But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will perish.” (1 Samuel 12:24-25 NIV)
It must have been a very emotional occasion.
Samuel wasn’t dying. One of the reasons for this assembly was out of how the people had rejected the succession planning he had previously put into operation where his sons were ruling. He put the succession plan in place because he knew his time had come to an end where that responsibility was concerned. It was one thing to reject his plan, but there own plan proved to be something far worse than Samuel had ever considered. Be that as it was, however, this assembly was for his farewell speech. It’s a virtual retirement speech of the time.
Getting over the personal essentials first, Samuel uses that opportunity to launch a withering attack on the tendency of the people of Israel to neglect the God who continues to deliver them. Whether after Egypt or at that point in their history, Israel was in a pattern of wandering away from God, getting in trouble and calling out to God to rescue them. This particular decision to veer away from God in asking for a king like their neighbours was something even the people admitted was an evil act. Samuel does not hold back in letting the people know the error of their ways.
Yet in as much as the tone is severe and critical of the wayward nature of God’s people, there is in it and underlying it, a great longing and desire for the people to return to God. There is a plea even in giving them a king to not forget the true King, the real sovereign of the earth. The plea is there, the call to faithfulness resonates throughout this speech. Faithfulness to a loving and faithful God who still takes pleasure in the people He has called. However wayward they have been, He still desires for them to return and stay in faithful relationship with Him.
In his last major recorded speech before the king is confirmed and he decreases, Samuel urges God’s people to not forget God who has not forgotten them. Yet in the plea for faithfulness, there is also the reality check of the consequences of choices made.
This kind of summary speech is not the first of its kind in Israel’s history and sadly it wouldn’t be the last. Reading it today, it still acts as that plea and that reality check. It’s well worth heeding Samuel’s warning.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden