E-text prepared by Al Haines
MIRIAM'S SCHOOLING AND OTHER PAPERS
Edited by His Friend, Reuben Shapcott.
London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Truebner, & Co., Ltd.
TO STEPHEN WILLSHER.
I dedicate this result of my editorial labours to you, because you were dear to our friend who is dead, and are almost the only person now alive, save myself, who knew him at the time these papers were written. A word of explanation is necessary with regard to the picture at the beginning of the book. You will remember that Rutherford had in his possession a seal, which originally belonged to some early ancestor. It was engraved with a device to illustrate a sentence from Lilly. The meaning given to the sentence was not exactly Livy's, but still it may very well be a little extended, and there is no doubt that the Roman would not have objected. This seal, as you know, was much valued by Rutherford, and was curiously connected with certain events in his life which happened when Miriam was at school. Nevertheless, it cannot anywhere be found. It has been described, however, to Mr. Walter Crane, and he has reproduced it with singular accuracy. It struck me, that although it has no direct relation with anything in the volume, it might be independently interesting, especially considering the part the motto played in Rutherford's history.
The story which Jotham told his children on the day before his death concerning the achievements of his father Gideon—His comments and those of Time thereon.
I am an old man, and I desire before I die to tell you more fully the achievements of your grandfather. Strange that this day much that I had forgotten comes back to me clearly.
During his youth the children of the East possessed the land for seven years because we had done evil. We were driven to lodge in the caves of the mountains, so terrible was the oppression. If we sowed corn, the harvest was not ours, for the enemy came over Jordan with the Midianites and the Amalekites and left nothing for us, taking away all our cattle and beasts of burden. We cried unto God, and He sent a prophet to us, who told us that our trouble came upon us because of our sins, but otherwise he did nothing to help us. One day your grandfather was threshing wheat, not near the threshing-floor, for the Midianites watched the threshing-floors to see if any corn was brought there, but close to the wine-press. It was at Ophrah in Manasseh, the home of his father. While he threshed, thinking upon all his troubles and the troubles of his country, not knowing if he could hide enough corn to save himself and his household from hunger and death, the angel of the Lord descended and sat under the oak. He may have been there for some time before my father was aware of him, for my father was busy with his threshing, and his heart was sore. At last he turned and saw the angel bright and terrible, and before he could speak the angel said to him, "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour." My father, as I have said, was threshing by the wine-press, on his guard even there lest he should be robbed or slain, and it seemed strange to him that the angel should say the Lord was with him. So strange did it seem, that even before he fell down to worship, he turned and asked the seraph why, if the Lord was with him, all this mischief had befallen them, and where were all the miracles which the Lord wrought to save His people from the land of Egypt. For there had been neither sign nor wonder for many years—nothing to show that the Lord cared for us more than He did for the heathen. My father had thought much over all the deeds which the Lord had done for Israel; he had thought over the passage of the sea when Israel could not find any way open before them, and the very waves which were to overwhelm them rose like a wall and became their safeguard. But he himself had seen nothing of this kind, and he almost doubted if the tales were true, and if times had not always been as they were then, all events happening alike to all, and hardly believing that God had ever appeared to man.
The angel did not answer him, but looked him in the face, and said, "Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?" My grandfather, Joash, was one of the poorest men of his tribe, and as for my father, nobody had ever thought anything of him, nor had he thought anything of himself. He, a solitary labourer, unknown, with no friends, no arms; he to do what the princes could not do! he to lead these frightened slaves against soldiers who were as the sand for numbers! It was not to be believed, and yet—there sat the angel. It was broad noon; in the shade of the oak his light was like that of the sun. It was not a dream of the night, and he could not be mistaken. Nay, the angel's voice was more sharp and clear than the voice in which we speak to one another—a voice like the command of a king who must not be disobeyed. Yet he comforted my father. "Surely I will be with thee," he added, "and thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man." If the Lord was to be with him, my father need not have hesitated, but in truth he did not care for the duty which was thrust upon him. He would have been glad to do anything for his country which was within his power, but he did not feel equal to the task of leading it against its oppressors, nor did he covet it. He would rather have endured in silence and died unknown than take such a weight upon his shoulders, for he was not one of those who desire power for power's sake. The apparition, too, was so sudden. The angel was there with his divine face looking steadily at him, with eyes so piercing that no secret in the inmost soul could remain hidden from them, and the man upon whom they were turned could not even think without being sure that his thought was known. Yet my father doubted, and this dread of the task imposed on him increased his doubt. Yes; he doubted an order given him at midday by a messenger sitting in front of him flaming with heavenly colour. It might after all be a delusion. He prayed, therefore, for a sign, and then as he prayed he thought he might be smitten for his presumption. But the angel was tender to his misgivings, and said he would wait for the offering which was to test his authority. My father went into the house and brought out a kid and unleavened bread, and presented it. The angel directed him to put the flesh and the cake on the rock and pour out the broth. He did so, and the angel then rose, and stretching out the staff that was in his hand, touched the flesh and cakes. No sooner had he touched them than—wonder of wonders!—a fire leapt up out of the rock; they were consumed before his eyes, and the angel had departed. A great terror overcame my father, for it had always been said that it was impossible for man to look upon a Spirit from the Lord and live. He was left alone, too, with the message, but without the Comforter, and he cried unto God in despair, not knowing what to do. As he cried, a word was spoken in his ear soft and sweet, like the voice of the aspen by the brook; soft and sweet, and yet so sure: "Peace be unto thee; fear not: thou shalt not die." Then he rose and built an altar, to mark the sacred spot where God had talked with him and he had received his divine commission. There it is to this day in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. As you pass it, remember that where those stones now stand the Most High conversed with him whose blood is in your veins.
As yet Gideon was without any direct orders, but that night he heard again the same soft, sweet voice, and it commanded him to build another altar upon the highest point of Ophrah, to throw down Baal's altar, and upon the altar to the Holy One to sacrifice the second of the bullocks belonging to Joash, the bullock of seven years old, burning it with the wood of the great idol. The angel under the oak was before my father's eyes, the soft, sweet voice, telling him he should not die, was in his ears; but not even the Lord God can conquer our fears, and although my father was a brave man and saved Israel, no man ever had worse sinkings of heart than he. It was as if he had more courage and more fear than his fellows. He did what the Lord said unto him, but he was afraid to do it by day, for not only was his tribe against him, but his father's house also. He took ten of his servants, and when the city awoke one morning the altar of Baal was cast down, the altar to the Lord God stood on the hill, and there lay on it the half-burnt logs of the image of Baal. Our nation has never believed in Baal as it has believed in the Lord God. How should it believe in Baal? Baal has done nothing for it, but the Lord God brought us from Egypt through the desert, and was the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night. Nevertheless, when the altar of Baal was cast down and the idol was destroyed the people demanded the death of Gideon, and you know that at this day, though Baal is a false god, and in their hearts they confess it, they would murder us if we said anything against him: they went therefore to Joash and told him to bring forth his son that they might slay him. These, my children, were not the Midianites nor the Amalekites, but our own nation. At the very time when the heathen were upon us we turned from the Lord to Baal, and sought to destroy the man who could have rescued us. Thus we have ever done, and we are surely a race accursed. But Joash secretly contemned Baal, although until now he had not ventured to say anything against him. It made him bold to see how his son and his servants had over-thrown the altar and burnt the idol which lay there charred and unresisting. He stood up before the altar, and facing the mob which howled at him; asked them why they should take upon themselves to plead for Baal: "If he be a god, let him plead for himself, because one hath cast down his altar." The charred logs never stirred; there was no sound in the sky; Joash was not struck dead; Baal was proved to be nothing. That was a sight to see that morning: the ashes smouldering in the sunlight, the raging crowd, Gideon and his fellows behind Joash, and Joash calling on Baal to avenge himself if he was a god as his worshippers pretended. Ah, if that had been Jehovah's altar! When Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord, fire came down from the Lord and devoured them. When Miriam spoke against His servant she became a leper; and when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram blasphemed, they were swallowed up in the pit. But Baal could not move a breath of heaven on his behalf. What kind of a god is he? A god who cannot punish those who insult him is but a word.
As for Gideon, he grew in strength. Nothing happened to him because he had thus dared Baal. He went about his work daily; no judgment fell on him, and nobody dared to meddle with him.
