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The prophet Samuel is an extremely prominent character within the biblical narrative, whose influence and actions have left an indelible mark throughout the history of the believing people. An outstanding judge and spiritual leader, Samuel emerged at a time when the priesthood was facing a significant decline, mainly due to corruption and lack of righteousness among the religious leaders of the time. Despite these challenges, the prophet persevered in his dedication to the “cause of GOD” and his people, leading them through numerous trials and tribulations.
But Samuel also played a key role in the establishment of the monarchy in Israel. He was responsible for anointing two kings, choosing first Saul to lead the nation, and then David as his successor. Yet the establishment of a monarchy was not his intent or desire at all.
All the elders of Israel gathered and went to Samuel, to Ramah … and said to him, “Behold, you have grown old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint us a king who will judge us like all the nations.”
Samuel’s reaction was anything but positive, and so he entrusted this delicate matter to GOD, who responded with equal displeasure, though he granted the people a ruler:
The LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people, according to all that they shall say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from reigning over them.”
Instructed by GOD, Samuel warned the people of the dangers of appointing a king. He was aware that power corrupts the Animi, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The prophet thus predicted that they would repent of their request, yet the people seemed adamant:
The people refused to listen to Samuel’s voice and said, “No, but there will be a king over us. Rather, we shall be like all the nations; our king shall judge us and go before us and make our wars.”
Eventually, Samuel appointed first Saul as king, and then much later in years the young shepherd David as well.
The idea of a centralized government structure, in the form of a monarchy, was thus driven solely by the will of the people. The Israelites, having observed the political systems of the surrounding nations, desired a similar form of government. They were convinced that a king would provide stability and protection, thus unifying the nation under one ruler. This request, however, was met with disapproval by Samuel, who well understood that the true leadership and protection of the chosen people could only come from GOD. Let us elaborate on why the prophet was annoyed by the people’s request? Because GOD deemed the request a “turning away” from the Father, even though according to the Torah (Law) it is a legitimate act:
“When you come to the land that the LORD, your GOD, is giving you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, ‘I will establish a king over me, like all the nations around me,’ you shall establish over you a king, the one whom the LORD, your GOD, shall choose…
(Deuteronomy Ch. 4)
It is clear from the story that the people did not want to go against Samuel, but they did not trust his sons who were to succeed him in the task of judges. So they turned to Samuel himself to request to elect a king, and without his help, they would elect him without his consent.
So GOD grants and Samuel to appoint a king. But if it was indeed a questionable request, why therefore was it made? Nowhere do we find that a prophet was prompted to do something he considered illegitimate, nor would the Almighty have granted the request. So if it was inappropriate, why was it done? Whereas if it was acceptable, why the initial objection?
Appointing a king was certainly a bad idea, but one that the Law allows with some regret, which explains Samuel’s displeasure.
The idea of electing a monarch might seem like a tempting solution to establish a stable government, but for true believers there are more virtuous and spiritually appropriate methods of government that transcend earthly structures. The Torah, which serves as a guiding principle for believers, recommends the establishment of a stable and just government to maintain order and promote harmony within society. However, it does not explicitly endorse the establishment of a hereditary monarchy, which often involves a number of issues, such as the potential for corruption, power struggles and dynastic disputes. Rather, the Torah encourages the pursuit of a system of government that upholds the values of justice, righteousness and adherence to divine laws, ensuring more meaningful and spiritually grounded leadership for the people.
The appointment of a king is not inherently sinful within the framework of the Law, but nevertheless, the manner in which the people approached Samuel in their search for a king was offensive and disappointing to the prophet. The Israelites expressed their dissatisfaction and lack of trust in the divine plan by choosing to ignore Samuel’s wise advice and warnings. Instead of humbly seeking GOD’s guidance and answers, they hastily pursued their own desires and ambitions.
We all need to trust and put our faith in GOD, convinced that his will is always better (for us and our lives) than our own. The people’s decision to prioritize their earthly desires rather than seeking GOD’s wisdom and guidance reflects a departure from the fundamental principles of seeking GOD. In this context, the appointment of a king is less about the act itself and more about the underlying motivations and attitudes that led to this decision, which ultimately strayed from the path of genuine devotion to the Father.
Divine guidance: Learning from Samuel’s challenge
In the ever-changing landscape of our modern, technologically advanced society, the story of Samuel’s struggle against the establishment of a monarchy offers valuable lessons that are not only relevant but also deeply instructive. As we navigate the complexities and challenges that characterize our contemporary world, we must not lose sight of the importance of placing our trust in a higher power and seeking divine guidance, rather than relying solely on human institutions and authority figures.
We must show ourselves to be staunch advocates for the spiritual and moral growth of individuals and communities; we must recognize that true stability, wisdom and direction can only be found through adherence to moral and spiritual principles. By fostering a solid connection with our faith and the values it imparts, we are able to make informed decisions that serve not only our own well-being but also the collective good of our communities.
Moreover, we must remember that technological advances, while capable of promoting material progress, can never replace the essential role that faith and spirituality play in our lives. As Pope John Paul II eloquently expressed it, “science can purify religion from error and superstition. Religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes.” Therefore, it is crucial to strike a balance between the pursuit of worldly knowledge and the cultivation of spiritual wisdom to avoid getting lost in the ephemeral allure of material success.
In conclusion, the account of Samuel’s struggle with the monarchy serves as a reminder of the importance of seeking divine guidance in the face of the world’s challenges. As we strive to build a better future in our world, let us not forget the lessons imparted by this biblical narrative.