Samuel

Samuel succeeded Eli. He was not a descendant of Aaron, but became a judge, apparently, upon his own merits. But as a judge he did not constrain his sons any better than Eli had his, for "they took bribes, and perverted judgment." So the elders of Israel came to Samuel and said, "Give us a king to judge us." "And Samuel prayed unto the Lord," though he disliked the idea. Yet the result was inevitable. The kingdom was set up, and the Mosaic society perished. Nothing was left of Mosaic optimism but the tradition. Also there was the Mosaic morality, and what that amounted to may best, perhaps, be judged by David, who was the most perfect flower of the perfection to which humanity was to attain under the Mosaic law, and has always stood for what was best in Mosaic optimism. David's morality is perhaps best illustrated by the story of Uriah the Hittite.

The Child Samuel

I

When the Israelites had made their home in the promised land of Canaan, they did not forget the God of their great ancestor Jacob; but they set up on a hill called Shiloh a tabernacle, or place of worship, where they came to offer sacrifice to the God of their fathers.

Here the priests of the tabernacle killed bullocks and rams and goats, and burnt their flesh on the great altars, believing that these offerings were pleasing to God; and here the people came also to the chief of the priests whenever they had disputes with their neighbours, for the "high priest" was a judge in Israel.

Now, at one time there lived in a little cottage on the hill of Ramah, not far from what is now Jerusalem, a certain man named Elkanah, whose wife Hannah had a little boy named Samuel. The child was dearly loved by his parents, and especially by his mother, who had made up her mind that her son, when he grew up, should become a priest of the God of Israel.

The child Samuel grew, amid sunshine and wind, at his father's home on the hill of Ramah, watched by his mother with loving care; for when the time came, he was to be given to the priests in the great tent of the tabernacle on the hill of Shiloh. Three times the mother and child saw the blossoms cover the twisted branches of the olive trees and fade again; three times the valley was filled with golden wheat swaying in the wind, and the song of the reaper was heard in the fields.

Three happy years in Ramah, and the little child could run about, and talk, and shout, and take care of himself when the camels and oxen were near; then Hannah said she must how give him up to the priests. So with her husband she rode away upon a sure-footed ass, down the hills to the great festival at Shiloh, through rocky passes and across foaming streams; and her face was sad, for the little child of three sitting in her lap she would not bring back again.

She took with her a sack of meal and a leather bottle of wine, while a servant led a young bull. The animal was to be killed and burnt, while the meal and wine were to be given to the priest at the tabernacle; for these things were all to be offered as gifts to God.

Before long they saw the tabernacle on the hill of Shiloh, with its broad tent-roof of red sheepskins, as well as the hundreds of little black tents of the tribesmen, some grouped into camps with a flag, others clustered round the springs and pools of water under the trees; and soon Hannah and her boy mingled with the crowds thronging into the walled space about the tabernacle.

With beating heart the mother saw the bull killed and her meal and wine given to the busy priests. Taking her child by the hand, she led him forward to the doorway of the tabernacle, where sat Eli, the aged chief priest. The little child clung to his mother's dark-red robe as he stood with naked feet before the old man, the hem of his sleeveless tunic scarce reaching to his knees, and his head uncovered.

"Oh my lord," said the mother, "I prayed for this child as a gift from God, and God gave me my desire; and now I give him again to God as long as he shall live."

Then she pushed forward her beautiful boy; and as Eli looked at the mother and child he was pleased, and drawing the little child to himself, he blessed the waiting woman. With bowed head and falling tears she went out at the tent door, leaving behind her the greatest treasure of her life.

Before long the black tents were taken down by the women of the tribes, the crowds of men and animals passed away through the openings in the hills, and the festival was over. And Hannah rode up with her people back to Ramah, but not before she had kissed her sweet boy once more, weeping as she did so, and telling him in soft Hebrew words that she would come again to see him.

The priests took the little child, and over his short blue tunic they drew a white linen dress like their own. After that he lived with them in one of the houses near the tabernacle on the hill of Shiloh, and they taught him how to read from the old yellow rolls of the Bible; and he served them, doing what he was told, as a little child should. And there were other brown-eyed boys of Israel there, left by their mothers, and all beautiful as little angels without wings.

