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Deeper Commentary

1Sa 12:1 Samuel said to all Israel, I have listened to all that you said to me, and have made a king over you-
It was God who made Saul king (Hos. 10:13); Samuel here speaks on God's behalf, although not as a mere instrument of communication. Rather he is very much of one mind with Yahweh. Indeed God had listened to all they asked for, because Saul was set up by God to be exactly what they asked for. He was not only tall and apparently a born leader, but he was set up with dramatic military success just before he was proclaimed king. And military leadership was what Israel were looking for.  

1Sa 12:2 Now, the king is your leader; I am old and grey-headed and my sons are with you, and I have been your leader from my youth to this day-
Samuel is making it clear, perhaps not without a touch of resentment, that they had chosen Saul over himself. "My sons are with you" could imply that he knew they were worthless and were another indicator that he was unable to lead the people because of them. Or he could be saying that his worthless sons were on their side, and they along with his sons had rejected him. He comes over as a faithful, hard working old man who had been rejected by his people and his sons; and yet thereby came to close relationship with God, not merely speaking on His behalf, but having the very same thoughts and positions as God.

1Sa 12:3 Here I am. Testify against me before Yahweh and before His anointed-
The reference is to Saul; he would have had in mind how his mother had hoped that he would be Yahweh's anointed (1 Sam. 2:9,10). It seems Samuel and Saul stood together before the people. Again we see Samuel's humility; he was not the anointed whom his mother had expected him to be. So often pride in a person comes from parental expectations of them. They easily become frustrated that they are not the one they feel they were born to be. And twice Samuel anoints other men to be Yahweh's anointed. When one of them doesn't work out, he is not chosen as the alternative. All to help him overcome any potential pride, and we all have had the same Divine humbling hand at work. "Here I am" was the phrase he used to God as a child in the sanctuary, and perhaps he is addressing the words to God again at this point. He is before Yahweh, to be used even in retirement as He wishes and not as his parents expected or hoped.

Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Of whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes? I will restore it to you-
This speech clearly inspired Paul, when he likewise affirms that his ministry has been with integrity (Acts 20). The insistence he had not stolen donkeys may refer to the donkeys of Saul which were lost and apparently found by Samuel (see on 1 Sam. 9:20). Saul accepts here that Samuel never stole his donkeys. Samuel never stole a donkey (1 Sam. 12:3), whereas Saul was to steal the donkeys of Israel (1 Sam. 8:16). Israel consciously chose a king who would take their donkeys, and rejected God's judge, Samuel, who never took their donkeys. The way Samuel protests this fact in 1 Sam. 12:3 suggests that despite his humility, he felt some bitterness and resentment about his rejection by Israel, chafing a bit at God's humbling hand as discussed above on this verse. But God comforts him that He feels the same.

1Sa 12:4 They said, You have not defrauded us or oppressed us, neither have you taken anything from any man-
This is tantamount to saying that unlike Eli with his sons, Samuel was known not to have profited from the corruption of his sons (1 Sam. 8:3). For Samuel's sons are in view (see on :2). We note they were judges in Beersheba (1 Sam. 8:2), a long way from Ramah and the small circuit of towns in that vicinity which had been judged by Samuel.

1Sa 12:5 He said to them, Yahweh is witness against you and His anointed is witness this day that you have not found anything in my hand. They said, He is witness-
Samuel is setting this up as a kind of court case, where he is tried and found innocent, with Yahweh and Saul as witnesses corroborating the testimony of the people. Saul was witness in that Samuel is at pains to show that Saul never gave him anything in return for being anointed by Samuel. It was all God's choice. And we can infer from this that he never accepted the coin which Saul's servant intended to give him.

1Sa 12:6 Samuel said to the people, It is Yahweh who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt-
Samuel had earlier made the point that it was Yahweh Himself who had brought the people out of Egypt (1 Sam. 10:19). But in practice He had done this through appointing Moses and Aaron. The judges and Samuel were appointed in the same sense. Hos. 12:13 uses the same phrase to say that it was by a prophet that Yahweh brought Israel up out of Egypt. And Samuel was the prophet of their times who had been used by God. But the ministry of prophets was to come to an end in Saul, who didn't continue prophesying after. 

