1 Samuel — A New Era in Israel
Although anonymously written, it is generally accepted that the prophet Samuel was responsible for much of the material of this first book that bears his name. After his death, quite likely the prophets Nathan and Gad took up the pen in Samuel’s behalf. These writings were probably compiled into one volume [1 & 2 Samuel were originally a single unit.] by later scribes or prophets.
1 Samuel chronicles the transition of the nation of Israel from a loosely-affiliated group of tribes, governed by various judges, to a rising power unified under a single king. It begins with the ministry of Samuel, the final and greatest judge in Israel. In response to the Hebrews’ demand for a king, it shows the rise and fall of Saul, the first anointed head of state over Israel. And then it records the anointing and preparation of Israel’s second and greatest monarch, David the son of Jesse, whose grandparents we met in the book of Ruth.
1 Samuel Chapter 1
On the heels of the beautiful love story with Naomi, Ruth and Boaz comes another tale of God’s mercy and grace. In this chapter we are introduced to four individuals: Elkanah, a descendant of Ephraim; his two wives, Peninnah and Hannah; and the high priest, Eli.
Elkanah was a decent fellow, who loved God and took care of his family. Annually he made the required journey from the territory of Ephraim to Shiloh to offer sacrifices and feast with his family (1 Sam. 1:1 & 3). His wife Peninnah had several children, so he would give them all portions of the festal offerings (vv. 2 & 4). Although Hannah had been given no children, Elkanah loved her and gave her a double helping of food from the meal (5).
As was often the case when a man had more than one woman in the household, there existed a fierce rivalry between Elkanah’s two wives. Jealous of the tender affection he showed Hannah, Peninnah goaded her constantly about having no children—to the point that, even during their sacred celebrations, the poor woman was reduced to tears and could not eat what had been set before her (6-7). Although her husband tried to offer comfort, saying, “Am I not better to you than ten sons?” it did no good (8). These times that should have been joyful were just a painful reminder to Hannah of her inability to bear children to the man she loved.
One year, it was so bad, Hannah went to the tabernacle and spent hours pouring out her broken heart to God. She vowed that, if He would grant her a son, the lad would be given to YHWH all his life as a Nazarite; “and no razor shall come upon his head” (10-11).
The priest was sitting on a stool near the door of the tabernacle, observing Hannah’s actions, but not hearing the words she uttered in prayer under her breath (9, 12 & 13). Convinced she was intoxicated, Eli scolded, “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!” (14).
In her defense, Hannah said she was not a drunkard, but “a woman of sorrowful spirit,” baring her soul before the Lord (15-16). When Eli changed his tune and blessed her, saying, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him,” Hannah was able to return to the dining table with hope instead sadness (17-18).
Early the next morning, the family worshiped again at the tabernacle and then went home. Shortly thereafter, the Lord enabled Hannah and Elkanah to conceive a child (19). Hannah named the baby Samuel, which means “Heard by God,” explaining, “Because I have asked for him from the LORD” (20). The name was prophetic, in the sense that her son became a prophet, who not only heard from God, but whose prayers were consistently answered by the Lord!
The next time the family went to make their annual trek to Shiloh, Hannah did not go, wanting to spend as much time as possible with her son before she fulfilled her vow. She told her husband, “I will not go up until the child is weaned; then I will bring him, that he may appear before the LORD and stay there forever” (22). Interestingly enough, verse 21 says that Elkanah meant to pay a vow at the tabernacle, as well. Did he make a promise to the Lord, requesting a child through Hannah? Quite possibly that would explain why he made no objection regarding her promise to give their firstborn to God (23).
When Samuel was old enough to be away from his mother (Some scholars suggest he might have been as much as three to five years of age!), Hannah took a generous offering of at least one bull (some manuscripts say three), flour and wine to the tabernacle (24). When the bull had been sacrificed, Hannah brought her little boy to Eli and explained, “…I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the LORD. For this boy I prayed, and the LORD has given me my petition which I asked of Him. So I have also dedicated him to the LORD; as long, as he lives…” (25-28). Together they celebrated the Lord’s answer to Hannah’s prayer.
- She rejoiced in the way He had lifted her up to smile at her enemies [i.e.—her rival Peninnah] (1 Sam. 2:1).
- She acknowledged there was no one as holy as YHWH, her rock (v. 2).
- Quite likely thinking of the taunts of Elkanah’s other wife, Hannah said, “Boast, no more so very proudly, do not let arrogance come out of your mouth,” considering that the Lord was fully aware of her actions (1 Sam. 2:3, New American Standard Bible).
