By J.R. Miller
1 Samuel 8
It was when Samuel was old, that the people began to talk about wanting to have a king. It takes a great deal of grace to grow old sweetly and beautifully. It is not always possible to carry the alertness and energy of young manhood, into advanced years. There is much talk in our days about the "dead line," which seems to be set down at about fifty. It is not easy for a man who has crossed that line to get a position in business. Yet if we live wisely and rightly all our lives, old age ought to be the best of life. We certainly ought to make it beautiful and good, for our life is not finished until we come to its very last day.
We ought to be wiser when we are old--than ever we have been in any former years. We ought to have learned by experience. We ought to be better in every way--with more of God's peace in our hearts, with more gentleness and patience. We ought to have learned self-control and to be able to rule our own spirit better. We ought to have more love, more joy, more thoughtfulness, to be more considerate, to have more humility. The 'inner man' should be taller, stronger, Christlier. Old age never should be the dregs of the years, the mere cinder of a burnt-out life. One may not have the vigor and strenuousness of the mid-years--but one should be every way truer, richer-hearted, better. If the outward man has grown weaker, feebler--the inner man should be stronger.
We expect to see a good man's sons reproduce their father's nobleness and worth. They ought to walk in his ways. They ought to continue the life he has begun, to carry on the work he has started, to keep his name bright and add to its luster. A father has lofty hopes for his sons. He dreams brilliant dreams. He expects his sons to be the true inheritors of all for which he has toiled and sacrificed. It is a bitter disappointment to him when they fail him, when they are not ready to be his successors, when the business he has built up passes to other hands, because they cannot continue it.
"Samuel's sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice." 1 Samuel 8:3. They had enjoyed every advantage. Their father had set before them a godly and consistent example. Samuel was not like Eli. To the very close there was not a single stain upon his name. There is no evidence, either, that he had failed in parental discipline, as Eli did. Yet in spite of all these advantages and privileges, Samuel's sons had forsaken the paths in which they had been brought up. Godliness is not hereditary; it does not necessarily descend from father to son. The fact that one has a godly parent--does not guarantee godliness in the child. A father may bring up his children most carefully, and yet he cannot compel them to follow after God, and they may turn entirely away.
Samuel's sons loved the world. The record says they turned aside after lucre. It takes a steady hand to carry a full cup. Many young men who would have lived well in lowly places--fail when they are promoted to positions of power. The sons of Samuel were not able to stand the temptations which office brought to them. Political positions are always full of peril. Many men who are upright in private life--have proved unable to resist the temptation to dishonesty in official places where money passed through their hands. Money seems to have been the root of the evil which destroyed these sons of Samuel. Even in those crude times there were men who were willing to pay for legislation or for judicial decisions, and these men prostituted their offices to the love of gain and sold their influence for money.
It is pathetic to see Samuel's old age saddened by the corruption of his sons. The children of godly men, owe it to their parents to live so as to bring honor and blessing upon them in their declining years. There are many ways of doing this--but the best is by living noble, beautiful lives, and being such men and women as their parents will be proud and happy to own before all the world.
There seems something most ungracious and ungrateful in the way the elders of Israel came to Samuel to tell him of the people's desire for a king. "They said unto him, Behold, you are old." The elders meant that Samuel's old age made him incapable or inefficient as a ruler. It was a broad hint to him that he would better lay down his authority and let them choose some other ruler. They seem to have forgotten that he had grown old in their service; that he had given his whole life to the cause of the nation, and that they owed him whatever of grandeur or real glory there was in their land. Their conduct towards Samuel was ungrateful in the extreme.
This fault is too common in our own days. We are lacking in reverence to the aged. We are too ready to ask them to step aside when they have grown grey in serving us, to make room for younger people to take up the work they have been doing. We ought to venerate old age, especially when it has ripened in ways of righteousness and self-denial for the good of others. No sight is more beautiful than that of a young person showing respect and homage to one who is old.
Yet there is another view of the case that we may not overlook. Old men cannot always retain their places. They must give way to others, who in turn shall take up the tasks they have done so long. The old ought not to be afraid of the young. The oncoming host should not terrify them. When we have done our part well--we should be glad to surrender our places to those who may carry on the work we have begun. All any man can do--is a little fragment of a great work, the laying of a few stones on the wall. We follow others, and still others will follow us. The old must recognize this law of life and should neither grieve nor complain when they are called to surrender their places to make way for those who will come after them.
