Following Israel’s victory over Nahash and the Ammonites, Samuel speaks to Israel, saying “I have done everything you requested. I have given you a king” (1 Samuel 12:1). The whole of chapter twelve is taken up with what might be thought of as Samuel’s “farewell speech” to Israel, though his career is far from over. In this extended oration, Samuel seizes upon the language of Deuteronomic cursing and blessing. He appears to speak to an underlying current of feelings of final liberation among the people, now that they have a king, which would seem to imply that there was a group within Israel that felt as if God’s rule through His judges, and through Samuel, was somehow oppressive.
With some of the words that he uses, Samuel seems to be defending himself against charges of oppression, while also reminding Israel of its idolatrous sin of asking for a king. He says, “Here I am. Bring a charge against me before the Lord and before His chosen king. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I wronged? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I taken a bribe so that I would overlook something? Tell me and I will return it to you!” (12:3) This, of course, as so often happens, returns us to Deuteronomy, landing us squarely within the chapter that is so incredibly seminal for the interpretative matrix of the Scriptures. Though we have covered this material repeatedly, we read in Deuteronomy’s twenty-eight chapter that Israel, if and when it violates that which represented its covenant responsibilities before the Lord, “will be constantly oppressed and continually robbed,” with oxen “slaughtered before your very eyes” and donkeys “stolen from you as you watch and will not be returned to you” (28:29b,31a,c).
Samuel, as we know, is no oppressor. Samuel represents the grace and love of God towards His people, as he serves as a reminder to them of God’s constant and never-failing covenant faithfulness (righteousness). He says, “The Lord is witness against you this day… that you have not found any reason to accuse me” (12:5a), and the people, while being reminded of God’s promised blessings and curses, were forced to concur. To reinforce the point that Samuel does seem to be making references to the Mosaic covenant in his speech to the people, he begins the next stage of his dissertation by reminding them that “The Lord is the One Who chose Moses and Aaron and Who brought your ancestors up from the land of Egypt” (12:6b). Samuel tells the people that he is going to “confront you before the Lord regarding all the Lord’s just actions towards you and your ancestors” (12:7b).
With this, we are reminded that God’s mission, and our place in that mission, can only be defined in the context of God’s historical dealings with His Israel. This is so because Christianity is not a mythical, mystical, and strictly legendary faith, but one that is rooted in the history of God’s creations and His covenants, as recorded within and presented through His Word. These dealings with His people have a this-worldly quality, that are sociological, economic, political, historical, and cultural, along with their being philosophical and theological, and have the purpose of shining the light of God’s glory into this world and dealing with evil in this world.
Therefore, our consideration of what it is that God is doing, and what it is that He would have us to do in this same world, must be along all of those same lines. Because the Bible makes consistent appeals to a historical narrative, with a mission of God, through His people, for this world in which we live, we are ill-advised to completely spiritualize the Divine narrative, and pretend that the mission that God is carrying out for His people has only to do with an other-worldly existence in which this world that He created as good and perfect, and in which He has been revealing Himself throughout all of its history, is ultimately meaningless and destined only to pass from existence.