Category Archives: 1 Samuel

I Samuel 18-31

The story of David and Saul is a gripping one. The rest of the book of 1 Samuel is dedicated to telling it to the point of Saul’s death in battle, as well as the death of his three sons in that same battle, including David’s friend Jonathan, who saved him from Saul more than once. I don’t necessarily see any great or profound spiritual insights or revelations about redemptive history here, but I’m sure they are there. By all appearances it is simply a bloody, war-torn point in Israel’s history where we witness the rise of the Davidic kingdom, out of which a thousand years later will come the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

From what I can tell of timelines I’ve read of this period, Saul was king 27 years before David was anointed king, from 1052 to 1025 BC. From that time, just prior to David slaying Goliath, Saul was king 15 more years until he died and David took over the kingship of Israel in 1010. This is the period which is covered in these 14 chapters.

There is a consistent contrast throughout between the shoddy character of Saul, and David’s consistent focus on the Lord and what he wants, and what it means to be a man after God’s own heart. Remember, that was the qualification God wanted for Israel’s king. We can see clearly that the essence of that heart is trust; David consistently believes God will give Israel the victory because that is exactly what he has learned as a student of that history. And most of the time from a human perspective Israel is completely outnumbered and the odds are against her, yet David knows God will simply not allow his people to be defeated or subjugated as long as they trust in him. How could it be otherwise: these are God’s people!

We can take from this that the new heart God has given us is the same heart he gave to David, a heart that trusts him completely; he has given every Christian the ability to be a “man after God’s own heart.” It isn’t only Israel’s king anymore, for we have all become Davids in this sense. Through Jeremiah, chapter 31, God gives a promise of what his new covenant will accomplish:

33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

And Peter amplifies this in his first epistle:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

What God gave to David specifically to move redemptive history forward to Christ, he gives to all his chosen ones in Christ. Words are a weak instrument to convey just how profound an insight this is into the nature of God’s relationship to his people, his New Covenant people. It’s not simply that we must trust in God, which is true enough, but that we can trust in him, because as his people we know the character of our God to be perfect in every way; he is totally worthy of our trust. As Moses proclaims in Deuteronomy 32:4:

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.

This really is the continental divide of the human heart; on one side are those dead in their sin to whom God is their enemy and his wrath their fate, and on the other those chosen in him who has become their Savior and God their Father, their hearts of stone turned to hearts of flesh. The former are skeptical of God’s character; they attribute to him all kinds of faulty human motives, while the latter can know a peace of God which “transcends all understanding,” and in any and every circumstance. This is terribly important because God’s promises are eternal and we judge them temporally to our own detriment.

The perennial human question of how can God let x, y, or z happen is literally temporally myopic! There is a bigger picture here that our finite, and I might add self-centered, minds simply cannot grasp. Our finitude is in fact a blessing because we don’t have to understand it all, any more than Paul or Peter or the rest of the Apostles did, save John, who died horrible death’s as martyrs. And they saw and touched and ate and walked with the Lord Jesus! Well, I guess there were not “any great or profound spiritual insights or revelations about redemptive history here.” Ha!

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.

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.

I Samuel 3 & 4

Chapter 3 is Samuel’s call from God to begin his ministry. The Lord calls to him while he is sleeping and several times he thinks it’s Eli who’s calling him. Again we see another theophany in the history of redemption. It says in v. 10 that, “The Lord came and stood there . . . ” It doesn’t say that Samuel had any kind of fearful response. Of course I’m assuming “stood there” means a man standing like other times the Lord appeared to his people. The purpose of the appearance is to tell Samuel that God’s judgment against Eli and his household will definitely come to pass. Eli failed to restrain his sons, now he will pay for it. As a result, all Israel recognized Samuel as a great prophet of the Lord.

Chapter 4 begins this judgment. The Philistines defeat Israel in battle, and the people wonder why. So they decided a little magic should help them and with the help of Eli’s sons take the ark of the covenant with them into battle. Of course it doesn’t because religious symbols have no power in themselves; for God it is all about the heart. And of course Eli’s sons die in the battle. When Eli’s told what’s happened, he falls over in a chair and dies at 90 years old. His daughter-in-law, who was pregnant hears the news and goes into labor then dies while giving birth. What a story of pathos. The son she gave birth to is named Ichabod because “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” The name means no glory. At least they realized the presence of the Lord is Israel’s glory; he alone gives their existence its meaning.