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Leadership with a Price

The Book of Samuel

First, a textual note. Although there are two books of Samuel listed in the contents of most Bibles, we speak here of the “book of Samuel” because the division between 1 and 2 Samuel (and also 1 and 2 Kings) is artificial. The size of scroll used at the time could not contain the entire book, and so the single book was preserved on two scrolls.

We left Judges with the people in a state of depravity. The model of judge as leader was not working. There was no obedience to the spiritual authority of the judge, which was often itself very questionable. The people remained basically a loose confederation of tribes, and realized they needed a more centralized governing power.

Without a king they were at a distinct disadvantage. There was little check against tribal fragmentation. This disunity put them at the mercy of their enemies. It also led to a near state of anarchy. And so the people come to the last and greatest of the judges, the prophet Samuel, and petition for a king.

Samuel at first firmly resists the idea. To him, having a king meant not only spurning the authority of the judges but giving in to the ways of the surrounding nations. A king would bring no spiritual leadership, and to keep the people together his rule would have to be harsh. Nevertheless, Samuel eventually comes to realize that having a king was a political necessity.

The first king, King Saul, is chosen. He was perhaps the most interesting of the kings, a very flawed personality. He gives the people the political and military leadership they need. However, he shows an indecisiveness at critical moments, as well as a reluctance to follow Samuel’s spiritual direction. While political authority rested in the king, Samuel remains as the people’s spiritual guide, and tensions between Saul and Samuel continue to the end of Samuel’s life.

Saul felt very threatened by his leading general, David. While David’s loyalty to Saul is genuine, Saul perceives correctly that the able David’s presence means that Saul’s son Johnathan will not succeed him. David does become the next king, and is considered to have been Israel’s greatest. Militarily this was certainly true. David’s decisive victories over the Philistines gave his nation a time of peace it had not known before.

But spiritually David had many flaws. He was quite arrogant, and not particularly respectful of women. Perhaps his worst accomplishment was having arranged the death of his elite warrior Uriah in order to acquire Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, for himself.

Prophets continue after the death of Samuel, but they do not play as prominent a role. The leadership of Israel is now secularized. The people need to regain a sense that God dwells among them. The task was left for David’s successor.

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