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The Lord having delivered His people out of the hand of Nahash, Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go down to Gilgal and repair (the Hebrew verb is chadash in the piel) the kingdom there.” The kingdom, its typical-symbolical dispensation, was the Lord’s tabernacling with His people in the earthly Canaan and their fellowshipping with God in His holy temple; it was their being blessed by the Lord their God in the way of their covenant fidelity in the city and in the field; it was the Lord’s blessing the fruit of their body, and the fruit of their ground and the fruit of their cattle and their basket and store; it, the kingdom, was the Lord’s smiting their enemies before the face and His establishing them an holy people unto Himself. This kingdom they had destroyed by all their rebellions and whoredoms and recently by their rejection of the Lord in their demanding that a king be set over them. The curse of God was stalking the land now. It was operating in their cities and fields and had made all their enemies to triumph over them. And the Ark of the covenant and the tabernacle were separated; for the Lord had forsaken the tabernacle of Shiloh and given his strength in the enemy’s hand. Verily, they had destroyed the kingdom by all their abominations. But the Lord would not forsake His people, the Israel according to the election of grace. In token of the character of His mercy upon them—it is everlasting—He set a king over them, who had just triumphed over Nahash. But the victory was the Lord’s. Let them now go to Gilgal, as Samuel said, and acknowledge and confess their sins in true contrition of heart, particularly their sin of demanding that a king be set over them. And let them vow that henceforth they will serve the Lord with all their hearts. Then they again would be blessed in all their ways and the kingdom that they had destroyed by their wickedness would be repaired by the Lord Himself in the way of their repentance—His work in them. For repairing the kingdom was His work, not theirs. What they had destroyed the Lord alone could restore. But as repentance was their responsibility, Samuel could admonish them as he did.

But the people were in no mood to repent. Coming to Gilgal they made Saul king before the Lord, that is, whereas Saul’s election and anointing already had taken place, they now installed him in his office by appropriate ceremonies, and thereby pronounced him king. This action of theirs would have been a step in the right direction, had it been a fruit worthy of repentance. But evidently it wasn’t. Doubtless they were worshipping a man—the man Saul—now that by his victory over Nahash he to their mind had proved that he was every inch a king. They also sacrificed sacrifices of peace offerings before the Lord. But to what purpose was their sacrifices to the Lord if their hearts were far from Him? Obedience is better than sacrifice, and for men unreconciled to God as they were, weeping is better than rejoicing. Yet “there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly.”

The narrative does not state that Samuel rejoiced with them. It couldn’t be that he did. For as appears from the sequel, their great sin was weighing too heavily on his soul for him to rejoice with them. They had been destroying the kingdom; they had rejected the Lord and had not repented; and therefore, in making Saul king and in sacrificing and rejoicing they were walking in a vain show. These transactions having been completed, they doubtless were waiting for Samuel to dismiss them that they might return to their respective places. But what about their unconfessed abominations? Had God no place in all their thoughts? It seemed not. But Samuel, to be sure, was differently disposed. He couldn’t let them go without taking up with them the matter of their wickedness. Their obduracy of heart boded only evil for the future. They had asked for a king; that sin must be confessed, and the people must re-dedicate themselves to God or perish as a nation.

However in his discourse to them he first was occupied with his own career and with that of his two sons. “Behold,” he said to them, “I have hearkened unto your voice in all that ye said to me, and have made a king over you. And now behold, the long walketh before you: and I am old and greyheaded; and behold my sons are with you (and my sons, behold! they are with you). And I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day. Behold, here I am. Witness against me before the Lord and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or from whose hand have I received a bribe to blind my eyes therewith (that I should hide my eyes at him). And I will restore it you.” At no time had Samuel lived the life of a private member of the theocracy. From his childhood he had been in a conspicuous position before his people first as assistant to Eli, then as prophet and finally as prophet and judge in Israel. Hence, his entire span of life was an open book that could be read by all. They might scrutinize his public career and should they discover dark spots thereupon, let them declare it. Samuel, to be sure, was aware and the people were aware that he was blameless. His saying to them: “and I will restore it (the bribe, ox or ass that he may have taken) is therefore significant. Certainly, by this statement, he was not admitting that he had walked or even might have been walking in those sins as judge. He knew and so did they all know that no one could point an accusing finger at him. Still, he was not assuming a “holier than thou” attitude toward the people. He had gathered with them before the Lord to restore the kingdom. “Come, let us go to Gilgal and restore the kingdom there,” he had said to them. That, as was explained, could only be done in the way of their acknowledging and confessing before the Lord their sins. If he as their judge had offended, let them reveal it, and he would be the first among them to confess. But let their witness be true. For the Lord before whose face they stood would punish a false witness. Thus did Samuel admonish them in his integrity.

