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THE NEW PERIOD IN JEWISH HISTORY.
LINCOLN'S INN, 22ND SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY.-Nov. 1, 1851.
1 SAMUEL, VIII. 4-8. Then all the Elders of Israel gathered themselves together,
and came to Samuel unto Ramah; and said unto him, “ Behold thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, “ Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, “ Hearken to the voice of the people in all they say unto thee, for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.”
The titles of this and the next book in our canon are either the first and second books of Samuel or the first and second books of Kings. The propriety of the latter name is obvious. We are entering upon the history of the Hebrew kings; we are told by what steps the age of the judges passed into theirs. But how should Samuel, whose death is recorded before the end of the first of these books, who ceases to be the most conspicuous person in it after he has anointed Saul, have succeeded in stamping such an
SAMUEL'S PLACE IN HISTORY.
image of himself upon the narrative? He is not the composer of the record; there are no lengthened prophecies of his introduced into it. We have a very clear picture of him certainly in infancy, boyhood, manhood, and old age. But there are many biographies equally distinct; yet the subjects of them have not possessed this dignity; they have not given their names to any portion of the history.
I apprehend that this fact indicates a consciousness among the Jews, that the age of the kings would be also the age of the prophets. It could not, they felt, be contemplated in one light without being contemplated in the other. On all occasions the prophet would be beside the king to reprove, direct, and encourage him. On all occasions the prophet's office would be to show what the office of the king was, how it might be neglected and violated, how it might be faithfully executed, how the full significance of it would at last be brought out and actually embodied. The Book of Kings therefore is the Book of Samuel, not merely because the individual man was the last of the judges, and poured the anointing oil upon the first two of the kings, but because he represented in his own person a power and a position which were quite different from theirs, and yet which could not be rightly understood apart from theirs.
When we first meet with Samuel, he appears as the reprover of an aged priest. Eli was not insensible to the greatness of his vocation. But his dignity was an hereditary one, and the subordinate priests were members of his family. His sons had become utterly corrupt and abominable. He had failed to preserve a seed which could feel, and make their countrymen feel, that the service of the God of Israel was a reality and not a fiction. Eli's faith was all his own; it brought no one within its circle; it
created no atmosphere about itself. In a deeper sense than the most literal and obvious one, the lamp was waxing dim in the ark of the Lord. No one was keeping the flame of it alive. The people felt as if it were all but quenched already. The boy Samuel was raised up to tell them that it would soon be more evidently extinct than it was then, but that it would be found to be fed from a hidden source, to be kept alive by another than Eli or his sons. The preservation of the ark and the sacrifices, of the most inward substance of the Jewish commonwealth, would be seen to depend, not upon a succession in the family of Aaron, but upon Him who had ordered the succession, upon Him who was, and is, and is to come.
Thus Samuel, because he had been called to be a prophet, and was proved to be one by signs, which all men from Dan to Beersheba could recognize, was a witness that an hereditary priesthood derives all its worth from a divine presence which is not shut up in it or limited by it; and that without that presence it means nothing and is nothing, nay becomes worse than nothing, a plague and cancer in the society, poisoning its very heart, spreading disease and death through it. His message was first to the priest himself; then to the nation concerning the priest. For the priest was as yet the hereditary functionary in the commonwealth. He was the only person who could turn duties into mere routine, who could make his authority and his reputation a plea for setting up the worship of false gods instead of the worship of the living and true God, vile orgies instead of the services of the holy place wherein the Most High was dwelling. The judge had no power to do this kind of mischief. He appeared when an emergency demanded his presence. He might do a number of irregular, turbulent,
anarchical acts; he might pass from a deliverer and defender of boundaries into a tyrant. But his power died with him. There were several attempts to perpetuate it, as for instance, in the family of Gideon. An illegitimate child of that family tried to make himself a king; but the conscience of the better Israelites was against the experiment. The disorders and jealousies of their tribes were equally against it. It was as unnatural and impossible for them all to confess one permanent head, or to allow him to transmit his powers to others, as it was natural for them to receive and follow a great champion when he proved that he could subdue their enemies and govern them. These champions judged them, made them understand that there was a law over them which they must obey, reclaimed them for a little while from their wild and reckless habits, their slavish and brutal idolatries. Then the settled order of the priesthood gave them some feeling of unity as a nation, reminded them that an unseen God had called them to be His people. Presently the old factions appeared again. Some Levite went off with a particular family, became its priest, introduced or ratified some domestic idolatry. There would be new tribe wars, fresh attacks from their neighbours round about them, more of feebleness and more of slavery.
The signal downfall of the nation which took place in Samuel's day, when the ark, the symbol of the people's unity, was captured by the Philistines, prepared the way for a great change in all these respects. Samuel became a judge in a different sense from his predecessors. He was not a mere warrior or hero raised up to put down a particular foe. He was the restorer of the whole land, one who brought the different parts of it into connexion with each other, who made them feel the blessings of a common
organization, the necessity and the happiness of being subject to government, the misery of a condition of things in which each man did that which was right in his own eyes. It would appear that the Jews had never, since they came into the promised land, experienced so orderly and righteous a civil government as during the time in which Samuel ruled them. I say civil government, for such it evidently was. Samuel was in the strictest sense a Judge. Whatever other functions he had, this was one by which he was chiefly and most distinctively recognized. It is clear from the story of his dedication by Hannah that he was a priest, and that circumstance is of considerable importance in some of his relations with Saul; but the comparative sinking of that part of his character, the incidental manner in which it is brought out, make us aware how much more prominent the other side of the commonwealth at this time was, how much the legal, judicial, governing element was for the present overshadowing the purely sacrificial. But if it should be supposed for a moment that Samuel was a less devout man because his acts were more of a civil than of a sacerdotal kind, every word in the history will refute the notion. The ark of God had never been so precious to any earlier Israelite as it was to him who lived when it was captured and brought back again. God as a living ruler and king, was present to him in all his thoughts and acts. He existed only to bring home His righteous rule to the minds and hearts of his countrymen. We must understand how much this was the absorbing purpose of his mind, if we would trace what passed in it when the Elders of Israel came to him with the request “ Make us a king.”
Such a request I said just now could scarcely have been made, or at least could not have been the expression of the