Bible Commentator

Messengers of God: A Theological And Psychological Perspective

Moshe Reiss

Samuel and Saul

Saul and David

Saul and David by He Qi

‘When Samuel was born, she [Hannah] said words of Torah,/ For this lad I prayed./ When he grew up and did the deeds of his life,/she asked, For this lad I prayed?’. (Yehuda Amichai 1 )

Saul, the first king of Israel, is a tragic figure.  Why should the first king of the chosen people, chosen by God and his prophet Samuel be a tragic figure? He had the potential for greatness and the seeds of self destruction. Was Saul’s character flawed or was he fated to be tragic?  Why would God choose a flawed  figure as  His choice for the first King of Israel? God’s great prophet, judge and high priest, at the time is Samuel; what role does he play in this tragedy? Can one say of Saul that he was fated to be a tragic figure?  The Greeks believed in fate and therefore that Oedipus could not avoid his fate. Shakespearean tragedies are different from Greek tragedies. In Shakespearean tragedies the protagonist may be fated but he has choices. Some may be more fated than others.

One such figures is Othello, the Moor of Venice written by William Shakespeare. Othello appears to be the victim of his own character flaws.

Othello, is chosen Commander of the Venetian armed forces and declares Cassio as his assistant. Iago had expected to be appointed as second in command and seeks revenge. Othello then falls in love with a Senator’s daughter, Desdemona and secretly marries her. Othello, naive of Iago’s character, puts Desdemona in his care, during his battle with the Turks. Iago tells his friend Roderigo who is also in love with Desdemona, that she is in love with Cassio. Iago tells Roderigo that if he kills Cassio, he, Iago will arrange for Desdemona to love him. Iago aware of Othello’s flaw,  jealousy, manipulates his own friend Roderigo, and Othello’s associate Cassius to destroy Othello. Iago convinces Othello, by manufacturing evidence that Cassio and Desdemona are lovers.  Othello kills Desdemona and them himself.  Before his suicide he declares “Who can control his fate”? But Othello’s tragedy is not fated. It is based on his own character flaws and the machinations of the most evil figure in Shakespearean literature, Iago. His own jealousy and his naivety toward the evil Iago, destroyed him. Othello commits suicide as does Saul - the only such figure in the Bible. 2

Is Othello with his character flaws a tragic figure? Can one compare Saul and Samuel to Othello and Iago. Othello and Saul both suffer from identical  character flaws:  jealousy, naiveté and rigidity.  Can one compare Samuel and Iago as orchestrators of the respective tragedies?  It does not require Samuel to be evil as is Iago. Or is Saul fated to his tragic end. What can fated mean in a religious text? If so what is the role of God in the Saul/Samuel tragedy?

Samuel is an enigma. He is  to replace a High Priest, but he is not a priest and the priestly family  he is to replace is not, in fact replaced (I Sam. 14:3; I Kings 2:26-27). According to his mother’s song he was to be an anointed king, yet he anoints a king who is a failure. In I Samuel he is the anointer of David, but in Chronicles he almost does not exist. In the Psalms (and according to himself) he is comparable to Moses.

Samuel’s life coincided with an era of political transition for the Israelites who forced a change from a judgeship system of government to monarchy. These changes began while Samuel reigned as Judge. But before he replaced the judgeship system, he replaced the importance of the priesthood with the system of Prophecy. He made the Prophet more important than the Judge and then he tried to make it more important than the kingship.

He was the last of the judges, the first of a series of Prophets and eliminates (to some degree) the growing power of the Priesthood. And he anointed the first King, Saul and Saul’s successor David.  Samuel himself consolidated the power of judgehood, priesthood and prophecy. Of the leaders beginning with Moses through Samuel and to the end of Biblical history, none held all three positions. Moses was a judge and prophet. Not even Moses, the greatest of the prophets was  high priest. Could Samuel’s rejection by the people have been a rejection of tyranny or potential tyranny? All of the major judges 3 arose as saviors when Israel was attacked by enemies. Between the major judges and even within  the rule of some individual judges the political system was instable. None of the Judges succeeded in uniting the tribes and competition among the tribes for leadership was frequent.  Political power was diffused  and the judgeship system was inherently discontinuous. The judgeship system of government consisted of a loose federation of twelve tribes. The unifying factor in this federation was their belief that God had conferred upon them a covenant via their biological father Abraham and their spiritual father Moses. The covenant was symbolized by the Ark at Shiloh.

Neither Samuel nor Eli (his predecessor) were typical of the major Judges. Both acted as High Priests and men of God and at times as military leaders.  Both attempted to have their sons succeed them. A previous attempt at continuity after the Judge Gideon had failed, when Gideon refused to become king and the attempts by his sons to create an hereditary system failed.

When Samuel’s sons failed as leaders the elders saw the system of discontinuity returning. They demanded a monarchy. They would solve the problems of continuity,  of unifying the tribes and of a creating and maintaining a professional army. This was to be a system of centralized power. The people saw that the neighboring kingdoms had a monarchical system and they continually invaded Israel. Were they asking to follow the idolatrous  neighborhood kingdoms?

In a battle against the Philistines, the Ark was brought by the Israelites from Shiloh to the battle ground, to protect their soldiers. The army of Israelites lost the battle (30,000 soldiers died) and for the first time ever the Ark was lost - captured by the Philistines. Later Samuel defeated the Philistines and recovered the Ark, but it was never returned to Shiloh. The capturing of the Ark must have been a traumatic event in early Israel history. The `house’ which contained the Ark was destroyed. This destruction appears to be one of the most under reported traumatic events in Jewish history. (This was actually the First Temple – why was it so unreported?) We know of the `house’ because Eli, the High Priest and his apprentice Samuel lived there. `Eli was lying down in his room  . . .  and Samuel was lying in YHVH’s sanctuary, where the Ark of God was’ (I Sam. 3:2-3). We only hear of the destruction of the `house’ four hundred years later. According  to Jeremiah God threatened to destroy the  `First’ Temple as he had destroyed Shiloh. Now go to the place which used to be mine at Shiloh  . . .  I shall  treat this Temple that bears my name  . . .  just as I treated Shiloh (Jer. 7:12,14). And again `I shall treat this Temple as I treated Shiloh, and make this city [Jerusalem] a curse for all the nations of the world’ (Jer. 26:6).

The capture of the Ark and the destruction of its `house’ may have suggested the failure of the judgeship system.  Within less than a generation David was anointed as King of the combined tribes - the United Kingdom of Israel. He captured Jerusalem and installed the Ark (which had been  ignored for thirty years) to Jerusalem. 

By the time of  King Solomon the Israelites political system had completely changed.  The tribes were united. The king  was almost a  secular monarch, the Temple was built and a cultic priesthood installed and a prophetic system expressed God wishes to the people. A professional army was installed and continuity guaranteed. It soon failed as the northern tribes separated from Judah. The period beginning with Samuel was the beginning of this political revolution. Samuel represented the old order and saw himself representing God and His kingdom. Saul represented the new order, partially of secular power, certainly an at centralized government at least as seen by Samuel. Samuel  reacted poorly to this revolutionary change in the form of government.

Was Samuel defending the old order against the new order represented by Saul and/or was he defending his position when his sons were rejected? Saul, the first King of Israel can be seen as a tragic figure. Was the tragedy of Saul due to flaws in his character? As we will see, Saul’s character flaws included jealousy, rigidity and naiveté. Samuel was the judge/priest/prophet who reluctantly anointed him as King. Their lives became intertwined in a negative symbiosis. Samuel is the only man who attempted to be judge/priest and prophet. He did not see the need for a monarchy (see chapters 8; 10:10-17; 12) but he, nevertheless anointed Saul (9; 10:1-16) and saw Saul’s victory (chapter 11). Perhaps he would have liked to see Saul fail. Saul, given his flaws,  seemed an odd choice for the first King of the united tribes of Israel.

Both protagonists, Saul and Samuel, are flawed and  die as failures. Samuel mother called him a borrowed  gift from God and she was his surrogate mother; a powerful combination. Samuel’s failure is very different than Saul’s. Samuel failed to prevent a monarchy developing but was involved with its failure. Saul name means borrowed, we do not know his mothers name and as we will see his father treats his adult son as if we were a servant. He is a borrowed personality and has no core identity. He seems fated to fail.

