1. The Reluctant Kingmaker
In the sacred history which is comprised in the Old Testament certain periods are given special emphasis. The four generations of Hebrew patriarchs Abram, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph occupy most of the book of Genesis. The story of Moses and the exodus from Egypt, followed by the conquest of Canaan, is the subject of four other books. The brief period of United Israel under the three notable kings, Saul, David, and Solomon, is the next detailed account. The story of the two prophets Elijah and Elisha covers a great many chapters in the two books of Kings. And finally the books of Jeremiah, Daniel, and other prophets give many incidents from the time of the Babylonish captivity.
The inspired Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg give a detailed exposition of only two of the books of the Old Testament namely, Genesis and Exodus, the spiritual sense of which is fully unfolded in the Arcana Coelestia. Besides this, they give meager outlines of the spiritual sense of the Prophets and the Psalms. Yet there are sufficient teachings given, scattered in these Writings, to enable us to confirm that all the events of the Biblical drama internally treat of the progressive states of the Lord's glorification and of man's regeneration; indeed, that the Old Testament contains a continuous internal sense which reflects and contains the spiritual teachings of the Lord in His second advent.
It is predicted of the New Church that "every Divine truth in the sense of the letter of the Word is, with the men of that church, translucent from the Divine truth in the spiritual sense." This is signified when it is said that the walls of the New Jerusalem were of jasper, shining like crystal. "The Word in the sense of the letter is of such a nature that the more a man is enlightened by the influx of the light of heaven, so much the more does he see truths in their connection and thence in their form; and the more he so sees them, so much the more is his rational mind opened interiorly, for the rational is the very receptacle of the light of heaven." (AR 911, cf 897).
The present little volume aims to present some highlights in the story of the three kings of United Israel; for in a sense their reign marks the culmination of Israel's hopes and the nearest fulfilment of Jehovah's promise of a homeland for Abraham's seed. It is a very human story, this striving of the twelve tribes for a country of their own; a story which reminds us of the pioneering efforts of many immigrant peoples who have fled from oppression. And in a larger aspect, does not every man long for the freedom, peace, and power of an inheritance of his own for a field of uses of his own or for the fulfilment of the promise implied in his inherited talents? The spiritually minded man sees this promised land more clearly, as an opening of new opportunities for selfless cooperation with others in uses which look to the establishment of the kingdom of God, both on earth and eternally in heaven uses which promote charity and spiritual enlightenment and are inspired by, and centered in, an ever more pure and perfect worship of the Lord and in a realization of His leading.
All such human aspirations civil, moral, and spiritual find their parallel in the events which led up to the establishment of Israel in its promised land. Whatever men find to be worth striving for as a means to a life more abundant, can be reached only by the way which Israel had to tread.
Progress begins with a vision of this goal. There must be a Moses to reveal it and hold it before our eyes. But there must also be a realization of the bonds that bind us, and the courage to shake them off. We must leave the merely worldly climate of Egypt. We must commit ourselves to the hardships of the wilderness to a sacrifice of less important things, to the discipline and training which the Lord called "the strait gate" and "the narrow way." We must accept new laws and order our lives for survival, and fight for each new stage of the way.
The fight seems often as one against outward conditions, external enemies. But on closer examination it is realized to be a fight against ourselves, a struggle for self-control, for mastery over the impulses of one's lower self; a fight against our inward foes.
This held true even with the Israelites, who could not advance into their inheritance until, after forty years, a new generation, trained in warfare, had been raised up. The conquest of Canaan under Joshua was never a complete conquest, however. The tribes settled down in their scattered districts, but usually they could only maintain themselves in the mountains and highlands, while their enemies held--or by turns controlled--most of the fertile valleys and the shores of the western sea. The only strength of Israel lay in their possession of a common shrine the tabernacle at Shiloh in the center of the land. For there the scattered tribes gathered to consult together and learn the will of God. When, through disloyalty, they had fallen into idolatry and intermarriage with their pagan neighbors, their strength departed. Foreign nations or near-by nomadic tribes then invaded and began to oppress them. But in such times of crisis, common leaders were raised up by the Lord, to lead the repentant people to throw off their alien yoke.
In this period of perhaps several centuries, known as the period of the Judges, the solidarity of Israel was maintained against terrific odds. While the worship of Jehovah was continued at Shiloh, there was no central government and the Mosaic laws were largely neglected and forgotten. And the sacred chronicle repeatedly complains that "in those days there was no king in Israel but every one did what was right in his own eyes." It was an era of political and moral confusion. We see this in the pathetic story of Jephthah, who sacrificed his own daughter in fulfilment of a rash promise to Jehovah. We see it in the strange story of Samson, who used his God-given strength with playful abandon, but whose moral weaknesses blinded him to deceptions. We see it in the tale of Micah whose idols were stolen by the Danites. We see it, intensified, in the terrible moral degradation which caused Israel in horror almost to annihilate the tribe of Benjamin.
