nature, and, therefore, he deals with the concrete facts of history, and points out how the past records of Israel's national life establish his contention. GOD gave them freedom from Egypt by Moses and Aaron. Disobedience and neglect entailed subjection to Sisera and the Philistines. A return to God brought deliverance once more. Therefore history connected prosperity with due recognition of God, adversity with disobedience. Every sinful nation and individual is deluded by fallacy. There is induced, by the blinding effect of moral corruption on the intellect, a belief that the miseries endured are not connected with moral causes. But a fair induction of the facts of public and private life will demonstrate Samuel's position, that when the soul of the nation has been true to God it has enjoyed the truest prosperity. The very prosperity of fools is in the long run their destruction, The merriment of the impious, like the brilliant glare of a rocket, yields to a more conspicuous reverse. Pious men may not in some instances be equal, in power and general social usefulness, to men not pious; yet, given men of equal natural abilities, the pious will do more and better than the not pious. Every day life is full of cases in which men, by conforming to the gospel law of repentance and faith, at once place themselves and their homes in a new and better relation to all material and mental laws; and rise from poverty, disease, ignorance, and shame to comfort, health, fair attainments, and honour. A nation of true Christians would be a model to the world in all excellence and acquisitions and happiness.
III. ALL ATTEMPTS TO EVADE THE CONDITION OF WELL BEING ARE FRUITLESS. Samuel's reference to Israel's desire for a king, in connection with his argument and closing appeal, evidently means that the people were under the delusive impression that their troubles and dangers were in some way associated with the external form of government under which they had hitherto lived. But Samuel points out the sin involved in this thought—it was distrust of God's all-sufficiency; and he also indicates that the attempted substitution of a form of government for the practice of righteousness is utterly vain. Human nature is constant in its self-revelations. This attempted substitution of what is formal and outward for what is moral and inward is of common occurrence. Nations often cry out for changes of form of government when the real need is a change in disposition and conduct. Nominal Christians present an outward, and, in emergencies, a more elaborate, form of worship in place of the sacrifice of the penitent and contrite heart. It is hard to learn the lessons of history; but all its testimony confirms what could be, a priori, shown to be true—that however good external arrangements may be per se, they are as fruitless to secure a nation's highest good, a Church's truest prosperity, and an individual's most vigorous and joyous piety, in the absence of a faithful conformity to the whole will of God, as was Israel's acquisition of a king fruitless to insure, apart from righteousness of life, safety from danger and internal prosperity. "Abide in me." "For without me ye can do nothing."
IV. THE TRUTH THUS VINDICATED CAN BE VERIFIED IN SPITE OF PAST SINS AND ERRORS. Samuel admits the existence of the king as a fact, though having its origin in sin and folly. He does not cut Israel off from the hope of proving the truth of his contention, that well being depends on conformity to the will of God. Under their new and, as he thinks, unjustifiable arrangements they may, if they will, verify the correctness of his teaching; and hence the urgent appeal. The sins and errors of men in the past have had the natural effect of placing them in disadvantageous circumstances for the fullest development of piety. Even in so called Christian countries the social arrangements and customs, the habits of thought, the methods and principles of commerce, the form and spirit of legislation, and the attitude of class toward class, are the expression of the faults as well as of the virtues of our ancestors. They to that extent impede the full expression of the gospel spirit. The same holds good of antecedents in private and Church life. Nevertheless, God gives to nations, Churches, and individuals opportunities for testing the value of conformity to his will, and each may prove its sufficiency by new acts of obedience. Here we have a philosophy of life which each may experimentally establish.
1. Conformity to the will of God being the immutable maxim of life, care should be taken to ascertain that will as distinct from our own wishes; and, when ascertained, all the force of our nature should be bent on insuring its observance.
2. It is well to fortify conduct by an appeal to the reasonableness of a religious life, since in a struggle reason and faith are both helpful.
3. In all times of restlessness and dissatisfaction deeper search should be made than into the outward forms of life, for the outward change is no sure cure for the inward unrighteousness.
4. Gratitude to God for permission to recover lost prosperity best shows itself in renewed consecration to him.
1 Samuel 12:16-25
The outward sign.
The facts are—
1. Samuel, to confirm his argument, calls for thunder and rain during the wheat harvest, thus imperilling their property.
2. The people, awed by the event, entreat for his intercession.
3. Samuel encourages hope on the ground of God's mercy, and promises to pray for and instruct them.
4. He makes a final appeal, setting forth the blessed and sad alternative consequences. Samuel knew well with whom he had to deal; and, therefore, besides securing a deferential hearing in virtue of age and character, and enforcing the reasonableness of conformity to God's will, he now calls attention to a display of Divine power in a form suggestive of the material disasters that may come if they should, by disobedience, come into collision with that power. Men soon feel the force of an argument that touches their property. The natural force of his previous statements would compel the assent of reason, and secure the echo of conscience. But in morally weak men the clear light of reason is apt to become eclipsed by the uprising of wilful desires, and the voice of conscience dies away amid the clamours of passion. It was, therefore, great kindness, an act of beautiful, Divine consideration, to introduce another means of insuring the impressment of the lessons conveyed.
I. OUTWARD SIGNS ARE HELPFUL TO RELIGION. Manifestations of God's presence and power in impressive forms, in some instances miraculous, are aids to faith and practice. There is a modern tendency to dispute this. Even some Christian apologists speak of the miraculous events recorded in Scripture as rather a hindrance than an aid to faith. The difficulty proceeds from a defective comprehension of all the facts that enter into a consideration of the question. No doubt moral truth is its own witness; no doubt reason recognises what lies within the range of her vision. The whole sum of truth we have in Christ, and in the records associated with his name, enables us to say, "This is the Son of God." The personal experience of the man who is one in life with Christ is superior to all "external evidences." But obviously all this applies to men in the full light of Christian truth, and can have no appreciable bearing on the gradual education of the world by a chosen nation, through "here a little and there a little," as men were morally and intellectually fit to receive it. Observe more specifically—
1. General education by outward signs is universal. By education we mean development of the entire nature, rational and moral We have to regulate life and unfold its capabilities by means other than the mere subjective effect of what is perceived and appreciated as rational or moral.
