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THE FIRST BOÖK OF SAMUEL.
1. The Contents and Design of the (First) probably never equalled, in any land, though some 3,000 Book of Samuel.-In the reign of King Rehoboam, * years have passed over the world since the dedication the son of Solomon-at the instance, probably, of morning the chief of the then flourishing prophetic schools-a learned son of the prophets, one (his name is not What strange chain of events had led up to this marrecorded) who in later days would have been termed a vellous change in the condition of the Hebrew people ? scribe, undertook to compose, from materials preserved The sacred “scribe "begins his story of these “events” in these schools, a general history of the events con. about 170 years before the death of Solomon, with a nected with the chosen people for some 120-130 years picture of the life of the people in the days of the aged prior to the accession of the great Solomon, whose Eli, high priest and judge of Israel. memory was still fresh in Israel.
It was well, surely, that the renowned centres of 1. THE DAYS OF ELI.—The introduction is abrupt. Hebrew education should possess a connected story of It says nothing of the early history of the old priestly that marvellous century which had witnessed so mighty judge, who, however, in his youth and vigorous mana change in the people. In its first years, Israel, hood, must have been a distinguished hero and adminis. without culture, almost without religion, seemed fast trator; for his high post, which he retained to the end degenerating into a loose aggregation of Bedouin tribes, of his days, was not inherited by him, but won: Eli perpetually harassed by the neighbouring races, especi- belonged only to the younger branch of the house of ally by a growing and powerful nation—the Philis- Aaron, and therefore the transfer to him of the high. tines-who were constantly recruited from countries priestly and judicial office, of which the historian tells beyond the seas.
us nothing, must have been the result of his own merit.
In his old age, as represented in this book, he appears The last years of the same century witnessed a as a benevolent, kindly man, but utterly incapable of different state of things. Israel, having completely controlling the wild passions of the people. His own vanquished the neighbouring races, had developed into a sons, themselves priests, are represented as being great and united nation. Its tribes were no longer con- covetous and utterly lawless; and a terrible picture of fined to the narrow limits of Canaan ; its influence was the shame and degradation of the people is painted for acknowledged over a great extent of the continent of us in the brief, but vivid, recital of the doings at Shiloh South-western Asia. It had become, strange to relate, in the old age of Eli, the high priest—in Shiloh, the one of the great world-kingdoms, and under David and chief religious centre of the race. Solomon scarcely acknowledged a rival power in the But though the people, as a whole, were deeply East. The internal life of the people had undergone no tainted, even in the highest ranks, with all the vices less a change. Arts and literature were cultivated; most hateful to the pure religion of their God, yet there great prosperity and a comparatively high state of were some families in Israel pious, simple, honest folk. culture and learning were to be found in the dominion Of these the writer gives us a specimen in the account ruled by the famous Solomon. An elaborate system of
of the house of Elkanah, and especially in the carefully government had been established, and a powerful drawn picture of the inner life of his wife, Hannah, the standing army, of which the twelve tribes formed the mother of Samuel. nucleus, gave a seeming stability to the marvellous At this time Israel was still contending for bare structure of Hebrew power. On one of the old sacred existence with the neighbouring nations and tribes; its hills, in the centre of the land originally conquered by very life and existence as a people (as has been related the tribes, on a spot hallowed among the race by pri. in another compilation, called the “ Judges”) had long meval tradition, the great_king had built a temple
been threatened. One of these neighbouring peoplesto their God—the unseen Protector of the people-a
the warlike Philistines—as it grew in
directed building of magnificence and grandeur never surpassed, its energies especially to the conquest of the Hebrew
race, whom they seem to have hated with a fierce and
jealous hatred. * The earlier date-that of the reign of Rehoboam-is adopted In the old age of Eli, each year the Philistine enby Thenius, Keil, Erdmann in Lange, Commentary. The Dean of Canterbury (Dr. Payne Smith), for reasons sug
croachments seem to have grown more intolerable ; gested in his Introduction to the First Book of Samuel, in the each year the people seem to have been less capable of Pulpit Commentary, puts the date a little later-somewhere in the time of Jehoshaphat.
