1 Samuel 12:1–25 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
“Samuel’s Farewell Speech”
To prepare ourselves for what Saul will do in this chapter, let's remember what we've read so far. In chapter 8 (shown in our summary of 1 Samuel 8:1–22), the people demanded a king, like all the nations had, to judge them. When he warned them about the high cost of kingship, the Israelites insisted that they'd be willing to pay that price. So Samuel sent the people home with the promise that they'd have their king. Chapter 9 (see summary) and 10 (summary) describe the events leading up to the public designation of Saul as Israel’s king.
Chapter 11 (see last week's summary of 1 Samuel 11:1–15) tells of Nahash, the Ammonite, who besieged Jabesh, Gilead, calling for the surrender of that Israelite city, announcing that when they surrendered, he'd gouge out the right eye of each of his defeated foes. The people of Jabesh asked for time to seek help from their brethren, something Nahash appeared to think unlikely. When messengers were sent out from Jabesh with a plea for help, word of the plight of their Israelite brethren reached Saul's town of Gibeah. When he came in from the fields, he learned of this situation and was made angry by the Spirit of God. He slaughtered a yoke of oxen, sending their pieces throughout Israel with the warning that anyone who didn't assemble for war would find his own oxen slaughtered similarly. All Israel assembled — 330,000 strong. God brought a great victory over the Ammonites, delivering the Jabeshites from their tyranny.
In the people's eyes, their victory was proof positive that Saul was their kind of king! The people were jubilant and he was made king; sacrifices were made before the LORD; Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration (11:15).
Samuel’s Preparatory Inquiries (12:1–5)
In today's first five verses, Samuel put himself on trial before God and the people. Apparently he based his remarks and questions on Israel’s implied or stated charges against Samuel, in chapter 8, that he was too old to carry out the task of judging Israel, and that his sons weren't righteous, which was true. The people considered both charges compelling reasons for Samuel’s replacement by a bone-fide king. Rather than tiptoe around these charges, Samuel brought them out into the open, publicly challenging anyone to successfully accuse him of wrongdoing, especially in relation to his official duties.
3"Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right” (1 Sam. 12:3).
There's no visible fault or failure with regard to Samuel's ministry focus and efforts. He didn't defraud anyone. Neither had he judged unjustly, causing people to have been defrauded of something resulting from his abuse of the judicial process. Unlike his sons, he hadn't taken bribes to distort justice in his judgments (see 8:3). And he asserted that he hadn't oppressed anyone or abused his position of power as judge. He hadn't taken anyone’s ox or donkey. He showed himself to truly be a godly man who was willing to pass from the scene when God raised up another leader. When he said "I will make it right" (v. 3b), it seems that Samuel was saying, I may have wronged someone without knowing it. If that's the case, state it now, so I can make it right. I don't want to leave any unfinished business. This testifies to Samuel's humble heart.
These first five verses demonstrate how well-qualified Samuel was to judge Israel. He'd therefore be just as qualified to prosecute God’s case against the Israelites, as we'll see in the following verses. Clearly, Samuel was innocent and Israel had wrongly sought his removal. Being God's innocent servant, Samuel became able to indict his wayward nation for its recurring sin of rejecting him and God.
The Israelites on Trial before Samuel the Prosecutor (vv. 6–11)
Samuel will now challenge Israel to serve God under their new king. We see in the next six verses that Samuel took the Israelites back to the beginning of the “kingdom,” which God established at the exodus; he briefly traced their history to their present time. He wanted to prove to them that their current demand to have a king like the rest of the nations was yet another instance of their rebellion against God, just like the rebellion that characterized their forefathers. The first thing Samuel emphasized to the Israelites that day was that, ultimately, it wasn't Moses and Aaron who delivered the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, it was God (v. 7). It was God who raised up leaders and, through them, delivered his people. Accordingly, Samuel summoned the Israelites to take their stand before God.
The Israelites were on trial, and Samuel was their prosecutor. He testified that it was God's righteousness that had delivered those Israelites' forefathers who'd stood before Samuel at Gilgal. He reviewed Israel’s history, from the day of the nation’s birth at the exodus to their present time when the Israelites had the king they'd demanded. Citing illustrations from major periods (the exodus, Israel’s wilderness wanderings, its possession of land under Joshua, and the period of judges ending with Samuel), Samuel attempted to demonstrate a consistent pattern of behavior on Israel’s part, and on God’s part in dealing with his people. Despite the fact that God graciously gave his people deliverance from their enemies, Israel forgot God and prostituted itself with other gods. God then gave that nation over to its neighboring enemies who oppressed and afflicted God’s people who acknowledged their sin and cried out to God for deliverance, which he graciously granted. After acknowledging their idolatry, they forsook it, promising to serve God if he'd deliver them yet again.
“If You Will Listen to and Fear the LORD . . .” (vv. 12–18)
Samuel continued his prosecution of the Israelites before him by linking their history to their present situation. Like the Israelites of old, God’s people once again became oppressed by a neighboring nation. This time, Nahash led the Ammonite threat against Israel. That current threat differed from the ones that Samuel had described in vv. 8–11. When oppressed by their enemies, the Israelites of earlier times viewed their circumstances in light of the Mosaic Covenant, understanding that their enemy oppression was due to their own sin for which they needed to repent and cry out to God for deliverance. But for those who stood before Samuel at Gilgal, there was no admission of sin being the cause of their troubles, instead attributing their problems to “bad leadership,” specifically that belonging to Samuel and his sons. Their solution wasn't to repent of their sin and cry out to God for deliverance, but to get rid of Samuel and obtain a king just like the other nations had.