(1) In childhood the mind accepts truth on external authority. Its movements, its receptivity, and its resistance to certain influences are often determined by the appearance of an external power, which either awakens fear or insures unquestioning submission.
(2) In mature life we are influenced not by subjective truth alone, but by external authority m form of testimony on matters of importance. This testimony has sometimes sufficient force to compel conduct against inclination, and create fear as determinant in action. Also in government the exercise of external power insures on the part of many a respect in practice for moral truth which otherwise would not exist.
(3) In the formation of opinion we are constantly looking out for an external confirmation. That is, we do not live intellectually even by the sheer light that is within. In so far as external confirmations are necessary for some of our opinions, we are dependent on powers outside us for the direction our own thought, and, consequently, conduct, will take. That these powers, human it may be, do not act suddenly and miraculously is not to the point, for the principle contended for is education by outward signs.
2. Spiritual education of men by appropriate outward signs is a fact recognised throughout all time. The three means, irrespective of inspiration of the heart by the Holy Spirit, of spiritual education—presentation of truth to the moral perception, the convincing of the judgment by reasons, and the suggestive power of outward signs—are found in the whole course of history, from the day when Adam's conscience recognised the moral force of the Divine command because Divine, appreciated the argument of life or death as the alternative of obedience or disobedience, and looked on the "tree" as a visible sign of a power worthy to be feared, unto the latest observance of the Lord's Supper, affording an outward sign of a power merciful in its almightiness.
(1) The entire dispensation covered by the Old and New Testament was characterised by the outward sign in a miraculous manner. Abraham desired to know by some means that he should inherit the land (Genesis 15:8), and the sign was given. Moses had granted to him a sign of his delegation (Exodus 4:1-5). The blackness and darkness around Sinai were visible demonstrations to inspire the too rash people with becoming awe. Signs and wonders were one means by which Nicodemus recognised the "Teacher come from God" (John 3:1, John 3:2; cf. Acts 2:29). The excision of the miraculous element may be consistent for those who exclude God from direct action in the education of mankind, but it is an illogical act when done by believers in a personal "living God." The Bible is a very consistent book.
(2) In so far as the Bible record is an education of mankind, it, containing a faithful account of the visible signs of the past, causes those signs to be a formative influence still. The visible manifestations during the ages covered by Biblical records not only made people then know and feel the reality of God's presence and power to a degree that otherwise would not have been possible, but they cause the "ends of the earth" to be more thoroughly convinced of it. It takes much effort to shake men out of their indifference to the Unseen, to strengthen faith in an ever ruling Power. The Bible comes to the aid of our reason and conscience, and by these recorded facts helps us to live as though we saw him who is invisible. Those who object to the reality of miracles in the past because, forsooth, similar do not occur now, and are hot needed, forget how much of their present faith in God is due to the combination of these ancient miracles with the spiritual element that abides. We may have a spiritual appreciation of the truth of Christianity which amply satisfies us; but that spiritual Christianity so appreciated is impossible apart from the stupendous "outward sign" of an Incarnation and Resurrection.
(3) The facts consequent on the establishment of Christianity are outward signs which continue to furnish aid to faith. The indirect result, in the continued existence of the Jews as an essentially separate people, is impressive. The direct effects, in the salvation of souls, the pure, elevating spirit, and the social ameliorations naturally flowing from Christianity, are signs and wonders which indicate the mighty power of God.
3. Spiritual education by outward signs is very reasonable. This will be admitted so far as relates to our children, and also the formation of character by outward signs of power that are not miraculous. Therefore the controversy is limited to the reasonableness of the outward miraculous signs related in the Bible. Here observe, those who admit that the Incarnation, "God manifest in the flesh," was a reality, and not a figure of speech, have conceded the principle; and if it was the Divine intention by this miracle to save men in Christ, where is the difficulty of admitting that by miracle God wrought the way for Christ, and educated the world for the event? If the escape is sought in the supposed number of miracles in Old Testament times, then who is to tell God how many he shall work? Where do wisdom and propriety begin and end? Let any one try and settle what and how often God shall work. Moreover, it is all a delusion as to the vast number of miracles. Genesis covers at least 2800 years, and yet not over twenty-two miracles, or strictly open manifestations, are recorded during that period, giving an average of one in 127 years. Further, what more reasonable than, e.g; this of the "thunder"? The people have had the truth, and reason has been appealed to; but they are weak, as history proves. God is the supreme Power, but they evidently need to be impressed, so that the lessons just given may abide. Fear thus produced will act with consciousness of moral truth and force of reason, and consequently it is an act of great mercy to render them this additional aid, just as it is an act of kindness to enforce lessons on children by an authority which they can appreciate.
II. THERE ARE SPECIAL ENCOURAGEMENTS TO CONFORMITY TO GOD'S WILL set forth by his prophets, justified by reason and conscience, and supported by outward signs. It is instructive to note how God's methods have respect to the whole man. Moral obligation is placed before the conscience (verses 13-15), reason is appealed to (verses 7-11), fear of disobedience is aroused by outward sign of supreme power, and now the hopes of the soul are to be sustained by appropriate considerations. Would that men who sneer at the Old Testament records had the heart to study its spiritual teaching! They would see how beautifully the terrible and the mild blend to meet the needs of the real man. The encouragement is threefold.
1. An assurance of God's great mercy. "Fear not." He "will not forsake his people. This "fear not" comes to the sinful soul still. It came with the angels' song over the plains of Bethlehem; it was heard by the "little flock;" and the conscience smitten jailor heard the same. God "hath not forsaken" mankind. Not for what virtue he sees in perverse, ungrateful men, but" for his own sake" he saves the penitent. As Israel had "for his own sake" been made his people, with prospective reference to the introduction of the Messiah and the future education of the world, so in the redemption wrought by Christ every man on earth is embraced in a covenant of mercy, sealed with the "blood that cleanseth from all sin." To know that God is merciful and gracious, that all his terrible displays of power are in love, this brings cheer to the entire race of man. If only despisers of the gospel knew the richness of its mercy for all men, they would surely not seek to hinder its acceptance by this sorrowing world.
