Did you know that 1 & 2 Samuel were originally one book, whose midpoint fell in what is 1 Samuel 28:24 in our English Bibles?
The author of 1 & 2 Samuel divided his book into 4 sections and an appendix. There are summary statements at 1 Samuel 7:15-17 (Samuel); 1 Samuel 14:49-52 (Saul); 2 Samuel 8:15-18 (David); 2 Samuel 20:23-26 (David). 2 Samuel 21-24 form the appendix, a sort of review of some aspects of David’s life.
1 & 2 Samuel mark an important point in salvation history. God makes His move, establishing David as king and a type of Jesus Christ, the ultimate Son of David. This post covers the first 15 chapters of 1 Samuel.
The book starts out with an obscure woman who sought God. Hannah is one of two special groups of women in the Bible: the formerly barren and the singers. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Samson’s mother and Elizabeth belong to the former group; Miriam, Deborah and later Mary belong to the latter. I especially like how Hannah’s song isn’t so much about her and what the Lord has done for her, as about His deliverance for His people.
Who would have thought that the solution to Israel’s problems, both internal (corrupt leadership) and external (Philistines), would come through the prayers of a distressed woman?
2:12-4:22: Eli and his family
I find Eli to be a nice guy with orthodox beliefs. But his niceness was the problem: his sons didn’t take him too seriously. I always thought that Eli’s sin was in not stopping his sons from doing the vile things they were doing. That’s true, but his bigger sin was in not kicking them out of the priesthood. They were mocking God, and Eli through his sin of omission didn’t do much about it.
God graciously sends an unnamed prophet to warn Eli, but he does nothing. The Lord then speaks to Samuel, but Eli’s response is rather passive. No repentance, no crying for mercy.
4:1-7:1: The ark of the covenant
In chapter 4, the Israelites are defeated twice by the Philistines. Neither time do they connect their sins to their having been abandoned by God. When they take the ark into battle, they were in effect saying, “Lord, we’ve got the symbol of Your presence with us, so You must give us the victory.” We may not have the ark of the covenant today, but we aren’t beyond using techniques which we think will guarantee us God’s favourable response.
The ark is captured by the Philistines. God would rather suffer shame than let His people continue in a false relationship with Him. He will allow disappointment in Him if it’ll awaken us to the kind of God He really is.
He’s the kind of God who doesn’t need humans to bail Him out: no Israelites go behind enemy lines to rescue the ark. God brings it back without human help, unlike Dagon who needed his faithful to put his idol back upright after it fell facedown (in worship!) before Yahweh’s ark.
If you consider the lack of leadership that was the case in Israel at this time (“In those days there was no king in Israel…”), the point that is being made here is that Yahweh is the leader the nation needs. But, His leadership is soon rejected.
[I wonder, after all the idol falling over stuff and the cows leaving their calves for a one-way trip to Israel with the ark, did it never occur to the Philistines to switch allegiances?]
Chapter 3 records the call of Samuel. From my Sunday School days, I’d got the impression that he was 6 or 7 years old at the time. But he must have been old enough to understand the severe judgment God pronounced, and to be reticent to tell Eli.
Samuel disappears until chapter 7, where we find him calling the Israelites to repentance. He acts as mediator between God and His wayward people. All they had going for them was Samuel’s prayer, and the Lord answered him. That day, the Philistines suffered a great defeat and were subdued, as were other enemies of God’s people (7:12-14).
In chapter 8, the Israelites asked for a king. Their mistake wasn’t so much the request itself—Moses had already said they would. Their mistake lay in the reason they gave: to be like the other nations. Israel wasn’t supposed to be like the other nations. Samuel was displeased, so he prayed. My first reaction to such a provocation is not prayer. What character Samuel had!
9:1-11:15: Transition from Samuel to Saul
God instructed Samuel to anoint Saul, who got off to such a promising start. He was humble (hiding in the baggage during his own coronation), and did not retaliate. He had apparently returned to a domestic lifestyle when the Spirit of God came on him and he delivered Jabesh Gilead from the Ammonites. The men of Jabesh Gilead would later return his kindness by burying his body.
12:1-25: Samuel’s farewell speech
With the transition to Saul as leader of Israel accepted by all, Samuel addresses the nation, reminding them of God’s acts on their behalf—from the Exodus to the recent battle with the Ammonites. He exhorts them to fear the Lord and serve and obey Him, and promises to continue praying for them. No wonder God cites him as a great intercessor centuries later!
13:1-15:35: Saul’s failure
He first grows impatient, and then disobedient. When confronted with his sin, like Eli before him, Saul doesn’t truly repent. He cares more about what the elders of Israel think than what the Lord thinks (15:30).
In these same chapters, the narrator contrasts the characters of Jonathan and of Saul. Jonathan and his armour-bearer attack the Philistines, trusting in Yahweh. When Saul is ready to kill his son for breaking a vow Jonathan had been unaware of, the men of Israel save him, recognising that God had used Jonathan.
I really, really like Jonathan. Sad that he died for his father’s failings…
[Ever noticed that Saul, in talking to Samuel, keeps saying “the Lord your God”(emphasis mine)?]
Sources: Bible.org, D.A. Carson, Dale Ralph Davis, David Jackman, Wayne Grudem, John Woodhouse/ ProcTrust.