[04 1862 043] If we comprehend the state and condition of God's people at any one period, we shall then be able to understand why the servant who is most used to serve them should be found in his own life and circumstances to be fitted for the service. An unsuited servant, however willing, must always render inadequate service. His discipline and education, we shall find, are always with reference to the place that he is appointed to hold, and, as we see in Scripture, for the one he holds. Israel, up to Samuel's time, had no king, and "every one did that which was right in his own eyes," and, consequently, must have learned by experience that "he that trusteth his own heart is a fool" — and that only through God's intervention were they ever delivered from those who ruled over them. And not only this, but they themselves as a people were in every way departing gradually more and more from all acknowledgment of God.

It is in the progress of this state of things that Samuel is born; but he does not take his place as God's servant till Eli (the martyr of a condition of things which he deprecated, but had not power to reform) is dead.

Samuel's mother is a type of the godly remnant in Israel at that time, and Samuel a type of the blessing vouchsafed to that remnant. Hannah, because of her distress and reproach from the adversary, prayed to the Lord in the bitterness of her soul. Forms and demonstrations were dispensed with. It was with the unexpressed breathing of her soul that she pleaded with the Lord; so that the holy priest under the law did not understand.

It was evidently out of due time; something entirely novel and unprecedented; a mere spiritual pleading with the Lord. The sorrowing one of Israel is wiser, because of her felt sorrow and condition, than the high priest; and she actually corrects him, which he has grace to accept and admit.

Hannah's prayer was for Samuel. What will suit a true, holy, sorrowing individual will suit the whole family of God's people. The answer to Hannah's prayer was the answer to every sorrowing cry in Israel. Samuel will suit each and all: he is the answer to the prayer of sorrow, and, as such, is dedicated to the Lord and remains there as a witness to the answer of the prayer of Hannah.

Now let us turn and look at Samuel himself. The more his understanding opens, the more he is aware that he is called, as being the answer to prayer; and as being so, he has been dedicated to the Lord, to be ever before Him; so that very early he must have had an idea of his mission: at all events, it is evident that he is receiving the best education for it. If the sorrowing, oppressed Hannah has received him in answer to prayer, and has returned him to the Lord as the Lord's gift, must not Samuel be continually reminded of the efficacy of prayer — himself the living witness or monument of its effectiveness? So that we should be prepared to find him most peculiarly and entirely combating and surmounting the troubles of God's people by prayer, of which, from being the offspring, he is the witness.

In Samson, the last of the judges, we saw that power committed to man, though performing great exploits now and again, yet accomplished more in the death of the witness than in his life. In Samuel, a new state of things is called into existence. The afflicted one, calling on God, is heard, and the answer, even Samuel, becomes the channel of deliverance through prayer. The very power which brought himself into existence he is now to exercise on behalf of his suffering people. Not as the man of physical strength, as was Samson; but as the man of prayer. Moreover, a true principle is enunciated in Hannah — the blessing which God sends us for ourselves becomes large enough for all His people.

In prayer there is not only a sense of dependence, but also the soul when truly praying expects an answer or communication from God. But often before we have learned the deep reality of what prayer is, we may be in the place of the praying one, the Samuel, and yet not understand the Lord's voice. And thus we find in the first recorded account of Samuel's practical life (1 Sam. 3) these words, "Samuel was ministering before the Lord, and he had laid himself down to sleep ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the Lord." The whole scene declares the moral condition of the nation at the time. "The word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision." "Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes waxed dim that he could not see." Samuel had lain down "ere the lamp went out." This implies that it was allowed to go out habitually, which was contrary to the commandment. Everything indicated feebleness and inanition. Samuel is given in answer to Hannah's prayer — Hannah the type of the sorrowing remnant. Therefore Samuel enters the temple as the exponent, the apostle, of the power and value of prayer — as we read of him in Psalm 99, "Samuel among them that call upon his name."

