If we comprehend the condition of God's people at any one period, we shall then be able to understand why the one who is most used to serve them should be fitted, in his own life and circumstances, for the service. An unsuitable servant, however willing, must render inadequate service. His discipline and education, we shall find in Scripture, are always with reference to the place that he is appointed to hold. Israel, up to Samuel's time, had no king: " every one did that which was right in his own eyes," and, consequently, must have learned by experience that " he that trusteth his own heart is a fool," and that only through God's intervention were they ever delivered from those who ruled over them. And not only this, but they themselves as a people were in every way gradually departing more and more from all acknowledgment of God.
It is-in the progress of this state of things that Samuel is born ; but he does not take his place as God's servant until Eli (the martyr of a condition of things which he deprecated, but had not power to reform) is dead.
Samuel's mother is a type of the godly remnant in Israel at that time, and Samuel himself of the blessing vouchsafed to that remnant. Hannah, because of her distress and the reproach of the adversary, prayed to the Lord in the bitterness of her soul. Forms and demonstrations were dispensed with. In the unexpressed breathing of her soul she pleaded with the Lord, so that the holy priest under the law did not understand.
The sorrowing one of Israel is wiser than the high priest, because she felt her condition and her sorrow: her reply to his rebuke corrects him, and he has grace to accept it.
Hannah's prayer was for Samuel. What will suit a true, holy, sorrowing individual, will suit the whole family of God's people. The answer to Hannah's prayer was the answer to every sorrowing cry in Israel. Samuel will suit each and all : he is the answer to the prayer of sorrow, and as such he is dedicated to the Lord and abides with Him.
Now let us look at Samuel himself. The more his understanding opens, the more he is aware that he is called, as the answer to prayer; and that on that account he has been dedicated to the Lord, to be ever before Him, so that very early he must have had an idea of his mission: at all events, it is evident that he had the best education for it. If the sorrowing, oppressed Hannah has received him in answer to prayer, and has returned him to the Lord as the Lord's gift, must not Samuel be continually reminded of the efficacy of prayer-himself the living witness of it?
In Samson, the last of the judges, we saw power committed to man; and though he performed great exploits now and again, more was accomplished in the death of the witness than in his life. In Samuel a new state of things is introduced. The afflicted one, calling on God, is heard, and the answer, even Samuel, becomes the channel of deliverance through prayer. The very power which brought himself into existence he is now to exercise on behalf of his suffering people; not as the man of physical strength, as was Samson, but as the man of prayer. Moreover, a true principle is enunciated in the case of Hannah even that the blessing which God sends us for ourselves is large enough for all His people.
In prayer there is not only a sense of dependence, but the truly praying soul expects an answer or communication from God. But often, before we have learned the deep reality of what prayer is, we may be in the place of the praying one, like Samuel, and yet not able to understand the Lord's voice. Thus we find in the first recorded account of Samuel's practical life (chap. 3) these words, Samuel was ministering before the Lord, and he had laid himself down to sleep ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord. The whole scene declares the moral condition of the nation at the time. " The word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision ... .. Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see." Samuel had lain down " ere the lamp went out." This implies that it was allowed to go out habitually, which was contrary to the commandment. Everything indicated feebleness. Samuel is given in answer to Hannah's prayer-Hannah the type of the sorrowing remnant. Therefore Samuel enters the temple as the exponent-the living witness of the power and value of prayer-as we read of him in Psalm 99, " Samuel among them that call upon his name."