1Sa 12:7 Now therefore stand still, that I may plead with you before Yahweh concerning all the righteous acts of Yahweh, which He did to you and to your fathers-

"To plead" is to enter into judgment, but the context implies a debate, hence the questions now asked. The process of final  judgement likewise will involve questions and statements regarding our lives, such as the dialogues in the parable of Mt. 25. 

The righteous acts Samuel now pleads with Israel to accept all refer to His gracious saving of a sinful Israel. For in acts of saving sinners, Yahweh declares His righteousness; and thus Paul perceives that His righteousness was supremely declared on the cross. These "righteous acts" were the great acts of :24; Yahweh's greatness is supremely shown in the way He saves sinners and continues working with them when they are unworthy and of minimal response to His grace. Indeed this is what the history of God's encounter with man is all about. Samuel was pleading with the people to realize that God's grace over history meant they should never abuse that grace as it had been abused before. And the record of God's history with His people is likewise an appeal to us not to abuse grace.

1Sa 12:8 When Jacob had come into Egypt and your fathers cried to Yahweh, then Yahweh sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and settled them in this place-
The 'settling' in the land meant the destruction of nations like the Ammonites and Philistines who were currently threatening Israel. And this of course was done without any human king; the leadership by Moses and Aaron was the pattern Israel were intended to follow.

1Sa 12:9 But they forgot Yahweh their God, and He sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the army of Hazor, into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the king of Moab, and they fought against them-
The danger was that through having a human king, Israel would again forget Yahweh their God. At Samuel's time, Israel were under Philistine domination, with the Israelites living under the control of Philistine garrisons in their towns (1 Sam. 10:5). This therefore was because Yahweh had brought this situation about, in response to Israel forgetting their God. The relevance to the exiles was that they felt forgotten by Yahweh when it was in fact a case of them having forgotten Him; and that was why they were in the hands of their enemies, in exile (s.w. Is. 49:14; 51:13; Jer. 3:21; 13:25; Hos. 2:13). They were not to look for a human king to lead them back from exile, but to rather believe that Yahweh Himself could do this.  

1Sa 12:10 They cried to Yahweh and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken Yahweh and have served the Baals and Ashtaroth; but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies and we will serve You’-
This was not the best attitude. Surely they should have confessed and forsaken their sin of idolatry, promising to serve Yahweh; and then ask for deliverance from their enemies. But they appear to make serving Yahweh dependent upon whether He saved them from their enemies in response to their desperate plea. And yet despite  this poor attitude, Yahweh was still pitiful toward them. Such was and is His grace. At the point of Jud. 10:13, Yahweh had said that because Israel had persistently forsaken Him and served other gods, "I will save you no more". But they did continue to forsake and serve other gods, and yet He continued to save them. This is simply His grace, exercising His right to not do according to the judgment He states, just as parents do with disobedient children.

1Sa 12:11 Yahweh sent Jerubbaal, Bedan, Jephthah and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety-
The deliverance from enemies was through judges like Samuel, and not through a king. Their request for a king to save them from their enemies was therefore a rejection of how God had worked with them in the past. It was as good as saying that they were rejecting Yahweh's salvation, which is what they did when they rejected Jesus, Yehoshua, Yahweh's salvation, and instead pledged their loyalty to Caesar as their only king.

We notice that Samuel refers to himself in the third person. When asked who he was, John’s reply was simply: “a voice”. Amos, in the same way, was told not to keep on prophesying; but he replies: “I am no prophet… the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy” (Am. 1:14,15 RV). It’s almost contradictory: ‘I’m not a prophet… I am a prophet’. He was truly selfless, like, John, just a voice for God. Samuel spoke of himself at a distance from himself when he told Israel: “The Lord sent Jerubbaal… and Samuel… and delivered you” (1 Sam. 12:11).

