Israel has demanded to have a king over them who will lead them into battles so that they would look like the rest of the nations. God has told Israel that he is their king and he will lead them into battles like he has in the past. But the people do not want this. So God gives the people what they want. Saul is the kind of king the people want and God has Samuel anointed him as king. Saul’s calling is to restrain wickedness, turn the people back to God, and deliver Israel from its enemies (1 Samuel 9:16; 2:10; Judges 21:25). So the people have what they want. But God is going to show the people that God is all you need. This is the message of chapters 11-12 of 1 Samuel. God is all you need. Let’s dive into the text and look at how God shows this truth to Israel and how he shows this truth to us. God is all you need.
Israel Attacked (11:1-11)
About a month goes by (cf. NRSV, LXX, DSS) and now the people of Israel will be tested again. We have seen this so many times already in the book of 1 Samuel. God brings about a difficulty to see if the people will trust him. Hannah is barren and distressed and she shows her trust in the Lord. Samuel calls for Israel to repent and they do, only to have the Philistines attack to see if their repentance is real. Now the people of Israel have their king and they will be tested. The Ammonites attack Jabesh-gilead, a city in Israel. So what will the people do? Will they look to God? Will they look to their king? No, the people ask for a treaty with the Ammonites. They do not look to God for help but rely on themselves. They look at themselves. They look at themselves and see that they are not strong enough to win against the Ammonites. So they think they need to save themselves. They will secure their own deliverance by making a treaty rather than asking God for help. The Ammonites agree that they will make a treaty and here are the terms of the covenant. Nahash, the one leading the attack against Jabesh-gilead, will gouge out all their right eyes and bring disgrace on all of Israel (11:2). Those are the terms of the treaty. Everyone will lose their right eye and be disgraced. The city responds by asking for seven days of time to see if anyone in Israel will come to save them. If no one will save them, then they will give themselves up to the terms of this treaty. Yet again, the people are not calling on God to save them but will send a message through the land of Israel, hoping a human will come save them. So the message begins to go through Israel and it comes to Gibeah, Saul’s hometown, and all the people are weeping when they hear about this.
Saul returns from the field in Gibeah to find the inhabitants wailing. So Saul asks why everyone is showing public distress and he is told about the situation in Jabesh-gilead. But notice what happens in verse 6. The Spirit of God rushes over Saul when he heard these words. But nobody wants to fight the Ammonites. They are all afraid. So Saul takes a yoke of oxen, cut them in pieces, and send them throughout Israel telling them that if they do not come fight with Saul and Samuel, this is what will happen to them. With this, Saul is able to muster an army of 330,000. A message is sent back to Jabesh-gilead that tomorrow they will have salvation. So the people of Jabesh-gilead tell the Ammonites to wait till tomorrow and then they will give up. Of course, Saul arrives with his army in the morning and strikes down the Ammonities in such a devastating fashion that there were not two who were left together when they retreated. God gives Saul total victory. Salvation is accomplished through Saul by God’s power.
Kingdom Renewed (11:12-15)
Now an important picture is given here and in the rest of chapter 11. Remember those worthless fellows at the end of chapter 10 who said that Saul would not be able to save them and despised him? The people ask to bring those men to them so that they can kill them. But look at what Saul says in verse 13.
“Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has worked salvation in Israel.” What a beautiful response! First, Saul shows grace to the nay-sayers. Saul has no interest in personal vengeance or making a point. Second, Saul understands that this is not about him. Today is a day of joy because God has worked salvation in Israel. Notice that he does not take glory to himself. All glory goes to the Lord. This is the perfect response. In fact, this leads Samuel to declare that we must go to Gilgal and renew the kingdom. The kingdom of Israel is renewed and Saul is placed as king before the Lord.
This kingdom picture is very important because it is picturing how God will renew his kingdom when the Christ arrived in the first century. God will renew his kingdom, give victory to the fearful, bringing joy to the people. Salvation comes to Israel, not because Israel had a king, but because the king had the Spirit of the Lord upon him. That is the king we need. We need a king who will successfully renew the kingdom of God and give victory to the fearful because he has the Spirit of the Lord upon him. Therefore, when Jesus declares that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him as prophesied in Isaiah 61, we need to see what that means. Jesus is declaring that he is the king we need who will renew God’s kingdom and give victory to the fearful because he has the Spirit of the Lord on him. This is what Jesus said in Luke 4.
And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:17–21 ESV)
Notice what the Spirit of the Lord being on Jesus meant. It meant he was proclaiming good news to the poor and liberty to the captives. It meant he was giving sight to the blind and liberating the oppressed. It meant he was proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. Saul is representing this hope for Israel as God’s anointed. He has rescued the captives. He proclaims good news to the people that they will have salvation and do not need to be captive to the enemies. Saul is showing that now is the year of the Lord’s favor because God will rescue through Saul. Today is a day of rejoicing because God has worked his salvation for us! This is what Saul sees at this point. Samuel sees this as well because the narration moves to chapter 12 where we see Samuel ending is time as judge over Israel.
Samuel’s Rebuke (12:1-19)
Now that Saul is established as the king over Israel, renewing the kingdom, and bringing liberty to Israel, Samuel is going to decrease while Saul increases as king. Chapter 12 records Samuel’s farewell address to Israel and his message is very important for Israel’s future. In the first five verses, Samuel begins his speech by declaring his innocence before the people. Samuel asks the people if he has defrauded anyone, taken a bribe, or oppressed anyone to say so. All the people agree to the integrity of Samuel. Samuel has faithfully served Israel and served his God with complete integrity. It is similar to the apostle Paul declaring his integrity before all as he proclaimed the gospel (cf. Acts 20:17-35; 2 Corinthians 7:2). How beautiful it is to be a person who can stand before people and say that I have done everything with love and integrity before you! We should make this our goal before each other, before people at work, and before our neighbors that we have acted with complete integrity and no one has anything against us.
