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Saul, part 5

Samuel's Admonition To Israel Respecting Their King.

1 Samuel 12

Saul being firmly established in the regal office, the function of Samuel as judge has ceased. He now, therefore, delivers what might be called his valedictory address to the people. He speaks to them respecting the manner in which, during his long term of office, he had discharged its duties; and he vindicates his integrity with the entire consent of the whole of the assembled tribes of Israel. "Behold," he says, "I have hearkened to your voice in all that you said to me, and have made a king over you. And now, behold, the king walks before you: and I am old and gray-headed; and, behold, my sons are with you: and I have walked before you from my childhood to this day. Behold, here I am: witness 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 of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you." To this direct and solemn appeal the people responded, "You have not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither have you taken ought of 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 aught in my hand. And they answered, He is witness."

Samuel is one of the most remarkable of the public characters mentioned in sacred history, and one of the most eminent of the instruments raised up by the Lord for reformatory purposes in evil times. At the time of his appearance in Israel the nation was demoralized and the priesthood was licentious. The judicial office, which had become corrupt, he restored to integrity, and the offering of the Lord, which had come to be abhorred, he made to be honoured: he brought the people back from a degrading and impure idolatry to the worship of the true God; and by public sacrifice and prayer, without the use of carnal weapons, of which indeed their enemies had deprived them, he obtained for Israel deliverance from what might have been the beginning of an exterminating war.

The history of Samuel is no less remarkable for its typical than for its actual character and deeds. Elkanah, the father of Samuel, had two wives. Like the two wives of Jacob, one was fruitful, and the other and best beloved was barren. The same truth is represented by both. In the early stage of the regenerate life the natural affection is fruitful, but the spiritual affection is barren. That which is natural is first, and afterwards that which is spiritual: but the spiritual affection, though barren, has an ardent desire to bear, and this desire is in due time blessed with children. Samuel was the answer to Hannah's prayers, and her devotion of the child to the Lord was the fulfillment of the vow she made in asking for a son. Samuel was a second Joseph to the children of Israel, and, like the son of Rachel, while he saved the house of Israel, he was an eminent type of the Saviour. His personal history and character bear some considerable resemblance to those of the Lord Himself. His early life is associated with the temple; and one part of his mission was to expel the mercenary dealers from its sacred precincts. From the age of twelve, when, according to Josephus, he delivered the Divine message to Eli, we hear nothing more of Samuel till, in mature manhood, he appears as a prophet before the children of Israel; and thenceforth his life is one of singular purity and usefulness. Like the truth which he represented, and which the Lord Himself was, his labours were profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works. As he appears now and henceforward, he represents the Lord rather as to good than as to truth; for he exercises the sacerdotal function, the regal being now separated from it and transferred to Saul. Yet it is as to his character of judge, as well as to that of the priest and prophet, that he now addresses himself to the people. The demands which he makes of them, when understood as relating to the spiritual life of the Lord's people and the spiritual conduct of ecclesiastical rulers, are very significant. There are spiritual goods and rights and privileges which belong to the people, the loss of which is a still greater misfortune to them than the loss of their temporal possessions. They may be deprived of the power of acquiring or possessing the knowledge of what is good and true, which is to take from them their ox and their ass, those being as necessary for cultivating and enriching the mind as these are for cultivating the field and filling the barns; they may be defrauded of the fruits of their restricted labour by being persuaded that works do not save them, except when their wealth is bestowed for pious uses; they may be oppressed by being denied the right of willing and thinking for themselves in matters of faith and practice; and they may be induced to give a bribe by being led to believe that by doing some extraordinary act of piety or charity the Divine Judge may be induced to suspend or reverse His eternal law of justice, and admit them into heaven as if they had fulfilled its requirements.

Justified in the sight of all Israel, Samuel now calls upon the people to stand still that he may reason with them before the Lord of all the mighty acts of the Lord which he had done to them and their fathers. He then briefly recounts the deliverances which they had experienced from Egypt, and, in Canaan, from Sisera, the Philistines, and Moab. The oppressions they suffered from these represent, generally, the different kinds of temptation which the members of the Church undergo, which arise from false science, which is Egypt; from external evil, which is the king of Canaan, whose armies Sisera led; from false faith, which is Philistia; and from the evil of perverted good, which is Moab. The subjection of Israel to the nations in the land of Canaan was the result of their forgetting the Lord their God, and their deliverance was the result of their turning to Him again. Besides Moses and Aaron, by whose hand the Lord delivered them out of Egypt, Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel are named as the instruments of their deliverance out of the hand of their Canaanitish enemies. These were the most eminent of their deliverers, though not answering exactly to the deliverances previously mentioned, but named for the purpose of giving a general idea of the right principles by which the members of the Church are delivered from a wrong faith and practice. From Moses, the lawgiver, to Samuel, the judge, we see a series beginning with the truth that teaches, and ending with the truth that judges. Between these we have Aaron, the priest; Jerubbaal, the conqueror of the Midianites; Bedan, whose name does not occur in Judges or elsewhere; and Jephthah, who subdued the Ammonites. Here we have the good of truth from which true worship springs, which is Aaron; the truth of good by which the worship of selfish and worldly love is overcome, represented by Jerubbaal, a name which Gideon received for throwing down the altar of Baal; the good which is acquired by that truth, which is Bedan, a name which signifies fat or robust; and the truth of love that overcomes truth profaned, which is Jephthah. This last is a principle distinguished by devoting to the Lord the pure affections of the heart, as Jephthah devoted his virgin daughter, who willingly gave herself to God for having given her father vengeance on his enemies, those enemies being the opposite of what he represented, since they corrupted their affections by devoting them to false gods.