The Book of Samuel begins by describing Samuel’s father. Elkanah lives in  the hill country of Ephraim ... and is an Ephratite (I Sam. 1:1) . There is nothing in the text of Samuel suggesting that Elkanah is a Levi. (Priests are required to be of the tribe of Levi and descendants of Aaron, Moses’ brother and the first High Priest.) He is never noted as assisting the Priest, he is described as an Ephratite. In the Book I Chronicles  he is called a Levi (I Chron. 6:6).  Why is Samuel is never called a High Priest, although he acts as one, being in charge of the sacrifices?  Is this because Samuel usurped the High Priesthood and the Book of Chronicles  seen by most  commentators as Davidic  propaganda   needed some justification for the anointer of David?

Elkanah had two wives, one Peninah who had children and the second Hannah who was barren of children.  Elkanah loved Hannah despite her childlessness.  4 He gave her a  special portion of the sacrifice as symbol of his love. Peninah recognizing that she is not as beloved as Hannah, humiliates Hannah for her barrenness.  Elkanah, for his part loves her as a person despite her barrenness. By telling her that he loves her more than ten sons, he is establishing her personhood regardless of her value as the mother of sons. 5  But Elkanah did not understand her anguish and she cannot answer him. A loving husband is not a substitute for one child and certainly not for ten children. 6 Jacob who loved Rachel, also did not understood the anguish of a barren woman. Is it possible for a man with children to understand his wife without children? 7 Hannah is not called a barren woman, but a woman who had no children because God closed her womb. Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Samson’s unnamed mother are called barren women. Sarah suggests Hagar to Abraham 8, Rebekah simply waits not knowing Isaac has prayed for her, Rachel goes to Jacob seeking death if he can supply motherhood to her. Samson’s mother hears an angel. Hannah goes directly to God. She is God-infused.

Hannah prayed silently (the first silent private prayer noted in the Bible 9) asking God for a special son. 10 She volunteers  to let no razor touch his hair, making him a qualified ‘Nazir’. 11. (The Dead Sea Scroll and the Septuagint refer to Samuel as a Nazarite. 12) Hannah then says `I will give him to You God for all the days of his life’ (1:11).  Eli, the High Priest,  first thinks she was drunk, but upon hearing her prayer tells Hannah her wish will be granted.

What kind of mother would  ask for a son - a special son- and then say she will give him back to God?  Sarah received a special son in her old age, and God asked for him back in the akeda of Isaac.  Abraham did not tell his wife Sarah of God’s request, because she would have refused. If fact when, according to Jewish Midrashim, she heard about the akeda from Satan she instantly died of shock. Hannah did not discuss this request of her’s with her husband Elkanah.

Samson’s mother was told by an angel that she should not  drink intoxicating wine and she would have a child; and not to cut his hair and that he shall be a Nazir. Both of these barren women are told they will have a child after a period of barrenness and they are not to cut the child’s hair. Neither is told that the child is not to drink although that is the requirement for a Nazir. But one of the mother’s (Hannah) is accused of being a drunk and the other told that she should  not to drink. A comparison is being made between Samuel and Samson. Both names begin with the same first two Hebrew letters, `shin’ and `mem’. These spell the word `name’ an alternative use of the name of God. Both are introduced with the phrase ‘And there was a man’ (I Sam. 9:1 and Jud. 13:2), both are warriors and both die of their own hands. 13

Hannah indeed gives birth to a son and names him Samuel because `I asked the Lord for him’ (1:20). The Hebrew word ‘Sha’ul’ means asked for or borrowed, which is in fact the Hebrew name of Saul.  When she brings him to the priest Eli to consecrate  him to God she says: `For this child I prayed and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him what I asked from him [or borrowed from him]. And I too give him back to the Lord for all his life, borrowed to the Lord’ (1:27-28). The word `Sha’ul’ appears, in various grammatical variations, four times.  The text uses an interesting play on the word `Sha’ul’. Hannah could be construed to say I am this child’s surrogate mother for God and I now return him to God for he is God’s special son. The text suggests a dual ownership of the `gift’ child between God and Hannah. 14  When Samson’s mother is told my an angel that she will conceive she tells her husband ‘I asked not from whence he came’ (sha’lta’hu) (Jud. 13:6) and when her husband Manoah asked the angel his name he said ‘why do ask my name which is a secret’ (tish’al), another connection from Saul and Samson. Later on (chapter 8) the people will ask for a king. Paradoxically Sha’ul - this king -  eventually becomes Samuel’s great protagonist. So the question remains why was, Samuel named Samuel and not Sha’ul? 15 Is Saul the one asked for; is a king asked for and not a prophet? If Saul is a failure as king is Samuel a failure as prophet? Is the author telling us that Samuel was scheduled to be the first King, but the plot went awry?  16 Was the dual ownership of this ‘gift’  for a prophet or a king? Who was to be `the anointed one’ to whom Hannah refers to in the last verse of her song of Thanksgiving  - an apparent prefiguring of the anointed king? (2:10) Did Hannah remain in Shiloh to protect her ownership? ‘And Elkanah went to Ramah to his house’ (2: 11), Elkanah not Hannah.

Elkanah asked Hannah to go to Shiloh to the yearly sacrifice, she says not until I am ready to give Samuel to Eli. Elkanah says `do as you wish ... may God do His wish’ (1 Sam. 1:23).  What does Elkanah mean by his odd statement?  Does  Elkanah resent Hannah giving away their son?  Does he realize that he has lost his son to God? Abraham agreed to sacrifice his son Isaac, did anyone ask Elkanah? 17

Hannah delivered her son, Samuel to Eli. The text the states that ‘ha’na’ar’ ‘no’ar’. The word ‘ha’na’ar’ means the youngster and ‘no’ar’ is of the same root with slightly different punctuation(1:24). What is the double use of the  word `na’ar’? We do not know at what age she weaned him or how long she raised and educated him. He was apparently more than a child but less than an adult, a youngster.  The double `na’ar’ can mean he was a youngster who acted as a youngster.  A Midrash explains the double use of `na’ar’ by saying that Samuel saw people waiting for Eli to prepare the sacrifice. Samuel told them they did not need a Priest to prepare the sacrifice, they could do it on their own. Eli later confirmed that according to halakhah (Jewish law) Samuel was correct but he thought they should have waited out of respect. 18 As we will see in chapter 13, Saul is punished by being deprived of his kingdom  because he did not await Samuel and prepared a sacrifice himself.  It is ironic that Samuel was permitted to be disrespectful to the High Priest and judge Eli,  although remaining  within the law but when the King of Israel was disrespectful to Samuel, the High priest/judge/ prophet, but also remaining within the law,  it is a sin against God.  His kingdom is taken away (1 Sam. 13:13-14).

Hannah  leaves her son Samuel with the  song or hymn described as being written by Hannah.) 19  (It has similarities to David’s hymn of praise in 2 Samuel 22, and also resembles  some of David’s Psalms. Was this written by one of David’s song writers or even David himself? 20

Hannah reads or sings this hymn as she leaves Samuel to Eli. It symbolizes how she raised him.  And she raised him to youngster-hood (na’ar) not just until  childhood. She tells him God gave him to her, that she is his surrogate mother for God and she gives him back to God, God the Rock. 21 (1 Sam. 1:27-28) That he is the horn of God (1 Sam. 2:1) her  deliverance and his  birth was her power.  She talks about the barren woman having seven children (verse 7) and is saying he is the equivalent of seven children. Did Pennina have seven children or have ten children as noted by Elkanah (1 Sam. 1:8). Hannah eventually gives birth to a total of six children including Samuel,  thus she is not referring to her own children, but saying that Samuel is the equivalent to seven children. Her husband had compared her to ten sons (the Ten Commandments?) when she was barren (1 Sam. 1:8). Both numbers have symbolic meaning in Judaism, but seven, the number of days God created the world is more significant.  She then tells him that he is God’s anointed (verse 10), his equivalent king. She raised him to believe in his own grandiosity. She did not raise him to be humble like his model Moses.

We are now introduced to  Eli’s two sons and they are compared to Samuel. The remainder of chapter 2 and chapter 3 we have a series of interspersed verses criticizing Eli’s sons and conversely praising the goodness of Samuel.

‘The child [Samuel] did minister to the Lord’ (2:11). `The sons of Eli were wicked and they knew not the Lord’ (2:12).  ‘But Samuel ministered before the Lord’ (2:18)  and even wore an ephod, the robe of a Priest. Hannah, his mother  brought him a new robe each year, perhaps  the ephod.  And Samuel grew before the Lord’ (2:21)  Eli disciplines and rebukes his sons but they fail to listen (verses 22-25). Again, `Samuel, grew in esteem and favor both with God and with men’ (2:26). A `man of God ‘ (an Angel)  comes and tells Eli his  sons are evil and as a result they will all die on the same day 22  and his house will be destroyed.   God will raise a faithful Priest (inferring Samuel, but not named) who will do His wishes (2:35). This section concludes `Young Samuel was in the service of the Lord under Eli’ ( 3:1).

