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important periods. The times of war and disorder were frequent enough, but between them were considerable times of quiet, and of progress in the arts of peace. From time to time there arose men who, by their force of character and natural gifts, became leaders of the people; and without any formal or official position, became the real rulers of the nations. They were known as judges; but their function seemed to have been rather that of chiefs, or heads of tribes. They were of varied types, and won their position by many different qualities. Samson, for example, by his marvelous physical strength and prowess; Gideon by his patriotic zeal and strategy, and Samuel by his piety and wisdom.
Under such intermittent leadership, the nation made but little progress, and were in fact losing ground both morally and politically and the need of a more perfect union, and more settled order, became apparent to the people; and the demand for "a king like all the nations" became insistent.
Samuel, at that time the head of the nation, opposed this demand, and urged the people to return to the more theocratic form of social order, as in the days of Moses; but the popular demand was stronger than his influence, so that he reluctantly yielded, and with his own hand annointed Saul to be their king.
The establishing of the monarchical form of government marks the beginning of a new epoch in their history. The incident of the people organizing a government, choosing the form of it, and instituting it against the protest of their greatest leader, is a very interesting bit of history; and the tact and magnanimity of Samuel in cordially acquiescing in their choice, and generously laboring with all his might to make the best of what he regarded as a mistaken policy—the whole story indeed shows Samuel to have been a man of very superior and noble character.
Saul is one of the pathetic characters of history. He is introduced to us “a choice young man and goodly; and there was
not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he; from his shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people."
His unsought promotion to the throne, his profound perturbation of mind on account of his own responsibilities, and his brave attempt to perform the Herculean task of breaking the Philistine's yoke from the neck of Israel, and of restoring order, and organizing a stabler government, all these commend him to our admiration and enlist our sympathy.
When we consider the tremendous difficulties under which he labored—a king without power to enforce his commands, a warrior without an army, with a mere handful of soldiers, without so much as a sword or spear, an enemy well armed and accustomed to victory, a people cowed and despondent—it is no wonder that his mind became unsettled, and an evil spirit led him to violent outbreaks of temper, and fits of anger that were little less than madness.
In spite of all this handicap, he achieved remarkable success. His personal courage, his patience and persistence, his self sacrifice and his really brilliant generalship entitle him to very great respect and high military honor.
And, while we recognize the justice of Samuel's criticism in the affairs of the Amelakites, (I Samuel xv) our heart goes out in sympathy to the brave old king who after forty years of faithful and unselfish toil for his people, is defeated and broken hearted, and, despairing, falls on his own sword and dies with his three sons on the stricken field of Mt. Gilboa. It is with great pleasure that we read the brief story of the heroic devotion of his followers—there is, in fact, no finer gem of historic narrative than these three verses with which the first Book of Samuel ends; “And when the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul; all the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and came to Jabesh and
burnt them there; and they took their bones and buried them under a tree at Jabesh and fasted seven days."
He was worthy of the honor; for, with all his faults, he was a kingly man. And David never gave a more conclusive proof of his own royal character than in his tender lamentation over the death of Saul and Jonathan.
“Thy glory, O Israel is slain upon thy high places!
Ye mountains of Gilboa,
Y FAR the greatest of all Israel's kings was David. He is indeed the one of all their heroes to whom the title, great, peculiarly belongs.
Many of their leaders were superior to him in one or another excellence, but none bulked quite so large, or loomed so high, or filled so large a place of varied eminence as he.
Moses or Elijah or Isaiah shone, like stars, in the firmament of heaven, so high they seem to move above the plane of common men. But David is so intensely human, so much a part of this mundane sphere, with its dusty conflicts, its passion and its pains, that we understand him better, and more easily appraise his worth.
He stands as a great land mark in the history of Israel ; like some great mountain peak that in height and grandeur dominates the landscape; not all beautiful, not all good, but vast, majestic and impressive, and, on the whole, standing in the sunshine of God's approbation, though sometimes very ugly clouds shut out the favor of God and the respect of men.
Like all men who attain to greatness, David owed much to circumstances that were not at all of his disposing. His boyhood was spent in the open. As the shepherd of his father's flock on the hills of Bethlehem, he found the best environment and the most effective discipline that his time and country could provide. Occupation, responsibility, and leisure happily proportioned are the best possible curriculum for the devolpment of manhood; and when these can be found in the open country, and associated with the joys of home and the kindly discipline of loving parents, there is nothing lacking in the equipment for the training of a
boy. The influence of this occupation is abundantly shown in his whole life, and the fact that they are so carefully noted in the inspired narrative indicates the importance which the author attached to them. The qualities and accomplishments which first brought him into notice were all acquired in this school of his boyhood days. His pleasing countenance, his frank but modest bearing, his physical strength and courage are valuable capital for any young man to start in business with. His musical ability and his skill on the harp and with the sling were the occasion of his coming into notice; and both are typical of the man. He plays, as any shepherd might play, but with such mastery of his art, that, when the occasion came, it found him ready, and he is invited to play before the king. He threw stones as any shepherd boy, but so as to acquire such skill that, when the occasion came, he was able to stake his own life and the honor of his nation on the single throw of a stone from the brook.
When he came to the throne he had already experienced the vicissitudes of a soldier's life, was in fact almost a veteran in the kind of warfare he had to wage for many years thereafter.
The prowess of Saul had broken the force of the Philistine oppression, and though he left the work of liberating Israel unfinished, he had made it possible for David to push the task to its completion. The nation under Saul's brave leadership had be come more spirited, more determined to cast off the yoke of oppression, and in this determination were more solidified as a nation than they had been since the days of Joshua.
These circumstances made it possible to establish the nation on a firm basis, but they fell far short of making it easy. They gave David a "fighting chance," but they did not imply that his success was not greatly to his credit. It is possible that a much smaller man might have delivered Israel from the Philistines, but that liberation was only the beginning of David's great achievements. “To form a more perfect union, to establish justice, provide for the common defense and to promote the