offering to these encroachments any effectual resistance. The Rabbinical view is that Jeremiah was the author. Gro- The patriot scribe who compiled our history, with stern tius adopts this view.
grief, very shortly recounts a terrible sequence of Stähelin suggests Hezekiah's reign as the period of this composition.
national disasters—the utter defeat of his people; the Haevernich prefers the early years of Solomon.
loss of their prized and sacred symbol, the Ark of the Ewald places the first production as late as the second half
covenant; the death of Eli, the high priest and judge, of the Babylonian exile, but assumes that this was only a partial revision of a much earlier history.
caused by shame and grief. 289
The nation had now reached its lowest pitch of degra- restore the dying life of the people, by infusing into it dation. It appeared as though nothing could now save the old trust in the Eternal Friend — by restoring Israel from being wiped out from among nations : for throughout the harassed land a respect for morality, and even worse, we know, happened to the “chosen race a reverence for the religion of their fathers. than our historian tells us in this Book of Samuel. He And to a certain extent Samuel was successful. His recounts enough, surely, in his sorrowful narrative, for steady, ardent faith held together in their darkest hours us to picture Israel's deep distress-her armies beaten, the shattered remnant of the race, at a time when total her strong places taken, her people little better than absorption among the Philistines and the neighbouring trodden-down subjects of the idolatrous Philistines—but tribes seemed imminent. But as he worked and prayed, here he pauses; he refrains from dwelling on the sacking slowly,* against his own wishes and pre-conceptions, of Shiloh, on the destruction of the sanctuary, on the the conviction forced itself upon him that the whole awful scenes which evidently followed the taking of the existing system had become hopelessly unsound, and Ark in battle, and the death, through shame, of the aged the community would only be saved by a totally new Eli. It was a horror too great for the patriot scribe to organisation. dwell on. But Asaph, the psalmist, darkly speaks of this The historian, in simple, eloquent language, gives us dread period in his mournful poem, where it speaks so the picture of Samuel's inward struggles here, and eloquently of the time“when God greatly abhorred His relates how the noble-minded statesman, always under Israel, so that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh.” Divine guidance, founded the monarchy, chose a king, The psalmist draws with a few masterly strokes a vivid and quietly yielded up the supreme power in the State. picture of the utter desolation of the land-a prey to fire Nor was this all; in his long wanderings up and down and sword :
among the people, during the years of his toil in the “He was wroth,
course of his vast labour of religious restoration, he And greatly abhorred Israel : So that He rejected the tabernacle in Shiloh
had seen how deep was the ignorauce of the children The tent (which) He pitched among men.
of Israel. In the troublous days of the judges the And He gave His strength into captivity,
The And His beauty into the adversary's hand.
arts, music, poetry, history, were unknown. Yea, He gave over His people to the sword,
chosen race cared for none of these things. In matters And was wroth with His inheritance.
of religion a wild and gloomy superstition had taken Their young men the fire devoured, And their maidens were not praised in the marriage song.
the place of the pure and spiritual belief taught by Their priests fell by the sword,
Moses. To remedy this state of things, Samuel founded And their widows made no lamentation.”—Ps. lxxviii.
the schools of the prophets,t in order that, by their The memory of the awful disaster seems never to agency, the mental condition of the people might be have been lost in Israel. Far on in the history of the
raised, and men trained to serve God in Church and chosen people the prophet Jeremiah refers to this
State. In these schools the founder did not expect his terrible judgment, which inaugurates in so stern a students to receive the gift of inspiration. That, the manner the public career of Samuel : “For go now to most rare and precious of gifts, the great seer knew my place which was in Shiloh, where I made my name to
was to be obtained by no education or training, but dwell at the first, and see what I have done to it because was the gift of God alone, from whom it might como of the wickedness of my people Israel” (Jer. vii. 12. to a herdman, with only such learning as could be See also verse 14 and chap. xxvi. 6 of the same prophet). | picked up in a village (Amos vii. 14, 15); he knew
that it was never bestowed except for high purposes, 2. THE DAYS OF SAMUEL.—The prophet-scribe pro.