This series of statements about the evil of Eli’s two sons and the goodness of the young Samuel  presents an interesting paradox. We later discover Samuel’s own two sons are engaged in evil. His inability to control his sons parallels Eli’s failure with his sons. Eli’s house is destroyed because of his inability to control his sons. What fate awaits Samuel’s house? If Samuel’s house can be construed to include the first king he anointed - Saul - one may conclude that he is as great a  failure as was Eli.

In chapter 3 Samuel experiences his first vision of God. The Lord called out to Samuel. Samuel mistaking the voice for Eli went to Eli’s bedroom, but Eli said I have not called. This occurs twice more. Then  Eli says if it happens again say `Speak Lord, for your servant is listening ( 3:9). 23  When Samuel hears the voice again he  responds `Speak, for your servant is listening’.  Samuel remembers the form yet omits the essential word, that he is addressing God. He could not remember the five words (in Hebrew) that Eli told him and left out `Lord’ (3:10). 24 As we shall hear, this is only the beginning of Samuel’s inability to listen.  God tells Samuel what the angel had told Eli the day before.  And reluctantly Samuel tells Eli what he had already heard from the voice of God.  Once again, after hearing of the evil of Eli’s sons we read `the Lord revealed Himself to Samuel’ (21).

We are then told of a war in which Eli’s sons die and when Eli, 98 years old, hears of his sons death he dies. The next four chapters involve wars, the loss of the Ark and how the Ark travels and plagues the enemies of God. At the end Samuel humbled the Philistines. The Ark was returned to Kiryat Yearim, but is never returned to Shiloh nor used again in Samuel’s  lifetime.

‘Samuel grew old and he appointed his sons judges over Israel’ (8:1). Samuel seems ready to retire and appointed his sons as his successors. Judges have not appointed their sons as successors since this would create a dynastic rule. Why does Samuel believe he the right to appoint his sons as his successors?  When Gideon, a very successful Judge was asked by the people to become an hereditary ruler he refused.  Perhaps Samuel recognized the problems inherent in a lack of continuity, which as we shall see the people recognize. But he chose his sons (Joel and Abijah) which we are told are evil.25  They took bribes. The  Elders assembled and declared your sons are not like you. We have been told three times of Eli’s evil sons  26 and Eli being held responsible for his sons’ behavior. This has been interspersed with information about the goodness of Samuel. The sudden statement regarding Samuel’s sons is shocking.  Is Samuel equally responsible for his sons as Eli was for his? Eli’s dynasty was flawed due to his flawed children, are Samuel’s equally flawed?

Besides rejecting Samuel’s sons as judges, the elders declare that they need a king `like all other nations’ (8:5). It may not be the sons of Samuel that are the real problem, but the inadequacy of the judgeship system. 27 Does, being like other nations, mean believing in local gods as other people do? Not necessarily, in Deuteronomy where the commandment to have a king is first revealed, God  states that  `I will set a king over [you] as do all the nations about me’ (Deut. 17:14). God’s concern is idolatry as he states to Samuel (8:8). The people want continuity, unification and a professional army. This they perceive as the components of nationhood, being a nation like other nations.

Samuel experiences their demand for a king as a personal rejection. Does he see himself as being asked to demote himself, to remove his judgeship power? This despite that several times in the Book of Judges we have been told ‘In those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did as he saw fit’ (Jud. 17:6;18:1; and 19:1) including the last verse of Judges (21:25).  God tries to assuage Samuel’s pain by telling him it is He the people rejected not Samuel. That God is assuaging Samuel is transparent. The people are not rejecting God, but requesting what had been promised them. It is the judgeship system the people are rejecting. The people argue that they need a king to fight their wars (8:20).  Samuel prays to God, no doubt to reject the peoples’ request. God then tells Samuel to heed the people (8:7). God repeats this to Samuel `heed their demand’ (8:10), but tell them to avoid idolatry and tell them of the laws of kingship. Moses told the people in the desert that they could have a king after they arrived in the promised land (Deut. 17:14-20). Moses then told them of the laws of kingship. First the king is not to economically oppress the people by keeping many horses, wives and silver and gold. Secondly the king must keep the scroll of the law at hand, he must study it, read it and obey it, for it is the word of God. When Samuel informed the people of the conditions of the law, he emphasized to them that a king may  be a tyrant. He will be permitted to take your sons into his army, confiscate your property and even lay claims to your daughters to be his slaves. He does not tell them of the need for the king to study and keep the law. He neglects to tell them of God’s concern about their turning to idolatry.  Samuel was attempting to dissuade the people, through the potential of economic and physical burdens, from their desire for a King. The text tells us Samuel `reported all the words of the Lord to the people’  (8:10).  However despite God telling him twice to heed the people Samuel fails to tell the people that God considers their request for a king (to be a `nation like other nations’) as potentially idolatrous (1 Sam. 8:8), but that He has reluctantly agreed to this request. It is paradoxically God whom they may be rejecting who agrees to the people’s request, while Samuel refuses (for the time being) to be the king-maker. Nevertheless, the people reject Samuel’s fear mongering and say we want to be like other nations and have a King to fight our battles. God comes again to Samuel and in addition to saying `Heed their demand’ as God has told him twice,  adds the concrete instruction `appoint a king for them’ (8:22). God may not endorse their demand but He does not reject it. Let them live with their choice. Samuel, however, does not listen to God or the people’s voices.  Samuel’s inaction to the word of God and to the people who asked him to `appoint’ (8:5) and `give us a king’ (8:6) appears as obstructive and self serving.  In fact Samuel tells them to go home and fails to relay the message that God approved their request.

Saul is introduced as the most handsome and tallest man in Israel. His father Kish, a rich man, lost some asses.  He tells Saul to take a  servant and go find them. Saul is not a young man, he  has an adult son Jonathan whom we shall meet shortly. Why not send only a servant - it is only a few asses? Saul  is obedient, perhaps the servile son of a powerful father. After searching for awhile Saul says to his servant let us return home or father will worry about us. Is there no way of sending  message to his father that they are OK.?   The servant says there is a man of God in town let us talk to him. We have been told earlier that Samuel traveled all Israel and judged ( 7:16) and spoke `to the whole House of Israel’ ( 7:3) and yet Saul does not know of  the seer, only the servant seems to know of his existence and whereabouts. Saul says but what can we bring him; we cannot go empty handed. I have nothing what do you have? Does one need money to ask of a seer? The servant tell Saul he has  1/4 shekel. The servant is knowledgeable and decisive (and carries the money), Saul appear as a passive peasant with a servile personality even to his own servant. He reminds us of Eliezer, Abraham’s servant who is required to find Isaac a wife.)

Saul and his servant  meet some young girls and asks whether the seer is in town.  Yes he is right ahead. Hurry and you will find him by  the altar. You will find him right away. Even young girls know about the seer.

One day earlier God told Samuel I will send you a king tomorrow.  As soon as Samuel saw Saul, God said this is the man. Saul approaches and says where is the seer? Samuel says I am the seer.  The peasant Saul does not recognize the seer and the seer needs God’s direct statement to recognize the future king. As we shall see later when Samuel chooses a son of Jesse as king he chooses the wrong son, he indeed needs God to point out to him who is the chosen one.

Why does the narrator present Saul, the  King-elect of Israel as a naive servile  peasant? His servant is more aggressive, Saul is ignorant of the seer and even after the girls tell him he is there he does not see  the seer.

Samuel says to Saul we are all awaiting you. Why Me?  Samuel responds `and to whom does all the gift  in Israel belong? Is it not to you and to your father’s house?’ (1 Sam.  9:20) This Delphic-like statement is Samuel’s notification to Saul that he is destined to be the first King of Israel. Samuel invites Saul to a special dinner. Samuel sits Saul at the head of the table and Saul is given a special portion of the meat. 