But in order to render such a service, or fill the place appointed for him, he must first learn to understand the voice of the Lord. One may take the place of nearness to the Lord, and yet know not the living blessings connected with that place. Samuel is marked out for us as one who, by waiting on God, can repair the disasters which Samson, by his great strength, could not. Samuel is the witness of the superiority of prayer to personal might. But if he be the witness of the efficacy of prayer, he must be disciplined for his service. And the first great learning after drawing near — after giving oneself to the Lord as Samuel had done, is to be able to determine in the soul the communication of the Lord, to know His revelation. What is the use of seeking of the Lord, or of drawing nigh unto Him, if one never receives any distinct light or communication from Him touching matters of moment around one, touching His own interest in His people? I believe it to be the greatest and most blessed attainment for the soul, and withal most necessary for the one who draws near, to acquire a clear knowledge of the Lord's mode of communicating His mind. I think many draw near, and are too like Samuel in the beginning of the scene, in the place of nearness, but not knowing the Lord so as to be able to recognize and distinguish His communications. I hope I do not go too far when I say that: I am ready to admit that in drawing near to the Lord in the place of nearness which typifies the Lord Jesus Christ, that one is in the sure way of being taught the mind of the Lord. But what I seek to impress is this — that many are, so to speak, praying in the temple, or engaged in temple service, who have not learned the word of the Lord as distinctly addressed to themselves. How many pray, and pray again, who, though pacified and consoled by their prayers, yet have not had, nor have sought, any distinct assured instruction from the Lord touching the subject of their prayers. Now, the praying of such an one will never afford the strength and joy which a soul receives who knows in faith from the Lord what His mind is. I do not say that the Lord will tell a soul exactly what He will do, though even that I should expect in particular cases, when there was simple waiting on Him. What I press now, and what I see in the opening of Samuel's life is, that the Lord makes him to recognize and distinguish His own voice, and reveals unto him His word at the same time; and this was the sure basis of the testimony which his life expressed, namely, to seek the Lord in every exigency, and to be known among His prophets as he that called upon His name. Samuel has now learned not only the voice of the Lord, but also the word of the Lord, i.e., His purposes. When we learn the voice of the Lord, we shall readily comprehend His mind as conveyed in His word. Samuel now knows what are God's thoughts about the state of things, and His word came to all Israel. We have power to testify when we are taught of God. A man who would prove and testify of his resources in God, must not expect a smooth easy course. Elijah could order the trenches to be filled with water, because he would magnify the power of God in which he trusted.

Now, Samuel, in the beginning of his testimony or service, sees Israel reduced to the lowest condition, discomfited before the Philistines, the ark of God taken, the priests slain, and Eli dead. Disasters do not daunt the man of prayer; yet it must have exercised Samuel's soul to see such a crash just as he had entered on his service. All seemed lost, but the soul that has learned to distinguish the Lord's voice and to understand His word, will not be disheartened, though all the bulwarks and marks of God's government be forfeited and lost. Samuel was such an one, and he could count on God; and he says, "gather all Israel to Mizpeh, and I will pray for you unto the Lord." It is worthy of remark that previous to this he warned and led the people to renounce the strange gods and to serve the Lord only, and that they had done so. "Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth and served the Lord only." If I understand God, I understand His nature, and I cannot draw nigh to Him in prayer without feeling that I must simply and distinctly own Him as the one Lord, and His name one. If there be misapprehension of the true God or any intervention of man's ordering, there must always be a barrier and a delay to me finding Him. Samuel called on the people to serve the Lord only, and to put away all strange gods. This is all that is essential in seeking deliverance from the Lord. And to this can be traced all our want of success in prayer. The Lord is not simply and entirely our God. Covetousness is idolatry, that is, the heart is seeking something else which it passionately desires besides God. Such an one could not say that he served the Lord only, and consequently he ought not to expect to receive a deliverance from the Lord which, if vouchsafed to him, would not attach him more to the Lord, but possibly, by affording him relief from a momentary pressure, enable him to pursue the desires of his heart more uninterruptedly. Samuel led the people to that state of soul in which they ought to seek the Lord. It was a new and wondrous way he was about to disclose to them, how God would deliver them from their enemies.

