Wednesday, November 13, 2013

1 Samuel: The Making of a King

I’m baaaaack! We’re in the middle of the First Book of Samuel, and the Israelites are gonna get themselves a king.

In Samuel’s old age, his sons had become corrupt judges. The Israelites, being sick of this shit and of getting tromped on by the neighboring nations, decided that what they really needed was a king to unite them and see to the rule of law. So the elders of Israel went to Samuel and told him they wanted a king.

And why shouldn’t they? After all, Moses himself said in Deuteronomy 17 that they were permitted to put a king over them so long as he was an Israelite and God got to pick who he was.

Welllll, maybe Moses was talking out of his ass that day. Or maybe just because God says something is allowed doesn’t mean he’ll actually be happy when you do it. Because as it turns out, God is none too thrilled about the request. He basically tells Samuel that, by asking for a king in addition to all their disobedience since he first led them out of Egypt, Israel has rejected God. Therefore, while it’s OK for Samuel to appoint a king, he should first warn the Israelites that the guy God intends to pick is going to be a douchebag.

Samuel delivers the warning, including all kinds of details about the king conscripting people as soldiers, taking their produce, and making slaves of people, but the elders were still insistent on having a king. So Samuel tells them to go home, and he’ll let them know when he’s picked a king.

The narrative then switches to a Benjaminite man named Saul, who is supposed to be the handsomest man in Israel in addition to being a full head taller than anybody else. Saul’s father has lost some donkeys, so he sends the young man and his servant to go and find them. And they travel all over hell and gone looking fruitlessly for the animals. After a few days having no luck, Saul tells his servant that it’s time to give up and go home. But the servant had heard that a man of God (who would turn out to be Samuel) was in the nearby city, and suggests they should go and ask him where to go to find their donkeys.

So they head into the city, where they meet Samuel coming out on his way to a feast. And God tells Samuel that Saul is the guy he’s picked to be anointed king and to save the Israelites from the Philistines. So Samuel greets Saul in a friendly manner, tells him that his donkeys have been found and returned to his father (presumably God told him, though this is never mentioned), and invites Saul to join him at the feast. There, he seats Saul at the head table, and sets aside a choice portion of the meat for him.

Saul spends the night at Samuel’s house, and in the morning Samuel has Saul send his servant on ahead so he can talk to him privately before he leaves. And in this private conversation, Samuel anoints Saul with oil and tells him that God has chosen him to be the king. He further explains that on his way home Saul will experience a bunch of signs to prove that Samuel is telling the truth. These include meeting some dudes who’ll tell him his donkeys were found, some other dudes who’ll give him some bread, and finally some prophets. Upon meeting said prophets…

1 Sam 10:6 ‘Then the Spirit of Yahweh will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.’”

After explaining these signs, Samuel tells Saul to then go wait seven days at Gilgal for Samuel to come tell him what to do from there.

1 Sam 10:9 When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day.”

Now, there’s a reason I chose to quote those passages. They are explicitly stating that God is going to fundamentally alter Saul’s character. Now I suppose some of you may be ready to say “Great! Saul opened himself to God’s love and had his heart changed! That’s just what we’re talking about!”


There’s something missing here. And that something would be Saul’s consent. See, at no point in the narrative is Saul asked if he wants to become king or be transformed by God, and neither is one word ever said about his agreeing to or wanting any of this. He’s just a dude who was trying to help his dad by finding some missing donkeys.

And if you recall where this post started off, God didn’t promise to give Israel a good king. He promised to give them a douchebag king. We already know that Saul is destined to be the villain of this story, and now we’re told that it all starts with God fundamentally changing his character from the man he otherwise would have been.

I’ve read ahead a little bit, and I can tell you that Saul is headed for some unhappy times. He enjoys some military success against Israel’s enemies for a bit, but after that he descends into madness, torment, humiliation, betrayal of and by those he loves, and finally an ignominious death. All because of the man God turns him into, not the man he actually was.

But hey, David makes out great! We’ll get into the details starting with the next post. In the meantime, you all be well!

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