1 Samuel 12 – “Samuel’s Diatribe”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Samuel delivers a harsh speech in his old age. He criticizes the people for requesting a king, brings a miraculous rainstorm to scare them, and warns them to follow the will of God.

II. Photo
Samuel asserts his innocence: “Here I am! Testify against me, in the presence of the Lord and in the presence of His anointed one: Whose ox have I taken?!?” (v. 3a)

III. Important Verses
1-5: Then Samuel said to all Israel, “I have yielded to you in all you have asked of me and have set a king over you. Henceforth the king will be your leader. As for me, I have grown old and gray — but my sons are still with you — and I have been your leader from my youth to this day. Here I am! Testify against me, in the presence of the LORD and in the presence of His anointed one: Whose ox have I taken, or whose ass have I taken? Whom have I defrauded or whom have I robbed? From whom have I taken a bribe to look the other way? I will return it to you.” They responded, “You have not defrauded us, and you have not robbed us, and you have taken nothing from anyone.” He said to them, “The LORD then is witness, and His anointed is witness, to your admission this day that you have found nothing in my possession.” They responded, “He is!”
8-12: “When Jacob came to Egypt, … your fathers cried out to the LORD, and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and settled them in this place. But they forgot the LORD their God; so He delivered them into the hands of Sisera the military commander of Hazor, into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the king of Moab; and these made war upon them. They cried to the LORD, ‘We are guilty, for we have forsaken the LORD and worshiped the Baalim and the Ashtaroth. Oh, deliver us from our enemies and we will serve You.’ And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Bedan and Jephthah and Samuel, and delivered you from the enemies around you; and you dwelt in security. But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was advancing against you, you said to me, ‘No, we must have a king reigning over us’ — though the LORD your God is your King.
16-19: “Now stand by and see the marvelous thing that the LORD will do before your eyes. It is the season of the wheat harvest. I will pray to the LORD and He will send thunder and rain; then you will take thought and realize what a wicked thing you did in the sight of the LORD when you asked for a king.” Samuel prayed to the LORD, and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day, and the people stood in awe of the LORD and of Samuel. The people all said to Samuel, “Intercede for your servants with the LORD your God that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins the wickedness of asking for a king.”

IV. Outline
1-2. Samuel’s old age
3-5. Samuel’s uprightness
6-13. History: Israel’s beginnings until the monarchy
14-15. Warning
16-18. Samuel brings thunder as proof of the people’s wickedness
19-25. Samuel saves the people, but warns them sternly

V. Comment
Chapter 12 is Samuel’s harsh speech delivered to the people of Israel. While the previous chapter ended in Gilgal, the location of this speech is not stated. What is the purpose of the speech? While it is clearly condemnatory, Collins also views the speech as Samuel’s “retirement.” He writes: “The accession of Saul is completed by the apparent retirement of Samuel in chapter 12 (‘see it is the king who leads you now; I am old and gray’). Samuel’s protestation of innocence provides a concise summary of the conduct expected from a good ruler. He should not abuse the people by taking their belongings, or defraud them, and he should not take bribes to pervert justice. He seems reluctant, however, to yield the reins of power. He chides the people for asking for a king. In the end he grants that things will be all right if they do not turn aside from following the Lord but serve him with all their heart. In Deuteronomistic theology, at least as it developed in the Babylonian exile and later, the importance of the kingship is relativized. What is of fundamental importance is keeping the law, regardless of whether there is a king.” (223)

Chapter 12 concludes the account of the initiation of monarchy in ancient Israel. As has been pointed out, many passages in chapters 7-12 seem to contradict each other. Some view the monarchy as the will of God, and others view it as a rebellion against God. Klein gives an appropriate summary of the contradictory pericopes. He writes: “This chapter is the capstone and final deuteronomistic reflection on the rise of kingship in Israel, which has occupied the redactor from chap. 7 through chap. 12. In those chapters he incorporated many older compositions, a number of which treated Saul—and implicitly kingship—in a most positive manner. In 9:1–10:16, for example, Saul had been anointed as a young man by the prophet Samuel, and he displayed a kind of prophetic ecstasy which showed that the spirit of [God] rested upon him. In 10:17–27a Saul was singled out by lot and by prophetic oracle, while in 11:1–15 the spirit of [God] rushed on him and helped him deliver the city of Jabesh-gilead. In the aftermath of the latter battle, Saul pardoned those who had slandered both him and [God] since his victory had been an act of [God’s] salvation. Thereupon, the people spontaneously acclaimed him king of Gilgal. In the final form of all three of these pericopes, the prophet Samuel plays a role that lends them additional positive overtones. Even in chap. 11, where Samuel’s presence is slightest, he proposed the coronation ceremony to the people.

“At the same time, the deuteronomistic historian also included texts, which he had either written or redacted, with negative comments on kingship. Samuel, for example, had been a more than adequate channel for God’s victory in war against the Philistines (chap. 7), implicitly obviating the need for a king. Samuel, too, had warned of the social inequities and self-aggrandizement that would come with kingship, and had twice criticized kingship as a rejection of [God] as king and savior (8:7; 10:19). These negative opinions, however, even in these pericopes (7:2–17; 8:1–22; 10:18b–19) are balanced by [God’s] command to make a king in chap. 8:7, 22 and by the fact that these pericopes are interspersed with the positive ones discussed in the previous paragraph.” (119-120)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Klein, Ralph W. “1 Samuel” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 10 (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1983).
McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. “1 Samuel,” Anchor Bible vol. 8 (New York: Doubleday, 1980).
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