Samuel: Finishing Well

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1 Samuel 12:1-25 (Samuel’s farewell speech)

INTRODUCTION: Our series is called “The Rise and Fall of Saul” and we have been tracing Saul’s rise to leadership. In today’s passage, however, the focus shifts from Saul back to Samuel. Chapter 12 relays Samuel’s farewell speech to the people as their former leader. We have reached the peak of Saul’s rise to leadership, but before we look at his fall, we are first given the example of Samuel as someone who finished well. This of course is in contrast to Saul who so far has had a good start but will not finish well. (Read 1 Samuel 12:20-25 and pray.)

It has been said that the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. And how you finish is more important than how you start. It’s always great to get off to a good start, but how you finish is what ultimately defines you. The runner who gets off to a good start but then stumbles along the way loses the race. But when you finish well, you gain the respect of the people around you.

Samuel’s speech marks the final transition from the period of the judges in Israel to the time of the kings. Samuel is the last judge of Israel, and Saul is the first king. It is a changing of the guard, so to speak, and as Samuel gives his farewell speech to the people, he also gives us four action steps that we can take in order to finish well in life. They are: 1) Maintain a good reputation with God and man. 2) Give testimony to God’s goodness in the past. 3) Urge people to follow God in the present. 4) Never stop praying for people.

I. Maintain a good reputation with God and man (1-5)

First of all, maintain a good reputation with God and man. The gospel of Luke tells us that as Jesus grew, he “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52) If you want to finish well, you need to maintain a good reputation with God and man. There are many ways to do that, but let me share with you three of them from our passage this morning.

   A. Make yourself accountable to the people in your life (1-3a)
      – Proverbs 15:32; Acts 20:25-35

First of all, make yourself accountable to the people in your life. Look at verses 1-3:

Samuel said to all Israel, “I have listened to everything you said to me and have set a king over you. 2 Now you have a king as your leader. As for me, I am old and gray, and my sons are here with you. I have been your leader from my youth until this day. 3 Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the LORD and his anointed.” (1 Samuel 12:1-3a)

Samuel made himself accountable to the people. He had fulfilled their request for a king. He had completed his role as their leader. And now he stood before them and made himself accountable to them. “Here I stand. Testify against me.” As Robert Bergen puts it: “Samuel’s final act as judge was to put himself on trial.” Samuel’s makes his life an open book before the people, and he gives anyone who wishes the opportunity to testify against him.

The apostle Paul does a similar thing in the New Testament when he gives his farewell speech to the elders in Ephesus. We read his words in Acts 20: “Now I know that none of you … will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God … I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.” (Acts 20:25-35)

Are you accountable to the people in your life? Are you willing to let them speak into your life and correct you when necessary? Are you willing to put yourself on trial? Don’t be a lone wolf, immune from all criticism or critique. Open yourself up to correction. Welcome it. Invite it. Proverbs 15:32 says, “He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding.” (Proverbs 15:32) The first step to maintaining a good reputation before God and man is to make yourself accountable to the people in your life.

   B. If you’ve wronged anyone, make it right (3b-4)
      – Matthew 5:23-24; Luke 19:8

Secondly, if you’ve wronged anyone, make it right. Look at verses 3-4 where Samuel continues:

Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these, I will make it right.” 4 “You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.” (1 Samuel 12:3b-4)

Samuel not only made himself accountable to the people. But if he had done anyone wrong, he was willing to make it right. None of us are perfect; that’s why we need to trust Christ for salvation. But fortunately you don’t need to be perfect to maintain a good reputation. You just need to be willing to make things right when you mess up.

Jesus gave us the following instruction in the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)

Have you wronged anyone? Then go and make it right. Go and apologize. Go and ask for forgiveness. Go to them and be reconciled. And if you have taken something that was not yours, then you need to give it back and then some. Follow Zacchaeus’ example in the gospel of Luke: But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” (Luke19:8) The Biblical word for this is restitution, returning what you have taken and then adding something extra.

   C. Keep your conscience clear before God and man (5)
      – Acts 24:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:5

How do you maintain a good reputation before God and man? Make yourself accountable to the people in your life. If you’ve wronged anyone, make it right. And then thirdly, keep your conscience clear before God and man. Look at verse 5:

Samuel said to them, “The LORD is witness against you, and also his anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” “He is witness,” they said. (1 Samuel 12:5)

It’s one thing to call people as witnesses against you. It’s another thing to call God as witness. People only see the outside, but God sees your heart. The apostle Paul said in Acts 24:16: “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” (Acts 24:16) And again in 1 Thessalonians 2:5: “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed – God is our witness.” (1 Thessalonians 2:5)

It’s been said your true character is who you are and what you do when no one is watching. If you are going to maintain a good reputation before God and man, you must keep your conscience clear before God and man. And that means confessing your sin to God daily and making things right with the people you have wronged. That’s the first step to finishing well. Maintain a good reputation with God and man.

