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Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
1 Samuel 12

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Verses 1-2

Samuel Announces His Resignation

The people are still in Gilgal (1 Samuel 11:14). There Samuel gives his farewell speech. Saul has become king and has already acted as such and does not go back to his cattle. Samuel’s task is over, and he steps back. That does not mean that he is without work, but this will continue to take place in silence. That is how it goes with older believers. They withdrew more from the public service, but the task to pray remains (1 Samuel 12:23).

Samuel addresses the people for the last time. He also wants with his speech to prevent the people from accusing him afterwards of having given them a king. He has appointed him, but it is at their request. Man is always inclined to blame others. This has been the case since Adam and Eve.

Samuel points out their king to the people. He says of himself that his time is up. He only says of his sons that they are with them. He mentions it as fact, as a neutral matter, without value judgement. This remark about his sons may also mean that he has deposed them again and that they are back as ordinary citizens among the people.

He can say of himself that he has gone before them, something he does not say of his sons. Now Saul will go out for them. But what is a great difference between the leading of Samuel and the leading of Saul? Samuel can say that from his youth he did this in full loyalty to the LORD. They know him from a long stay among them, in which he has always served them. Of Saul the people know nothing yet. They only judge him by his appearance because he still must prove everything.

Saul, who is already king, has yet to prove himself, while David has already done so before he becomes king.

Verses 3-5

Selflessness of Samuel

Samuel asks them if they can accuse him of something. Why does he ask that? He has listed in 1 Samuel 8 what kind of king their king will be, what he will ask of them (1 Samuel 8:11-Esther :). Now he asks, as it were: “Have I been so? Are you better off now? Will you king be so?” Samuel has walked in humility and subservience; Saul will walk in self-will and self-enforcement.

When he speaks these words, he brings himself and the whole people “into the presence of the LORD”. That makes it a serious event. The questions he asks must touch the hearts and conscience of the people. He also speaks his words in the presence of “His anointed”, that is Saul.

The servant puts himself entirely at the service of God’s people, without asking anything of them, or even giving the impression of being profit-seeking and seeking self-enrichment. Similar words as here from Samuel we also hear from Nehemiah (Nehemiah 5:15) and Paul (Acts 20:33-Nahum :). How important it is for a servant to be able to say that. It is about giving oneself away for the people and not taking anything from them. It is about giving. True service has clean hands. Has there ever been a Head of State or Minister in any part of the world who was able to say so when he resigned and to count on the general agreement of the whole people?

Samuel asks for evidence whether he has taken someone’s ox or donkey. We can apply this spiritually. We steal someone’s ox when we offer God the sacrifice of the thanks of our lips for what He gave in the Lord Jesus, but use the words of another person, that is to say, parrot others. It seems beautiful but is not his own. Words can be stolen (Jeremiah 23:30). We can make the same application when it comes to taking someone’s donkey. The donkey is the animal of service. We can demand a service that is due to another person. This is a way Paul has kept far from himself (2 Corinthians 10:13).

The other things that Samuel asks the people to accuse him of, can also be applied in this way. Oppression means to impose the law on another, to take away his freedom in Christ (cf. Galatians 5:1; cf. Isaiah 58:6). Taking a gift means giving preferential treatment. Then we turn a blind eye to evil. Accepting a gift can also be done by opening up for flattery. Whoever flatters us, we may like, and we will favor.

Of all the things Samuel mentions, the people must admit that there is nothing wrong with him in this respect. He has not been hard on them, has recognized each in the dignity that fits and has never adopted anything that would make him lose his independence. Samuel confirms their affirmation and so do the people.

The testimony of our neighbors and especially the testimony of our own conscience, that we have lived honestly and sincerely in our place and vocation, will encourage us if we are scorned. Demétrius is a happy man, because he “has received a [good] testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself” (3 John 1:12).

Verses 6-11

Righteous Deeds of the LORD

After Samuel was declared completely righteous in his actions by the people, he did not begin to blame them for their stupidity in deposing him. He seeks only the honor of God. Therefore he gives an overview of what they have experienced with God and God with them.

To bring the people to a deeper knowledge of their sin Samuel emphasizes what the LORD has done for them. It is He who called Moses and Aaron, and it is He who delivered their fathers from Egypt by them. If therefore the LORD did this then, and He is now present as a Witness at the declaration of Samuel’s selflessness and impartiality, then the people have seriously sinned by now coveting a king themselves. In the person of Samuel they have rejected the LORD their God (1 Samuel 8:7), Who has given them leaders.

Samuel is the last judge and the first prophet (Acts 13:20). It is the conclusion of an old and the beginning of a new era. He devotes his last words to the righteous deeds of the LORD for His people. He tells them the cause of their misery and the way to be delivered from it. With “all the righteous acts of the LORD” He means all the benefits which the LORD has bestowed on His people. These deeds are the result of His faithfulness to His covenant. On that account He has fulfilled His promises to His people.

The first righteous acts of the LORD that Samuel mentions are the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt and their bringing into the land of Canaan. That is what the LORD did through Moses and Aaron. Moses and Aaron have delivered the people from Egypt, but they have not become king. They have been God’s instruments to carry out His will. And when God calls Moses “king in Jeshurun” (Deuteronomy 33:5), He does so Himself and not the people.

