Here, I. Samuel gives them a short account of the late revolution, and of the present posture of their government, by way of preface to what he had further to say to them, 1 Sam. 12:1, 2. 1. For his own part, he had spent his days in their service; he began betimes to be useful among them, and had continued long so: “I have walked before you, as a guide to direct you, as a shepherd that leads his flock (Ps. 80:1), from my childhood unto this day.” As soon as he was illuminated with the light of prophecy, in his early days, he began to be a burning and shining light to Israel; “and now my best days are done: I am old and gray-headed;” therefore they were the more unkind to cast him off, yet therefore he was the more willing to resign, finding the weight of government heavy upon his stooping shoulders. He was old, and therefore the more able to advise them, and the more observant they should have been of what he said, for days shall speak and the multitude of years shall teach wisdom; and there is a particular reverence due to the aged, especially aged magistrates and aged ministers. “I am old, and therefore not likely to live long, perhaps may never have an opportunity of speaking to you again, and therefore take notice of what I say.” 2. As for his sons, “Behold” (says he), “they are with you, you may, if you please, call them to an account for any thing they have done amiss. They are present with you, and have not, upon this revolution, fled from their country. They are upon the level with you, subjects to the new king as well as you; if you can prove them guilty of any wrong, you may prosecute them now by a due course of law, punish them, and oblige them to make restitution.” 3. As for their new king, Samuel had gratified them in setting him over them (1 Sam. 12:1): “I have hearkened to your voice in all that you said to me, being desirous to please you, if possible, and make you easy, though to the discarding of myself and family; and now will you hearken to me, and take my advice?” The change was now perfected: “Behold, the king walketh before you” (1 Sam. 12:2); he appears in public, ready to serve you in public business. Now that you have made yourselves like the nations in your civil government, and have cast off the divine administration in that, take heed lest you make yourselves like the nations in religion and cast off the worship of God.
II. He solemnly appeals to them concerning his own integrity in the administration of the government (1 Sam. 12:3): Witness against me, whose ox have I taken? Observe,
1. His design in this appeal. By this he intended, (1.) To convince them of the injury they had done him in setting him aside, when they had nothing amiss to charge him with (his government had no fault but that it was too cheap, too easy, too gentle), and also of the injury they had done themselves in turning off one that did not so much as take an ox or an ass from them, to put themselves under the power of one that would take from them their fields and vineyards, nay, and their very sons and daughters (1 Sam. 8:11), so unlike would the manner of the king be from Samuel’s manner. (2.) To preserve his own reputation. Those that heard of Samuel’s being rejected as he was would be ready to suspect that certainly he had done some evil thing, or he would never have been so ill treated; so that it was necessary for him to make this challenge, that it might appear upon record that it was not for any iniquity in his hands that he was laid aside, but to gratify the humour of a giddy people, who owned they could not have a better man to rule them, only they desired a bigger man. There is a just debt which every man owes to his own good name, especially men in public stations, which is to guard it against unjust aspersions and suspicions, that we may finish our course with honour as well as joy. (3.) As he designed hereby to leave a good name behind him, so he designed to leave his successor a good example before him; let him write after his copy, and he will write fair. (4.) He designed, in the close of his discourse, to reprove the people, and therefore he begins with a vindication of himself; for he that will, with confidence, tell another of his sin, must see to it that he himself be clear.
2. In the appeal itself observe,
(1.) What it is that Samuel here acquits himself from. [1.] He had never, under any pretence whatsoever, taken that which was not his own, ox or ass, had never distrained their cattle for tribute, fines, or forfeitures, nor used their service without paying for it. [2.] He had never defrauded those with whom he dealt, nor oppressed those that were under his power. [3.] He had never taken bribes to pervert justice, nor was ever biassed by favour for affection to give judgment in a cause against his conscience.
(2.) How he calls upon those that had slighted him to bear witness concerning his conduct: “Here I am; witness against me. If you have any thing to lay to my charge, do it before the Lord and the king, the proper judges.” He puts honour upon Saul, by owning himself accountable to him if guilty of any wrong.
III. Upon this appeal he is honourably acquitted. He did not expect that they would do him honour at parting, though he well deserved it, and therefore mentioned not any of the good services he had done them, for which they ought to have applauded him, and returned him the thanks of the house; all he desired was that they should do him justice, and that they did (1 Sam. 12:4) readily owning, 1. That he had not made his government oppressive to them, nor used his power to their wrong. 2. That he had not made it expensive to them: Neither hast thou taken aught of any man’s hand for the support of thy dignity. Like Nehemiah, he did not require the bread of the governor (Neh. 5:18), had not only been righteous, but generous, had coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel, Acts 20:33.
IV. This honourable testimony borne to Samuel’s integrity is left upon record to his honour (1 Sam. 12:5): “The Lord is witness, who searcheth the heart, and his anointed is witness, who trieth overt acts;” and the people agree to it: “He is witness.” Note, The testimony of our neighbours, and especially the testimony of our own consciences for us, that we have in our places lived honestly, will be our comfort under the slights and contempts that are put upon us. Demetrius is a happy man, that has a good report of all men and of the truth itself, 3 John 1:12.