2. The prayer and sympathy of the faithful. Samuel assures Israel that he will bear them on his heart. His affection for them and his spiritual duty to them were such that not to continue to pray would be sin (verse 23). This encouragement has every one who is called on to conform to the wilt of God. The Church pleads "for all men." The penitent and struggling are especially on the heart of God's faithful children. In thousands of homes daily prayer is made for persons never seen and unknown by name.
3. Continuous instruction. As long as Samuel lived he would teach them "the good and the right way." No doubt, like the Apostle Peter, he would also devise means so that they should have his wise words "after" his "decease." It requires "line upon line, precept upon precept," to keep men in the safe and blessed pathway; and how fully is this secured to us in the "lively oracles"! By the written word, by the suggestions of the Holy Spirit, by the wise counsel of friends, God teaches us the way in which we should go. We are not left to wander at our will, or to follow the contradictory voices of men. There is "a sure word of prophecy which shineth as a light in a dark place."
1. A study of the signs of God's presence in human affairs will prove a salutary restraint on sinful tendencies.
2. It becomes the true Christian to manifest tender sympathy for men who are spiritually weak and erring.
3. Great influence is gained over men when we can convince them that, though they are very sinful, God is merciful and waiting to bless.
4. The element of fear in religion, to be healthful, must be supplemented by that of hope and confidence.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
1 Samuel 12:1-25. (GILGAL.)
Samuel's admonitions to Israel.
1. The occasion of his admonitions was the full recognition of the first king of Israel -by the national assembly, and his retirement from the more active duties of his office as judge. He was not mortified at parting with power, nor did he wish to reverse the change which had been effected. He cheerfully acquiesced in the will of God, and cordially united with the people in giving honour to the" Lord's anointed" (1 Samuel 12:3, 1 Samuel 12:5). Yet he might not allow them to suppose that there was nothing blameworthy in their desire for a king, as they were apt to do, or enter upon their new career in perilous self-complacency, without warning them of the rocks ahead. He spoke not merely as judge, but also as a prophet and "faithful priest" (1 Samuel 12:19).
2. The form which they assumed is varied. They consist generally of a dialogue between him and the elders; partly of an apology, or defence of his official conduct; partly of a narration of the dealings of God with Israel; and partly of exhortations, warnings, and promises closely connected together. The whole may be conceived of as a judicial scene occurring before the invisible Judge, in which Samuel, having vindicated himself as against the people, sets forth their sin against God, who himself confirms his words in the thunderstorm (Job 38:1), which leads them to confess their transgression and seek the intercession of the prophet, who consoles and admonishes them, and assures them of his continued help. The language is direct and rugged and full of force.
3. The main subject is the course of sinful perversity which Israel had pursued in desiring a king; the chief aim to produce a humble and penitent state of mind, and lead to the maintenance of a proper relation to the invisible King. His former words may be compared (1Sa 3:11-14; 1 Samuel 7:3-6; 1 Samuel 8:10-18; 1 Samuel 10:17-19); also the words of Moses (Numbers 16:25-30; Deuteronomy 29:1-29.), and of Joshua (Joshua 24:1-33.). He speaks of their course as—
I. ADOPTED WITHOUT SUFFICIENT REASON (verses 3-6) in the light of his just administration. He sets himself, as it were, before the tribunal of the invisible Judge, and before the king,—himself, "old and grey headed," on the one hand, Israel on the other,—and seeks an open vindication (as public men are often under the necessity of doing); not, however, so much from regard to his own dignity as to their welfare and the honour of God. We have here—
1. A challenge, on the part of Samuel, to bear witness against him. "Behold, here I am," etc. (verse 3). It is a common temptation for men in authority and power to use their position for selfish and unjust purposes, such as
(1) appropriating wrongfully what belongs to others,
(2) defrauding them of what is their due,
(3) oppressing the poor and weak, and
(4) perverting the proper course of justice, especially in the case of the rich and strong, for the sake of "a gift" or bribe.
How have these evils prevailed in every age! But Samuel had consciously wronged no one, and if any can show that he has done so, he stands ready to make restitution (Luke 19:8). His conscience is "as the noontide clear." "No doubt he found himself guilty before God of many private infirmities; but for his public carriage he appeals to men. A man's heart can best judge of himself; others can best judge of his actions. Happy is that man that can be acquitted by himself in private, in public by others, by God in both" (Hall).
2. A testimony, on the part of the elders, to his integrity (verse 4); ready, explicit, and with one voice. It is almost impossible for men in public office to be faithful without making enemies. If Samuel had any, they now nowhere appear; and his character shines forth "as the sun when he goeth forth in his might" (Judges 5:31).
3. An invocation, on the part of both, to the Lord and his anointed to confirm the testimony (verse 5); thereby making it more solemn and memorable. Why, then, seeing his government was so unblamable, did they wish to set it aside? Their testimony to him was a sentence of condemnation on themselves for their inconsideration, ingratitude, and discontent. The force of the testimony was increased by his further invocation of the Lord as he who had "appointed Moses and Aaron, and brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt" (verse 6). As the appointed and faithful leader of Israel, even as they, no other was necessary, and his rejection was the rejection of the Lord. With this he passes on to speak of their course as—
II. MARKED BY AGGRAVATED TRANSGRESSION (verses 7-12) in the light of the righteous dealings of God in past time. "Now therefore stand forth," etc. (verse 7). He and they now change places; he becomes their accuser, and reasons or contends with them (in order to convict them of sin) "concerning the righteous acts of Jehovah," who had acted justly in his covenant relation with them throughout their whole history, faithfully fulfilled his promises, inflicted punishment only when it was deserved, and bestowed upon them the greatest benefits (Ezekiel 33:17; Micah 6:2). These acts include—
1. A wonderful deliverance (verse 8) from a crushing oppression, in compassion to the cry of the needy, through the instrumentality of men raised up for the purpose, with "a mighty hand and an outstretched arm," and completed in their possession of the land of promise. This deliverance is always regarded as the foundation of their history. "History was born in that night in which Moses, with the law of God, moral and spiritual, in his heart, led the people of Israel out of Egypt" (Bunsen).
2. Repeated chastisements (verse 9), rendered necessary by forgetfulness of God, varied (the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Moabites), and with a view to their moral improvement. "Notice here Samuel's prudence in reproof.
