Saul and Samuel

Samuel was judge over Israel as long as he lived. Every year he went in circuit through the country of Benjamin. First to Bethel, where Jacob on his solitary journey from Beersheba at the oncoming of night had lain down in a desolate place, stones for his pillow, and had seen in his sleep a ladder standing upon the earth, the height of it touching heaven, and there, descending and ascending, the multitude of the angels of God between earth and heaven. From Bethel Samuel went on to Gilgal, where was the circle of memorial stones taken up out of the bed of the river and set up by Joshua. And from Gilgal Samuel went to Mizpeh, where the tabernacle now was and the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord.

In each one of these cities he held his court or assize, and heard the grievances which the people brought before him, and administered justice. He was a judge wise in counsel, grave, austere and upright. Thus he spent his life, having little rest in it. And when he had finished this circuit, he returned to Ramah, the hill-side village where he had shared his childhood with his mother, and where he now lived alone. There he had built an altar and a sanctuary.

He was now old and beginning to be infirm, and the burden of long travel and of his office had grown too heavy to bear unaided. And he made his two sons, Joel and Abiah, judges in Israel. But as soon as they had been set up in power and authority over the people, they showed themselves as base as had the sons of Eli; except only that Hophni and Phinehas, being priests consecrated to the Lord, had brought shame on his worship. But they gave false judgment, took bribes, and favoured the rich against the poor.

This evil could not continue long. The government of Israel had become like a fruit rotten at the core. The southern tribes were still under the domination of the Philistines, and paid tribute to their princes. And powerful nations ruled over by hostile kings menaced Israel on every side. The people were divided among themselves, and the land was seething with unrest and discontent.

In these straits the elders met together and came to Samuel in Ramah to lay their complaint before him and to make a petition.

They saluted him gravely. He took his seat among them and asked the reason of their coming.

They said: ‘We, the elders of Israel, have met together and have consulted one with another and are of one mind in what we have come to ask of thee. We know thy wisdom, thy integrity and uprightness. Thou art the prophet of the Lord and thy name is revered throughout Israel. But behold, thou art now an old man, and no longer able to control and direct the people as in days gone by, and thy sons whom thou hast set in judgment over us walk not in thy ways. They are covetous and corrupt. They are feared and hated of the people.

‘How then can we ourselves do justice in lesser matters if it can be bought for money in great? Moreover, though Israel be at peace, it is a peace that cannot long endure. Enemies beset us on every side, and there is none to guide and govern us. Our desire is that a leader shall be set over us, strong and upright, a man of power. Why should not Israel be like the nations around them, knit together in one, and ever ready for war? That is our plea. Make us a king to reign over us!’

Samuel heard them in silence. Many of them had been children when he himself had come to manhood. What knew they of Israel’s need? But some among them were almost of as great an age as himself, and his heart sank within him as he looked into their faces and listened to the shameful charges they had brought against his sons. He remembered Eli and his anguish of mind when he himself as a child had pronounced the doom of God against his sons, and the day of disaster when the Ark of the Covenant had been taken.

And though the thing displeased him—this demand for a king—he promised to consider it, to ask counsel of God, and to meet the elders again. He was wounded at their ingratitude after he had served them faithfully his whole life long. The thought that he himself was in part responsible for their discontent pierced him to the heart. He sat bowed down with sadness, alone.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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