- She contrasted how the mighty were disarmed, while the weak were made strong; the full were forced to hire themselves out for food, while the hungry were satisfied (4-5).
- In a statement she probably hoped would eventually be fulfilled in her own situation, Hannah proclaimed, “She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away” (1 Sam. 2:5, NIV).
- She acknowledged YHWH as the source of life and death, poverty and riches, and high or low estate (vv. 6-7).
- In another prophetic statement, she declared how God elevated the poor from obscurity to seat them among princes (8a)—words definitely fulfilled, not long after, in the life of David.
- She believed God upheld the earth (8b).
- Hannah declared how God guarded His saints and defeated the wicked, “for by strength no man shall prevail,” but God would thunder against His adversaries in judgment (9-10a).
- She concluded by stating: “He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed” (10b).
Elkanah and his wife then returned home, leaving the boy Samuel to minister to YHWH under Eli’s supervision (11).
While Eli assumed guardianship of Samuel, his biological children were making a royal mess of themselves. According to 1 Samuel 1:3, Eli had two sons: Hophni and Phinehas. Sadly, neither of these young men knew or respected the Lord (1 Sam. 2:12). The name of the elder meant “boxer” or “little fist”—probably meaning he was a contentious or defiant fellow. Phinehas—ironically named for the grandson of Aaron whose zeal for YHWH saved Israel from a plague (Numbers 25:7-13)—was no better, with a name that meant “mouth of brass.”
Completely disregarding the rules of the priesthood, these men would bully worshipers into letting them take their pick of the meat offered at the tabernacle, not even willing to wait until the fat of the animals was burned, as the Lord commanded (1 Sam. 2:13-16). In their blatant misuse of their role as priests, “the sin of the young men was very great before the LORD,” since they were breeding contempt among the people for the entire sacrificial system (v. 17)!
Samuel, meanwhile, ministered before YHWH in a linen ephod, dressed like one of the priest’s sons (18). His mother made him a new robe each year and brought it to the tabernacle when she and her husband came to make their annual sacrifices (19). Eli blessed the couple each time, saying, “The LORD give you descendants from this woman for the loan that was given to the LORD” (20). Eventually, God added three more sons and two daughters to Hannah’s family (21). Meanwhile Samuel grew in height and reputation among the people (26).
When Eli heard how his sons were treating the Israelites, and especially that they were sleeping with the women who came to worship, the old man confronted Hophni and Phinehas, accusing them of setting a bad example and causing others to sin (22-24). “If one man sins against another,” Eli warned, “God will judge him. But if a man sins against the LORD, who will intercede for him?” (25). With no fear of God in their hearts, Eli’s sons ignored him, and God determined to take care of the matter Himself.
A prophet came to Eli and reminded him of how God graciously chose the tribe of Levi from among their brethren for the honor of serving as His priests and enjoying a share of the sacrifices (27-28). Yet Eli was kicking at those sacrifices and honoring his sons more than the Lord, making himself fat off the best of all the offerings of YHWH (29). He said, “those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed,” then warned that the Lord was going to cut off Eli’s family line from the priesthood (30-33). As a sign, God said He would kill both Hophni and Phinehas in one day (34). “Then I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest who shall do according to what is in My heart and in My mind. I will build him a sure house, and he shall walk before My anointed forever” (35). The few men of Eli’s descendants who survived would be reduced to begging for a menial position in order to earn a little food (36).
1 Samuel Chapter 3
By that time, the Lord hardly bothered to communicate with the obstinate children of Israel—“the word of the LORD was rare in those days” (1 Sam. 3:1). Eli was going blind, so he had Samuel staying in the tabernacle, making sure the lamp of God’s presence was kept lit at all times (vv. 2-3).
One night, the Lord came and spoke to the boy, while he was lying down in the tent (4). Thinking the One calling his name was Eli, Samuel hopped up and ran to his master, saying “Here I am, for you called me” (5). Eli answered, “I did not call; lie down again,” which Samuel did, until he heard his name called a second time. Again, he reported to Eli, who once more sent the boy back to bed (6). When this scene played out a third time, the priest finally figured out that it must be God calling the lad, who was too inexperienced to recognize His voice (7-8). This time Eli told him, if Samuel heard his name again, he was to reply, “Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears” (9).
