Does any of you think I have taken your ox or donkey, defrauded or oppressed you, or accepted a bribe to deprive you of justice?
(1 Sam 12:3)
The Book of Judges tells us about the shaky beginnings of the nascent country. As a toddler learns to walk, Israel was taking its first steps as a country. Several times, the text of Judges reminds us that this was a time when there was no king in Israel, so everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Israel at the time was a loose confederation of tribes with no central government to give it any kind of order or cohesion. As a result, we have a history of heresy, idolatry, oppression by enemies and by the strong and powerful of the land, and worst of all, of tribe rising against tribe.
Samuel was one of the best judges the toddling nation had ever had. He judged the country fairly and righteously but, sad to say, his sons did not follow in his footsteps. The people, therefore, did not trust Samuel's sons and requested a king. Samuel protested but HaShem told him to give Israel a king. Saul, the son of Kish, was chosen.
According to medieval Jewish commentator Rashi, Saul's original coronation at Mizpah had been marred by opposition and lack of respect. The beginning of Saul's reign does carry similarities with the Master's. In the same fashion that Saul was rejected as King of Israel (1 Sam 10:27), so was our Master. But as Saul defeated the Ammonite king, Nahash (Hebrew for "serpent"), so our Master defeated that ancient serpent, the devil!
Now, after a victorious campaign against the Ammonites, Samuel capitalizes on the victory and approval ratings by summoning the tribes to renew their commitment to the monarchy in a ceremony at Gilgal. Gilgal is in the Jordan Valley, South of Jericho, and is the first encampment Joshua named in Canaan. The Arabic name of the place "Jiljilyah" preserves the location.
Then Sh'mu'el said to the people, "Come, let's go to Gilgal and inaugurate the kingship there. So all the people went to Gilgal; and there in Gilgal, before Adonai, they made Sha'ul king. They presented sacrifices as peace offerings before Adonai there, and there Sha'ul and all the people of Isra'el celebrated with great joy. Sh'mu'el said to all Isra'el, "Here, I have done everything you asked me to do -- I have made a king over you. There is the king, walking ahead of you; but I am old and gray-headed. There are my sons with you, and I have walked at your head from when I was a boy until today.
(1 Samuel 11:14-12:1-2)
THE FINAL AUDIT
As he relinquishes authority, Samuel presents his final audit. Wanting to be guiltless before God and man, the old prophet makes sure that his life, both public and private, is a testimony of the divine charge that incumbed to him since childhood.
With this peaceful relinquishing and passing on of authority, Samuel shows his humility. It also provided a biblical precedent for all countries who adopt a democratic system, teaching that power can only be held onto for as long as the people give it. A leader also must be able to open his "books", both public and private, to the public for full transparent auditing so that he be found guiltless before God and man. Leaders do live by a greater standard. By doing so, Samuel recalls how Moshe did the exact same thing when Korah challenged His leadership (Num 16:15).
So here I am; now is the time to witness against me before Adonai and before his anointed king. Does any of you think I have taken your ox or donkey, defrauded or oppressed you, or accepted a bribe to deprive you of justice? Tell me, and I will restore it to you." They answered, "You haven't defrauded or oppressed us, and you have accepted nothing from anyone." He said, "Adonai is witness against you, and his anointed king is witness against you today, that you have found nothing in my hands?" They replied, "He is witness." Sh'mu'el said to the people, "It was Adonai who appointed Moshe and Aharon and who brought your ancestors up from the land of Egypt. (1 Samuel 12:3-6)
THE FINAL CASE
The old prophet then asks for one more case to adjudicate before the people: a lawsuit against the people concerning their demand for a king. He builds his case by starting with a historical review starting from Jacob to the recent ordeal with the Ammonites.
Now, hold still; because I am going to enter into judgment with you before Adonai regarding all the righteous acts of Adonai that he did for you and your ancestors. "After Ya`akov had entered Egypt, your ancestors cried to Adonai; and Adonai sent Moshe and Aharon, who brought your ancestors out of Egypt and had them live here in this place. But they forgot Adonai their God; so he handed them over to Sisra, commander of the army of Hatzor, and to the P'lishtim, and to the king of Mo'av; and they fought against them. But they cried to Adonai and said, 'We sinned by abandoning Adonai and serving the ba`alim and `ashtarot. But now, if you rescue us from the power of our enemies, we will serve you.'
