(1 Samuel 18:1-30) David with Saul. Jonathan and David. The Envy of Saul is excited by the People’s praises of David. He Marries King Saul’s daughter Michal.
EXCURSUS H: ON THE SCHOOLS OF THE PROPHETS (1 Samuel 19).
“Long before Plato had gathered his disciples round him in the Olive Grove, or Zeno in the Portico, these institutions (schools of the prophets) had sprung up under Samuel in Judæa.” (Stanley.)
Before the days of Samuel the name of “prophet” very rarely occurs; incidentally the title is once given to Abraham (Genesis 20:7), and Moses is on many occasions so styled. (See especially the great passage in Deuteronomy 18:15-18, where he is made the type of the old order.) Aaron, too (but in relation to Moses), was also called a prophet. At rare intervals we meet with the name: for instance, in the days of Gideon (Judges 6:8); and most probably in the reign of the high priest Eli (1 Samuel 2:27), in the person of the “man of God” who brought the stern message to Shiloh, we have another rare example. There is one solitary instance in those early days of a woman bearing the honoured name—Deborah, the judge and prophetess (Judges 4:4).
Samuel, however, was the true founder of the prophetic order. Samuel, the Prophet and the Seer, was the title by which this great and loved man was known not only in his own, but in all succeeding generations.
There is no doubt but that one of the great works of Samuel’s life was to call into existence “unions,” or, as they have been subsequently termed, “schools of the prophets.” We must not, however, conclude that all, or that even a large proportion of the people trained in these schools of Samuel were prophets in the sense of being able to make predictions, or even to write or speak as inspired men. This Divine gift, we must remember, was a gift of God, which He bestowed on whom He would. He, in His omniscience, knew who among men were fitted for this grave and important office.
But the trained in Samuel’s “Naioth,” in that school of his by Ramah—those known in later days as “Sons of the Prophets”—were taught the study of the Law and the story of the Divine guidance of Israel; they were most carefully trained in music and singing; and in these quiet homes of learning and religious exercises, the records of the past, we may be certain, were examined and copied with extreme care, and the materials out of which the Divine records were in after days compiled were, no doubt, there arranged and classified.
In Samuel’s schools by Ramah, we may assume, were trained, under their renowned master, David, Gad, Nathan, Heman, and others whose names as writers, prophets, and teachers subsequently became famous after the days of Samuel, during the reigns of David and Solomon, and of the earlier kings of Israel and Judah. After the separation, prophets are frequently mentioned—sometimes by name, as in the case of Gad and Nathan—sometimes we hear of a nameless prophet. We have to wait, however, until the days of Elijah and Elisha before we meet with a further allusion to these prophetic schools. Under the general name of “Sons of the Prophets,” these seminaries, or schools, appear in the times of these great prophets in several localities. Their numbers evidently were considerable. It is an indisputable fact that during the later years of the independent existence of the people, and also in the Captivity, and for a time after the return, the prophets exercised an enormous influence over the tribes.
We may, then, fairly assume that the new impulse given to religious education by Samuel was never suffered to die out, and that from his days onward the schools of the prophets flourished among the chosen people. The company of prophets gathered round Samuel in the Naioth by Ramah—the “Sons of the Prophets”—who acknowledged men like Elijah and Elisha as their revered masters, were the direct ancestors of the scribes and rabbis of later days.
When Samuel first founded the new order, there was, it must be remembered, an utter want of lofty spiritual teaching. The sanctuary of Shiloh had been destroyed, the Ark removed, the priesthood dishonoured and disgraced. Later, it is noticeable that it was in the northern kingdom of the ten tribes, in the provinces of which there was no temple, no priests, no sacrifice, where we find those great schools of the Sons of the Prophete, under the presidency of men like Elijah and Elisha. The prophetic order then, in the first place, owed its creation to a want of all spiritual guidance and influence, when Eli was dead and Shiloh desecrated; and further on, its development and rapid increase among the northern tribes is plainly attributable to the fact of there being no temple and no priestly order outside Jerusalem.
The Hebrew is rendered “was knit,” or better, was bound up. This is a strong term, and is used in Genesis 44:30 of Jacob’s love to Benjamin: “seeing that his life is bound up in the lad’s life.” Aristotle, Nicom. ix. 8, has noted that friends are called one soul.
