Legends of Old Testament Characters/Chapter 35

XXXV.

SAMUEL.

GJALOUT (Goliath) was king of the Philistines. He was of the race of the ancient giants, the Adites and the Themudites, who were from fifty to a hundred cubits in height.

The children of Israel were grievously oppressed by him, and they besought God to send them a prophet who would reinstruct them in the law of Moses, and in the true religion. For thirty years they besought God, but no prophet was given to them. In the meanwhile, the Philistines oppressed them more and more, and whenever the Israelites rose against them, they defeated the Israelites with great slaughter.

There died a man of the tribe of Levi, Rayyan (Elkanah), son of Elkama, who was descended from Aaron the brother of Moses. The elders of Israel hearing that he had died, leaving his wife pregnant, went to her and surrounded her with the greatest care and comforts.

There was amongst them a wise man named Hil (Eli), who was high-priest; to him they confided the care of the widow. In time she bore a son, who was named Ischmawil (Samuel).

Eli brought up the child Samuel in the temple, to the age of seven years, and he taught him the Pentateuch and the religion of Moses.

Samuel regarded Eli as his father, because he had been brought up by him, and he loved and reverenced him greatly.

One night when he was asleep, Gabriel came into the room and made a noise, so that Samuel awoke.

He saw no one, so he called to Eli, "Master! didst thou summon me?"

Eli replied, "No, my son, I did not summon thee."

Next night the same occurred; so also the third night.

Then Eli thought that God wished to give to Samuel the gift of prophecy; therefore he said, "My son, if thou art called again in the night, reply, Here am I; what wouldest Thou? I am in Thy hands."

Samuel did so. Then Gabriel appeared to him and communicated to him the message of God.

Samuel told Eli that the Lord had given him the gift of prophecy, by the mouth of His messenger Gabriel.

Then Eli was rejoiced, and he announced the glad tidings to all Israel.

Eli had two sons whom he had instructed in the art of offering sacrifice according to the law of Moses, but he had taught them nothing else. Eli himself moreover neglected to sacrifice, and he allowed his sons to live after their lusts, unrestrained by his paternal and priestly rebuke.

Therefore God spake to Samuel that He would punish Eli and his sons; but Samuel feared to show it to the high priest.

Then said Eli to him, "Has God given thee a message to me?"

And Samuel answered, "God has said, Why hast thou neglected to offer sacrifice, so that thy sons add thereto or detract therefrom? And why hast thou not constrained them? Because of this sin, I shall deliver thee into the hands of an enemy, who shall slay thy sons, and take the ark, and cause thee to perish also."[1]

Then Gjalout came, and made war against the children of Israel, and there was a great battle, and Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, were slain, and the ark was taken; and Eli fell backward from off his seat when he heard the news, and his neck brake, and he died.

In the ark, that now fell into the hands of the Philistines, were preserved the tables of the Law, which God had given to Moses, and a basin in which the angels washed and purified the hearts of the prophets, and the mitre and breastplate and pontificial robes of Aaron.

The Israelites had been accustomed, in times of peril, to produce the ark, and it had delivered them from evil by virtue of the sacred relics it contained. As for the Shekinah which rested upon it, and from which the ark took its name of Tabut-Shekinah, the Mussulman authors assure us it had the form of a leopard, which, whenever the ark was carried against the enemies of God's people, rose on its legs, and uttered so potent a roar, that the foes of Israel fell to the ground. These authors, however, derived this fable from Rabbinic writers.[2]

The king of the Philistines, having obtained possession of the ark, placed it in a draught house, purposing thereby to express his hatred of the Jews, and his contempt for that which they regarded as most sacred.

But a terrible disease broke out among the Philistines, and the ark was sent from Gaza to another city. There the plague appeared immediately, and the Philistines were at length obliged to return the ark to the Israelites.

In the meantime, the Israelites, in consternation at the loss of their ark, gathered about Samuel, and besought him to consecrate a king for them, who might go forth to battle before them, and recover for them the ark.