Samuel takes a  vial of oil and anoints the  King-elect. 28 Saul is anointed as ‘Nagid’ (ruler) 29 (10:1) not as King ‘Melech’ which is what God instructed him (8:22). While the difference between ‘Nagid’ and king is unclear in ancient Israel, God’s instructions were clear. Among the future events, Samuel tells Saul  is that he will meet a band of Prophets and he should  prophesy with them. Saul, will thus become the only king of Israel (or Judah) to be a king/prophet. Did Samuel do so to ensure  that he, as Chief prophet, would still be in charge and  Saul be subservient? Given what we know of Saul and Samuel it would be difficult for the Majestic Samuel not to feel superior to the servile Saul. Samuel then tells Saul `when these signs will come to you, do for yourself what your hand will find’ (10:7). Just what Saul is to do is made unclear. Was Saul to do something with the prophets?

In a critical statement Samuel tells Saul to  go to Gilgal and wait for me for seven days `until I come and to instruct you what you are to do next’ (10:8). What was the connection between verse 7 – ‘do for yourself what your hand will find’ - and 8 ‘wait for me . . .and I will instruct you’?

Saul takes his leave of Samuel. As Samuel prophesied  Saul indeed meets a band of prophets, and Saul indeed prophesies with them.   A man asks is Saul too among the prophets? And who are their fathers?  Is the question being asked who now is Saul’s father, the powerful Kish or the powerful Samuel? In the Delphic-like statement Samuel first used to inform Saul of his kingship, he used the term it belongs to the `house of your father’.  Who indeed is the father?

Samuel tells the people that despite your rejecting of  God, He has ordained that you may have  a king. The choice will be made by lot.  The only other time a lot is used before this incident to find someone is to discover the sinner, Achen, who caused the Jewish people to lose  the battle of Ai (Josh. 6: ). Later, the heroic Jonathan who disobeyed his father’s foolish oath, is discovered by lot. Choosing by lot thus is not necessarily a complimentary way of choosing a person. Saul is chosen but he is hiding. God tells the people where he is hidden. As noted earlier Saul continues to act with his  servile personality, not really wanting to be King.

But some scoundrels said, `How can this fellow help us’? (1 Sam. 10:27) So they scorned him. They are ironically right, how can this man help?

In the next chapter (11) Saul gathering an army of 330,000 men heroically defeats the Ammonites after an attack at Jebash-Gilead. But when the people of Jebash-Gilead seek help they do not seek Saul. Saul living in Gibeah, hears weeping and discovers the problem. The people do not come to their king for help. To gather the people he cuts up an ox in twelve parts and sends one to each tribe to gather an army.  This is an obvious comparison to one of the most horrible acts described in the Book of Judges. A Levite travels to Gibeah and there when he is threatened he hands over his concubine who is raped all night. The man divided her body into twelve parts and send them to all the tribes (Jud. 19:29). And who did not come to fight over Gibeah for the Levite? The people of Jebash-Gilead. What an odd way to introduce the first coming victory of the new King.

The battle is won. Then a very strange statement appears in the text. ` And the people said to Samuel: `Whosoever said Saul shall rule over us’ shall die. (1 Sam. 11:12).  What does this mean? In verses 1-11 Saul in fact appears not as a king but as a Judge/savior, as of old.  In none of these earlier verses is Saul  referred to as king. He simple hears people crying about some disaster. There is no recognition that Saul is King-elect. In verse 7 Saul says `whoever does not go forth after Saul and Samuel.’ Thus the implied new Judge and old Prophet are symbolically related. Verse 12 can imply that the people want Saul to be Judge and are rejecting kingship. Or perhaps it refers to those in the previous chapter who spurned Saul (1 Sam. 10:27). Or perhaps as suggested by Jewish Midrashim the verse (12)  is meant derisively.

It appears that the conflict continues; there are those who favor the combined team of Samuel continuing as Prophet and Saul as Judge versus  those who favor Saul as King. But Saul is a victorious commander;  he finally speaks up and declares `no one will die today’.  Samuel then says in response let us go to Gilgal to renew the monarchy. What renewal? Saul has yet to be  crowned. It almost appears that Samuel has admitted defeat  and recognized that Saul is King of Israel. And they went and Saul was finally crowned King.

However Samuel did not acquiesce so readily.  Samuel then delivers  a long speech defended himself, the old order and incredibly his sons - those evil sons - who were rejected by the people. Samuel says I have done as you wished and crowned a king for you. He does not note how long it took him to obey God’s command  to heed the people. But he does say I am old, you have a king and my sons are still here. How are the people to respond to the words my sons are still here? Is he telling them that they can still advice you, despite   their evil inclinations?  Samuel then asks have I ever taken an ox or oppressed you?  Is he comparing himself  to the king he described in chapter 8? The people confirm that he did not. Conversely his sons were accused of having received bribes during their judgeships. He then compares himself to Moses and Aaron (and other judges). 30   He asks God to confirm their evilness and He does so by sending thunder and rain in the non-rainy season. But Samuel says fear not, God will not forsake His people. Unless you do wrong in which case He will destroy you and your King. Samuel then says he will continue to act for God and protect their interests. Samuel is setting up the new system of prophet-ship under the monarchy.

How should this speech be understood? It is clearly self defensive.  Samuel still feels personal rejection   when if fact his evil sons were rejected. He still does not recognize that the people were right in terms of his sons. Is it not ironic that Samuel’s mentor Eli, a Judge/High Priest (if not a prophet)  has unworthy sons and Samuel the first and only unquestioned Judge/Prophet/High Priest fails in the same way, with unworthy sons. 31 Eli’s dies at the age of 98 and his family and legacy appear to be  destroyed. Samuel dies at the age of 52 according to Jewish Midrashim and his family (sons) and his legacy ( his chosen king Saul) are destroyed. Is his death at a relatively young age a further criticism of him?

Samuel feels rejected and King Saul is the symbol of that rejection. `The Lord your God was your King’ (12:12). God does not respond except  when Samuel says if you do evil God will reject you. The people understand and say `we have added to all our sins, to ask for ourselves a king’ (12:19).  Samuel as we shall see later regarding Saul, used his power, position and charisma to convince the people that he is right and the people ought to feel sinful and guilty.

Saul finally stood up to Samuel and Samuel  crowned him. Samuel’s  feelings toward  Saul will become more and more clear in the next three chapters (13-15).

Chapter 13 opens with the statement that Saul had reigned for two years. 32 Saul’s son Jonathan is introduced as a soldier who killed the Philistine governor.  Quickly we are told that Saul assumes the credit for his son’s heroism. 33  Saul gathers an army to fight the Philistines, but the Philistines have a much larger army `as numerous as the sand on the seashore’ (13:5). Saul’s army consists of  3,000 men who are frightened and deserting their commander and King. What happened to the Judge/savior who mustered 330,000 men? Why is the newly crowned king unable to raise a sufficient army to fight the Philistines? Why does Saul fail immediately upon being crowned?

Saul waits at Gilgal for Samuel  to bring the sacrifice and pray for God’s help.  Why does he wait at Gilgal? Saul waits for seven days as his army deserts him - they now only 600 men. He finally prepares  the sacrifice himself. As soon as Saul finished presented the sacrifice  Samuel then comes. And says `What have you been doing’?.  Saul responds that my army has been deserted me and you had not come. I need God’s help and so I brought the sacrifices myself.  Samuel responds `you have acted  foolishly in not keeping the commandments that the Lord your God laid upon you. Otherwise the Lord would have established your dynasty over Israel forever. . . The Lord will seek a man after His own heart (13:13-14).

It is difficult to understand this development. What indeed has Saul done to incur Samuel’s and according to Samuel, God’s wrath?

He prepared the sacrifice himself.  He did not wait for the High Priest. This same High Priest we have learnt from a Jewish Midrash, that it was not necessary for a priest to prepare the sacrifice. The fact that this Midrash was written, centuries later, tells us that Jewish commentators realized the inconsistency of the priest/prophet criticizing the king. By noting that Samuel himself had told people they could prepare the sacrifice themselves, the Midrashic author is stating that what Saul did was acceptable. David and Solomon prepared sacrifices and some of David’s  sons acted as priests.  34 Is Samuel referring to the event before Saul’s coronation two years earlier, when Samuel told him to wait in Gilgal for seven days for a sacrifice? Why should a two year old request be valid now in a critical stage of war?  35 If Samuel believed that the request was still valid why did he wait until the last possible moment, the seventh day, when a critical war situation had ensued.  Why did he not come immediately, instead of waiting until  the sacrifice preparation was completed? Was Samuel just waiting for Saul to begin so he could criticize him? The text  not Saul, tells us that he, Saul,  waited the seven days. It was Samuel who failed to come at the appointed time. 36 Which of God’s commands had Saul disobeyed? Even if Samuel believed  his command of two years earlier to be still valid, have his commands become God’s command? God does not speak in this entire chapter.  What does it mean that you have lost the dynasty that `the Lord would have established’? Did Samuel expect the king to be a savior/judge and not a dynastic king? 37  Did God only give Saul a one time kingship and not a dynasty? Were their conditions for Saul to fulfill and if so what were they? 38How does Samuel know God has rejected Saul and  has decided to choose another king?  As we will see in the first verse of chapter 15, the rejection seems forgotten. Has Samuel and not God, disowned Saul?  Samuel disowns Saul when he appears to be taking over the priestly role and in Samuel’s eyes, diminished him, Samuel. Saul, the servile son of Kish, intimidated and diminished as he is by Samuel, cannot even respond. Is this treatment by Samuel befitting towards the King of Israel?  Is this the way the judge/prophet/high priest who thinks of himself as Moses-like treats the King and H/his people?

