It must not escape our notice that in his summons to the tribes, Saul called the people in the joint names of himself and Samuel—“Whoso cometh not after Saul and after Samuel,” etc. Was this use of Samuel’s name authorized by the prophet? We incline to think that it was not. It is true, that Samuel’s residence was not so distant from that of Saul, that any very serious delay would have been occasioned by any actual application to Samuel. Yet, to such excited urgency as that on which Saul acted, the delay of a few hours would seem intolerable; and from what later events disclose of Saul’s character, the probability is, that he assumed the concurrence of Samuel as a matter of course, and acted accordingly. It was the fault of this man’s temper—the ruinous fault, which proved his destruction—to have such proud reliance upon his own judgment, or rather upon his impulses, that he continually assumes the approbation and sanction of those he was bound to consult—whether it were the Lord, or whether it were Samuel. These were not only acts of great disrespect, and involving the assumption of powers not committed to him, but left him open to errors of conduct which might have been avoided, had he availed himself of the mature experience of Samuel, or had he sought counsel of God by the appointed means. In this case it is probable, therefore, that, without consulting the prophet, he coupled his name with his own—not only in seeming deference to Samuel, but as conscious that he had not yet himself been fully inaugurated as king, and as aware that many would come forward at the call of Samuel, who might not pay the same attention to his own, unsupported by the authority of the prophet. We cannot help thinking, from some expressions which occur in Samuel’s farewell address to the people in laying down his power, that he had from this, or some such circumstance, gained some insight of the true character of Saul, and began to discern the dangers that might flow from it. Yet for the present be held his peace, not willing to damp the general satisfaction—fearing, perhaps, to be premature in his judgment, and being anxious to take advantage of the enthusiasm which Saul’s exploit had awakened, to secure the general recognition of his authority.
So strong now ran the tide of public opinion in Saul’s favor, that the people hinted to Samuel (who had, by this time, joined the army) that those who had contemned the election of Saul should be brought to punishment. This motion was with prompt and graceful magnanimity put down by Saul himself, whose kingly style on this occasion became him well—“There shall not a man be put to death this day; for today the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel.”
Availing himself of the good disposition of the people, Samuel then proposed that they should go and “renew the kingdom at Gilgal,”—the old camping ground of the tribes, and the place where the twelve stones of memorial, taken out of the bed of the Jordan, were set up. This was probably, at this time, the nearest to them of the places where the Israelites were wont to assemble on great national occasions. Arrived at that place, Saul was there solemnly inaugurated and hailed as king, and the act was confirmed by peace-offering sacrifices. The rejoicing at this consummation was general, and no doubt sincere. In the midst of these exultations, Samuel arose to address the people, and every voice became mute that his might be heard. Then followed that great oration to which we have already had occasion to refer. He commenced by pointing out the completeness with which he had given effect to their wishes in setting a king over them, although avowedly in opposition to his better judgment—“And now, behold, the king walketh before you, and I am old and gray-headed; and behold my sons are with you; and I have walked before you from my childhood unto this day.” All the parties concerned were there: the king, in the fulness of his power; the people, triumphant in the apparent sanction to their judgment, which the late victory under their new king afforded; Samuel himself, too old to be expected much longer to exercise any remaining control over the movements of the government; and his sons, of whom they were jealous, were there present like themselves, as subjects of Saul. In that audience, he appealed to them to testify whether or not there had been aught in his administration, to call for the change they had demanded. Having obtained their cordial recognition of the integrity of his government, he proceeded, in a rapid glance over the past history of the nation to show that the government as originally established, and as illustrated by the special interposition of the Divine King, in raising up public servants equal to every emergency, had been quite adequate to the wants of the nation. In laying down the power which he had so long exercised for the benefit of his people, it became him not to let them go away with the impression, that the performance of the official acts necessary to the establishment of the new government, were to be taken as expressions of his satisfaction with their conduct. It was far otherwise. It was wickedness, it was sin; for which they would not fail to be deeply punished—unless they and their king continued to walk in the fear of the Lord, and remembered that their prime obedience was due to his commandments. “But if ye still do wickedly,” he concluded, “ye shall be consumed—both ye and your king.” Samuel paused; and to show that his words were in conformity with the will of God, he lifted up his hand to heaven, and called for thunder and rain, which came in abundance, although such phenomena were never witnessed in Canaan at that season of the year, it being the time of wheat harvest. The people were quite satisfied of the supernatural character of this visitation; and the result was salutary, for “they feared the Lord and Samuel.”
It has been questioned whether it were right in Samuel, or fair to Saul, to set forth such a view of the case, as, if he won the attention to which he was entitled, it was calculated to excite disaffection to the new government. Supposing his view right—as no doubt it was; was it in good taste or judgment to produce it on this happy occasion? But we must remember that Samuel had not only been the governor of Israel, but was still a prophet, who lay under a solemn responsibility to make known the mind of God without such prudential reserves as might influence the conduct of other men. The occasion, however awkward it might seem, was proper. It was the closing act of his administration; and in laying down his power in the presence of the assembled states, it surely became him to declare the principle of the Divine government—to vindicate his own administration—to pronounce his view of the present condition of the nation—and give solemn cautions and warnings as to the future. He spoke only as he had always spoken; and he might now finally, and once for all, declare his mind the more freely, seeing that the authority of the king was now fully established, and that the monarchy was to be taken as an accomplished fact—a fact accomplished through his own instrumentality. His object was not to lead them to recall the step they had taken, but to ensure their good conduct and their proper subservience to Jehovah, as still not only their spiritual, but their political Lord, under the new institutions.
But although this vindicates Samuel, it is more than probable that this strong remonstrance was displeasing to Saul—coming as it did in the moment of his highest exaltation, when his mind was highly excited by the keen perception of his own high service to the state. It is, as already hinted, not unlikely that the discourse owed some of its touches to the perception Samuel had been already enabled to obtain of Saul’s real character; which he had soon occasion to learn that he had too truly judged. Thus it is probable, that the seeds of future disagreement between the king and the prophet were already sown, before the great assembly at Gilgal broke up.