God is sovereign and God is gracious, and this means that God takes you from where you are, and not from where you should have been. If we were standing around where we should have been, we wouldn’t need salvation. If we need salvation, we are not where we should have been. A godly response to this is always the same—cry out to the Lord. Trust in Him. Follow Him.
“And Samuel said unto all Israel, Behold, I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said unto me, and have made a king over you. And now, behold, the king walketh before you: and I am old and grayheaded; and, behold, my sons are with you: and I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day . . .” (1 Sam. 12:1-25).
Summary of the Text
The occasion here appears to be different than the occasion in 1 Sam. 11. Samuel is rehearsing the circumstances of the transition between the judges and the monarchy. First, he has made them a king (v. 1). They see how it is— their king is there, Samuel is old, and he has walked before them from childhood on (v. 2). Samuel asks them to testify—has he abused his office in any way (v. 3)? They reply that he has not (v. 4). And Samuel swears an oath that this is so, and the people confirm it (v. 5).
Having established this, Samuel rehearses for them a brief history of Israel. God promoted Moses and Aaron, and brought them out of Egypt (v. 6). He tells them to “stand still” while he tells them all the righteous acts of the Lord (v. 7). First was the Exodus (v. 8). When they forgot God, God sold them to Sisera, to the Philistines, and to the Moabites (v. 9). When they repented of their idols, they cried out to God, promising to serve Him (v. 10). So God sent deliverers—Jerubbaal (Gideon), Bedan (Barak), Jephthah, and Samuel, and they delivered them from the hand of enemies on every side (v. 11). We learn here for the first time that the demand for a king (like the other nations) came as a result of Nahash coming against them (v. 12). Now, Samuel sums up, behold your king (v. 13). Though Samuel has foretold the apostasy, this does not erase the responsibility of the people. If they fear God, serve Him, obey Him, and not rebel against His commandment, then both they and their king will continue following God (v. 14). But if they do not obey, the same thing will happen as happened to their fathers (v. 15). Samuel then gives a great sign (v. 16), which is thunder and rain during the time of the wheat harvest
(v. 17). So Samuel prayed, and thunder and rain appeared (v. 18). The people repent, and ask Samuel to pray for them (v. 19). Samuel reassures them (“fear not”), telling them that obedience to God remains possible (v. 20). He tells them not to go after vain idols (v. 21). God will not forsake them (v. 22). Moreover, Samuel will not sin by ceasing to pray for them (v. 23). He tells them to fear the Lord, and remember His deeds (v. 24). But if they sin, they will be consumed, and their king with them (v. 25).
Foreordination Erases No Duties
This chapter provides us with a wonderful illustration of the truth that our duties (which always reside in the present) cannot be erased by anything in the settled past (which cannot be changed). Neither can they be erased by the reality of a settled future. Samuel has warned the people of what is to come—and yet he labors faithfully to keep it from happening. He tells them that they are summoned to labor faithfully in the same way. This is the difference between a biblical faith in God’s sovereignty and pagan fatalism. Fatalism shrugs and says, “What’s the use?”The believer knows that the God who holds the future in the palm of His hand is the same God who assigns our duties to us. If He does not see an inconsistency in this, then we had better not.
In a storm at sea, Paul tells everyone on board that God has promised him that the lives of his shipmates will all be spared (Acts 27:23-26). But this same Paul told the centurion that if certain sailors left the ship, they would not survive (Acts 27:31).
Repentance, Not “Do Overs”
Samuel has repeatedly told the Israelites that a king was a bad idea. They wanted a pagan-style king, and he gave them a theocratic king instead. But he knew that even this theocratic king would be a temptation. He steps away from his responsibility as a judge, but continues on as a prophet. (He still has one more king to anoint.) But if this king and the people obey God in a thorough-hearted way, they can still avert disaster.
Saul is right there, a fresh king. Samuel does not call the people to a repentance that removes Saul from the throne. The die is cast. Repentance means walking straight from here on out. Repentance in this kind of instance means a rethink, not a redo.
Samuel is not a romantic about the “good old days.”The story he tells the people has plenty of idolatry and disobedience back in the time of the judges. God had to deliver them repeatedly, and Samuel does not whitewash this.
At the same time, it is crucial for Samuel to point out that his administration had been righteous. He summons the people to acknowledge that the transition from Samuel to Saul was not driven by corruption on Samuel’s part.
Understanding history accurately is part of your faith. You cannot walk faithfully with God as a people if you do not understand how we got to this place. Notice how Samuel goes over their story, showing the cycles of disobedience and deliverance. Without understanding history, there is no gospel, and if there is no gospel, there is no hope.
And this means that, just as they had to understand their story, we have to understand ours. Was America, for example, founded as a Christian nation? Of course it was. But it is worth pointing out that the people who are governing us currently would deny this even if the Declaration had been signed by Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all twelve apostles. They know what they want, and it is too bad that we don’t.