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'(1 Samuel X. 1.)
The Hebrew state was governed by judges, appointed by tbe Almighty, from the earliest ages to the days of Samuel the prophet. This holy man, growing "old and grey-headed," appointed his sons, Joel and Abiah, to act for him at Bethel and Beersheba. Their conduct in this situation was oppressive. They walked not in the ways of their father, but " turned aside after lucre, and took bribes, and perverted judgment," 1 Sam. viii. 3. This misconduct of the sons of the prophet, with his own advancing age, and the seemingly unsettled state in which the government would be left at his death, induced the elders of Israel to resort to Samuel at Ramah, and to demand of him that a king should be appointed over them.
Samuel rebuked the elders for their conduct, and told them of the Divine disapprobation. At the same time, he represented to them the burdens they would have to bear under a king, and warned them that he might be led to imitate other oriental monarchs, and to disregard the law of Jehovah.
The picture drawn by Samuel exhibits in a lively manner the character of the monarchies which at that time existed in the east, and the principles of which prevail in the east even to this day. He reminded them, that the heaviest exaction would be made upon their persons and estates for the support of the government, which powerfully contrasts with the mild character of that service which their King, Jehovah, had required under the theocracy. Their king would take their young men, and employ them as charioteers, horsemen, and even runners before and about his chariot; his army would require the services of their young men, and he would take them to till his ground, and to make his instruments of war, and the furniture of his chariots; he would, further, take the daughters of Israel to minister to the luxuries of the court as cooks, confectioners, and bakers; he would deprive them of the best of their male and female servants, as well as their cattle, and put them to his own work; and he would take the best of their fields, vineyards, olive-yards, and the tenth of their seeds, and their sheep, for the support of his court and his servants. The prophet concludes thus emphatically: "And ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day." See 1 Sam. viii.
It might have been supposed that this discouraging representation would have silenced the clamours of the elders for a king. Their purpose, however, was too firmly fixed to be thus shaken. They persisted in the demand, and it was reluctantly conceded. The Almighty had given to the Israelites the prophet Samuel, in his favour; and he now gave them Saul, in his wrath.
About this time, Saul, the son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, went forth to seek some strayed asses belonging to his father. His search for three days was fruitless; at the end of which time, finding himself near Kamah, the residence of Samuel, he resolved to go and consult him.
It was, and is still usual in the east, for any one who presents himself before a man in authority to take some gift in his hands, however small, perhaps only a fruit or a flower, in token of his respect and homage. All that Saul possessed was the fourth part of a shekel of silver, in value about sevenpence-halfpenny, with which he presented himself before the prophet. Saul was received with particular notice and honour. It had been revealed to Samuel, that on that day and that hour the future king of Israel would present himself before him, and he acted according to the Divine direction, unmindful of the honour and interests of his own family. Samuel assured Saul that his father had found the asses, and began now to be anxious about his son. Still he urged him to stay with him over the night, and partake of a feast which he had provided, at the same time slightly intimating to him his coming advancement to the throne of Israel, which was received with much modesty. Thirty of the principal persons of the place had been invited to partake of the prophet's entertainment on this occasion; and when they arrived, Samuel conducted Saul to the room in which they were assembled, and led him to the corner seat of honour, and when the meat was served, he directed that the shoulder, which was the most honourable joint, should be set before him.
Thus the evening passed, and the guests dispersed. Being summer, a bed was made for Saul on the housetop, where Samuel long held communion with him. Early in the morning, the prophet called Saul, and walked forth with him on his journey. As he passed along, Samuel directed the servant to pass before him; and then the prophet, desiring Saul to stand still, that he might show him the purposes of God, took a vial of oil and poured it upon his head, thereby anointing him captain over the Lord's inheritance.
Such is the scene represented in the annexed engraving. In it the artist has adopted the dress of the santon as an authority for that of the prophet, while the nomadic sovereign has been dressed from the analogies furnished by the Bedouin Arab. The chief points of interest in the design are, the attitude of Saul and the mode of applying the oil. In these particulars the artist has been guided by Egyptian sculptures and paintings, which invariably show the posture of the recipient to be a sitting one, and the act of anointing to be performed by pouring the oil on the head from a vessel.
Among the Hebrews, there were two sorts of unction. One of these was private, which was only a prophetic symbol, or intimation, that the persons who were thus anointed should eventually govern the kingdom. Such is the instance set before the reader. The other anointing took place after the new king had been solemnly recognised by the people. Thus Saul was re-anointed at Gilgal, before all the people, when the kingdom was confirmed to him in the midst of mighty thunderings, called by the prophet at the time of wheat harvest, as a sign of the Divine displeasure against them for asking a king.
Saul therefore was made king over Israel. His conduct at first was exemplary; but he soon disobeyed the command of Jehovah. His first act of rebellion was in sparing Agag, the king of the Amalekites, with the sheep and the oxen, and the chief of the things, which should have been utterly destroyed, according to the word of the Lord. For this disobedient act he forfeited the kingdom of Israel, which was promised to David, who shortly after received the prophetic symbol, or intimation, that he should one day govern Israel, from the same hands which had imparted it to Saul.
The after-life of this first monarch of Israel was one continued scene of turbulence, disquietude, envy, malice, rage, and revenge. He felt that the Lord had departed from him, and instead of seeking pardon, he plunged himself into the excess of crime. At length, defeated on the heights of Gilboa by those inveterate foes of Israel,
the Philistines, in order to avoid falling into their hands, he put an end to his troubled life by his own act.
Such is the evil nature of sin. Every act of compliance with it facilitates a second compliance, and every step to depravity is made with less reluctance, and thus the descent to a life of moral turpitude is perpetually accelerating. It has written within and without, "Lamentations, and mourning, and woe." The lesson we should learn from this narrative is, to avoid the beginnings of sin, and to walk humbly with God. It is only by thus acting that we can expect to enjoy happiness, either in this world or the next. The poet says:—
The first sure symptom of a mind in health