I Samuel 17

Illustration of David Killing Goliath by Anton Robert LeinweberRight up there with the creation of the world, Jonah, the Exodus and Noah, of the Bible’s most famous stories is the story of David and Goliath. Even those who’ve never even seen a Bible know the story of the little guy overcoming big odds. It is truly one of the great stories in all of human literature. Why is it in the Bible? Certainly not to tell us how we can overcome the odds or the giants in our own lives. Why is it part of the the story of the history of redemption?

One theme is that the people of God in their own power are helpless before their enemies, and the ultimate enemy is sin and death. The first thing you notice before David gets to the battlefield is that the Israeli army is cowering before the taunt of the Philistine giant, and that God is obviously the farthest thing from their minds. How can this be? For all of Israel’s history, from the Exodus through all their wilderness journeys, through the time of the judges to now, when God was with them, or more accurately, they with God, they routed their enemies; when he wasn’t, they were routed. When David enters the camp, that changes.

26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

Notice that David isn’t going to do this for nothing. He probably overheard men in the camp telling each other that the king would handsomely reward whoever it is that can kill the giant. Not only will he receive great wealth, but he’ll get the king’s daughter in marriage and his father’s family will be exempt from taxes for life. That sounds good to him. But unlike all the other men, obviously, he knows whose fight this is. He says it again to Saul when Saul says he’s but a boy:

36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Out there in the wilderness tending his sheep, David was building a relationship with the Lord, and he knew his history. The Lord always gives the victory when his people seek him. So as he goes out to confront the giant he makes it clear to his enemy the nature of the battle:

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

Nobody else in the entire army thought it might be a good idea to enlist the Lord’s help against the giant? All they saw was the obstacle, the enemy’s size, for them obviously of greater strength than the living God, the God who had saved them over and over and over again throughout their history. David knew that history, and was bold; they didn’t and were cowards.

As soon as he’s picked the stones out of the river, David runs toward the giant and famously slings one into his forehead and he’s out. He takes Goliath’s own sword and kills him and as good as his word cuts off his head. There are a lot of funny details in this story. The last is that when Saul asks whose son this David belongs too, likely thinking about the tax implications, David is introduced to him still holding Goliath’s head in his hand.

The moral of the story? In David’s words, it is not by any human agency that the Lord saves. From our perspective in redemptive history that is known as the gospel. Why would we ever want to try to save ourselves, to trust in our own power or righteousness to defeat sin and death. The Lord Jesus is our righteous, holiness and redemption, period. End of story.

I Samuel 16

Although I still don’t quite understand how God could regret making Saul the King of Israel as we ended the last chapter, the point of Israel’s history has always been leading to David, and through him to Jesus. Christ fulfilled three offices: prophet, priest and King. God the father was initially rejected as the king of the human race by Adam and Eve. So he made for himself a people so he could be their king, but they rejected him for a human king, which was the plan all along. That human king through the line of David would eventually be God himself as his people’s king in the person of the incarnate second person of the Trinty.

In this chapter David is chosen by God as the new king and anointed by Samuel. When Samuel tells Jesse, David’s father that one of his sons is the be the king of Israel, he brings out seven of them, not even thinking David, the youngest, out in the fields tending sheep, would be considered. God has different standards than we do:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man look at. Man look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Remember that Saul was chosen specifically for his appearance and his height; he was a head taller than any other man, a fine physical specimen. So the Lord was giving them a contrast of what he values, and of what we should value, the heart not the appearance. In other words, it’s the character, the essential nature of the person that counts.

How obvious is that, but we all tend to judge the merit of the person on what they look like, if they are nice looking or ugly, fat, or thin, in shape or not, how they sound, what they wear, educated, or not, have similarly refined tastes like us, or are vulgar in our estimation, what car they drive, school they attended, credentials they hold, money they make, and so on. In the context of the gospel and the ministry of reconciliation, Paul says in I Cor. 5:16:

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.

We do this all the time, and I am the worst, even as I try not to and catch myself doing it. This chapter, and King David, and Christ himself as Paul also says in that verse, are great reminders that it is all about the heart.

So David is anointed, and heads back out to tend the sheep. I think it is interesting that God uses normal human agency in these things. David is anointed, but he doesn’t run up to Saul and tell him he’s done and instantly takes over. He goes back to work and let’s things take their course. To me this has the ring of truth. If the story were made up David would likely first of all not be the one chosen, and whoever was would take over the kingship in a great show of God’s miraculous power. The reality is much more mundane, and sees God working more subtlety through events.

It so happens as the Spirit of the Lord has now entered David, he departs from Saul, and even worse for the latter an evil or injurious spirit starts to torment him. So his servants suggest someone who can play the harp for him when this spirit starts to torment him, and one of them has heard David play the harp. So David is summoned and goes to minister to Saul where he curries Saul’s favor; little does he know.

