So Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life.
1 Samuel 7:15-17. (RAMAH, BETHEL, GILGAL, MIZPAH.)
1. The character he possessed. He was free from the vices into which some of the most distinguished amongst them fell, and surpassed them in the virtues they exhibited. He had higher conceptions of God and his law, held more intimate communion with him, and was altogether of a nobler type of human excellence. His constant aim was to do the will of God; he was upright in heart and life, humble, patient, generous, and full of disinterested zeal and holy energy in seeking the true welfare of men. In these respects he approached as nearly, perhaps, as any of the servants of God under the old covenant the perfection of him who was "without sin."
2. The method he pursued. As he effected the deliverance of Israel not by the sword, but by "the word of God and prayer," so he continued to make use of the same means as the most effective in preserving their liberty and increasing their strength and happiness. His method was moral rather than physical. He taught them "to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God" (Micah 6:8). His policy was one of peace, and he relied on God to restrain the aggression of surrounding nations, and afford protection against their attacks. Nor was his trust misplaced.
3. The work he accomplished. Idolatry, which was rebellion against the Divine King, was banished. The principles of the theocracy were confirmed. Order, justice, and peace were established; and closer unity prevailed among the tribes, based upon their common loyalty to their King. "This was the great achievement and crowning point of his service to Israel and the God of Israel; the scattered and disunited tribes became again a nation. The rival tribes Ephraim and Judah make common cause against the common enemy, and the more distant tribes do not seem to withhold their allegiance" (Milman). The labours of Samuel as judge are here summed up in a few sentences, suggestive of some things wherein he was an instructive example to rulers, statesmen, magistrates, and "all that are in authority." Notice -
I. HIS SUPREME CONCERN FOR RELIGION. Samuel was first a prophet, then a "faithful priest," finally a ruler and judge. "His judicial work not only proceeded from the prophetical, but was constantly guided by it. For we may presume not only that he gave legal decisions with prophetical wisdom, but also that, in general, he conducted the affairs of the people as a man who had the Spirit of the Lord" (Nagelsbach). At the different places to which "he went from year to year in circuit" - Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah - he probably taught the word of God and offered sacrifice, combining his prophetic and priestly with his judicial work. At Ramah he built an altar to the Lord, "testifying thereby the power from which alone be could receive either the authority or wisdom to judge." The position of Samuel was peculiar, and his work unusually comprehensive; but it may be observed of every good civil magistrate that -
1. He is qualified for his office by his possession of reverence for God. "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God" (2 Samuel 23:3). He feels his responsibility to the supreme King and Judge, by whose providence he has been placed in authority, and has constant regard to his will.
2. His personal piety pervades his public activity. The one is not separated from the other, but is its animating spirit, and thereby he seeks to afford in his judgments a reflection of the perfect judgments of God.
3. His highest desire, knowing that "righteousness exalteth a nation," is to see the people all righteous. That end, he is persuaded, cannot be attained by force; but, as a godly man, he ever seeks it by moral means; and, in his public capacity, he endeavours to do something towards it by restraining the violence of the wicked and protecting the good in their labours "unto the kingdom of God."
II. HIS FAITHFUL ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE. In the theocracy the laws were already given, and Samuel's judicial work consisted in arranging for their proper administration, in which he doubtless availed himself of the method formerly appointed (Deuteronomy 16:18-20), reserving to himself the proper interpretation and application of them in more difficult and important cases. For this purpose he went to different centres of the land at stated thnes, and "judged Israel in all those places." He has been not inappropriately called the Hebrew Aristides. Like him, the]faithful magistrate -
1. Strives to bring justice within easy reach of every man.
3. Devotes himself disinterestedly and diligently to the common weal (1 Samuel 12:3). "The Hebrew judges were not only simple in their manners, moderate in their desires, and free from avarice and ambition, but they were noble and magnanimous men, who felt that whatever they did for their country was above all reward, and could not be recompensed; who desired merely to be public benefactors, and chose rather to deserve well of their country than to be enriched by its wealth" (Jahn, 'Hebrews Com.,' sect. 22).
