July 4, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: The establishment of Israel’s monarchy

John F. Fink(Twenty-sixth in a series of columns)

The two Books of Samuel tell the stories of three of the greatest figures in Israel’s history: Samuel, Saul and David. They are a combination of sagas in which God intervenes in their lives and in actual history. The history stretches from the last of Israel’s judges, Samuel, through the establishment of Israel’s monarchy and David’s royal dynasty.

I hope you will read these stories. This week, let’s cover the first 12 chapters in the First Book of Samuel.

They begin with Samuel’s birth to Hannah, a barren woman who prayed for a child in the shrine at Shiloh. When Hannah bears a son, she recites a hymn that readers will recognize as having several points of resemblance with the Blessed Virgin’s “Magnificat” (Lk 1:46-55).

Samuel grew up in the service of the priest Eli, who had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas. But they were wicked, among other things “having relations with the women serving at the entry of the meeting tent” (1 Sm 2:22). One night, God appeared to Samuel and told him that he would punish Eli’s family.

That happened when Hophni and Phinehas took the Ark of the Covenant into battle against the Philistines. The Philistines defeated the Israelites and captured the Ark. When this was reported to Eli, then 98, he fell backward from his chair and died of a broken neck.

While the Ark was in the possession of the Philistines, they had nothing but trouble. The people suffered from various afflictions, including having their cities being overrun by mice. They therefore returned the Ark along with a guilt offering.

As Samuel began to judge Israel as Eli’s successor, he demanded that the Israelites put away their foreign gods and worship the Lord alone. He then led an army against the Philistines and defeated them. He then continued to judge Israel.

Chapter 8 of the First Book of Samuel begins the establishment of the monarchy. Readers should be aware, though, that the book gives two, and sometimes three, viewpoints on most of the events, including the appointment of Saul as king, the reasons for his downfall, his relationship with David and the circumstances of his death.

When the people came to Samuel asking for a king to rule over them like other nations had, Samuel was displeased because he considered the Lord to be their ruler. But he finally acquiesced to their request and anointed Saul as king. Saul was described as a handsome young man who stood head and shoulders above the people.

About a month after Saul was chosen, the Ammonites threatened a portion of Israel. The people went to Saul, who invaded the Ammonite camp with his troops and slaughtered them. After that, Saul was accepted as king and his kingdom was inaugurated at Gilgal.

Chapter 12 brings the era of Israel’s judges to an end with an address by Samuel. He tells the people that he has acceded to their demand for a king, but they must still obey the Lord or God will deal with them severely. †

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