Chapter 13 is very critical  in the understanding of both Samuel and Saul. We see Saul acting foolishly as a Commander allowing his army to desert while he awaits Samuel. When Samuel finally arrives he intimidates Saul and cannot even respond to his statement that God disowned his kingship. His son, Jonathan, is depicted as heroic and courageous. Saul has acted as an extreme  ritualist, waiting to sacrifice, instead of dealing with his deserting army and making foolish vows to God.  He is jealous of Jonathan and  then is willing to kill his heroic son. He will later be jealous of the heroic David and attempt  to kill him often  - his healer, his son-in-law and his son’s best friend. Samuel, on the other hand seems to enjoy playing with Saul, knowing how intimidated Saul is of him.  He waits to the last moment to appear in Gilgal for the sacrifices. He tells Saul he has disobeyed God’s commandment, which he does not appear to have done, at worst he was disrespectful to Samuel by not waiting. But Saul had very good reasons.  Samuel then declares, in the name of God, that God has forsaken Saul and chosen another King.  (Samuel reminds us of Joseph who uses  the name of God for his justification of his questionable actions, despite God never speaking to him. He claims like Samuel to know what is in God’s heart. There is also a similarity of Joseph being treated `royally’ by his mother, Rachel before her early death and then by his father Jacob, and Samuel being treated `royally’ by his mother Hannah. Both were treated with special treatment compared to their siblings and other children and thought of themselves as god-like. Perhaps that is a problem for the `Majestic man’.  However  differences remain - between Joseph and Samuel. God never speaks to Joseph, but does, according to our text, speak to Samuel. Samuel, however as we have already noted and will note again, often does not listen very well; an odd perspective for a prophet of God.)

Chapter 14 introduces Jonathan, the son of Saul. As soon as he is introduced as a fighter who decides to fight the Philistines and does not tell his father  there is sudden mention of Ahijah, son of Ahitub, brother of Ichabod, son of Phineas, son of Eli. He carried the `ephod’, the symbol of the Ark, as High Priest of the Lord in Shiloh (14:3-4). 39 Why after Samuel has acted as High Priest for decades and rejected the dynasty of Saul, does a descendant of Eli whose family was also rejected appear as High Priest? Is it related to Samuel’s dooming of Saul? 

Jonathan, the true noble figure in the Book of Samuel is heroic and will become the true friend of David, God’s true choice and his father’s nemesis.

Saul’s son, Jonathan, leads the diminished army.  His father, having lost Samuel, his father figure, feels rejected by God. In the midst of the battle, he creates his own ritual; he vows his army to fast. ‘The whole country came into the forest and there was honey on the ground . . . a flow of honey’ (14:25-26). This term is as odd in Hebrew as in English; it appears as if nature was violating the common sense.  Jonathan was unaware of his father’s oath,  sees a honeycomb and eats of it. His eyes grew bright because he was  hungry. The implication is that the rest of the army is equally hungry and not able to fight their best due to Saul’s oath.  When Jonathan hears of his father’s oath, he says `My father has brought trouble on the people’ (14:29). The people are so hungry that, the text tells us, they eat animals with the blood. Thus Saul’s ritual rigidity has resulted in the people violating a real commandment, eating blood. Saul, with his ritual righteousness tells the people they  have sinned!  Saul decides to discover who has sinned. They use a lot and it is Jonathan.  Saul asked ‘what have you done’, Jonathan says ‘I indeed tasted . . . a bit of honey. I am ready to die’. (14:43) Saul uses the exact words to his as Saul said to him – ‘what have you done’.(13:11) His unspoken rage against Samuel is still in his ears.  Jonathan seems sarcastic to his foolish father. Saul then says `Thus and  more may God do: You shall be put to death, Jonathan!’ (14:44).  40 Not only did Saul ritually declares a foolhardy fast, and contribute to his army’s problem, but he is willing to kill his son ritualistically and we shall see in a moment cannot kill King Agag. 41 This action leads us to understand his madness even before ‘the evil spirit’ from YHVH comes from him (16:14). The army refused to kill Jonathan.

Chapter 15 begins with `I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king of His people Israel’ (15:1). This is a  very odd introduction given that God disowned Saul’s dynasty, according to Samuel. Samuel tells Saul of God’s request. We do not hear God himself and therefore do not know His exact words.  Let us review Samuel’s prophetic relationship with God. In  3:10 Samuel omits the use of the Lord’s  name as Eli had instructed him. In Chapter 8, God tells Samuel three times (verses 7, 9 and 22) to listen to the voice of the people and accept a king. Samuel, however does not to listen, tries to dissuade them from their desire for a king and sends them home. When God tells Samuel to speak about the rules of kingship, he is very selective and again attempts to dissuade the people.  Nor does Samuel inform the people that God has consented for them to have a King ( 8:22).   In Chapter 10, Samuel anoints Saul as ‘Nagid’ not King (10:1)  Samuel tries to intimidate the people into not accepting a King (10:17-19).   In Chapter 12 Samuel again tries to dissuade the people against accepting a monarchy. In Chapter 13  Samuel spoke in the name of God, and dismissed Saul’s dynasty.  We did not hear God’s word and by Chapter 15 the words of Saul being dismissed appear to be forgotten.  Thus when we hear, Samuel tells us God’s words we have a right to be careful.

Samuel instructs Saul, as the word of God: `Now go, attack Amalek, and put under ‘herem’,  all that belongs to him. Spare no one, but kill alike  men and women, infants  and sucklings, oxen and sheep, camels and asses!’ (15:3). 42  I use the Hebrew word `herem’ because the Hebrew term is ambiguous. One  Hebrew - English dictionary defines ‘herem’ as `to confiscate,  to excommunicate,  to dedicate,  to destroy,  to dry up’. 43 Philip Stern in his book on Biblical Herem  defined ‘herem’ as `consecration to or through destruction’. 44 According to Jacob Milgrom, the translator of JPS commentary of the Book of Numbers ‘herem’ means a `devoted thing’. 45 Thus we have two terms used by Samuel for treating the Amelekites, to put in them `herem’  first and then to kill them. If the `herem’ is used to convey destruction, it is a mere  repetition. However it is not a repetition. Samuel utters two separate commands, first to consecrate and then to kill. We will see the importance of this shortly. Whether the two commands indeed originate from God or a `mishearing’ by Samuel, will never be known. Saul makes war on Amalek and crushes them. Saul and the army took Agag, King of Amalek and the best of the sheep and cattle and brought them to Gilgal; the remainder were killed.  Saul  does not bring any camels and asses who cannot be sacrificed, they were killed.  46 Now we have the direct word of God. `I regret that I made Saul King, for he has turned away from Me and has not  carried out My commands. Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night’ (15:10). 47 Presumably it was God’s intention that Saul  immediately kills Agag, and all the cattle and not bring them to Gilgal. If this indeed  is a valid interpretation then Samuel misrepresented God in using the word `herem’ or God was intentionally being ambiguous.  The use of two words suggested two different commands; Samuel should simply have said kill them all. `Herem’ is a much more ambiguous word than kill. When God told Joshua to put the people of Ai under `herem’, the people were destroyed, the king of Ai was brought to Joshua and Joshua hung him and built an altar. 48 We are told that Samuel cried - yet we are not told what  he cried about.  Did he cry to have God  forgive Saul or the people as Moses always did? 49

Samuel comes to Gilgal and when Saul sees him  he says  `Blessed are you of the Lord, I have fulfilled the Lord’s commandments’. Samuel sarcastically replies `then what is this bleating of sheep in my ears? (15:13-14). Samuel says you disobeyed the Lord.  Saul responds `But I did obey the Lord   . . .  [I] have captured  Agag of Amalek, and I proscribed  Amalek, and the troops took from the spoil some  sheep and oxen  . . .  to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal’ (15:20-21). Saul rejects Samuel’s accusation. He is clear - I have obeyed your command, put those not killed into `herem’. Samuel responds by saying to obey is better than sacrificing, for rebellion is idolatry. Saul defeated once again by the charismatic Samuel says I have sinned. I pray you to pardon my sin. Samuel responds `the Glory [God] of Israel does not deceive or change His mind, for He is not human that He should change His mind’ (15:29).

