Exploring the Bible : 1 Samuel
First and second Samuel were once one book but were eventually separated into two parts. Both predominantly cover three men—Samuel, Saul, and David—and highlight a great transition in Israel’s history. In the beginning of 1 Samuel the nation of Israel is scattered and without leadership. The priests were corrupt and the people lost spiritually. But by the end of 2 Samuel godly men had stepped up and the nation was united towards God.
We don’t know for sure who wrote both books or when it was written exactly. It does span across 135 years of Israel’s history and was likely penned after Solomon’s death.
In 1 Samuel, specifically, we will begin with the birth of the priest Samuel and death of Israel’s first king, Saul.
THE BIRTH AND LIFE OF SAMUEL, THE PRIEST (CH. 1-8)
When judges ruled in Israel there was a woman named Hannah who had no children. For years she prayed for a child and yet remained barren. Hannah, her husband Elkanah, and his other wife, Peninnah, regularly traveled to the tabernacle for the feasts. As they were attending one Hannah was overcome with grief and she prayed earnestly to the Lord for a child. She prayed that if God would give her a son she would return the boy to serve in the tabernacle. The priest, Eli, saw her praying and initially thought she was drunk but after talking with her about her prayer, sent her off with a blessing. When Hannah returned home, she conceived a son and named him Samuel.
When Samuel was weaned (around 2 or 3 years old), Hannah did what she promised to do—she gave Samuel to Eli to serve the Lord in the tabernacle. She did what many of us may not have had the courage to follow through with. And with her “yes” Israel was given one of the most godly and stedfast people to ever serve.
Samuel’s “Here I Am”
When Samuel was a teenager he would sleep in the temple, where the ark was. One night, he awoke to his name being called. He believed it was Eli calling his name and so went to Eli with a “here I am.” Eli told Samuel that it was not him who called his name and after this happened three times, Eli told the boy it was likely the Lord and to say, “speak, Lord.”
When Samuel heard his name called a fourth time he did as Eli said and God spoke to him for the first time. The word of the Lord was rare in the time of Judges and here, God chose to spoke to a teenager. And it wouldn’t be the last time He would speak to Samuel, either. This began a shift in the nation of Israel. God had chosen a man sold out for Him and it was through Samuel that He spoke to the people.
The People Ask for a King
When we get to 1 Samuel 8, Samuel is now old in age. He had served God faithfully throughout his life however his sons did not follow in his footsteps. When the people of Israel saw this, they became restless and asked for a king.
Samuel was upset that the people had asked for such a thing but God spoke that it was okay. That it was not a rejection of Samuel but of Him. And God gave them what they wanted—a king.
ISRAEL’S FIRST KING, SAUL (CH. 9-15)
Saul was exactly what the people thought they needed in a king: wealthy, handsome, and he stood above all the others. He was an obvious choice, in the eyes of man, for king. In fact, his name means “ask” and it’s no coincidence that he is who the people asked for.
God gave them who they wanted—a man who by all outside appearances could lead. However, as we will see, it didn’t work out and next tie around, God chose a king who didn’t seem like an obvious choice.
Saul Anointed King
Saul was chosen and anointed king over Israel. And to his credit, he started off an okay guy. Early in his reign he defeated the Ammonites and won a great victory for Israel. But it didn’t take long for the power and position to corrupt his heart. In chapter 13 we already begin to see the decline of his heart and morality. Saul began to rely on his own power and strength instead of the Lord who had chosen him.
The Decline of Saul
In chapter 13 the Philistines gathered to fight Israel. Samuel told Saul to wait seven days, when he would come and make an offering to the Lord for the battle. However, on the seventh day the people began to scatter so Saul took matters into his own hands and made the sacrifice.
Just as Saul was finishing the sacrifice, Samuel arrived. He was, of course, rebuked. Not because he had made the sacrifice but because he had not waited for the priestly assistance. In his heart., Saul showed pride. And as a result, it was spoken to Saul that his kingship would not endure. His reign had a time clock on it.
This was only the beginning of Saul’s decline. In chapter 14 he makes a rash oath that if anyone ate before Israel defeated the philistines they would be put to death. Jonathan, his son, not knowing about the oath ate some honey and when it was discovered, Saul vowed to kill his son. However, the people came to Jonathan’s defense and he was spared.
In chapter 15, Saul once again is unfaithful to the call on his life. Before they went into a battle against the Amalekites Samuel commanded Saul to kill ever living soul. However, when Israel gained history over the Amalekites they spared the king and the best of the livestock. When Samuel confronted Saul about his rebellion Saul said that he did it because he feared the men. Saul chose to give into man rather than be obedient to God. As a result, Samuel finished was Sauk didn’t and Saul was rejected as king.
DAVID ENTERS THE SCENE (CH. 16-31)
After Saul’s rebellion in chapter 15 God was ready to appoint a new king. A man after his own heart. A man not qualified by man’s standards but a man with integrity of heart, who would serve God all the days of his life. That man was David.
David is a descendant of Boaz and Ruth and was from the tribe of Judah. He was the youngest and least impressive of all his brothers and a mere shepherd when God chose him for kingship. We first meet him in chapter 16 when God instructed Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint a new king.
In secret, David received his first anointing. Saul had no idea but it was God recognizing who the next king would be. Not long after, David was called to Saul’s court for his musical abilities. Saul was being tormented by an evil spirit and was only comforted with music. It was here—Saul not even knowing David had been chosen as the next king—that David found favor with Saul.
David and Goliath
Even if you didn’t grow up in church you likely have heard of the story of David and Goliath. The Israelites were up against the Philistines and the enemy sent out their most valiant warrior, Goliath. If a man from Israel could defeat Goliath, they won the battle.
No man offered to go up against the warrior. Not even Saul. However, when David brought some food to his brothers on the battlefield and learned of the dual, and that no one from Israel would participate, David stepped forward. With only a slingshot in his hand, David took down the mighty Goliath. Why? Because he fully trusted God to be with Him. And that was the part of the equation that made a difference.
Saul Turns Against David
After the battle, back in his palace, Saul began to notice that God had left him and was blessing David. One day, Saul attempted to kill David without success. So, he sent David to command some troops. David found great success in his military efforts and became someone the people admired.
Over the next several years Saul and David had an on again, off again relationship. Saul attempted to kill David many times but David always escaped. And yet, whenever David had the chance to kill Saul he never did. David trusted God to come to his defense and anoint him king when the time was right. David didn’t try to manipulate the circumstances but trusted God. Eventually, Saul was killed by the Philistines in battle and that’s where to book of 1 Samuel ends.
WHAT WE CAN LEARN
In 1 Samuel God makes a covenant with a man He chose, who had a heart after His. This covenant would eventually be fulfilled by a descendant of David’s—JESUS. It’s clear throughout the book that God cares about His people and provides. Just as He sees you and will provide for you.
“Humans do not see what the Lord sees, for humans see what is visible, but the Lord sees the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7