Soon afterwards the Midianites and Amalekites, who had withdrawn for a while, overspread the land again, and pitched in the valley of Jezreel. Gideon having suffered nothing for his insult to Baal, had become bolder. Moreover, his tribe, the Abiezrites, had seen that he had suffered nothing. Thus it came to pass that when the Spirit of the Lord came upon him; and he blew a trumpet, all Abiezer followed him. Not only so; he sent messengers through Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, and they came up to meet him, the very people who a few months before would have stoned him. They thronged after him, and now professed themselves believers in Jehovah. They were not hypocrites. They really believed now, after a fashion, that Baal could not help them. Their fault was that they believed one thing one day and another thing the next. That has always been the fault of the people. Your grandfather did not despise them for their instability. So far as they were not stable to Baal it was good, and he pitied them as they flocked to his standard, hoping that he could deliver them. He blew the trumpet, and at the simple blast of that trumpet in each village and town the nation seemed to rise as one man, such strength was there in its tones. These men had been idolaters, and it might have been thought that to turn them all would have taken years of persuasion; but no, at the simple sound of the trumpet the religion of Baal vanished.
Gideon was now at the head of a great host; he had been favoured with visions from the Most High; the angel of the Lord had appeared to him; he had burnt the image; and yet now, when the army was round him, fear fell upon him again, and he doubted if he could save Israel, or if God would keep His promise. So it always was with him, as I have already said. He therefore prayed for another sign, and the Lord did not rebuke him, as a man would have done if his promise had been mistrusted. Gideon's test was strange; he did not pray that he might see the angel again, for the thoughts that came into his mind were always strange, not like those of other men, and were unaccountable even to himself. That night the fleece of wool on the ground was wet and the earth was dry. He prayed yet again, and still God was tender to him, for He knows the weakness of the creatures He has made. This time the fleece was dry and the earth was wet, and Gideon thereupon rose up early with all the host, and moved towards the host of Midian, till he came in sight of them as they lay in the valley by the hill of Moreh.
But the Lord would not have so many to do His work, and most of them were afraid and useless. He therefore commanded Gideon to send away all who were frightened, and ten thousand only were left. These ten thousand were still too many, for most of them were impatient, not able to restrain themselves, and likely to fail, either through fear or foolhardiness, in the stratagem the Lord designed. He therefore commanded Gideon, when they were all thirsty, to bring them down to the water. Nine thousand seven hundred were in such a hurry to reach it that they dropped on their knees to drink, but three hundred were collected and patient, and were content to lift their hands to their mouths. The three hundred were kept and the rest sent home. That night God, the ever merciful, had promised Gideon to deliver the Midianites into His servant's hands, and had confirmed His promise by miracle, but nevertheless He directed Gideon to go down to the camp, so that he might hear a man's dream and its interpretation, and be further strengthened in his faith. Gideon went down and listened at a tent door; and when the dream was told, how a cake of barley bread tumbled into the host of Midian, and came unto a tent and smote it that it fell, all fear departed, and he rose up and went back to the three hundred, and cried to them, "Arise; for the Lord hath delivered into your hand the host of Midian."
Forthwith he divided his three hundred into three bands, and each man took an empty pitcher and placed a torch inside it. In the dead of the night they marched to the camp, this little three hundred, and placed themselves round it. Then Gideon broke his pitcher and showed his torch, and all the others did likewise, and shouted, "The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon."
The host cried and fled, for a terror from the Lord descended on them, and turned their own swords against them. When they were defeated all Israel went out after them, and there was great slaughter, and Oreb and Zeeb, two princes of Midian, were slain.
As soon as the victory was achieved, and while he was yet in pursuit, the men of Ephraim turned upon him and abused him because he had not taken them with him to fight the battle against the Midianites, but never had they lifted a finger to save themselves before Gideon appeared. When, however, he had caught and destroyed Zebah and Zalmunna, the two Midianitish kings, and had chastised Succoth and beaten down the tower of Penuel, Israel came to him and asked him to rule over them, but he would not. He cared not to be king. He remembered with what difficulty he had believed the angel and the promise, the sickly faintness which had overcome him on that night before the Midianitish overthrow. Whatever he had done had not been his doing, but the Lord's; and how did he know that the Lord's help would continue? The thought of being king, and of having a set office, perhaps without the Lord's assistance, was too much for him. He was right in his refusal. He was one of those men who can do much if left to themselves, and if they are supported by the Most High, but who shrink and tremble when something is expected from them. "The Lord shall be your King," he said. He trusted that God would speak to the nation as He had spoken to him, and without any leader would guide them aright. That is not the Lord's way. But though Gideon would not be king, he desired some honour, and he asked that he might have the ear-rings of the Midianites who had fallen. Therewith he made an image, a thing forbidden. It stood in his house, a record of what the Lord had done for him; and yet this very record became a snare, and Israel fell to worshipping it, and Jehovah was displaced by the testimony of His own love for us.
Your grandfather is now dead. Abimelech reigns in his place, and has slain all the children of Gideon save myself. Israel has returned to Baal; its strength has departed; before long we shall be subdued under the Philistines. Excepting in our own house, there are none that have not gone a-whoring after Baal; the memory of the battle by the hill Moreh is clean forgotten; and soon the memory of my father will also disappear, and it will be as if he had never lived. To think that the vision of the angel in Ophrah and the night in the valley of Jezreel should end in nothing!
* * * * * *
That night Jotham died.
Fourteen Hundred Tears Later.
"The time would fail me to tell of Gideon, . . . who through faith . . . out of weakness was made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens."—Epistle to the Hebrews.
Three Thousand Years Later.
"'The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon,' answered Balfour as he parried and returned the blow."—Old Mortality.
Samuel immediately before his death spoke thus at Bamah:—
I am now old, and before many days are past I shall be gathered to my fathers. Behold, here I am: witness against me before the Lord: Whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith, and I will restore it you. How could it be that I could be other than that which I have been, seeing that from my childhood upwards I have been the chosen of the Lord, the instrument to do His bidding?
There are none of you who remember the evil days of Eli. Many times before then your fathers went astray after false gods, but when Eli was high priest the Tabernacle itself was profaned by his sons, the sons of Belial; for they robbed the people of their meat which they brought for the sacrifice, so that men abhorred the offering, and they lay with loose women at the door of the Tabernacle, after the manner of those who worship the gods of the heathen. To turn aside from the Lord and serve these gods is wickedness, but to serve them in the presence of the Ark, and to defile the sanctuary itself, was an abomination worse than any in Ashdod or Gaza. The Lord might assuredly have left Israel to the Philistines, but He desired that there should be a people preserved to do honour to His name, and He called me, called me even as a child, and to Him have I been dedicate. What I have said and done has not been mine but His, and if any have any fault to find, they must find it with Him and not with me.
My father, Elkanah, was one of the faithful in Israel, and he went up yearly to Shiloh; my mother, Hannah, was his beloved wife, though it was Peninnah who had given him children. I was born in answer to a prayer which my mother prayed in bitterness of soul, and she vowed that if she should have a man child he should be the Lord's all the days of his life; no razor should come upon his head, neither should he drink strong drink. My mother redeemed her vow, and I was taken to Shiloh, and there I ministered before the Lord. I lived in the midst of the iniquity which was wrought by the sons of Eli; but although a youth, the vow which my mother had made for me protected me. The Lord had then withdrawn Himself from Israel, and no word had been spoken to us by Him for years, save a message from a prophet who prophesied the fall of Eli and his house. Still I served, although He gave no sign of His presence, for my mother visited me continually, and she kept me strong and pure. One night, when I had lain down to sleep, I suddenly heard a voice, which I took to be the voice of Eli, and it called me by name. This it did thrice, and each time I went to Eli and asked him what he wished with me, but he had not called. When the voice had come again and again, I answered, "Speak; for Thy servant heareth," and then for the first time was I bidden to execute a command from the Lord; and I, Samuel, a boy, was ordered to tell Eli, the high priest from the Lord, whose minister he was, that a deed was about to be done which should make tingle the ears of every one who heard it, and that for the iniquity of his sons, and because he did not restrain them, no sacrifice should avail to protect him from judgment. Such was the message given to me; to me, Samuel the child, and thus was I honoured even then. I had never heard the voice before that night, and I lay awake till the morning, fearing to tell Eli what had been said to me, and I went out and opened the doors. But Eli sent for me, and when he saw me he perceived that the Lord had been with me, and he directed me to hide nothing from him of what had been said to me. I told him the vision every whit, and from that day forth I have been at the Lord's bidding, and have interpreted His will to Israel.