There are few severer tests of the Christian spirit than this, and the old need special grace and a large measure of the mind of Christ, in order that they may meet the experience sweetly. The lesson of gratitude and deference towards those who have served well, is greatly needed--but so also is the lesson of submission and resignation in those whose work is complete. Sometimes an old man, after a life of nobleness and great usefulness, mars the beauty of his record by the ungracious way he leaves his place. If he is wise and recognizes the Divine law for advancing age, he will retire in such a way as to crown his work by the beauty of its closing, and make the influence of his last days a holy aftermath, in which the best things of all his years shall continue to live in the glow and ripeness of love.
The demand of the elders was very explicit: "Now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have." They wanted to be "in fashion". They were growing tired of their plain, old-fashioned kind of government, and longed for the pomp and splendor which other nations had about their government. At the bottom of it all, however, was a discontent with what God had given them, and a feeling that what others had was better. Besides, there was a worldly spirit which craved to he in the world's parade and fashion.
This same spirit is still alive. There are many professing children of God who look longingly at the world's fields and sigh to get over the fence to try the world's enjoyments. Many Christians are not satisfied with the spiritual things of grace for their portion--but crave to have what the world has. The hour was a very trying one for Samuel. He was displeased. Yet his conduct was very beautiful. This request of the people for a king hurt him sorely. It was a painful slight upon him. After all his lifetime of service, they had asked him to step aside because he was getting old. Samuel knew also that they had made this request in a wrong spirit--that they were also slighting God and rejecting Him.
The natural thing for Samuel would have been to answer the elders sharply, and tell them in plain language what he thought of their request. But instead of this, notice how nobly he bore himself. He would give no answer at all until he had carried the whole matter to the Lord. When others hurt us by their sharp speeches, by their ingratitude, or in any other way, or when they are about to do us harm by their acts--our first duty is prayer. God is far more deeply concerned in any matter that concerns us--than we ourselves can be. We do not know what His will may be about it. Perhaps the things we think should not be done at all--He may want to have done. Perhaps He wants us to submit to the wrong or the injustice. Perhaps our part in the work has been completed and God Himself would have another take our place. At least, we should always carry every such matter to Him and ask what His will is before we give any answer or do anything in return.
The example of Samuel in this case teaches us important lessons. The lack of gratitude and graciousness in the people and their elders--did not affect Samuel's bearing in the matter. We must be Christians, however unchristianly others may have done their part towards us. Then God had far more concern in the change the people desired than Samuel had. They were setting Samuel aside--but they were also setting God aside. It often happens even in church work, that people have to be superseded. They are not altogether satisfactory, and it seems wise that a change shall be made. Or there is personal animosity in the desire. Whatever the motive, we should never resent such changes, if they apply to us--but should accept them sweetly and cheerfully as Samuel did.
The Lord bade Samuel to let the people have their choice in the matter of the king. They were persistent in their demand--and God let them have their own way. The thing they asked for was not pleasing to Him--and yet it was granted. God sometimes grants men's prayers, even when what they ask--is not really the best thing for them. He sometimes permits things which He does not approve. Even God, with all His omnipotence, may not compel us to take His ways. According to the prophet Hosea, God says: "I gave Israel a king in my anger."
It is not safe to make demands of God in prayer, to pray insubmissively and rebelliously. The thing we take as by force from God--may not bring blessing. The true way to pray, is to lay our requests at the feet of God--and leave them there without undue urgency. We do not know what is best for us.
A pastor sat by the sick-bed of a child who seemed to be near death. Turning to the parents, he said: "We will pray to God for your child. What shall we ask Him to do?" After a few moments of silence the father said, amid his sobs: "We would not dare choose--leave it to Him." This is the only safe way to pray in such matters. The thing that seems to us most desirable--may be in reality the very worst thing we could get. Life may not be the best thing for our child. We know not what would lie before him if he lived. The thing that seems to us most desirable--may be in reality the very worst thing we could get. There is no wrong in our praying for money--but it must be in the spirit of Gethsemane: "Not my will--but may Your will be done."
In praying for our friends, we dare not dictate to God what they shall have, for we cannot tell what is best for them. Unsubmissive prayers are always wrong. And God may sometimes let us have what we are determined to have, and the receiving may prove an evil rather than a good to us!
The Lord reminded Samuel of the wrong the elders had done to Him also. Thus the matter concerned God even more than Samuel. We should learn a lesson of patience and forbearance towards others--from the way God bears with men's sins--perchance with our sins!
God is very patient with the wicked in all their sins. Why should not we likewise be patient with them? We are not their judges; they do not have to answer to us for their sins. We should show them God's patience.