III. HIS WISE PROVISION FOR EDUCATION. During the period of his judgeship Samuel appears to have established one or more "schools of the prophets," in which he taught young men sacred knowledge, and, in connection with it, reading, writing, and music, thus preparing them to give instruction to the people, which the Levites had failed to do (1 Samuel 10:10; 1 Samuel 19:20). So a wise statesman, seeing that "for the soul to be without knowledge is not good," and that "the people are destroyed for lack of knowledge," adopts proper means for the education of the young, the diffusion of knowledge, and the advancement of the race (Psalm 78:5-8). "Education is the debt which one generation owes to another" (J.S. Mill). The schools of the prophets "were hearths of spiritual life to Israel. Their aim was not to encourage a contemplative life (like the cloisters), but to arouse the nation to activity. Every prophetic disciple was a missionary" (Hengstenberg).
IV. HIS CONSISTENT CONDUCT AT HOME. "And his return was to Ramah; for there was his house; and there he built an altar unto the Lord" (ver. 17). There, also, he continued his judicial labours. The faithful magistrate, whilst he does not allow his public duty to interfere with proper attention to his duty to his own household, seeks to make the latter helpful to the former. He exemplifies in his private life the conduct he openly commends to others, and "walks in his house with a perfect heart" (Psalm 101:2). Though he be not a Nazarite, he is simple, self-denying, and unostentatious in his habits; and though he be not wealthy, he is kind to the poor, hospitable to friends (1 Samuel 9:24), and liberal towards the Lord (1 Chronicles 26:28: "all that Samuel the seer had dedicated"). He recognises the presence and claims of God in his home, sanctifies it by prayer (Job 1:5), endeavours to make it a centre whence holy influences emanate to all, and does all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). "The indispensable basis afforded by the home and its eternal sanctity no superior religion and legislation should seek to destroy, or even to disturb; and, on a comprehensive survey, we cannot fail to recognise that there is no other ancient nation in which, during the days of external power, domestic life remained for a long period so vigorous; and, secondly, during the gradual decline of the external power, became so little weakened and corrupted as was the case with Israel" (Ewald, 'Antiquities').
V. HIS LONG CONTINUANCE IN OFFICE. "And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life" (ver. 15). "Simple words, but what a volume of tried faithfulness is unrolled by them!" He pursued his course till he was "old and gray headed" (1 Samuel 12:2) - nearly twenty years from the victory of Ebenezer. The appointment of a king relieved him of a portion of the burden; but he still continued to exercise his prophetic office, and, "as last judge, he held in his hands the highest control of the theocracy and the kingdom." He devoted his last years to the training of youthful disciples for future service; and when at length he died, "all the Israelites were gathered together, and lamented him, and buried him in his house at Ramah" (1 Samuel 25:1). His protracted labour was an evidence of his public spirit, indomitable energy, and efficient service, and the principal means of raising the nation to its subsequent power and glory. - D.
And Samuel judged Israel all the darts of his life.
1. Notice, then, that Samuel's first great act in his character of prophet-judge was to call the people to a thorough religious and moral cleansing: religious in that they were required to disown the idolatry that was in their lives and opposed to the worship of Jehovah; and moral in that the worship of Baal and Astarte was licentious, degrading; vicious in society as well as profane before their God. Samuel required this of them as well as "lamenting after the Lord." Israel needed the true worship of the pure God. Purity of heart, temperance of spirit, chastity of body, righteousness to one another; these things, aimed at for the love of God, are His true worship; these were the true ways of putting from them the false and foul idols that God abhorred. So we have to learn. Mourn after God; be penitent and contrite; but aim after Godlikeness as well. Mourn over your sins, but show the true contrition that seeks to be like God; that says, "I will arise and go to my father." Remember that the invader was in the land; the polluters of the sanctuary still in the sacred places. A soldier "patriot" might have earned renown by military expeditions and dashing raids into the conquered territory; but the dark day of soldier-judges was gone. There was now a man leading who preferred his country's purity to her prosperity, and would have rather seen his nation die than have her prosper with the work and wages of iniquity. Therefore he called them to a national purifying. But the call of Samuel is intended to be to us. For it is not the only duty of a nation to summon its armed bands and squadrons in times of national peril, or international anxiety. Nor is it less than profanity to send armies forth invoking the "God of battles," forgetting that before the barbarity of man shed human blood in war, God was a God of purity, and is to be remembered in war and strife, and before conflict and carnage, as the God of righteousness, who will require unjustly or heedlessly shed blood at the hands of those who have poured it out to cry unto Him from the ground.