When Saul saw Samuel he assumed he had obeyed the Lord. He had killed all but the King and much of the cattle. He intends,  he says,  to kill Agag in front of the altar. He notes that the people had some of the animals. Given that he was told to place them in `herem’ and then plans to kill them, his claim is reasonable. Perhaps the people wanted to save some cattle for themselves. The cattle were the people’s demand; he did not have the leadership qualities to command them to kill the remaining cattle. His  lack of leadership was a fear partly based on his own lack of core identity and Samuel’s lack of support from the beginning of his reign. Despite this he cleverly brought the cattle to the altar and devised a plan to sacrifice them.

Instead of giving Saul the benefit of doubt, Samuel, (who may have created the problem by his suggestion of two commandments - `herem’ and kill) accuses him of rebellion and idolatry. Even if Saul can be considered to have disobeyed God (which given the benefit of doubt he may not have)  he has not committed idolatry.   What does Samuel mean `God does  not deceive or change His mind’?. God has just told us he changed his mind relative to Saul (15:11). Does Samuel not know the story of Moses? God often, if not always repents when asked to by Moses? Why does Samuel not ask God to forgive Saul? Because Samuel can never forgive the people for rejecting him and Saul became the symbol of this rejection.  Saul conceded that he has sinned. But Saul as we have seen finally responds to Samuel (which he was unable to do in previous Gilgal incident) and is then accused of rebellion and idolatry.  His servile personality collapses and he begs forgiveness. And of course, his plea is rejected.  

One additional encounter between Samuel and Saul occurs prior to Samuel’s death. During the  incident when Saul discovers that David is with Samuel and a group of prophets in ecstasy, Saul arrived, stripped naked and prophesied ecstatically in front of Samuel all night.  The statement  `Is Saul also amongst the prophets?’ is repeated. As noted by Fokkelmann at the beginning of his reign and at the end of his reign the question arises is Saul a prophet, subservient to Samuel or the King of Israel.  50 The question is never resolved.

Samuel’s final mission before his death is to find a  King among the children of Jesse.  He is informed by God that `I have decided on one of his sons to be king’ (16:1). And `I will make known to you what you shall do;  you shall anoint for Me the one I point out to you’ (16:3). The use of ‘I’ in verse 1 and in verse 3  may be an implication that the people or Samuel chose Saul and God will choose the next king.  Samuel goes to Jesse and interviews his sons in their birth order. The impressive stature of the eldest, Eliab, tall and handsome, leads Samuel to react saying `Surely  the Lord’s anointed stands before me’ (16:6). 51 Once again Samuel is impatient  for the Lord’s voice, and jumps to his own conclusion. His choice is not based on merit,  but on his outward appearance - he is tall and handsome as was Saul. One would like to believe that  a seer would have accumulated wisdom over decades and learnt  from his earlier experiences with the handsome tall Saul and would not to repeat his error.  The Lord says to Samuel `Pay no attention to his appearance or his stature, for I have rejected him.  For not as man sees does the Lord see, man sees only what is visible, but the Lord sees into the heart’ (16:7).  Is God stating that indeed Samuel or the people mis-chose Saul, being impressed by his height as God clearly is not? The words `see’ is repeated six times in this chapter before God tells Samuel `this is the one’ (16:12). This final encounter between God and Samuel may be a damning indictment  of Samuel who was a `seer’ for decades.  What kind of `seer’ has, indeed,  Samuel been?

Immediately  before Samuel’s first encounter with  Saul a very odd interjection appears in the text. `For the  prophet of today was formerly called a seer’ (1 Sam. 9:9).52 In the next verse but one, Saul asks where is the `seer’ (1 Sam. 9:11)?  Why not the prophet? Then several verses later  when Saul meets Samuel, not knowing who he is, he asks where is the house of the seer and Samuel responds `I am the seer’. Why not the prophet? Despite this odd interjection in the text Samuel is only once  called a prophet, in an introductory statement (3:20), more often he is called a seer. A seer in English as in Hebrew is one who can see.  What is the purpose of the text that he who is a prophet was called a seer?  Is it to tell us that Samuel is  not a prophet, but a seer  who cannot in fact see?  53 When Samuel met Eliab, David’s oldest brother, God told Samuel (and us) that Samuel cannot see.  We have seen many examples of Samuel’s inability to hear properly what God says or what Saul says. As opposed to the physically blind seer whose wisdom allows him to see what others cannot  Samuel is the physically sighted seer who is disabled and fails to see the essence of what a seer ought to see. He also cannot hear God until Eli, old and blind tells him it is God’s voice (3:2). Isaiah refers to God’s servant who is physically blind but is perfect and can see the essence of life. He is compared with  the physically sighted, who see many things, but do not observe and have open ears but do not hear (Is. 43:19-20) It is interesting to compare  Samson,  one figure  comparable to Samuel, coming from barren mothers and both are qualified `nazirs’. Samson is blind to his mission when he is sighted and only when blinded carries out his mission. 54

Samuel leaves our stage until he dies.  In two  single verses  his death is noted. In the first he shares  that verse with his true and faithful successor David (25:1).  In the second verse ( 28:3) he shares the verse with Saul when we are told Saul send away from the land those with spirits similar to Samuel and wizards. This is faint praise for the last Judge and first king-maker. The first verse by combining Samuel’s  death with David emphasizes his failure with Saul. The second verse combined Samuel the prophet with Saul the failed king.

In the interim between Samuel’s  leaving the stage and his death Saul is seen as a depressed figure who is obsessively jealous of the David, his son-in-law,  the best friend of Saul’s son Jonathan, his heroic commander, the wife of his daughter and his healer. 55 Let us recall the implication ‘Who indeed is the father?’ when Saul began his career as a prophet.  What do we know of his biological father Kish? Saul is the son of a rich father, he is an adult with an adult son, Jonathan. Yet his father sends him off to find two lost donkeys with a servant who carries the money. Why not just send the servant to look after the donkeys. From the story of Saul’s life he does not have a core identity. When he meets Samuel he finds another father figure. Do we have an Oedipal conflict between the surrogate father (Samuel) and the son (Saul) and then once again with Saul as the father and David as the son. This issue of father and son will recur in the relationship between Saul and David. Shortly after meeting David and being healed by him Saul refuses to allow David to return to his father’s house. After David slays Goliath Saul asks three times whose son is he (1 Sam. 16:55,56, 58)? They have met both when David heals Saul and to discuss the slaying of Goliath. Twice David allows Saul to escape after Saul attempted to kill him. In both instances Saul calls David my son (24:17; 26:17,25) and in the first David calls Saul my father (24:12).

David enters the stage as Samuel departs. Could it also be his lack of identity or over identity with King Agag that did not allow Saul to kill Agag?

Eli is Samuel’s surrogate father. After Eli is told his dynasty is lost because of his children the story is told again by the lad Samuel who after being confused as to who is Eli and who is God tell the story again to Eli. Before the first recount of the story we are told ‘Samuel served the face of the Lord’ (I Sam. 2:18), before the second recount we are told ‘Samuel served the Lord before the face of Eli’ (I Sam: 3:1).(We noted earlier in the story of Jacob and his brother Esau that Jacob sees the face of the Lord in his wrestling with an angel – who may represent his brother - and then sees the face of God in his brother Esau). Metaphorically Eli must die at the ‘hands’ of Samuel for Samuel to succeed. And he does. For Saul to succeed as the new monarch Samuel must die. We cannot have a new king until the old king dies. Sha’ul in Hebrew means the borrowed one. Saul not have a sufficient core identity to succeed (to kill) Samuel. After Samuel’s death he brings back his dead body through a witch another example of his creating impure rituals. Between the two rejections of Saul (chapters 13 and 15) the dynastically dead Eli’s family comes back.  Ahijah, 56  Eli’s grandson, carrying the ephod/ark and Saul cannot even decide whether it is God’s symbol or not (14:18-19).

