Chapter 11 ended with Samuel summoning the people to Gilgal to reaffirm, or to renew, the kingship. And chapter 12 tells us what Samuel said to the people at Gilgal. So, the title the NIV gives to this chapter — which is ‘Samuel’s Farewell Speech’ isn’t accurate, because this is not so much a farewell speech — Samuel is not going anywhere — but this is the speech Samuel gave that day in Gilgal to remind the people that the Lord is their king. They asked for a human king like all the other nations have. And God was going to give them a king. But they needed to understand that even though God was giving them a human king, nevertheless the Lord is their king; and all of them — including their king — are to serve him. Whereas foreign kings regarded themselves as being above the law so that no-one was able to tell them what to do, the kings of Israel needed to understand that they were not above the law, because they too were duty-bound to keep God’s law and to do his will. So, this isn’t Samuel’s farewell speech. This is not his retirement speech. In this chapter, he’s reminding the people that the Lord is their king and they’re to fear the Lord and serve and obey him.
Verses 1 to 5
In verses 1 to 5, Samuel begins to address the people. And first of all, he reports that he’s done what they asked of him and he’s set a king over them. He adds that he’s now old and grey; and so, he knows that he won’t be able to lead them forever. He mentions his sons; and though he doesn’t say anything about them, everyone knows that his sons were worthless men who shouldn’t be appointed to take over from Samuel. And then he goes on to talk about his own record as their leader. He’s been their leader for a long time: from the time of his youth even. And what can they say about his leadership? Well, in all that time, he never once abused his authority. He never took anyone’s ox; and he never took anyone’s donkey; and he never cheated anyone; and he never oppressed anyone; and he never accepted a bribe. His record has been blameless. And all the people agree with him that what he said was true; he never once abused his authority. And so, in verse 5 he says that the Lord himself, and the Lord’s anointed king — that’s Saul — are witnesses that the people have said that he has been blameless.
Now, what’s the point of this? Why is he stressing his blameless record? Well, I think this is the reason. God had made Samuel leader over his people. Now, if he had been a bad leader and if he had abused his authority and if he had oppressed the people, then the people would have been justified in asking for a new kind of leader. But since God had given them a good leader, then it highlights their unbelief and rebellion. Instead of demanding a new kind of leader, instead of demanding a king like the nations had, they should have left it to the Lord to provide them with the right leader at the right time to replace Samuel. So, Samuel’s blameless record highlights their unbelief and rebellion.
Verses 6 to 12
And in verses 6 to 12, Samuel continues to press home the fact that the Lord has always given them the right leader at the right time. In verses 6 and 9, he refers to the time of the exodus, when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. And at that time, the Lord — who saw their misery — appointed Moses and Aaron to bring them out of Egypt.
Then, in verse 9, he says they forgot the Lord. In other words, they forsook the Lord; they turned away from him and they did not walk in his ways. And whenever that happened, the Lord chastised them by handing them over to their enemies. Samuel is now thinking of the period of the judges, when Sisera led an army against them; and when the Philistines oppressed them; and the king of Moab attacked them. But whenever that happened, and whenever they cried to the Lord because of their misery, the Lord sent the judges to deliver them: men like Jerub-Baal — which is another name for Gideon — and Barak and Jeph-thah and Samuel, who was also one of the judges. By the hand of these leaders, the Lord delivered his people from the hand of their enemies so that they were able to live in peace and safety in the Promised Land.
And the point Samuel is making is that in the past the Lord has always given them the right leader at the right time. And so, now that Samuel was getting old, they should have trusted the Lord and left it to him to give them the right leader at the right time. But instead of trusting in the Lord, they asked for a new kind of leader, one like all the other nations have.
And so, when Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against them, they asked for a king. We read about Nahash last week: he was the king who laid siege to Jabesh-Gilead and who wanted to gouge out their eyes. So, when the Israelites were under threat, the people asked for a king, even though God was their king and he had always taken care of them. They should have trusted the Lord, to save them by his own hand or by the hand of his own chosen leader. But they didn’t.
Verses 13 to 15
Well, here’s what you asked for, Samuel says to them in verse 13. You asked for a king: here he is. And in verses 14 and 15 Samuel calls on the people — and their king — to fear the Lord and to serve and obey him and not to rebel against him. If they fear and obey the Lord, all will be well. But if they don’t, then God’s hand will be against them, just as his hand was against their forefathers whenever they were unfaithful and disobedient.
So, there is it. There’s the challenge he set before them. They were wrong to ask for a king, instead of trusting the Lord to give them the right leader at the right time. Nevertheless the Lord is gracious and merciful and slow to anger and he does not treat us as our sins deserve and he does not repay us according to our iniquity. Although they were wrong to ask for a king, the Lord graciously gave them what they asked for and he promised them that if they serve and obey him, all will be well. But if they do not serve him, but rebel against him, then instead of doing them good, he will have to discipline them, the way a loving parent will discipline a wayward child.
