With all the horrible things that happen in the bible, it’s been easy to forget how funny it is sometimes. I find myself chortling a bit.
In chapter 3, young Samuel is dedicated to the temple and is very devoted in his duties to the elderly priest Eli. Samuel is still quite young when God first reaches out to make him a prophet.
One night, God calls to him: “Samuel.”
And Samuel leaps out of bed and to Eli’s bedside: “I am here! You have summoned me!”
And Elis says, “No, I didn’t. Go back to bed and get some sleep.”
So Samuel goes back to bed, but then God calls out to him again, “Samuel.”
And Samuel leaps up and to Eli’s side, and once more Eli sends him back to bed.
The third time, though, God calls, Samuel goes to Eli, Eli (who is in his nineties at this point and dealing with an eager young devotee “realizes” what must be happening and tells Samuel: “It must be God calling you. So next time you hear someone call your name, stay in bed, and say, “I hear you, Lord! I am listening.” And then you can tell me all about it in the morning.”
This works admirably.
And so God talks to Samuel and tells him that something big is going to happen soon.
The Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” — Samuel 3:11
“… make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” That just… hee! There are bound to be some parts of the bible that get a bit mixed up in translation, but there’s only so far off it can be.
In chapter 8, the people of Israel offend God by asking for a king. Samuel is an elderly priest by this point, and tries to convince them against this (his arguments come down to the idea that God is their king and is offended that they would want anyone else; their arguments come from wanting an actual physical person who can do people things like interact with people who are not the head priest.) God is offended, but does the passive aggressive thing where he’s, like, oh, I’ll show you, I’ll give you what you’ve asked for and then you’ll see how wrong it all goes!
So this does not speak well of the future king, and you’ll notice that while the people are demanding a king, none of them are exactly volunteering for the position. And thus along comes Saul, in chapter 9, who’s searching for a pair of goats who wandered away from the herd. In chapter 10, Samuel waylays poor Saul, strong arms him into having dinner with him, and then anoints him the new king of Israel.
Afterwards Saul sneaks off, gets his goats, and returns home hoping to never speak of these events again.
It doesn’t really work, though, and in chapter 11, Saul is forced to take up the kingship in a more practical sense, ie, raising an army and defeating the enemies of Israel.
Chapter 14 is pretty hilarious too, not so much intrinsically as because I recognize the storyline from Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: The First Adventure, right down to it being Prince Jonathan who disobeys his father the king to cross a battle line. I’m not sure if it would be funnier if it was pure coincidence or if Pierce was inspired by this.
Anyway, there are more battles after that and much hewing of various people, and David the shepherd is introduced and has his infamous battle with Goliath in chapter 17.
Then seriously, the rest of the book starts reading like a somewhat more developed version of Wiley Coyote and the Road Runner. David gains much renown and Saul becomes jealous and tries to kill him. But David is too clever to be caught and is always running away just out of reach, and occasionally counting coup back on Saul but never makes a serious attack.
Samuel dies at the beginning of chapter 25 (out of 31) of Samuel 1, which is particularly odd because there’s whole second book of Samuel. But the death of Samuel does not stop the somewhat ludicrous chases and ambushes attempted by Saul on David.
There’s still battles against external enemies though (ie, the original inhabitants of the land) and thus both Saul and his armies and David and his roving band of dissidents are having battles with other people. Ultimately, though, David is favored by God and is victorious; Saul is the poor schmuck who was coerced into fulfilling the role of king and thus offending God even in his obedience to God, and thus dies along with all of his sons. (Poor Prince Jonathan!)
And with the death of Samuel ages ago, and Saul more recently, apparently Samuel 2 will be all about David?
Summary: This is kind of a somewhat black slapstick comedy of war and religion and conflict. Samuel is an adorable kid, Saul just wanted to get his goats, and David is the Road Runner.
Moral: Stay away from priests: they can con you into getting a bit too close to God.
Next up: Samuel 2