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Israel’s next judge, Samuel, is born to Hannah, a previously barren woman. Hannah gives Samuel to Israel’s chief priest, Eli, to be raised as a Nazirite. The priesthood in Israel is in a general state of decline, and Eli’s sons are disobeying God’s laws. God declares that he will choose a new priest for Israel from outside Eli’s family and begins delivering messages to Samuel as a young man. Samuel becomes a recognized prophet throughout Israel, delivering God’s messages to the people.
During battle, the Philistines kill Eli’s sons and capture the Ark of the Covenant—Israel’s religious altar and symbol of God. Upon learning of the attack and robbery, Eli falls over and dies. The Ark is returned to Israel after it causes its Philistine captors to become terribly diseased. As the nation rejoices, Samuel persuades Israel to set aside its worship of local pagan deities, and God helps Israel thwart Philistine oppression for many years.
The Israelites demand that Samuel appoint a king for them so that Israel will be like other nations. Samuel is displeased, but God grants him permission to elect a king. God notes that by asking for a king, the people have not rejected Samuel; they have rejected God. Samuel warns the people that a monarchy brings certain drawbacks such as taxation, the conscription of armed forces, and the potential for tyranny, but the people are resolute.
God tells Samuel who should be king, and the following day, a man named Saul appears before Samuel, inquiring about some lost donkeys. Samuel pours oil over Saul’s head to anoint him as king, and God provides a series of mystical signs to assure Saul that he should be king. Saul, who is a head taller than the average man, pleases the Israelites as king and leads them in rescuing an Israelite outpost from invasion. Stepping down as Israel’s leader, Samuel encourages the people that, so long as they are obedient to God’s laws, God will not punish them for requesting a king.
Despite many military victories, Saul soon disobeys God. He tries to rush into battle by performing a ritual war sacrifice without the help of a priest. Later, Samuel sends Saul to fight the Amalekites, instructing Saul to destroy them completely and leave nothing alive. Saul, however, spares the Amalekite ruler and the best portion of their flocks, hoping to present them as sacrifices to God. Samuel rebukes Saul, claiming that obedience to God’s instructions is more important than religious sacrifice. He informs Saul that God will choose another man to be king of Israel. Saul pleads with Samuel, begging for forgiveness. Saul grabs for Samuel’s cloak, but the cloth tears—a symbol, says Samuel, of Saul’s broken kingdom.