Then Samuel said: "If I consecrate a king for you, will you not desert him, and refuse to obey him?"

But they all protested, "We will follow him wherever he leads, and we will obey all his commands."[3]

Then Schareh, who was surnamed Thalout (Saul), on account of the greatness of his stature, was chosen by Samuel to be their king. He was poor, and by trade a water-carrier, and his ancestors had all been water-carriers.

Now the father of Saul had lost an ass, which had escaped into the desert. Saul went after it.

Then Samuel came to meet him, and said to him: "Thou shalt reign as king over the people of Israel."

Saul replied: "O prophet of God! thou knowest that my tribe is the least among the tribes, and that I am the poorest among the members of my tribe."

Samuel said: "Nevertheless, God has ordered that so it should be."

Then he poured on his head the sacred oil which had been brought to Samuel out of heaven by Gabriel.

But some say that this oil belonged to Joseph the son of Jacob, and it was preserved by the prophets. When this oil was poured on Saul's head and face, it made his skin brilliant and pure.

Now the prophets all came out of the tribe of Levi, and the tribe of Benjamin was despised greatly by the Israelites. And when they heard that their king was from that tribe, and was a water-carrier, they were angry and exclaimed, "Why shall he reign over us? We are as worthy to reign as he!"[4]

Samuel answered, "God gives power to whom He wills."

The Israelites said, "Show us a sign."

Samuel brought the sacred oil forth, and it boiled in the presence of Saul.[5]

But that did not suffice them. Then they asked another sign; and Samuel said, "The ark shall return."

And they lifted up their eyes, and lo! the ark was coming to them attached to the tails of two cows, and angels guided the cows.[6]

Then the children of Israel doubted no longer, but accepted Saul as their king.

Then said Samuel to the people: "The God of your fathers has sent me unto you, to promise you victory over the Philistines, and deliverance from your bondage, if you will turn and leave your evil ways."

"What shall we do," asked one of the elders, "that we may obtain the favour of God?"

Samuel answered, "Ye must pray to God alone, and offer no sacrifices to idols, nor eat the flesh of swine, or blood; neither must you eat anything which is not slaughtered in the name of the Most High. Ye must assist one another, honour your parents, entreat your wives with kindness, and support the widows, orphans, and poor. Ye shall believe in the prophets who have gone before me, especially in Abraham, for whom God turned a fiery pile into a pleasure garden; in Ishmael, whose neck God made as a flint-stone, and for whom He opened a fountain in the stony desert; and in Moses, who with his staff opened twelve clay paths through the sea. Also ye shall believe in the prophets who shall follow after me, especially in Isa Ibn Mariam (Jesus, Son of Mary), the Spirit of God, and in Mohammed Ibn Abd-allah."

"And who is this Isa?" asked one of the elders of Israel.

"Isa," pursued Samuel, "is the prophet foretold in the Tora as the Word of God. His mother Mariam (Mary) shall conceive him by the will of God, and by a breath of the angel Gabriel. In his mother's womb will he praise the almighty power of God, and testify to the immaculate purity of his mother; afterwards will he heal the sick and crippled, will quicken the dead, and will create living birds out of clay.[7] His godless cotemporaries will deal cruelly with him, and will crucify him; but God will deceive their eyes and will let another die in his room, and he will be carried up into heaven like the prophet Idris (Enoch)."

"And Mohammed," asked the same Israelite, "who is he? His name sounds strange in our ears, never have we heard that name before."

"Mohammed," answered Samuel, "does not belong to the race of Israel; he will descend from the seed of Ishmael, and he will be the last and greatest of the prophets, before whom Moses and Christ will bend at the Resurrection Day. His name, which signifies the Much Praised, is prophetic of the laud and honour he will receive from all creatures on earth, and all the angels in heaven. The miracles he will work are numberless, so that a man's life is not long enough to relate them all. I shall be able to tell you only the events of a single night.

