State Funeral in the Nations Great Loss.
(1 Samuel 25:1)
“Samuel died, and all the Israelites were gathered together and lamented him.”
Here we are at the dreaded, yet sadly expected line of 1 Samuel 25:1. We can’t discuss this without digging into death, dying and what is left behind after a person has died. We are talking of bodies! Cadavers! We are face to face with the dust we came from, and the dust we return to. We are also confronted with the loss of greatness. A giant! More than a giant! A man continent had left the planet! The hole in the national psyche and confidence was enormous. Samuel died!
Since David left Samuel with Saul lying on the ground prophesying to the sky, as well as anybody else that happened to be in hearing distance, the two survivors of that trio had travelled quite some distance on their Timeline of life.
David and Jonathan had renewed their covenant of friendship having come to an accurate perception of the state of mind as well as the full motivation and rationale of Saul against David. Jonathan was truly trapped between a rock and a hard place. He was compromised by a deep and loyal love towards his father, and his brotherly love towards David. How hard must it have been for Jonathan to maintain both those relationships? As a “by the way,” the discussions that some have concerning whether or not David and Jonathan had a homosexual relationship with all their talk of love and commitment, the shedding of tears and David’s comment of how Jonathan’s love surpassed the love of women, I personally find ridiculous. The lifestyle and culture of David’s day, and the biblical context of morality and what was right and wrong, render the thought so utterly insane as to be beyond belief. There were prophets and men of God around David enough to have pointed the finger and told the king, “You are the man!” If God shared with the prophet Nathan the facts of David’s adultery and murder because of an immoral heterosexual relationship, Gad or Nathan would have visited David very quickly about an immoral homosexual relationship. Both David and Jonathan were married in a heterosexual and relationship at the time. Closeness of relationship with two people of the same sex is not a problem at all with God. It is the physical acts of a sexual nature between two people of the same sex and/or sodomy that scripture condemns. But that is another subject for another day.
Moving on! David had taken the sword of Goliath from the priest Ahimelech at Nob while Doeg was secretly listening to them. He saw and heard the whole conversation and exchange of goods. David knew that Doeg was there, as it happened, and suspected that he would report Ahimelech’s “treason” to the severity of the King. Ahimelech had no thoughts of disloyalty at all towards Saul, a fact which, if Doeg had been a man of integrity, he would have made plain to Saul. However he did not. If there was any sin involved in the discussion between Ahimelech and David it was David telling lies about having been on a secret mission for Saul in order to get the bread of the presence to eat and the sword of Goliath to carry. Doeg presented that story in such a pejorative manner that Saul ordered Doeg to kill Ahimelech and a huge number of Levites who were working with him.
David had also gone through the utter humiliation of pretending to be mad, i.e. insane, to save his life before the king of Gath. Thereafter David stayed for various lengths of time at many different places. Adullam was one of the first camp sites he stayed at where up to 400 men joined him, including his brother’s and his father’s household. This suggests that the big house at Bethlehem, where David had been brought up, was deserted until David became king. The vacated home was of necessity for familial safety. Saul was after the family of Jesse. Then he went, strangely, to Mizpah in Moab, where his father stayed for safety by permission of the Moabite king. This part of the story is oh so weird to this writer! Why? Simply because it informs us that David’s parents were safer in the hands of a heathen king than they were in Israel in the hands of the king of Israel.
After that, the prophet Gad had a word from Yahweh that David should return to Judah, in the forest of Hereth. It is at this point the scripture tells us of the horrific murder of 80 valiant priests simply because Ahimelech had given David Goliath’s sword and some bread. This word from the prophet Gad we later find out was extremely wise and propitious for David’s cause. When redistributing the gold and other items of booty taken from the heathen cities and nations that David had conquered or destroyed, he sent it to those towns, villages and cities that had looked after him while he was in his wilderness years. Many are listed;
“David sent it to those who were in Bethel, Ramoth Negev and Jattir; to those in Aroer, Siphmoth, Eshtemoa and Rakal; to those in the towns of the Jerahmeelites and the Kenites; to those in Hormah, Bor Ashan, Athak and Hebron; and to those in all the other places where he and his men had roamed.” (1 Samuel 30:27-31). What horrible days they must have been. That word, “roamed,” sounds lonely, distraught and desperate.
Back in David’s camp the plot progressed by David slaying many Philistines while stopping the Philistine occupation of the Israeli city of Keilah. We are also told that Abiathar, the rightful High Priest joined David’s ranks and had brought with him the High Priest’s ephod.
In the latter end of 1 Samuel 23 and the whole of chapter 24 we have more details of Saul’s relentless pursuit of David, together with his army. What an incredible waste of manpower and national resources over the years. David left Keilah and was hiding and camping in as secretive manner as one could with what were now 600 men. The scripture says that David was moving, “from place to place.” He stayed in the desert strongholds and then in the hills of the Desert of Ziph. During all this time he was being pursued by Saul and his forces. He stayed for a while in Horesh of Ziph. There Jonathan came to tell him that the king was on the way having found out where David was. Jonathan and David reconnected with the covenant between them and separated. That was the last time David and Jonathan ever saw each other in this life. David finished up in the Desert of Maon after the people of Ziph had betrayed him to Saul. After acting on this vital piece of information, Saul and his army were on the cusp of taking David when news arrived that the Philistines were attacking somewhere else in Israeli held territory, and so Saul had to leave his obsessive search for David to defend his own people. How ironic that, if it was not for that timely act of the Philistines, David would have possibly been killed. David moved to and lived in the strongholds of Engedi after that fracas.