and in cases where there was a special internal fitness ceeds then to give an account of the times which im- on the part of the receiver. But the words prophet mediately succeed the catastrophe of Shiloh and the and prophecy have a wide meaning in Holy Scripture. death of Eli. In the period of the deepest degrada
The instruction was essentially free, was open to tion of the people (again to use Asaph's words in Ps. all comers, and, when educated, the prophet might lxxviii.), “the Lord awakened as one out of sleep,” and return to his farm, or to some occupation connected gave them Samuel. To the divinely-guided labours of
with city life. But he was from henceforth an educated this prophet-judge-no doubt, after Moses, the greatest man; and he had been taught too the nature of Jehoof the sons of Israel - was owing all the matchless vah: how He was to be worshipped, and what was the prosperity which the people enjoyed in the latter part life which every member of a covenant nation ought of David's life, and during the reign of his son Solomon.
to lead. Our historian -educated, no doubt, in one of Samuel's Thus Samuel's schools not only raised Israel to a prophet schools-gives us some account of the Restorer's
higher mental level, but were the great means of early days. Brought up by the high priest Eli, under maintaining the worship of Jehovah among the the shadow of the sanctuary at Shiloh, the child Samuel | people. As such, we find future prophets earnest in was early trained to love the glorious national traditions maintaining them. But the prophetic order had in of the past, and to share in the yet more glorious Samuel's mind another important function. It was to national hopes for the future. He was too-living as be a permanent public power alongside of the priesthe did at Shiloh-a sorrowful witness of the moral hood which already existed, and of the kingly office degradation of the lives of the foremost men of the land. which he, Samuel, had inaugurated. It was intended Their fatal example in Shiloh was but too faithfully especially to offer to the latter, when inclining to copied in all the coasts of Israel. He shared, too, in the tyranny, a powerful opposition, founded on the Divine terrible disaster which overwhelmed high priest and
Word." Throughout the history of Israel we find the sanctuary, and which threatened the total ruin of his prophetical order not merely the preachers of a high nation. From that sad day Samuel, the pupil of Eli, and pure morality, and a lofty, spiritual religion, but became the foremost man among the scattered and disorganised tribes. For long years he laboured with all
* Ewald, History of Israel, Book II., Section III., chap. iii. his great powers, ever helped with the consciousness -Samuel. that the Glorious Arm of the Holy One who loved
+ Dean Payne Smith, Introduction to the Book of Samuel
(Pulpit Comm.). Israel was beside him. For long years he laboured to i Dr. Erdmann in Lange, Introduction, Section IV.
we see in them “the tribunes of the people,” the pro- souls to himself; and with loving pen he lingers on tectors of the oppressed subjects against the despotic that infinite charm which the name “anointed of monarch, the steady defenders of the down-trodden Jehovah ” carried with it in all succeeding centuries, and poor against the exacting and covetous rich.
shows us how this strange and mighty kingly influence In one sense, they filled the position which the was first inspired by King Saul. The writer closes the priesthood ought to have occupied, had the representa- • Saul” division in chap. xiv. 47–52, where, as before, tives of that order done their duty, but who-as in the case of Samuel (chap. vii. 14–17), so now here, Samuel well knew, not only from the past sad history in the case of King Saul, he brings together everything of the period of the judges, but from his own personal that remains to be said in general about the first king observation at Shiloh during the life-time of Eli—had -his prowess, his wars, even his family and private been tried, and had been found miserably wanting.
matters. From this point forward another-David This was the first part of the prophetic historian's -is chosen as the true central figure of the national work. Up to 1 Sam. vii. 14, the life and work of history, round which all interest henceforth gathers. Samuel, the pupil of Eli, was his theme. Here a new And here a tinge of sadness characterises the great period in the story of Israel begins. The king—the national epic, for Saul, in spite of his great and heroic creation of Samuel—from henceforth fills the central qualities, fell short of his true destiny; in spite of his position: on him now all eyes are turned. The judge skill and valour, he failed to satisfy the invisible of Israel-Samuel --with dignified composure quits the Guardian of Israel. It is hard at this distance of office he had so well filled, and makes room for the time to trace the real causes which led to the fall, leader of the new Israel. In this place (chap. vii. 14—17) and to the final rejection of his house.
