A Beautiful Short Story--A Hebrew Pastoral--Character of Ruth--Her Steady Loyalty--Sorrows of Naomi--Mothers and Daughters--The Mature and Prosperous Boaz--His Relations With His Farmhands--His Kindness to Ruth--Her Subtle Flattery-- Her Choice of a Husband--Land-contracts--Ruth the Great-grandmother of David--Eli and His Sons--The Training of Children--The Younger Generation-- Death of Eli--The Ark of God--Ichabod--Boyhood of Samuel--His Character--Saul the Cowboy--His Appearance--The First King--His Love of Music-- His Prophesying--Degeneration of Saul--Fighting the Philistines--Character and Exploits of Jonathan--Saul a Constitutional Monarch--Display of Public Sentiment--The Death of Agag--Incorruptibility of Judge Samuel--The Ghost, the Medium, the Prophecy-- Suicide of Saul--Reflections on His Character and That of Kings in General.
Ruth is a pretty name: in Hebrew it means friendship and in English pity. She lived up to her name in both languages; she was both loyal and sympathetic. She is one of the most attractive girls in the Bible; her gentle, affectionate nature seems all the fairer in contrast with two terrible women of the Old Testament, Delilah and Jezebel. A charming oasis is her story--one of the best short stories in literature--coming as it does between two long books of crime and slaughter.
There is nothing sentimental and nothing insipid in this idyl; it is a suburban pastoral, illustrating the grace of loyalty. We have learned in the twentieth century not to minimise the virtue of loyalty; this fine flower of human nature has its roots deep in the human heart. The beauty of loyalty consists in giving rather than receiving; giving all if need be, and asking nothing before or after. Selfish and calculating persons are conspicuously without it; and it is not fully understood by men of pure intellect. But there is always something splendid, something
refreshing, about people who have it. You remember in Shakespeare, when the various nobles were disputing as to whether the king had a legal claim or not, the strong voice of Clifford is like a breath of fresh air:
King Henry, be thy title right or wrong,
Lord Clifford vows to fight in thy defence.
One of the reasons why the character of D'Artagnan is so irresistibly attractive is because Loyalty was his religion; the whole man rings true, said Stevenson, like a good sovereign.
Naomi had reached the darkest hour of her life; driven from her country by famine, she migrated with her husband and her two sons. In the alien land of Moab, her husband and then both her sons died, leaving her a solitary Israelite, bereft of kin and fortune. She started to return home, and advised her two Moabite daughters-in-law not to accompany her; they were both young, and could marry again among their own people. Orpah kissed her, but Ruth clave unto her, and spoke out those words that have brought down the ages their eternal fragrance, as fresh and sweet to-day as when first uttered:
Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.
There are women who, like Lady Macbeth, are meant to bring forth men-children only, but they are perhaps not the most fortunate. The relation of mother and daughter is peculiarly beautiful; each needs the other so keenly, and they understand each other, because they are both women. A woman may be proud of her son, but she can never be so close to him as to her daughter. The neighbours were right when they said to Naomi, Ruth "is better to thee than seven sons."
Boaz was like a prosperous American farmer, head of a vast estate. He was a sound, hearty, healthy man, broad-minded and generous, whose relations with his hired reapers were cordial. He came out of the city to the fields, greeted the farmhands affectionately, and they responded in like manner. Then he noticed the slender girl, bending over the sheaves of grain, and upon enquiry found it was that very same foreigner of whose devotion to Naomi he had heard. One can easily imagine how his first agreeable impression of her appearance was strengthened by his knowledge of her amiable and affectionate character. He spoke to her kindly, and then he said something to the young men that wins our hearts:
And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not.
Boaz had reached the age when he was flattered by her evident liking for him, for he had supposed
that he must henceforth be and remain Boaz-sit-by-the-fire.
Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.
The common opinion is that men select their wives. While this undoubtedly happens here and there, it is equally true that women select their husbands. Boaz was marked down from the start by both mother and daughter, and he literally had no chance of escape. Fortunately for him, he fell into good hands; for a damsel that had shown such single-hearted devotion to Naomi would be faithful and loyal to the man of her choice. That very expression which we use so often, "the man of her choice," is significant.
We have a pleasant glimpse here of business dealings and the manner in which land contracts were secured. The historian narrates as though the custom in his own time had become obsolete.
Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour: and this was a testimony in Israel.
Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy it for thee. So he drew off his shoe.
Ruth married an upright and successful business man; and Naomi went wild with delight at having a grandson. She "laid it in her bosom, and became
nurse unto it." Her troubles were over. The boy was named Obed, and became the grandfather of a mighty king. The last word in the book of Ruth is David. "And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David."
After this bright episode, the familiar story of war and of apostasy returns; the clouds gather again. Old Eli is a pathetic figure. He judged Israel forty years, was sincere and upright, submissive to the will of God. But like many religious men, he was not successful in bringing up his sons; perhaps his tacit acceptance of things as they are-- for he was a religious fatalist--made it difficult for him to impose his will on his two bad boys. He remonstrated with them, when what they needed was something more drastic. They were altogether too much for him, and their depravity bewildered as much as it shocked the old man. There was no point of contact, no mutual understanding between Eli and his children. He was as incomprehensible to them as they to him. This is a tragic but unfortunately a familiar spectacle in family life. Judging by the frequency with which the topic comes up in social conversation, in magazine articles, and on the stage, it is regarded as a particularly difficult problem in the year of grace 1922. Some children shock their parents, and some parents bore their children. There has always been a quarrel between the older and the younger generation, but since the World War the quarrel has passed into an acute stage. If
it were not for the fact that the younger generation are dependent on their parents for a source of supplies, it seems that often they could get on very well alone. The advice of father to son is often the last word in futility; the advice of son to father is to the effect that he had better not meddle with what he does not understand.
It is only where piety in the parents is accompanied with tact, sympathy, and understanding, where the intelligence of the father and mother is respected by son and daughter, where the boy would really like to resemble his father and the girl her mother, that one sees an admirable family life; fortunately such examples are not extinct. Eli was dense. He could not make religion seem real to his sons. He went to church, and they went to the devil. At the very gates of the house of the Lord, they indulged in sensuality and crooked dealing. The Sabbath school was to them a means of flirtation and the offertory a means of support.
Eli was too placid, too good-natured, to have keen perception; his mind decayed with his eyes. He thought Hannah was drunk when she was praying; and in the charming scene when the Voice came to little Samuel in the night, old Eli was neither excited nor jealous at the divine preference. But his reverence for the ark of God was high and sincere; he was like some Church priest to whom the ritual of the Church and everything connected with formal worship are more holy than a broken and a contrite
heart. When the fateful messenger came from the field of battle and his appalling tidings proceeded from general to particular--as is so often the tragic unfolding of news--the army is defeated, your sons are killed, the ark of God is taken, then Eli "fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died; for he was an old man, and heavy."
His son Phineas left a wife with child, near her time. Some idiot told her the news of the defeat and dishonour of Israel, and of the death of her husband and father-in-law. She travailed and died; and just before her death the women spoke to her cheerily, and said, "Fear not: for thou hast born a son." They spoke to deaf ears: "she answered not, neither did she regard it." But she had named the child Ichabod, which means Where is the honour? her last words being, "The glory is departed from Israel."
I wish we knew something about Ichabod; he is never mentioned again in the Bible except in the fourteenth chapter of I Samuel, where Ahitub is called Ichabod's brother. But although the Bible is silent about him, he has been borrowed many times in literature and in history for his symbolical name. Whittier applied the word to Daniel Webster in 1850, not realising that the speech for which that statesman was condemned was the finest and most patriotic utterance of his life.
The boy Samuel was dedicated by his mother
Hannah to Jehovah's service; he became a great religious leader, never deviating from the path of sanctity and rectitude. Yet to me he is not a sympathetic figure; he had more holiness than charm. There is something unlovely about the man, something rigid and puritanical. I suppose it was natural, brought up as he was, that he should be a prig in youth and a statue of severity in old age. He had no more luck with his sons than Eli; they were bad, as perhaps might be expected, and did not find the piety of their father alluring. Just as some humanitarians are kind to everyone except members of their own family, so I suppose some religious leaders have more zeal for God's house than affection for their own. Samuel's sons, like those of Eli, were a public scandal.
Samuel's stern integrity made him a powerful Judge, respected and feared by the people, whose wanderings after strange gods he did not hesitate to condemn. He went on circuit through various cities, holding court. The Philistines were in terror of him, for so long as his decisions were regarded, the Israelites prospered in battle; the power of the enemy receded, not to become triumphant again until after his death. He made his sons judges; they were corrupt, taking bribes freely, and the old man was shamed in the courts of law. The Israelites may perhaps be pardoned for their wish to have a king; they knew Samuel could not last much longer and they regarded with natural apprehension the
coming rule of his sons. They spoke to him with cruel frankness:
Behold, them art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.