He also made mention of his two sons, “And my sons, behold! they are with you.” These sons had not been walking in the way of their father. The sacred narrator lodges heavy charges against them, stating that they had been turning aside after lucre, taken bribes, and perverting justice. Samuel refrained therefore from asking with respect to these sons, “Whose ox or ass have my sons taken?” These questions the seer put with reference to himself only. And rightly so, for in his mouth and as asked with reference to himself, they were declarations of his blamelessness as their judge. But these sons had offended. Samuel was not disposed to deny their guilt. To the contrary, by saying, “And my sons, behold! they are with you,” he was submitting their careers to the scrutiny of the people as well as his own. (It is too clearly wrong to suggest, as some interpreters do, that a tinge of mortified feeling at the rejection of himself and his family, mixed with a desire to recommend his sons to the favor and good will of the nation lay at the bottom of this mention of them and even colored his entire discourse.)

But there is still this question: Just what was the purpose of this self-justification of the seer? Rightly considered not the seer himself but the people justify him, declare him blameless as judge. They replied, “Thou hast not defrauded us, nor oppressed us, neither hast thou taken ought out of any man’s hand.” This exactly is what he wanted to hear them say not because he was absorbed in himself but because he wanted them to eliminate him as a reason of their asking for a king in order that with himself out of the way he might go on to shut them up to the conclusion that the only reason of their asking for a king was that they desired not that the Lord reign over them. And he hoped that as confronted by the real motive of their vile doing, they would acknowledge and confess that they had sinned. This explains his saying to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and his anointed is witness against you this day that you have not found ought in my hand.” Should they want to reverse their testimony, when they perceived that the argument was going against them, let them consider, Samuel wanted them to understand, that the Lord had heard their witness and would not hold them guiltless should they for a carnal reason overturn it by a contrary witness.

The people had pronounced Samuel blameless as judge. But their reply betokened impatience with the seer. Plainly they would say to him, ‘True, thou hast not defrauded or oppressed us. But thou well knowest that this was not our complaint at the time we come to thee asking that thou set a king over us to fight our battles and to deliver us out of the hand of our adversaries under whose oppressions we groan. Our complaint was that thou art old, meaning that on account of thy age thou shouldest step aside to make room for younger blood equal to that task. We needed a king.

Samuel discerned the thrust of their reply and he was ready with an answer. Said he to them, “The Lord who appointed Moses and Aaron and who brought your fathers up out of the land of Egypt. Now, therefore stand forth, that I may reason with you before the Lord of all the righteous acts of the Lord, which he did to you and to your fathers.” If he wanted to reason with them about such matters, they could not well refuse him their audience. They were attentive therefore as he continued, “When Jacob came into Egypt ,and your fathers cried unto the Lord, then the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, and they brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place. And they forgat the Lord their God, and he sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the host 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 unto the Lord and said, We have sinned because we have forsaken the Lord and have served Baalim and Ashtaroth, but now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies and we will serve thee. And the Lord sent Jerubbaal, and Bedan, and Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and ye dwelt safe. But when ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, ye said unto me, Nay, but a king shall reign over us, when the Lord your God was your king.”

The point to Samuel’s argument is easily discerned. Through all the years of Israel’s national existence the Lord had proved Himself faithful. Not once had He turned a deaf ear to the cry of the fathers for deliverance out of the hand of the oppressors. But more must be said. Those cries had proceeded from fathers who over and over had forgotten the Lord, thus came from people who deserved to be oppressed and pressed into everlasting desolation on account of their rejection of their Maker and Redeemer—the Lord God of Israel. And those oppressions, according to Samuel’s discourse, were not co-incidental; nor did they come only by the will of Philistines and Ammonites, but they came by the sovereign will of the Lord—when they forgat the Lord, He sold them. . . . and were therefore so many revelations of God’s wrath over all the unrighteousness of the fathers, clouds of God’s anger enveloping the fathers on account of their abominations, righteous judgments of God indicating that the fathers had sinned, but also indicating the Lord’s power to save—He sold them—from His own wrath in answer to cries worked in the fathers by (Himself in His great love for His people—the Israel according to the election of grace.

What a wonderful God, king invisible, Israel had. How wonderfully righteous and merciful! How wonderfully able and willing to save His ill-deserving people out of all their troubles—the troubles of sin— in the way of true contrition of heart.