Although I had never heard the Lord's voice before, and it came with no sign nor miracle, I did not doubt that it was His, for there was that in it which proclaimed Him. Nevertheless I wondered what His judgment would be, and in what manner it would come to pass. Soon afterwards the Israelites went out to battle against the Philistines in Aphek, and were smitten with great slaughter. Then the elders of Israel, thinking that the Ark of the covenant would save them, sent to Shiloh and brought it thence, and when it came into the camp they all shouted with a great shout, so that the earth rang again. Fools to believe that the Ark was anything if the Living God was not with it! When He was with it, and the men of Bethshemesh did but look at it, they died; but without Him it is nothing. The Israelites were greatly heartened when the Ark came, and the Philistines were afraid, believing, idolaters as they were, that God must be in it. But the Israelites were defeated; thirty thousand of them fell; the very Ark was taken; Hophni and Phinehas were also slain. When Eli heard the news he fell backward and died, and his daughter-in-law, who was in travail, died also. Thus was the word delivered to me fulfilled suddenly in one day, and for the sins of the priests even the Ark whereon were the cherubim was permitted to depart to the Philistines and keep company with Dagon. After that day, when Eli died and I looked into the empty sanctuary, could I hesitate to believe and obey the Lord's word?
The Lord had no mind that the Philistines, who were His scourge for the Israelites, should vaunt themselves over Him, or should believe that of their own strength they had prevailed. Wonderful is He! He takes the wicked to punish His people, and the wicked are but tools in His hand, and He uses them for His own designs. The Ark came to Ashdod, and was put in the house of Dagon; but when the men of Ashdod arose early on the morrow, behold Dagon was fallen upon his face to the earth before the Ark. They took Dagon and set him in his place again; and when they arose early on the morrow morning, behold Dagon was fallen upon his face to the ground before the Ark, and the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off upon the threshold. Furthermore, the men of Ashdod were destroyed with a secret and dreadful disease. They thereupon determined to get rid of the Ark, and they sent it to Gath. When it came to Gath the pestilence fell upon the men of Gath also, and they sent it away to Ekron, and the pestilence fell also upon the men of Ekron. Then the wise men of the Philistines were called together, and they counselled that the Ark should be returned with a trespass-offering to Israel, and that it should be carried in a new cart by two milch kine on which there had come no yoke, and that their calves should be brought home from them. Then if the kine of their own accord took the cart to Bethshemesh, it would be known that it was the God of Israel who had plagued the land; but if they refused to go, then it might be chance which had done it. The Ark was placed in the cart, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon the kine. Remembering their calves, they nevertheless went straight along the road to Bethshemesh, lowing as they went, and turning not aside to the right hand or to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them unto the border of Bethshemesh. The men of Bethshemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley, and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the Ark, and rejoiced to see it, and the cart came into the field of Joshua the Bethshemite, and stood there, where there was a great stone, and they clave the wood of the cart, and offered the kine as a burnt-offering. And the Levites took down the Ark, and the coffer that was with it, wherein the jewels of stone were, and put them on the great stone, and the men of Bethshemesh offered burnt offering and sacrifices. When the Philistines had seen all these things, and when they knew that the plague in their land was stayed, did they acknowledge the Lord God? How should they, seeing that they were not His elect?
The children of Israel continually turned aside to the lewd gods of the heathen, and at times it seemed as if the whole earth would be given up to the abominations of the Canaanites. The Lord had brought us out of Egypt, and through the desert. He had appeared to us on Sinai, and had given us His commandments, by which alone we could live. He had revealed unto us that we should be pure, and separate ourselves from the filth around us. He had roused up Moses, and Joshua, and the Judges, all of whom strove to preserve and ever build higher and stronger the wall which was to protect us, so that the sacred Law and the service of the one God might continue. Israel was but a handful in the midst of Philistines and Amalekites, nations which worshipped Baal with fornication and all kinds of uncleanness, and Israel was ever at the point of mingling with them. Then it would have been forgotten as they will be forgotten; but if it will only abide in the Law, as given in thunder and lightning in the wilderness, it will be great, when, except for their struggles with Israel, the recollection of Amalekite and Philistine shall have perished.
I often was alone amidst a people which had well nigh all gone astray, but I remembered the voice which I heard in the Temple when I was a child. I sought the Most High day and night, and He came very close to me, and it became clearer and clearer to me that all things were as nothing compared with the Law, and that everything was to be set aside for its sake. Alone, I say, I testified on His behalf, but He kept me. Neither women nor wine have I ever known when men were given over to women and wine: His Vision has filled me, dedicate to Him ere I was born.
The Lord chastised Israel through their enemies, and I besought the people to turn away from the Philistine gods and their iniquities. I gathered them together in Mizpeh: the Philistines heard of it, and came down upon Mizpeh, thinking that now they could wipe us out from the face of the earth. Kings have had their captains, but I had none, and was not a man of war; the people were in a panic; their lascivious idolatry of Baal had destroyed their strength, and the enemy lay opposite us. That night I did not sleep, but went to the Lord in prayer. If I had had nothing but my own strength which I could trust I should have fainted, for what could I, unlearned in battle, do against such an army, and with no soldiers save a frightened mob, which knew that it deserved God's wrath. I wrestled with the Most High as Jacob wrestled, and I implored Him to remember His promise to our fathers. I called to mind that day by the borders of the sea, when His angel which went before the camp of the Israelites removed and went behind them, and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face and stood behind them, and how the waters were a wall on the right hand and on the left, and in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians. I called to mind the night when Gideon and his three hundred stood round the Midianites, and the Lord set every man's sword against his fellow, even throughout all the host. I called to mind the voice which spoke to me when as a child I lay on my bed in the Lord's House. As I communed and wrestled, the tent was filled with light, brighter than that of the sun at noon. No word was spoken, but I knew it was the light of Him whom to see is death, but whose light is life. All fear departed, and as the glory slowly waned, sleep overcame me—sleep like that of an infant; and when the morning dawned, and I opened the doors of my tent and watched the sun rise, I was strong with the strength of ten thousand men, and rejoiced, although the Philistines were like the sand on the seashore for multitude. I caused the trumpet to sound, and brought Israel together. On the hill there in Mizpeh, in sight of the people who stood round trembling, I builded an altar and slew a lamb, and offered it as a sacrifice to Him who had appeared unto me. I prayed again, for as the smoke of the burnt-offering rose in the clear air, the Philistines came up the hill to battle with us, and the people cried, and were on the point of fleeing this way and that way, to be pursued and slain. I commanded them to be still. The Philistines drew nearer and nearer, and I prayed ever more and more earnestly. The smoke of the offering was beginning to die down, and yet I prayed. The fire was well nigh out to the last spark, and for a moment I doubted, forgetful of the vision, for the music of the army of Dagon could now be heard. Suddenly the fire flamed up on high from the grey ashes, as if a heap of the driest wood of summer had been thrown on it, and I saw a little cloud gather on the other side of the Philistine hosts, and I knew that my prayer was answered. The flame dropped instantly, but the cloud spread itself even as I looked, and the wind arose, and hither and thither across the cloud flashed the lightning. Onward it came till it rested over the Philistines, and then it broke and descended on them, and they were shut out from us in thick darkness. The thunder of the Lord crashed and rolled, and we saw His lightnings pierce down like swords. Silent we stood, and presently the cloud lifted, and the Philistines, who, a few minutes before, marched against us in order, were a confused mass, struggling hither and thither, and many of them were lying dead on the ground. Then, with one accord, Israel shouted, and ran and smote the Philistines until they came under Bethcar. I went not with them; but when they had all departed, I took a stone and set it up between Mizpeh and Shen, and wrote on it Ebenezer, for hitherto had the Lord helped us—the Lord, I say, and never a man, as it was the Lord and never a man who has helped us since we left Egypt.
After that defeat the Philistines troubled us no more, and the cities which they had taken from us were restored; but when I became old, the people grew restless, and desired a change. The Lord, to humble me, and prevent boasting by His servant, had afflicted me with two sons, who obeyed not His commandments; and the people put forward these two sons, who were judges under me, as a reason why a king should be given them. If, however, my sons did injustice, I was still alive to whom appeal could be made, and why should a king, because he was a king, be better? The Lord had brought us out of Egypt, and had ruled us through His ministers. We had no court, with women and with splendour; and those who won our battles lived like those whom they led. Our gold and our silver were saved for the House of the Lord, which was His, and for all of us. The office of king was foreign to us: it was heathen and hateful to me. None more earnestly than I worshipped the Lord, and submitted myself to His direction, and imposed His will even to death upon the people. But that a man, because he was called king, should rule, and send the people hither and thither for his own ends, and slaughter them, was horrible to me. I sought the Lord in prayer to know how I should meet this request, and He counselled me to yield.
