1 Samuel 12 Commentary: Samuel’s Integrity and Israel’s King

1 Samuel 12 Commentary

1 Samuel 12 presents a turning point in the history of Israel, marked by Samuel’s profound farewell address to the nation.

As he steps down from leadership, Samuel confronts the Israelites with their own history, their recent demand for a monarch, and the implications of their choices.

This chapter highlights Samuel’s role as a prophet and judge, and his efforts to guide Israel to remain faithful to God amidst their transition to a monarchical system. It captures the essence of Israel’s relationship with God and their struggle with faith and obedience, set against the backdrop of a nation on the cusp of significant change.

1 Samuel 12:1-5, Samuel’s Address to Israel and His Integrity Testified

In this segment, Samuel addresses the Israelites as he steps down from his role as judge. He asks the people to affirm his integrity, emphasizing his lifelong commitment to serving God and Israel without corruption or personal gain. A moment that is significant because it sets the tone for Samuel’s final speech, highlighting his role as a faithful servant of God and a just leader.

And Samuel said to all Israel, “Behold, I have obeyed your voice in all that you have said to me and have made a king over you. And now, behold, the king walks before you, and I am old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day. Here I am; testify against me before the Lord and before his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you.”

1 Samuel 12:1-3, ESV

Samuel is essentially asking for a public audit of his leadership, showcasing his confidence in his own moral and ethical conduct. This act not only reflects Samuel’s righteousness but also serves as an example for the kind of leadership Israel should seek and value.

They said, “You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from any man’s hand.” And he said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” And they said, “He is witness.”

1 Samuel 12:4-5, ESV

The people affirm Samuel’s integrity, recognizing his just and faithful service. This mutual respect between Samuel and the people underscores the importance of righteous leadership and the acknowledgment of such virtue by the people.

1 Samuel 12:6-11, Samuel’s Recapitulation of Israel’s History

Samuel then recounts the mighty deeds of the Lord in Israel’s history, reminding the people of God’s faithfulness in times of oppression and despair. He lists the various leaders, including Moses and Aaron, who led Israel through difficult times with God’s help.

This recounting serves to remind Israel of their dependence on God and His continuous role as their true deliverer and protector.

And Samuel said to the people, “The Lord is witness, who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. Now therefore stand still that I may plead with you before the Lord concerning all the righteous deeds of the Lord that he performed for you and for your fathers. When Jacob went into Egypt, and the Egyptians oppressed them, then your fathers cried out to the Lord and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place.

1 Samuel 12:6-8, ESV

Samuel’s reminder of Israel’s history is not just a history lesson; it’s a call to recognize a pattern: whenever Israel turned to God, they were saved. Conversely, when they strayed, they faced peril.

But they forgot the Lord their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them. And they cried out to the Lord and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the Lord and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’ And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety.

1 Samuel 12:9-11, ESV

By highlighting past deliverances, Samuel emphasizes that God’s intervention was crucial in their victories and survival. This historical reflection is meant to stir a sense of gratitude and loyalty towards God among the Israelites.

1 Samuel 12:12-15, Samuel on Israel’s Demand for a King

Samuel then addresses the issue of the people demanding a king. He points out that their request for a monarch was a rejection of God as their king.

Samuel warns them that if both the king and the people do not follow God’s commandments, they will face negative consequences.

And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the Lord your God was your king. And now behold the king whom you have chosen, for whom you have asked; behold, the Lord has set a king over you.

1 Samuel 12:12-13, ESV

This part serves as a critical juncture in Israel’s history, marking the transition from divine leadership to a human monarchy. Samuel’s words are a mix of rebuke for their lack of faith and a cautionary message about the future.

If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well. But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and your king.

1 Samuel 12:14-15, ESV

He makes it clear that obedience to God is key, regardless of the form of government. This insistence on fidelity to God’s commandments underscores the central theme of the Hebrew Bible: obedience to God is paramount for blessing and peace.

1 Samuel 12:16-18, The Sign of Thunder and Rain as a Rebuke

Here, Samuel calls upon God to send thunder and rain, a demonstration of divine power, to validate his words and to show the people the seriousness of their sin in asking for a king. This extraordinary event occurs during the wheat harvest, a time typically devoid of rain, highlighting the miraculous nature of the sign.

Now therefore stand still and see this great thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for yourselves a king.”

1 Samuel 12:16-17, ESV

The thunder and rain serve as a physical manifestation of God’s displeasure with Israel’s demand for a king. It’s a powerful, tangible sign meant to instill fear and recognition of wrongdoing in the people.

So Samuel called upon the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel.

1 Samuel 12:18, ESV

The people’s reaction to the thunder and rain is one of fear and a plea for Samuel’s intercession. This event leads to a moment of collective realization of their sin, indicating the impact of the sign and Samuel’s influence as a prophet.

1 Samuel 12:19-22, The People’s Fear and Samuel’s Reassurance

Frightened by the sign, the people acknowledge their sin and ask for Samuel’s prayers. Samuel reassures them that despite their sin, God will not forsake them for His great name’s sake, as it has pleased Him to make them His people.

This assurance highlights God’s unwavering commitment to Israel despite their failings.

And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” And Samuel said to the people, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.

1 Samuel 12:19-20, ESV

Samuel’s response is not just a reassurance but also a call to not turn aside from following God. It’s a delicate balance between recognizing their sin and encouraging them to remain faithful.

And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.

1 Samuel 12:21-22, ESV

In these verses, Samuel warns against idolatry and reassures them of God’s unchanging purpose, serving to encourage the Israelites to renew their commitment to God, knowing that His promises are steadfast.

1 Samuel 12:23-25, Samuel’s Promise to Pray and Final Warning

Samuel concludes his address by promising to continue praying for Israel and teaching them the good and right way. He emphasizes the importance of fearing the Lord and serving Him faithfully.

Samuel’s final warning is stark: if the people persist in wickedness, both they and their king will be swept away.

Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.

1 Samuel 12:23-24, ESV

Samuel’s commitment to pray and instruct the people even after his official role has ended speaks to his dedication as a prophet and leader – a reminder that leadership and responsibility don’t end with a change in position or title.

But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

1 Samuel 12:25, ESV

The chapter ends with a sobering warning, emphasizing the consequences of disobedience.

This final statement by Samuel serves as a prophetic caution, setting the stage for the unfolding events in Israel’s monarchy.