Four times a year the Israelite tribes gathered round this hill of Shiloh, to bring gifts, and offer worship to God, and hold councils of war. Then little Samuel was glad, for his mother came to see him; and he ran gaily about, now looking at the leaping fires on the brass altar, now watching the clouds of sweet smoke rolling out from behind the blue curtains of the holy place of the tabernacle.

Sometimes he was told to pour olive oil into a flickering lamp; sometimes he would sing in the choir, or carry a golden bowl or a priest's shoes; but he was never allowed to go in behind the thick veil of purple, blue, crimson, gold, and white, which hid the sacred place known as the Holy of Holies, where the gold-winged cherubs were.

Did his mother forget little Samuel? Other little children were born to her, but still she remembered him, away among bearded men in that large, dark tent; and this is how she showed her love for him. She gathered of the finest of the lamb's wool, and having dyed it purple, spun it into threads; and with her loom of strings hanging from the roof she wove a little blue gown without a seam and without sleeves, to reach from his chin to his knees; and she worked it round the broad hem with flowers and bells, and fruit of red and yellow and brown.

And each time she went to the great yearly festival she took a little blue coat with her, making it longer and longer as the child grew into a boy, and the boy became a ruddy youth; and with it, too, would go a little white willow basket with honey-comb and cheese, sweet cakes and pressed figs, such as she knew that Samuel loved.

Thus she showed her constant love for the child who had left her side, but would never leave her heart. And the child-priest grew, not only in stature, but in favour with God and men.


II

The great tent of the tabernacle on the hill of Shiloh had thick curtains woven in colours of blue, purple, and scarlet, and a high roof covered over with red and brown skins to keep it warm and dry; the sides were of stone, and the doors of wood, with carved wooden pillars. A thick curtain of purple, scarlet, and gold hung down inside, dividing off the Holy of Holies at the end from the rest of the place, where the priests went about every day, attending to the altar of incense and the golden lamps. And there was a special golden lamp, with seven branches, which always stood close to this great purple curtain.

All was dark in the Holy of Holies behind that heavy curtain, and there stood the Ark, a box about a yard long, plated with gold and having a wreath of gold round it, under the outspread wings of two golden angels. Inside that box were two flat stones, on which were written the Commandments that God had given to His people, the children of Israel. The priests had charge of the tabernacle, and of all that was in it; and they took special care of the Ark, which was the chief treasure of the nation.

Now it was Samuel's duty to shut the wooden doors of the tabernacle at night, and sleep close to the great purple curtain and watch—a very trying thing for one so young in such a large, silent place. One night as he lay there asleep on his mat before the purple curtain, with the great lamp burning low and red, and shadows flickering about the silent place, he was suddenly roused by what sounded like Eli's voice calling him. At once he answered, "Here am I," and ran to the side of the aged priest. But the old man told the wondering boy that he had not called him, and with gentle words bade him lie down again, calling him his son.

Samuel went back to his mat, but after a while he heard the voice once more; and again he thought it was Eli, and ran to his bedside, saying that he did  call him. Eli now saw that God was calling the boy, and told him to go and lie down, and if he heard the voice again, to answer, "Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth." Then the boy Samuel, in wonder and fear, returned to his sleeping-mat before the great purple curtain, and lay down with the light shining upon him. Once more he heard the voice calling,—

"Samuel, Samuel."

"Speak, Lord; for Thy servant heareth," he replied in a trembling voice. Then Samuel heard a voice, which told him that God meant to punish Eli for not checking his sons, who were very wicked men, and had done many things which were wrong in His sight; also that He had chosen him to be the leader and judge of the people of Israel after Eli.

The boy slept again, the temple lamp burned low before the great curtain, and the place was silent until the gray light of morning stole in. Then Samuel rose, and as he unbarred the wooden doors of the tabernacle and opened them wide, the dawn was breaking over the hills in clouds of crimson and gold, filling the holy place with the light of a new day.

The breath of morning was in his face as he looked out to the east and the rising sun; and he felt a changed boy, for he had received a message from God Himself—a call to lead the people of Israel; yet he feared to tell Eli of his vision, so great and so terrible. But after a while the old priest awoke, and calling him to his bedside put questions to him; and when he heard that he had had a vision, he bade the boy tell him all, both good and bad, and Samuel did so.