Yet when the people saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against them, they said to Samuel, Nay; but a king shall reign over us. . . .” How amazing! They knew that Nahash was raised up and sent by the Lord to smite them for their sins and that therefore their sole and great need was not a human king but grace to repent in order that they might live and not perish by the hand of Nahash, the rod of God’s anger. Their history told them that, and also that in the way of their repentance the Lord without fail would save them out of the hand of all their foes. But they had said, “Nay”. Why had they said “Nay”? There could be but one possible answer. They did not want the Lord to reign over them, the reason being that He would save them only in the way of their forsaking their wickedness and turning to their redeemer God to serve Him with all their hearts. That they were unwilling to do, because they loved their idols. They said therefore that a king should reign over them indeed, one agreeing to fight their battles without placing them under the necessity of forsaking their Baalims and even willing to serve with them in Baal’s temple. Thus they had spoken in that vein. The amazing sinfulness of sin!

Samuel continued his discourse in this vein: They might behold now the king whom they had chosen. The Lord had set a king over them. If they would serve the Lord, and obey His voice, they and their king, it would be well with them. But if they would not obey His voice but would rebel against His commandments, the Lord would be against them as He was against their fathers.

Here Samuel paused, it seems. If the task of converting men were that of the human preacher, there should have been many conversions in Samuel’s audience there in Gilgal. For he had presented a powerful argument. There was no escaping the conclusion that they had sinned in asking for a king. But the people seemed unmoved. At least they were silent. Nowhere in that vast audience went up the cry, “We have sinned.” They were men hard of heart. The stubbornness of the people vexed Samuel’s soul, it would seem, and his anger kindled. In his indignation he resorted to extraordinary means in order that the people might be brought to acknowledging their sin. Lifting up his voice once again, he said to them, “Now therefore stand and see this great thing which the Lord will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the Lord, and He shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking for a king.”

“Samuel called unto the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day.” Doubtless the storm was extraordinarily severe. This together with the unusualness of rain in that season formed the strongest testimony that the Lord was thundering upon them in answer to Samuel’s prayer and in confirmation of his witness that they had sinned, and would perish if they repented not. The Lord laid that testimony on their hearts with the result that they were seized with a great fear of the Lord and of Samuel. And all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins, this evil to ask for a king.” That it was two years ago that they had demanded that a king be set over them, that during all that time Samuel once and again had exhorted them to repent, that they had to be terrorized by God’s thunder into acknowledging and confessing their sin, provokes the question whether they now were truly sorry for their sin. It is not likely that they were. They feared for their life. The form of the words of their petition also is to be noticed. They said to Samuel, “Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God.” This could be taken as a confession on their part that the Lord was not their God. As terrified by the plagues of God, Pharaoh, too, had acknowledged his sin in the audience of Moses and Aaron. And Pharaoh was reprobated. Then, too, the thunder, like the earthquake is the revelation and the sign of the wrath of God’s hatred of the wicked. Both signify that the doom of the ungodly is pending.

Yet, this, to be sure, is not denying the presence in the land of Canaan of the Israel according to the election of grace. Samuel’s audience must have included representatives also of this Israel, men who, by the grace of God, were truly penitent. For while the Lord was terrifying that audience by His thunderings He at once by the mouth of Samuel spoke a word of comfort and encouragement that He could have been directing only to the true Israel. “And Samuel said to the people, Fear not: ye have done all this great wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your hearts. And turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit or deliver; for they are vain. For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people. Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way. Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your hearts: for consider how great things he has done for you. But if ye do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king.”

“The Lord will not forsake his people.” This statement could have reference to the true Israel only. These the Lord would make His people in Christ. These He would bless in the way of the prayers that would continue to rise in Samuel’s soul for the people. “God forbid,” said the seer to them, “that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you. . . .” He might not cease praying for God’s elect! These words of the prophet are significant also for another reason. They expose as false the view according to which the seer’s discourse was inspired by an anger that was kindled in his soul by his consideration of the ill-treatment that the people had afforded him and his family. The kind of anger that Samuel’s discourse betokens takes not its rise in sinful flesh; for it is the anger of holiness. The final section of Samuel’s discourse had meaning also for the carnal, unbelieving, and impenitent Israel. It told them that as pursuing to the end the way of sin and unbelief they would perish by the hand of God. And it would leave them in the day of trouble without excuse, would this discourse of the seer; for it commanded them to repent and it told them that the Lord is gracious unto his ill-deserving but penitent people, for whom He had done and would continue to do great things.