What do you do when a judge is unpunctual,
When your valued mentor shows up late?
When a battle’s outcome hangs in the balance?
Do you just sit on your hands and wait?
If you’re me, suburban grandmother,
You can spare ten minutes or half an hour,
But it’s not like that if you’re a king,
General of an army, a man of power.
So you’ve guessed where I’m going with this,
I always come back to this biblical drama:
Saul’s wishful eyes scanning the horizon
For the tardy prophet from Ramah.
The Philistines assembled in Michmas;
They had chariot, horse and sword,
They outnumbered the Israelites
Who saw them as a fighting horde.
No wonder some men of Israel slipped away,
Saul could see his meagre army dwindling.
What do you do when your troops lose courage?
When their élan vital needs rekindling?
A battle had to be consecrated;
An animal, likely a ram or a calf
Was sacrificed; usually Samuel’s job.
In his absence, Saul did it on his behalf.
And wouldn’t you know it, the very moment
When Saul’s eyes were smarting from the smoke
Which rose from the altar, along came the judge,
Seer, prophet, wearing his signature cloak.
Whenever Samuel looked censorious,
Saul, based on experience, was fearful.
Sure enough, Samuel said ‘You should have waited,’
And proceeded to give Saul an earful.
‘If only you’d waited, like I told you,’
He said, ‘your reign could have been dynastic,
But now, God isn’t pleased, not pleased at all,
I know He’s planning something drastic,
Lining up another king.’ ‘But,’ said Saul,
‘I’m the king – it was you who appointed me;
I was just looking for my father’s asses,
When you got a vial of oil and anointed me.’
‘Well it was a mistake,’ Samuel answered.
‘You’re the one they call seer,’ Saul protested,
‘What’s the point if you never see?’
’The point is, I did what God requested,
It’s called obedience, you should try it.’
He’d given instructions which Saul didn’t heed,
Now disappointment made him speak harshly,
Truly, Samuel had wanted Saul to succeed.
Samuel had a way of leaving abruptly.
As for valedictory niceties,
They were unknown to him; he went on his way,
Parting from Saul without benedicites.
Saul’s men, lacking state-of-the-art weapons,
Beat back the Philistines, against all odds,
The most valiant being Jonathan,
Who said ‘The glory isn’t ours but God’s.’
These words appear in one of the later psalms,
‘Non nobis domine.’ The battle was won,
But, for Saul, the kingdom was already lost.
The story of his successor had begun.