I Samuel 14 & 15

When Israel asked for a king, you have to wonder why God gave them Saul. If he is not a total idiot, he is at least morally obtuse, and his track record for poor choices, of which I’m sure we only get a taste in Scripture, leads God to reject him as King. The stick that broke the camel’s back is in chapter 15 when the Lord tells Saul to go to war and crush the Amalekites, “those wicked people,” utterly destroy them because of what they did to Israel. This is another of those passages where God says that includes men, women and children. Deut. 32:3,4 has to come to mind when we read such things:

3  I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
4  He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.

But instead of doing this, Saul spares the king and he and the army take the best of the flocks. As it says,

But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.

Ironically, Saul actually thought he was doing what God wanted! He was going to take the best of what they were supposed to destroy and sacrifice it to the Lord. To make it even worse, much like Aaron when Moses came down from the mount, he admits he sinned, but says it was because he was “afraid of the people so I gave in to them.” Even in admitting his wrongdoing he has to give Samuel an excuse. This was all too much for Samuel, and he never sees Saul again.

The final sentence of chapter 15 is a head scratcher:

And the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel.

God is sovereign and all powerful. All of redemptive history is his will worked out toward the ultimate end of our salvation in Christ. How could God feel regret for decisions he makes in this process? Is not everything that happens exactly what he wants to happen? This makes it sounds like God didn’t know what he was getting Israel into.

A principle of scriptural interpretation is that we should allow scripture to interpret scripture. If we look at this same chapter, verse 29 we see something that seems to conflict with this statement:

He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.”

And there are multitudinous verses in the Bible that tell us God is sovereign, omnipotent, omni-everything, so clearly we must read this regretting in light of God being God, and not as if he were just a little more powerful human. I guess you could say God was sorry in a way that he put Israel through this, but in fact everything happened exactly as God would want it.

I Samuel 13

Saul does not get a good start as King. It seems from some translations this is a couple years into his reign, and he reigned 40 years. This story again shows how impossible it was for the Israelites to cleanse the land of the heathens that inhabited it. This is several hundred years after Joshua led the people into the land, but I think “flowing with milk and honey” is not a phrase that came to mind for the people of Israel as they now live in abject fear of the Philistines.

I think our problem is that we interpret that phrase to mean easy, peaceful, no struggle, no problems, float downstream. In a fallen world and as sinners that’s simply not possible. In fact, as we come into the “promised land” this side of eternity, our enemies actually proliferate. Paradise awaits us on the other side of the mortal river, but as Jesus says in John 16:33, in this life we will have trouble, but we are to take heart because he has overcome the world. Once we’ve decided to trust God and follow Jesus, we’ve taken the narrow way and declared war on the principalities and powers. Paul says in Ephesians 6:12:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

It is this world that Jesus has overcome, raising from the dead to conquer the wages of sin, death. Our life in Christ is truly against the flow, the gravity of sin and the powers behind it weigh on us, just like the Philistines here weigh on the hearts and minds of the Israelites.

Let’s see via Saul how not to wage the battle. Samuel tells Saul to wait for him before he does anything. The Philistines are assembled with their massive chariots ready to destroy Israel, and the men are so afraid they run and hide. Not a good sign. I guess Saul panics and takes things into his own hand. So he decides he’s going to make like a priest and has offerings made to appease God, and as soon as he’s finished doing this Samuel arrives and rebukes him. “What have you done?” he exclaims. Basically Saul, a king, performed the duties of a priest, and as we saw from everything God has communicated to Israel before this is not good.

Saul, instead of repenting, makes excuses, and blames Samuel for not coming quickly enough. But that won’t work, and Samuel tells him he blew it big time:

13 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

We know the man after God’s own heart is David, and he is not even born yet. But this is put in the past tense as if it was already done, he’s appointed him. The difference between Saul and David isn’t moral purity, as we know, but when confronted with his wrong doing Saul made excuses, while David repented and sought God’s mercy and grace. Our confidence is not in doing things, as Saul tried, but in trusting the character, goodness and love of God the Father.

The situation gets pathetic. Israel had had all their weapons taken by the Philistines previously, and now are left to fight with farm implements. Only Saul and his son Jonathan have weapons. This doesn’t look like it’s going to end well.

I Samuel 11 & 12

Chapter 11 is Saul’s first opportunity to lead Israel against an enemy, and he leads them to victory. He shows himself magnanimous as well. Some “troublemakers” were not keen on Saul as their king, and after the battle and Saul’s performance, the people say these man should be put to death. Saul won’t let that happen:

13 But Saul said, “No one will be put to death today, for this day the Lord has rescued Israel.”

14 Then Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” 15 So all the people went to Gilgal and made Saul king in the presence of the Lord. There they sacrificed fellowship offerings before the Lord, and Saul and all the Israelites held a great celebration.

Notice that Saul begins his kingship with the proper attitude, that it isn’t he but the Lord who saves. The focus of all the people is in the right place, on the Lord.