(1) By his reproof of their ancestors he prepares their minds to receive reproof;
(2) he shows that their ingratitude is old, and so worse, and they should take care that it grow no stronger;
(3) he chooses a very mild word, 'forget,' to express their offence" (Pool).
3. Continued help (verses 10, 11), through penitence and prayer, by means of successive "saviours,"—Jerubbaal (Gideon), Sedan (Barak), Jephthah, Samuel (1 Samuel 7:10; referring to himself in the third person, because now speaking as the advocate of Jehovah),—against their "enemies on every side," and in their safe preservation unto the present time. "And ye dwelled safe." But what return did they make for all his benefits? As soon as they saw the threatening attitude of Nahash (verse 12), they forgot the lessons of the past, lost their confidence in God, trusted in an arm of flesh, and recklessly and persistently demanded a king, virtually rejecting the Lord as their king. Former experience of the goodness and severity of God greatly aggravates present transgression (verse 19).
III. INVOLVING PERILOUS RESPONSIBILITY (verses 13-15) in the light of present circumstances. "Now therefore behold the king whom ye have chosen," etc. Although they had taken the initiative in the matter, he had reserved to himself the authority of appointing him, and abides the supreme Ruler over both people and king (verse 12). In the new order of things—
1. They are specially liable to forget this primary truth, and to trust in man, and hence he impresses upon them once and again the fact that "the Lord God is their king." No earthly monarch can release them from their responsibility to him, and no human help can save them apart from him. "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes" (Psalms 118:9).
2. They can prosper only by being faithful to him. "If ye will fear the Lord," etc; it will be well with you and your king. But—
3. If unfaithful, they will expose themselves to heavy judgments, as their fathers had done before them. Wherein, then, have they improved their condition? What a perilous course have they entered upon! And how can they hope to avoid its consequences except by profound humiliation, and seeking the Lord "with full purpose of heart"?
IV. NECESSITATING SINCERE REPENTANCE (verses 16-18) in the light of approaching judgment. "Now therefore stand and see this great thing," etc. Hitherto the words of Samuel appear to have produced little effect; something further was necessary that they might not be spoken in vain; and, in response to his prayer, the thunder crashed above the heads of the great assembly, and the rain fell in torrents around them—things "incomprehensible to a Hebrew" in time of harvest. The miraculous sign—
1. Corroborates the word of truth as well as the Divine commission of him who uttered it, and confirms the testimony borne to his integrity. The voice of the supreme Judge answers the appeal which had been made to him (verse 5), and there is "an end of all controversy" (Hebrews 6:16).
2. Is significant of the Divine displeasure at their sin, and of terrible judgments (Exodus 9:28). "Hereby the Lord showed his power, and the people their foolishness in not being contented to have such a mighty God for their protector, who could with thunder and rain fight for them against their enemies, as he did for Israel against the host of Pharaoh, and not long before this against the Philistines. And, beside, it appeared with what small reason they should be weary of Samuel's government, who by his prayer could fetch down rain and thunder from heaven" (Willet). "God had granted their desire; but upon them and their king's bearing toward the Lord, not upon the fact that they had now a king, would the future of Israel depend; and this truth, so difficult for them to learn, God would, as it were, prove before them in a symbol. Did they think it unlikely, nay, well nigh impossible, to fail in their present circumstances? God would bring the unlikely and seemingly incredible to pass in a manner patent to all. Was it not the time of wheat harvest, when in the East not a cloud darkens the clear sky? God would send thunder and rain to convince them, by making the unlikely real, of the folly and sin of their thoughts in demanding a king" (Edersheim).
3. Is designed to effect a moral end, in filling them with salutary fear. "That ye may perceive that your wickedness is great" (verse 17). And it is not in vain; for "all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel" (verse 18), thus solemnly avouched to be his prophet. God is never at a loss for means to accomplish his purposes, and goes beyond his usual method of operations when the occasion demands it. The end of his dealings with men is to bring them to repentance and make them holy.
V. NOT EXCLUDING CONSOLATION AND HOPE (verses 19-25) in the light of the great name and merciful purposes of God. By means of repentance and faith men place themselves within the circle where the "consuming fire" of Divine wrath (Romans 1:18; Hebrews 12:29) is transformed into the genial beams of Divine grace; and "he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). We have here—
1. A description of a penitent people (verse 19), overwhelmed with fear, freely and fully confessing their sin, rendering honour where they had formerly shown ingratitude and disrespect, and seeking Divine mercy in the way in which they had reason to believe it might be obtained.
2. An exhortation to an amended course of life (verses 20, 21).
(1) A consoling word. "Fear not."
(2) A reminding and humbling word. "Ye have done all this wickedness."
(3) A restraining word. "Turn not aside from following the Lord" (as ye have done in your distrust and self-will).
(4) A directive word. "But serve the Lord with all your heart" (in faith, and love, and entire consecration).
(5) A warning word. "And turn ye not aside" (from God to any false object of trust, idols).
(6) An instructive word. '" For they are vain" (utterly empty and disappointing).
3. An assurance of mercy and grace (verse 22), resting on—
(1) His relationship. They are still "his people."
(2) His name—his revelations of power and salvation to his people, and his honour and glory before all the nations.
(3) His good will. "Because" (he will not forsake his people, because) "it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people." Whatever benefits he has conferred have proceeded from his pure benevolence, and are a pledge of further benefits (Jeremiah 31:3). His free and unmerited love is the sinner's chief hope.
4. A promise of continued aid, on the part of Samuel, in intercession and instruction (verse 23). "In this he sets a glorious example to all rulers, showing them that they should not be led astray by the ingratitude of their subordinates or subjects, and give up on that account all interest in their welfare; but should further persevere all the more in their anxiety for them."
5. A final admonition to steadfast obedience (verses 24, 25), without which both people and king will be overwhelmed in destruction. In keeping with the tone which pervades these admonitions, and as in foresight of coming evils, they end with a warning.—D.
1 Samuel 12:2. (GILGAL.)
Piety in old age.
"Old and grey headed." On speaking of himself as "old and grey headed," Samuel immediately afterwards made reference to his childhood. "I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day." He loved to linger (as old men are wont) over his early days; and in his case there was every reason for doing so, for they were surpassingly pure and beautiful. One of the chief lessons of his life is that a well spent childhood and youth conduces greatly to a happy and honoured age. Consider him as an eminent illustration of piety in old age.
