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1 Samuel Essentials

1 Samuel Essentials

The message

Even the best human leaders fail us, but God is faithful to his people and promised a king who would be powerful, wise, righteous and faithful.

At the beginning of 1 Samuel, Israel was suffering from internal corruption (particularly the sons of Eli, 1 Sam. 2:12-25) and external threats (particularly the Philistines, 1 Sam. 4:1-11). The books of Samuel tell the story of four leaders (Eli, Samuel, Saul and David), each of whom ultimately failed to secure the people from their enemies and establish a kingdom of justice and righteousness.

However, the Lord’s commitment to his people (1 Sam. 12:22; cf. 1:11; 2:9,10) never failed. His faithfulness was demonstrated in:

  1. promising that he would eventually establish a secure, permanent and good kingdom (esp. 1 Sam. 2:10; 2 Sam. 7:12-16);
  2. anticipating the ultimate fulfillment of that promise by:
  3. humiliating the enemies (see e.g., 1 Sam. 2:10a, b, c; 5{dec63} – {dec63}6);
  4. providing leaders who brought a measure of justice and righteousness to the situation (see e.g., 1 Sam. 2:10d, e; 7:15-17; 11:1-15; 2 Sam. 8:15).

These books anticipate the gospel of “Jesus the Messiah the son of David” (Matt. 1:1) by laying the foundation of the hope for a “son of David” who will finally fulfill the promise. The human leaders of Israel prove to be neither good, wise nor powerful enough to establish God’s kingdom of justice and righteousness. And yet, particularly in David, we see an imperfect anticipation of this kingdom in various ways.


A Little Historical Background

First Samuel follows on the heels of the book of Judges, which chronicles the time period after Joshua’s death and before Israel’s monarchy. During the time of the judges, the Israelites fell into repeated cycles of disobedience to the Lord, oppression by enemies, and deliverance by God-appointed judges. First Samuel opens in the eleventh century at the end of this period. The initial chapters describe the calling of Samuel to his ministry and the transition to a monarchy beginning with Saul. The final event in 2 Samuel (the building of David’s altar at the threshing floor of Araunah) occurred in about 975 BC.



The conclusion of 1 Samuel may seem like the end of a dramatic story, but it is actually just the beginning. David went on to reign as king for forty years, inaugurating a dynasty that became the centerpiece of Israel’s history. After his son Solomon led the nation to its greatest wealth and influence, the kingdom divided in two with David’s descendants ruling the southern kingdom of Judah. Eventually Judah was overrun by foreign enemies, but the people maintained hope that a descendant of David would return to the throne. The Old Testament ends with that hope unmet. Yet the opening verse of the New Testament announces its fulfillment: “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David” (Matthew 1:1). Indeed, Jesus is the perfect descendant of David, the King who rules God’s people with righteousness, justice, and love.



The king

Until now, Israel had been ruled directly by God, through his appointed spokesmen (like Moses), but now, kings would govern Israel on his behalf. Unlike the nations around, however, their king was not free to do as he pleased; he too was subject to God’s Law and God’s prophetic word. It was when Saul showed he would not do this that God replaced him with “a man after his own heart” (13:14) – David.

Samuel felt that God didn’t want Israel to have a king (8:8), though this may simply have been self-pity, for God assured him it is not him they have rejected (8:7). However, God had already made provision for kingship in the Law given to Moses 400 years earlier (Deuteronomy 17:14-20); so it may have been, not that Israel asked for the wrong thing, but they asked it for the wrong reason – to bring them security.



The prophet

Miraculously born to a barren woman (1:1-20), Samuel quickly grew in faith (2:26) and prophetic gifting (3:19-21). His first prophetic word was really hard to deliver: he had to tell Eli, his friend and mentor, that his godless family would be judged (3:11-14). But Samuel was not only a prophet but also the last of the judges (7:15-17) and he led Israel in a significant battle against the Philistines (7:2-14). He was not afraid of challenging disobedience to God’s word, even disobedience by the king (13:13; 15:22-26). Throughout the Bible the prophet is given the task of boldly proclaiming what he believes God is saying, and God’s people, having tested it, are then to obey (Deuteronomy 18:14-21; 1 Corinthians 14:29-33).


The covenant

The appointment of a king was not the end of the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai, but rather a new expression of it. That was why Samuel called Israel to renew their allegiance to God when Saul was appointed king (11:14-12:25). Israel’s first obedience was still to God, but through the king; but the king himself also had to obey God and was not above the covenant. This is why Samuel wrote down rules for kingship, explaining them to both king and people and placing them before the Lord in the sanctuary as a covenant act (10:25). When Saul failed to obey that covenant, he was removed from office, for no one is higher than God’s word.