Samuel then shows the reaction of the people to the blessings of God. He starts with “but” (1 Samuel 12:9). This indicates a contradiction on the part of the people. The people have always responded with unfaithfulness to the blessings of God. Because of the unfaithfulness of the people, their forsaken of the LORD, He has surrendered them into the power of the enemy. Over time, they have then discovered that these enemies are hard masters and have begun to cry out to the LORD. And always He has answered and given salvation. Thus hath the LORD been their liberator from Egypt till now.

The righteous deeds of the LORD are evident both from the fact that He had to surrender them into the hands of enemies because of their waste from Him and from the deliverance of the people from the hands of their enemies. These deeds can be found in the book of Judges. Samuel refers to some events in that book.

It shows that God always uses whomever He wants. He is sovereign. Samuel acknowledges that he is only one of several. God can redeem by whomever He wills, also by one or more. None of these saviors has become king. Gideon even explicitly refused it if asked (Judges 8:22-Isaiah :).

Verses 12-15

Call to Serve the LORD

Here Samuel exposes the true reason of the people in their desire for a king. The direct threat of Nahash has made the desire rise in them for a visible leader, as is the case with the peoples around them. At the same time Samuel speaks to their conscience when he speaks of the LORD as their King.

He points the people to their choice, and to the LORD Who accepted it, and gave them the king they asked for. In the deeds of His people God carries out His counsels. Man cannot understand that. The fact that God uses the deeds of man does not make man any less responsible. Only God can explain this. It is wrong that the people have made that choice and rejected God, while God achieves His goal through it (cf. Acts 2:23).

Samuel has relieved his heart. He has presented to the people their past and their choice in the present. Now he speaks about the future (1 Samuel 12:14-Ezra :). He no longer speaks about Saul, but to the people as well as to Saul. If both the people and Saul are obedient, they will experience God’s blessing despite their failures in the past and the present. But if they turn away from Him, His hand will be against them. God always remains faithful to Himself, both in blessing and in discipline.

Verses 16-18

A Great Wickedness

Samuel emphasizes his words with a special deed, bringing him to the level of Moses and Elijah. It is not the rainy season, hence the reference to the wheat harvest, the time when it rains least. That it will now rain with thunders, is a miracle. This miracle must show the people that they have done evil.

Samuel, by his miracle, places the full responsibility of the wrong choice of the people on their shoulders, as Moses did. There is also the thunder with Moses with the result that the people are afraid. The people fear the impressive majesty of the LORD. They also fear Samuel because they understand how much power from God he has.

Verse 19

The People Ask for Prayer

The people ask Samuel to pray for them. They never asked their king Saul for anything like that. When conscience is touched, the prayers of God-fearing people are sought. Moses was also an intercessor for the people, as was Elijah. These were the men who knew God and loved the people. They had a special relationship to heaven, as if they could dispose of it, but they acted with the knowledge of heaven. David, Solomon, and Hezekiah also prayed for the people. Nowhere do we read that Saul prayed, neither for himself nor for the people.

Even before Saul has failed, the people come to the recognition that they have sinned. But God knows them and keeps them to their choice.

Verses 20-22

The LORD Shall Not Leave His People

Samuel reassures the people. He takes nothing away from their wrong choice and tells them that they have done evil, but he also tells them the way out. There is always a way back and God will never definitively give up His people. Samuel emphasizes the great danger of futile idols. They are things of nothing. They benefit nothing.

Opposite to that is the guarantee of the LORD Who will not leave His people. He does not stay with His people because of their faithfulness, for they are an unfaithful people. He stays with His people because of His own great Name. He pleased to make these people His people. Therefore He will never leave them forever, but will take care of them.

Verse 23

Samuel Continues to Pray for the People

In Scripture we have no indication whatsoever that Saul prayed. A true servant of the Lord carries God’s people on his heart, invisible, in prayer. Samuel interceded for the people until the end of his life. Jeremiah recalls this hundreds of years later (Jeremiah 15:1). God can only bless us by virtue of the intercession, unknown to us, of the unknown many who know His thoughts about His people.

There remains for the people a “good and right way”, despite the crooked way that Saul will go. Samuel will teach them that way, that God’s will may be done. He says that as long as he is with them, he will show them what the real serving of God is. It is the way of happiness and to heaven. It is the right way – there is nothing bad in it. It is the right or straight road – there is no twist in it.

This example of Samuel is a wonderful example for all leaders, that they do not have to turn away from those they serve when these become unfaithful. They should not give up their interest and commitment to their wellbeing, but work for them with even more perseverance.

Verses 24-25

Last Admonitions

Samuel indicates how they can secure the blessing of the LORD. That is to be faithful to the LORD, to fear Him, that is to know Him, and to have respect for Him, and to honor Him. Let them serve Him and consider themselves His servants. He calls upon them to always be honest and sincere and to always do the work of obedience with love, not out of mere duty.

There are countless reasons to serve the LORD out of love. They and we only need to look at all the great deeds He has done in our lives. Look at the history of our fathers, look at our own lives. See how God has repeatedly intervened for our benefit in power, mercy, grace, goodness, and truth. Does He not overload us daily with His favors?

Samuel ends his penetrating speech with a final serious warning both to the people and to Saul. After all he has explained, the people and Saul can no longer be excused if they do evil. Then they do it against their better judgment, and the LORD can do nothing but sweep them away.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 Samuel 12". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-samuel-12.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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