Verses 1–3

Two sad things we find here, but not strange things:—1. A good and useful man growing old and unfit for service (1 Sam. 8:1): Samuel was old, and could not judge Israel, as he had done. He is not reckoned to be past sixty years of age now, perhaps not so much; but he was a man betimes, was full of thoughts and cared when he was a child, which perhaps hastened the infirmities of age upon him. The fruits that are the first ripe keep the worst. He had spent his strength and spirits in the fatigue of public business, and now, if he think to shake himself as at other times, he finds he is mistaken: old age has cut his hair. Those that are in the prime of their time ought to be busy in doing the work of life: for, as they go into years, they will find themselves less disposed to it and less able for it. 2. The children of a good man turning aside, and not treading in his steps. Samuel had given his sons so good an education, and they had given him such good hopes of their doing well, and gained such a reputation in Israel, that he made them judges, assistants to him awhile, and afterwards deputies under him at Beer-sheba, which lay remote from Ramah, 1 Sam. 8:2. Probably the southern countries petitioned for their residence there, that they might not be necessitated to travel far with their causes. We have reason to think that Samuel gave them their commissions, not because they were his sons (he had no ambition to entail the government upon his family, any more than Gideon had), but because, for aught that yet appeared, they were men very fit for the trust; and none so proper to ease the aged judge, and take some of the burden off him, as (caeteris paribusother things being equal) his own sons, who no doubt were respected for their good father’s sake, and, having such an advantage at setting out, might soon have been great if they had but been good. But, alas! his sons walked not in his ways (1 Sam. 8:3), and, when their character was the reverse of his, their relation to so good a man, which otherwise would have been their honour, was really their disgrace. Degeneranti genus opprobrium—A good extraction is a reproach to him that degenerates from it. Note, Those that have the most grace themselves cannot give grace to their children. It has often been the grief of good men to see their posterity, instead of treading in their steps, trampling upon them, and, as Job speaks, marring their path. Nay, many that have begun well, promised fair, and set out in the right path, so that their parents and friends have had great hopes of them, yet afterwards have turned aside to by-paths, and been the grief of those of whom they should have been the joy. When Samuel’s sons were made judges, and settled at a distance form him, then they discovered themselves. Thus, (1.) Many that have been well educated, and have conducted themselves well while they were under their parents’ eye, when they have gone abroad into the world and set up for themselves have proved bad. Let none therefore be secure either of themselves or theirs, but depend on divine grace. (2.) Many that have done well in a state of meanness and subjection have been spoiled by preferment and power. Honours change men’s minds, and too often for the worse. It does not appear that Samuel’s sons were so profane and vicious as Eli’s sons; but, whatever they were in other respects, they were corrupt judges, they turned aside after lucre, after the mammon of unrighteousness, so the Chaldee reads it. Note, The love of money is the root of all evil. It is pernicious in any, but especially in judges. Samuel had taken no bribes (1 Sam. 12:3), but his sons had, though, no doubt, he warned them against it when he made them judges; and then they perverted judgment. In determining controversies, they had an eye to the bribe, not to the law, and enquired who bid highest, not who had right on his side. It is sad with a people when the public justice that should do them right, being perverted, does them the greatest wrong.