After what was obviously a prolonged period at Engedi, Saul finally discovered David’s secret hideout and took his crack troops to attempt more time to take and kill the son of Jesse. It was here that, arguably, Saul’s most humiliating experience occurred. He stopped at a certain cave to relieve himself. Soldiers were expected to go to the toilet on the road side whether urinating or defecating, or be shrouded in bushes if there were any. But that was not appropriate for the king. So we have the remarkably graphic story of Saul actually walking alone into the cave where David and his men were hiding. It was obviously a very long and tunnelled cave. While Saul threw his cloak aside and crouched to toilet, he actually had his back to David and was within striking distance for murder. The word picture that the scripture creates could not in any way put Saul in a more embarrassing, humiliating or vulnerable position. Famously, David cut off the corner of Saul’s cloak. His conscience was sensitive to what he had done, but he told his men that he flatly refused to endanger the life of “The Lord’s anointed.” A lesson he had obviously learned from Samuel. Thank God for the living word shared by a prophetic heart.
All these things must have taken several years to have occurred between the point of time that David left Samuel, and the point of time when Samuel passed on.
Samuel died at a ripe old age. Some Rabbis say he was ninety-eight while others affirm he was more than a hundred. He had been Israel’s thirteenth judge and its first prophet to the whole nation within the parameters of the Promised Land. All of Israel mourned Samuel’s death, and many turned out to see him buried in the grounds of his own family home in Ramah, probably in a tomb already prepared for him. Nebi Samuel (Samuel’s Crypt) still stands today.
David lost an important and influential friend, mentor, prophet and father figure too. How he must have wished to have Samuel’s mind on many issues!
Did David attend the funeral and join in with the national mourning, as he absolutely would have wanted to do? Authorities differ in opinion. Those that believe David attended the funeral press the point of culture and decency, saying that Saul’s animosity would have been dropped for the duration of the mourning for the great prophet. “Jewish culture,” they say, “would have demanded that this is what would have happened.” Those that think David could not possibly have been allowed at the funeral, stress the opinion that Saul’s demented hatred of David was far too intense to be dropped for a funeral, no matter how deeply times of mourning were part of the psyche and cultural norms of Israel.
I have not the slightest idea as to which side of this debate is correct. My own opinion, however, is to say that if David had gone to Samuel’s funeral, I believe it would have been clearly stated in the scripture. I do not feel confident to assert my position any more than to make that statement.
Samuel is like a shadow of John the Baptist. Samuel and the Baptist are twin brothers in this regard. Both of them were great prophets. (Jesus said John was the greatest of them all). Both of them were forerunners of a great king. Both of them were Nazarites, and involved with preparation of a new age and culture that was to sweep over and beyond their mortal lives. All of Israel mourned for Samuel, while Christ Himself expressed grief at John’s death. John was killed because of rash words by mad king Herod who actually liked him. Samuel would possibly have been killed by a mad king if he had not experienced Yahweh fighting for him. Just like David, Samuel knew that King Saul would have loved to see him dead. Remember it was Samuel that asked Yahweh, “How can I go? (to Jesse’s home) if Saul hears it, he will kill me” (1 Samuel 16:2). In exactly the same way, the Lord kept David from the hands of the wicked. It is clear that Saul feared Samuel in much the same way as Herod feared John the Baptist. When both these kings had their respective prophets out of the way, they would have both been free to be as barbaric as they pleased.
No matter how far back in history Samuel’s demise may have been, no matter how slowly news was circulated in Israel during those days, the entire nation was informed and was in distress with grief. The whole of Israel felt the tragic impact of the bereavement of one of God’s greatest. All of Israel was very profoundly moved by the departure of prophet Samuel ben Elkanah. We have no hard figures or statistics of how he was or was not listened to, of how people were or were not turned to faith, but there could not have been many who had not come to revere the man who turned the political, spiritual and social state of the nation around. He had become such a conspicuous figure in his lifetime to the degree that he impacted the destiny of the nation long after his death. He would have been greatly missed, and much spoken about and thought of, especially during the days of the nation mourning for their loss of him. Even now from the lofty future, some 3,000 years ahead of Samuel’s life and death, we can still see and understand the power and influence of the child who was given to God as the firstborn of an erstwhile barren Hannah.
