« הקודםהמשך »
goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. And he will take the tenth of your sheep; and ye shall be his servants. And ye will cry out in that day because of your king which ye have chosen you, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.”
Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “ Nay, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.” It would thus appear that the monarchy which the people sought would necessarily become nearly absolute, limited only by the will of God as interpreted by priests and prophets,- for the theocracy was not to be destroyed, but still maintained as even superior to the royal authority. The future king was to be supreme in affairs of state, in the direction of armies, in the appointment of captains and commanders, in the general superintendence of the realm in worldly matters; but he could not go contrary to the divine commands as they would be revealed to him, without incurring a fearful penalty. He could not interfere with the functions of the priesthood under any pretence whatever; and further, he was required to rule on principles of equity and immutable justice. He could not repel the divine voice, whether it spake to his consciousness or was revealed to him by divinely commissioned prophets, without the certainty of divine chastisement. Thus was his power limited, even by invisible forces superior to his own; for Jehovah had not withdrawn his special jurisdiction over the chosen people for whom he was preparing a splendid destiny, — that is, through them, the redemption of the world.
Whether the people of Israel did not believe the predictions of the prophet, or wished to have a kingly government in spite of its evils, in order to become more powerful as a nation, we do not know. All that we know is that they persisted in their demand, and that God granted their request. With all the memories and traditions of their slavery in the land of Egypt, and the grinding despotism incident to an absolute monarchy of which their ancestors bore witness, they preferred despotism with its evils to the independence they had enjoyed under the Judges; for nationality, to which the Jewish people were casting longing eyes, demands law and order as the first condition of society. In obedience to this same principle the grinding monarchy of Louis XIV. seemed preferable to the turbulence and anarchy of the Middle Ages, since unarmed and obscure citizens felt safe in their humble avocations. In like manner, after the license of the French Revolution the people said, “Give us a king once more !” and seated Napoleon on the throne of the Bourbons, — a ruler who took one man out of every five adults to recruit his armies and consolidate his power, which he called the glory of France. Thus kings have reigned by the will of the people, – or, as they call it, by the grace of God, — from Saul and David to our own times, except in those few countries where liberty is preferred to material power and military laurels.
The peculiar situation of the Israelites in a narrow strip of territory which was the highway between Syria and Egypt, likely to be overrun by Aramæans, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians, to say nothing of the hostile nations which surrounded them, such as Moabites and Philistines, necessarily made them a warlike people (like the inhabitants of the Swiss Cantons five or six hundred years ago), and they were hence led to put a high estimate on military qualities, especially on the general who led them to battle. They accordingly desired a greater centralized power than the Judges wielded, which could be exercised only by a king, intrenched in a strong capital. Their desire for a king was natural, and almost excusable if they were willing to pay the inevitable price. They simply wished to surrender liberty for protection and political safety. They did not repudiate the fundamental doctrine of their religion; they simply wanted a change of government, - a more efficient administration.
The selection of a king did not rest with the people,
however, but with the great prophet who had ruled them with so much wisdom and ability, and who was regarded as the interpreter of the will of God.
Samuel, by the direction of God, did not go into the powerful tribe of Ephraim, which possessed one half of the Israelitish territory, to select a sovereign, but to the smallest of the tribes, that of Benjamin, — the most warlike, however, — and to one of the least of the families of that tribe, dwelling in very humble life. Kish, the Benjamite, had sent out his son Saul in quest of three asses which had strayed away from the farm, — a man so poor that he had no money to give to the seer who should direct his search, as was customary, and was obliged to borrow a quarter of a shekel from his servant when they went together to seek the counsel of Samuel. But this obscure youth was “a choice young man, and a goodly.” He had a commanding presence, was very beautiful, and was head and shoulders taller than any other man of his tribe, -- a man every way likely to succeed in war. Samuel no sooner saw the commanding figure and intelligent countenance of Saul than he was assured that this was the man whom the Lord had chosen to be the future captain and champion of Israel. He at once treated him with distinguished honor, and made him sit at his own table, much to the amazement of the thirty nobles who also were bidden to a banquet. The prophet took
the young man aside, conducted him to the top of his house, anointed him with the sacred oil, kissed him (a form of allegiance), and communicated to him the will of God. But Saul was only privately consecrated, and with rare discretion told no man of his good fortune, - for he had not yet distinguished himself in any way, and would have been laughed to scorn by his relatives, as Joseph was by his brothers, had he revealed his destiny.
Nor did Samuel dare to tell the people of the man whom the Lord had chosen to rule over them, but assembled all the tribes, that the choice might be publicly indicated. Probably to their astonishment the little tribe of Benjamin was “ taken,” – that is pointed out, presumably by lot, as was their custom when appealing for divine direction ; and out of the tribe of Benjamin the family of Matri was chosen, and Saul the son of Kish was selected. But Saul could not be found. With rare modesty and humility he had hidden himself. When at length they brought hiin from his hiding-place Samuel said unto the people, “ See ye him whom the Lord hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people !” And such was the authority of Samuel that the people shouted, saying, “God save the king!” -- a circumstance interesting as being the first recorded utterance of a cry that has been echoed the world over by many a loyal people..