I. OLD AGE IS PRESUMPTIVE OF PIETY, inasmuch as—
1. Piety prevents indulgence in vices that tend to shorten life. How many are brought by such vices to a premature grave! When, therefore, we see an old man we naturally infer that he has been a good man, nor can there be any doubt that he has exercised much self-control. Samuel was a Nazarite.
2. It has a direct tendency to prolong life by producing healthful virtues. The fear of the Lord prolongeth days "(Proverbs 10:27).
3. It has the promise of many days. "With long life will I satisfy him" (Psalms 91:16). "Even to old age I am; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you" (Isaiah 46:4). "A good old age" (Genesis 15:15). "Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in his season" (Job 5:26).
4. It is commonly associated with long life. There are, doubtless, exceptions, the causes of which are not far to seek, but this is the rule.
II. OLD AGE IS MADE HONOURABLE BY PIETY, because of—
1. Its maintaining the respect which is naturally felt for the aged. Among the Spartans, when a hoary headed man entered their assemblies, they all immediately rose, and remained standing till he had taken his place; and it is enjoined in the law of Moses: "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man" (Leviticus 19:32). But this injunction assumes the possession of godliness, without which old ago neither deserves nor receives appropriate reverence.
2. The beauty and perfection of character which it develops. There is beauty in the fresh springing corn, but there is still greater beauty in "the full corn in the ear," bending under its golden burden. A good old man, matured in character by long growth, and abounding in "the fruit of the Spirit," is one of the noblest sights on earth. He is a king amongst men. "The hoary head is a crown of glory if it be found in the way of righteousness" (Proverbs 16:31; Proverbs 20:29).
3. The conflicts and perils that have been passed. "An old disciple" (Acts 21:16), or "such an one as Paul the aged" (Phil 9), is like a veteran soldier bearing on him the scars of many a hard fought battle, and wearing the honours conferred by a grateful country. He is like a giant of the forest, standing erect when the storm has laid his companions in the dust.
4. The good that has been done in past time, and lives to bear witness to the doer, and "praise him in the gates." We value the young for the good they may hereafter effect, the old for the good they have already accomplished. "Them that honour me I will honour."
III. OLD AGE IS RENDERED USEFUL BY PIETY, for thereby it—
1. Furnishes a convincing evidence of the truth and power of religion. When faith survives doubts, temptations, difficulties, its very existence is an argument for the reality of that which is believed, a proof of the practicability of a religious life, and a commendation of its unspeakable worth.
2. Sets forth an impressive example of the spirit of religion—humility, trustfulness, calmness, patience, resignation, Cheerfulness (Genesis 48:21; Deuteronomy 33:1; Joshua 14:10, Joshua 14:12; Joshua 23:14; 2 Samuel 19:32).
3. Bears valuable testimony for God, and continues in prayer and labour on behalf of men. "They shall still bring forth fruit in old age," etc. (Psalms 92:14, Psalms 92:15; Psalms 71:14, Psalms 71:17, Psalms 71:18). Although some services are no longer possible, others, often more valuable, may, and ought to, be rendered till the close of life.
4. Affords wise counsel to the younger and less experienced. Wisdom is proverbially associated with age. Those who have seen and heard much of the world, and had long experience of life, may be expected to know more than those who are just starting out in their course. Their judgment is less influenced by passion and impulse; they look at things in a clearer light, and in a calmer frame of mind, and are more likely to perceive the truth concerning them.
"Whose ripe experience doth attain
To somewhat of prophetic strain."
Much of the inspired wisdom of the Scriptures is based upon the sanctified experience of the aged. "Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance" (2 Peter 1:15, 2 Peter 1:12-14; 1 Peter 5:1, 1 Peter 5:5). "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18). "Little children, love one another."
IV. OLD AGE IS GREATLY COMFORTED BY PIETY. It has its drawbacks and troubles. Bodily infirmities increase, the mental powers lose their vigour, and friends become fewer (Ecclesiastes 12:1-14.). It is also liable to moral failings, such as irritability, fretfulness, despondency, and excessive carefulness, which need to be guarded against. "When I consider in my mind, I find four causes why old age is thought miserable: one, that it calls us away from the transactions of affairs; the second, that it renders the body more feeble; the third, that it deprives us of almost all pleasures; the fourth, that it is not very far from death" (Cicero 'on Old Age '). But notwithstanding such things, it has, "with godliness," abundant compensations, consisting of—
1. Pleasant recollections of the past, especially of the Divine benefits that have been received. "Surely I will remember thy wonders of old" (Psalms 77:11).
2. Wide observation of the works and ways of God. "I have been young, and now am old," etc. (Psalms 37:25).
3. Inward support and consolation derived from communion with God. "Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16). "The glory of the old age of the godly consists in this, that while the faculties for the sensible no less than mental enjoyments gradually decline, and the hearth of life gets thus deprived of its fuel, the blessings of godliness not only continue to refresh the soul in old age, but are not until then most thoroughly enjoyed. The sun of piety rises the warmer in proportion as the sun of life declines."
4. Bright prospects of the heavenly home—"a house not made with hands," the vision of God, perpetual youth, reunion with parted friends, perfect and endless blessedness. As the world of light draws near, some of its rays seem to shine through the crevices of the earthly tabernacle that is falling into decay (Genesis 49:18; Luke 2:29, Luke 2:30). "The state in which I am now is so delightful, that the nearer I approach to death, I seem, as it were, to get sight of land; and at length, after a long voyage, to be getting into the harbour. O glorious day I when I shall depart to that Divine company and assemblage of spirits, and quit this troubled and polluted scene" (Cicero). "If the mere conception of the reunion of good men in a future state infused a momentary rapture into the mind of Tully; if an airy speculation—for there is reason to fear it had little hold on his convictions—could inspire him with such delight, what may we be expected to feel who are assured of such an event by the true sayings of God" (R. Hall). "I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better" (Philippians 1:23; 2 Timothy 4:6-8)
1. Let us be thankful for the consolations of religion in "the time of old age."
2. Let the aged cherish the dispositions by which it is made beautiful and useful.
3. Let the young honour the aged, and not forsake "the counsel of the old men" (1 Kings 12:8).
4. Let them also remember that they will grow old, and so live that they may then be honoured and happy.—D.
1 Samuel 12:3-5. (GILGAL.)
Integrity in public office.
