Samuel - a terrible warning for the stoic man

The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears...And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge...and always the guilt and revenge and more guilt - John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Agag came to him cheerfully. He was relieved. He was smiling. "Surely the bitterness of death is past," he said. Perhaps he was still smiling as his head went spinning through the air.

First Samuel chapter 15 reads with all the growing tension of a volcano about to blow.

It doesn't start well. The prophet Samuel chooses this moment to call time on a 400-year-old feud, and he delegates this genocide to an ineffectual, simpering narcissist who had already proved himself wanting when it came to obeying instructions.

The Amalekites, it seems, had confronted the Israelites when they had first left Egypt. Joshua routed them the first time round, and that should have been the end of that. But no, once you have crossed the great God Jehovah you can pretty much call it a day for the whole population. It may not come soon, but it's gonna come, even if you have to wait four centuries.

Samuel called it now, and it was complete annihilation. "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys."

Saul went about doing as thorough a job as he knew how, which wasn't thorough enough. "He had compassion upon Agag the king, and the best of the flock."

Samuel hears about this transgression. He gets up early and goes to meet Saul at Gilgal. He is already irked. He kicks off with a small dose of sarcasm. Saul claims to have carried out the Lord's instructions. "What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?" Wrong-footed, Saul casts the blame elsewhere - the soldiers, the people, they were the ones at fault. "Stop!" says Samuel, and he repeats the instructions. "But, I did obey the Lord..." Saul whimpers.

"Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you as king," roars Samuel.

Saul panics. Rejection is his worst nightmare. God's rejection, the people's rejection. He could feel his grip on the world beginning to slip. Rejection was the annihilation he feared. He would make a fool of himself not to have such a punishment. He falls to his knees, begging forgiveness. He accepts all the blame, fully confessing his cowardice. It is all falling on deaf ears. He is losing Samuel.

And then, the prophet's garment rips.

Samuel had actually turned to leave. He had turned his back on this disobedient rabble with their god-forsaken king. But Saul, pleading in desperation, clawing, grabs hold of the hem of the prophet's robe...and it tore. "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today," says Samuel, coldly, as he walks back into the crowd. "Bring me Agag king of the Amalekites."

Maybe it was the ripped cloak; maybe it was this pathetic specimen of a man weeping at his feet, pleading to be honoured in front of his people. Perhaps it was Agag with his stupid-looking grin. Whatever it was, it all dissolved into the background as Samuel grabbed the first sword he could get hold of and started swinging.

The New International Version wimps out with a feeble "Samuel put Agag to death." He didn't put Agag to death. "He went hacking him to pieces before the people." (italics mine)

They stood there in stunned silence, mouths agape, as the sword arced and the blood rained and the limbs flew. Agag was cut up "bone from bone," says the Bible in Basic English.

Samuel wasn't just hacking up Agag. He was hacking up Saul, and he was hacking up this stiff-necked Israelite people; he was hacking up Eli, and he was hacking up his two bullying sons; he was hacking up his own wayward boys. He was hacking up God. And worst, and most frightening of all, he was hacking up Hannah and Elkanah, his own mother and father.

"He has rejected you as king," Samuel had screamed. But Samuel's own life had been a catalogue of rejection - a deep and bleeding gash that never healed, that was forever being freshly opened. He had stoically buried the hurt, the guilt, and the shame. His sons, Joel and Abijah had rejected him. They did not walk in his ways. "They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice," and how could they do otherwise with a father who was carrying the crushing weight of rejection in his heart. Samuel had led this delinquent nation of Israel, and they too had rejected him, wanting a king like other nations. He called it a rejection of Jehovah, but it was clearly felt as a rejection of his own leadership. Furthermore, he had been rejected by God who, like a weasely little rat, had capitulated to their every whim. This glorious God, Jehovah, turned out to be just as gutless as every other man Samuel had had the misery to meet. Eli, who cringed before his despicable sons. Saul, who made him sick with his pride and presumptuousness, and his constant disobedience to his every instruction.

And, at the very root, in the dark blackness of his soul, was the rejection of his own mother, Hannah, tearing him away from her breast and leaving him alone at Shiloh with a cold and heartless family of pious frauds. And Elkanah, his weak-willed, lily-livered father, who let her do it.

"As your sword has made women childless,
So will your mother be childless among women."

Such was Samuel's shattered battle-cry as he started hacking - it was as raw a curse as he could come up with. It was the worst thing on his mind. And he hacked, and hacked, and hacked, until he was spent. Then he stumbled back to Ramah, and he wept like a baby for all that he had lost.

It was a shell of a man that went to find a replacement for Saul. The elders at Bethlehem approached him tremblingly because they had heard that he went completely berserk up in Gilgal - but Samuel had become scared even of Saul, and he certainly didn't know what to look for in a king any more. He anoints the one pointed out to him - David, the youngest son of Jesse - and that becomes his final act before he dies.

This man had been ripped from his parents and put into the service of the Lord before the age of 5. His mother visited every year with a steadily growing family, and every year it felt like a fresh rejection - a constant reminder of what he would never have. Stoically he pushed it down, burying it deep below the surface, a surging boiling lake of superheated turmoil. Until finally, it erupted in a shocking display of unrestrained violence.

It didn't make the hurt go away. Samuel sank further into depression and eventually died a broken man - another Bible character who spent his life constantly on the run from God.