I assembled the people together, and rehearsed unto them all that had been done for them without the help of a king. I foretold to them that the king would be for himself, and not for them—that he would press their sons and daughters into his service; but the people would not listen to me. The Lord had said unto me that they had not rejected me, but rejected Him that He should not reign over them, as they had ever done since the day when they were brought up out of Egypt. I cared not, however, for their rejection of me, but because it was He who was rejected. I thought over it night and day, and it well nigh broke my heart.
Those who had hitherto been placed over us had not been chosen because they were the sons of the rich, or of those who were chosen before them. Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Jephthah, were all of them select of the Lord from the people. Nay, even a woman had been taken to judge Israel—Deborah the prophetess, who dwelt under the palm-tree here between Ramah and Bethel. It was Deborah who sent for Barak to lead the host against Sisera, and Barak said to her that if she went he would go, but if she went not he would not go, so mighty was her presence. Sisera gathered together his army and all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron; but Deborah spoke a word in the ears of Barak, when he was afraid, and Sisera was discomfited with all his chariots and his host. He fled, and it was a woman, Jael, the wife of Heber, who slew him—for ever honoured be her name. In the days of Shamgar, the son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were unoccupied, and the travellers walked through byeways; the rulers ceased in Israel; the people chose new gods; there was war in the gates; there was no shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Israel until Deborah arose. The family of Gideon also was the poorest in Manasseh, and yet it was to him that the angel was sent, and he subdued the Midianites and the children of the East. This hitherto had been the Lord's way with us; and now we were to abandon Him for a king, whose children, because they were king's children, were to be our commanders. It well nigh broke my heart, I say. The glory of the Tabernacle was henceforth to be dim, overshadowed by the pomp of a monarch. I could not endure it, and again I went to the Lord, and besought Him to turn the people or visit them with the thunder and lightning of Mizpeh, that they might repent of their iniquity and live. But He would not speak to them beyond what He had spoken through me, and I returned and sent the assembly away, every man to his own city.
I called the people together in Mizpeh again, the place where they had seen the Lord save them Himself, and yet even there they would not yield. Then I prophesied against them, because they had cast aside Him who had delivered them out of all their adversities and tribulations; and I caused all their tribes to assemble before me. Saul the son of Kish was taken, and the fools shouted God save the king. I did my best for them. I wrote laws for them to protect them against him, and I put them in a book and laid them up in the sanctuary.
Henceforth I was in a measure more solitary than before. Saul was a brave man, and led the people to war, and they were pleased with his success, but he was not single in his service of the Lord, and he had for a wife a Horite, one Rizpah, who worshipped false gods. He believed he could make Israel a nation by battles, and he saw not what I saw—that the one thing necessary for our salvation was to keep ourselves pure and separate. The people complained that the Law was a burden, but it was their safeguard: it was the Law which marked them off from the heathen, who were doomed to fall by their sins. I toiled daily to preserve the Law, and to insist upon the observance of its ceremonies, knowing full well that if the people let them go, they would let go the commandments from Sinai; would let go the sobriety and the chastity of their bodies; would mix in the worship of Baal, and be lost. Saul was no observer of ceremonies, and considered them naught, the idiot, who forgot that they were ordained of God, with whom there is no small nor great, and that through them the people are taught. More solitary than ever I was, I say; but I sought the Lord more than ever, and kept closer to me the memory of the Voice which first called me. If Israel is to live, it will not be because Saul overcame the Amalekites and Philistines, but because the Lamp of God in my hands has not been extinguished. When the Philistines came against us at Michmash, Saul was in Gilgal, and I went to meet him there. Because I came not at the time appointed, he, the impious one, took upon himself to offer the sacrifice, pleading that the people were leaving him, and that the Philistines were encamped against him. He forgot the thunder and lightning at Mizpeh, and that it was his duty to obey the least word of the Lord, whatever might happen. It was a surer way to save Israel than to teach it by the king's example that the ordinances of the Lord could be set aside because it was convenient. I cared not for myself: how can he who is His messenger care for aught save His honour? But I saw by this act of Saul what was in him—that it was an example of his heart—that if he could conquer the Philistines he cared not for the Law. His victories without the Law would have melted away like snow in summer. They would have been as the victories of Philistines over Amalekites, or Amalekites over Philistines. It was one of the first things he did after becoming king, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon me, and I denounced him, and was directed to seek a successor outside his house. If the kingdom had remained in the house of Saul, Israel would have become a heathen tribe, and it was not for this that God called it out of Egypt and led it through the Red Sea.
I was commanded to send Saul against the Amalekites. What Amalek did to us when we came out of Egypt had been written down, and the direction concerning him. He met us by the way, and smote the hindmost of us, even all that were feeble, when we were faint and weary; and it had been said to our fathers that when we had rest from our enemies round about us, we were to blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven—"Thou shalt not forget it" was the word delivered to us. I had the record of the battle in Rephidim when Joshua discomfited Amalek, not in his own strength, but in the strength of the uplifted arms of the aged Moses, the man of God. His arms, withered and feeble, defeated Amalek that day. Does not the altar still stand, Jehovah-nissi, to testify that we should war with Amalek from generation to generation? Furthermore, Amalek feared not God, but worshipped strange gods with abominable rites, after which the sons and daughters of Israel lusted. It was the Lord's desire that we should root up Amalek, as a man roots up a weed, and fears to leave a thread of it in the ground, lest it should again grow.
Saul was willing to arm himself against the Amalekites, and to do his best to defeat them after the manner of a king, and to bring them into subjection; but he saw not with my eyes, and knew not what a Law of the Lord was. Therein have I stood apart from Saul and his friends and this nation. They also were not ignorant of the Law, but they thought it could be observed like the laws of men, not understanding that it is binding to the last jot and tittle, and that if a man fails at the last jot or tittle, he fails altogether.
Saul smote the Amalekites, and everything that was vile and refuse he utterly destroyed with the edge of the sword, but he spared Agag and the best of the spoil; and when he came to meet me, he saluted me, and said he had performed the commandment of the Lord. His commandments are not thus to be performed, and I asked him what meant then the bleating of the sheep and the lowing of the oxen. He had reserved them, he said, as a sacrifice. I asked him whether the Lord had as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord, I told him that to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams; and I denounced him there, and foretold that his kingdom should be given to a neighbour better than he. He was then greatly afraid, for although he feared not the Lord, and was brave before his enemies, he was at times much given to secret terror, and he besought me to stay with him and pardon him. But I would not, and when I had worshipped, I ordered Agag to be brought before me. He came trembling and asking for mercy, but I hewed him in pieces. Mercy? Mercy to whom? Would it have been mercy to Israel to let him live and become a leader of the Amalekites against us? Moreover, a clear command had been given me, and was set plainly before me, as a candle in front of me in darkness, to which I was to walk, swerving not a hair's breadth, that the Amalekite was to be destroyed utterly; and always when the Light was before me I strove to reach it, never looking this way nor that way. Before Saul also the Light was set, but he went aside, thinking he could come to it if he bent his path and compassed other things, not knowing that the track is very narrow, and that if we diverge therefrom and take our eyes off the Light we are lost. Who was Agag, that I should show any tenderness to him, a foul worshipper of false gods? I rejoiced when he lay bound for the knife in the agony of death, and his blood was a sacrifice with which God was well pleased.
David now waits until Saul's death, for the king is still a strength in Israel. I fear that David will dishonour himself with grievous sin, for he is a lover of women, and a man of words and of song: treacherous is he also at times. But he belongs to us; he fears the Lord and His prophets and priests; he may go a-whoring, but it will not be after Baal; he will war against the heathen, and will not show mercy to them. Now I am about to die, and to descend into the darkness whither my fathers, and Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses have gone before me. I bless the Lord that I have lived, for I have preserved the knowledge of Him and His Law. My life ends, but the Lord liveth, all honour and glory to His sacred name.
Rizpah, the Horite, in her old age, talks of Saul to the wife of Armoni, her son.