"Behold, here I am: witness against me before the Lord." It is a noble thing for a man in any position of life, but especially in exalted, public, and responsible office, to "do justly and love mercy" as well as to "walk humbly with his God;" to continue for many years in the fulfilment of his duty with strictest integrity and unselfish devotion to the public good. Of this Samuel was an illustrious pattern. Concerning integrity in public office, observe that—
I. It is generally, and not improperly, EXPECTED, because of—
1. The superior knowledge which one who fills such an office is assumed to possess (Ezra 7:25).
2. The important trust which is reposed in him. "Moreover, it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:2).
3. The powerful influence which he exerts over others, for good or evil (Proverbs 29:2).
II. It is beset by numerous TEMPTATIONS, such as—
1. To prefer his ease and pleasure to laborious and self-denying duty (Romans 12:8).
2. To use his power for the enrichment of himself and his family, to the disregard of the general welfare, and even by means of extortion, fraud, and oppression (Acts 16:22; Acts 24:26).
3. To seek the praise of men more than the praise of God, and to yield to the evil wishes of the multitude for the sake of personal advantage (John 19:13).
III. It lies open to public CRITICISM, for—
1. The conduct of a public man cannot be wholly hidden from view.
2. His responsible position invites men, and gives them a certain right, to judge concerning the course he pursues; and, in many instances, his actions directly affect their persons, property, or reputation.
3. As it is impossible to restrain their criticism, so it is, on the whole, beneficial that it should be exercised as a salutary restraint upon those "who are in authority." Happy is he in whom "none occasion nor fault can be found, forasmuch as he is faithful" (Daniel 6:4).
IV. It is NOT always duly APPRECIATED, but is sometimes despised and suspected.
1. The reasons of the conduct of one in public office are not always fully understood, nor the difficulties of his position properly considered, nor the motives of his actions rightly interpreted.
2. Evil doers, to whom he is "a terror," may be expected to hate and speak ill of him. "What evil have I done?" said Aristides, when told that he had everyone's good word.
3. Men are apt to be envious of those who are exalted above them, and to forget their past services if they do not favour the gratification of the present popular feeling. Samuel' was not the only judge who experienced ingratitude. "Neither showed they kindness to the house of Jerubbaal, namely, Gideon, according to all the goodness which he showed unto Israel" (Judges 8:35).
V. It sometimes requires to be openly VINDICATED, for the sake of—
1. Personal character and reputation. "I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them" (Numbers 16:5).
2. Truth, and righteousness, and the honour of God. How often, on this account, did the Apostle Paul vindicate himself, in his epistles, from the accusations that were made against him!
3. The welfare of the people themselves, on whom misrepresentation and unfounded suspicions exert an injurious influence.
VI. It is certain, sooner or later, to be fully RECOGNISED.
1. Time and circumstances bring real worth to the light.
2. There is in men a sense of truth and justice which constrains them to acknowledge and honour the good.
3. God takes care of the reputation of those who take care of his honour. There comes a "resurrection of reputations." The judgment of one generation concerning public men is often reversed by the next. "There is nothing hidden that shall not be made manifest." "And the righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance."—D.
1 Samuel 12:8-12. (GILGAL.)
Doctrine in history.
This is an important chapter in the history of Israel. In it are set forth certain truths of universal import, which are also illustrated, though less distinctly, in the history of other nations. They are such as follows:—
1. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD (1 Samuel 12:8). "It hath pleased the Lord to make you his people" (1 Samuel 12:22). Of his own free and gracious will, always founded in perfect wisdom, he raises up a people from the lowest condition, confers upon them special blessings and privileges, and exalts them to the most eminent place among the nations of the earth (Deuteronomy 32:8; Acts 17:26, Acts 17:27). As it was with Israel, so has it been with other peoples. His right so to deal with men cannot be questioned, his power therein is manifested, his undeserved goodness should be acknowledged, and the gifts bestowed employed not for selfish ends, but for his glory and the welfare of mankind.
II. THE SINFULNESS OF MEN. "They forgat the Lord their God" (1 Samuel 12:9). So constantly and universally have men departed from God and goodness as to make it evident that there is in human nature an inherited tendency to sin. "It is that tendency to sinful passions or unlawful propensities which is perceived in man whenever objects of desire are placed before him, and laws laid upon him." As often as God in his great goodness has exalted him to honour, so often has he fallen away from his service; and left to himself, without the continual help of Divine grace, his course is downward. "In times past the Divine nature flourished in men, but at length, being mixed with mortal custom, it fell into ruin; hence an inundation of evils in the race" (Plato. See other testimonies quoted by Bushnell in 'Nature and the Supernatural'). "There is nothing in the whole earth that does not prove either the misery of man or the compassion of God; either his powerlessness without, or his power with God" (Pascal).
III. THE CERTAINTY OF RETRIBUTION. "He sold them into the hand of Sisera," etc. (1 Samuel 12:9).
"The sword of Heaven is not in haste to smite,
Nor yet doth linger, save unto his seeming
Who, in desire or fear, doth look for it."—
(Dante, 'Par.' 22.).
"Morning by morning doth he bring his judgment to light; he faileth not" (Zephaniah 3:5). "History is a voice forever sounding across the centuries the laws of right and wrong. Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral law is written on the tablets of eternity. For every false word or unrighteous deed, for cruelty and oppression, for lust or vanity, the price has to be paid at last; not always by the chief offenders, but paid by some one. Justice and truth alone endure and live. Injustice and falsehood may be long lived, but doomsday comes at last to them in French revolutions and other terrible woes" (Froude, 'Short Studies').
IV. THE BENEFICENCE OF SUFFERING. "And they cried unto the Lord, and said, We have sinned," etc. (1 Samuel 12:10). Underneath what is in itself an evil, and a result of the violation of law, physical or moral, there is ever working a Divine power which makes it the means of convincing men of sin, turning them from it, and improving their character and condition. A state of deepest humiliation often precedes one of highest honour. It is only those who refuse to submit to discipline (Job 36:10) and harden themselves in iniquity that sink into hopeless ruin.