When God called Samuel’s name a fourth time, the boy followed his guardian’s advice and got quite an earful from the Lord! He started out saying, “Behold, I will do something in Israel at which both ears of everyone who hears it will tingle” (10-11). He promised to carry out His word against Eli’s family, since the priest knew how badly his boys were behaving, but “did not restrain them” (12-13). No sacrifice or offering would make up for the sins of this family (14).
Imagine what a heavy burden that message must have been for a mere boy to bear! He went back to bed, and was afraid to say anything the next morning (15). However, Eli commanded him to tell everything God had said (16-17). When Samuel repeated it all, Eli was surprisingly resigned to his fate: “It is the LORD. Let Him do what seems good to Him” (18).
As Samuel grew, YHWH was with him, and fulfilled every word He put into the young man’s mouth, so all Israel became aware of his reputation as a prophet (19-20). Thus, YHWH established a relationship with Samuel and continued to appear to him at Shiloh (21).
The Israelites went to battle against the Philistines and suffered the loss of about 4,000 men (vv. 1-2). When they gathered at the camp to regroup, they wondered why the Lord had allowed such a defeat. Then they decided to bring the ark along, so that “it may save us from the hand of our enemies” (3). How sad, that the ark that represented YHWH’s presence had been reduced in their minds to a mere good luck charm, talisman or idol!
When Hophni and Phinehas came into the camp with the ark, after the people had sent for them in Shiloh, the Israelites gave such a shout that the ground shook (4-5). Once they realized what was going on, the Philistines reacted in terror, saying “God has come into the camp!” (6-7). They recalled how YHWH had dealt with the Egyptians and wondered, “Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods?” (8). [Probably the reason for the plural form of god in this case was because they saw the two angels on top of the Ark of the Covenant.] They gave themselves a good pep talk and then went out and defeated the Israelites again (9-10).
This time, 30,000 men of Israel were killed—including Hophni and Phinehas—and the Ark of the Covenant was captured (10-11). A Benjamite fled the battlefield and ran to Shiloh (12). When the inhabitants saw that his clothes were torn and the man had thrown dirt on his head, they knew something was wrong and cried out when he told them what happened (12-13).
When Eli asked about the commotion, the soldier came to where the old man had been anxiously waiting at the city gate and told him (14). Eli was 98 years old and pretty much blind (15). When he heard about Hophni and Phinehas’ death, he was not nearly so concerned for them as he was the ark (16-17). Hearing that it had been captured, Eli fell back in shock from his seat. Due to his age and his weight, he snapped his neck and died on the spot. He had been Israel’s judge for 40 years (18).
About the same time, Eli’s daughter-in-law, Phinehas’ wife, was pregnant. The shock of hearing both her husband and father-in-law had died was so upsetting, the woman went into premature labor (19). As she was dying, the midwife tried to comfort Phinehas’ widow, saying her baby was a boy (20). However, the woman was inconsolable. She gave the child the name Ichabod, which means “no glory,” explaining, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured” (21-22). Imagine being that poor kid, always bearing in his name a reminder of the loss experienced by his family and his people on the day he was born!
1 Samuel Chapter 5
Along with their other spoils from the war, the Philistines brought their greatest trophy of all, the Ark of the Covenant, into Ashdod and set it up next to the idol in the temple of Dagon (1 Sam. 5:1-2). The next morning, when the priests went in to tend to their god, they found the idol had toppled face-down in front of the ark [as though bowing to the greater God] (v. 3). They set it back in place and went about their business—only to find the next day that their god had broken in pieces where it fell over the threshold in its temple (4). From then on, the superstitious idolaters were loathe to step on the threshold where their idol’s head and hands had broken off (5).
About that time, YHWH struck the city with a horrible disease (6). The Philistines realized the Israelite God was working against them, so they sent the ark of His presence from Ashdod to Gath (7-8). Gath, too, soon suffered from the terrible tumors, so they sent the ark on to Ekron (9-10). The Ekronites were horrified, knowing they would soon suffer the same terrible death toll among their inhabitants (10). Then the Philistine leaders got together and decided they had better send the ark back, before all their people were killed by the plague (11-12).