But in order to render such a service, or to fill the place appointed for him, he must first learn to understand the voice of the Lord. One may be in the right place and yet know not the living blessings connected with that place. Samuel is set forth to us as one who, by waiting on God, can repair the disasters which Samson, by his great strength, could not ; he is the witness of the superiority of prayer to personal might. But if he be the witness of the efficacy of prayer, he must be disciplined for his service. And the first great lesson after drawing near is to understand in the soul the communication of the Lord-to know His voice. What is the use of drawing nigh unto Him, if one never receives any distinct light or communication from Him? I believe it to be the greatest and most blessed attainment for the soul, and withal most necessary for the one who draws near, to acquire a clear knowledge of the Lord's mind. Many draw near, but are too like Samuel in the beginning of this scene, unable to recognise the Lord's communications. How many pray, and pray again, who, though pacified and consoled by their prayers, yet have not had, nor have they sought, any distinct assured instruction from the Lord touching the subject of their prayers. Now, prayer of that kind will never afford the strength and joy which he receives who knows in faith what the Lord's mind is. I do not say that the Lord will tell one exactly what He will do, though even that I should expect in particular cases, when there was simple waiting on Him. In the opening of Samuel's ministry, the Lord causes him to recognise His own voice, and reveals unto him His word at the same time; and this was the sure basis of the testimony which his life expressed, namely, to seek the Lord in every exigency, and to be known among His prophets as one that called upon His name. Samuel has now learned not only the voice of the Lord, but also the word of the Lord, that is, His purposes. When we learn the voice of the Lord, we shall readily comprehend His mind as conveyed in His word. Samuel now knows what are God's thoughts about the state of things, and " his word came to all Israel." We have power to testify when we are taught of God.
But a man who would prove and testify of his resources in God, must not expect a smooth, easy course. Samuel in the beginning of his testimony or service (chap. 4) sees Israel reduced to the lowest condition, discomfited before the Philistines, the ark of God taken, the priests slain, and Eli dead. Disasters do not daunt the man of prayer ; yet it must have exercised his soul to see such a crash just as he had entered on his service. All seemed lost, but the soul that has learned to distinguish the Lord's voice and to understand His word, will not be disheartened, though all the bulwarks of God's government be subverted. Samuel was such an one, and he could count on God ; he says (chap. 7), " gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord." It is worthy of remark, that previous to this he warned the people, and led them to renounce the strange gods, and to serve the Lord only. " Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only." If I understand God, I understand His nature, I simply and distinctly own Him as the one Lord, and His name one. If there be misapprehension of the true God, or any intervention of man's ordering, there must always be a barrier and a delay to my finding Him. Samuel called upon the people to serve the Lord only, and to put away all strange gods. This is all essential in seeking deliverance from the Lord. And to the lack of this can be traced all our want of success in prayer, the Lord is not simply and entirely our God. Covetousness is idolatry, that is, the heart is seeking something else besides God. A covetous man could not say that he served the Lord only, and consequently he could not expect deliverance from the Lord because it would not attach him more to the Lord ; on the contrary, relief from a momentary pressure would be the better enable him to pursue the desires of his heart uninterruptedly. Samuel led the people into that state of soul in which they could seek the Lord; and the new and wondrous way in which God would deliver them from their enemies is about to be disclosed to them.
We read, " And they gathered together at Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day, and said there, We have sinned," I Sam- 7: 6. Such is always the true way-to have the soul restored with God before we enter into conflict with any special enemies. Samuel leads God's people to this, and now they are prepared and waiting for the Lord's intervention; but the moment they prepare for the enemy by waiting on God, that moment Satan urges on his emissaries (the Philistines) to oppose and renew the strife, " When the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpeh, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel." Israel, though contrite and restored in the presence of God, are not yet experienced enough in God's power on their behalf to be undisturbed by fear of the violence of man. A soul may be quite assured before God, and resting in His acceptance, who yet may greatly fear the violence of the wicked and the power of darkness. Nothing can relieve the soul of this terror but experience ; I mean experience of God, the soul making use of the power of God which it enjoys in its acceptance. Peter had this experience after his rescue by the angel, when he said, " Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod," etc.
The fear of man often remains though the soul may be at peace with God, but when it can say, " The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me," this is experience. It is therefore not to be wondered at that the children of Israel, when they heard of the coming of the lords of the Philistines, were afraid, but they had learned in a measure the value of prayer in the sight of God; and, they say unto Samuel, " Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us, that he will save us out of the hand of the Philistines." They knew wherein Samuel's great strength lay. " And Samuel took a sucking lamb, and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord: and Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel; and the Lord heard him. And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel : but the Lord thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them ; and they were smitten before Israel."
