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Because you have rejected the word of
the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.
See Important Quotations Explained
Because you have rejected the word of
the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.
Israel’s next judge, Samuel, is born to Hannah, a previously
barren woman. Hannah gives Samuel to Israel’s chief priest, Eli,
to be raised as a Nazirite. The priesthood in Israel is in a general
state of decline, and Eli’s sons are disobeying God’s laws. God
declares that he will choose a new priest for Israel from outside
Eli’s family and begins delivering messages to Samuel as a young
man. Samuel becomes a recognized prophet throughout Israel, delivering
God’s messages to the people.
During battle, the Philistines kill Eli’s sons and capture
the Ark of the Covenant—Israel’s religious altar and symbol of God.
Upon learning of the attack and robbery, Eli falls over and dies.
The Ark is returned to Israel after it causes its Philistine captors
to become terribly diseased. As the nation rejoices, Samuel persuades
Israel to set aside its worship of local pagan deities, and God
helps Israel thwart Philistine oppression for many years.
The Israelites demand that Samuel appoint a king for
them so that Israel will be like other nations. Samuel is displeased,
but God grants him permission to elect a king. God notes that by
asking for a king, the people have not rejected Samuel; they have
rejected God. Samuel warns the people that a monarchy brings certain
drawbacks such as taxation, the conscription of armed forces, and
the potential for tyranny, but the people are resolute.
God tells Samuel who should be king, and the following
day, a man named Saul appears before Samuel, inquiring about some
lost donkeys. Samuel pours oil over Saul’s head to anoint him as
king, and God provides a series of mystical signs to assure Saul
that he should be king. Saul, who is a head taller than the average
man, pleases the Israelites as king and leads them in rescuing an
Israelite outpost from invasion. Stepping down as Israel’s leader,
Samuel encourages the people that, so long as they are obedient
to God’s laws, God will not punish them for requesting a king.
Despite many military victories, Saul soon disobeys God.
He tries to rush into battle by performing a ritual war sacrifice
without the help of a priest. Later, Samuel sends Saul to fight
the Amalekites, instructing Saul to destroy them completely and
leave nothing alive. Saul, however, spares the Amalekite ruler and
the best portion of their flocks, hoping to present them as sacrifices
to God. Samuel rebukes Saul, claiming that obedience to God’s instructions
is more important than religious sacrifice. He informs Saul that
God will choose another man to be king of Israel. Saul pleads with
Samuel, begging for forgiveness. Saul grabs for Samuel’s cloak,
but the cloth tears—a symbol, says Samuel, of Saul’s broken kingdom.
God leads Samuel to the town of Bethlehem to choose a
new king from Jesse’s family. Each of Jesse’s older sons are impressive,
but God instructs Samuel to judge people not by their external appearances
but, rather, by their hearts. Samuel anoints Jesse’s youngest son,
David, a shepherd, as king, and God gives divine power to David.
God withdraws his power from Saul, cursing Saul with psychological
distress in the form of an “evil spirit” (16:14).
David begins his rise to courtly status as a harp-player for Saul
during the king’s emotional unrest.
The Philistines again threaten to attack Israel, this
time taunting Israel with their new hero, Goliath—a giant more than
nine feet tall. Saul and the Israelites tremble in fear, but David,
arriving to deliver food to his brothers, offers to fight the giant.
Refusing the king’s armor, David publicly invokes God’s help and
kills Goliath with a single stone shot from his sling. The Israelites
attack the retreating Philistines, and Israel returns home to the
sound of women singing praises of David’s victory.
Saul is insanely jealous of David, who becomes an intimate
friend of Saul’s son, Jonathan, and leads the Israelite troops to
many more victories. After attempting to kill David with a spear,
Saul sends David on a suicide mission to kill a hundred Philistine
men and bring back their circumcised foreskins. David succeeds,
and Saul grudgingly rewards David with his daughter Michal’s hand
in marriage. Saul orders his household to kill David, but, with
the help of Michal and Jonathan, David flees from Saul. David builds
an army of unhappy and impoverished Israelites, and he is joined
by a priest who is also fleeing from Saul’s destructive path.
Saul pursues David into the desert where David spares
the king’s life twice. While Saul is urinating in a cave, David
sneaks up behind him and cuts off a corner of Saul’s robe, scorning
the opportunity to kill God’s “annointed” ruler (24:6).
