By Nick Batzig
In 1796, George Washington gave his farewell address to the American people. This would become the first of 35 farewell addresses given by a President of the United States (the other eight who served would die in office). The farewell address gives the outgoing President the opportunity to recap his accomplishments, principles, and concern for the people.
This, of course, was not something unique to the American political system. The great leaders in Israel’s history also often gave farewell addresses. This is seen in Moses’ farewell speech, as Israel transitioned to the leadership of Joshua (Deuteronomy 31-33). Samuel also gave his own farewell speech, as God’s people transitioned to the leadership of King Saul (1 Samuel 12). In both of these speeches, the outgoing leader highlights the way in which he conducted himself, the work of God, and a call for the people to remain committed to God.
The people of God had asked for a king. The Lord had granted their request by anointing Saul. When Israel was facing the threat of the Ammonites, Saul rose to the occasion by becoming their defender and leader (1 Samuel 11:1-14). In doing so, he stepped into the role of the king, and Samuel became the last of the judges. With that transition complete, Samuel took the opportunity to address his people.
You see in his speech that Samuel first appeals to the way in which he has conducted himself as God’s appointed judge (1 Samuel 12:3). He explains that he has not acted with sordid gain in mind, or taken a bribe to pervert justice. He then reminds the people of the great redemptive works of the Lord throughout their history (vv. 6-18). Finally, Samuel charges the people of God with the following exhortation: “If you fear the Lord, worship and obey him, and if you don’t rebel against the Lord’s command, then both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God… Above all, fear the Lord and worship him faithfully with all your heart; consider the great things he has done for you” (vv. 14, 24).
Samuel reminded the people of their need for an upright leader, of the mighty work of God, and of their own responsibility to respond properly to what God had done for them. These three things find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ—the great Judge and King of the Church.
In His farewell discourse in the Upper Room (John 13-17), Jesus told His disciples of the way in which He led them: with His love, joy, and peace. He reminded them of the work of God in His laying down His life for them and in sending the Holy Spirit to them. And He charged them to abide in Him, to obey Him, and to love one another (John 15:1-17). This is the farewell discourse from which we, as those who’ve been redeemed by Christ, must ever turn our attention.
Written by Nick Batzig