The history so far quoted has shown that Yahweh personally intervened to save His people [not a king], and that He had used the judges as leaders in order to militarily save Israel (:11), or had sent individuals like Moses to lead them (:8). All this is effecitvely appealing to Israel to abandon their desire for a human king, even at this late stage, and with Saul appearing such an ideal saviour and candidate. It is in fact a last minute appeal for repentance. God's desire that they abandon the plan was very strong. For this comes after the anointing of Saul, after the election of Saul by God before all Israel, and after the Divinely empowered victory over Amalek. God was leading them the way they wanted to go, and yet pleading with them to go a higher way. And so He oftentimes works with man. They repent after the thunder and hail destroy their crops- but it was the poor kind of repentance which is only mental, and still they clung on to the wrong course, in their case, desiring a human king.

The kingship treaties of the surrounding world all presented the king as the chosen, blessed representative of the god they worshipped, absolutely commended by the god. The whole account of Saul's kingship is the very opposite; Yahweh, the God of Israel, warns the people against the king He is giving them.

1Sa 12:12 When you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to reign over us’, when Yahweh your God was your king-
The threat from Nahash had apparently been there for quite some time, and was not only against Jabesh but "against you". Their desire for a king was not only a rejection of Yahweh as king, it was a seeking for military deliverance from their enemies by a charismatic, powerful army leader, rather than through faith in Yahweh. They may not have worked it all out psychologically, it was all unconscious; but the truth was, they knew subconsciously that for Yahweh to deliver them, they had to trust Him and be solely obedient to Him, and quit their idols. But if they could find a strong military leader to deliver them, then they were free to continue the status quo in their religious lives. 

1Sa 12:13 Now therefore, see the king whom you have chosen and whom you have asked for; Yahweh has set a king over you-
The people chose Saul. But God did. We conclude that He chose the man whom they would've chosen- handsome, the tallest man in Israel etc. He knew whom they would've chosen, and so He chose such a person. As noted on 1 Sam. 11:4, God gave them exactly the kind of king they wanted; tall, strong, and now with a record of military deliverance behind him. God had thereby  psychologically set them up to hope that the promised new king would actually bring the charismatic deliverance they expected of a secular king- and he did. This setting up of expectation was all from God. He really wanted to arrange things so that Saul had the support and respect of all Israel. And He gave them what they wanted. As Samuel stood there with Saul next to him, the tallest man in Israel who had just won a miraculous victory over their enemies- he was indeed the king they had asked for. Given in God's anger (Hos. 10:13).  Saul's ultimate failure was therefore all the more culpable, because he had been set up for success- as is everyone called by God.

1Sa 12:14 If you will fear Yahweh and serve Him, listen to His voice and not rebel against the commandment of Yahweh, then it will be well with both you and the king who reigns over you-
If all Israel had been obedient to Yahweh, then Saul would have been too and all would have been well for him. If a majority are spiritually minded, this can at times and in some ways influence a potentially weaker minority; even though the reverse is more often true. And yet Saul made the people “follow him trembling” because they weren’t, en masse, spiritually stronger than him (1 Sam. 13:7). The application to the exiles was in that they had rebelled against Yahweh's commandment, and therefore things had not gone well for them and their king had been deposed (s.w. Is. 1:20; Lam. 1:18).

The principle explained here shows for all time that God didn't set Saul up to be a failure. The prophecies about him in 1 Sam. 8 could have been voided by his obedience. But he chose not to. As with Nineveh, there is always the real possibility of changing outcomes during the gap between prophecy and fulfilment. This is why it is foolhardy to try to work out chronologies of latter day events according to Bible prophecies- because Israel's repentance can affect the nature of their fulfilment and they are not duty bound to come to pass.

We note too that the new relationship between Yahweh and His people was still based upon some kind of covenant, disobedience to which would bring judgment (:15). Still He sought some level of covenant commitment with them, even if it was a lower level of commitment from them than He desired.

1Sa 12:15 But if you will not listen to the voice of Yahweh but rebel against the commandment of Yahweh, then the hand of Yahweh will be against you, as it was against your fathers-
This point is being made in the context of warning them of the dangers of having a king. They were to be aware that humans are like sheep, and tend to go where they are led. By having a human king, they would be more likely to follow him rather than obeying the voice of Yahweh. In some contexts it is true that the stronger and more charismatic the human leader, the harder it is for the flock to have a personal relationship with Yahweh.