The child Samuel.

The child Samuel

The story grieved the old man, but even yet he did not check his sons, who were now too strong for him; and for some years more they went on in their wicked ways, and he still remained the chief priest. But as he grew older and weaker Samuel grew stronger; and when he became a man, he became known through all the land for his wisdom, and the people said that Samuel was a friend of God, who had guidance from the Most High for His people. So he continued to live at Shiloh as Eli's chief helper until the old man passed away; and so the little boy of the tabernacle became in due time the chief prophet, the ruler, and the judge of Israel.

Samuel

Gjalout (Goliath) was king of the Philistines. He was of the race of the ancient giants, the Adites and the Themudites, who were from fifty to a hundred cubits in height.

The children of Israel were grievously oppressed by him, and they besought God to send them a prophet who would reinstruct them in the law of Moses, and in the true religion. For thirty years they besought God, but no prophet was given to them. In the meanwhile, the Philistines oppressed them more and more, and whenever the Israelites rose against them they defeated the Israelites with great slaughter.

There died a man of the tribe of Levi, Rayyan (Elkanah), son of Elkama, who was descended from Aaron the brother of Moses. The elders of Israel hearing that he had died, leaving his wife pregnant, went to her and surrounded her with the greatest care and comforts.

There was amongst them a wise man named Hil (Eli) who was high-priest; to him they confided the care of the widow. In time she bore a son, who was named Ischmawil (Samuel).

Eli brought up the child Samuel in the temple, to the age of seven years, and he taught him the Pentateuch and the religion of Moses.

Samuel regarded Eli as his father, because he had been brought up by him, and he loved and reverenced him greatly.

One night when he was asleep, Gabriel came into the room and made a noise, so that Samuel awoke.

He saw no one, so he called to Eli, “Master! didst thou summon me?”

Eli replied, “No, my son, I did not summon thee.”

Next night the same occurred; so also the third night.

Then Eli thought that God wished to give to Samuel the gift of prophecy; therefore he said, “My son, if thou art called again in the night, reply, Here am I; what wouldest Thou? I am in Thy hands.”

Samuel did so. Then Gabriel appeared to him and communicated to him the message of God.

Samuel told Eli that the Lord had given him the gift of prophecy, by the mouth of His messenger Gabriel.

Then Eli was rejoiced, and he announced the glad tidings to all Israel.

Eli had two sons whom he had instructed in the art of offering sacrifice according to the law of Moses, but he had taught them nothing else. Eli himself moreover neglected to sacrifice, and he allowed his sons to live after their lusts, unrestrained by his paternal and priestly rebuke.

Therefore God spake to Samuel that He would punish Eli and his sons; but Samuel feared to show it to the high priest.

Then said Eli to him, “Has God given thee a message to me?”

And Samuel answered, “God has said, Why hast thou neglected to offer sacrifice, so that thy sons add thereto or detract therefrom? And why hast thou not constrained them? Because of this sin, I shall deliver thee into the hands of an enemy, who shall slay thy sons, and take the ark, and cause thee to perish also.”598

Then Gjalout came, and made war against the children of Israel, and there was a great battle, and Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were slain, and the ark was taken; and Eli fell backward from off his seat when he heard the news, and his neck brake, and he died.

In the ark, that now fell into the hands of the Philistines, were preserved the tables of the Law, which God had given to Moses, and a basin in which the angels washed and purified the hearts of the prophets, and the mitre and breastplate and potificial robes of Aaron.

The Israelites had been accustomed, in times of peril, to produce the ark, and it had delivered them from evil by virtue of the sacred relics it contained. As for the Shekinah which rested upon it, and from which the ark took its name of Tabut-Shekinah, the Mussulman authors assure us it had the form of a leopard, which, whenever the ark was carried against the enemies of God's people, rose on its legs, and uttered so potent a roar, that the foes of Israel fell to the ground. These authors, however, derive this fable from Rabbinic writers.599

The king of the Philistines, having obtained possession of the ark, placed it in a draught-house, purposing thereby to express his hatred of the Jews, and his contempt for that which they regarded as most sacred.