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One of the last of the Judges was Eli, a good but weak man, who also was priest at Shiloh. But his two sons, who were in charge of the sacrifices, were evil and utterly corrupt; and the Lord sent a man of God charging the father with honoring his sons above the Lord, when he only mildly rebuked them for their abuses. The Lord therefore raised up Samuel to succeed him.
Samuel was one of the most admirable characters in the Old Testament. His mother Hannah had "lent him to the Lord" while yet a child. He is the first Scriptural character who was the product of a religious education. He was brought to Eli as soon as he was weaned, and was trained to help Eli in the tabernacle. It is said that "the Word of the Lord was precious" that is, rare or unusual "in those days; there was no open vision." Yet while he still was a child, Samuel was called to be a prophet of the Lord, or a "seer", and it is plain also that he became one of the inspired writers of Scripture. (1 Sam. 10:25)
It is of interest to note that during the period of the Judges the Lord sometimes sent His "messenger" or an angel to exhort the people to repentance or to strengthen some leader. Mention is also made of "a man of God" rebuking them for their sins and thus acting as a prophet. Yet it remained for Samuel to establish the prophetic office on a more stable basis. He instituted the first prophetic school, a training-place for a company which became known as "the sons of the prophets."
The "sons of the prophets" were specifically trained in religious songs and the use of psalteries, pipes, and harps, tabrets and cymbals. Some may have been given instruction in the law and in writing. But besides this, they seemed to have been seized at times with religious enthusiasm, dancing and casting themselves in the dust, interpreting the message of God in dramatic form, acting as if obsessed with the Divine Spirit even as to their body. Several instances are shown of the hypnotic effect of such choral actions upon the beholders who thus also were seized with the prophetic impulse, and caught up in the vortex of inspiration.
In the last days of Eli the priest, an event occurred which shook the foundation of Israel. The two evil sons of the aged priest allowed the ark of the covenant to be brought out from Shiloh into the field where Israel was battling with the Philistines. It was an act of superstitious faith whereby the people's lack of courage and discipline was to be made up for by a scheme to compel the Lord to work a miracle. The outcome was that the sacred ark fell into the hands of the Philistines and the sons of Eli were among those killed in the battle. And hearing of the disaster, Eli's heart was broken, and he fell dead from his seat.
Here came Samuel's opportunity to rally the people from their crushing defeat, rebuild their faith by a call to prayer and repentance. The Philistines were eventually pressed back, with the Lord's help, so that, for twenty years, they "came no more into the coasts of Israel." "And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life." The Philistines voluntarily returned the sacred ark, which had brought them only misfortunes ; and it was lodged for twenty years in a small town in the Judean foothills, within territory recovered from the Philistines. But it does not appear that Kirjath-jearim, the place of the ark in this period, was the only place of sacrifice, as Shiloh had been. For Samuel went yearly on circuits to Beth-el* and Gilgal and Mizpeh, and returning to his house at Ramah, sacrificing and performing his office as a judge.
* Possibly Beth-el, "the House of God", was a title then bestowed on Kirjath-jearim.
He also appointed other judges, among them his two sons whom he set over Beer-sheba. But his sons to his sorrow did not walk in his ways, but took bribes and perverted judgment. Fearing that Samuel's sons would succeed him, the people therefore came to Samuel and pleaded that he should appoint a king over Israel, a king such as other nations had, a king to rule by decree and lead them in battle.
This was a revolutionary request! So far Israel had been a theocracy its leaders had risen spontaneously when a crisis made it necessary. No judge had ruled the whole of Israel, each tribe had its own patriarchal government; and if uncertainties arose the leaders could go to the high priest at Shiloh and be guided by him when he consulted the Lord by means of the "urim and thummim" on the sacred breastplate, or go to a seer or "man of God." But after the death of Eli, the priesthood was in disrepute and the ark was no longer in Shiloh. The sons of Samuel were not acceptable leaders. And the Philistines were a constant menace.