2. Samuel's next great act as a prophet-judge was to summon the people to a great prayer assembly. So distinctly did he put the duty of consecration to God before all things that, instead of military deliberations, instead of holding a great council of war, he said to them, "Gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord." But this mighty act of penitence and prayer was rudely disturbed. Like the royal and prelatic dragoons, that rushed down the mountain side against the meetings of the Scottish Covenanters, to stain the heather with their blood, the Philistines marched swiftly to Mizpeh against their defenceless tributaries. Evidently the Israelites had made no military preparation; and all seemed to threaten that the meeting for prayer and purification would end in a horrible massacre, like many similar meetings in Christian times. The only brave heart there was Samuel's. The best man was the most courageous. Penitence led to prayer, prayer to victory, and victory to praise. Such is our soul's sure way. The prominent feature of the day in connection with Samuel is one that repeatedly shows itself in his life, and that is his character of intercessor. He prayed hopefully when all was gloomy and foreboding, and he did so not because or when he could do nothing else. He did not act as we so often do; he did not make prayer a last resource, but first and foremost he cried unto the Lord. It was for prayer that he assembled the people, and it was while he was uttering his peculiar cry of earnest intercession that the voice of the Lord's thunder was heard. Nor, in thinking of Samuel's prayers and the people's penitence and their efficacy, must we forget the instructive contrast there is between this day of unexpected triumph and the day of battle at the same place; when, notwithstanding the presence of the ark and all the Divinely ordained accompaniments of its mystery when it led the armies of Israel, there was nothing but disaster, disgrace, and death. Under Samuel, without the ark, or priest, or any symbol of the presence of God, Israel's enemies were destroyed and the penitent people delivered. The difference was in the penitence; in the setting of their hearts towards the Lord in contrition and prayer. Ichabod was the word that ended the day of trusting in the ark; but Ebenezer crowned the day of penitence and prayer.
3. Samuel's next great act as a prophet-judge was to consolidate the reformation and prosperity by systematic righteous judgment. "He went from year to year in circuit to Bethel and Gilgal and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places." He was too wise not to know, and too devout not to remember, that a land left with only a military success, and rejoicing chiefly over the damage done to its political rivals, would ever be a temptation to itself, and would expose itself more and more to the perils of raillery ambition and adventure. History is full of instances of this. Ambition will govern the military nation, and avarice the commercial, with little regard to the God of justice in either. But by judging for God, witnessing regularly to the presence of God's law as he went through the various districts, Samuel prevented the people's penitence being only fugitive, "as the morning cloud and as early dew," and guarded against the perils of their enormous deliverance from foreign oppression. Concentrate the truth of this on the smaller range of your own private lives and personal development. For it is possible that penitence, if only fleeting, and the great kindnesses of God may be made the occasions of greater condemnation. And this grace of knowing the Lord and the revelations of Himself to His earnest souls are not spasmodic, interjectional, and unreliable; for "His going forth is prepared as the morning; and He shall came unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth." Consolidate your penitence into piety, your thankfulness for deliverance into earnest devotion and regular good doing. Go, round your nature, and set everything and every power to the acquirement of "holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."
(G. B. Ryley.)
(C. A. Dickinson.)
1. He was a patriotic ruler.(1) His object was not the possession of power — that for which so many kings and statesmen have had recourse to the meanest devices. How basely did Henry IV desert the sacred cause for which, his white plume dancing in the thick of the fight, he had often led his followers to battle! And from him who embraced Popery to win Paris, and, with its gay capital, the kingdom and crown of France, to such as by bribery have purchased meaner offices, what sacrifices of conscience, and virtue, and truth, have been offered at the shrine of power! The crimes which some have committed to gain it have been without a parallel, unless those which others have committed to retain it. Unlike that grand old Roman who threw up the helm of the state and retired to plough his paternal acres, how many has the world seen clinging to power as a drowning man to a plank; and to retain possession of it, resorting to the most dishonourable and vilest means! For this purpose, once and again the sword of Joab was plunged into the heart of a rival; to prop up his throne, Charles I, in Stratford, gave the neck of a devoted friend to the headsman's axe; to secure their places and appease an angry crowd, a British ministry cast an admiral of the fleet to the mob, and hanged him up before the sun; and Richelieu, a cardinal of the Church, and chief minister of France, arranged that her armies should suffer an ignominious defeat — scrupling not, rather than that he should lose his place, that thousands of his gallant countrymen should lose their lives, and cement with their blood the tottering fabric of his power. In the crooked policy they have pursued to gain or to retain place and power, what base things have great men done, and what bad things good men! A finer contrast to the general character of the princes and statesmen, and, whether they occupied a high or a low place, of the rulers of this world, we cannot imagine than that which Samuel presents. Place, honour, and power sought him, not he them. He became the judge of Israel, or its ruler, at the call of God; and when, without respect to his grey hairs and long years of honourable, successful service, an ungrateful country called him to resign his office, like the sun which looks largest at its setting, he never seems so great, so grand, as in the last scenes of his public life.
