1Sa_12:16-23. Now therefore stand and see this great thing, which the Lord will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest to-day? I will call unto the Lord, and he shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking you a king. So Samuel called unto the Lord; and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day: and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto to Lord thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king. And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart; and turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain. For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath 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.
THERE is scarcely any more curious part of sacred history than that which relates to the appointment of Saul to the throne of Israel. He was a man of noble stature, but of a low family. His father’s asses had strayed, and he went with a servant three days in search of them. His provisions were exhausted; and he thought of returning home, lest his father should begin to be anxious about him. His servant understanding that they were not far from the abode of Samuel, whom they supposed to be a kind of magician, and capable of informing them where the asses were, proposed that they should call upon him, and seek that information at his hands: but having no money left to pay this magician for his trouble, they were discouraged; having no idea that he would give his advice without a fee. The servant however said he had the fourth part of a shekel (about seven-pence of our money) left, and that they would offer him that. Accordingly they went; and were informed that the asses were found. But Saul had further information, that quite astonished him. The people of Israel had requested Samuel to appoint a king over them; and God, on being applied to by Samuel, directed him to comply with their request; and told him moreover, that this very Saul was the person whom he should appoint. Accordingly he told Saul what God had ordained; and gave him several signs whereby he should know infallibly that the matter was of God: and then convoked the people, and drew lots before the Lord; and Saul was the person on whom the lot fell. Saul, through modesty, hid himself; but God disclosed to Samuel the place where he was hid: and Samuel sent for him, and committed to him the charge of the kingdom, for which God then fitted him by some special gifts.
Were we to judge only from that part of the history to which we have already alluded, we should suppose that this change in the constitution of Israel was pleasing to God: but Samuel, by divine command, declared the contrary, and condemned the people with great severity. This is related in the words of our text; from whence we shall be led to notice,
The sin committed—
The Israelites desired to change the form of their government, and to have a king appointed over them—
[For this desire they had many specious reasons. Samuel was now old, and incapable of supporting the fatigues of government: he had therefore delegated a large portion of his authority to his sons, who, alas! were far from walking in his steps, or executing aright the trust reposed in them. This was assigned as one reason for their request [Note: 1Sa_8:1-5.]. But though this would have justified a request for Samuel’s interposition to reprove, or even to depose, them, it was by no means a sufficient reason for them to seek an extinction of that form of government which God himself had appointed, and a substitution of another in its stead.
They were now also alarmed with the menaces of Nahash, king of the Ammonites, who was preparing to invade them [Note: 1Sa_12:12.]: and they wished to have the power of their government vested in the hands of one who should be able to protect them. But they needed not an arm of flesh, whilst they had Jehovah for their king: and if Jehovah had not delivered them according to their desire, it was owing to themselves, who by their sins had forfeited his protection. They therefore should have made this an occasion of humiliation and of turning unto God, and not an occasion of desiring another king in the place of God.
Besides, they wished to be in this respect like the nations around them [Note: 1Sa_8:19; 1 Samuel 20.], forgetting that a Theocracy was their highest honour, and most distinguished privilege.]
This desire of theirs was exceeding sinful—
[It was, in the first place, an act of great folly; for they enjoyed all the benefits of kingly government, without any of its expenses or of the evils generally arising out of it [Note: 1Sa_8:9-18.] — — — In the next place, it was a mark of base ingratitude towards Samuel, who had spent his whole life in their service: and in this view Samuel could not but feel it, and complain of it. Yet so heavenly was his mind, that instead of resenting it, he committed it to God in prayer; and never complained of it till after the appointment of a king had been ratifed and confirmed Then indeed he appealed to them, whether he had not conducted himself towards them with the most unblemished integrity [Note: 1Sa_12:2-5.] — — — But past services were of little account with persons so infatuated and self-willed as that people were at this time. But further, it was also a direct and open rejection of God himself. This was the construction which God himself put upon it [Note: 1Sa_8:7.]. And how little he deserved this treatment at their hands, Samuel shewed them, by recounting to them the mercies which he had vouchsafed unto their nation, from its first existence even to that day [Note: 1Sa_10:17-19; 1Sa_12:7-11.].
