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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
1 Samuel 12

 

 


Introduction

SAMUEL ADDRESSES THE NATION OF ISRAEL

Some have called this, `Samuel's Farewell Address,'[1] but that is an error. Samuel by no means retired from his ministry of guiding Israel into the new system of government, as subsequent chapters of First Samuel abundantly prove. "This speech has a defense of Samuel's administrative leadership, which he is now relinquishing to Saul; but he is not laying down his priestly functions nor his office as the first of the great prophets of God after Moses."[2]

The placement of this chapter is exactly correct, the events reported happening very probably, as admitted by many scholars, upon the occasion at Gilgal when Saul was finally actually acclaimed King of Israel. The fact of this address by Samuel coming just here strongly indicates, as we pointed out earlier, that there were three definite phases in the process of making Saul king, culminating in his popular acceptance at Gilgal.

"There are several particulars in this chapter which assume a knowledge of what was presented in previous chapters or point forward to events in subsequent chapters, indicating that 1 Samuel 12 cannot be isolated from surrounding material."[3]

In our study of this chapter we shall follow the paragraphing suggested by Willis.


Verses 1-5

SAMUEL'S DECLARATION OF HIS FAITHFULNESS

And Samuel said to all Israel, "Behold, I have hearkened to your voice in all that you have said to me, and have made a king over you. And now, behold, the king walks before you; and I am old and gray, and behold, my sons are with you; and I have walked before you from my youth until this day. Here I am; testify against me before the Lord and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose ass have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me, and I will restore it to you." They said, "You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man's hand." And he said to them, "The Lord is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand." And they said, "He is witness."

The purpose of Samuel's plea here is that of emphasizing that it was not his abuse of the powers entrusted in him that, in any sense, justified the people's rejection of Samuel's judgeship and their demand for a king.

"I ... have made a king over you" (1 Samuel 12:1). Samuel is not here claiming any glory for this. He later stated in 1 Samuel 12:13 that it was God who had accomplished this.

"Samuel here laid down his office as judge, but without therefore ceasing as prophet to represent the people before God, and to retain the rights of God in relation to the king."[4]

"A bribe" (1 Samuel 12:3). The word from which this is translated in the Hebrew is actually ransom "The fine paid by a criminal in lieu of bonds or death."[5] Specifically, "Here it means a bribe offered to a judge to persuade him to acquit a murderer"[6]

The great significance of this paragraph, as pointed out by Keil, lay in the fact that by their witness of the honesty and integrity of Samuel's judgeship, "They thereby acknowledge on oath that there was no ground for their dissatisfaction with Samuel and their demand for a king."[7]


Verses 6-15

SAMUEL REHEARSES THE BLESSINGS OF THE THEOCRACY

"And Samuel said to the people, "The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. Now therefore stand still, that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the saving deeds of the Lord which he performed for you and for your fathers. When Jacob went into Egypt and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought forth your fathers out of Egypt, and made them dwell in this place. But they forgot the Lord their God; and he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Jabin king of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab; and they fought against them. And they cried to the Lord, and said, `We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord, and have served the Baals and the Ashteroth; but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, and we will serve thee.' And the Lord sent Jerubbaal, and Barak, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side; and you dwelt in safety. And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, `No, but a king shall reign over us,' when the Lord your God was your king. And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you. If you will fear the Lord and serve him and hearken to his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well; but if you will not hearken to the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king."

Samuel's purpose here was to convince the people of their sin in demanding a king. He pointed out that without an earthly king and while living under the guidance of their true heavenly king (God), all of the great victories of God's people had been achieved. He called attention to the quadruple pattern so characteristic of the Book of Judges: (1) the apostasy of Israel; (2) their consequent oppression; (3) their crying to God for deliverance; and (4) God's sending a deliverer in the person of various judges. Samuel followed no chronological sequence in the things mentioned, but he did conclude the citations by a reference to the deliverance which God had achieved in Samuel's own deliverance of the people at Ebenezer.

"Barak" (1 Samuel 12:11). Some versions read Bedan here; but no judge of that name is known; and thus the correction as it stands here is most likely correct.

"And Samuel" (1 Samuel 12:11). Some of the radical critics have a fit about the appearance of Samuel's name here in the mouth of Samuel himself. Why? It flatly contradicts their efforts to get Samuel out of both 1Sam. 11,1 Samuel 12, but here it is just the same.

"There is nothing improper or out of place in Samuel mentioning his own judgeship. It had supplied a remarkable instance of God's deliverance (1 Samuel 7:12-15); and as it was the last, as well as one of the greatest deliverances, it was natural that he should have done so."[8]

Furthermore, Hebrews 11:32 also corroborates the appropriateness and necessity of Samuel's being mentioned here.

"It was necessary for Samuel to mention his own role in leading them successfully against the Philistines at Ebenezer (1 Samuel 7:7-13), in order to emphasize that current events proved that the Lord had not abandoned his people, but had continued his deliverances."[9]

It has always amazed this writer to observe the ingenuity and persistence of some radical critics of the Bible whose avid and unreasonable search for contradictions and unhistorical statements in the sacred text staggers the imagination. Here is another example:

"And when you saw that Nahush the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, `No, but a king shall reign over us,' when the Lord our God was your king" (1 Samuel 12:12).

