Samuel, having sufficiently secured his own reputation, instead of upbraiding the people upon it with their unkindness to him, sets himself to instruct them, and keep them in the way of their duty, and then the change of the government would be the less damage to them.
I. He reminds them of the great goodness of God to them and to their fathers, gives them an abstract of the history of their nation, that, by the consideration of the great things God had done for them, they might be for ever engaged to love him and serve him. “Come,” says he (1 Sam. 12:7), “stand still, stand in token of reverence when God is speaking to you, stand still in token of attention and composedness of mind, and give me leave to reason with you.” Religion has reason on its side, Isa. 1:18. The work of ministers is to reason with people, not only to exhort and direct, but to persuade, to convince men’s judgments, and so to gain their wills and affections. Let reason rule men, and they will be good. He reasons of the righteous acts of the Lord, that is, “both the benefits he hath bestowed upon you, in performance of his promises, and the punishments he has inflicted on you for your sins.” His favours are called his righteous acts (Jdg. 5:11), because in them he is just to his own honour. He not only puts them in mind of what God had done for them in their days, but of what he had done of old, in the days of their fathers, because the present age had the benefit of God’s former favours. We may suppose that his discourse was much larger than as here related. 1. He reminds them of their deliverance out of Egypt. Into that house of bondage Jacob and his family came down poor and little; when they were oppressed they cried unto God, who advanced Moses and Aaron, from mean beginnings, to be their deliverers, and the founders of their state and settlement in Canaan, 1 Sam. 12:6, 8. 2. He reminds them of the miseries and calamities which their fathers brought themselves into by forgetting God and serving other gods, 1 Sam. 12:9. They enslaved themselves, for they were sold as criminals and captives into the hand of oppressors. They exposed themselves to the desolation of war, and their neighbours fought against them. 3. He reminds them of their fathers’ repentance and humiliation before God for their idolatries: They said, We have sinned, 1 Sam. 12:10. Let not them imitate the sins of their fathers, for what they had done amiss they had many a time wished undone again. In the day of their distress they had sought unto God, and had promised to serve him; let their children then reckon that good at all times which they found good in bad times. 4. He reminds them of the glorious deliverances God had wrought for them, the victories he had blessed them with, and their happy settlements, many a time, after days of trouble and distress, 1 Sam. 12:11. He specifies some of their judges, Gideon and Jephthah, great conquerors in their time; among the rest he mentions Bedan, whom we read not of any where else: he might be some eminent person, that was instrumental of salvation to them, though not recorded in the book of Judges, such a one as Shamgar, of whom it is said that he delivered Israel, but not that he judged them, Jdg. 3:31. Perhaps this Bedan guarded and delivered them on one side, at the same time when some other of the judges appeared and acted for them on another side. Some think it was the same with Jair (so the learned Mr. Poole), others the same with Samson, who was Ben Dan, a son of Dan, of that tribe, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him Be-Dan, inn Dan, in the camp of Can. Samuel mentions himself, not to his own praise, but to the honour of God, who had made him an instrument of subduing the Philistines. 5. At last he puts them in mind of God’s late favour to the present generation, in gratifying them with a king, when they would prescribe to God by such a one to save them out of the hand of Nahash king of Ammon, 1 Sam. 12:12, 13. Now it appears that this was the immediate occasion of their desiring a king: Nahash threatened them; they desired Samuel to nominate a general; he told them that God was commander-in-chief in all their wars and they needed no other, that what was wanting in them should be made up by his power: The Lord is your king. But they insisted on it, Nay, but a king shall reign over us. “And now,” said he, “you have a king, a king of your own asking—let that be spoken to your shame; but a king of God’s making—let that be spoken to his honour and the glory of his grace.” God did not cast them off, even when they in effect cast him off.
II. He shows them that they are now upon their good behaviour, they and their king. Let them not think that they had now cut themselves off from all dependence upon God, and that now, having a king of their own, the making of their own fortunes (as men foolishly call it) was in their own hands; no, still their judgment must proceed from the Lord. He tells them plainly,
1. That their obedience to God would certainly be their happiness, 1 Sam. 12:14. If they would not revolt from God to idols, nor rebel against him by breaking his commandments, but would persevere in their allegiance to him, would fear his wrath, serve his interests, and obey his will, then they and their king should certainly be happy; but observe how the promise is expressed: Then you shall continue following the Lord your God; that is, (1.) “You shall continue in the way of your duty to God, which will be your honour and comfort.” Note, To those that are sincere in their religion God will give grace to persevere in it: those that follow God faithfully will be divinely strengthened to continue following him. And observe, Following God is a work that is its own wages. It is the matter of a promise as well as of a precept. (2.) “You shall continue under the divine guidance and protection:” You shall be after the Lord, so it is in the original, that is, “he will go before you to lead and prosper you, and make your way plain. The Lord is with you while you are with him.”
2. That their disobedience would as certainly be their ruin (1 Sam. 12:15): “If you rebel, think not that your having a king will secure you against God’s judgments, and that having in this instance made yourselves like the nations you may sin at as cheap a rate as they can. No, the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers when they offended him, in the days of the judges.” We mistake if we think that we can evade God’s justice by shaking off his dominion. If God shall not rule us, yet he will judge us.