Jonathan loved him as his own soul.—As has been before remarked, the character of the princely son of Saul is one of the most beautiful in the Old Testament story. He was the type of a true warrior of those wild, half-barbarous times—among brave men seemingly the bravest—a perfect soldier, whether fighting as a simple man-at-arms or as the general of an army—chivalrous and generous—utterty free from jealousy—a fervid believer in the God of Israel—a devoted and loyal son—a true patriot in the highest sense of the word, who sealed a devoted life by a noble death, dying as he did fighting for his king and his people. The long and steady friendship of Jonathan no doubt had a powerful and enduring influence on the after life of the greatest of the Hebrew sovereigns. The words, the unselfish, beautiful love, and, above all, the splendid example of the ill-fated son of Saul, have no doubt given their colouring to many of the noblest utterances in David’s Psalms and to not a few of the most heroic deeds in David’s life.
We read of this friendship as dating from the morrow of the first striking deed of arms performed by David when he slew the giant. It is clear, however, that it was not the personal bravery of the boy hero, or the rare skill he showed in the encounter, which so singularly attracted Prince Jonathan. These things no one would have admired and honoured more than the son of Saul, but it needed more than splendid gallantry and rare skill to attract that great love of which we read. What won Jonathan’s heart was the shepherd boy’s sublime faith, his perfect childlike trust in the “Glorious Arm” of the Lord. Jonathan and David possessed one thing in common—an intense, unswerving belief in the power of Jehovah of Israel to keep and to save all who trusted in Him.
The two were typical Israelites, both possessing in a very high degree that intense confidence in the Mighty One of Israel which was the mainspring of the people’s glory and success, and which, in the seemingly interminable days of their punishment and degradation, has been the power which has kept them still together—a people distinct, reserved yet for some mighty destiny in the unknown future.
The great friendship, which has been the admiration of succeeding generations, began with the strong faith in the Eternal common to the two friends. Throughout its duration the link which united them was an intense desire to do the will of Him who, as true Hebrew patriots, they felt loved Israel; and when the friends parted for the last time in the wilderness of Ziph, we are told how the elder (Jonathan) strengthened the younger (David’s) “hand in God” (1 Samuel 23:16).
“Now change we arms, and prove to either host
We guard the friendship of the line we boast.
* * * * * *
For Diomed’s brass arms, of mean device,
For which nine oxen paid (a vulgar price),
He gave his own of gold, divinely wrought:
A hundred beeves the shining purchase bought.”
Iliad, vi. 286–295.
Singing and dancing.—This was on some grand occasion—probably the final triumph at the end of the war. The Speaker’s Commentary, on the English rendering “singing and dancing,” remarks that “the Hebrew text is probably here corrupt, and suggests that for vau, ‘and,’ we ought to read beth, ‘with’ and that then the sense would be to sing ‘in the dance,’ or ‘with dancing.’ The action was for the women to dance to the sound of the timbrel, and to sing the Epinicium with strophe and antistrophe as they danced and played.” (Comp. Exodus 15:20-21; Judges 11:34.)
We know that music and song were originally closely connected with dancing. David, for instance, when a mighty king, on one great occasion in Jerusalem actually himself performed dances before all the people (2 Samuel 6:14; 2 Samuel 6:16). (See Note on Exodus 15:20.)
Some years had passed since he first heard from the lips of his old prophet-friend the Divine sentence of his rejection from the kingdom. In that sad period he had doubtless been on the look-out for the one destined by the Invisible King to be his successor. This dread expectation of ruin and dethronement had been a powerful factor in the causes which had led to the unhingement of Saul’s mind. Was not this gifted shepherd boy—now the idol of the people—the future hope of Israel?
And he prophesied.—In his wild phrenzy—under the control of a power higher than himself, had he not by his breaking off all communion with God, left his soul defenceless and prepared for the presence of the evil spirit?—in his wild phrenzy we read “Saul prophesied.” The Dean of Canterbury well calls attention here to the conjugation employed in the original Hebrew of the word rendered “prophesied”—the Hith-pael, which is never used by an Old Testament writer of real true prophecy, this being always expressed by the Niphal conjugation. This of Saul’s was but a bastard imitation.
Saul was in a state of phrenzy, unable to master himself, speaking words of which he knew not the meaning, and acting like a man possessed. In all this there was something akin to the powerful emotions which agitated the true prophet: only it was not a holy influence, but one springing from violent) passions.
In David’s case, however, although he was of Judah, the future king was equally popular with the northern tribes.
In the one of the twain.—More accurately translated. in this second time, or in this second way. The LXX. again leaves out this statement, no doubt because it refers back to the omitted passage in 1 Samuel 18:17-19.
And lightly esteemed.—David looked upon himself as a mere successful soldier of fortune among the wealthy chiefs who surrounded Saul. His father—though, no doubt, “head man” or sheik in tiny Bethlehem—was, compared with the elders of Israel who formed the Court of Saul, a poor man.