It wasn't a matter that Samuel was too old to judge Israel and that his sons were corrupt but that the Israelites feared an enemy who threatened them and failed to acknowledge the root problem to be their own sin. They pinned the blame on bad leadership, feeling justified in having the king they desired. In spite of the sin that Israel committed against God by asking for a king, God was gracious to his people, giving them a "Good!" option (v. 14). This king was the one they'd chosen, the one for whom they'd asked (v. 13). God set Saul to become their king, but it was God who was to be their King! Did the Israelites look upon King Saul as their deliverer? Had they pinned all their hopes on him or on any other man? If so, Samuel’s words must have come as a shock.
One wrong turn didn't put the Israelites out of God's plan forever. Yes, Israel should have never sought a human king, but now they had one; Samuel simply called them to serve the LORD, then and there. We need to know and remember that one wrong turn doesn't wreck our lives in God's eyes. Instead of agonizing over the past, get right with God. Fear the LORD, serve him, and obey his voice; don't rebel against the LORD's commandments (vv. 14–15). When you obey faithfully, God will bring good out of yesterday's wrong turn.
Note Samuel's strong words for them to fear the LORD, serve him, and listen to his voice. If they'd do as he asked, their king would also follow the LORD's directives and commands. Consequently, if they'd rebel, the hand of the LORD would be against them severely. Verses 16–18 authenticate Samuel’s assurance to them: Having called directly on the LORD for his intercession, the thunder, lightning, and rain, which were unusual phenomena during the wheat harvest during late May to early June, had occurred that very day! As a result, their immediate response was to greatly fear and stand in awe of the LORD and Samuel.
The key to Israel’s success wasn't its king but its trust in and obedience to God. While an unrighteous nation will have an unrighteous king, a righteous nation will have a righteous king. Israel was to be blessed if she trusted in her God and obeyed his commands; likewise, she was to be cursed for turning from God and his laws. If the nation trusted and obeyed God, it would have been given a righteous king and experienced God’s promised blessings. However, if the nation turned away from God, her king would most surely be unable to save her from God's judgment. Samuel made it clear that judgment would come in relation to the upcoming wheat harvest. Though it wasn't the time for storms or significant rainfall, in response to Samuel’s prayer, a great thunderstorm prevailed upon the nation (v. 18). The storm reminded the people that, because Samuel was God’s prophet, it would be unwise to reject him and his emphatic words that exposed their demand for a king as being sinful.
“Yet . . . You and Your King Will Perish” (vv. 19–25)
We see clearly in v. 18b that, as a result of Samuel’s preaching, and especially the rainstorm, "all the people stood in awe of the LORD and of Samuel." The Israelites had begun to comprehend the greatness of their general sin, as well as their sin in demanding a king. They seemed to fear further discipline, in that they pled to Samuel to “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”
This chapter's closing six verses present Samuel's strong points. If God was gracious and faithful to his covenant with Israel, so was Samuel. The people had asked him to intercede with God on their behalf, even though they'd rejected his and God's leadership over them. Like God, Samuel acted graciously, in accordance with his character, assuring the people that he wouldn't sin against God by forsaking his duty to pray continually for them and teach them “the way that is good and right.” In vv. 23–25 is a powerful conclusion to Samuel’s stern message to the Israelites — the final punch! He'd pray for them and instruct them in the right way for them to behave and live. Their responsibility was to fear the LORD, serve him truthfully and sincerely with all their heart, and consider all that he'd done for them. If they wouldn't take that responsibility seriously, they and their kings would be swept away in God's judgment. Note: This final word is great counsel for hearty believers in any generation.
Closing considerations Generally in Chapter 12, Samuel’s focus was to warn the people of the dangers of requesting a human king instead of appealing to the LORD to save and redeem them. According to Warren Wiersby, “Samuel mentions the LORD at least thirty times in this message because his heart’s desire was to see the people return to the LORD and honor His covenant.”
Today's text is a commentary on salvation. The Israelites of Samuel’s day looked to Saul, their king, to provide their salvation and deliverance. They viewed salvation in military and monetary terms, not spiritual terms. Our text informs us that no human “king” can save or deliver man from his sin. What Israel’s “king” couldn't do, God’s “King” had accomplished: salvation for sinful men who call upon him for his grace.
When we make a bad decision or commit a sin, our life isn't over. There may be earthly consequences, e.g., we can’t unscramble scrambled eggs. But, we can always pick up ourselves, confess our sinfulness, and move forward in faith and obedience. It's never too late to start following the LORD with all of your heart!
Intro Video: “The First Book of Samuel”
† Watch this introductory video clip created by The Bible Project on bibleproject.com.
- Q. 1 How much faith do you suppose Samuel had in Israel's ability to do the "good" in vv. 14–15?
- Q. 2 What incentives — positive and negative — did he offer for loyal covenant living (vv. 24–25)?