This is the day on which your husband's father fell on the mountains of Gilboa. Though I was no Israelite, but born in the desert, I was his beloved before he became king. I am eighty years old now, but the blood moves in me, and I grow warm as I think of him. There was not a goodlier person than he—from his shoulders and upwards he was higher than any of the people. Why did the Lord choose him? He never coveted that honour, and he suffered because there was laid on him that which he did not seek. Yet the Lord was right, for there was not one in all Israel so royal as he, and it was he who redeemed it and made it a nation. Samuel had grown old—he was always a priest rather than a captain—and his sons, whom he made judges, turned aside after lucre, took bribes, and perverted judgment. The people were weary of their oppression and the hand of the Amalekites and the Philistines were very heavy on the land. They therefore prayed for a king, and the thing displeased Samuel, and he tried to turn them from it. But they refused to listen to him, and when they came together at Mizpeh, Saul was the man upon whom the lot fell. Again, I say, he desired not to be king. He had hidden himself on that day, but he could not be hidden, and he was dragged forth to glory and to ruin. I was there: I heard the shouts as they cried God save the king. I saw him no more that day, for the tumult was great, and there was much for him to do. But that evening he came back to me at Gibeah; he, my Saul, came to me as anointed king. O that night! never to be forgotten, were I to live a thousand years, when I held the king in my arms! Never—no, not even on the night when I first became his—had I known such delight. I have seen more misery than has fallen to the lot of any woman in this land, and it has not passed over me senseless. I am not one of those who can go through misfortune untouched, as a drop of oil can rise through water. I have taken it all in, felt it all, to the last sting there was in it; and yet now, when I call to mind the night after he was crowned, and its rapture of an hour—the strength and the eagerness of his love: the strength, the eagerness, and the pride of mine—I say it is good that I have lived. The next morning I saw him with his valiant men—the men whose heart God had touched; how he set them in order, and how they followed him—him higher than any of them, from the shoulders upwards; and I said to myself, he is mine, the king is mine, that body of his is mine, and I am his.
Tell you all about him? How can I? But I will tell you a little—what I have told you again and again before—so that you may tell it to your children, and the name of Saul may never be forgotten.
After he was chosen, the children of Belial said, How shall this man save us? But he held his peace, for he foresaw what was at hand, Nahash the Ammonite came up and encamped against Jabesh-gilead; and when the men of Jabesh-gilead offered to become his slaves if he would but make a covenant with them, he consented, but upon this condition, that they should thrust out their right eyes. Such thralls had the children of Israel become whom Saul had to save, that Nahash dared to put this upon them in mockery. They sent messengers to Gibeah, where Saul was—not to him, but to tell the people there; and Saul heard the message as he drove the herd out of the field after work, for he was still at his farm, his day not yet having come. When he listened to the story of the men of Jabesh-gilead, the Spirit of God came upon him; and he took a yoke of his oxen and hewed them in pieces, and sent them throughout all the coasts of Israel, saying, Whosoever cometh not after Saul, and after Samuel, so shall it be done unto his oxen. The fear of the Lord fell on the people, such strength was there in Saul's command, and they came out with one consent. He numbered his men, divided them into three bands, marched all night from Bezek, fell upon the Ammonites in the morning watch, and so slaughtered and scattered them that two of them were not left together. Where now were the men of Belial who had mocked him? The people cried out that they might be brought forth and put to death; but Saul, ever noble and great of heart, forbade it. "Not a man," he said, "shall be put to death this day, for to-day the Lord hath wrought salvation in Israel."
The Philistines had for a long time oppressed the land, so that men who were their neighbours hid themselves in caves, thickets, and rocks. They were not armed, for the Philistines had forbidden the working of iron, lest their slaves should have anything wherewith they might defend themselves. Having defeated the Ammonites, Saul went up to Gilgal, and a great crowd came after him trembling. He waited there seven days for Samuel, and meanwhile the people began to slip away from him. What was he to do? He could wait no longer, and he commanded the burnt-offering to be brought to him. Just as he had made an end of the sacrifice, Samuel appeared, and Saul went out to meet him and take his blessing. But Samuel turned upon him and doomed him, because he had meddled with the priest's office. He was to be cast out from his kingship, and another was chosen in his place. That was the root of all my lord's trouble, as we shall afterwards see—the seed of the madness which made his life worse than death. What had he done? Nothing, but set fire to that miserable beast. Had he slain a man, or robbed the widow or the fatherless, or defrauded those who came to him for judgment, his punishment would have been just; but that he should be deposed because, in his extremity against the Lord's enemies, he had taken upon him to do what Samuel neglected to do, was a strange sentence from the Lord. Would you or I deal so with our friends? would we give them no place for repentance? would we let the penalty endure when, the heart is changed and forgiveness is sought? The Lord's ways are wonderful. But it was Samuel's doing. If it had not been for Samuel, the Lord would have shown mercy. Samuel was ever the priest, and had no compassion in him. He had been chosen as a child, and he never forgot he was the Lord's selected servant. He hated Saul because Saul was king, and he loved to show his power over him. Before that day in Gilgal, he had called down thunder and lightning from heaven to show that Jehovah listened to him, and to prove that Jehovah resented the request that the people should have some one to command them other than the sons of Eli. He hated Saul because the people obeyed him and fled to him when they were in danger. Who could help obeying him; who was there who knew him who did not love to obey? However, he was cursed—cursed for a ceremony of the Law; and that dancing David, the man who took Uriah's wife and basely murdered Uriah, was said to be the man after God's own heart.
Soon afterwards the evil spirit fell upon my lord. Samuel had commanded him to smite the Amalekites, and to spare not men or women, infants or sucklings, oxen or sheep, camel or ass. Saul gathered his soldiers together and lay in wait in the valley. In his mercy, for he was ever tender-hearted, he warned the Kenites that they might escape. He then smote the Amalekites from Havilah to Shur, but he took Agag alive, and spared some of the spoil. When the battle was over, Samuel came to meet him, and rebuked him as if he had been a child for what he called rebellion and stubbornness. The priest stood up before the king, and told him that his rebellion was as witchcraft, and his stubbornness as idolatry. "Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord," he cried, "He hath also rejected thee from being king." Rebellion, stubbornness! Saul was neither rebellious nor stubborn. He had smitten the Amalekites; in obedience to Samuel's command, he had done what he hated to do; he had slaughtered young and old, but he had saved Agag, and although he humbled himself before Samuel, and prayed him to remain, he would not. Saul laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle; but he departed, and it was rent, and he cursed Saul, and declared that as the garment was rent, so had the Lord rent the kingdom of Israel from him that day, and given it to another better than he. Then Samuel called Agag unto him, and hewed the unarmed man in pieces, and declared he would see Saul no more. Now Saul was brave, the bravest of the brave, but he greatly feared at times what he called his Terror. What it was which troubled him none ever rightly knew. He was not mad as others are mad, for his senses never left him, and he was always the counsel and the strength of the nation, whom they all sought in their distress. But something had caught him of which he could not rid himself, and he would come to me with wild eyes, and clasp me in his arms. I could not comfort him; and all I heard was a strange word or two about a Face which haunted him and would not leave him. I could not comfort him, but it was to me nevertheless he always fled; and although he spoke so little, for he dared not name his Terror, he said to me more than he has said to any man or woman: it was I, it was I more than any other who knew the secrets of the king's soul. My belief is that Samuel brought the Terror on him. He never forgot that dreadful day when Agag was murdered, and it was always before his eyes that he was doomed, and that there was another man in the land, who was to rule in his stead. I tried to appease him. I told him that life to all of us is short, that in the grave there is forgetfulness, and bade him drink wine, lie in my bosom, and shut out the morrow, but it was of no avail. There was nothing to be dreaded in the thought that some one would supplant him, and other men would have endured it in peace; but it was the constant presence of the thought, the impossibility of getting rid of it, which darkened the sun for him. Day after day, night after night, this one thing was before him. It was as if he were bound to a corpse, and ever dragged it after him. Higher than any of the people from his shoulders and upwards, like a lion for courage, and yet he would have fled even to Death from this thing, for he could not face it. What a mockery is the strength of the strongest! A word from the Lord can cause the greatest to grovel in the dust! It was thought that music would help him, and they brought to him David, who was skilled with the harp, and had moreover a ruddy, cheerful countenance. Gay and light of heart was he, and as he sang and played the Terror would sometimes loosen its hold, and Saul was himself again, but it never left him for long.
