Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

1 Samuel 12

Introduction

SAMUEL’S FAREWELL ADDRESS TO ISRAEL, 1 Samuel 12:1-25.

While the hearts of all the people are thus knit to their new king, and every tongue in Israel is eloquent with his praise, the venerable prophet and judge feels that the proper time has come for the public surrender of his office as ruler. For what more suitable occasion was likely to present itself than this joyful assembly of the people at Gilgal? Here the monarchy was newly confirmed to Saul, and henceforth all Israel would regard him as their leader and king. Samuel, indeed, as long as he lived, would be regarded with profoundest reverence by all, and his religious influence must needs be greater than that of any other man. So, too, as long as he was able to exercise judgment, there would be those who would, in matters of difficulty, prefer his counsels and judgment before all others. Accordingly, he “judged Israel all the days of his life.” 1 Samuel 7:15. But his years reminded him that he must shortly pass away. His long, flowing locks, over which no razor had ever passed, (1 Samuel 1:11,) were gray with age and cares. There must have been a mighty struggle in his bosom when he uttered this valedictory to the people whose interests had been the burden of his heart and prayers for so many years. The nation had now reached a new era in its historical development, and its future weal or woe depended on the people’s obedience to the commandments of God. This impressive truth the venerable prophet seeks, throughout his entire address, to fasten indelibly upon their minds.

The address consists of three parts. (1) Samuel’s self-vindication, 1-5. (2) A brief historical review of the theocracy from its beginning up to the time of Saul’s inauguration, 6-13. (3) Solemn exhortation to obedience, on the ground that this revolution in the government was offensive to Jehovah, to which, during an awful pause, (16-19,) a miraculous confirmation is given from the heavens, 14-25.

Verse 1-2

1, 2.I’ have made a king over you — This statement, together with that which follows — behold, the king walketh before you — indicates what we have already assumed, that this farewell address was made at Gilgal when they renewed the kingdom there.

My sons are with you — That is, are at your disposal, to be treated as may seem proper to you and to your king. They had heretofore assisted Samuel in the judgeship by attending to matters in remote parts of the country, (see on 1 Samuel 8:1,) but now they were superseded by the election of a king.

Verse 3

3.Before his anointed — That is, Saul, the king, who had probably been publicly anointed before this assembly at Gilgal.

Verse 5

5.They answered’ witness — They thereby testified by an oath before God that there was no reason for them to be dissatisfied with Samuel’s administration, or for bringing about this revolution in their government.

Verse 6

6.It is the Lord — In the Hebrew the word LORD is without expressed grammatical connexion, but it is most natural to regard it as a repetition from the preceding verse. Thus: Jehovah is witness, etc. — even Jehovah, who advanced Moses and Aaron. Literally, who made Moses and Aaron; that is, made them what they were.

Verse 7

7.All the righteous acts of the Lord — A remembrance of these would show them how ill-advised and impious it was to revolutionize their form of government, and establish a kingdom like that of the heathen nations. Jehovah had never failed them when they obeyed his word and cried unto him; why, then, should they desire a human king? For a fuller historical record of the several acts referred to, see the marginal references.

Verse 11

11.Bedan — We have no record of any judge in Israel of this name, and interpreters have accordingly resorted to various conjectures as to the person meant. Some think the word בדן should be rendered in Dan, that is, a native of Dan, meaning Samson, who was of that tribe. Judges 13:2. Others think Jair, the Gileadite, is meant, because a descendant of Manasseh bears this name in 1 Chronicles 7:17. There may, indeed, have been a judge of this name, of whom we have no mention in the book of Judges, for we are not to regard that book as a complete history; but the name Bedan is more probably a corruption of Abdon, (Judges 12:13,) or of Barak. Judges 4:6. The reading Barak is favoured by its resemblance to Bedan in orthography, ( בדןברק,) and by the fact that it is so taken in the Septuagint, Syriac, and Arabic versions. Compare also Hebrews 11:32.

Samuel — Some have thought proper, by the aid of the Syriac and Arabic versions, to emend the Hebrew text here and read Samson, on the ground that Samuel would not mention himself as one of the deliverers of Israel. But Samuel did more than any other judge to break the Philistine oppression, (1 Samuel 7:13,) and he mentions himself to show the people how inexcusable they were in “refusing to obey the voice of Samuel, and saying, Nay, but we will have a king over us.” 1 Samuel 8:19.

Verse 12

12.When ye saw that Nahash’ came — This shows, as we have elsewhere noted, (at beginning of chap. 8,) that the Ammonite invasion was one reason of Israel’s urgent request for a king. See, he says, your disrespect and ingratitude towards God. When a judge was in your midst by whom God had wrought you most signal deliverance from your foes, ye see another enemy in the distance, and begin to clamour for a human king, apparently forgetting that Jehovah, your God, was your king!