Then in the next chapter Saul cannot even metaphorically kill  King Agag. The idea of regicide is so repugnant to him - perhaps he fears for his own life. He blames the people for taking the cattle (15:14) he cannot take the leadership in telling the people what is required. He in fact after losing the battle to the Philistines kills himself. In the second recounting of Saul’s death he is killed by an Amalekite lad (II Sam.1:5-13), one who should have died. 57

Later, in the next chapter, on we will see the friendship between David and Jonathan. Jonathan understands David’s destiny as his father refuses. Jonathan sees David as a father figure who can protect him, while Saul sees David as the son who will destroy him. Samuel playing the villain, the role God has ordained for him, cannot be killed, so Saul lashes out at everyone else. The protection of Jonathan’s family which he seeks from David will be destroyed by his father unwillingness to recognize God’s role in this drama.

Numerous attempts by Saul to kill David are foiled and he even tries to kill his own son, Jonathan.  Saul’s rage and madness can be  seen in many events but we will recall two events toward the end of his life.  He kills the priests of Nob for helping David. These are the priests of God (22:13-23). He is rejecting the priesthood and the sacredness of the people of God. 58 He who could not kill Agag, kills the priests representing Samuel his father surrogate. This is Saul’s final paranoid response to all who hold for Samuel and God.

When he is about to fight his last battle with the Philistines, he goes to the witch of En-dor to bring Samuel, already dead to advise him. Besides this ritual being forbidden by Jewish law, what can he expect from the man who never helped him and always hurt him?  But since Saul has sent away or killed all those who can ‘see’ the future who else can he go to? Is he simply a fool or mad or both? The witch brings Samuel who predicts  that since he has disobeyed God (and he has  this time by raising Samuel from the dead) he and his sons will die in the forthcoming battle ( 28:7-25). There is an interesting irony in the tale of the witch. He comes to her seeking a necromancer disguised and she fears him. But she does as he asked. Samuel says ‘why have you disturbed my rest’ (28:15). The witch slaughters a calf, bakes bread and feeds Saul.

Did the writer of this text believe in necromancy, believe that she brought up Samuel?
Saul says to her what do you see; ‘a god-like man . . .and old man . . .covered with a mantle’ (I Sam. 28:13-14). Did Saul actually see anything? The text tells us that Saul ‘yodah’ knew it was Samuel, not that he saw Samuel. Is this whole event meant to portray another part of Saul’s illness?

Ghost of Samuel
William Blake, Ghost of Samuel

The question of Saul is best posed by Peter Gunn ‘Does Saul fail as king because of his own inner inadequacy as a human being, or because he is brought low essentially by external forces or circumstances?’ 59 Gunn’s conclusion is that Saul is ‘an innocent victim of God’. 60 Edwin Good puts it Saul is  ‘a man not fitted for a job that should not have been opened’. 61 Saul is inadequate (as a king and as a father) and Samuel is self interested in his failure. The kingship of Israel is a vassal kingship under God. The people wanted a kingship like other nations. The concept of vassal kingship had not existed and the relationship between God, King, Prophet and Priest not yet developed. It would require a very strong leader to step into these shoes. Saul, with a lack of self esteem, is not such a leader. Samuel is a substitute father figure  for Saul’s real father Kish, who treated him like a child. Samuel instead of acting as the father figure Saul needed, wished to destroy the entire idea of kingship. Thus Saul Is competing with Samuel when he needed a father  to help him.
Saul cannot compete with Samuel, the charismatic judge/prophet/high priest.  Saul `remains elusive, a politically and psychologically persuasive conjunction of suggestive contradictions: inept, foolishly impulsive, self-doubting, pathetically unfit for kingship and also a heroic and poignant figure, especially maligned by Samuel and by circumstances, sustained by a kind of lumbering integrity even as he entangles himself is a net of foolhardy and self-destructive acts’.  62 Nor can Saul compete with David, the chosen one of God.

Who chose Saul? Was Saul, the king, chosen by God, Samuel or did the people demand a king and God allowed him to be chosen by lot?  Saul’s kingship was thrust upon him; he never sought it, but nor did God. Samuel tells us that you, the people have chosen this king (8:18). The `reward’ for having demanded a king is a flawed king brought about by a prophet who felt rejected by the people. Saul as king is his own worst enemy and Samuel feeling like a jilted lover orchestrates this tragedy.  The people rejected a hostile God (10:19) as David Gunn stated.  God said ‘let us see what we shall see’. 63 It is clear that Saul is fated to fail.

After this tragic choice the people are given David, chosen by God, clearly not by Samuel (who would have chose the tall handsome Eliab), to be their model king and redeemer. He is God’s favorite, whereas Saul and Samuel remain His tools of punishment. Saul represents the new order with a centralized monarch. Samuel represents the old order where God specifically directs a savior/judge when necessary. Samuel cannot even speak to David when he relates to him all Saul had done (1 Sam. 19:18). Saul is also the symbol of the people who rejected Samuel’s sons.

When Samuel first meets Saul, he is expecting him and Samuel developed a plan to control him.  He immediately gives him a set of rules for his puppet-kingship. He had previously told the people of why kingship is a bad idea,   he repeats it in Saul’s presence. When he meets David, he is unexpected, Samuel is surprised at God’s choice. After anointing David Samuel leaves only to see him again only once, when David comes to complain about Saul’s action towards him. We hear of no response from Samuel. David is treated by God independent of Samuel.

Via his prophet Nathan God informs David about his son (Solomon) that He `shall be to him a father and he shall be to Me a son. However if he sins, I will chasten him, but my mercy shall not depart from him as it did from Saul’ (2 Sam. 7:14-15). Thus God tells us that He chose not to give mercy to Saul but will to David and his descendants.

David, Saul’s successor, is clearly chosen by God and is a man of God and  a servant of God,  64 Saul is never referred to as a man or servant of God.  David is a man who understands that though he is king, he is foremost a vassal to God. Even upon sinning, and he does sin, 65 he understands he must repent. His prophet Nathan also understands his job, to represent God, with no other self interests.

Death of Saul
Marc Chagall, Death of Saul


1 Quoted by Robert Alter, The David Story, (Norton, N.Y., 1999) pg. XV.

2 One could claim that Samson committed suicide, but he did this to destroy his enemies, the Philistines. He accomplished that and only as an aside his own death.

3 The major ones being Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson.

4 Elkanah can be compared to Jacob who loved his barren wife, Rachel, more that his fertile wife, Leah.  Samuel can be compared to Joseph, both being the eldest child of the only loved wife and favored over other children.

5 Cynthia Ozick in  Buchmann, C. & Spiegel C., eds. Out of the Garden, Fawcett Columbine, N.Y., 1994, pg. 90.

6 See Margaret Anne Doody, in Buchman, pg. 108-109.

7 See Marcia Falk in Buchman, pgs. 94-102.

8 There is a Jewish Midrash that compares Sarah bringing Hagar to Abraham to Hannah after ten years of barrenness bringing Peninnah as a second wife to Elkanah. (Ginzberg, L., Legends\of the Bible, (JPS, Philadelphia, 1975) pg. 525-526.

9 We have heard before of personal prayers when Isaac prayed for his barren wife Rebekah. Hannah’s is not only silent and therefore private but in what is referred to as the Tabernacle, House of the Lord, later called the Temple and eventually the Synagogue.

10 The Hebrew `Zerah Anashim’ is very difficult to translate. JPS translates the term as `man child’. `Zerah’ means seed  and `Anashim’ means man; a seed of a man, a special kind of son. The term Zerah is often used to mean holiness - `Zerah Hakodesh’ (seed of holiness) is a term often used for a cohan; a priest.

11 A full nazir does not cut his hair, nor drink intoxicating wines.

12 Ulrich Jr., E., The Qumran Text of Samuel and Josephus, (The Scholars Press, Montana, 1978), pg. 39 and Uffenheimer, B., Early Prophecy in Israel, (Magnes Press, Jerusalem, 1999) pg. 266.

13 Brooks, S.S., Saul and Samson, JSOT Vol. 71, 1996, pg. 19.

14 One wonders about the role of Elkanah? As Hannah’s husband, under Jewish law  he could have disqualified her vow. He chose not do. `Do what seems good to you . . . let God establish His word’ (1:23).

15 Does the ‘M’ inserted in the middle ‘Sha’ul’ represent Moses, the prophet promised or Samael Moses’ protagonist in heaven. Samuel and Samael have remarkably similar names. For Samael as the angel of Death who was Moses great protagonist ,  see   Ginsburg, Louis, Legends of the Bible, (Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1975) pgs. 499-500. As noted by Noll, the `reigning metaphor’ of the Book 1 Samuel is the word Sha’ul. Noll, K.L., The Faces of David (JSOT, Sheffield,1997) Series 242.