The Lord always vouchsafes to the praying one depending on Himself a deliverance beyond one's utmost conception ; and it is brought about in no ordinary or human way. As with Paul in the jail at Philippi, so here the Lord acts in quite an unexpected way, a way not thought of, because it was beyond human conception. The thunder of God is the answer to prayer, and the Philistines are discomfited; Israel follows up the rout, and " smote them, until they came under Beth-car." When we see our enemies routed, if we have valour at all, we can easily pursue and follow it up; but we have no power to act until the Lord's intervention assures our hearts that we may do so. When God is felt to be on our side we can say " who can be against us? " Samuel must commemorate this signal mercy of the Lord, for every deliverance in answer to waiting on God is to us an Ebenezer. It is really of our Lord and Saviour, the chief comer-stone. He is the exponent to us of the tender love of our God, and when mercy is vouchsafed to us, the heart is revived in remembrance of Him. Then it is that we get the sense, " I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me " ; we have the exhilarating consciousness that He is our stone of help. What happy service for Samuel, after the anguish he must have passed through on account of the desolation around. The mercy was a permanent one every Ebenezer is! . The Philistines were subdued, and they " came no more into the coast of Israel : and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel "-the man of prayer.
Samuel had now established his title to judge Israel. By dependence on God he had received of the resources of God, and now he takes his place as judge of a delivered people. He went in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh; the latter must not be forgotten, for there he had proved his commission. Samuel dwelt at Ramah, and at home he cultivated what he proved abroad, for " there he built an altar unto the Lord."
We have now traced how Samuel learned, by prayer and dependence on God, to deliver His people out of the greatest degradation and feebleness ; and how in consequence he is their judge. And here (as I may so say) one era of his life, or the life of dependence, closes ; but another begins-for that is the peculiarity, and blessing, too, of the life of dependence, that no sooner have you reached one goal, perhaps at the end of a long laborious exercise, but you have to enter on another, consequent on the very position which, through the Lord's mercy, you have attained. Samuel, by dependence on God , has been vouchsafed signal deliverance from outside enemies The Philistines are subdued, and he himself judges Israel. But, alas! it is with him as with us all ; when nature comes in and works, he fails, and confusion is the result.
It was clearly nature in Samuel to make his sons judges in the land when he was old. He had enjoyed for a long period of his life the fruits of his first great and deep exercises of dependence; but now, when he is old, he seems to lapse into worldly arrangements, in making his sons judges. It is not dependence on God now, but carnal policy, and it is unsuccessful: " his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment." We read in i Samuel 8 ' 4, 5 : " Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, and said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways : now make us a king to judge us like all the nations."' This is a trying moment for Samuel, but one of great instruction for him, and for us through him. When the one who has known the blessing of dependence on God has been drawn aside into thinking and acting for himself, no greater mercy can be vouchsafed to him than that he should be involved in such straits that nothing but the return to dependence on God can afford any relief.
There were two painful truths in the petition of the elders which must have greatly tried Samuel. First, the failure of his policy through his own sons. This is the point where every man would feel most, and the better the man, the more would he feel it. Secondly, the wilfulness and ungodliness of the nation in asking for a king. Poor Samuel! His family had disappointed him, and his nation had grievously requited all his labours and service. It is not now the Philistines : it is their own inward corruption. What a moment! What could the aged Samuel do? We read, "And Samuel prayed unto the Lord." The perplexing strait has been used to restore his soul into the old and well-known channel of dependence ; and, as is ever the case to the really dependent one seeking His glory, God answered him in a most gracious, soothing way, entering into all His servant's feelings, as follows : " they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them." Samuel was the link between the judges and the kingdom, or the type of the faithful in the interval between the manifested failure of Israel, as a people governed by God, and the setting up of the kingdom. Samson properly closed that period, which mainly was characterised by power through human agency, of which he was personally the greatest example.
Samuel presents to us quite another order of power, one more successful than any preceding it, even prayer and dependence on God. He illustrates to us how blessed dependence on God is, and how great are the deliverances which flow from it ; and he also connects us with the kingdom, and is himself superseded by God's anointed king, even David. But first he must give place to Saul; for the witness of dependence on God, the man of prayer, must be prepared to encounter in patience all the antagonism, however protracted, which arises to test his faith. Saul was the representative of Israel's idea of a king, and God sanctioned his appointment. As Ishmael was to Isaac, so was Saul to David-the natural to the spiritual. Man's king is first tried before the Lord sets up His king. The aged Samuel, the man of prayer and dependence on God, is called on to appoint and anoint Saul. God sanctioned the man who was truly the impersonation of Israel's mind. And more than this, " the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he prophesied." As the law exposes to a soul, who seeks God through it, how really guilty it is, so Saul exposed how incompetent Israel were to help themselves by a king of their own choosing, even when sanctioned of God.