Verse 14

14.Both ye and also the king — There was no necessary evil in their having a king, and if both king and subjects reverence God, the nation shall be as prosperous and happy as ever. Some other form of government might have been better; but if the king and people will meet the true conditions of national permanence, the monarchy shall be blessed and honoured. A failure to recognise and observe the commandments of God will sooner or later ruin any nation, no matter what its form of government.

Verse 16

16.Stand and see this great thing — Rain in the time of harvest was a strange thing to a Hebrew. Proverbs 26:1. The following statements, taken from Robinson, (Biblical Researches, vol. i, p. 430, 431,) will illustrate this: “The harvest upon the mountains ripens, of course, later than in the plains of the Jordan and the seacoast. On the 4th and 5th of June the people of Hebron were just beginning to gather their wheat; on the 11th and 12th the threshing floors on the mount of Olives were in full operation. We had already seen the harvest in the same stage of progress on the plains of Gaza on the 19th of May; while at Jericho, on the 12th of May, the threshing floors had nearly completed their work. During the months of April and May the sky is usually serene, the air mild and balmy. Showers occur occasionally, but they are mild and refreshing. The 6th of May (1838) was remarkable for thunder and for several showers, some of which were quite heavy. But the occurrence of rain so late in the season was regarded as a very unusual circumstance. In ordinary seasons, from the cessation of the showers in spring until their commencement in October or November, rain never falls, and the sky is usually serene.”

Verse 17

17.Your wickedness is great’ in asking you a king — Their wickedness was not in the mere fact of their asking for a king, but in the manner and spirit with which they urged the matter, and in which they ungratefully cast reflections on the marvellous deliverances of God. The heathenish tendencies, too — the love of heathen customs indicated in their specific request for a king like the nations — intensified the sinful reflection on God’s mercies.

Verse 18

18.Feared the Lord and Samuel — They felt that Samuel’s thoughts and feelings and those of Jehovah were the same. Jehovah’s true representative was among them.

Verse 20

20.Fear not — Do not yield yourselves to inordinate terror, for even after all your rebellions, if now ye serve him with all your heart, he will be found plenteous in mercy.

Verse 22

22.For his great name’s sake — Jehovah is jealous of his glory; and all its sublime manifestations in defence of his people he could not well forget.

Verse 23

23.God forbid that I should sin’ in ceasing to pray for you — What a grandeur and sublime excellency of character and heart is indicated by this declaration! Though rejected by an ungrateful people, yet for them shall his prayers unceasingly ascend. To do otherwise would, in his mind, be to sin against Jehovah.

Verse 25

25.Consumed, both ye and your king — Mark the decree: By disobedience and sin even the Lord’s anointed, as well as the chosen people, shall most certainly perish! Surely a most impressive warning with which to close the prophet’s last public address to the assembled nation!

This address is a noticeable representative of the burden of prophecy as exhibited in the oracles of all the prophets that followed Samuel. Here we see the true prophet as emphatically the man of God, the messenger of Jehovah, commissioned to reveal the divine will, to rebuke the wickedness of kings and peoples, and to pronounce the judgments that would surely follow personal and national sins. He was the spiritual watchman whom Jehovah set over his people to reveal the great truths of the divine government, and apply them to the leading persons and events of his age.

Samuel appeared again at intervals in the subsequent history of Saul, but his public ministry as ruler in Israel closed with this farewell address at Gilgal. His history, as recorded in this book which bears his name, presents him as the holy child, the saintly judge, and the venerable seer and prophet.

(1) The holy child. His mother was a prophetess, as appears from the inspired psalm which she uttered at the time of his dedication, (1 Samuel 2:1-10,) and he was given her in answer to most fervent prayer. Hence his name Samuel — Heard of God. 1 Samuel 1:20. Like Samson, he was a Nazarite from the womb, and the vow of his consecration was binding on him all his days. 1 Samuel 1:11. While yet a tender child his parents took him to the tabernacle at Shiloh, and, by special sacrifices, consecrated him unto the Lord; and there, until the place was desolated, he ministered unto the Lord, girded with a linen ephod. 1 Samuel 2:18. It was while he was yet a child that the Lord revealed himself to him in a vision of the night, and from that time he knew Jehovah by a divine and intimate communion. 1 Samuel 3:7. This supernatural endowment speedily elevated him to recognition by all Israel as a prophet of the Most High God. 1 Samuel 3:20. Surely Samuel’s holy childhood, like that of the blessed Jesus, proclaims to all who study it that even in its earliest and tenderest years the human heart may bear the image of the heavenly.

