The events in this chapter are the fourth stage in Saul’s inauguration as king of Israel. This is the last step in the handover of authority from Samuel as a God-appointed judge to Saul as a king. They no longer wanted the system that Samuel represented. In expressing this desire they had turned away from the Lord and Samuel wanted to deal with this spiritual problem. So at Gilgal he leads them to think about what they have done. God even gave a supernatural sign in support of Samuel’s spiritual diagnosis.
The sign from the Lord had the true effect, for the people were afraid and concerned that worse was to come for their rebellion. It looks as if their opinion of the new king went down as their estimate of the Lord and Samuel went up.
Their repentance included the realisation that they needed a leader whose prayer life had power with God. As they watched the storm come at the command of Samuel they realised, that old and weak though he was, he was a far more effective leader than the outwardly impressive Saul.
When the people had confessed their sin Samuel was able to assure them that there was hope. The Israelites seemed to have concluded that the storm meant there was no hope for them. So Samuel had to reassure them that progress could be made, despite the ongoing presence of the king they had chosen. This is a reminder that grace can work even in situations where an action has caused irremovable consequences.
Notice the reason that Samuel gives for this hope. While God’s judgment would come if they sinned, blessing does not come primarily because of their devotion. Rather it comes because the Lord has committed himself to them. Christian service is a response to the faithfulness of God and is not an attempt to win God’s favour.