But a terrible disease broke out among the Philistines, and the ark was sent from Gaza to another city. There the plague appeared immediately, and the Philistines were at length obliged to return the ark to the Israelites.

In the mean time, the Israelites, in consternation at the loss of their ark, gathered about Samuel, and besought him to consecrate a king for them, who might go forth to battle before them, and recover for them the ark.

Then Samuel said: “If I consecrate a king for you, will you not desert him, and refuse to obey him?”

But they all protested, “We will follow him wherever he leads, and we will obey all his commands.”600

Then Schareh, who was surnamed Thalout (Saul), on account of the greatness of his stature, was chosen by Samuel to be their king. He was poor, and by trade a water-carrier, and his ancestors had all been water-carriers.

Now the father of Saul had lost an ass, which had escaped into the desert. Saul went after it.

Then Samuel came to meet him, and said to him: “Thou shalt reign as king over the people of Israel.”

Saul replied: “O prophet of God! thou knowest that my tribe is the least among the tribes, and that I am the poorest among the members of my tribe.”

Samuel said: “Nevertheless, God has ordered that so it should be.”

Then he poured on his head the sacred oil which had been brought to Samuel out of heaven by Gabriel.

But some say that this oil belonged to Joseph the son of Jacob, and it was preserved by the prophets. When this oil was poured on Saul's head and face, it made his skin brilliant and pure.

Now the prophets all came out of the tribe of Levi, and the tribe of Benjamin was despised greatly by the Israelites. And when they heard that their king was from that tribe, and was a water-carrier, they were angry, and exclaimed, “Why should he reign over us? We are as worthy to reign as he!”601

Samuel answered, “God gives power to whom He wills.”

The Israelites said, “Show us a sign.”

Samuel brought the sacred oil forth, and it boiled in the presence of Saul.602

But that did not suffice them. They then asked another sign; and Samuel said, “The ark shall return.”

And they lifted their eyes, and lo! the ark was coming to them attached to the tails of two cows, and angels guided the cows.603

Then the children of Israel doubted no longer, but accepted Saul as their king.

Then said Samuel to the people: “The God of your fathers has sent me unto you, to promise you victory over the Philistines, and deliverance from your bondage, if you will turn and leave your evil ways.”

“What shall we do?” asked one of the elders, “that we may obtain the favor of God?”

Samuel answered, “Ye must pray to God alone, and offer no sacrifices to idols, nor eat the flesh of swine, or blood; neither must you eat any thing which is not slaughtered in the name of the Most High. Ye must assist one another, honor your parents, entreat your wives with kindness, and support the widows, orphans, and poor. Ye shall believe in the prophets who have gone before me, especially in Abraham, for whom God turned a fiery pile into a pleasure garden; in Ishmael, whose neck God made as a flint stone, and for whom He opened a fountain in the stony desert; and in Moses, who with his staff opened twelve clay paths through the sea. Also ye shall believe in the prophets who shall follow after me, especially in Isa Ibn Mariam (Jesus, Son of Mary), the Spirit of God, and in Mohammed Ibn Abd-Allah.”

“And who is this Isa?” asked one of the elders of Israel.

“Isa,” pursued Samuel, “is the prophet foretold in the Tora as the Word of God. His mother Mariam (Mary) shall conceive him by the will of God, and by a breath of the angel Gabriel. In his mother's womb will he praise the almighty power of God, and testify to the immaculate purity of his mother; afterwards will he heal the sick and crippled, will quicken the dead, and will create living birds out of clay.604  His godless cotemporaries will deal cruelly with him, and will crucify him; but God will deceive their eyes and will let another die in his room, and he will be carried up into heaven like the prophet Idris (Enoch).”

“And Mohammed,” asked the same Israelite, “who is he? His name sounds strange in our ears, never have we heard that name before.”

“Mohammed,” answered Samuel, “does not belong to the race of Israel; he will descend from the seed of Ishmael, and he will be the last and greatest of the prophets, before whom Moses and Christ will bend at the Resurrection Day. His name, which signifies the Much Praised, is prophetic of the laud and honor he will receive from all creatures on earth, and all the angels in heaven. The miracles he will work are numberless, so that a man's life is not long enough to relate them all. I shall be able to tell you only the events of a single night.

