“Samuel, the Enigma” by Rolland Emerson Wolfe

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Book and Article Reviews, Old Testament
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            Wolfe begins his article by stating that there are three personalities that invariably shaped the first millennium of Hebrew life: Abraham, Moses, and Samuel.  Abraham was the progenitor of the Israelites, Moses had led the Israelites out of captivity, and Samuel had effectively “established a nation in an era of peace” (203).  Samuel’s leadership caused him to wear many hats: priest, prophet, judge, and political head of the nation.  Such comprehensive leadership by one person has scarce been witnessed throughout history.  Wolfe goes so far to say that this became a dictatorship which Samuel was unwilling to relinquish.

            Samuel had established his sons as judges over Israel.  However, like Eli’s sons, Samuel’s sons were persuaded by bribes rather than a desire for justice.  Samuel’s age and inability to continue to function efficiently as leader sought another form of leadership: kingship.  Samuel felt slighted by a desire for a new leadership and was only persuaded when the people could not be deterred.  Samuel then writes out the Code of Covenant, a ploy Wolfe views as trying to maintain control of power.  Even in giving the people their desire for a king, Samuel does not relinquish power easily.

Saul appears in the story at this point.  Samuel anoints him king.  However, Wolfe sees this not as a faithful act, but as an attempt to pick someone that is weak and easily manipulated by the aged priest.  According to Samuel, Saul is deposed as king due to his lack of obedience.  Shortly after Saul disobeys Samuel a new king is anointed by Samuel’s hand.  Samuel effectively splits a kingdom, insuring civil unrest.  Perhaps Samuel chooses David because he seems weak and able to be controlled.  Wolfe concludes by saying that Samuel’s first sixty years of leadership were as faithful as any person’s life could be, but his last twenty years did more damage than his first sixty years did good.  It is a case of not knowing when it is time to step down from leadership.

I agree with this article.  Samuel is not entirely innocent in Saul’s demise.  It is quite possible that Samuel had so equated his will with Yahweh’s will that it became inconceivable that he could choose poorly.  Furthermore, as one who should be the spiritual leader of Israel, Samuel seems to fail Saul numerous times.  Saul, as we have read, is found asking questions with nobody available to help him traverse this new territory of kingship.  In the end, Samuel and Saul end up ineffective in leading Israel.  And, the mark of a good leader is knowing when it is time to step down so that new leadership can arise.


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