We read, "And they gathered together to Mizpeh, and drew water, and poured it out before the Lord, and fasted on that day, and said, We have sinned." (1 Sam. 7:6.) Such is always the true way to have the soul restored with God before we enter into conflict with any especial enemies. Samuel leads God's congregation to this, and now they are prepared and waiting for the Lord's intervention; but the moment a soul or congregation prepares for the enemy by waiting on God, that moment Satan urges on his emissaries (the Philistines) to oppose and renew the strife, "When the Philistines heard that the children of Israel were gathered together to Mizpeh, the Lords of the Philistines went up against Israel." Israel, though contrite and restored in the presence of God, are not yet experienced enough in God's power, as exercised on their behalf, to be undisturbed by fear of the violence of man. A soul may be quite assured before God, and resting in His acceptance, who yet may greatly fear the violence of the wicked and the power of darkness. Nothing can relieve the soul of this terror but (if I may so say) experience. I mean by experience, the soul making use of the power of God which it enjoys in its acceptance. Like Peter, after his rescue by the angel, said, "Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath sent his angel and delivered me out of the hand of Herod," etc.

The fear of man remains though the soul be at peace with God, and therefore it ought to say (and this would be experience), "The Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man can do unto me." It is therefore not to be wondered at that the children of Israel, when they heard of the coming up of the lords of the Philistines, were afraid, but they had learned the value of prayer for themselves in the sight of God; and the soul that has not, must be confounded and helpless when afraid of man. We read, "The children of Israel said unto Samuel, Cease not to cry unto the Lord our God for us that He will save us out of the hand of the Philistines." They knew wherein Samuel's great strength lay; "and Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it for a burnt offering wholly unto the Lord. And Samuel cried unto the Lord for Israel: and the Lord heard him. And as Samuel was offering up the burnt-offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the Lord thundered with a great thunder that day and discomfited the Philistines, and they were smitten before Israel." The Lord always vouchsafes to the praying soul depending on Himself a deliverance beyond our utmost conception. It is no ordinary or human way. As Paul's in the gaol at Philippi, so here the Lord acts in quite an unexpected way, a way not wished for, because it was beyond human conception. The thunder of God is the answer to the prayer, and the Philistines are discomfited; Israel follows up the rout, and "smote them until they came under Bethcar." When we see our enemies routed, if we have valour at all, we can easily pursue and follow it up; but in our feebleness we have little power to act until the Lord's intervention assures our heart that we may do so. When God is felt to be on our side we are strengthening ourselves in the sense of "who can be against us." Samuel must commemorate this signal mercy of the Lord: for any deliverance we have known in connection with our waiting on God is always an Ebenezer. It is a refresher to us of our Lord and Saviour, the chief corner stone. He always is the exponent to us of the tender love of our God, and when mercy is vouchsafed to us the heart is revived in remembrance of Him. Then is renewed the sense, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me;" and I know in a new and distinct way His virtues. I have the exhilarating consciousness that He is my stone of help. What happy service for Samuel, after the anguish he must have passed through on account of the grievous desolations around. The mercy was a permanent one — every Ebenezer is! The Philistines were subdued, and they "came no more into the coast of Israel; and the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel" — the man of prayer.

Samuel had now established his title to judge Israel. By dependence on God he had enlisted and received of the resources of God, and now he takes his place as judge of a delivered people. He went in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh; the latter must not be forgotten, for there he had proved his commission. Samuel dwelt at Ramah, and at home he cultivated what he proved abroad, for "there he built an altar unto the Lord."

We have now traced how Samuel learned by prayer and dependence on God to deliver His people out of the greatest degradation and impotency, and how, in consequence, he could take his seat among them as their judge. And here (as I may so say), one era of his life, or the life of dependence closes; but another begins — for that is the peculiarity and blessing, too, of the life of dependence, that no sooner have you reached one goal, perhaps at the end of a long, laborious exercise, but you have to enter on another, consequent on the very position which, through the Lord's mercy, you have attained. Samuel, by dependence on God, has been vouchsafed signal deliveries from outside enemies. The Philistines are subdued, and he himself judges Israel. But, alas! it is with him as with us all; when nature comes in and works, he is at fault, and disaster is the result. It was clearly nature in Samuel to perpetuate his rule through his own sons, whom we read he "made judges in the land," when he was old.