Much has been made by Saul's enemies of his hatred of David. It came in this way. Saul loved David, and made him a captain, and they went out together to war against the Philistines. When they returned, the women, smitten with his pretty face—they were always ready to go after him, and he after them—sang aloud in the streets that Saul had slain his thousands and David his ten thousands. The Terror was on Saul; he believed David was Samuel's friend, and David and the Terror became one. He eyed David from that day. He was not blameworthy. It was the Evil Spirit from God, and the Evil Spirit put a fixed thought in his mind, that if he could but remove David, the Terror would depart. Although I hated the son of Jesse from the beginning, I made light of my lord's dread of him, but who can reason against an Evil Spirit from God; and while David was playing the second time, my lord cast a javelin at him to kill him. When the Evil Spirit departed, the desire to destroy David departed with it. After Saul had cast the javelin, Jonathan pleaded with his father for David, and Saul listened, and swore that no harm should befall him; but when David soon afterwards returned from another battle with the Philistines, the Spirit came again and turned David's music into an instrument of torture, and again put the javelin in Saul's hand, and strove through Saul to strike David with it. Hard ridden was Saul by the Spirit at that time, and he went to Ramah to see Samuel; and when he saw him, he, the king, my beloved, was so beset that he tore off his clothes, and lay down naked all night. When he came back at the feast of the new moon, he sat down to meat with his princes, and with Abner and Jonathan; but David was not there. He asked the reason of his absence, and Jonathan explained that David had leave to go to Bethlehem to visit his father. Jonathan said nothing more, but the Evil Spirit descended even at the feast, in the company of all the lords, and Saul imagined that Jonathan was plotting against him; and in his fury, possessed by the Lord, he cast his spear against Jonathan also, his own best beloved son. That was the misery of it; the Spirit brought him to violence, not only against those who were his enemies, but against those whom he loved. To me, though, he was ever tender, and over our love the Spirit had no power. Jonathan's anger at the time was fierce; but Jonathan was noble of heart—his father's son, without his father's affliction; and he knew, when he came to himself, that it was not the father whom he honoured who had done this deed. He went out and warned David, but he did not go with him, and presently he returned into the city and comforted his father. When David had gathered together his four hundred knaves in rebellion, Saul sat in Gibeah under the tree there, and his servants stood round him in council. They were all of them valiant and faithful, but he broke out against them, and accused them of conspiring with David against him. "There is none," he cried, "that sheweth me that my son hath made a league with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you that is sorry for me." "None of you that is sorry!" His suffering was so great, and so little was it understood, that he believed no one cared for him, and at times he said bitter things which kept men apart from him, and sent some of them to David. His anguish was all the greater because he thought Jonathan, his son, whom he so much loved, had become estranged from him, and secretly communicated with David, and was content to give up his succession to the royal crown, and take the second place when David should be upon the throne. But again I say it, no harsh word ever came to me, although for days he would hardly speak; and then, suddenly, as he sat by me, he would lay his head upon my neck, and tears would come of which he was ashamed.
The never-ceasing pursuit of David was sad even to me, and yet when the Spirit left him to himself Saul relented. When David was in Engedi, and hard pressed, he came out to Saul and submitted himself to him. He boasted that he could have slain Saul—what a boast to make! that he had spared the Lord's anointed and the father of Jonathan, his chosen friend!
The king was much given to sudden change. Sometimes his mood would leave him, and his face become clear in a moment, like the heavens in a thunderstorm when the lightning has spent itself, and the wind shifts, and the blue sky in an instant is revealed. Never, when this happened, did he resist, and by constraint remain in his sorrow, but sang and was glad, and if I was beside him, delighted himself with me. The happiest of men would he have been, even as a king, if the Evil Spirit from the Lord would have left him. He was overcome with his ancient love for David, and wept, and acknowledged, although it was false, that David was more righteous than he, and prayed for the Lord's blessing upon him. Yet even then the ever-present Fear was before him. "I know well," he said, "that thou shalt surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in thine hand." And he made David swear that he would not cut off the seed of the royal house, so that the name of Saul might live. And David sware: David sware, the blaspheming liar, who gave up to the Gibeonites my sons, and the sons of Merab. It was Jonathan, whom Saul had in mind when he caused David to swear; but Saul's prayer was but breath, for the Lord cut off Jonathan in battle, and Saul was the only king of the house of Kish.
After Samuel's death, David, with his men, went over to the Philistines, who gave him Ziklag as the place of his abode. He played the traitor to Achish as he had done to Saul, and he went out against the Geshurites, the Gezrites, and the Amalekites, the friends of Achish, murdering both men and women, and returned and lied to Achish, telling him he had fought against Judah and its allies. Had it been his purpose to hide himself and to do good service to his master Saul in the war which the Philistines were preparing for him, his treachery might have excused him; but he had no mind to assist Saul or Israel. He sang a song after Gilboa in memory of the king and Jonathan, but he came not near them in the day of battle, and he profited by their overthrow. He brought his men to Achish, as if he would go down with him to the fight; but the Philistines distrusted him, and sent him back to Ziklag. Who knows what he intended? He told Achish that he meant to take his part against Saul, but no word of his could ever be believed. Nevertheless, I doubt not that he would have been as good as his promise if it had been permitted to him. It is certain that he knew what was about to happen, and that, if he had been loyal to his prince, he would have striven to assist him.
I remember that dreadful day before the day of Gilboa. The host of the Philistines came and pitched in Shunem as the sand of the desert for number. Saul had gathered all Israel together, but they were fewer than the Philistines, and disheartened. He knew, moreover, that David and his men were with the enemy; and as he went out that morning, and saw the host of the Philistines lie upon the hillside, he greatly trembled, not with fear of death, for he never feared to die, but because his Terror was upon him, and the Lord refused to speak to him. He inquired of Him, but the Lord answered him not. The high priest had brought the ephod, but was dumb, and the prophets heard nothing. Two nights before the day of the battle, he had sought the Lord for a dream, and had lain down by my side in hope. The dream came, but it was a dream of the Terror, and he shrieked and turned, and clasped me in his arms; and I soothed him, and asked him what he had dreamed, but he could not tell—it was a horror, awful, shapeless, which he dared not try to utter; and he clasped me again, me wretched, clasped me for the last time. He rose and went out in the morning early; went round his army by himself. He was alone, and he knew that God had forsaken him.
In his extremity he bethought him of witchcraft. In his zeal for God, which availed him nothing, he had cast out of the land all those who dealt with familiar spirits, but one was still left at Endor. To her he went to obtain some voice from the unknown world, thinking that by chance light might shine in upon his despair. But when he came to the woman, and she asked him what spirit she should call, he could do nothing but ask for Samuel. He feared him, and yet he desired to see him. It was always strange to me that he, such a king, should be so subdued by Samuel's presence. It was so in life, and it was so in death. The spirit of Samuel rose, and Saul humbled himself before the shadow. Alas, Samuel had learned no pity through death, and his ghost was as fierce as the living man of years gone. He had passed into the land of emptiness and vanity, yet his wrath burnt as if mortal blood had been in him. Saul bowed unto him and told him his trouble, how he was sore distressed, for the Philistines made war upon him, and God had departed from him, and answered him not. It was a dreadful sight, so the woman herself told me afterwards, a king abasing himself before a spectre of a priest and craving mercy. The worst foe whom Saul had in the land would have felt his heart touched, and the wicked woman herself was moved with great compassion. If success could not be promised, at least some comfort might have been given, but Samuel was bitterness itself; terrible he always was to me, so bitter and so hard that I shuddered at him. He turned upon Saul and denounced him, he, the dead, denounced him who was about to die, and declared that the Lord was his enemy. Enemy! for what, because he had spared Agag? And yet that was, in a measure, the reason; for Saul was too much of a man for the priest, and therefore the priest set up David against him. The ghost stood there, and doomed the king. "The Lord," he cried, "hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbour, even to David, because thou obeyedst not the voice of the Lord, nor executedst His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day. Moreover, the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines; and to-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines." For this cause Saul was to fall, and his three sons, and there was to be a great slaughter of Israel. When David the adulterer murdered Uriah, was that not a worse crime, yet was his punishment as Saul's? And what punishment there was fell not on David as it would have fallen upon my lord and upon me. After David's son died, he straightway rose up, eat and drank, and went in unto Bathsheba the whore; and she, the wife of Uriah, whom he had murdered, submitted to be comforted by him.
When Saul heard the words of Samuel, he fell straightway in the darkness all along on the earth, and there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no bread all the day nor all the night. The woman offered him bread, but he sat on the bed and would not eat. At last, as the morning was breaking, he consented to eat, and he went away to make ready for the fight. He was assured he would perish that day, and that before the sun set he would be in Sheol with Samuel, bat he did not play the coward and nee. He fought as the king he was, but the Philistines were too many for him; the curse from the Lord was upon the Israelites, so that they feared and fled. Jonathan, with Abinadab and Melchishua, his brothers, were around Saul to the last, but they were slain. The men-at-arms dared not come near Saul, but the archers pressed him sorely from afar, and he could not close with them, and he saw his end was at hand. He would not have the Philistines take him alive, wounded for sport, even if they might spare his life; and he therefore prayed his armour-bearer to thrust him through, but his armour-bearer would not. Thereupon Saul took his sword, and fell upon it; and his armour-bearer fell likewise upon his sword, and died with him. The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his sons dead on Gilboa, and carried off their bodies, shamefully using them. But though the alarm at the victory was great, there were men in Israel who dared do anything for their master, the men of Jabesh-gilead, who remembered what Saul had done for them against the Ammonites; and they went by night and rescued the bodies, and burnt them, and buried them under this tree in Jabesh, whence they afterwards came to Zelah, where I shall lie.
