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THE HEBREW THEOCRACY, UNDER JUDGES.
FTER Moses, and until David arose, it would be
difficult to select any man who rendered greater services to the Israelitish nation than Samuel. He does not stand out in history as a man of dazzling intellectual qualities; but during a long life he efficiently labored to give to the nation political unity and power, and to reclaim it from idolatries. He was both a political and moral reformer, — an organizer of new forces, a man of great executive ability, a judge and a prophet. He made no mistakes, and committed no crimes. In view of his wisdom and sanctity it is evident that he would have adorned the office of highpriest; but as he did not belong to the family of Aaron, this great dignity could not be conferred on him. His character was reproachless. He was, indeed, one of the best men that ever lived, universally revered while living, and equally mourned when he died. He ruled the nation in a great crisis, and his influence was irresistible, because favored alike by God and man.
Samuel lived in one of the most tumultuous and unsettled periods of Jewish history, when the nation was in a transition state from anarchy to law, from political slavery to national independence. When he appeared, there was no settled government; the surrounding nations were still unconquered, and had reduced the Israelites to humiliating dependence. Deliverers had arisen occasionally from the time of Joshua, - like Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson, — but their victories were not decisive or permanent. Midianites, Amorites, and Philistines successively oppressed Israel, from generation to generation ; they even succeeded in taking away their weapons of war. Resistance to this tyranny was apparently hopeless, and the nation would have sunk into despair but for occasional providential aid. The sacred ark was for a time in the hands of enemies, and Shiloh, the religious capital, — abode of the tabernacle and the ark, — had been burned. Every smith's forge where a sword or a spear-head could be rudely made was shut up, and the people were forced to go to the forges of their oppressors to get even their ploughshares sharpened.
On the death of Joshua (about 1350 B. C.), who had succeeded Moses and led the Israelites into Canaan, “nearly the whole of the sea-coast, all the strongholds in the rich plain of Esdraelon, and, in the heart of the country, the invincible fortress of Jebus [later site of Jerusalem], were still in the hands of the unbelievers.” The conquest therefore was yet imperfect, like that of the Christianized Saxons in the time of Alfred over the pagan Danes in England. The times were full of peril and fear. They developed the military energies of the Israelites, but bred license, robbery, and crime, – a wild spirit of personal independence unfavorable to law and order. In those days “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” It was a period of utter disorder, anarchy, and lawlessness, like the condition of Germany and Italy in the Middle Ages. The persons who bore rule permanently were the princes or heads of the several tribes, the judges, and the highpriest; and in that primitive state of society these dignitaries rode on asses, and lived in tents. The virtues of the people were rough, and their habits warlike. Their great men were fighters. Samson was a sort of Hercules, and Jephthah an Idomeneus, –a lawless freebooter. The house of Micah was like a feudal castle; the Benjamite war was like the strife of Highland clans. Jael was a Hebrew Boadicea; Gideon, at the head of his three hundred men, might have been a hero of mediæval romance.
The saddest thing among these social and political evils was a great decline of religious life. The priesthood was disgraced by the prevailing vices of the times. The Mosaic rites may have been technically observed, but the officiating priests were sensual and worldly, while gross darkness covered the land. The high-priests exercised but a feeble influence; and even Eli could not, or did not, restrain the glaring immoralities of his own sons. In those evil days there were no revelations from Jehovah, and there was no divine vision among the prophets. Never did a nation have greater need of a deliverer.
It was then that Samuel arose, and he first appears as a pious boy, consecrated to priestly duties by a remarkable inother. His childhood was passed in the sacred tent of Shiloh, as an attendant, or servant, of the aged high-priest, or what would be called by the Catholic Church an acolyte. He belonged to the great tribe of Ephraim, being the son of Elkanah, of whom nothing is worthy of notice except that he was a polygamist. His mother Hannah (or Anna), however, was a Hebrew Saint Theresa, almost a Nazarite in her asceticism and a prophetess in her gifts; her song of thanksgiving on the birth of Samuel, for a special answer to her prayer, is one of the most beautiful remains of Hebrew poetry. From his infancy Samuel was especially dedicated to the service of God. He was not a priest, since he did not belong to the priestly caste; but the Lord was with him, and raised