Samuel was much disturbed by this demand for a king. However, the Lord said to him that the people were not really rejecting Samuel, but rejecting the Lord's more direct government. He told Samuel to give in to their request, but to tell them frankly what kind of a king they would have to expect: a king who would compel their goodliest young men to run before his chariots and serve as soldiers and as harvesters of his fields and as workmen to produce his weapons; and who would draft their daughters to be cooks and confectioners; a king who would confiscate the best of their property and take their asses for his own work and demand as taxes a tenth of their sheep and of the fruit of their labors.
But the people still insisted that they wanted a king, and be like all the nations.
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Soon after this, some asses, belonging to Kish, a prominent Benjamite, strayed away; and he sent his son Saul to look for them. Saul and his servant went far and wide, but saw no sign of the asses. Finally, as they were well nigh exhausted, they thought to ask Samuel the seer, who was in a near-by town getting ready for a sacrifice. And Samuel, to whom the Lord revealed that this choice young man, taller than any in Israel, was to be the future king, embarrassed Saul by placing him in the chief seat at the feast. And the next day Samuel took him aside and anointed his head with oil and revealed to him his royal destiny.
Saul was shown by various signs that Samuel spoke the truth. Saul was a bashful man, far from self-reliant. But it happened, as Samuel foretold, that he met a company of prophets, and the Spirit of God descended on him also, and "gave him another heart" so that he was "turned into another man." And he prophesied among the prophets. And the onlookers exclaimed, "What has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets ?"
Presently Samuel called the people together and cast a lot to determine who was to become king. And the Lord's choice fell on Saul, who had modestly hidden himself among the supplies. All hailed him, with the cry, "Let the king live" or, as we would say, "Long live the king!" Yet Samuel impressed on the people that they had done a great wickedness in asking for a king.
And Samuel had soon reason to be discontented with the new king, who was apt to trespass on Samuel's prerogatives and in his anxiety for the Lord's protection against the approaching Philistines took upon himself to sacrifice in Samuel's absence and, again, to disobey the command to utterly destroy Agag, the king of the Amalekites, and annihilate both people and cattle. When Saul spared Agag as a captive and let the Israelites save the choice animals for a sacrificial feast, Samuel rebuked Saul, saying, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord ? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."
Saul made excuses, but Samuel declared that the Lord had rejected him. As the seer turned away Saul laid hold of Samuel's cloak, which rent. And Samuel exclaimed, "The Lord has rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and has given it to a neighbor of thine, one better than thou!"
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One who reads this story cannot help having a good deal of sympathy for Saul. For he was placed over the kingdom under almost insurmountable difficulties. He became king in name only, and only a small band of men "whose hearts God had touched" followed him home to Gibeah, his home town. And there were many who were privately contemptuous of the upstart king. But it was not long before he proved his worth. When the Ammonites beleaguered an outlying city, he commanded all Israel to come to the rescue on pain of death. And the victory which followed established Saul's authority.
But soon the Philistines again began to encroach. Saul then had only six hundred men. And except for Saul and Jonathan his son, they had no regular weapons, neither sword nor spear. For so primitive was their condition, that there was no smith in all Israel, but the people were obliged to go down to the Philistines in the valleys to sharpen their axes and farm implements; and iron tools were still scarce in those days.
The Philistines had many garrisons throughout the country. It was Jonathan who on his own initiative challenged this situation, saying, "There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few." So he and his armor-bearer climbed up a steep cliff and challenged an amused garrison of Philistines, who exclaimed, "Look, the Hebrews have come forth out of their holes." Yet after Jonathan had slain twenty of the enemy the whole garrison resorted to flight. And at this Saul's men took heart, and many Hebrews who had served with the Philistines took Israel's side, and soon the whole countryside was cleared of Philistines who turned in rout towards their coastal cities.
Saul now consolidated his gains, and with the help of his uncle Abner, who became the captain of his host, he soon controlled the hinterland even down to the southern deserts. But it was when he thus defeated the Amalekites in the south that he was disowned by Samuel for disobedience. And never again did Samuel see Saul.
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It was said that every man, in some fashion, seeks to inherit the land of promise which is latent in the talents with which he is born. As he grows up, he is led on by ideals of life which differ with his age. And since all children if they are to make something of themselves must become civil and moral, and acquire the virtues distinctive of their age, it is these virtues which stand out as the leading factors in the formation of their minds.
At first these ideals in childhood are not unified or constant. Like the various judges of Israel, they rise to meet some crisis and are then soon replaced by other interests. Like the judges, such as Jephthah and Samson, they are confused with false loyalties and led to many errors, many childish tragedies. Scattered bits of instruction may lead to the formation of a spurious conscience which mistakes some popular persuasion for the voice of God. Progress towards any unity of mind, any integrated character, is impossible unless there develops a universal quality which can give a general guidance.