“One fearful night of tempest, in which neither cock will crow nor dog bark, Mohammed shall be aroused from sleep by Gabriel, who shall appear to him in the shape he has when he appears before God, with seven hundred wings streaming with light; between each a space such as a fleet-footed horse could scarce traverse in five hundred years. Gabriel will lead the prophet forth into the open air, where the wondrous horse Borak will be ready. That is the horse on which Abraham mounted when he made his pilgrimages from Syria to Mecca. This horse has two wings as an eagle, and feet like a dromedary, and a body like a costly gem, shining like the sun, and a head like the fairest maiden. On this wondrous beast, whose brow bears the inscription, ‘There is no God save God, and Mohammed is his prophet,' he will mount and ride, first to Medina, then to Sinai, thence to Bethlehem, and finally to Jerusalem, to view the holy places, and at them to offer up his prayers. From Jerusalem he will ascend on a golden ladder, with rungs of rubies, emeralds, and jacinths, into the seventh heaven, where he will be instructed in all the mysteries of the creation, and the governance of the world. He will see the blessed in all their joy, in Paradise, and the sinners, in all their pain, in Hell. There will he see many pasturing wild cattle in unfruitful fields. These are they who in the time of life used the gifts of God without giving to those in need. Others will he see running about, and carrying in one hand fresh, and in the other putrid, meat, and as often as they attempt to taste the former, a fiery rod will smite them on the hand, till they devour the latter. This is the punishment of those who have violated marriage, and have preferred forbidden pleasures. Others have a swollen body, swelling daily more and more; these are the fraudulent and avaricious. Others have their tongues and lips fastened together with iron clamps; these are the slanderers and backbiters. Between Paradise and Hell sits Adam, laughing with joy when the gate of Heaven opens to receive one of his sons, and he hears the songs and shouts of the blessed; weeping with self-reproach when the gate of Hell uncloses to take in one of his descendants, and he hears the sobbing of the damned. On this night will Mohammed also see, besides Gabriel, the other angels, who have each seventy thousand heads, and in each head seventy thousand faces, and in each face seventy thousand mouths, and in each mouth seventy thousand tongues, wherewith they cease not day or night to praise God in seventy thousand diverse languages. He will also see the angel of atonement, who is half fire, half ice; also the angel who watches the treasure of fire with gloomy countenance and flashing eyes; also the angel of death, with a great writing-table in his hand, whereon are inscribed many names, and from which at every instant he wipes off several hundreds; finally, the angel who guards the waters, and weighs in great scales the water allotted to each spring and well, and brook and river; and the angel who bears up the throne of God on his shoulders, and has a horn in his mouth, wherewith he will blow the blast that is to wake the dead. Moreover, the prophet will be conducted through many seas of light near to the throne itself, which is so great that the whole world will be beside it as a link in a coat of mail dropped in the desert. What will be further revealed to him,” answered Samuel, “is unknown to me; this only I know, that, after having contemplated the Majesty of God a bowshot off, he will descend the ladder precipitately, and, mounting Borak, will return to Mecca. Now the whole of this journey, his sojourn in Medina, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the seventh heaven, will occupy so little time, that a water-pitcher which he upset as he left the house in Mecca will not have run all its waters out by his return.”

The assembled Israelites listened to Samuel, and when he was silent they cried with one voice, “We believe in God and in all the past prophets, and in all those who are yet for to come. Pray for us that we may escape the tyrrany of Gjalout (Goliath).”

Thus Saul was chosen king of Israel, and Samuel was prophet to the people of God.605

598  Tabari, i. c. lxxxvii.

599  D'Herbelot, Bibl. Orient., s. v. Aschmouil.

600  Koran, Sura ii. v. 247, 248.

601  Koran, Sura ii. v. 248.

602  D'Herbelot, Bibl. Orientale, t. i. p. 263.

603  Tabari, i. p. 417.

604  This incident, from the apocryphal gospels of the childhood of Christ, shall be related in the Legendary Lives of New Testament Characters.

605  Weil, pp. 193-8.