Samuel is now educated in a very different line from that in which his public history opened. Now an old man, and at the close of his life, and of his testimony to the blessedness of dependence on God, he must endure with patience, and co-operate, as long as he can. While this experiment is being carried out, he must suppress all the sad and bitter feelings which might crowd on his mind he must wait on God, and wait for the end, until God brings it to an end. His manner and spirit in this sad work is very encouraging to us. It is easier to rise up and repose in God, reckoning on His deliverance from open enemies, like the Philistines, than to acknowledge and co-operate in all that professes well around you. Samuel, in obedience to the Lord, submits to the trial of man's king, accepting him and owning him as acknowledged of God, until the contrary was manifested; but, at the same time, observes two lines of action, namely, faithfulness to the people, in warning them of their apostasy, and the retribution due to it but also faithfulness to God-which led him to disown & king the moment he relinquished the principles ordained of God.
We must remember that Samuel had led Israel by dependence on God into security and deliverance from their enemies, and that he erred in supposing that his sons could succeed to his own position. He is rebuked and afflicted by their incompetency and evil. And now the people, by their elders, renounce the position of dependence on God, which in the person of Samuel insured such blessings to them. They will return to personal valour, not now in instruments raised up of God, but in a king like the nations. The difference between the judges and the kings was this-the former led the people because of a direct commission from God, the latter by popular acceptance. Samuel is now in something of the same position as Moses was when the people proposed to keep the law; he has to stand aside and let them try ; and when they fail, as assuredly they must, to be able to come forward and apply God's remedy. Samuel fully and explicitly expounds to the people their apostasy and its consequences ; but, at the same time, he equally commends himself to us by his ready help and forbearance with Saul, so long as it was possible. What education this was! The value of dependence on God is more needed and proved by him than ever. How it invigorates his soul! His sons a failure and reproach, the nation renouncing dependence on God, seeking a king who should supersede himself, and yet Samuel moves on through it all.
He is now directed by the Lord to protest solemnly unto the people, and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them. And he fully and explicitly does so. The man of faith is told to expose and denounce every step contrary to it; having done so, he can endure patiently, whilst man's independence is on its trial ; nay, he will sanction and acknowledge it, so far as he may have divine authority. His manner to Saul is very beautiful. He not only receives him as an honourable guest, but he announces to him that in him is all the desire of Israel. And not only this, but he made him sit in the chiefest place among them that were bidden. And to distinguish him still more the shoulder is set before him, while Samuel said, " Behold that which is reserved! " And, finally, he " took a vial of oil, and poured it upon his head, and kissed him and said, Is it not because the Lord hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance? " What a discipline for Samuel to act after this manner! He illustrates to us the graceful action and calm submission of one practising dependence on God, and of one, too, who had practised it. He is the really dependent one, who will. not anticipate events, but submit patiently to an order of things which, though ending in failure, is not yet manifested as such.
We next find Samuel calling all the people together unto the Lord at Mizpeh; I Sam- 10: 17. There was an important association with Mizpeh, for there they had turned to the Lord, and had learned the blessing of praying to God; i Sam. 7: 5, 6. Here he presents Saul to them. And Samuel said unto the people, " See ye him whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people." He can see himself set aside with dignity, grace and even cheerfulness, because it was the will of the Lord. It is only the meek, dependent servant who win understand the Lord's will as new and diverse circumstances arise. Continually you find an inclination to press an ascertained principle of right under every conceivable circumstance. The principle may be true, and if so, will be vindicated. But God often confounds the opposer before He brings , forth His judgment, and the really dependent soul like Samuel will accord with His mind, and move on righteously and charitably.