(1 Samuel 12:7-10)
Samuel shows how HaShem protected the people even when under the pure theocratic system of the judges.
So Adonai sent Yeruba`al, B'dan, Yiftach and Sh'mu'el and rescued you from the power of your enemies on every side, and you lived securely.
(1 Samuel 12:11)
The judge of Israel chides the people for being fearful and wanting to be like the other nations and have a king over them. HaShem was their king, but fear provoked them to want a visible and tangible king like that of the nations around them.
When you saw that Nachash the king of the people of `Amon was attacking you, you said to me, "No, we want a king to rule over us" -- when Adonai your God was your king.
(1 Samuel 12:12)
Nevertheless, not letting his own anger get the better of him, the prophet gives the blessing from Adonai on the king to be. Maybe he remembers what happened to Moses when he became angry at the people's murmuring. In any case, while knowing that the people are wrong in their decision to want a king like that of the nations around them, nder Adonai's leadership, he still blesses the people.
Now, here's the king you have chosen, the one you asked for. See, Adonai has put a king over you. If you will fear Adonai, serve him, obey what he says and not rebel against Adonai's orders -- if both you and the king ruling you remain followers of Adonai your God -- [then things will go well for you.] But if you refuse to obey what Adonai says and rebel against Adonai's orders, then Adonai will oppress both you and your leaders.
(1 Samuel 12:13-15)
THE PROOF IS IN THE ... STORM!
Anyone can come and give rebuke. Anyone can come and proclaim, "The lord has said, ..." to preface a correction. But not everyone is able to give a sign from the Lord to validate their rebuking words. Just as the prophets of old had to validate their claims with signs, modern prophets of doom should also be required to substantiate their claims with signs. This is just what Samuel is getting ready to do. He will call a storm out of storm season.
"Now therefore, hold still; and see the great deed which Adonai will perform before your very eyes. Now is wheat harvest time, isn't it? I am going to call on Adonai to send thunder and rain. Then you will understand and see how wicked from Adonai's viewpoint is the thing you have done in asking for a king." Sh'mu'el called to Adonai, and Adonai sent thunder and rain that day. Then all the people became very much afraid of Adonai and Sh'mu'el.
(1 Samuel 12: 16-18)
Monarchy is a religious institution. That is why monarchs are always coronated by religious institutions. Since the days of Saul until today, the tensions between theocracy and monarchy remains unresolved. Thanks to HaShem, both ideals are merged into one in the person of Yeshua of Nazareth.
The people are now convicted of wrong. They know they let their fear and carnal minds lead them. They ask for repentance, which Samuel gave them.
All the people said to Sh'mu'el, "Pray to Adonai your God for your servants, so that we won't die; because to all our other sins now we've added this evil as well, asking for a king over us." Sh'mu'el answered the people, "Don't be afraid. You have indeed done all this evil; yet now, just don't turn away from following Adonai; but serve Adonai with all your heart. Don't turn to the side; because then you would go after useless things that can neither help nor rescue, they are so futile. For the sake of his great reputation, Adonai will not abandon his people; because it has pleased Adonai to make you a people for himself. (1 Samuel 12:19-22)
WHAT DO WE LEARN FROM THIS?
While much of the lesson seems to concentrate on the people's mistake in wanting a king like the other nations, this fault of putting trust in something physical and tangible rather than in the spiritual is very human nature and one that any of us could fall into.
Paralleling the events of this passage, I personally draw a particularly important lesson of spiritual leadership. How did Samuel react? He ministered to the people by telling them the truth. The best help we can ever be to people is to tell them where they fail, which sometimes results in them wanting to "kill the messenger." What is admirable in this passage is that the people saw their fault, and when they asked for repentance, Samuel prayed for them and assured them of HaShem's presence with them.
IF HASHEM DID THAT, SO SHOULD WE.
IF SAMUEL COULD DO THAT, SO CAN WE!