32. The first King of Israel

Exhausted and drained by constant wars and invasions, the Israelites had felt the need of a ‘strong central leadership’ and had decided to appoint a ruler. God too had favoured the appointment. But who exactly would adorn the position, was a question that still remained unanswered.

It was during the same period that God Himself appeared to Samuel in a vision and told him that the first King of Israel would himself come and meet him.

In the warrior tribe of Benjamin, there lived an Israelite named ‘Kish’, who had a son by the name of Saul. Saul was a tall and strongly-built young man of a composed and contemplative nature. He was a staunch believer but in the one supreme God, he was ethical, law-abiding and meticulously and stringently followed all the Jewish religious principles and tenets. It so happened one day, that a few of the donkeys from Kish’s herd which were taken for grazing lost their way and could not be traced. Hence, Kish sent his son, Saul along with a servant to look for the lost donkeys but they could not find them despite a long search. Left with no alternative, Saul decided to return.

By then, they had already reached the area of Mount Ephraim. Learning of Saul’s plan of returning, the servant accompanying him said that he had heard of a great Israelite visionary living in the area. The servant further suggested that they meet him since they happened to be so close in the vicinity in any case and added that it would help serve their purpose. Saul readily consented.

The visionary that the servant was referring to was none other than Samuel. Samuel, just the night before, had received a vision from God about the new King of Israel and made grand preparations to welcome the new Israelite leader. He had planned a feast and had invited some of the respected Israelite elders for the event.

Saul meets Samuel

However, though Saul entered Samuel’s city, he was not aware where he could find the visionary they were looking for. Hence he inquired about him (Samuel) with an Israelite who was passing by. But then after all the pieces were falling into place in keeping with a divine plan and so it was little wonder that the person with whom Saul inquired about Samuel should turn out to be Samuel himself!

That a visitor from out of town should specifically ask for him was a broad enough hint and in fact a clear indication for Samuel that he was now face to face with the person who was to be the first King of Israel- precisely the person Samuel was eagerly waiting for.

After doing primary checks on Saul, Samuel invited him to his home and also requested him to join in the feast. Also, Samuel told Saul not to worry about his father’s donkeys as they had already been found. Samuel also prophesied that the person who had found them would meet Saul on his way back home and reveal to him their details.

Samuel then indirectly indicated to Saul about the divine plan, but Saul who was very humble by nature tried to distance from it saying that he was too ordinary a person to bear this responsibility. But Samuel persisted and explained to Saul that it was indeed God’s Will. Convincing him successfully to comply with it, Samuel brought Saul home with him.

Here, Samuel introduced Saul to the invited guests. Saul’s sombre yet modest personality impressed one and all. They happily welcomed him and all enjoyed the feast. Saul stayed with his servant at Samuel’s residence for the night.

Early morning next day, Samuel bid adieu to Saul. Samuel came all the way to the boundary of the city to see off Saul. Here he asked the accompanying servant to proceed and wait at a particular spot for his master. As he left, Samuel performed certain rituals and anointed Saul with scented oil and other sacred material. He then delivered God’s message to Saul saying, ‘God has commanded you to take the responsibility to lead His children, the Israelites’. He then correctly narrated a few of the past incidents of Saul’s life to him and prophesied the near future too. Samuel also told Saul about how his father was worrying about him and awaited his return and even told him when and where he would find the lost donkeys of his father. Samuel then prophesied to Saul, ‘On your way home, at Gibeath Elohim, you will meet a group of prophets. On meeting them you will be infused with renewed vigour and vitality and you too will become one of them, a prophet’.

Samuel anoints Saul

The rituals over, Saul left to return home. He sensed some inner impulse adding to his zeal. He had started to feel an extraordinary divine force empowering him from within. Samuel’s prophecies were coming true and Saul experienced their truth at every step. Particularly, as Samuel had foretold, after meeting the group of prophets he felt an extraordinary divine force streaming through his body.

As he moved closer to his home along with those prophets, he could see that all the locals who knew him looked at him in amazement. But Saul avoided revealing the incident of Samuel having consecrated him as the ‘King of Israel’ to anyone as he was well aware that no one would believe him.

The declaration was hence performed by Samuel. He asked all the representatives of the tribes of Israel to assemble at Mizpah and declared Saul the new ‘King of Israel’.

Given that the Israelites were indeed in dire need of a competent central leadership and that God had already indicated his approval for the appointment of the first Israelite ruler, not to mention the deep trust that the Israelites had in Saul, in order not to leave room for doubt, Samuel decided to keep to the practices followed by the Israelites in the matter of important decisions. He cast lots before God and the tribe of Benjamin followed by the house of ‘Kish’, followed in turn, by ‘Saul’ from among the sons of Kish were chosen and in the above sequence. Saul was now the first ‘King of the Israelites’.

Saul’s huge, solemn yet humble and composed had impressed all present. Moreover, the divine consent to the result of the lot casting had confirmed and sealed the decision, viz. Saul’s appointment as king. All hailed and cheered Saul with great exhilaration.

The slogan of ‘Long live the king!’, resonated for the first time in the history of the Jews(To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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