Willis stated both the critical objection and the effective answer of it:

"Some scholars assume that Samuel's reference to Nahash is a reference to his attack on Jabesh-gilead (1 Samuel 11:1-3) (an unnecessary assumption, jbc) and that his reference to the peoples' demand for a king here is the same as that of 1 Samuel 8:19 (another unnecessary assumption, J.B.C.). Since this does not agree with the apparent chronological sequence of events in 1 Samuel 8-11; and since this seems to contradict the Lord's statement in 1 Samuel 9:16, that Samuel is to anoint Saul prince over Israel to save them from the Philistines, some conclude that Samuel's statement here is unhistorical."[10]

But, again from Willis: "That does not explain how such an idea ever emerged. The Ammonites and the Philistine were allies against Israel (Judges 10:7,11); and there is no reason why they might not have asked for a king because of dangers they were facing from both the Philistines and the Ammonites."[11] Additionally, the obvious solution to the alleged difficulty lies in the fact cited by R. P. Smith, "It is probable that there had been threats of war, and even incursions from the Ammonites against Israel by Nahash before his attack on Jabesh-gilead."[12]

Thus, Samuel's reference here to Nahash might well have referred to a threat from Nahash at a time previous to his actual invasion. In an account as abbreviated as this one in First Samuel, in which events separated by years, even decades and centuries, appear side by side, it is simply unintelligent to allege contradictions of statements which we cannot place chronologically in sequence. If we knew all the facts; and we certainly don't, then we are certain that all would be plain to us.

"If you will fear the Lord ... if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord ..." (1 Samuel 12:14). "Samuel here made it plain to Israel that the monarchy itself would not save them from the ups and downs of the past."[13]

"Then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king" (1 Samuel 12:15). This was the penalty against Israel and their king if they did not follow the Lord and obey his commandments.


Verses 16-18

A MIRACULOUS CONFIRMATION OF SAMUEL'S WORDS

"Now therefore stand still and see this great thing, which the Lord shall do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain; and you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king." So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day; and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel."

The great miracle here was in the timing of the thunderstorm, which came directly and immediately upon Samuel's praying for it in the presence of all the people. Such a thing as a rain during the wheat harvest was about as unusual as anything that could have happened, just like snow in July or August! In fact, the author of Proverbs gives us this:

Like snow in summer, or rain in harvest,

so honor is not fitting for a fool. (Proverbs 26:1).

"You shall know and see that your wickedness is great ... in asking for yourselves a king" (1 Samuel 12:17). Some very excellent scholars suppose that Israel's wickedness consisted not in their asking for a king, but in their sinful motives in so doing. The Bible does not justify that distinction. Their sin consisted in rejecting the government of God by their demand for an earthly ruler instead. God would never have abolished the kingship of Israel nor have twice destroyed their temple if either one of them had been according to God's will. The passage in Deuteronomy which speaks of Israel's kings is not divine permission for their demanding a king, but a prophecy of what the people would eventually do, along with instructions applicable at the time foretold when they would commit that sin of demanding a king.


Verses 19-25

SAMUEL REASSURES THE PEOPLE OF GOD'S CONTINUED LOVE AND PROTECTION

"And all the people said to Samuel, "Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king." And Samuel said to the people, "Fear not; you have done all this evil, yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart; and do not turn aside after vain things which cannot profit or save, for they are vain. For the Lord will not cast away his people, for his great name's sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself. Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you; and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king."

"We have added ... this evil ... to ask for ourselves a king" (1 Samuel 12:19). There is every evidence that the sin of Israel did not lie in their motives for asking a king, but in the fact of their asking it.

"Serve the Lord with all your heart" (1 Samuel 12:20). No merely pretended service of the Lord could suffice; as reiterated long afterward by the Saviour, "Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, this is the first and great commandment" (Mark 12:29).

"Do not turn aside after vain things" (1 Samuel 12:21). This is a reference to the pagan idols, which are also referred to in the Scriptures as `nothings.' In fact the words here rendered vain things, "Actually mean anything empty or void, and are often used, as here, for an idol. As Paul says, `An idol is nothing in the world' (1 Corinthians 7:4)."[14] H. P. Smith translated this place, "And do not turn aside after the nothings."[15]

"The Lord will not cast away his people" (1 Samuel 12:22). The great factor underlying a promise like this was the purpose of God as revealed to Abraham that through his Seed (singular), the Messiah, God would bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). God's promise of the Messiah to be born of the posterity of Abraham absolutely required that God preserve and protect that posterity (Israel) until that goal was actually achieved in the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Unfortunately the Israelites took advantage of that promise by their countless rebellions.

"Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you" (1 Samuel 12:23). From this it is clear that Christians should never cease to pray for the Church (the true Israel).

In regard to this verse (1 Samuel 12:23), Willis observed that, "Samuel here reaffirms his intention to continue his role as a prophet, ... and priest in Israel, declaring that Israel's gaining a king will not interfere in this work."[16]

"If you do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king" (1 Samuel 12:25). "This probably looks forward to Saul's death at Gilboa."[17] It is the king not the prophet who receives this warning.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 12:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-samuel-12.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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Thursday, December 3rd, 2020
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