“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’ ” (v. 20).
Under the leadership of King Saul, the Israelites defeated the Ammonites when they came together as one people to follow Saul as he followed God’s Spirit (1 Sam. 11). Israel had reached a significant milestone. Although the people had asked for the monarchy for the wrong reasons, the Lord established it (chap. 8–10). Thus, His giving victory to His united people when their king followed Him demonstrated that God could take a less-than-ideal arrangement and use it for His people’s good and for His glory.
The victory over the Ammonites by a united Israel under the leadership of an obedient King Saul provided an opportunity for Samuel to give a farewell address to all Israel. The ministry of Samuel would continue, but this was his final speech to the nation as a whole. In it we find both a warning and an extension of hope.
Samuel recounted the history of Israel from the time of Moses until his day, describing how the nation had not been consistently faithful. They sinned repeatedly and God allowed other peoples to inflict misery on Israel, but He saved them by raising up various judges when the Israelites turned from their sin (12:1–11). Israel needed to hear this retelling of her history, for God had just replaced the judges with a king who had successfully rescued them. Such a change in governance might lead the people to believe the Lord would give them and their king victory no matter what. So, Samuel cautioned the people that God would hand a disobedient Israel and a disobedient king over to their enemies just as surely as He had handed the errant nation over to their foes during the era of the judges (vv. 12–15). The Lord gave a king to people who wanted one for the wrong reasons, revealing their wickedness and that the mere presence of a king guaranteed nothing. Samuel confirmed this warning by calling on God to send rain during the wheat harvest, a time when the weather was normally dry and when precipitation could come only by divine intervention (vv. 16–18).
Realizing their sin, the people cried for mercy, and Samuel told them not to fear, for God had pledged never to reject His people utterly. However, that was no reason for complacency. The Lord would not finally abandon Israel as a whole, but that did not mean every individual Israelite was safe. Disobedient Israelites—even disobedient Israelite kings—could be cut off (vv. 19–25). To participate in the blessings promised to the nation, each person would have to seek to obey God, repenting for sin while trembling at His Word (Isa. 66:2).
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
Matthew Henry comments that “we mistake if we think that we can evade God’s justice by shaking off his dominion. If God shall not rule us, yet he will judge us.” The ancient Israelites could not escape God’s rule by demanding a king in His place, and neither can we. But if we reject Him, His reign shall be one of harsh judgment against us. As we trust in Him, however, His reign is one of blessing to us, and we inherit eternal life.