By J.R. Miller
1 Samuel 12
In all the narrative of Saul's election and coronation as king, the character of Samuel shines out brightly. Though himself set aside by the election of a king to rule in his place--he yet made the great renunciation cheerfully, manfully, leading the people in each step in their new departure and guiding them with his clear vision and his steady hand. He did not sulk in his tent, as too many men do in such experiences. He did not withdraw from public life because Saul was made chief ruler--but continued to serve the people as Prophet and Counselor, giving them still the benefit of the wisdom he had learned in his long and rich experience. The time came, however, when he must lay down the office of judge, delivering the authority into the hand of the newly-chosen king.
The farewell address of Samuel is worthy of careful study. He reminded the people again of the way in which the king had been given to them, that they themselves were responsible for the change in government. He had listened to their request and had not resisted their desire, nor stood in the way of their wish. He had keenly felt the reflection upon himself in their urgent demand--but he had set that aside in his wish to have that done which would be the best for the nation. He had felt the ingratitude and injustice to God in their wish--but God had overlooked their course and given His consent and sanction.
Samuel then referred to his own career as ruler, claiming that it had been honorable, and challenging them to show that even in the smallest matter he had defrauded or oppressed anyone. It is a great thing to be able to say at the close of a long or a short life--what Samuel said at the opening of his farewell address. It is the ending of a life that tests it. How does it appear when it is looked back upon amid the gathering shadows of the grave? What kind of a dying pillow do its memories make? Samuel was able to stand up before all the nation and before God and say these words--because his life, from beginning to end, had been upright, true and pure. There were no skeletons hidden away in any secret transaction of his life which could come up in after days to shame him. His words have a noble ring in them: "Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these, I will make it right." "You have not cheated or oppressed us," they replied. "You have not taken anything from anyone's hand."
Who does not want just such a life-ending as Samuel's? It is possible to have it, too--but possible only in one way. Only a noble and faithful life--can give such comfort and satisfaction. Old age is the harvest of all the years that have gone before. What you sow in your youth and prime--you gather when your hair is white and your steps are feeble.
Samuel reviewed the history of the people from the time of Moses, and then pointed to the king they had chosen and whom the Lord had set over them. He assured them that if they would be faithful to God--He would show them favor. "Now if you will fear and worship the LORD and listen to his voice, and if you do not rebel against the LORD's commands, and if you and your king follow the LORD your God--then all will be well." This standing "if" precedes all God's promises of blessing, and conditions them. Everything of Divine blessing and good depends upon our obedience. If we will not walk in God's ways--we cannot expect God to walk with us.
There is a distinct indication of mercy here also --God is always willing to give us a second chance. We may rebel against Him and take our own way instead of His, tearing ourselves by our willfulness out of His perfect plan; yet He comes to us again and tells us that He will still be our Father and will help us to succeed in the new course we have insisted upon taking if we will be obedient and faithful. The people of Israel had refused God's way for them, demanding a king. He gave them their demand and then gave them another chance with it. That is what God is always doing. What could any of us do if God never gave us a second chance, and a third, and a hundredth?
But while the people were assured of blessing--if they would be obedient, Samuel assured them just as positively that disobedience would bring punishment. "But if you rebel against the LORD's commands and refuse to listen to him--then his hand will be as heavy upon you as it was upon your ancestors." This is very plain. There can be no mistake about the meaning of the words. It is impossible to have God's favor and blessing--if we are not faithful to Him. What an absurdity it is, therefore, to pray for favor and help--when we know that we are living in disobedience and are willfully disregarding God's law!
Samuel sought to make such an impression on the people that day that the lesson would never be forgotten. So he bade them stand still and see the great thing that the Lord would do before their eyes. The harvest-time was not the season for thunderstorms--but thunder and rain came, and the storm frightened the people. It gave them a glimpse of God's awesome power, which could destroy them in a moment. There are many people who are waked up from their indifference by some severe judgment--but who are not touched nor impressed by the Lord's ordinary workings. Yet really the everyday Providences are far more wonderful, than the extraordinary things now and then that God does.
A shower of rain sent out of season in answer to a prayer--brings a whole nation down on its knees in trembling awe; while years and years of seasonable showers of rain, refreshing the earth and making it fruitful, produce no impression upon the same people. Yet this is infinitely more wonderful than that. It is neither superstition nor fanaticism that sees God in the unusual; but it is atheism that does not see Him as well in the usual. Every shower of rain, every morning's miracle of sunrise, every day's bread, should inspire in us loving adoration!
The people were alarmed and they said to Samuel: "Pray for your servants unto the Lord your God, that we die not." It is a great thing to have a friend who lives near to God and is on familiar terms with Him, and has influence at the throne of grace. It is a great thing to have someone to whom we can turn with confidence, asking him to pray for us. Of course, we all can pray for ourselves--but many of us live too far from God--to have the greatest power with Him. Samuel was a man of prayer and the people were sure that if he would pray for them, God would spare their lives.
At the last supper Peter wanted to ask a question of the Master--but he was down towards the foot of the table. John, however, was close to Jesus, his head leaning upon the Master's bosom. So Peter beckoned to him to ask the question because he was so near and could whisper it into Christ's ear. Those who live nearest to God have easiest access in prayer, and if you are in sore trouble you are quite sure to want one of these to speak to God on your behalf. When you are dying you will not send for a companion with whom you have trifled and sinned--but for one who knows how to pray.
Samuel did not try to lessen the people's alarm and anxiety because of their sins. We are always in danger of this weakness when our friends confess to us wrong things they have done.
The other day a man of the world made sport of the remorse and penitence of one who was under deep conviction, saying: "You are only frightened and morbid. Cheer up and come out with me for a drive, and your bad feeling will soon be gone." That was not the way Samuel talked to his people when they were distressed because of their sins. He told them frankly that they had surely done the wickedness which they confessed. He would deepen in them the sense of unworthiness and the feeling of penitence. Then he told them also of the mercy of God. Though they had sinned, they need not despair. They must not give up trying to serve God, because they had made such a failure of it. They must not turn away from Him altogether, because they had turned away once. They must get back again to God and start anew.
When a Christian has been overtaken in temptation and has fallen into sin, one of his dangers is despair, giving up. Many who fall once never rise again, never try again to serve God. They do not know God's mercy. Judas went out in despair after betraying his Master. Peter went out after denying Christ, weeping in bitter sorrow--but he turned to God in his grief and found mercy.
There is something very noble and beautiful in the way Samuel answers the people's pleading that he would pray for them. "Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord--in ceasing to pray for you." The people had been most ungrateful to Samuel and had rejected him as their ruler; yet he would not on this account cease to intercede for them. He told them that it would be a sin in him, a sin against the Lord--for him to cease to pray for them! Love triumphed over the sense of injury and wrong.
Samuel's case may often be paralleled in common experience. Those for whom we have done much, who owe us honor and love, may turn away from us in ingratitude; but we must not on this account cease to love them and to do all in our power for them. This may become our temptation. We may feel that they do not deserve our prayers, that they are not worthy of our intercession. But we must remember that on His cross--our Lord prayed even for His murderers.
This word of Samuel's shows us what an important duty of friendship, intercession is--so important that it is a sin against God to cease to pray for others. We should always pray for our friends. That friendship does not reach its best--which lacks intercession. No matter how much we may do for our friends in other ways, if we do not speak to God for them we are wronging them. Then we should pray for those who have hurt us or wronged us. The feeling of resentment, if there is such in our heart, should take the form of interceding. The Master's command is specific and definite, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also." Luke 6:27-29