II. Give testimony to God’s goodness in the past (6-11)

The second one is this. Give testimony to God’s goodness in the past. And there’s a couple ways you can do this.

   A. Tell of God’s goodness to you (6-7)
      – Psalm 105:1-2

First of all, tell of God’s goodness to you. Look at verse 6-7:

Then Samuel said to the people, “It is the LORD who appointed Moses and Aaron and brought your forefathers up out of Egypt. 7 Now then, stand here, because I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your fathers. (1 Samuel 12:6-7)

Samuel was faithful as judge over Israel. But now he impresses upon them that God has been faithful to his people all along. And that includes them as well as their fathers. Psalm 105:1-2 says this: “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.” (Psalm 105:1-2) Has God been good to you? Then talk about it! You have a testimony to share. Don’t keep it to yourself. Tell others of God’s goodness to you.

   B. Tell of God’s goodness to those in the Bible (8-11)
      – Romans 15:4

And then also tell them of God’s goodness to those in the Bible. That’s what Samuel does next. Look at verses 8-11:

“After Jacob entered Egypt, they cried to the LORD for help, and the LORD sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your forefathers out of Egypt and settled them in this place.
9 “But they forgot the LORD their God; so he sold them into the hand of Sisera, the commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hands of the Philistines and the king of Moab, who fought against them. 10 They cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We have sinned; we have forsaken the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths. But now deliver us from the hands of our enemies, and we will serve you.’ 11 Then the LORD sent Jerub-Baal, Barak, Jephthah and Samuel, and he delivered you from the hands of your enemies on every side, so that you lived securely.” (1 Samuel 12:8-11)

Samuel proceeds to give the people a history lesson. He rehearses for them the cycle of sin, slavery, repentance, and deliverance that has marked their people from the very beginning. The people of Israel kept sinning against God, but whenever they repented and cried out to him, God in his goodness always delivered them.

When you tell of God’s goodness to those in the Bible, you give testimony that God has always been loving, caring and forgiving. Paul tells us in Romans 15:4: “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4) Do you want to give testimony to God’s goodness? Then tell of God’s personal goodness to you. And then also tell of God’s goodness to those in the Bible.

III. Urge people to follow God in the present (12-18)

But finishing well involves more than just giving testimony to God’s goodness in the past. You must also urge people to follow God in the present. And there are two things you can do here.

   A. Remind them of the consequences of obedience and disobedience (12-15)
      – Galatians 6:7-8

First of all, remind them of the consequences of obedience and disobedience. Look at verses 12-15:

“But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’ – even though the LORD your God was your king. 13 Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for; see, the LORD has set a king over you. 14 If you fear the LORD and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the LORD your God – good! 15 But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers.” (1 Samuel 12:12-15)

Samuel reminds them that they were wrong to ask for a king at this time. But, you asked for it, you got it! Here’s the king you asked for. But even though they were wrong to ask for a king, there is still a way forward for them. If they will fear the Lord, serve and obey him, and not rebel against his commands, it will go well for them. Notice these instructions apply both to the people and the king. But if they disobey God and rebel against his commands, God’s hand will be against them. He reminds them of the consequences of obedience and disobedience.

We find the same thing in the New Testament. Galatians 6 says: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:7-8) The wages of sin is death, but the fruit of obedience is God’s blessing. I ran across a great quote this week: “Sin wouldn’t be so attractive if the wages were paid immediately.” We’re sometimes fooled because it doesn’t happen right away, but the Bible is clear. God cannot be mocked. You always reap what you sow.

   B. Warn them that God calls them to repentance (16-18)
      – Acts 17:30-31

So remind people of the consequences of obedience and disobedience. And then secondly, warn them that God calls them to repentance. It’s not you calling them to repentance, but God who calls them to repentance. Look at verses 16-18 where Samuel continues to challenge the people:

“Now then, stand still and see this great thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes! 17 Is it not wheat harvest now? I will call upon the LORD to send thunder and rain. And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the LORD when you asked for a king.” 18 Then Samuel called upon the LORD, and that same day the LORD sent thunder and rain. So all the people stood in awe of the LORD and of Samuel. (1 Samuel 12:16-18)

The wheat harvest took place in May and June. This was the dry season when it rarely rained at all, so for God to send thunder and rain at Samuel’s command was clearly a sign from heaven. Israel was stubborn and had never repented over asking God for a king. But God finally got their attention and broke through to them with this miraculous sign.

