The next section (1 Sam 8-12) shows us the rise of King Saul. It begins with the demand of Israel to have a king, Samuel’s warning, the choice and anointing of Saul, his proclamation as King, and Samuel’s farewell address. Chapter 8 begins, “When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel.” And chapter 12 begins by noting among other things that Samuel is “old and gray; and behold, my sons are with you.” These chapters are clearly to be read as a unit.
Chapter 8 notes, “Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice” (8:3). Chapter 12 also notes this theme next: “I have walked before you from my youth until this day. Here I am; testify against me before YHWH and before His anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Or whose donkey have I taken? Or whom have I defrauded? Whom have I oppressed? Or from whose hand have I taken a bribe to blind my eyes with it? Testify against me and I will restore it to you” (12:2c-3).
This would suggest to me that we should be looking for a chiasm in this section. Some of the chiasms that Leithart proposes seem stretched, but this one should be solid given these similarities we have already noted between the first and last episodes of this section.
Leithart suggests this chiasm:
The opening about Samuel’s sons highlights a parallel between Samuel and Eli. Both had wicked sons. Eli’s sons were wicked priests. Samuel’s sons were wicked judges. Thus, like Eli, Samuel will need to find an “adoptive” son to replace his biological sons. And the son that he finds in this section is Saul.
The opening and closing speeches in this section both are warnings with regard to a king. These frame the largely positive description of Saul in these his early years in the sections in between.
Thus the structure of this section has prepared us for the fall of Saul, which will be the next section (and we will look at in the next post on the book of Samuel).
It is the failure of Samuel to appoint judges that are honest that prompts the people to ask for a king. But the people are not blameless either, they ask for a king “like all the nations” (8:5) when they should be asking for a king who will fit the description in Deuteronomy. Moreover, their asking for a king is a rejection of God’s kingship. The previous scene showed YHWH defeating their enemies, but now they want a king to fight their battles.
The principle here, like in the Torah with Moses, is repeated that rejection of the prophet of YHWH is rejection of YHWH Himself. It is not that they have rejected Samuel, even if he had his faults, it was that they rejected YHWH that was the problem. YHWH tells Samuel to warn the people about such a king like all the nations and Samuel does so—even warning them about a ten percent tax—but the people demanded a king “like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (8:20). And God tells Samuel to “obey them and make them a king” (8:22).
Saul was described as “a handsome young man. There was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people” (9:2). The text is looking on the outward appearance for this king like all the nations. Through a series of events, God shows Samuel that Saul is the one who will be anointed prince over Israel to restrain the people of God. Saul anointed him and told him a sign that would confirm it.
The text tells us, “When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, ‘What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” (10:9-11). This last question became a proverb in Israel. We might ask, ‘Samuel is among the prophets, is Saul too?”
In the next scene Samuel publicly proclaimed Saul the King of Israel at Mizpah. Saul was selected publicly by lot. “And when he stood among the people, he was taller than any of the people from his shoulders upward” (10:23). “But some worthless fellows [sons of Belial] said, ‘How can this man save us?’” (10:27a). The sons of Eli had also been called “sons of Belial” in 1 Sam 2:12. While the same phrase is not found in the parallel section, the text is recalling the earlier incident and the same worthless fellows are in view. These worthless fellows said, “Shall Saul reign over us?” (1 Sam 11:12). And the people wanted to put them to death. But Saul refused to grant their wish saying, “No one shall be put to death today, for this day YHWH has rescued Israel” (1 Sam 11:13).
At the center of the chiasm for this section is Saul’s defeat of the Ammonites. Here we see the Spirit rush upon Saul again. He took a yoke of oxen and cut them into pieces as a picture of what would happen to any Israelite that did not come for battle against the Ammonites. 300,000 Israelites and 30,000 of the men of Judah came.
The end of the people is now tied to this king. Thus at the end of the whole section Samuel says, “But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king” (1 Sam 12:25).