Samuel was angry, not for the first or the last time in his life; and he warned the people that their king would be a tyrant. But they, fearing his decrepitude and his sons' depravity, wanted a personable figure of a king, who should go before them, lead them into battle, and incarnate the power of the whole nation. Their request was granted; the first king of Israel was the biggest and handsomest man in the country, every inch a king.
The tallest man came out of the smallest tribe, the tribe of Benjamin. Kish was a mighty man, a rich cattle-dealer, and
he had a son, whose name was Saul, a choice young man, and a goodly: and there was not among the children of Israel a goodlier person than he: from his shoulders and upward he was higher than any of the people.
I suppose he stood about six feet nine in his sandals.
Saul was a cowboy; and he had gone out to seek his father's strayed cattle when he met Samuel, the Seer, the man of God. The venerable prophet gave him the astounding tidings that he was to be king. Saul was modest and unassuming; he reminded Samuel that he belonged to the smallest of the twelve tribes, and that his family were socially unimportant; but Samuel took the embarrassed
young man into the parlour, and gave him the place of honour at a state dinner of thirty guests. That night a bed was made for Saul on the roof of the house--perhaps he was too big for the indoor furniture--and the next morning Samuel anointed him as the first King of Israel. A peaceful but permanent change took place in the government of the nation.
Samuel made a curious prediction which came to pass that day. As young Saul drew near to a hill, he met a company of prophets descending; they were following musicians who were playing on the psaltery, tabret, pipe and harp, while mystic speech filled the air; Saul was particularly affected by music; his spirit was caught up in a strange exaltation, and he too shouted in ecstasy and prophesied with the rest. When his former friends saw this, they marvelled. They were as much astonished as college students would be to see their champion athlete suddenly break out in poetry. Saul's utterances sounded like tall talk for a young cattle-man, and they wondered what was the matter with him. They expressed their quite natural amazement in words that have become a proverb:
What is this that has come unto the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?
Saul became his natural self after this experience, for when Samuel was on the point of introducing him to the people, and like a convention speaker
was just about to mention the name of the candidate, Saul could not be found; his shyness had got the better of him, and he had hid himself. But when he was found and presented to the congregation, they were delighted with his magnificent appearance, and they shouted together:
GOD SAVE THE KING!
Samuel wrote out a constitution, placed it in a book of records, and dismissed the people.
It is always easy to adjust one's self to an advance in the scale of living; luxuries soon become a matter of course. The big country lad, so shy and modest at first, quickly became used to the pleasures of authority. It was a bad thing for Israel to have a king, but it was even worse for the king. We see the old, familiar, melancholy story of pride, egotism, and an abuse of power leading to degeneration and ruin. The personal history of Saul is one of the most tragic in the Bible. Like Macbeth, he was a good fellow ruined by promotion. When we first meet Saul, we see a kindly, modest, country boy of superb physique, contented with his work, and happy in his exuberant health and strength; as soon as he became king, he exchanged comfort for splendour, cheerfulness for majesty, outdoor life for councils of state, peace of mind for chronic anxiety.
Furthermore, his moral nature had never been tried, and it failed to meet the tests of kingship. As his royal power increased, the wholesomeness of
his character diminished. Men are not made for unchecked dominion, and almost invariably deteriorate with supreme power in their hands. The instance of Napoleon is simply a revelation of human nature; one sees the degeneration of the man steadily and insidiously accompanying the increase in authority. There are not many characters in history like Abraham Lincoln; whereas Napoleon, minus genius, is such a familiar example, so true to form, that Emerson took him as the representative of the common man.
It is depressing to contemplate the wretched figure of King Saul talking with the ghost of Samuel, and to compare that colloquy with their first conversation. On this last fateful interview, the same thing had really happened to both men; Samuel was an actual ghost, but in reality no more so than Saul, for he was only the ghost of his former self.
The deterioration of any man or woman is a shocking spectacle; but how much more so when the individual has been entrusted with enormous power and unbounded opportunities, only to make a wreck, involving his final ruin in the general downfall. Saul's youth was like a sunny spring morning, that changes into the darkness of clouds and tempest. His fate hurts us, because there is something about him that we love.