Chapter 12 is Samuel’s farewell speech to the people. He gives them a little history lesson of how the Lord has rescued them again and again, and even though they’ve done an evil thing and demanded a king, if they and their king follow the Lord they will be blessed. Of course if they don’t, they will be cursed. He doesn’t use this work, but says, the Lord’s “hand will be against you.”

To display God’s awesome power to the people, Samuel says he will call down a massive storm on them, which he does and they are wracked with fear. I love this statement:

19 The people all said to Samuel, “Pray to the Lord your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”

But Samuel tells them that even though this is true, they should not turn away from the Lord. He is gracious and merciful. He warns them not to turn to idols because “they are useless.” I love that! Everything they or we seek as an idol has no use to us whatsoever; they will never deliver what they promise. Our fulfillment, meaning, and purpose can only be found in the true and living God. In verse 22 Samuel utters words that are the theme of all of redemptive history and reveals to us the true power of the gospel:

For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own.

What is this power? It’s not about us! God’s covenant was with himself in triune glory before it ever was with us, or Israel, the Father to the Son by the Spirit. That is why our salvation is sure, not because we jump through hoop x, y, or z, or because we live a moral life, or serve and sacrifice for others. If we do any of these things, we only do them our of a spirit of gratitude for what he has done for us; we are compelled to love because he first loved us. And we can trust his will and his sovereign power for to him be the glory, honor and power forever, Amen.

I Samuel 8-10

The time of the judges is at an end. Samuel’s sons are not following in his ways and the people are fed up, so the elders of Israel approach Samuel to ask for a king so they can be like all the other nations. Samuel tries to tell them this is not a good idea, but they don’t listen. The Lord tells Samuel that it isn’t he that they’ve rejected, but God himself. Samuel tells them that a King can control them and lead them into war, but they don’t care to see any negative consequences of making a man their king as opposed to God himself. Their rationale is pathetic; they want to be like the other nations around them. Psalm 146:3 says something we all have to learn, “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” God alone saves.

But even though God is displeased with their request, he grants it in the person of Saul. And leave it to the Lord to have Israel’s first king come not from the biggest clan but the smallest. It’s a great story. Saul’s father sends him and one of this servants to look for some lost donkeys. They look and look, but can’t find them so they seek out the prophet Samuel. He tells him that he’s going to get a lot more than donkeys, and Saul’s reply:

21 Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?”

Because God uses the least and the smallest to accomplish his will; it is his power and strength that must be magnified; a lesson we are taught through all of redemptive history, not our strength or capabilities. We are in every sense dependent on him.

Chapter 10 is interesting. Saul becomes King, but not before “the Spirit of the Lord” comes on him with power. Even though God is displeased he gives his Spirit to the new king, which you can probably chalk up to be careful what you wish for. When the people gather to anoint him king, Saul can’t be found. He had hidden himself “among the baggage.” This is kind of funny. Even though it says previously that he had been changed into a different person and his heart changed by God, he still doubts his abilities. But when he comes out and the people see what a fine physical specimen he is, a head taller than anyone else, and Samuel announces him to the people, he obviously slides into the role as king. Before the people are dismissed they shout, “Long live the king!”

1 Samuel 5-8

Capturing the ark doesn’t turn out too well for the Philistines. God brings havoc and death wherever it goes. I love one scene where they put the ark in some idol’s temple named Dagon. Every morning when they come to the temple Dagon is on the ground. They put it back up, and the next morning it’s on the ground again, until one morning it’s on the ground but its head and hands had been broken off. This really freaked them out. Finally they cry, get rid of this stupid ark!

But they are not taking any chances, so they send along gold and offerings to appease this malevolent God. They even refer to what the Lord did to the Egyptians and Pharaoh; his reputation precedes him. Finally it gets back to Israel, but there some seventy men look in the ark and are struck down. They rightly ask, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?” Human beings, all of us, incline to seeing God more as one of us than something wholly other, something that transcends anything we can conceive of. These 70 were curious but did not consider we can only know anything of God on his terms, not ours, and they paid with their lives.

So these people beg for someone else in Israel to come and take the ark, and it goes to a place called Kiriath Jearim, and it there for 20 years. In that time the people repent and at Samuel’s urging put away their foreign gods and commit themselves “to serve the Lord and serve him only.” As we know, the Lord is a jealous God, and he created us that we are only fully what we were created to be when he alone is our Lord and God. In nothing and no one else can we ever find ultimate meaning and purpose and hope and joy, a fulfillment only he brings.

Because Israel again had a mediator in Samuel and they humbled themselves before the Lord, he promised and gave them victory over the Philistines and there was peace in the land.  There must always be a mediator between God’s people and the Lord himself, and all of Israel’s history points us toward the ultimate and eternal mediator who is Christ the Lord, in which we have peace with God, foreshadowed in Israel’s peace.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.