Some have argued that the editors who compiled
the text preserved the pro-monarchic perspective of their sources, but they chose to frame
the pro-monarchic passages with their own anti-monarchic passages, with the result that
the anti-monarchic passages really provide a stronger interpretative framework and are
dominant. The implication is that despite positive contemporary evaluations of Israel’s
kings, from the perspective of the later period, from the perspective of the editors and perhaps
those sitting in exile, the institution of kingship was a disaster for Israel. And that
negative assessment is introduced by the Deuteronomistic redactor into his account of the origin of
the institution: that God, himself, warned at the time that this transition was being
made and this request was being made–God himself, warned that this had the potential
to be quite disastrous. Others feel that the pro-monarchic and anti-monarchic views were
contemporaneous and both ancient, and we see that simply reflected in these dueling sources.
So whether one view is older and one more recent, whether both are ancient views or
both are recent or later views, the end result is a very complex narrative. As you read it
you feel thrown back and forth between these positive and negative assessments of kingship.
And we feel these, and see these very different views of monarchy in ancient Israel. So these
views really defy categorization in the end. They are one of the things that give the book
such complexity and sophistication. Not only is there ambivalence, however, about
the institution of kingship or monarchy, there is also a great deal of ambivalence about
the first inhabitant of the office, the first king, King Saul, himself. Judges has three
different accounts of Saul’s appointment as king. In chapter 9, 1 Samuel 9, it is a private
affair. It is just between Saul and the prophet Samuel. Samuel anoints Saul as king with oil
in a kind of a private encounter. The anointing of kings is also found among other ancient
Near Eastern groups, the Hittites, for example. In Israel, it seems to be a rite of dedication
or consecration, making sacred to God, (“con-secration,” =making sacred). And it is done not just
for kings. It is also done for high priests. They are also anointed with sacred oil.
Then in 1 Samuel 10, you have Saul’s appointment represented as being effected by a lottery.
It is a lottery that is presided over by Samuel, but there is a lottery system and the lot
falls to Samuel to be appointed king. In the next chapter, in 1 Samuel 11, we have
Saul victorious in a battle over the Ammonites and so he is elected by popular acclaim, if
you will. These could all be complementary ways of his slowly securing the position.
They could be seen as competing accounts. But he is an important and a striking figure.
Nevertheless there seems to have been some controversy about Saul and it is preserved
within our sources. On the one hand, he is described in very positive terms. He is tall.
He is handsome. He is winning. He is charismatic. In fact, he is associated with ecstatic prophecy:
the spirit of the Lord comes upon him and he prophesies in a sort of raving and dancing
and ecstatic mode. He defends his own tribe. He is from the tribe of Benjamin, and he defends
them from Ammonite raids. And he is hailed by the tribes as a leader in time of war.
As king he did enjoy some initial military victories. He drove the Philistines from their
garrisons, and he was such a popular and natural leader that even Samuel, who at first resented
Saul and resented the idea of a king, came to appreciate him and was said to really grieve
for him upon his death.