"One fearful night of tempest, in which neither cock will crow nor dog bark, Mohammed shall be aroused from sleep by Gabriel, who shall appear to him in the shape he has when he appears before God, with seven hundred wings streaming with light; between each a space such as a fleet-footed horse could scarce traverse in five hundred years. Gabriel will lead the prophet forth into the open air, where the wondrous horse Borak will be ready. That is the horse on which Abraham mounted when he made his pilgrimages from Syria to Mecca. This horse has two wings as an eagle, and feet like a dromedary, and a body like a costly gem, shining like the sun, and a head like the fairest maiden. On this wondrous beast, whose brow bears the inscription, 'There is no God save God, and Mohammed is his prophet,' he will mount and ride, first to Medina, then to Sinai, thence to Bethlehem, and finally to Jerusalem, to view the holy places, and at them to offer up his prayers. From Jerusalem he will ascend on a golden ladder, with rungs of rubies, emeralds, and jacinths, into the seventh heaven, where he will be instructed in all the mysteries of the creation, and the governance of the world. He will see the blessed in all their joy, in Paradise, and the sinners, in all their pain, in Hell. There will he see many pasturing wild cattle in unfruitful fields. These are they who in the time of life used the gifts of God without giving to those in need. Others will he see running about, and carrying in one hand fresh, and in the other putrid, meat, and as often as they attempt to taste the former, a fiery rod will smite them on the hand, till they devour the latter. This is the punishment of those who have violated marriage, and have preferred forbidden pleasures. Others have a swollen body, swelling daily more and more; these are the fraudulent and avaricious. Others have their tongues and lips fastened together with iron clamps; these are the slanderers and backbiters. Between Paradise and Hell sits Adam, laughing with joy when the gate of Heaven opens to receive one of his sons, and he hears the songs and shouts of the blessed; weeping with self-reproach when the gate of Hell uncloses to take in one of his descendants, and he hears the sobbing of the damned. On this night will Mohammed also see, besides Gabriel, the other angels, who have each seventy thousand heads, and in each head seventy thousand faces, and in each face seventy thousand mouths, and in each mouth seventy thousand tongues, wherewith they cease not day or night to praise God in seventy thousand diverse languages. He will also see the angel of atonement, who is half fire, half ice; also the angel who watches the treasure of fire with gloomy countenance and flashing eyes; also the angel of death, with a great writing-table in his hand, whereon are inscribed many names, and from which at every instant he wipes off several hundreds; finally, the angel who guards the waters, and weighs in great scales the water allotted to each spring and well, and brook and river; and the angel who bears up the throne of God on his shoulders, and has a horn in his mouth, wherewith he will blow the blast that is to wake the dead. Moreover, the prophet will be conducted through many seas of light near to the throne itself, which is so great that the whole world will be beside it as a link in a coat of mail dropped in the desert. What will be further revealed to him," answered Samuel, "is unknown to me; this only I know, that, after having contemplated the Majesty of God a bowshot off, he will descend the ladder precipitately, and, mounting Borak, will return to Mecca. Now the whole of this journey, his sojourn in Medina, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the seventh heaven, will occupy so little time, that a water-pitcher which he upset as he left the house in Mecca will not have run all its water out by his return."

The assembled Israelites listened to Samuel, and when he was silent, they cried with one voice, "We believe in God and in all the past prophets, and in all those who are yet for to come. Pray for us that we may escape the tyranny of Gjalout (Goliath)."

Thus Saul was chosen king of Israel, and Samuel was prophet to the people of God.[8]

  1. Tabari, i. c. lxxxvii.
  2. D'Herbelot, Bibl. Orient., s. v. Aschmouil.
  3. Koran, Sura ii. v. 247, 248.
  4. Koran, Sura ii. v. 248.
  5. D'Herbelot, Bib. Orientale, t. i. p. 263.
  6. Tabari, i. p. 417.
  7. This incident, from the apocryphal gospels of the childhood of Christ, shall be related in the Legendary Lives of New Testament Characters.
  8. Weil, pp. 193-8.