And in our story, this quality is described in the character of Samuel. It is Obedience.
The name Samuel can be translated "God hears," or "One who hearkens to God." In general it means Obedience. And Samuel, from childhood, was lent to the Lord, and, brought up in the service of the tabernacle, heard the voice of God as a child. He put aside his own fears and preferences, to obey the Lord. "Behold," he said, "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams!" He had a quality of innocence and forthrightness, a simple loyalty to the literal commands of God which is reminiscent of the best qualities of childhood.
Yet the time comes when such obedience is not enough to rule the devious ambitions which rise in the growing mind, and to meet the states which rebel and the worldly falsities which invade the understanding. This is particularly true when the states of childish trust in prayer and worship are apparently disappointed and the ark of the covenant is stolen away from the inmost center of the mind. The reliance on childish love for parents becomes weakened and the tender celestial remains of infancy fail to move the mind as formerly. The child becomes disillusioned about his childhood dreams and feels insecure when he realizes how he has been moved by one passing ideal after another and found them all full of error. The mind comes into a sophisticated state. It is tired of "judges." It wants a king! a truth that is unassailable, permanent ; whose authority cannot be challenged; a ruling principle that shall dissolve all disputes, discover all wrongs, reconcile all contradictions, banish all doubts!
So it is with every normal child. And in our spiritual life, in the process of spiritual growth, it is the same. Our first enthusiasms that lead us to battle with some of our evils and cause us to do good works with a pleasing sense of merit but without much judgment, are soon found to savor of a spurious conscience, and we find that we must revise our principles from time to time. This again is like Israel's state in the days of the Judges. It is followed by the discovery of evils which hide even in the sanctuary of our faith like the unfaithful sons of Eli who gambled away the ark of the covenant. And it is then that the only salvation lies in a new humility a simple obedience like that of Samuel, a new repentance which marks a new spiritual childhood where innocence can be reestablished.
The Writings would call such a state as is signified by Samuel, a "celestial natural" state, such as is present with children and the simple. Indeed, we may discern in all the Hebrew heroes from the period of the Judges representations of those states of religious immaturity which achieve something of reformation but fall back into disorders and mental confusion; states in which glimpses of truths about faith and charity are seen in the borrowed light of tradition, but in which the impatient passions of the natural man continue to break forth to obliterate this temporary illustration.
Samuel stands for the highest attainment of this loyalty to the traditions and doctrines of the church; a simple obedience which begins to hear the voice of God as a call to inner repentance. But simple obedience cannot forever rule the states of doubt and fear which clamor for recognition in the mind. Tradition is not enough. Truth must be invested with a greater authority, as chosen and anointed of the Lord; as a king vested with permanent powers and able to fight against assailing falsities.
Such authoritative truth cannot come from tradition, but must be seen in the Word itself. And the kings of Israel, beginning with Saul, represent such Divine truth as this is seen operating in the mind of man. In the literal sense of the Word, these kings are described as human personalities, wherein good is as it were mingled with evil, strength offset by weakness, wisdom accompanied by folly. In a proximate sense, each king represented the Divine truth as seen in a fallible human state, not as it is in itself. But in the more interior view of the angels, the evils mentioned in the Word disappear, for the angels see only the Divine purpose and the Divine law within the literal sense. Acts which appear cruel and shocking such as the massacre of enemy populations and the polygamy practiced by Israel's kings come to represent, in the spiritual sense, the highest justice and the greatest mercies, for they describe complete deliverance from the hells and the Lord's love for the universal church.
And the rivalry of Samuel and Saul similarly represents the fluctuations in man's concept as to what kind of truth should rule him for the best progress in spiritual life. Samuel, on the Lord's command, anointed Saul. True tradition, a true doctrine of the church, points, from a sense of duty, to the authority of the Word and helps to prepare the way for men to turn to the Word. Yet the Lord and Samuel regarded the demand for a king as a decline, as if it was a revolt against the government of the Lord. For in a sense, the rule of the judges was in form a superior kind of government like that of the celestial kingdom of heaven a government by truth seen from good. Hence it is said that one must enter into the kingdom of heaven as a child. The child accepts truth from a love of parents and masters, from the affections active at the time. But when innocence departs, the emerging evils of the proprium must be restrained and its falsities put away by sterner methods, by the facing of truth as such, seen in its own light. (AC 8770). From the sphere of the celestial kingdom man departs into the custody of the spiritual kingdom of heaven. And the truth man first accepts is that of the natural sense of the Word; which in general is described by Saul.