(2) The saintly judge. His holy childhood and early call to be a prophet invest his character as judge with more of saintliness than that of any other judge in Israel. Even Eli, who was also the high priest, never wielded the moral and religious influence that Samuel did. We first meet with him in the character of judge at Mizpeh, (1 Samuel 7:6,) where the Philistines met with one of their most disastrous defeats. 1 Samuel 7:13. Yet even on that occasion his character of judge seemed almost swallowed up in that of intercessor for the people. They looked to him as a mediator between themselves and God. 1 Samuel 7:8. He presided at the sacrifices offered there and at other places, and his own home was not without its altar. 1 Samuel 7:17. In fact, no sacrifice of the people seemed complete without his blessing; and his yearly visits to Beth-el, Gilgal, and Mizpeh (1 Samuel 7:16) were probably hailed with like interest and enthusiasm to that which greeted him at the city where he first met Saul. 1 Samuel 9:12-13. The people showed their entire confidence in his judgeship by committing to his hands the task of establishing them into a kingdom, (1 Samuel 8:5,) and when he resigned his rulership over them, they called God to witness that no unrighteous act could be laid to his charge. 1 Samuel 12:5.

(3) The venerable seer and prophet. It was this relation in which Samuel stood before God and man that gave such saintliness to his character as judge; and, in fact, whenever he appeared on public occasions it would seem that his judgeship was almost lost sight of in view of the far more exceeding sanctity and venerableness of his prophetic calling. While yet a youth, all Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, knew that he was established to be a prophet of the Lord. 1 Samuel 3:20. It is as prophet rather than judge that he intercedes with God for the people, blesses their sacrifices, and teaches them the right ways of the Lord. He was both seer and prophet. 1 Samuel 9:9. Gifted with a supernatural vision, he could discern things that were unknown to common mortals. 1 Samuel 9:20; 1 Samuel 10:22. It was in a vision of the night that the Lord first revealed himself to Samuel. 1 Samuel 3:15. Before that time, in Israel divine revelations were few and far between, (1 Samuel 3:1;) but afterwards there was an unbroken succession of prophets until the close of Old Testament history, so that the inspired apostle seems to have regarded him as the beginning of the sacred order. Acts 3:24. He was the founder of the schools of the prophets, (1 Samuel 10:5,) and after he resigned his judgeship he sought retirement at Ramah among his spiritual children in one of these schools, (1 Samuel 19:18,) and there for a time he had the training of the great psalmist king of Israel. His prophetical office he exercised after the inauguration of Saul, and that monarch ever looked up to him as his spiritual father, and showed him the profoundest reverence. We next meet with him at Gilgal, near the Jordan, where he first declared to the disobedient Saul that his kingdom should not long continue. 1 Samuel 13:14. Afterwards he counselled him to war with Amalek, (1 Samuel 15:1;) and after the battle, in which Saul was again disobedient to the divine word, he uttered before him his last solemn oracle. 1 Samuel 15:17-35. Then, in accordance with a divine revelation, he turned aside to Beth-lehem and anointed the youthful son of Jesse, (1 Samuel 16:1;) after which he retired to his home at Ramah, and there died and was buried (1 Samuel 25:1) amid the lamentations of a people with whom his word had been as the law of God. There have been other prophets in some respects, perhaps, greater than Samuel; in the office of judge, perhaps Gideon surpassed him in the number of his mighty works; and there may have been many children equally as holy and devout in their childhood; but, taking him altogether, we find for him in history no perfect parallel. His is a monumental character on which no blot appears, and on whose memory Jew and Christian will ever love to meditate.

“Samuel is the chief type,” says Stanley, “in ecclesiastical history, of holiness, of growth, of a new creation without conversion; and his mission is an example of the special missions which such characters are called to fulfil. In proportion as the different stages of life have sprung naturally and spontaneously out of each other, without any abrupt revulsion, each serves as a foundation on which the other may stand; each makes the foundation of the whole more sure and stable. In proportion as our own foundation is thus stable, and as our own minds and hearts have grown up gradually and firmly, without any violent disturbance or wrench to one side or to the other, in that proportion is it the more possible to view with calmness and moderation the difficulties and differences of others; to avail ourselves of the methods and new characters that the advance of time throws in our way; to return from present troubles to the pure and untroubled well of our earlier years; to preserve and to communicate the childlike faith, changed, doubtless, in form, but the same in spirit, in which we knelt in humble prayer for ourselves and others, and drank in the first impressions of God and of heaven. The call may come to us in many ways; it may tell us of the change of the priesthood, of the fall of the earthly sanctuary, of the rise of strange thoughts, of the beginning of a new epoch. Happy are they who, here or elsewhere, are able to perceive the signs of the times, and to answer, without fear or trembling, ‘Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.’”

 

 

 

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Samuel 12". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/1-samuel-12.html. 1874-1909.