David, when he heard that Saul was dead, sang a song in his praise—David turned everything into songs; but nevertheless he made himself king, and warred against the house of his master. Ever singing and dancing! When the Ark was brought from the house of Obed-edom, David leaped, and danced, and played before it like an empty fool. Michal, who was her father's own daughter, despised her husband—as well she might—for his folly, and rebuked him because he behaved as a vain fellow rather than as a king; but she was abused, and he told her that if she did not honour him, he would be honoured by her maids; and this was true, for he never held back from a woman if she pleased him, and of concubines had a score. My lord never sang, nor danced, nor played; it was as much as he could do if he smiled. Would to God he had smiled oftener; and yet if he could not laugh, he could love. Ah me! how strait was his embrace. Was the love of that ruddy-faced, light-minded, lying dancer a thousandth part of Saul's? If David had loved Bathsbeba, would he have sought by the basest of deceit to force Uriah to her after she had fallen, so that her son might be taken to be his? And yet if Samuel had been alive, would he have cursed David as he did my lord? I think not, for the sin and the lie with Bathsheba, and the murder of Uriah, were not a crime like that of sparing the Amalekite Agag. Nevertheless the Lord visited him also, and he tasted the bitterness of revolt, for Absalom, his own son, turned against him, and lay with his father's concubines in the sun in the sight of all Israel, and sought his father's life. Why do I talk thus? I meant not to talk of David, but of my lord. One word more. We never speak without coming to that dreadful day. Your husband, Armoni, was shamefully handed over to the Gibeonites and hung. May every messenger of evil that does the bidding of Baal and Jehovah for ever follow the man who consented to that deed because Saul had rooted out the Gibeonites from the land in his zeal for the Lord. In his zeal for the Lord! His zeal for the Israelitish Lord, and at Samuel's bidding! It was not the desire of Saul to deal thus with the Gibeonites, for he, the husband of a Horite, was never a fool in his wrath for his God; but Samuel, whom he dreaded more than the Philistines, bade him. And the plague came, and they said it was from the Lord, because of these Gibeonites whom the Lord, through Samuel, had directed should be slain. Ah me! I, a Horite, know not the ways of Jehovah. I sit here in Jabesh and wait till I shall be with those whom I loved, with Saul, Armoni, and his brother. I go down into the darkness with them, but it will be better than the light. Maybe though dark I shall see them, and be something of a queen—I, Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, queen of the first king of Israel, he who has made it a nation.
"He wrung the water from his dress, and, plunging into the moors, directed his course to the north-east by the assistance of the polar star."—THE MONASTERY.
"That man amongst mortals who has acquiesced in Necessity is wise, and is acquainted with divine things."—EURIPIDES.
Giacomo Tacchi was a watchmaker in Cowfold. He lived, not in the central square or market-place of the town, for a watchmaker's business in Cowfold was scarcely of sufficient importance for such a position, but two or three doors round the corner. It was in Church Street, just before the private houses begin, a little low-roofed cottage, much lower than its neighbours, for what reason nobody could tell—much lower certainly; and yet there it was, a solid, indisputable, wedged-in assertion, not to be ousted in any way. It had two small bow windows, one belonging to a sitting-room, and the other to the shop. Across the curve of the shop bow window a kind of counter was fixed. Here were Giacomo's lamp, his glass-globe reflector, or light-condenser; here were all his tools; here lay under tumblers or wine-glasses the works of the watches on which he was operating, and here he wrought from morning to night with a lens which slipped into its place in his eye with such wonderful celerity and precision, that it was difficult to believe it had not by long acquaintance with the eye become as much a part of it as the eyelid itself. Inside the window, along the window frames, hung perhaps twenty or thirty watches, some of which had been cleaned or repaired, and were waiting till their owners might call, whilst others had been acquired in different ways, by exchange or by purchase, and were for sale. There were no absolutely brand new watches in the collection. If a new watch was ordered as a wedding present or a gift to a son or daughter on the twenty-first birthday, it was specially manufactured. Immediately to the left of Giacomo was his regulator, of which he was justly proud, for it did not vary above a minute a month. Nevertheless its performance was checked every week by the watch of the mail-coach guard, who brought the time from St. Paul's as he started from St. Martin's-le-Grand, and communicated it to the Cowfold mail-cart driver. All round the shop were clocks of numerous patterns, but mostly of two types, one Dutch, and one with oak or mahogany case. Perhaps a dozen or so were generally going, and it was rather distracting to a visitor to see the pendulums of the Dutch clocks wagging at different rates, some with excited haste, others with solemn gravity, and no two at the same speed. Each seemed confident it was in direct communication with Greenwich Observatory, and paid not the slightest attention to the others. It was seldom that the footpath in front of the watchmaker's window was empty. Generally a boy or girl stood there with nose flattened against the panes staring at Giacomo busied with his craft. For it was a genuine mystery to the children, and he was a mysterious person in other ways. Under his care was the church clock. He went up into the tower, and into a great closet in which nobody else in Cowfold had ever been. Furthermore, as an adjunct to the watchmaking, he repaired barometers and thermometers, and it is certain that not a farmer within ten miles of Cowfold knew what was at the back of the plate of his weather-glass.
How a man with such a name as Tacchi came to settle in Cowfold was never understood. Giacomo's father and mother appeared there about the beginning of the century: a son was born within three years after their arrival, and is the Tacchi now before us.
It might have been supposed that his occupation would have inclined him to melancholy. Far from it. He was a brisk, active creature, about middle height, with jet black hair, and a quick circulation. He was never overcome, as he might reasonably have been, with meditations on the flux of time. He never rose in the morning saddened by the thought that the day would be just like the day before, or that the watches with which he had to deal would show just the same faults and just the same carelessness on the part of their possessors. On the contrary, he always sprang out of bed with as much zest and buoyancy as if he were a Columbus confidently expecting that before noon the shores of a new world would rise over the ocean's edge.
Giacomo, when he succeeded to the business, married the daughter of a small farmer in the neighbourhood. It all came about through a couple of little oak wedges. He took a tall clock home after it had been repaired, and as the floor of the living-room on which it stood was uneven, the front of the clock at the base was always wedged up to bring it perpendicular, and keep the top from overhanging. He was obliged to ask Miriam, the eldest girl, to stand on a footstool, and push the clock towards the wall. As she stretched her right arm up just under the little gilt cherub who expanded his wings above the dial, holding the frame with her left, he stepped back a little, and was suddenly struck with the beauty of her attitude. A lovely line it was from the tips of her fingers down to her heel, and the slight strain just lifted the hem of her gown, and showed the whitest of white stockings, and a shapely foot. Giacomo instantly fell in love.
"Is that right, Mr. Tacchi?" she said.
"Quite right; nothing could be better."
Giacomo would not, however, insert the wedges; they were soft, and might be broader; he would cut some better ones out of mahogany or oak, and bring them the next day. The next day he brought them, and in a very short time married Miss Miriam solely on the strength of the lovely line, the white stockings, and the foot. When she came to live at his house in Cowfold, he found that she did not always stand on the footstool and display the same curve, but nevertheless she made him a fairly good wife, and he and she lived together on the usual marital terms, without any particular raptures, and without any particular discord, for five years, when unfortunately she died, after giving birth to her second child, which was named Miriam, after its mother. Giacomo was left with an elder boy, Andrew, and with the infant.
Andrew grew up something like his mother, a fairly average mortal who learned his lessons tolerably, was distinguished by no eminent virtues nor eminent vices, no eminent gratitude nor hatreds; and it seemed as if he would one day in the fulness of time do what Cowfold for centuries had done before him—that is to say, succeed his father in his business, marry some average Cowfold girl, beget more average Cowfold children, lead a life unvexed by any speculation or dreams, unenlightened by any revelation, and finally sleep in Cowfold churchyard with thousands of his predecessors, remembered for perhaps a year, and then forgotten for ever.