We can be stubborn in our sin and rebellion, too. God may not send thunder and rain to get our attention, but he doesn’t need to. He has already worked a great and mighty sign to call us to repentance. We read in Acts 17: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31) Samuel called the people to repentance through the miracle of the thunder and rain. God calls us to repentance faith through the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

IV. Never stop praying for people (19-25)

We are talking about finishing well, and we have looked at three actions we can take so far. 1) Maintain a good reputation with God and man. 2) Give testimony to God’s goodness in the past. 3) Urge people to follow God in the present. And now number 4) Never stop praying for people.

Sometimes when we get older, we get discouraged because we can’t do all the things we used to be able to do. But one thing we can always do is pray for people. In fact I am convinced that when we get to heaven, we will see that one of the primary ways God advanced his kingdom here on earth was through the faithful prayers of seniors. Praying for people is one of the most important ways you can finish well. And there are several things we can learn here.

   A. Be glad when someone asks you to pray for them (19)
      – Philippians 1:4

First of all, be glad when someone asks you to pray for them. Look at verse 19:

The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.” (1 Samuel 12:19)

It is a great privilege when someone asks you to pray for them. They are asking you to talk to God on their behalf. Never take it lightly, and never turn down the opportunity to pray. As Paul wrote to the Philippians in Philippians 1:4: “In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” (Philippians 1:4)

   B. Use it as an opportunity to remind them of God’s grace (20-22)
      – 2 Timothy 2:1

Secondly, use it as an opportunity to remind people of God’s grace. Look at verses 20-22:

“Do not be afraid,” Samuel replied. “You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the LORD will not reject his people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own. (1 Samuel 12:20-22)

Samuel reminds them that it is not just the king God has chosen, but they have all been chosen by God. God will forgive them and deal with them graciously because of his great name. God had claimed them as his own, and he would not abandon them now.

Whenever someone asks you to pray for them, use it as an opportunity to remind them of God’s grace. Remind them that God loves them and sent Jesus to die for them, that if God is for us who can be against us. Like Paul writing to Timothy encourage them to: “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 2:1)

   C. Guard against the sin of prayerlessness in your life (23-25)
      – Ephesians 6:18

And then thirdly and finally, guard against the sin of prayerlessness in your life. Look at verse 23 where Samuel says:

“As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.” (1 Samuel 12:23)

Samuel was no longer leader of the people, but he still had a role to play. His new role was mostly praying and teaching. We will not all be called as teachers in the church, but we are all called to pray. And we learn from verse 23 that prayerlessness is actually a sin against the Lord.

One of my favorite books on prayer is called The Prayer Life, by Andrew Murray. (It is also titled Living a Prayerful Life.) Andrew Murray was a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa in the 1800’s/early 1900’s. He was part of the South African Revival of 1860. He also wrote more than 240 books, a number of which focused on prayer.

The Prayer Life was birthed out of a conference that took place in April 1912. At the time there was a sense that the church was generally lacking in spiritual power and effectiveness, and so over two hundred ministers, missionaries and theological students gathered in South Africa to study the problem and discuss it together. Murray writes in the foreword of his book:

“The Lord graciously so ordered it that we were gradually led to the sin of prayerlessness as the deepest roots of the evil. No one could plead himself free from this. Nothing so reveals the defective spiritual life in minister and congregation as the lack of believing and unceasing prayer. Prayer is in very deed the pulse of the spiritual life. It is the great means of bringing to minister and people the blessing and power of heaven. Persevering and believing prayer means a strong and abundant life.” (Andrew Murray; The Prayer Life, p. 8 )

After the conference Murray wrote his book The Prayer Life, both as a reminder of the things they had learned and as a way of sharing these things with others. (See more at: http://www.rayfowler.org/2008/11/18/the-sin-of-prayerlessness/)

Ephesians 6:18 tells us: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18) The Bible tells us that prayerlessness is a sin. Do you want to finish well? Then be sure to guard against the sin of prayerlessness in your life.

Samuel ends his speech with a summary statement in verses 24-25:

“But be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. 25 Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away.” (1 Samuel 12:24-25)

Once again he reminds the people what great things God has done for them, and he repeats his warning about the consequences for disobedience. This sets us up for Saul’s disobedience in the next chapter and the beginning of his ultimate fall.

CONCLUSION: And so ends Samuel’s farewell speech. Samuel is done now as leader of the people, but he still has work to do. We are never done with ministry, and Samuel will continue praying and teaching until the day he dies.

The book of Ecclesiastes says: “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8) It is so important to finish well. A godly reputation built up over a lifetime can be destroyed by just a few bad decisions.

God still has work for you to do. So keep your eye on the finish line, and by God’s grace may we all be able to say as the apostle Paul did at the end of his life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

© Ray Fowler

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