Reflections on 1 Samuel 16-31

I’m reading through the Bible in a year, and every month I (try to) post about what I’ve read. Other posts this month are on 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, 2 Samuel and Galatians. This post is continued from 1 Samuel 1-15.

16:1-23: Samuel anoints David

Two things about Samuel in this chapter. First, wasn’t it kind of God not to belittle or ignore Samuel’s fears? Second, even the best human leaders are fallible. Had the choice been left entirely to Samuel, he’d have chosen Eliab as the next king.

[Samuel was one prayerful man. He cried out to the Lord and mourned for Saul so much that God had to tell him to stop. Totally unrelated to that: I wonder what Jesse of Bethlehem made of all the interest in his youngest son. First Samuel came by, then Saul.]

17:1-58: David and Goliath

Why is the story of David defeating Goliath in the Bible? Is it so that we can learn how to overcome the giants in our lives? Yes and no.

‘Yes’ because we as God’s covenant people defeat our enemies the same way David did: by faith in the God of the Bible. ‘No’ because we’re not David. David is a Christ-figure, God’s anointed servant who rescues God’s people from the enemy.

The story in 1 Samuel 17 is more about God’s glory than anything else. The Hebrew word for ‘defy’ appears in verses 10, 25, 26 (twice), 36 and 45. Goliath was defying Israel, and by extension, Israel’s God. David was the only one who saw this, and his first words recorded in Scripture can be paraphrased, “What difference does it make that we have a living God?”

David makes three speeches, all of which express his faith in God. It is also interesting to note how little ink is spent on the account of the battle. The narrator is more interested in what David said. Maybe we should emphasise the same aspect…

18:1-20:42: Saul hates David

Saul gets jealous of David and the narrator mentions that the Lord had left Saul, but was with David. Saul tries various methods of getting rid of David. He tries pinning David to the wall with his spear (18:10-11, 19:9-10), he asks for a gruesome brideprice for his daughter (18:24-25), he tries to kill David in his bed (19:11-16). Each time, Yahweh rescued His servant. And the means He used were remarkable—Saul’s son Jonathan, Saul’s daughter Michal, and my favourite, turning Saul into a prophet!

Jonathan turns up in chapter 20, reaffirming the covenant he’d made with David in chapter 18. In 2 Samuel, we read of David’s commitment to this oath even though a long time has passed and Jonathan was long dead.

21:1-30:31: David on the run

David is a fugitive, living in caves and always on the move. God provides food for him, sends him a prophet, and a priest. Saul had none of that.

In chapter 23, right between the potential betrayal of the people of Keilah and the real betrayal of the people of Ziph, Jonathan went to David and “helped him find strength in God” (23:15-18). It’s the last we see of Jonathan alive.

At the end of the same chapter, Saul has just about got David when he is called away to fight the Philistines. God uses the hated enemy to save his servant. Incidentally, the narrator doesn’t tell us what happened in that battle—who won, where it was fought, etc—highly unusual!

In chapter 24, David faces the temptation to take a shortcut to obtaining the kingdom. He has the chance to kill Saul, but doesn’t take it. He’s acutely aware that doing so would be displeasing to Yahweh.

While David is willing to spare Saul’s life, he doesn’t think twice about killing Nabal and his household in the next chapter. But God intervenes to save His servant from his foolishness, and keeps David from needlessly shedding blood.

David runs into Saul again in chapter 26. David has by this time learned from the Nabal episode and is more clear on why he shouldn’t kill Saul.  This is the last recorded meeting between Saul and David.

In chapter 27, David has a misstep. Despite God’s deliverance so far, he feels he’d be safer in Philistia. But God is still gracious to him and gives him success, and rescues him from the dicey situation of having to fight alongside the Philistines against his own people (chapter 29).

Saul in the meantime is at rock-bottom. God has abandoned him. Saul refused to listen to God in chapter 15, and now God won’t speak to him. And yet, he doesn’t repent. The kingship was gone, but he still had a chance to right his relationship with Yahweh. How sad that he didn’t take it.

31:1-13: Saul and Jonathan die

There are times when the kingdom of God in this world seems irreversibly hopeless. The Philistines rout the Israelites, and kill Saul’s 3 sons. A critically-wounded Saul falls on his own sword, and an Amalekite finishes him off. The enemy celebrates.

I feel most for Jonathan. He was faithful where God had placed him—a faithful son to Saul, a friend to David and a prince to Israel— and yet he too perished. God’s ways are truly beyond our understanding.

I guess one of the lessons we can learn from 1 Samuel is not to trust in human leaders (Eli, Saul), but instead to trust fully in God (whatever that may bring—running for your life like David, or death like Jonathan).

Sources: Bible.org, D.A. Carson, Dale Ralph Davis, Wayne Grudem.

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