Miriam, however, was of a different stamp. Her real ancestry was a puzzle. In some respects she resembled her father. Knowing that she was Giacomo's child, it was easy for the observer to trace the lineage of some of her qualities; but nevertheless they reappeared in her on a different scale, in different proportions, so that in action they became totally different, and there were others not inherited from Giacomo which modified all the rest. It is impossible to throw a new characteristic into a given nature, and obtain as a result the original nature plus the characteristic added. The addition will most likely change the whole mass, and often entirely degrade or translate it. It is just possible, such are the wonders of spiritual chemistry, that there may have been nothing in Miriam but her father with a touch of her mother, and that the combination of the two may have wrought this curiously diverse product; or the common explanation may have been correct, that in her there was a resurrection of some unknown ancestor, either on the father's or mother's side. She was a big girl—her father was rather short and squat—with black hair and dark eyes, limbs loosely set, with a tendency to sprawl, large feet and hands. She had a handsome, regular face, a little freckled; but the mouth, although it was beautifully curved, was a trifle too long, and except when she was in a passion, was not sufficiently under the control of her muscles, so that her words escaped not properly formed. Generally she was rather languid in her attitudes, sitting in her chair in any way but the proper way, and often giving her father cause of correction on this point as she grew up, inasmuch as he properly objected that when she came to be thirteen or fourteen she ought to show that she duly appreciated the reasons why her frocks were lengthened. Her room was never in order. Nothing was ever hung up; nothing was put in its place. Shoes were here and there—one might be under the dressing-table and the other under the bed; but with, an odd inconsistency she was always personally particularly clean, and although bathing was then unknown in Cowfold, she had a tub, and used it too with constant soap and water. With her lessons she did not succeed, more particularly with arithmetic, which she abhorred. Sometimes they were done, sometimes left undone, but she never failed in history. Her voice was a contralto of most remarkable power, strong enough to fill a cathedral, but altogether undisciplined. She was fond of music, and the organist at the church offered to teach her with his own daughters, if she would sing with them on Sundays; but she could not get through the drudgery of the exercises, and advanced only so far as to be able to take her proper part in a hymn. Here, however, she was almost useless, from incapability of proper subordination, the sopranos, tenors, and basses being well nigh drowned.
She was fond of live creatures, and had cats, canaries, white mice, and rabbits, which she treated with great tenderness; but they were never kept clean, and caused much annoyance to her family. She was also truthful; but what distinguished her most was a certain originality in her criticisms on Cowfold men, women, and events, a certain rectification which she always gave to the conventional mode of regarding them. There was a bit of sandstone rock near the town, by the side of the road, which from time immemorial had been called the Old Man's Nose. It was something like a nose when seen at a certain angle, but why it should have been described as the nose of an old man rather than that of a young man, no mortal could have explained. Nevertheless all Cowfold had for ages said it was the Old Man's Nose; and when strangers came it was pointed out with a "don't you see, isn't it hooked, just like a nose, and that is where his spectacles might lie." But Miriam made a small revolution in Cowfold. She never would admit the likeness to a nose, but with a pleasant humour observed that it was like a mug upside down—"mug," it must be explained, meaning not only a drinking utensil, but in very vulgar language a human face. Cowfold gradually heard of Miriam's joke, and instantly saw that the rock was really like a mug. There was the upper part, there was the handle; the resemblance to the nose disappeared, and what was most strange, could no more be imagined. Cowfold now repeated to visitors this little bit of not very brilliant smartness, elaborating it heavily at times, till it would have become rather a weariness to the flesh, if it had not been a peculiarity of Cowfold, that it was never tired of saying the same thing over and over again, and laughing at it perpetually.
One day a great event happened. There was a fire in the town, and the house of Mr. Cutts, the saddler, was burnt down. A week afterwards some very unpleasant rumours were abroad, and the Tacchis, with Mrs. and Mr. Cattle, and the two Misses Cattle, sat talking over them in Mr. Tacchi's parlour after supper. The Cattles were small farmers who lived about a mile out of Cowfold, on the way to Shott, but within Cowfold parish, and came to Cowfold Church.
"If," said Cattle, "they can prove as the fire broke out in three places at once, the office has got him."
"His stock," continued his wife, "to my certain knowledge, warn't worth fifty pound, for I was in the shop a fortnight ago, and says I to myself, 'What can the man have let it down like this for—who'd come here for anything; and it did cross my mind as it was very odd, and I went home a thinking and a thinking, but of course I never dreamed as he was so awful wicked as this."
"He was always very peculiar, mother," said the elder Miss Cattle. "Do you remember, Carry," turning to her younger sister, "how he jumped out of the hedge that Sunday evening, just as we turned down our lane. Oh my, I never had such a fright—you might have knocked me down with a straw; and he never spoke, but walked straight on."
"He might have been nutting," said Giacomo—"he was always going out nutting; and perhaps he didn't notice he had frightened you."
"Not notice! I am sure he might have done; and then, why did he come out just then, I should like to know. If he had come out just after we'd got by, I shouldn't have thought so much of it."
"If the poor man was in the hedge, he must come out at some time, and it happened to be just then," observed Giacomo reflectively.
"Ah!" continued Carry, incapable of replying to Giacomo's philosophy, and judiciously changing her attack, "whenever you went to buy anything he never spoke up to you like—there was always an underhand look about him; and then his living alone as he did with nobody but that old woman with him."
"He always sold good leather," continued Mr. Cattle, who planted both his elbows on the table, and placed his head in his hands in a fit of abstraction, much perplexed by this apparent contradiction in Cutts's character.
"Sold good leather," retorted his wife with great sharpness, as if in contempt of her husband's stupidity; "sold good leather—of course he did. That was part of his plan to make people believe he was an honest man. Besides, if he hadn't, how could he have got rid of his stock as he did. Do you recollect," she proceeded with increasing asperity, as became a Cowfold matron, "as it was him as got up that petition for that Catchpool gal as was going to be hanged for putting her baby in the pond?"
"His father," quoth Mr. Cattle, inclining again to his wife's side, "had a glass eye, and I've heerd his mother was a Papist."
"Well," interrupted Miriam at last, "what if he did set fire to his house?"
They all looked amazed. "What if he did! what if he did!" repeated Mr. Cattle; "why, it's arson, that's all."
"Oh, that's saying the same thing over again."
"He'll be transported, that's 'what if he did,'" interposed Mrs. Cattle.
"I suppose," said Miriam, "he wanted to get money out of the Insurance Office. It was wrong, but he hasn't done much harm except to the office, and they can afford it."
They were all still more amazed, and justly, for Miriam, amongst her other peculiarities, did not comprehend how society necessarily readjusts the natural scale of reward and punishment.
"'Pon—my—word," exclaimed Mrs. Cattle, after a long pause, slowly dwelling on each syllable, "hasn't—done—much—harm; and for aught we know, in a month, or at most six weeks, he'll be tried, and then after that, in a fortnight, he may be on his way to Botany Bay. What do you think, Mr. Tacchi?"
Giacomo did not occupy the same position as his daughter. His eyes were screwed very nearly, although not quite, to the conventional angle; but he loved her, and had too much sense not to see that she was often right and Cowfold was wrong. Moreover, he enjoyed her antagonism to the Cattles, of whose intellect he had not, as a clock and barometer maker, a very high opinion. He evaded the difficulty.
"He hasn't been convicted yet."
"That's true," said Mr. Cattle, to whom, as an Englishman, the principle of not passing sentence till both sides are heard was happily familiar. It was a great thought with him, and he re-expressed it with earnestness—"That's true enough."
But Miriam did not let them off. "I want to know if he is as bad as those contractors that father was reading about in the newspaper last week, who filled up the soldiers' boots between the soles with clay. If they hadn't been found out, the poor soldiers would have gone marching with those boots, and might have been out in the wet, and might have died."
"Ah!" retorted Miss Cattle, "that's all very well; but that isn't arson."
Miss Cattle was not quite so absurd as she seemed. The contractors' crime was not catalogued with an ugly name. It was fraud or breach of contract, and that of course made all the difference.
Miriam did not notice her antagonist's argument, but proceeded musingly—"He was never unkind. He was very good to that old woman, his aunt."
"Unkind!" Mrs. Cattle almost screamed, her harsh grating voice contrasting most unpleasantly with the low, indistinct, mellow tones in which Miriam had uttered the last two or three words. "Unkind! What's that in a man as is a going to be brought up before the 'sizes. I can see the judge a sentencing of him now."
"He may have been very poor, and may have lost all his money," continued Miriam; "anyhow, he wasn't cruel. I would sooner have hung old Scrutton, who flogged little Jack Marshall for stealing apples till his back was all covered with bloody weals."
The clocks in the shop began at that moment to strike ten in a dozen different tones, as if they discerned the hopelessness of the discussion, and were determined to cut it short. The company consequently separated, and Miriam went to bed; but not to sleep, for before her eyes, half through the night, was sailing the ship in which she thought poor Cutts would be exiled. Let it not for a moment be supposed that Mr. Cutts was a young man, and that Miriam was in love with him. He was about fifty.