The Word Made Fresh
1Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “I have listened to you all these years, and when you wanted a king, I anointed a king to rule over you. 2Your king leads you now. I’m old and gray, but you have my sons with you. I have been your leader since I was young. 3Now I stand before you and ask you to judge me before the LORD and your king. Have I taken anyone’s ox or donkey? Have I cheated anyone? Have I used my authority to hurt any of you? Have I ever accepted a bribe to influence my rulings? Tell me now, and I will try to correct anything I have done wrong.”
4They answered, “No, you have never cheated us, or oppressed us, or taken anything from anyone.”
5“The LORD is a witness to what you have said,” Samuel told them. “And so is your king. You have testified that I have taken nothing out of your hands.”
“The LORD is our witness,” they replied.
6Then Samuel said, “The LORD chose Moses and Aaron to bring your ancestors out of Egypt. 7Now stand right here and listen as I remind you of all the things the LORD did for you and your ancestors. 8Jacob went down to Egypt. Your ancestors cried out to the LORD, and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron to lead them out of Egypt and established them here in this land. 9Then they forgot the LORD their God, so the LORD allowed them to be oppressed by Sisera and the army of Hazor, and then by the Philistines, and then by the king of Moab who also fought against them. 10Then they cried out to the LORD and confessed that they had turned their backs to the LORD and worshiped the Baals and the Astartes. They begged the LORD to rescue them and promised they would be faithful and serve the LORD. 11Then the LORD sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samson, and they rescued you from all your enemies and you lived in safety. 12But then king Nahash of the Ammonites attacked, and you said, “We have to have a king to reign over us!” even though the LORD God was your king. 13So, here he is, the king you wanted. The LORD has given you a king. 14Now, if you will respect the LORD and serve the LORD and listen to the LORD and stop disobeying the LORD’s commandments; if you and your king will follow the LORD, all will be well. 15But if you ignore the LORD’s voice and disobey the laws, then the hand of the LORD will be against you and your forebearers. 16Now stand there and witness a mighty deed the LORD will perform right before your eyes. 17Isn’t this the beginning of the wheat harvest? I will call upon the LORD to send thunder and rain, and you will understand then the terrible mistake you have made in the LORD’s eyes when you demanded a king be set over you.”
18Then Samuel called upon the LORD and the LORD sent thunder and rain that very day, and the people were very afraid then of the LORD and of Samuel. 19They said to Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God not to destroy us because we demanded a king!”
20Then Samuel said, “Don’t be afraid. You are guilty, but do not turn away from the LORD. Serve the LORD with all your heart. 21Don’t run after meaningless and useless things that cannot bring you profit or safety. 22The LORD isn’t going to throw you away. The LORD is pleased that you wish to be the LORD’s people. 23And as for me, I will never stop praying for you, and I will continue to teach you the things of the LORD. 24Keep fearing the LORD. Serve the LORD faithfully with all your hearts. Think of all the things the LORD has done for you! 25Just remember, if you fall back into sinfulness, you and your king will be swept away.”
1-5: Saul’s first test convinces Samuel that he can indeed lead Israel, and so Samuel decides it is time to retire. He summons the people and demands to know if anyone thinks he owes them. Remember that Eli’s sons had stolen from the people, and we have already been told that Samuel’s sons were of the same mold, so perhaps that history motivates his demand for a public statement of his innocence.
6-18: Samuel recounts how God has been with them since the time of Jacob in Egypt and has sent them saviors every time they were oppressed. But in the recent case of King Nahash of the Ammonites, the people demanded a king, he says, demonstrating again that they do not fully rely on the LORD. But God set a king over you, he says, and if you and your king follow the LORD all will be well. But if you turn away from the LORD, the LORD will turn away from you. Then a thunderstorm strikes, and Samuel uses it as verification of God’s anger with them.
19-25: The people are frightened by the storm. Samuel calms them by promising them that God has made them his own people, and that he, Samuel, will not cease praying for them.
How many leaders have you known who, when the time came for them to retire and head out the door, asked for a performance review? Would you dare to offer your subordinates an opportunity to pass judgment on your performance as you head out the door, no longer wielding any authority over them? Samuel is leaving (although he will be around until chapter 25), and asks for an assessment of his leadership. All of us who have been in a position of leadership would be gratified to hear a positive assessment from those who served under us.