2. His object was not his own personal aggrandisement. "L'etat, c'est moi (The State, it is I"), said Louis XIV to one who happened to speak in his presence of the interests of the State. A striking picture that of one who, though called "the great," was an incarnation of the worst passions of human nature — of selfishness, pride, heartless cruelty, insatiable ambition, and abominable lust! — a truer picture, though drawn by his own hand, than any left by Bossuet, or Massillon, or the other flatterers of a bloody tyrant and ruthless persecutor of God's heritage. We meet with no such scenes under the rule of Samuel. Unlike those that had preceded, or were to follow, the sword slept in its scabbard all the days of Samuel — that great battle excepted which inaugurated his reign, and was won by his prayers. Under his government — Samuel himself the highest example of it — piety flourished; the stream of justice ran pure; the rights of all classes were respected; private property was safe; and the public burdens, pressing lightly, were easily borne by a prosperous people. I can fancy, when old men described the happy and quiet life they led in the good days of Samuel, how many felt that when their fathers clamoured for a king, on that occasion, as old Bishop Latimer said of another, the vox populi was rather the vox diaboli than the vox Dei — the voice of the devil than the voice of God.
2. Samuel was a pious, as well as patriotic, ruler. It would appear that in the rudest times of old an altar always rose near the throne; and that an indispensable part of every palace was the chapel, where he to whom others knelt, knelt to God; and learned to remember that there was One above him whose throne overshadowed his; at whose mercy seat kings had to seek for mercy; whose laws were to form the rule, and his glory the chief end of their government. Simply the vicegerent of God, and no king, Samuel had no place in Israel; the palace, if such it could be called, was the tabernacle, where God dwelt within the curtains of the holy place, No armed guards protected the person, nor gorgeous retinue attended the steps of Samuel. No pomp of royalty disturbed the simple manner of his life, or distinguished him from other men; yet there rose by his house in Ramah that which proclaimed to all the land the personal character of its ruler, and the principles on which he was to conduct his government In a way not to be mistaken, Samuel associated the throne with the altar; earthly power with piety; the good of the country with the glory of God. "He judged Israel," it is said, "all the days of his life, and went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgah, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all these places; and his return was to Ramah, for there was his house, and there he judged Israel, and there," it is added, "he built an altar unto the Lord." That altar had a voice no man could mistake. In a manner more expressive than proclamation made by the voice of royal heralds with painted tabards and sounding trumpets, it proclaimed to the tribes of Israel that piety was to be the character, and the will of God the rule, of his government. What an example Samuel presents to our magistrates, our judges, our members of parliament — to all entrusted with authority, and how should all who love their God and country pray that every post of honour and of public trust may be filled with a man of the type of Samuel! Religion is the root of honour; piety the only true foundation of patriotism; and the best defence of a country, a people nursed up in godliness — of such virtue, energy, and high morale, that, animated with a courage which raises them above the fear of death, they may be exterminated, but cannot be subdued. It, is not, as some allege, our blood, with its happy mixture of Celtic, Saxon, and Scandinavian elements, but the religion of our island — our Bibles, our schools, our Sabbaths, our churches, and our Christian homes — which, more than any and than all things else, has formed the character of its inhabitants; and to that more than to the genius of its statesmen, or to its fleets and armies, Britain owes her unexampled prosperity, and the peace that has brooded for a hundred years unbroken on her sea-girt shores.
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)
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