In chapter I I : 14 Samuel says to the people, " Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there." There is no grudging, nothing of necessity in Samuel's actings. When Saul, by his prowess, had proved himself worthy of the kingdom, Samuel comes forward and proposes to the people to take the highest ground-to renew the kingdom at Gilgal-to crown Saul in the spot sacred to all the great energies of truth and power which had marked the brightest hour of their history. Abraham did not give place to Lot in more dignity and self-surrender than Samuel to Saul; nay, Samuel exceeded, for he honoured, and guarded, and counselled Saul, while it was of any use to do so. And from that time he retired to his own house, leaving the issue to God. But though he is full of charity, he is also righteous ; and therefore he at length proclaims to the people that their wickedness is great in asking for a king. At the same time, he called unto the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain. He does not shrink from declaring to the people their great wickedness, though he has shown every readiness to bear with them, and now assures them he will not cease to pray for them.
Who but one depending on God could combine these things so fully and perfectly? It is wonderful the ability one gets to be both charitable and righteous when one is really walking in dependence on God 1 Charity will suffer and sanction all it can-it hides a multitude of sins ; but the moment there is any dishonour done to God, or any perversion of His truth, then righteousness asserts its inflexible claim, and the delinquent, be he who he may, meets his desert. Thus it was with Saul. Though Samuel had honoured and supported him while he was walking amiably as a man among men, yet the moment he infringed on the ordinances of God (when Saul offered the burnt offering) Samuel spared him not, but said, when Saul went to meet him to salute him, " What hast thou done? " and then added, " Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee." When we walk in full charity, and at the same time are truly faithful to God, we may be assured that the Lord will, when He has proved us, expose the concealed evil which we had come with, only because it was not disclosed. It is charity to bear with man as long as it is permitted by God's word ; charity must cease when any inroad is made on God's commandment; every feeling for man must give way in order to vindicate the decrees of God. And the one who, like Samuel, has learned to walk in forbearance and charity towards a Saul, while at the same time protesting against the principle of independence, will at length be given an opportunity of exposing the assumption of the flesh.
Saul condemns himself in trenching on the priestly service, which is always the ripened expression of human independence--a Cain is consummated in a Korah. (See Jude ii.) Samuel knows the kingdom cannot be established in Saul, but he once more tests him, by sending him against the Amalekites. Saul fails again, and Samuel is greatly distressed. He did not wish for the evil day, though he had predicted it; and he is so grieved at this breakdown that he cries unto the Lord all night, like Jeremiah; and, consequently, when the time comes for action, how suitably and faithfully he acts 1 He " hews Agag in pieces " and addresses Saul with a censure, not only most pointed, but fraught with divine principles far beyond the light and revelation of the dispensation in which he served. How instructive is the spirit of Samuel in this scene! He had adhered to Saul hoping that help would accrue to God's people through him; but now, convinced that there was no hope, Samuel went to his house at Ramah. And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death, not that he was indifferent about him, for it is said, " Nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul." He had reckoned, more than one would have supposed, on help flowing to Israel through Saul; and he had to be taught that the representative of the people must be a failure. He is graciously brought to know this, as every soul will be, who is truly faithful to God. Samuel's faithfulness-his single eye, made him " full of light "luminous ; and if, for a moment, he had expected too much from what God had allowed to be put on trial, while acting in charity to men and in faithfulness to God, in the end he was fully justified in abandoning man's king ; and this is a great lesson for the servant of God. No doubt Samuel mourned for Saul, and so did the Lord for Jerusalem ; he was distressed at the ruin to all human hopes. But the blessed God who had led His servant into his present sorrowful place of retirement, overwhelmed with the failure in the throne, will now complete His favour to him by introducing His own king to him, and by appointing him to anoint him. How it must have relieved and rejoiced the heart of Samuel to find himself, at last, in the presence of God's king, the man after God's heart. And not only this-when David was persecuted by Saul, his companion in exile was Samuel: " He [David] and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth," chap. 19 : 18.
What a close! How blessed and suited for such a history! Samuel is lost in David. After dwelling with him during the season of his rejection, Samuel, the man of prayer and dependence, passes away (chap. 25 : I) from the scene of his former ministry, of his exercises, and of his discipline, ere the rightful king-God's anointed, whom Samuel had owned-takes the sceptre.
May we know, like him, the blessing of dependence on God, and may we understand the discipline which, however searching and sifting, is but leading us to Naioth, to dwell with our Lord and King; and, finally, to be lost in Him, who will ere long take the place in which our hearts have set Him now, even the throne!