1Sa 12:16 Now therefore stand still and see this great thing which Yahweh will do before your eyes-
To "stand still and see" was the language of the invitation to behold the miracle of the salvation at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:13, cp. 2 Chron. 20:17). And again, thunder and water were involved. But it was here an invitation to see their material blessings destroyed, after the pattern of the plague of hail destroying the harvest of the Egyptians. But through that judgment, salvation was intended to come in that it would elicit their repentance. So "stand still and see" still has a salvation context.   

1Sa 12:17 Isn’t it wheat harvest today? I will call to Yahweh to send thunder and rain, and you shall know and see that your wickedness is great which you have done in the eyes of Yahweh, in asking for a king-
This recalls the plague of thunder and hail upon Egypt which destroyed their harvest. The language of calling to Yahweh also recalls Moses in Egypt. They had acted as Egypt, who were led to destruction through their king; and so they were punished likewise.

1Sa 12:18 So Samuel called to Yahweh, and Yahweh sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared Yahweh and Samuel-
To fear Yahweh is parallel here with knowing and seeing the greatness of their sin (:17). And yet such is the perversity of human nature that despite perceiving their sin, there was no change of plan. And in fairness, it seems God had chosen to give them their request, and had set things up for Saul already by this point. We can imagine the people being angry with Samuel for destroying their harvest by his prayers, but they "feared" him, perceiving the connection between Yahweh and Samuel.

1Sa 12:19 All the people said to Samuel, Pray for your servants to Yahweh your God that we do not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for a king-
They feared death from the hail, it was so strong. Again we note that they ask Samuel to pray for them not to die, rather than directly praying to Yahweh themselves and repenting to him. Humanity shies away from the wonder of direct personal relationship with God. Many today prefer to hide at the bottom of a huge supposed hierarchy of priests, bishops, denominational membership etc.- rather than accept direct personal relationship with God. Just as God wished to speak directly to Israel, but they ran away from Him and wanted Moses instead to report to them what God had said. See on 1 Sam. 12:6.

We see here how repentance has different levels. We expect them at this point to say something to the effect: 'And because we have sinned, we hereby ask that Saul not be our king, but just our military leader, our general; and we will go back to how things were before, we will "renew / rebuild the kingship of Yahweh over us as we were asked to in 1 Sam. 11:14". But there is none of that. Samuel however assures them that he will pray for them, and they should be careful to remain in covenant with Yahweh. We too face the reality of different qualities of confession, remorse and repentance in our own lives, and in those of others. Especially in family and church life. We are incapable of sifting through levels of remorse and repentance; our duty is to forgive. We see here how their rather low level of repentance, although sincere enough, was accepted. They could remain within covenant relationship with God even with that. But they were urged to remain in that covenant relationship. We likewise may choose to remain in relationship with those whose repentance or remorse appears shallow, and who remain in the grip of the wrong decisions they have taken because they aren't strong enough to retract them or totally quit them.

1Sa 12:20 Samuel said to the people, Don’t be afraid. You have indeed done all this evil, yet don’t turn aside from following Yahweh, but serve Yahweh with all your heart-
This is Samuel's response to their request that he pray for them and save their lives. He agrees (:23), showing the degree to which prayer for others can indeed save them; but not before warning them that they are not to think that his prayer for them releases them from personal spiritual obligation. The people were very prone to dump their spiritual responsibilities upon others, and this was all part of the reason why it were better for them not to have a king. 

Serving God with the complete heart precludes turning aside to idols (:21). We have no mental space for them. If we don't serve God whole-heartedly, we will serve the idols of this present age. There's no third road.

As discussed on :14, there was no inevitability about the prophecies concerning Saul in 1 Sam. 8. They did not have to come to pass. Just as after his rejection as king, Saul could still have been saved- so after Israel's rejection of God as King, they could still be His people and serve Him with all their hearts. God so respects human freedom that He doesn't tell them to the effect 'Well if you are indeed penitent, then drop your idea of having a human king'. He accepts that having a human king is still their heart position, and seeks to still work with them and have them as His people. This is such a far cry from simplistic church judgments against 'sinners' and demanding quantifiable signs of repentance.