But they were deaf to every statement that he could make, and insensible to every feeling that should have actuated their minds: for who can convince those who are determined not to be convinced? “Nay; but we will [Note: 1Sa_8:19; 1Sa_12:12.],” is but a poor answer from those who are taught what God willeth. It is indeed the answer of sinners in general: but all who make such a reply, will hear of it again from God himself.]
What we are to think of their conduct, will further appear from,
The reproof administered—
Such wickedness as this could not pass unreproved. Samuel therefore “solemnly protested against them,” as God had commanded [Note: 1Sa_8:9.]; and then proceeded to deal with them in that way which he conceived to be most conducive to their amendment:
He desired a judgment from God, with a view to their humiliation—
[There was not at that time any appearance of a storm, nor was the wheat harvest a season when storms often occurred. But he requested of God to manifest his displeasure by a sudden tempest: and immediately the thunders rolled, the rain descended in torrents, and the indignation of the Lord was clearly shewn; insomuch that “the people greatly feared both the Lord and Samuel.” Thus was the desired effect produced: the people saw that they had sinned; and entreated the intercession of Samuel, that they might not be punished according to their deserts. How different is the voice of God from that of man! that will convince the most obstinate, and soften the most obdurate: and, sooner or later, they who will not yield to the remonstrances of God’s servants, shall be spoken to in a way which they can neither gainsay nor resist.]
He proclaimed mercy from God with a view to their encouragement—
[There was nothing vindictive in the conduct of Samuel: he lamented that the people should act so wickedly, and that God should be so dishonoured; but he willingly sacrificed his own interests, and cheerfully resigned the power which had been committed to him. He saw how agitated the people were; and gladly embraced the opportunity of pouring balm into their wounds. He bade them “not fear;” for though they had sinned greatly, God would not utterly cast them off; and though there was nothing in them to induce him to shew mercy, he would be merciful to them “for his great name’s sake.” It was not for any merit of theirs that God had ever made them his people, but purely of his own sovereign will and pleasure: and, to shew them “the immutability of his counsel,” he would still continue his favours to them, notwithstanding this great transgression. They must however turn unto him, and cleave unto him, and no longer look unto the creature for deliverance; for on no other terms would he acknowledge them as his people, or vouchsafe unto them the blessings which he had reserved for them. As far as depended on himself, Samuel assured them, that he would harbour no resentment for the indignity offered him, but would continue to pray for them to his dying hour. Thus admirably did he temper severity with kindness, and soften fidelity with love.]
By way of improvement, let us beware lest there be amongst us also any who reject God—
[If the rejection of Samuel was a rejection of God, what must a rejection of CHRIST be? and yet, how many are there who say of him, “We will not have this man to reign over us [Note: Luk_19:14.]!” Yes, though expostulated with, and warned with all fidelity, how many persist in this awful determination! They say in effect to their minister, “As for the word that thou hast spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee [Note: Jer_44:16.].” To disregard the voice of his faithful ministers may appear a small thing; but it is not really so; for Jesus identifies himself with his servants; “He that receiveth you, receiveth me; and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me [Note: Mat_10:40.].” Beware then, Brethren, how you presume to set aside the authority of Christ, or to place a rival upon his throne. God may give you your own way; but it will be a curse to you, and not a blessing. Woe be unto you indeed, if you provoke God to “choose your delusions [Note: Isa_66:4.].” He says of Israel, “I gave them a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath [Note: Hos_13:11.];” as you know he did, in a miserable and disgraceful manner [Note: 1Sa_31:3-10.]. Beware lest such be the termination of your ways also, and lest you “be given up to believe a lie, as a prelude to your final condemnation [Note: 2 These. 2:11, 12.].” The direction of God to you is clear; “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in ME is thy help: I will be thy King [Note: Hos_13:9-10.].” Let this counsel be welcomed by you; and your submission to his government shall ere long be followed by a participation of his glory.]