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William Shepard

The Sin of Saul

After his great victory over the Philistines, Saul turned his arms against the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the kings of Edom and Soba, and defeated them all. Then Samuel came to him and told him that God remembered the wickedness of the Amalekites, in attacking the children of Israel while they were passing through the wilderness, and that the time had now come for the destruction of that cruel and bloody race. So he commanded him to go out against them, and kill them all, together with their cattle and their asses. And all the valuable things that belonged to them were to be burnt as a sacrifice, and Saul was to keep nothing for his own use.

In obedience to this order, Saul put himself at the head of two thousand men and marched against the Amalekites. He defeated them in battle, and took their cities, and slew men, women, and children. But when he had taken captive Agag, their king, he admired his beauty so much that he persuaded himself he ought to be spared. And his soldiers also disregarded the commands of God, and they did not kill all the herds and the flocks, but kept the best of them and returned with them to their own country.

Then the Lord appeared to Samuel, and told him what Saul and the people had done, adding that He now repented of having made Saul king. So Samuel next morning came to Saul with a heavy heart. The king ran out to meet him, and said,—

"I return thanks to God, who hath given me the victory; for I have performed everything He hath commanded me."

To which Samuel replied,—

"How is it, then, that I hear the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle in the camp?"

"The people," said Saul, "have reserved these for sacrifices, but the Amalekites are all destroyed. No one of them remains alive except their king, and him have I brought with me in order that I may consult with you what to do with him."

But the prophet said that God was not pleased with sacrifices when they are made in disobedience to His commands, and he told Saul again that because he had offended God his kingdom would be taken away from him and given to a man who was more worthy of it. Then was Saul grieved, and he confessed that he had acted wrongly. But he said that if he were forgiven this time he would never sin again. And he prayed the prophet to stay a little while and offer sacrifices to God, that His wrath might be appeased. But Samuel knew that what God had determined could not be altered, and he turned to go. Then Saul hastily caught hold of the prophet's cloak to stop him, and the cloak was torn in his hands.

"Even so," said Samuel, "shall your kingdom be torn from you and given to another."

Saul again confessed that he had sinned, and prayed that the prophet would at least stay and worship God with him in the presence of all the people. Samuel granted him that favor, and went with him and worshipped God. Then he ordered that King Agag should be brought before him. And when Agag lamented, and said death was very bitter, Samuel said to him,—

"As thou hast made many Jewish mothers in Israel to lament and bewail their children, so shalt thou, by thy death, cause thy mother to lament also."

And, having given orders that the king should be killed, Samuel returned to his home.

Saul was very sorrowful on account of what Samuel had told him, and because he knew that God was his enemy. He went up to his royal palace at Gibeah, and after that day he came no more into the presence of the prophet. When Samuel mourned for him, God told him to leave off mourning, and to take the sacred oil and go to the city of Bethlehem, to a man named Jesse, and to anoint one of his sons who should be pointed out to him. Samuel went as he was commanded. At Bethlehem he made ready a sacrifice, and invited Jesse and his sons to come to it. Jesse came with his eldest son, who was so tall and strong and handsome that the prophet felt sure this must be the chosen one. But God told him no, that it was not the outside of man He considered in making His selection, but rather the heart and the spirit. The prophet asked Jesse to send for his other sons. Five others came, all as handsome and strong as the first, but none of these was selected. Then Samuel asked Jesse if he had not other sons.

"Only one more," answered Jesse, "a shepherd who takes care of our flocks. His name is David."

"Let him come also," said the prophet.

So David was sent for, and came. He was a very young man, but he, too, was handsome, and there was something brave and warlike in his appearance.

As soon as the prophet saw him, he knew he was the chosen of the Lord. And he took the oil and poured it on his head and anointed him before all his brethren. From that moment the Spirit of God departed from Saul and rested upon David.

Meanwhile, Saul, being abandoned by God, became very sad and gloomy, so much so that at times he was driven almost to frenzy. The physicians advised him to look out for some skilful musician who would play sacred hymns to him and soothe his soul to peace. Then one of Saul's servants told him that in the city of Bethlehem he had seen a son of Jesse, who was not more than a child in years, but who was skilled in music and the singing of hymns, and was also a manly and warlike lad. It was David of whom he spoke, for David played very well upon the harp. And Saul sent messengers to Jesse, asking that David be made to come to his palace. So Jesse sent his son and gave him presents to carry to the king. And Saul was pleased with the lad, and also with his music, for when David played upon his harp the sad spirit of the king went away, and he was well again.