Samuel the citizen’s prophet

In honor of our most recent event assisting in the restoration of Samuel’s Tomb, it makes sense that we dig a bit deeper into one of the great Prophets of the Jewish people, the Prophet Samuel.

According to History, Samuel sat at the cusp of two eras in Jewish history.  He was at the pivot from a confederacy of tribes to a united kingdom. The first of the major Hebraic prophets, he was both a warrior that reclaimed the Tabernacle and a Judge that went around all of Israel to spread justice. His seminal anointment of Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David paved a central role in the Hebraic tradition in the transfer of political power. From this perspective, his legacy consisted in his admonishment of the fickle nature of the people’s cry for Monarchy rather than a divinely inspired ordination. Rather, Samuel was rooted in a de-centralized notion of power, where Abrahamic localism, prophetic insight and a circuit of righteous judges was the most natural fit for a covenantal people where independence was its most natural inclination.

Samuel, in his refutation of the people’s desire for monarchy, understood that the fledgling local power did not have enough of a tradition to provide a counterweight to a king. Samuel’s wisdom comes through in his scepticism towards monarchical power “And he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks; and ye shall be his servants.” (Samuel1 Chap.8) It follows that without this foundation of civic pride, local activism and self-responsibility, centralized power in the Promised Land was doomed from the start.

Still in its infancy, the Hebraic confederacy was not stable nor could it restrain its cultural proclivities to fit in with its neighbours thus becaming corrupted, first, with spiritual idolatry, then political servitude. Even so, we read that G-d does not rebuke his people for the desire of a king; he states in the Torah that a king will be set upon the people once they have entered the land. In other words, the stage needed to be set—both politically and morally for the Jewish people to sustain the improvements and avoid the pitfalls of their revolution.

Samuel as judge, prophet and king-maker, stands at the forefront of the Hebraic political tradition which seeks to balance the competing needs for localism and centralization of power. Ultimately, Samuel understood the primacy of the power in the individual and his community which ought not to be eroded as it is devolved to bureaucracies, capitals and Kings.

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