Saturday, December 06, 2008

The world of Samuel

The transition from loose confederacy to monarchy in Samuel is fraught with complications.

In 1 Samuel, the story is set in motion by the importunate words of Hannah, the mother of Samuel (1 Samuel 11), to the Lord that he grant her a son, whom she promises to dedicate to His service. (Recall the priest, Eli, at first thinks she is drunk, when in fact she’s moved by inspiration).

Her prayer takes place within a context established at the outset through two opening statements, which, taken together as true, predicate a crisis:

1. In gratitude that her prayer is answered, Hannah offers a song that says, in effect, that the Lord is the author of change:

The LORD3068 killeth,4191 and maketh alive:2421 he bringeth down3381 to the grave,7585 and bringeth up.5927

As a result, she says:

The bows7198 of the mighty men1368 are broken,2844 and they that stumbled3782 are girded247with strength.2428

(Which will, parenthetically, evoke the symmetrically balanced poem of David at the beginning of 2 Samuel, lamenting the fate of Saul and Jonathan:

How349 are the mighty1368 fallen,5307 and the weapons3627 of war4421 perished!6 )

2. A second key statement is that access to the Lord, intelligence of his will, is intermittent, not always secure, in this time:

“ …the word of the Lord was rare in those days, vision was not spread about.” (1 Sam. 3:1)

From Eli to Samuel to Saul to David to the House of David, the transition from loose confederacy to a "stable" dynasty lurches along. It's a hostile, murderous world full of unpredictable surprises and wrong turns. What comes about has much to do with the characters' intelligence of the ways of men, and of the Lord, in the many senses of the word.

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