But notwithstanding these deliverances, when Israel saw Nahash the king of the children of Ammon come against them, they said to Samuel, "Nay, but a king shall reign over us," when the Lord was their King. The king whom they had desired, and whom the Lord had set over them, was now before them; and Samuel solemnly warns both king and people that if they fear the Lord and serve Him they will continue to follow Him, but if they do not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against His commandment, the hand of the Lord will be against both them and their king. The Lord accommodates His dealings even to our infirmities, ruling us by a lower good when we refuse to be governed by a higher; but there is one condition of protection and blessing that never changes under any kind or form of government: men must fear the Lord and keep His commandments.

Besides his solemn warning, Samuel gives the people a sign from heaven: "Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call to the Lord, and He shall send thunder and rain, that you may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking you a king. So Samuel called to the Lord; and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day." Is there any connection between the subject of Samuel's oft-repeated reproof and "this great thing" which the Lord did in answer to his prayer? or is it only to be regarded as an awe-inspiring sign of Divine displeasure? To the Israelites themselves it would have no higher significance than this; but as all things that happened to that representative people were examples, and are written for our admonition, this Divine manifestation has a meaning and a lesson for us. Harvest, as the ingathering of the fruits of the earth, is an expressive symbol of the ingathering of the fruits of a good life, when the seeds of truth, sown in the good ground of an honest heart, have produced their sixty and an hundred fold. But harvest is also a symbol of judgement; because there is a harvest-time for the evil as well as for the good, since as a man sows so also shall he reap, whether it be good or evil; and because judgement, like harvest, is a time when the righteous and the wicked are separated, like the wheat and the tares. But harvest is a time for individual as well as general judgement, that is, for the separation of good and evil in the mind itself, and this separation takes place not once only at the end of life, but as often as there is spiritual decision in the mind and life between good and evil, which especially takes place after a state of temptation. Such a state, we have seen, is represented by the conflict between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon. The day in which spiritual Israel overcomes and scatters these hateful enemies is the day of wheat harvest. Wheat in the spiritual sense is the good of love and charity, and the day of wheat harvest is a state of love and charity. The state which is here represented is like that described in the Psalms: "O that My people had hearkened to Me, and Israel had walked in My ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned My hand against their adversaries.... He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat" (Ps 81:13, 14, 16). But in the case we are now considering, Israel had not altogether hearkened to the Lord and walked in His ways. They had chosen a king when the Lord was their King. They had chosen to be ruled by truth rather than by love. The Lord gives the victory to those who fight from truth as well as to those who fight from love; but conquest from truth goes less deeply to the root of evil than conquest from love. This is the wickedness of which Samuel accuses the tribes of Israel, and to impress them with a sense of which he called to the Lord to send them thunder and rain on the day of wheat harvest. It appears from Solomon that rain in harvest was regarded as a precious gift: "As snow in summer, and as rain in, harvest, so honour is not seemly for a fool" (Prov 26:1). The fool of Scripture is not a weak but a wicked person. The thunder and rain which Samuel called down from heaven were good and precious in themselves, but they were unseasonable. They did not harmonize with their state; they brought their sin to their remembrance, and told them of the state from which they had fallen. Thunder is called the voice of God; of the King's Son, who is the Lord as Divine truth, it is said, "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass" (Ps 72:6); and it is promised that if we follow on to know the Lord, He shall come to us as the rain, "as the latter and the former rain upon the earth" (Hos 6:3). The love and truth of God, of which thunder and rain are the symbols, when they come to those who have sinned against them, excite fear, as the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel; yet it does not follow that this is mere slavish fear, for there is a fear in which there is love: this is holy fear. When celestial love and truth are suddenly manifested to us in our spiritual state, though it be in the maturity and fruitfulness of that state, as the thunder and rain came to Israel on the day of wheat harvest, they cannot fail to inspire fear, or reverence, which is the mixture of love and fear, because they give us a perception of our moral distance from God; as Peter, when the miraculous drain of fishes suddenly gave him a perception of the exalted character of Jesus and a deep sense of his own imperfection, exclaimed, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." Happy will it be for us if such an impression upon our heart and mind leads us to trust more perfectly in the Lord, and to aspire more ardently after a higher state. And this we are taught to do in the conduct of Israel, who intreated Samuel, saying, "Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we die not: for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask us a king." Often as this sin had been laid to their charge by Samuel, this is the first time the people have confessed it. His object in repeating it is now, therefore, accomplished. Samuel has been saying to Israel, as John said to the Ephesian Church, "Remember from whence you are fallen, and repent, and do the first works;" and repentance has now followed remembrance, and the prophet is intreated to pray to the Lord that they die not. From being the accuser of the people, Samuel now becomes their comforter. "Fear not: you have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.... For the Lord will not forsake His people for His great name's sake: because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people. Moreover, as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you." While he comforts and encourages the people, and promises to pray for them, Samuel adds, "But I will teach you the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things He has done for you. But if you shall still do wickedly, you shall be consumed, both you and your king." These are the sayings of a true prophet, who seeks to convince of sin that he may lead to repentance, and while he gives the promise of Divine favour to the penitent, makes them the subjects of his prayers and of his teaching. All this is highly consistent with Samuel's character as a representative of the Messiah. The Lord reproved and comforted and prayed for and taught His disciples; and He still does all this by His Spirit and His Word, and remotely through those who sustain the true prophetic character in the Church and to themselves.

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