Key People in 1 Samuel

Eli —high priest and Israel’s judge for forty years; trained Samuel to be judge (1:3–28; 2:11–4:18)

Hannah —mother of Samuel; dedicated him to the Lord when he was a baby (1:2–2:11,21)

Samuel —priest, prophet, and greatest judge of Israel; anointed Israel’s first two kings (1:20; 2:11,18–26; 3:1–21; 7:3–13:15; 15:1–16:13; 19:18–24; 25:1; 28:3–16)

Saul —first king of Israel appointed by God; grew jealous of David and tried to kill him (9:2–11:15; 13:1–19:24; 20:24–33; 21:10–11; 22:6–24:22; 25:44–27:4; 28:3–31:12)

Jonathan —son of Saul; befriended David and protected him against Saul (13:1–14:49; 18:1–23:18; 31:2)

David —greatest king of Israel; also a shepherd, musician, and poet; direct ancestor to Jesus Christ (16:11–30:27)


Key Verses: 1 Samuel 13:14; 15:22—“But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you” (13:14).

“So Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams’ ” (15:22).



Key Doctrines in 1 Samuel

Davidic covenant —God’s promise to David to extend his throne and kingdom forever (2:10; Genesis 49:8–12; Numbers 24:7–9,17–19; 2 Kings 8:19; 2 Chronicles 13:5; 21:7; Psalm 89:20–37; Isaiah 16:5; Acts 15:16–18; Revelation 22:16)


Work of the Holy Spirit —empowers men for divinely appointed tasks (10:6,10; 16:13; Numbers 11:25,29; Judges 14:6; 27:18; Matthew 4:1; 28:19–20; Mark 13:11; Luke 1:35; John 14:16–17; Acts 1:8; 2:4; Romans 8:5–6; Galatians 5:16–18; James 4:5–6)


Sin —Israel’s sin created personal and national consequences (3:10–14; 4:17–18; 6:19; 13:9,13–14; 15:8–9,20–23; Genesis 3; Numbers 4:15; 15:30–31; 1 Kings 11:38; 13:34; 2 Kings 21:12; Psalm 106:43; Isaiah 22:14; Jeremiah 19:3; Ezekiel 7:3; 18:30; John 8:34; Romans 2:5; Hebrews 10:4,26–31)


God’s Character in 1 Samuel

God is holy —2:2

God is powerful —14:6

God is provident —2:7–8; 6:7–10,12; 30:6

God is righteous —12:7

God is sovereign —9:17; 16:12–13; 24:20

God is wise —2:3

God is wrathful —5:6; 6:19; 7:10; 31:6


Christ in 1 Samuel

Samuel is a type of Christ in that he is a prophet, priest, and judge. Highly revered by the people, he brings in a new age.

David is one of the primary Old Testament portrayals of the Person of Christ. He is born in Bethlehem, works as a shepherd, and rules as king of Israel. He is the anointed king who becomes the forerunner of the messianic King. His typical messianic psalms are born of his years of rejection and danger (see Ps. 22). God enables David, a man “after His own heart” (13:14), to become Israel’s greatest king. The New Testament specifically calls Christ the “seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3) and “the Root and the Offspring of David” (Rev. 22:16).


Key Words in 1 Samuel

Hears: Hebrew shama’ ––1:13; 2:23; 4:14; 7:9; 8:18; 17:11; 23:11; 25:24— also means “to listen” or “to obey.” This important Old Testament word appears over 1,100 times. It implies that the listener is giving his or her total attention to the one who is speaking. In some cases, the word connotes more than listening and indicates obedience to what has been said. Abraham was blessed not only for hearing, but for obeying God’s voice (see Genesis 22:18, where the word is translated “obeyed”). In the third chapter of 1 Samuel, Samuel is listening for God’s Word and is determined to obey it. This young man is an example of the kind of person God delights to use—one who is always ready to receive His Word and follow it.


King: Hebrew melek ––2:10; 8:6; 10:24; 15:11; 18:22; 21:11,16; 24:20— may describe a petty ruler of a small city (Joshua 10:3) or a monarch of a vast empire (Esther 1:1–5). An ancient king’s jurisdiction included the military (8:20), the economy (1 Kings 10:26–29), international diplomacy (1 Kings 5:1–11), and the legal system (2 Samuel 8:15). He often served as a spiritual leader (2 Kings 23:1–24), although Israel’s kings were prohibited from some priestly functions (13:9–14). The Bible presents David as an example of the righteous king who set his heart on faithfully serving God (Acts 13:22). God’s promise to give David an everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7:16) has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, whose human ancestry is through the royal family of David (Luke 2:4).

Utterly Destroyed: Hebrew charam ––15:3,8–9,15,18,20—refers to the “setting apart” of inappropriate things, usually because of defilement associated with idol worship. In the ancient world, anything sacred or defiled was considered inappropriate for common use and was therefore subject to complete destruction. According to Deuteronomy 13:12–15, Israel was to destroy everyone and everything that was wicked enough to be considered defiled. Violation of this command cost Achan his life (Joshua 7) and Saul his throne (15:9–11). Paul reminds us that we are all wicked, and as a result are defiled and deserve destruction. Yet God in His mercy has chosen to save those who place their trust in Jesus (Romans 3:10–26).

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