The Philistines were not unlike later conquerors; after they had beaten Israel, they hoped to make their enemies permanently helpless, as so many vic-
torious nations have vainly hoped. There was not a single blacksmith left among the Hebrews:
For the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords and spears:
But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock......
So it came to pass in the day of battle, that there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people that were with Saul and Jonathan: but with Saul and with Jonathan his son was there found.
Like Frederick II, King of Prussia, Saul was fond of tall soldiers, and chose a special company of them to be the royal bodyguard. He searched the whole nation for individual athletes; "and when Saul saw any strong man, or any valiant man, he took him unto him." This company of picked men-at-arms, every one splendid in figure and famous for deeds of prowess, must have made an imposing appearance as they followed the mighty king, majestic in stature, head and shoulders above them all. These were the good days of Saul's reign, when he wore golden opinions in their newest gloss.
One of the most splendid and lovable young men in the Bible is the crown prince Jonathan; he was mighty and valiant, bold as a lion, fearless in danger, a good son and good patriot, and so loyal to his friend David that he was willing to lose his own rights rather than have David suffer. He was a
natural-born soldier, who fought with wisdom and courage, and who died on the field of battle.
The Philistines had left a garrison at Geba, and, as frequently happens, the alien soldiers had corrupted the natives. Young Jonathan went forth to war, and smote this garrison, revealing at the same time the apostasy and abominable practices of the Israelites there dwelling. The Philistine host came out from their country hot for revenge, and the Hebrews hid "in caves, and in thickets, and in rocks, and in high places, and in pits." While the unarmed population were in this state of terror and apprehension, Jonathan, without telling his father, took his armour-bearer, who seems to have been a youth after his own heart, loving adventure more than life, and the two, climbing up the face of the rock with their hands and feet, rushed upon the army, like a pair of hounds into a herd. They slew man after man.
Afar off, the watchmen of Saul observed the confusion in the enemy's ranks and reported it; Saul gave the word, the Israelites advanced, and all the people came out of their hiding-places and fell upon the Philistines, while the natives rose against the garrison; there was a terrific slaughter. But a curious thing happened, which is of deep significance, for it proved to Saul that he was a constitutional monarch, when he had fondly believed himself to be absolute and irresponsible. He had forbidden every man to eat until night came and their revenge should
be complete. Naturally, Jonathan had not heard the king's command, and being almost faint with the heat of his exertions, and seeing honey in a wood, he ate of it; the relief he felt could not have been better expressed than by the Bible phrase: "His eyes were enlightened." Then the people, in horror, told him of his father's words, but the sensible Jonathan declared his father to be in error, and that it would have been better for all the people to eat, and so be more efficient in the fight. On that night, Saul, seeing that something was wrong, had lots drawn, and Jonathan was taken. Then came the first clash between the prince and his father, Jonathan saying ironically, "I did but taste a little honey .....and lo, I must die." The wilful king replied, "Thou shalt surely die, Jonathan."
Saul immediately discovered that there was such a thing as public sentiment, and that it was stronger than the royal power. Many kings after his day were to ascertain the same fact--what a pity that there were not more instances! We do not know who the spokesman was on this occasion; perhaps angry resentment found many voices. The people said that not one hair of Jonathan's head should fall to the ground--and the king found it advisable not to press the matter. This is one of the first cases in history when public sentiment manifested itself successfully against the ruling authority, and, as such, deserves this especial mention.
Saul was an able military leader, and the Israel-
ites were frequently victorious under his leadership. When he defeated the Amalekites, he did not fulfill to the letter the stern directions of the voice of the Lord, who through Samuel told him to kill the women, the babies, the sucklings in their mothers' arms, and all the valuable cattle. (Wicked Amalekite babies!)
Unfortunately, Saul was not moved by any pity, for the children were slaughtered; King Agag was spared out of royal courtesy, and the best of the cattle were saved, ostensibly to offer up to Jehovah, but probably for more practical purposes. Saul was always afraid of Samuel; he had the attitude of a bad boy toward a severe private tutor; but the reason he gave Samuel for sparing the cattle is significant, coming so soon after the public demonstration about Jonathan: "I feared the people, and obeyed their voice." Saul could not bear to see Samuel leaving him, and with his powerful hand he clutched the robe of the prophet, which tore in his grasp, Samuel using the rent as an allegory of the rending of Saul's kingdom.