Second, Samuel wants the people to always remember what God has done. Samuel gives the people a short history lesson. Samuel reminds the people about how Jacob went into Egypt where the Egyptians oppressed them (12:8). The Lord sent Moses and Aaron to bring them out of Egypt and lead them to this promised land. But carefully look at verse 9. “But they forgot the Lord their God.” God sold the people of Israel into the hands of various oppressors (the history of the judges) and then the people cried out that they had sinned and forsaken the Lord, the Lord would send a deliverer to save you from your enemies. In verse 12 Samuel points out that even in this last episode with the Ammonites, you did not turn to the Lord to be your king and rescuer. God is enough to be your king. But you wanted your king and the Lord has given you a king that you desire.
So Samuel tells the people that they must follow the Lord and serve him and the king must do likewise. If the king and the people will not rebel against the command of the Lord but fear, serve, and obey the voice of the Lord, it will go well for them (12:14). But if the people and the king rebel against the command of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you and against your king (12:15). What Samuel is doing is renewing the covenant with the people of Israel, very similar to the scene at Mount Sinai. Samuel calls upon the Lord to confirm this covenant. Samuel notes in verse 17 that today is the wheat harvest. The wheat harvest season was the dry season in the land of Israel. So Samuel will call upon the Lord to act so that the people will know the will of the Lord. Samuel calls upon the Lord to send thunder and rain so that the people will see that their wickedness is great because they have asked for a king (12:17). Samuel does this and it must have been a frightening sight, similar to the Sinai experience. The people are terrified for their lives and ask Samuel to pray on their behalf so that the Lord does not kill them for asking for a king (12:19). In his final speech, Samuel wants to make sure that the people of Israel understand that they have made a royal mistake. To put this another way, the people of Israel are having a “what should we do” moment as they admit that they have compounded evil upon evil. What should the people do?
Samuel’s Call (12:20-25)
First, Samuel tells the people to not turn away after empty things that cannot profit or deliver (12:21). God is all you need because nothing else can help you or rescue you. Only God can rescue from disaster and calamity. Think about how true this is right now. Can wealth rescue you from this pandemic? Can your health rescue from this pandemic? Can your job rescue you from this pandemic? Can your possessions rescue from this pandemic? You see that we have nothing that we can turn to for rescue. Everything that we think is so important becomes nothing during these times in life. Samuel is telling the people to not turn away from God because whatever else you turn to is futile, useless, and empty. Everything that seems so important is no longer important. It is non-essential. They are empty things. So we need these difficulties to understand this.
God is showing that in this moment where he could completely wipe out their wheat harvest with this devastating storm. We are seeing this right now. We thought we had a bullet proof economy that could never be exposed or brought down. Yet God is showing that something invisible to the naked eye can destroy the economies of every nation on earth. God was trying to teach his people about the need to rely on him and not turn to empty things. What is God teaching us right now?
Second, God does not abandon his people (12:22). God is all you need because he does not forsake you or abandon you. God is the most certain thing there is in life. We are living in a time where it seems like everything is uncertain. Nothing is certain going forward. But there is one thing that is certain. The Lord is certain. It is certain that the Lord will not forsake his people. The reason we can have confidence in this is because God always acts for his own name. This is the explanation Samuel gives. God does not abandon his people because he acts for his own reputation and glory. God is all you need because he is on your side. There is no one who is on your side like God. There is no one who cares for you like God. There is no one who more wants to be with you than God. God is all you need because he can carry you through all of life’s blessings and difficulties.
Third, we have the intercessor we need to stay with God. Notice that Samuel says that he will not sin against the Lord by no longer praying to the Lord on behalf of the people (12:23). Samuel says he will keep praying for the people and keep teaching them the way that is good and right. God is all you need because you have what you need for forgiveness. Samuel will be the people’s intercessor in the way that Moses was the people’s intercessor. We have the perfect intercessor who ever lives for us (Hebrews 7:25) so that we can be forgiven. To state this another way, God is what you need because your sins are so great before him and you need him to forgive you. Do not turn away from God because it will be your doom. Your sins are great but you have an unfailing intercessor who prays for you.
We see this beautifully in the life of Jesus. Jesus tells Peter than Satan is demanding have him, to sift him like wheat (Luke 22:31). Satan wants to put Peter in the wringer. Do you know what Jesus says to that? “But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Our faith is being tested right now. But Jesus is praying for every person in this room that our faith will not fail. Jesus is praying for us and interceding for us. Do not let your faith fail. God is all you need.
Finally, look at the great things God has done and fear him and serve him faithfully with all your heart (12:24-25). You can know that God is all you need because you can look at all that he has done for you. This is the big point of Samuel’s farewell message. Samuel reminds Israel about all that God had done for them. Yet the people had repeatedly forgotten God (12:9,12). God is all you need. Stop looking for more. Your pursuit for more will only cause life disasters. This is what Israel has done. They wanted more so they demanded a king and that will only cause them problems. Our desire for more out of this life is killing us and destroying us. God is all you need.
So when disaster and trials come, call out to God because God is all you need. Fear the Lord and serve him from your heart because God is all you need. Stop looking for more because God is all you need. This global trial is a call for our hearts to be checked. Is God all we need? Is this pandemic showing that we think we need something more and that God is not enough for us? Have we thrown God away in our panic rather than turning to him? If we have had the wrong response for the last month, we have an intercessor who is praying for us so that our faith would be restored and not falter. Put your hope in God and not this world. God is all you need.