He had enjoyed for a long period of his life the fruits of his first great and deep exercises of dependence; but now, when he is old, he seems to lapse into worldly arrangements, in making his sons judges. It is not dependence on God now, but carnal policy, and it is unsuccessful: "his sons walked not in his ways, but turned aside after lucre, and took bribes and prevented judgment." We read in 1 Sam. 8:4, 5, "Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together and came to Samuel unto Ramah; and said unto him, Behold thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways, now make us a king to judge us, like all the nations." This, a trying moment for Samuel, but one of great instruction for him, and for us through him. When the soul who has known the blessing of dependence on God, has been drawn aside into thinking and acting for itself, no greater mercy can be vouchsafed to it than that it should be involved in such straits that nothing but the resumption of dependence on God can offer any relief. There were two painful truths in the petition of the elders which must have greatly affected Samuel. 1st. The failure of his policy through his own sons: where every man, and the better the man, would feel it most. 2ndly. The wilfulness and ungodliness of the nation in asking for a king. Poor Samuel, his family had disappointed him, and his nation had grievously requited all his labours and service. It is not now the Philistines: it is their own inward corruption. What a moment! What could the aged Samuel do? We read, "And Samuel prayed unto the Lord." The astounding, perplexing strait has been effective in restoring his soul into the old and well-known channel of dependence; and, as ever, to the really dependent one seeking His glory, God answered him in a most gracious soothing way, entering into all his servant's feelings, as follows: "they have not rejected thee; but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them." Samuel was the link between the judges and the kingdom, or the type of the faithful in the interval between the manifested failure of Israel, as a people governed by God, and the setting up of the kingdom. Samson properly closed that period, which mainly was characterised by power through human agency, of which he was personally the greatest example. Samuel presents to us quite another order of power, more successful than any preceding it, and that was, as a man of prayer depending on God. He is the link between Samson and the king. Samuel illustrates to us how blessed dependence on God is, and how great are the deliverances which flow from it; but he also must connect us with the kingdom, and suffer himself to be superseded by God's anointed king, even David. But even before then, he must give place to Saul; for the witness of dependence on God, the man of prayer must be prepared to encounter in patience all the antagonism, however protracted, which arises to counterfoil his faith. Saul was the representative of Israel's thoughts about a king, and therefore God sanctioned his appointment. As Ishmael was to Isaac, so was Saul to David — the natural and the spiritual; but the natural is always before the spiritual. Man's king is first tried before the Lord sets up His king. The aged Samuel, the man of prayer and dependence on God, is called on to appoint and anoint Saul. God approved of the man who was truly the impersonation of Israel's real mind. And more than this, "the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he prophesied." As the law exposes to a soul, seeking God through it, how really guilty it is, and yet the law was good, so Saul exposed how incompetent Israel were to help themselves by a king of their own choosing, even when sanctioned of God. Samuel is now educated in dependence on God, in a very different line from that in which his public history opened. Now, an old man, and at the close of his life, and of his testimony to the blessedness of dependence on God, he must endure with patience, and cooperate, as long as he can. While this experiment is being worked out, he must suppress all the bitter and vexed feelings which crowd on him at every moment — he must wait on God, and wait for the end, until God brings it to an end. And his manner and spirit in this sad and dreary work is very encouraging to us. It is easier to rise up and repose in God, reckoning in His deliverance from open enemies like the Philistines, and quite another thing than to acknowledge and cooperate in all that professes well around you, though you feel it has sprung from an unsound principle, and you are bearing and forbearing, protesting and warning, oppressed by the instinctive sense of the unsoundness of it all, but patiently enduring until God shall, in His own time, manifest how weak and incompetent are all human devisings. Samuel, in obedience to the Lord, submits to the dispensational trial of man's king, accepting him and owning him as acknowledged of God, until the contrary was manifested; but, at the same time, observing two lines of action, namely, faithfulness to the people, the human element, as to their apostasy, and retribution, and also faithfulness to God, disallowing and disowning the king of the people, the moment he evinced any relinquishment of the principles ordained of God. We must remember that Samuel had led Israel by dependence on God into security and deliverance from their enemies — that he erred in supposing that his sons could sustain his own position. He is rebuked and afflicted by their incompetency and evil. And now the people, by their elders, renounce the position of dependence on God, which, in the person of Samuel, ensured such blessings to them. They will return to personal valour, not now in instruments raised up of God, but in a king like the nations. The difference between the judges and the kings was this — the former led because of a direct commission from God, the latter by popular acceptance. Samuel is now in something of the same position as Moses was. When the people with acclamation proposed to keep all the words of the law, and to do them, he had to stand aside and let them try; and when they failed, as assuredly they must, to be able to come forward and apply and establish God's remedy. Samuel fully and explicitly expounds to the people their apostasy and its consequences; but, at the same time he equally commends himself to us by his ready help and continuance to Saul, so long as it is morally possible. What education this was! Can we at all follow him in the season when the value of dependence on God is more proved and needed than ever? How it fructifies in his soul! His sons a failure and reproach, the nation renouncing dependence on God, seeking a king who should supersede himself, and yet Samuel moves on through it all.