He seems, the historian summarily condenses all that had still to however, to have sickened with that strange sickness be said about Samuel, and in the succeeding chapters which so often among men is the result of supreme the great judge only fills the subordinate, but still im. power : the sickness of despotism—that terrible malady portant, position which he may be said to have created which has marred so many noble souls.
Saul forgot —that of chief of the prophetic order.
altogether the Glorious Arm which originally lifted him
up, and set him on his throne, and then fought for 3. THE DAYS OF SAUL.—The writer of our book now him, and strengthened him in all his ways. He ceased brings a new figure--King Saul-on the stage of his to hold communion with the Spirit of the Eternal God, history; round this personage, for some seven chapters, and so the Spirit left him. The writer then begins the whole interest centres. Already a considerable the fourth division of his history, in which the central change in the state of Israel has been effected during the figure is no longer Saul, but the new choice of the quarter of a century of Samuel's work and influence. Lord—the brave shepherd-boy, the loving friend of The people had been able to stem the tide of invasion Saul and his noble son Jonathan, the gallant chief, during that period; they had more than held their the king of the future--David, the son of Jesse. *
A feeling of national unity had once more been Throughout the remaining portion_of book created, and the tribes agreed to acknowledge the (1 Samuel),t the gradual ascent of David, through object of their loved prophet's choice as their king ; conflict and suffering, to the throne, along with the
in the first records of the new state of things slow heartrending descent of Saul, till his sorrowful under a king, we see the result of Samuel's toil in the death in battle, is the writer's theme. spirit of energy with which the people seconded the efforts of Saul to free the land from the enemy. The 4. THE DAYS OF DAVID.-In this First Book of chronicle of the years that followed is the chronicle Samuel we have only the memoirs of some of the early principally of wars--successful wars, on the whole. days of the mighty king, the days of his hard and painIsrael is depicted as slowly rising into a new inde. ful trials; but it was in these times that the foundation pendent position. One by one the great predatory stories of that character, loved of God, were laid. It tribes of the border lands, crushed and defeated, are was in the long wanderings with the ever-increasing driven back into their native deserts; the old nations band of his devoted men, who followed him in his exile, of Canaan, who had begun in good earnest during the that he first showed that firm and unshaken trust in the tronblous times of the judges to assert anew their Lord, who had chosen him out of the sheepfolds to be independence, fell again into servitude ; while the most His servan't--that simple, pure striving never to be dangerous of all—the warlike Philistines—had to con. untrue to Him—those longing efforts to return to Him tend no longer for supremacy, but for very existence. after error and transgression—the trust, the striving, Under the first king the military education of the and the efforts, which were the mainsprings of that people was completed. It has been in almost all ages chequered, but still glorious, golden-hued life. We customary to condemn the royal hero who led Israel see, too, in the prophet-scribe's selection of passages with such consummate skill and splendid valour during out of the first period of David's career in the First the restless years of those wars, necessary for the Book of Samuel), how deep and true was the enthusiasın existence of Israel as a distinct people; but this is by which the young chieftain kindled in all those Jewish no means the spirit of the writer of the book. He heroes who—driven from Saul's court by Saul's fatal represents Saul as a great hero, better fitted than any mistakes-rallied round the hero, the friend, and pupil of his contemporaries for the royal dignity-represents of Samuel. With rare power, by a few master-touches him as possessing warlike courage and skill, indomit- in the simple narrative, the scribe-writer shows us how able energy to push his conquests in all directions, a the name of David became dearer and ever dearer to sense of honour ever watchful for the welfare of his the people; and although the last chapter of our book people against their many and powerful foes, zeal and ends with the account of the great military disaster tenacity in carrying out his plans. He reiterates that, which closed the reign of Saul, the reader feels no under his successful generalship, a really heroic school of great warriors arose—the warriors who later formed and led the great conquering armies of David and
* Dr. Erdmann in Lange, Comm.: Introduction to the Book
of Samuel, Section IV. Solomon; he dwells on his power of attracting noble + Ewald, History of Israel, Book III.-B. David, I.