(Saul has come to Ramah looking for his father’s lost donkeys. He encounters Samuel, the old prophet. Against his own will, Samuel does what God has commanded.)
The old seer squints up at Saul. “Yes, it is true, it must be true.” He is murmuring to himself and nodding his head. Then he straightens his slumping back, takes a new grip on his weathered staff. His dark eyes flare like an ember in a breeze and his nostrils flare. The quiet murmur of an old man is replaced by a sonorous, stern command. “Saul, son of Kish, kneel down!”
Saul’s first temptation is to roll his eyes and smile. But then he looks into the flaming eyes of the old man. He feels a clutching inside his broad chest. The soft morning sounds of a village coming to life are suddenly erased, as though everyone and everything is holding its breath. Time waits at a crossroads and for an instant the two men are locked in the power of the other’s gaze. Saul and old Samuel–young giant and old prophet.
A choice has already been made, and neither the young, restless giant, not the weary old seer has made it. Both of them will have enough years to rue that choice, and suffer because of it. The choice has not been theirs to make, but now it surrounds them and holds them in its grip. Now it is they who have to choose. The next fearful choices will be theirs, and many of them will be dark and bloody.
Still holding his riveting stare, the old man tilts his head, points to the ground with his wispy beard. Time hangs like a raindrop on the tip of a leaf. Finally, slowly the young man bends his knees and lowers his lanky body onto the gravelly soil. He keeps his eyes on the prophet as he kneels, hoping to discern what will happen next. He is bound to fail, because what comes next is beyond all discerning.
The old man’s eyes pierce into Saul’s soul. His gaze grips Saul’s dark staring eyes as he fumbles at the cloth tied round his waist. “Bow your head.” A trickle of sweat slides down the Benjaminite’s broad brow and a shiver glides down his spine. This is no mundane traveler’s blessing. Some spirit is spinning, some unseen wheel is turning. He bows his head and waits.
Samuel holds the small jar of oil and looks upon the bowed head before him. Even kneeling this giant nearly reaches the old man’s chest. He knows his assignment. But Samuel cannot help himself. After a lifetime of listening and serving doesn’t he have the right? He murmurs, “O Lord, again let me ask: Who is being rejected here? Who is being received? Are you sure? Is this truly what I must do?” But the answer to this prayer, one he’s prayed hundreds of times these last few days, is always the same: a distant thunder of silence in his own ears.
Finally, he surrenders. His hand, as tough and thin as the foot of a chicken, trembles as he slowly tips the jar. The oil pours out silken and smooth onto the crown of Saul’s head, then trickles down his cheeks and drips off the end of his beard. Old Samuel speaks again but now the vitality in his earlier command has disappeared. Now there is weariness, and an edge of bitterness riding on his words. “Saul, son of Kish, you are anointed by God to be king over his people. Rise now as King of Israel.”
Saul sits back on his heels and tips up his head. Drops of oil fall off his beard and darken his robe. He stares up into the figure silhouetted against the silvery blue sky. Confusion, anguish and anger sweep across his face. His voice is flinty, “Prophet, what have you done to me?” Like all of his people, Saul knows that once a word is spoken, it goes out into the world and does its work. Words are so much more than sounds that strike the ear. Words, especially words spoken by people like this old seer, have the power to create what they announce.
Did the old man really say it? “Rise up as King of Israel” Sitting on his haunches, in the shadow of the village wall, with olive oil dripping down the front of his dirty robe, Saul feels like laughing, crying and cursing. Since he can’t decide, he repeats the question, “Prophet what have you done to me?”
Samuel begins stuffing the vial back into his belt. Now he sounds irritated, like an old man who’s been woken from a deep sleep. “I said, ‘stand up.’ And I have done nothing but what the Lord has commanded. If you have doubts or questions take them up with the Lord Almighty.”