1Sa 12:21 Don’t turn aside to go after vain things which can’t profit or save you, for they are vain-
Only God can save [AV "deliver"]. The Israelites were looking for a king to deliver them, and they are being warned that only Yahweh can save  / deliver, as He had done through the saviours raised at the time of the Judges. No king can deliver / save of himself, and to believe this was another form of idolatry. The idols are described repeatedly as vain and foolish- words which are so true of the spirit of our age today. Dt. 32:15–24 describes just how angry God gets when His people give their devotions to these things: Israel “scornfully esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked Him to jealousy with foreign gods; with abominations they provoked Him to anger. They sacrificed to demons, not to God, to gods they did not know ... that your fathers did not fear... and He (God) said: ‘I will hide My face from them... for they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faith. They have provoked Me to jealousy by what is not God; they have moved Me to anger by their foolish idols... I will heap disasters upon them”. Is. 65:3 LXX is just as clear: “[Israel] burn incense on bricks to demons, which exist not”. The idols of the nations, representing as they did the supposed ‘demons’ of the cosmos, were “vanity” because what the demons and gods they supposedly represented did not exist – they are “beings that are nothing” (1 Sam. 12:21 LXX), “a thing of nought” (Jer. 14:4). Their equivalent in our age is to fill the mind with things of nothing.

The lesson for the exiles was not to look to nations or idols which also could "not profit" (s.w. Is. 30:5; 44:9,10; Jer. 2:8,11 etc.).

1Sa 12:22 Yahweh will not forsake His people-
God forsaking Israel was a punishment for their sin (Jud. 6:13; 2 Kings 21:14; Is. 2:6; Jer. 23:33). God would forsake Israel if they forsook Him; and they had (Dt. 31:16,17; 2 Chron. 15:2). God will only not forsake those who love Him (e.g. Dt. 4:31; 31:6; 1 Sam. 12:22; 1 Kings 6:13; Ps. 94:14; Is. 41:17; 42:16). But Samuel assures them the paradoxically, Yahweh will not forsake them- because of His grace and desire to as it were will through His plan of salvation.

For the sake of His great name, because it has pleased Yahweh to make you His own people-
Samuel assures them that God's amazing grace to His people is part of His essential character which is "His great Name".


1Sa 12:23 As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against Yahweh in ceasing to pray for you; I will instruct you in the good and the right way-
Samuel said that to cease to pray for sinful Israel would be to sin against the Yahweh. The need is in itself the call to prayer. To not pray for people is a sin- one of the easiest sins of omission to commit. And our sins against those sinful people we omit to care for are sins against Yahweh. He watches very carefully our attitudes to hopeless sinners- because we ourselves are in that same category before Him.

1Sa 12:24 Only fear Yahweh and serve Him in truth with all your heart; consider what great things He has done for you-
The great things Samuel has just listed in their history all involved the greatness of God's grace in saving His sinful people, as discussed on :7. These "great things" were the "righteous acts" of :7, the paradoxical, fathomless grace of :22. Yahweh's greatness is supremely shown in the way He saves sinners and continues working with them when they are unworthy and of minimal response to His grace. Indeed this is what the history of God's encounter with man is all about. 

1Sa 12:25 But if you still do wickedly you will be consumed, both you and your king
In the face of so much Divine activity to save them, they would be destroyed if they continued to work against God's efforts to save them. And indeed Saul and Israel were "consumed" together in the massacre by the Philistines (s.w. 1 Sam. 26:10). It was because despite all God's efforts with them, they had continued to "do wickedly". "Your king" may be to contrast with Saul being called Yahweh's anointed in :3,5. If they sinned, and Saul refused to act as Yahweh's anointed, then he would simply become again "your king", the man they wanted. As with several Old Testament characters, Saul could have been Yahweh's anointed and was set up to be that. But he and Israel failed to be and want His Christ. And this came to its full term in their rejection of His Son as the Christ / anointed.