Samuel’s awesome influence and impact on Israel had been of the same ilk as Moses. Hannah’s son exerted an influence on the nation of a similar status to that which stands connected with the prophet of the Exodus. He may have not been associated with such a stirring existential crisis in history as Moses was, but Samuel moved in the supernatural for a longer period than Moses, and the nation was clearly in slavery to a different kind of taskmaster than was present in Moses’ hour. As for the nation of Israel, as it was when they left Egypt and stayed in the desert to enter Canaan as an orderly theocracy – the experience can be compared as to the similar parallel situation of the chaos that Samuel was born into, and the kingdom it had become by the time of his death. It is arguable which of the two prophets had the more stubborn generation to contend with. Moses laid the foundation of a sacrificial system and theology that would stand until Messiah came. Samuel laid foundations of which the superstructure of David’s and Solomon’s reign was solidly based. Moses left Israel with the book of Deuteronomy to guide the nation, while Samuel left them with a kind of written constitution in place, for kings right throughout the centuries to consult. The fact that Jerusalem was razed to the ground and the royal family was bundled off to Babylon did not in anyway mean that God had rescinded the monarchy. Christ was and still is the rightful heir of David’s throne when He was born, and will sit on David’s throne when He returns. Samuel punched his seal on a long generation by the same deep spirituality and relationship with God that Moses swam in. He hoisted the same high flying banner of intense reverence for Yahweh as Moses did. He was conjoined to the same profound belief in the reality of the covenant between Israel and Yahweh, just as Moses was. On top of all that, by pawing over every word that Samuel ever spoke we cannot miss the truth that he was gripped by the same conviction of the inseparable connection between a pure worship towards God, that brought a wonderful holistic flow of prosperity on the one hand of obedience, and an idolatrous defection and national calamity on the other if the covenant was broken. Walking with God precipitated Israel’s national prosperity. Idolatry was nothing but incipient poverty for the entire Israeli population. On all these issues, Moses and Samuel were identical twins conceived by the same seed and wearing the same clothes.
When reading the entire Old Testament, it can be said that nobody, had ever done more to rivet this truth on the minds and hearts of the people than Samuel, excepting the man that came down from Sinai with the Decalogue under his arms. It was the life mission of Samuel to show Israel that it made a huge cosmic difference to them in every conceivable way how they responded toward Yahweh, in worship, trust, and obedience, or without those godly traits. Samuel declared out and out battle to the death on the cold worldly idolatrous spirit, that permeated Israel in his early days – a spirit that is so natural to us all when we slacken our hold on Christ.
No doubt with many people of Israel, Samuel would be associated with a severity that would be said to push spirituality too far. But now Samuel had died many would be thinking they had not pursued God and the covenant far enough. Human beings have a trait of only counting their blessings, as those blessings die. “All the Israelites were gathered together and lamented him.” It would have been a huge State funeral in a nation utterly bereaved. It was the man that could not be replaced. His weight, insight and character was such a thing that nobody else could be promoted or “put in office” to replace him. Samuel was so unique that all Israel could do was grieve for his going.
What an incredible testimony Samuel had been for all that was good and holy. If it was not for this man’s character Israel could have been under the jackboot of another heathen invasion and praying for God to raise up yet another Judge to lead them into freedom. As one writer puts it when considering 1 Samuel 25:1, “What a living temple, what a divine epistle, written not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart!”
Where was Israel going now? What had they got now that Samuel was missing from the picture? All they had was a demonised king that seemed to spend most of his time chasing the hero of the people around the caves and strongholds of the hills and mountains of Israel. Whisperings and rumours that Saul was to be replaced by somebody else were rampant. It is no wonder the nation mourned and lamented the departure of one of Israel’s greatest sons. Perhaps the greatest! It was probably voiced, discussed and gossiped about that David should be the next king, however at the moment of Samuel’s death, it must have seemed like Saul was going to live interminably.
We feel almost sure that Samuel’s death could not have been properly responded to by David because of Saul’s issues about both he and the demised prophet. Saul may have even been relieved at Samuel’s passing. We shall see, soon afterwards however, that whatever Saul’s feelings and thoughts were at the point of Samuel’s death, he was later extremely desperate to know what the dead Samuel’s advice was on matters of State
It may have also been rumoured that David was simply in hiding or even dead. Nobody in Israel rightly knew the truth. It could not possibly have been known that he was moving towards actually living with some Philistine king in a Philistine city. That would have been a closely held secret at the time.
In Samuel we have the ultimate of a servant spirit, trained and disciplined from infancy to smother his own will and pay unbounded regard to the will of his Father in heaven. Samuel is the picture of the serene and holy believer, enjoying unseen fellowship with God, and finding in that fellowship a blessed balm for the griefs and trials of a wounded spirit. His conversation was in heaven. Samuel sowed to the Spirit, and of the Spirit he reaped life everlasting.
“Samuel died, and all the Israelites were gathered together and lamented him.”
- 1 Samuel 21-24: Make-Up Post (onehourtillmidnight.wordpress.com)
- Awake! Awake! Oh Samuel And fill your horn with oil. Anoint ! Anoint a new King to rule o’er Israel’s soil (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- On 1 Samuel 26-31 (reflectingchristian.wordpress.com)
- Summary of 1 Samuel (zachscripturestudy.com)
- One moment of madness and it’s the end of civilisation as Samuel wanted it. (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)