16 In the Deuteronomic text there is a discussion of judges, prophets, priests and kings. The king will come (17:14) but the prophet was asked (Sha’al'ta) for and granted by God (18:16).

17 No one asked Sarah either.

18 Ginsburg, Legends of The Bible, 1975  526-527.

19 Verse 1 states that `my horn is exalted in the Lord and continues `My mouth opened wide against my enemies’.  Verse 2 uses the term Rock or Tzur in Hebrew used previously only by Moses  as God in Song of Hazinu.  Verse 4 states that `those who stumble have put on strength’. Verse 6 uses the term Sho'el an interesting similarity to Sha’ul. Verse 7 states that `the Lord who brings low also exalts’. Verse 9 states that `the feet of the faithful he will guard’.  Verse 10 `The Lord will thunder against them in the heavens.... He will give power to His king, and triumph to His anointed one’.

20 Did Hannah  think her Samuel was the anointed one? Furthermore as we will note much of the book includes  implicit and explicit criticism of Samuel. Who wrote this book? It seems unlikely that Samuel would have written this. A Davidic writer, recognizing that Samuel anointed David needs to give him that credit but also knowing that Samuel equally anointed Saul, David’s great protagonist. It is interesting to note that the Books of Chronicles, more clearly Davidic propaganda, places little importance on Samuel and no mention of Saul, first King of Israel.

21 Since only Moses used the term Rock (Tzur in Hebrew- Deut. 32:4) he is the person Samuel is being grandiosely compared by his mother.

22 As will later happen to King Saul and two of his children.

23 Thus Samuel, the Seer, three times does not recognize the voice of God.

24 Does Samuel confuse his surrogate father Eli with God?

25 'Joel’ in Hebrew means two names of God ‘Jo’ and ‘El’. Abijah’ in Hebrew means father (‘Abi’) and God (‘Jah’).

26 1 Sam. 2:22-25, 27-36, and 3:11-14.

27  McCarter, K.L., 1 Samuel, (Doubleday and Co., Garden City, N.Y., 1980) pg. 160.

28 When Samuel  anoints David he uses a horn of oil. A horn is for a warrior and vial is more passive-feminine. Zeligs, D.F., Psychoanalysis  and the Bible, (Bloch Publishing, N.Y., 1974) pg. 164.

29 This is the first use of ‘nagid’ in the Tnakh.

30 In Psalm 99:6 Samuel is compared to Moses and Aaron and in Jeremiah 15:1.

31 We have discussed earlier whether he is an unquestioned High priest. But the text assumes he is. Later on we discover that one of Eli’s son’s (Ichabod) retains the priesthood (1 Sam. 14:3) and a descendant Zadok becomes High Priest (1 Chron. 6:8). One may ask whether Eli really lost the priesthood and did Samuel legitimately attain it?

32 The first part of that verse says he was one year old when he became king. It would appear that a word is missing; perhaps forty, that is he was perhaps forty one years when he became king. Some Septuagint manuscripts have thirty, although this makes his having an adult son problematical. See  Long, V.P.  The Reign and Rejection of King Saul (Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1989) Pg. 72, footnote 13.

33 This is the beginning of Saul’s jealousy towards his own heroic son. Is it also the beginning of Jonathan’s recognition of his father’s character flaws.

34 2 Sam. 6:17, 8:18 and 1 Kgs 3:3. 

35 Peter Miscall raises an intriguing suggestion, that Saul acted foolishly by waiting at all. Where does it state that Saul was required to sacrifice before a battle? Samuel had told him earlier to `to do whatever your hands find to do’ (10:7). Thus his foolishness is in waiting. Miscall, Peter, 1 Samuel, A Literary Reading, (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1986) pg. 85

36 Polzin, Robert, Samuel and The Deuteronomist, (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1989) pg. 130.

37 Only David established a dynasty and after his son Solomon  the northern tribes left and the dynasty only remained for the tribe of Judah. The northern tribes united as the Kingdom of Israel did not establish a dynastic monarchy but elected a charismatic new king after the death of each previous king.

38 Brueggermann, Walter, First and Second Samuel, (John Knox Press, Louisville, 1990) pgs. 100- 101.

39 Several Jewish commentators (Rashi, Rabbi David Kimchi - the Redak - and Mezudath David in Rabbi Rosenberg, A.J. Editor, Samuel I (Judaica Press, N.Y., 1976) Pg. 104-105) note that he is the High Priest.

40 Saul may be compared to the foolish Judge Jephthah who vows to sacrifice the  `whoever’  appears - it is his daughter (Jud.11:31). Saul does not even  seem to mourn his son’s potential death. Jephthah rent his clothes and David mourned all of his sons who died.

41 Later on after the conflict between David and Saul, Jonathan takes David’s side and Saul again tries to kill his son.  Thus the first time Saul tries to kill his son out of rigidity and the second time out of jealousy.

42 J.P.S. translates herem as proscribe.

43 Shachter, Chaim, The New Universal English-Hebrew Dictionary, (Yavneh Publishing House, Tel Aviv, 1987) volume 1, 264.

44 Stern, Philip, The Biblical Herem, (Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1991) pg. 1.

45 The JPS Torah Commentary on Numbers, translated and commented on by Jacob Milgrom, (JPS, Philadelphia, 1990), pg. 428.

46 According to Jewish scholar Jacob Milgram, taking the best (or unblemished) cattle and ox and none of the camels and asses to be sacrificed was exactly in line with `herem’, quoted in Alter, Robert, The World of Biblical Literature, (Basic Books, N.Y., 1992) Pg. 149.

47 JPS translates cried as entreated.

48 In Josh. 8:2 God tells Joshua to do to the people of Ai what I commanded you to do to the people of Jericho. When we go back to the story of Jericho we find Rahab, the harlot, who hid Joshua’s spies telling them that God decided to put the people of Jericho into `herem’ (Josh. 2:10). She, of course, is saved from that fate as are the Kenites in our story. The fact that Saul saves the Kenites and is not criticized tells us he was intended to use his own reason.

49 Is it possible that Samuel cries because he realizes that with Saul’s failure a new king will be anointed over whom Samuel will have no control. And indeed this is precisely what transpires. See Noll,  Faces,  Page 46, footnote 25.

50 Fokkelmann, JP, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel, Vol. 2, (Van Gorcum, The Netherlands, 1986) pg. 280.

51 Given the sibling rivalry found in the Bible should we be surprised that David will displace Saul who looks like David’s brother Eliab?

52 This is the first time  the word `seer’ is used in the Tnakh. 

53 Meir Sternberg notes that when God told Samuel that he was sending him Saul the next day He `opened Samuel’s ears’ not his eyes (9:15). The Poetics of Biblical Narrative, (Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1985) pg. 495.

54 Greek mythology, written about the same time as this history provides another example of the archetype wise seer who is physically blind. Teiresias is the physically blind seer who knows the truth about Oedipus’ origin,  his biological parents and his adoptive parents, Oedipus’ killing of his father and marrying his mother. He informs Oedipus that perhaps he ought not seek the truth. 

55 Immediately after the anointing of David the text tells ‘Now the spirit of YHVH had withdrawn from Saul and an evil spirit from YHVH afflicted him with terror’ (1613-14). The connection seems clear.

56 Ahijah will, centuries later be the legendary teacher of the Baal Shem Tov , the Jewish reformer and pietist (1698-1760).

57 From Rabbi Mordecai Gafni at a lecture in Jerusalem on January 10,  2001. Rabbi Gafni also proposed that the conflict between Mordecai and Haman was a second recounting of the Saul and Agag story with Mordecai succeeding.

58 It is worth noting that Saul never bothered to return the Ark from Kiryat Yearim to Shiloh nor to a new political and/or religious center. Neither did Samuel.

59 Gunn, Fate, pg. 115.

60 Gunn, Fate, pg.123.

61 Good , pg. 58.

62 Alter, World of Biblical Literature, pg. 151.

63 The Story of King Saul, in Long, B.O., Images Of Man And God, Almond Press, Sheffield, 1981) pg. 110.

64 Prior to David only two other Hebrew men are called God’s servant,  Abraham (Gen. 26:24) and Moses (Num. 12:7,8).

65 If Saul `sinned’, David sinned boldly. Noll, Faces,  pg. 45