V. THE EFFICACY OF PRAYER. "And the Lord sent …and delivered you," etc. (1 Samuel 12:11). "Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses" (Psalms 107:6, Psalms 107:13, Psalms 107:19, Psalms 107:28). As it was with Israel throughout their history, so has it been with others, even those who have had but little knowledge of "the Hearer of prayer."
"In even savage bosoms
There are longings, yearnings strivings
For the good they comprehend not,
And the feeble hands and helpless,
Groping blindly in the darkness,
Touch God's right hand in that darkness,
And are lifted up and strengthened"
('The Song of Hiawatha').
VI. THE PREVALENCE OF MEDIATION. "Then the Lord sent Moses and Aaron" (1 Samuel 12:8). "And the Lord sent Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel" (1 Samuel 12:11). He sent help by men specially raised up and appointed, and deliverance came through their labours, conflicts, and sufferings. One people also has been often made the medium of blessing to others. And herein we see a shadowing forth of the work of the great Mediator and Deliverer, and (in an inferior manner) of his people on behalf of the world.
VII. THE INCREASE OF RESPONSIBILITY on the part of those who have had the experience of former generations to profit by, and who have received higher privileges than they (1 Samuel 12:12, 1 Samuel 12:19). "Now all these things were written for our admonition," etc. (1 Corinthians 10:11). "Two things we ought to learn from history: one, that we are not in ourselves superior to our fathers; another, that we are shamefully and monstrously inferior to them if we do not advance beyond them" (Froude).—D.
1 Samuel 12:23 (GILGAL.)
"God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you.—"I bless God," said Mr. Flavel, the Puritan, on the death of his father, "for a religious and tender father, who often poured out his soul to God for me; and this stock of prayers I esteem the fairest inheritance on earth." And another eminent man said that he "set a greater worth upon the intercessions of the good than upon all the wealth of the Indies." The people of Israel esteemed the prayers of Samuel on their behalf in like manner. They had experience . of their amazing power and worth (1 Samuel 7:8, 1 Samuel 7:9); they were in great need of them; they appear to have thought that he might cease to offer them on account of their past treatment of him, and they entreated him, saying, "Pray for thy servants," etc. (1 Samuel 12:19). His reply was, "Moreover as for me," etc. Every true Christian, as "a priest unto God," an intercessor with God for his fellow men, ought to adopt this language as his own. It expresses—
I. AN ACKNOWLEDGED OBLIGATION, which—
1. Arises out of the fact that it is one of the principal means of doing good to others—obtaining invaluable blessings for them. Of the fact there can be no doubt (James 5:16). Why it should have been ordained as such a means we cannot fully tell; but it is plainly in accordance with the intimate relationship and mutual dependence of men; teaches them to feel a deeper interest in each other, and puts signal honour upon eminent piety. The principle of mediation pervades all things, human and Divine.
2. Is an essential part of the duty of love which we owe to others; the force of the obligation being determined by the nearness of their relationship, and the extent of their claims upon our love and service—our kindred and friends, our country, mankind.
3. Is often expressly enjoined in the word of God. "Pray one for another" (Luke 11:5; 1 Timothy 2:1). "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask (of God), and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death" (1 John 5:16).
4. Is inculcated by the example of the best men—Abraham, Moses, Job (Job 42:8, Job 42:10), Samuel and all the prophets; above all, by the example of our Lord himself, who has prayed for us all, and through whose intercession we present our prayers and hope for their acceptance.
II. A POSSIBLE OMISSION. Intercessory prayer may cease to be offered. It is sometimes omitted from—
1. Want of consideration of others; the worth of their souls, their lost condition, the love of God to them, the ransom that has been given for them. Attention is so absorbed in other objects that they are uncared for. The more we think of them, the more we shall feel and pray for them. "Love for souls as souls is not a passion of earthly growth. It is a holy fire from heaven. But bow can we have it; how can it be begotten in our hard hearts? The only true method is to draw near to them, and to look at them—to look on them in the light of reason and revelation, of immortality and of God" (C. Morris).
2. Deficiency of love and desire for their salvation.
4. Delay in the fulfilment of our requests, and apparent denial of them. But remember that sincere prayer is never offered in vain, and "pray without ceasing." God knows best when and how to answer our petitions.
III. A DEPRECATED SIN. "God forbid that I should" (far be it from me to) "sin against the Lord," etc. The sin of its omission is spoken of in direct relation to him, and consists in—
1. Disregarding his benevolent designs concerning others. "The Lord will not forsake his people," etc. (verse 22) If he loves them and seeks their welfare, we should do the same.
2. Disobeying his declared will concerning ourselves. He has not only commanded us to intercede for others, but the very position in which he has placed us is a plain indication of his will. "Ye who remember Jehovah, leave yourselves no rest, and give him no rest," etc. (Isaiah 62:6, Isaiah 62:7).
3. Burying in the earth the greatest talent that he has intrusted to us.
4. Grieving the Holy Spirit, who is ever inciting those in whom he dwells to "cry unto God day and night." "Quench not the Spirit. Whilst the devout should be urged by these considerations to "continue instant in prayer," others should remember that it is possible to place an improper reliance on the intercessions of the good, especially in expecting to obtain benefit from their prayers whilst they neglect to pray for themselves or walk in "the good and right way."—D.
1 Samuel 12:24. (GILGAL.)
The good and right way.
"Only fear the Lord," etc. Samuel assured the people that (as a priest) he would continue to pray for them, and (as a prophet) to show them the way of happiness and righteousness (Acts 7:4). Of this way the text may be taken as a further explanation, and gives—
I. ITS DESCRIPTION.
1. Filial reverence. Fear not (be not terrified—1 Samuel 12:17, 1 Samuel 12:18, 1 Samuel 12:20); but fear (with a lowly, affectionate, trustful reverence.), implying a knowledge of his character and saving purposes, in so far as he has revealed them to men; in our case, of him who is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
2. Practical obedience. "And serve him." Recognise yourselves as servants, his servants, and act accordingly. "Fear God, and keep his commandments" (the practical expression of the principle): "for this is the whole of man" (Ecclesiastes 12:13). The two may not be disjoined (Joshua 24:14; Psalms 2:11). "The life of service is work; the work of a Christian is obedience to the law of God" (Hall).