At night, David and his men sneak into the king’s tent and steal
Saul’s spear while he is sleeping. On both occasions, David announces
his deed to Saul, and Saul expresses remorse both times, begging
for David’s mercy.
Still, Saul continues his pursuit, and David
takes refuge with the Philistines, who show mercy to the great warrior
and adversary of Israel’s king. Preparing to fight the Philistines,
Saul is wracked with fear and consults a witch, bidding the spirit
medium to conjure up the dead spirit of Samuel. Samuel’s ghost angrily
warns Saul that he and his sons will die fighting the Philistines,
ensuring the demise of Saul’s kingdom. David and his men head out
to fight the Amalekites, and David succeeds in destroying the warring
nation. In the meantime, Saul leads Israel into a losing battle
with the Philistines, and Saul’s sons, including Jonathan, are killed.
Saul commands his armor-bearer to kill him, but the boy refuses,
and Saul falls on his own sword and dies.
The first book of Samuel tells the story of Israel’s
transition from a theocracy, or state ruled by a religious leader,
to a monarchy, or state ruled by a political leader. Israel starts
out as a nation of loosely affiliated tribes led by priests and
religious heroes, but it becomes a nation-state led by a centralized
king. Each stage of this transition is depicted through the narrative’s
three main figures: Samuel represents the old rule of the judges,
Saul represents Israel’s failed attempt at monarchy, and David represents
God’s ideal king. Although it seems logical that the rule of a single
king would bring a sense of unity and cohesiveness to Israel, the
opposite is the case. The move away from religious leaders divides
religious and political life in Israel. Confusion about how religion
and politics ought to relate to one another is the chief source
of conflict in Samuel. Indeed, Saul’s gravest mistake as king is
his attempt to carry out the sacrificial duties of the priesthood—a
role that Samuel explicitly denies the political ruler.
God’s ambivalence regarding the monarchy escalates
this conflict. On the one hand, God and Samuel are displeased at
Israel’s demand for a king, because, as God claims, this demand
represents Israel’s refusal to believe that God and his religious
laws are adequate to rule the people. On the other hand, God willingly
chooses Saul to be king, identifying Saul as the deliverer of his
people. God reconciles this contradiction by distinguishing Israel’s
status as a human institution from its status as a divine one. As
Samuel’s warnings to Israel about the dangers of having a king suggest,
God may bless the king, but he will not keep the king from committing
the sorts of human errors and injustices that human rulers are prone
Saul’s demise as king is tragic because he makes such
small, human mistakes. Like all tragic heroes, Saul possesses a
fatal flaw: he is more concerned with earthly objects and human
customs than with spiritual or religious matters. Saul’s plan to
present the plunder from the Amalekites as a sacrifice to God earns
Samuel’s criticism because Saul mistakes a human custom for religious
devotion. This criticism is symbolized by the piece of cloth that
Saul is left with when he grabs at Samuel. The cloth, like all things
Saul considers important, is man-made. The war song of the Israelite
women, which ignites Saul’s fury, further highlights Saul’s flaw:
“Saul has killed his thousands, / and David his ten thousands” (18:7).
The refrain, which is repeated throughout the Book of Samuel by
both priests and Philistines, illustrates the fact that Saul evaluates
his leadership by human standards, rather than religious standards.
In contrast, God favors David because David places a
higher value on religious devotion than on the physical world. David’s inner
virtue is Samuel’s criterion for anointing him as king, and the encounter
with Goliath functions as a parable for the triumph of the spiritual
over the physical. The giant, a symbol of brute human force, is
defeated by the diminutive David, who refuses the physical protection
of the king’s armor in favor of prayer, calling down God’s wrath
on the irreverent Goliath. David’s repudiation of the physical world
continues in his willingness to roam the desert on the margins of
Israel, denying the opportunity to take the throne by physical force
from God’s current anointed ruler. Like Abraham and Moses, David
reinforces God’s ongoing preference for the unseen over the seen,
the lesser over the greater, and inner faith over external circumstances.
A commitment to these preferences seems to be the minimum religious
requirement for the ideal Israelite monarch.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Bible: The Old Testament!