Samuel relented at Saul's despairing plea, but it was an unfortunate decision for Agag. It is a vivid scene, when the king of the Amalekites, who now believed in his reprieve, came toward Samuel, walking delicately, with self-conscious, embarrassed and mincing steps, saying, "Surely the bitterness of death is past." They were his last words, for Samuel immediately dissected him.
Samuel was an incorruptible Judge; and the fact that he took pride in what we regard to-day as a matter of course would seem to indicate that high officials in Israel were not always what they should be, probably on the whole decidedly inferior to court officials in the twentieth century. Samuel said to the people, "I am old and gray-headed.....and I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day."
Behold, here I am:.....whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you.
After a number of chapters dealing with the adventures of Saul and of David, one forgets Samuel, and it is with a shock that the twenty-fifth chapter opens with the words, "And Samuel died." One feels that a pillar of the house is fallen, and that calamity will visit Israel in his absence.
Samuel is the only authentic ghost in the Bible; the only spirit who rose from the grave in palpable form, spoke definite words, and returned to his slumber. King Saul's visit to the medium has a strangely modern air. It was the last night of his life; he had well-founded fears that on the morrow he would be defeated by the Philistines. He missed sadly the counsel of his old tutor; and he enquired of God by dreams, by casting lots, and by prophets; all in vain. As a last resort, he visited a medium, the witch of Endor; once more his story reminds us of Macbeth.
The mediums were strictly forbidden by law; it was a capital offence to practice the art. But the desire of human nature to communicate with spirits was then and is now so strong that no legal measures or no power of reasoning can stop the traffic. Saul went in the darkness of the night, and in disguise, and when the woman asked him with whom he would like to speak, he said in a voice of authority (which betrayed his identity), "Bring me up Samuel." To the amazement of the old witch, who had hitherto relied on hocus-pocus, Samuel actually appeared. She cried out, "An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle." Death had not changed the character of the old prophet; he that was holy was holy still. He asked sternly why Saul had broken into his quiet sleep; Saul replied pathetically (and our hearts go out to him) : "I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me." Samuel informed him that everything had happened as he had predicted (I told you so), and then added grimly, "Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me."
Saul fainted. The next day the battle went sore against him. The loyal Jonathan fell, fighting for his father's kingdom. Saul himself was cruelly wounded by the Philistine archers, and asked his armour-bearer to put an end to his sufferings; the boy was afraid, so Saul, like an old Roman, fell on his own sword.
The character of the First King is not impeccable,
but he was very human, and had the faults that mark the natural man. The happiest years of his life came in his careless youth, riding over the hills after the herds; there was nothing kingly about him except his appearance. His jealousy of David is quite natural; the girls sang, Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands. He could hardly be expected to hear that song with enthusiasm. I suppose there are some ministers of the gospel who, if they should hear a song proclaiming that they had saved a thousand souls, while their successors in the pastorate had saved ten thousand, might, in their glad rejoicing over the addition to the elect, feel some tincture of pique. Saul's jealousy of young David was further inflamed by the fact that his own children were mad about his rival; Jonathan loved him to distraction, and Saul's daughter Michal fell in love with him. Saul was no more vain and no more jealous than the average American.
He had no genius for government; he was more captain than statesman. He was rash and impulsive, given to outbursts of passion, followed by hearty repentance. He was subject to terrible fits of depression, nervous melancholia so severe and so prolonged that he lay as if in a stupour. The only thing that could help him then was music, of which he was inordinately fond. We have seen how, when he heard the orchestra playing with the prophets, he went into an ecstasy; so when this cloud of
despondency darkened his mind, David came and played music--perhaps the old cowboy tunes--and he was refreshed and took up his work again. No one has ever understood this peculiar melancholy either then or now; the Bible diagnoses it as possession by an evil spirit, which well describes its effects; this evil spirit could be banished only by music, the method so familiar to-day in the treatment of nervous diseases. Browning has poetically recreated the effect on Saul of David's music.
Looking back on Saul's life and career, it does not appear that he was either sensual or vindictive, the two most common vices of monarchs; indeed, he was rather like a big, grown-up boy, incapable of dealing with problems of state. In comparison with the average character of kings, both in ancient and in modern history, Saul meets the test rather well.