When I had left off on my study of 1 Samuel, Israel was at a monumental cross-roads. For nearly 300 plus years, Israel had been led by a generation of judges, raised up specifically by the LORD to deliver His people.
Samuel had served as the last judge who ushered in the monarchs. According to 1 Samuel 8, the people turned from following Samuel and the Lord (perhaps because of Samuel’s rebellious sons) and requested a human king to like unto all the nations. It was not sinful to have a king, but they sought human solutions, rather than what ought to be divine leading. Wanting a king like unto all the nations was a rebuke to God, who had been the one to lead them and deliver them from their enemies.
Granting their request, the LORD had Samuel anoint for them a man to be king, and Saul, son of Kish, was like a worldly king. A rich kid, he certainly was not a spiritual man. However, God gave him a special anointing of His spirit to accomplish His theocratic calling.
Saul was reluctant to take up his new role as king, and in chapter 11, God used Nahash, a wicked, brutal thug, to rouse Saul to action as the appointed king of the people.
Now, coming to chapter 12, Saul, Samuel, and all the other people with them, are gathered at Gilgal in a post victory, worship celebration over the defeat of Nahash. It was here that Samuel chose to close the book of his full time ministry.
Samuel takes the opportunity to do four things:
I) Recount to them of his integrity (12:1-5)
Before Samuel relinquishes his full-time ministry, he demands from the people to provide any examples where he had defrauded them, where he abused his authority, or took advantage of the poor with his role as prophet and judge.
His public career was long and well-known, from his youth to old age. Everyone knew who he was, and if he had perverted justice or abused the people, someone would speak up. No one does. That in turn establishes Samuel’s authority for the remainder of what he was going to tell them.
II) Reminds them of God’s dealings (12:6-11)
Samuel is preparing to admonish and warn Israel of their attitude of forgetting God in a crisis. Before he does, he reminds them of their historical past and God’s righteous acts of deliverance. (Notice how Samuel speaks of these events as genuine and historical. Not as mythical, made-up morality tales).
He pulls from these historical events in order to teach a couple of theological truths regarding God’s care for His people:
A) It is God alone who has delivered His people, not armies or human kings.
B) God moves to rescue them in response to their prayers and repentance.
Moses: He reminds them of their beginnings under Moses’ leadership who led them out of Egypt, the worse of all oppressors. Israel was held as slaves and it was an act of God raising up Moses and Aaron who at the direction of God led the people to freedom (Exodus 14:13, 19-28). No human king could have accomplished that mass deliverance of an entire nation enslaved by the world’s foremost superpower at that time.
Gideon (Jerubbabel): God used him and 300 men to defeat the massive invasion of the Midianites into Israel’s farm land (Judges 7:19-22).
Barak (Bedan)/Debrah: Raising up both Barak and Debrah, God delivered Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s armies, into the hands of the Israelites. In fact, God stirred up Sisera, at the news of Barak attempting to gather an army, and then sent a flash flood (Judges 5:20,21) to overwhelm Sisera’s army. They were beaten by Barak’s forces and Sisera was executed by the hand of a woman (Judges 4:21).
Jepthah: An outcast from his people, God anointed him to lead a rag-tag party of pirates against the Ammonites (Judges 11:34,35).
Samuel: He recalls earlier in his ministry when God caused it to thundered from heaven, thus frightening the Philistines so that Israel could chase them down and subdue them (1 Samuel 7:10).
III) Samuel’s Rebuke (12:12-15)
Samuel reminded them of these historical events for a reason: To clearly show that God is powerful to save and faithful to deliver His people.
- It was the people who had “forsaken the LORD” and broken covenant with Him.
- They replaced the worship of the true God with the polytheistic fertility cult marked by devotion to male (Baals) and female (Astoreths) deities.
- God brought oppressors- specific curses as prescribed by the covenant.
- Those oppressors drove the people to repentance.
- God alone delivered them.
This is a necessary rebuke, because as Samuel points out, the people he was addressing were guilty of the same response (12:12). In response to another foreign threat (Nahash), rather than crying out to God for direction to meet this threat, they sought a worldly solution to their problem. They asked for a human king.
IV) Renew their commitment to God (16-25)
Samuel calls them back to a fear of the LORD and warns that intentional disobedience will lead to God’s hand against them.
In order to affirm the certainty of Samuel’s words, God sends thunder and rain that diminish the wheat harvest (16, 17). It had the desired effect. The people feared God and confessed their sin.
Samuel then comforts the people with words of wisdom. They need to obey God, stay focused on Him and not vain things like human armies and kings and of course, false gods, because they can’t deliver. Moreover, they need to recall to mind God’s previous great acts and remember that turning aside from God will bring their destruction.