“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” (I Samuel 8:4 – 5)
I was sad to read, after lauding Samuel’s mother who gave him a firm & upright start in life, that Samuel’s son did not grow into the type of men their father was. I was not able to find much on Samuel’s wife, or whether he had more than one wife. And the bible & the commentators who one would look to for explanations, give very information about why his sons went wrong and whether it was their mother(s) who did not raise them up in the image of their husband. But why would that surprise us if the entire nation of Israel was chasing after a king, and the experience of kingship that the other nations had. Eli’s sons did not fair any better it seems than Samuel’s.
“But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the LORD, and the LORD said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only–you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” (Verses 5 – 9)
Perhaps in the Yahweh’s gentle words of comfort and consolation we might find the answers to why things went astray. The nation as a whole was rejecting Yahweh and forgetting who had brought them to this land where life was so good. It seems it is not just the sons of Eli and Samuel who were chasing after gains, power, and possessions that corrupted them. The nations around them seemed so powerful and well-endowed that the people of Israel who held sway, swayed away from the Divine and towards fame and glory. But refused to see the seamy underside of the way of life.
“So Samuel reported all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the LORD will not answer you in that day.” (Verses 10 – 18)
Thinking ahead, the people of Israel first got Saul who gradually turned from a kingly man devoted to the Lord to a man devoted to holding the power and prestige that had been given to him. And David, though he seemed like a savior, his sons and his other children brought heartache on the nations as did David himself at time. But when someone, or even more so a group, gets an idea in their head nothing can get it out.
“But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said “No! but we are determined to have a king over us,
so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” . . . . . . Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the LORD, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly.” (Verses 19 – 20, 11:14 – 15)
Again, beloved reader, why do we chase after the things that are not good for us? And then ask, “How did we get into this mess?” Yes, many make good choices and align things so that they are good outcomes. It is have we have survived do long, as people of individual groups and nations. But it is those poor choices that grind the good things to a halt and leave us scrambling to make better choices, and repairing the damage from the poor choices. It is like the Old Testament itself, a story of surviving our own selves and a cautionary tale that we have never seemed to learn from. During Ordinary Time may we reflect on our past and build towards a better future where shalom is the banner under which all of humanity lives. Selah!