Samuel is directed by the Lord to protest solemnly unto the people, and show the manner of the king that shall reign over them. And he fully and explicitly does so. The man of faith is told to expose and denounce every step contrary to it; but yet he can, having done so, endure patiently whilst man's independence is on its trial; nay, he will sanction and acknowledge, so far as he may have divine authority. Samuel's manner to Saul is very beautiful. He not only receives him as an honoured guest, he announces to him that in him is all the desire of Israel. And not only this, but he made him sit in the chiefest place among them that were bidden. And to distinguish him still more, the shoulder is set before him. While Samuel said, "Behold that which is reserved." And, finally, he "took a vial of oil, and poured it on his head, and kissed him, and said, Is it not because the Lord hath anointed thee to be captain over his inheritance?" What a discipline for Samuel to act after this manner! He illustrates to us the graceful action and calm submission of one practising dependence on God, and of one, too, who had practised it; for it is ever grateful and satisfactory to such an one. He is only the really dependent one, who will not anticipate events, but submits patiently to an order of things which, though ending in failure, are not yet manifested as such.

We next find Samuel calling all the people together unto the Lord to Mizpeh. (1 Sam. 10:17.) There was an association connected with Mizpeh, for there they had turned to the Lord, and under Samuel had learned the blessing of trusting in God. (1 Sam. 7:5, 6.) Here Samuel presents Saul to them. And Samuel said unto all the people, "See ye whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like unto him among all the people." Samuel can see himself, and the principle of truth of which he was the witness, set aside, with dignity, grace, and even cheerfulness, because it was the will of the Lord. It is only the meek, dependent servant who will understand the will of the Lord as new and diverse circumstances arise. Continually you find an inclination to press an ascertained principle of right under every conceivable circumstance. The principle, doubtless, remains true, and its truth will be vindicated. But God often confounds the opposer before He brings forth His judgment, and the really dependent soul like Samuel will accord with His mind, and move on righteously and charitably. We next find Samuel (1 Sam. 11:14) saying to the people, "Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there." There is nothing grudging nor of necessity in Samuel's actings. When Saul by his prowess had proved himself worthy of the kingdom, Samuel comes forward and proposes to the people to take the highest ground — to renew the kingdom at Gilgal — to crown Saul in the spot sacred to all the great energies of truth and power which marked the brightest hour of their history,

Abraham did not give place to Lot in more dignity and self-surrender than Samuel to Saul; nay, Samuel exceeded, for he honoured and guarded and counselled Saul, while it was of any use. And from that time he retired to his own house, leaving the issue to God. But though Samuel is full of charity, he is also righteous: and if you have one without the other, you will have little moral weight: and therefore Samuel at length proclaims to the people that their wickedness is great in asking for a king. And at the same time, he called unto the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain.