3. Thorough sincerity and whole heartedness. "In truth, with all your heart." Do not suppose that it is sufficient to render an outward and formal service; or a partial service, in which the love of idols may be united with the love of God. "Serve him only" (1 Samuel 7:3). "God will put up with many things in the human heart; but there is one thing he will not put up with in it—a second place. He who offers God a second place offers him no place; and he who makes religion his first object makes it his whole object" (Ruskin).
II. ITS NECESSITY. "Only." You must walk in it, whatever else you do; for it is only by doing so that you can—
1. Avoid walking in the evil and wrong way. The "vision of life" which the great Teacher saw and described contained only two ways, the broad and the narrow, and there is no other.
2. Escape the destructive consequences of that way. You have already entered on a perilous course, only, "fear the Lord," etc. "If ye still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both you and your king" (1 Samuel 12:25). "The way of transgressors is hard." "it leadeth to destruction."
3. Receive, and continue to receive, the blessings that have been promised. "The Lord will not forsake his people," only, "fear," etc. "I will pray for you, and teach you," only, "fear," etc. (Jeremiah 6:16; Isaiah 1:19).
III. ITS INCENTIVE. "For consider how great things he hath done for you." The motive here is not fear of punishment, nor hope of reward, nor even the sense of right, but gratitude and love.
1. What benefits; so great, so numerous, so long continued—temporal and spiritual (1 Samuel 12:6-11).
2. Toward you, in comparison with others (1 Samuel 12:22).
3. He hath wrought. He, and no other; freely and graciously. "Free love is that which has never been deserved, which has never been desired, and which never can be requited." "We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love" (1 John 4:17). But in order that his love may be perceived and its influence felt, in awakening love, we must consider, fix attention upon it, especially as manifested in "his unspeakable gift" (1 John 4:10). Our responsibility in regard to "salvation" depends directly on the power we possess of directing attention to Divine truth, and considering it with a real and earnest desire to know it, and live according to it; and by this means, as ice is melted by the sunbeams, so the heart is softened, renewed, and sanctified by the Spirit of truth. "O that they would consider!"—D.
HOMILIES BY D. FRASER
1 Samuel 12:23
The good man's weapons.
There was a vein of misgiving evident in the words of Samuel. Perhaps the new king and his triumphant soldiers ascribed it to the timorousness of old age; but the seer looked further into the future than they, and if he felt bound to warn them of the danger they would incur by rebelling against the commandment of the Lord, he gave them at the same time an assurance that he would do all in his power to preserve them from such wickedness and its inevitable consequences. The man of God could never forget Israel. But what could he do in old age for this intractable people? The reins of government had been taken out of his hands; and it had never been his duty, now less than ever, to go out to battle. What remained for him to do? Must he not let king and people take their own course—sow as they pleased, and then reap what they sowed? Nay. Samuel would not, under a plea of helplessness, withdraw himself from all care for Israel's future. There remained to him the two greatest weapons for moral effect—prayer and teaching. The one points to God in heaven, the other to men on the earth. Such are a prophet's weapons, and they are mightier than a king's sceptre or a warrior's sword. That the intellectual and the moral are the highest forms of greatness and usefulness is a truth which has established itself throughout all history. The most illustrious and influential of the Hebrew race were the prophets. Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, none of the kings compare with these, except David and Solomon, and they because they had qualities resembling those of the prophets—the one of them a poet, and the other a sage. In like manner the greatest of the Greeks were not their warriors or rulers, but such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—the men who thought and who taught. That unique and ancient people, the Chinese, regard as by far their most important man the sage Confucius. Their most powerful emperors have been comparatively little men. Our modem nations too have had their characters moulded by their thinkers and teachers far more than by their princes and soldiers; and a nation's character makes its history as much as its history shapes its character. There is a supreme illustration of this truth. Unspeakably the greatest effect ever produced by one personality on the human race has been exerted by the man Christ Jesus. The widest, deepest, and most beneficial influence has issued from him; and he began that mighty movement, which has outlasted many governments, and shows no symptom of weakness or decay, by the very instruments or weapons which were named and used by the prophet Samuel, viz; prayer and instruction. Jesus prayed; Jesus taught. How weak in comparison were the men of the sword—Herod, and Pontius Pilate, and Pilate's imperial master at Rome I Jesus had no worldly title, and used no carnal weapon. If he was a king, it was to bear witness to the truth. The weapons by which he overcame were these—he prayed, and so prevailed with God; he taught, and so prevailed with men. In the same manner he continues to animate and strengthen the Church. He makes continual intercession in heaven; and by the abiding of his words and the living guidance of his Spirit he gives continual instruction on earth. In the very beginning of the Church the apostles showed their deep appreciation of this truth, and refused to be drawn aside from that way of highest usefulness which their Master had shown to them. They would concentrate their energies on moral and spiritual work. "We will give ourselves to the word of God and to prayer." Paul was of the same mind in his apostolate. He relied on weapons "not carnal, but mighty through God." He foresaw, and it is evident from the writings of Peter and John that they too in old age foreboded, evil days, as Samuel did in his declining years; but those apostles knew no better course to recommend to the faithful than that which Samuel followed—to pray always, and to teach sound doctrine. Evil might come, even apostasy might ensue; but the elect would be proved and purified, and after troubled days the kingdom would ultimately be set up in "the sure mercies of David," and the confusion of the time of Saul would be past forever. No emphasis is laid on rite or ceremony. Samuel was a priest, and lived in a dispensation of religion which gave great scope for ritual. But we are left to assume that the rites prescribed through Moses were observed at this period. We hear wonderfully little about them. Samuel was intent on teaching that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams." How weak and puerile to lay the stress of our religion on the observance of ritual, or the performances of a priesthood! The way to make and keep a people Christian is not to sing masses for them, or multiply altar ceremonies and celebrations, but to pray, and to "teach the good and the right way," of obedience to conscience and to God. Whoso would serve his own generation well, let him pray, and let him by example, and persuasive speech or writing, preach righteousness. These are the good man's weapons, and these through God are mighty. Mischief may go on, as Saul went on to distress the people of God; but prayer and teaching quietly counteract the mischief, and prepare the way for a revival of piety and the reign of the "King of kings and Lord of lords."—F.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27