Verses 16 to 19
And just to underline what he’s been saying, Samuel called on the Lord to give them a sign. And this was the sign. When Samuel said these things it was the time of the wheat harvest. Do you see that in verse 17? And that was their dry season. So, it wasn’t normal for rain to fall at that time of the year. But as well as that, rain was unwelcome at that time of the year, because the rain would only destroy their crops, which needed to be dry before they could be harvested. So, it was the time of the wheat harvest. And Samuel called on the Lord to send, not just rain, but thunder and rain. And the reason he asked the Lord to send thunder and rain was to get them to see what an evil thing they did in the eyes of the Lord when they asked for a king. This was a judgment sign on them for their unbelief and rebellion. And according to verse 18, that very same day, the Lord sent thunder and rain; and all the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel his servant. And the people asked Samuel to pray for them so that they will not die. They were terrified at this display of God’s power and displeasure.
Verses 20 to 25
And so, in the remaining verses, Samuel calls on them to serve the Lord with all their heart. Yes, they had sinned and done wickedly. They had done evil and had turned away from the Lord. But the Lord is always willing to forgive those who humble themselves before him and confess their sin. But not only must we confess our sins, but we must turn from them. And so, Samuel commanded them to serve the Lord with all of their heart. Don’t turn away after useless idols, he said, because they’re useless and cannot do you any good and they cannot rescue you. So, instead of turning to idols, trust in the Lord. And they can always count on the Lord, can’t they? Why can they count on the Lord? Well, look at verse 22: ‘For the sake of his great name, the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make them his own.’
Samuel’s referring to what happened at Sinai, when the Lord established his covenant with the Israelites and when he bound himself to them with a promise to be their God and to treat them as his treasured possession. He promised he would keep them always. And so, for the sake of his great name — in order words, for the sake of his reputation as a God of truth and faithfulness who always keeps his word — he will not reject them, now that they have confessed their sins and are ready to turn from them. Husbands and wives fall out. The husband does something to annoy his wife. She’s upset and doesn’t want to speak to him. But when he comes humbly, confessing what he has done and asking for forgiveness, she’s willing to forgive him and welcome him, because this is the man she has promised to love always. And God has promised to love the Israelites and so, when they come to him humbly, confessing their sin and asking his forgiveness, he’s willing to forgive them and to welcome them.
And as for me, Samuel adds in verse 23, I will pray for you and I will teach you the way that is good and right. Do you see? This was not Samuel’s farewell address. He wasn’t retiring and he wasn’t going anywhere. He will continue to pray for them and he will continue to teach them the will of the Lord.
And his speech to them ends with a final reminder that they should fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all of their heart. And they should consider and think about and ponder all that he has done for them, because he’s always been good to them. So, fear and serve the Lord and remember him, because if you forget the Lord and persist in doing evil, you and your king will be swept away. This all fits with the covenant God made with them at Sinai when he promised to bless them with good things if they obeyed him and when he warned them of the troubles they would suffer if they disobeyed him. If they obey him, all would be well. If they disobey him, he would have to discipline them, the way a loving parent will discipline a wayward child.
Samuel commanded the people to serve and obey the Lord. But we know from the history of Israel that they did not serve and obey him, but they disobeyed him continually. And though we are to serve and obey the Lord, we know that we too are disobedient to God our king, because so often we sin against him in thought and word and deed; and instead of serving him with all our heart, we so often say ‘no’ to him; and instead of obeying him in all things, we so often break his commandments. And instead of relying on him, we so often doubt his love and faithfulness. He is our great God and King, because he made us and in him we live and move and have our being. But instead of doing his will, which is what we’re meant to do, we fall short.
And yet he is merciful and gracious and slow to anger and he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquity; and whoever humbles themselves before him and confesses their sin and turns from it discovers for themselves his mercy and grace; and they discover for themselves that he’s willing to remove our sins from us and to remember our sins no more. Maybe there’s something you have done, some great sin which is on your mind and on your conscience, and you think that God cannot possibly pardon you and he will not forget what you have done, but will always hold it against you. And yet, just as the Lord was willing to pardon the Israelites, who acted wickedly when they rejected him, so he is willing to pardon you and to remember your sins no more.
And he’s able to forgive you because when the time was right he sent his Son into the world to be the Lord’s Anointed King, the true king of God’s people, who came to deliver us from our sin and misery in this world. And Jesus Christ did what every king is supposed to do, because Jesus Christ served and obeyed his Father in heaven, obeying him perfectly when he was on the earth, even to the point of death on the cross, which was the will of God for him, because it was his Father’s will for him to suffer and to die on the cross to pay for the sins of his people and to satisfy God’s justice forever. And so, if you believe in Christ the Saviour, and confess your sins, God is just and will forgive you for your sins and he will cleanse you from all that is wrong in your life.
And after the Lord Jesus died, he was raised from the dead and he ascended to heaven to receive the Holy Spirit. And if you believe in the Lord Jesus, then he gives you his Spirit to enable you to do more and more what you’re unable to do by yourself, which is to fear God and to serve and obey him always. And his Spirit, living in your heart through faith, is the deposit, guaranteeing that, despite your sins and shortcomings, you too will live forever with Christ the King in that new and better world to come, where you will will reign with him and where you will have no more enemies to hurt you, and there will be nothing to harm you, or to tempt you to sin, but you will live in perfect peace and safety forever. This is the great gospel which God has revealed to us; and he calls on every one of us to believe this good news and to trust in his Son for salvation. Whoever persists in doing evil will be swept away, when Christ the King comes again to judge the living and the dead. But whoever trusts in the Lord Jesus, the Lord’s Anointed Christ, is saved from God’s condemnation, and will live forever.