Samuel does not shrink from declaring to the people their great wickedness, though he has shown every readiness to bear with them, and now assures them he will not cease to pray for them. Who but one depending on God could combine both so freely and perfectly? How marvellous the ability one gets to be both charitable and righteous at the same time, if really walking in dependence on God? Charity will suffer and sanction all it can — it hides a multitude of sins; but the moment there is any dishonour done to God, or there be any infraction of His laws, then righteousness asserts its inflexible claim, and the delinquent, be he who he may, meets his desert. Thus it was with Saul. Though Samuel had honoured and supported him while he was walking amiably as a man among men, yet the moment he infringed on the ordinances of God (when Saul offered the burnt offering), Samuel spared him not, but said, when Saul went to meet him to salute him, "What hast thou done?" and then added, "Thou hast done foolishly, thou has not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God which he commanded thee; for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue; the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee." Thus in faithfulness did he pronounce the Lord's sentence on that failure which already began to develop itself; and we do well to mark how the Lord leads Samuel to realize the value of depending on Him. When we walk in full charity, and at the same time are truly faithful to God, we may be assured that the Lord will, when He has proved us, expose the concealed evil which we had treated charitably only because it was not disclosed. It is a charity to bear with any one's professions or pretensions so long as they are permitted by God's word, as Saul clearly was; but charity for man stops when any inroad is made on God's commandment; then every feeling for man gives way in order to vindicate and advocate the decrees of God. And the one who, like Samuel, has learned to walk in forbearance and charity toward a Saul, but at the same time protesting against the principle of the people's acting, will at length be afforded full opportunity of denouncing this representative of independence, on account of some expressions of it, in which he will be openly convicted of profane assumptions and ungodly precipitancy.

Samuel has seen how Saul exposes and condemns himself in trenching on the priestly service; always (we may note in passing) the ripened expression of human independence, a Cain is consummated in a Korah. (See Jude 11.) And therefore, though Samuel knows the kingdom cannot be established in Saul, he proves him, or rather once more tests him, by sending him against the Amalekites. Saul fails again; and Samuel is greatly distressed; he cried unto the Lord all night, like Jeremiah. He did not wish for the evil day, though he had predicted it; and he is so grieved at this break down, that he cries unto the Lord all night; and, in consequence, when the time comes for action, how timely and faithfully he acts! He "hews Agag in pieces," and reads to Saul a censure, not only most pointed, but fraught with divine principles far beyond the light and revelation of the dispensation in which he served. How elevating and instructive it is to us to watch and imbibe the spirit of Samuel in this scene! He had adhered to Saul as expecting that help to God's people would accrue through him; but now convinced that there was no hope, Samuel went to his house at Ramah. And Samuel came no more to see Saul unto the day of his death, not that he was indifferent about him, for it is said, "Nevertheless, Samuel mourned for Saul." Samuel had reckoned, more than one would have supposed, on help flowing to Israel through Saul; and he, too, had to be taught that the representative of the people must be a failure. He is graciously conducted to know this, as every soul will be who is truly faithful to God. Samuel's faithfulness and his single eye, insured that he should be "full of light;" and if he acknowledged for a moment, what God allowed to be put on trial, he learned that in charity to men and in faithfulness to God, his vision would be cleared of every uncertainty, and at last he was fully justified in abandoning entirely and for ever man's king; a great and fine lesson for the servant of God. No doubt, Samuel mourned for Saul, and so did the Lord for Jerusalem; he was distressed at the ruin, to all human calculations and hopes. But the blessed God who had led His servant into his present sorrowful retirement, overwhelmed with the failure in the throne, will now complete His mercy to him by introducing to him his own king, and by appointing him to anoint him. How it must have relieved and rejoiced the heart of Samuel to find himself, at last, in the presence of God's own king, the man after God's heart. And not only this, but that when David was persecuted by Saul, his companion in exile was Samuel: "He (David) and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth." (1 Sam. 19:18.)

What a close! How blessed and suited for such a history! Samuel is lost in David. After dwelling with him (Hebrew: dwellings) during the season of his rejection, Samuel, the man of prayer and dependence, passes away (1 Sam. 25:1) from the scene of his former ministry, of his exercises, and discipline, ere the rightful king — God's anointed, whom Samuel had owned — takes the sceptre. May we have, like him, the blessing of dependence on God, and understand the discipline, which, however searching and sifting, is but leading us to Naioth, to dwell with our Lord and King; and, finally, to be lost in Him, who will yet take the place in which our hearts have set Him now, even the throne!