1 Samuel Chapter 6
For seven months the ark was in enemy hands, wreaking havoc wherever it stayed (1 Sam. 6:1). The Philistine leaders called for their religious experts and asked what they needed to do to send the ark back and rid themselves of the deadly disease it had brought with it (v. 2). The Philistine priest and soothsayers advised them to send an offering with the ark, consisting of one golden tumor and one golden rat from each of the Philistine lords (3-5). Since these golden images represented the sickness that had afflicted them all, that would seem a pretty good indicator that the disease that had struck the Philistine cities was the bubonic plague. The religious leaders warned their rulers not to harden their hearts as the Egyptians had and suffer annihilation (6). As for the means of transportation, they suggested placing the ark and a box containing the golden images on a new cart, and hitching it to two young milk cows whose calves had been taken from them (7-8). The natural inclination of these cows would be to go and find their babies. However, if they wound up going the opposite direction—toward the nearest Israelite settlement—then the Philistines would know the whole disaster had been YHWH’s doing (9).
When the Philistines carried out this advice, the cows headed straight toward Beth Shemesh, mooing their protests all the way (10-12). The inhabitants of that city were in the fields, harvesting their wheat when the cart arrived (13). They unhitched the cows from the cart, removed the ark and the box, broke the cart into pieces and used it to make a burnt offering of the cows on a nearby rock (14-15). When the Philistines saw the Hebrews take possession of the sacred articles and sacrifice to their God, they were satisfied and went home (16).
The Hebrews found the golden images—a tumor and a rat each from the five main cities of the Philistines: Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron (17-18). Unfortunately, some of them also opened the Ark of the Covenant, so God “struck the people with a great slaughter” (19). So the men of Beth Shemesh were afraid to keep it, and sent the ark on to nearby Kirjath Jearim (20-21).
1 Samuel Chapter 7
“Then the men of Kirjath Jearim came and took the ark of the LORD, and brought it into the house of Abinadab on the hill, and consecrated Eleazar his son to keep the ark of the LORD” (1 Sam 7:1). For twenty years the ark remained in that location, while the people “lamented after the LORD” (v. 2).
Samuel urged them to “return to the LORD with all your hearts” and get rid of all their idols and false gods, so YHWH would deliver them from the Philistines (3). When they did so, the prophet gathered everyone to Mizpah, so he could pray for them (4-5). As they poured out water before YHWH, they confessed their sins, then Samuel judged them there (6).
Meanwhile, the Philistines heard about the gathering and marched out to do battle against Israel (7). The Hebrews begged their prophet/priest, “Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines” (8). Samuel offered a suckling lamb to God as a sacrifice and cried out to the Lord for help (9). So YHWH thundered from heaven and so confused the enemy that the Philistines were beaten back into their own territory (10-11). “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer [which means “stone of help”], saying, ‘Thus far the LORD has helped us’” (12).
From then on, the Philistines stayed out of Israelite territory and the people were able to recover the cities that had been dominated by their enemies for so long (13-14). During Samuel’s lifetime, the Lord fought against the Philistines and maintained peace between the two peoples. Samuel judged Israel, making an annual circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah, and then home again to Ramah (15-17). In his hometown, the prophet also built an altar to YHWH (17).
1 Samuel Chapter 8
Fast forward a few decades, and we find Samuel as an old man. He is semi-retired and his sons have taken on the role as judges in Israel (1 Sam. 8:1-2). Unfortunately, much like his predecessor, Eli, Samuel seems to have been lacking in the area of parenting skills, since his sons, Joel and Abijah, “did not walk in his ways; they turned aside after dishonest gain, took bribes, and perverted justice” (v. 3).
The Israelites decided they had had enough of this, so they got together at Samuel’s hometown of Ramah and told him they wanted a king (4-5). Samuel was disturbed by the request and took the matter up with the Lord (6). YHWH told Samuel not to take it personally, “for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (7). In God’s mind this was par for the course, since Israel had been following other gods since the day they left Egypt (8). He told Samuel to do as the people said, but to warn them of what changes they could anticipate under a king (9-10).
Here was what Samuel relayed to the people from the Lord concerning the likely behavior of their monarch:
- He would enlist their sons for military service, to work in his fields and to manufacture weapons (11-12).
- Their daughters he would employ as perfumers, cooks and bakers (13).
- He would take their best property and give it to his officers (14).
- He would take a tenth of their crops and livestock to provide for his servants (15 & 17).
- The best of their servants and donkeys he’d take to do his work (16).
When they were burdened with their servitude to the king and cried out to God, He would ignore their pleas (17-18).
Even after hearing all this, the people still insisted on having a king: “that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (19-20). I guess you could say this was peer pressure on a national scale!
Samuel reported all they said to YHWH, who told him again to do as they said (21). Meanwhile, the prophet dismissed everyone—probably so he could spend time in prayer to learn whom the Lord had in mind.
1 Samuel Chapter 9
Oddly enough, Samuel met his man for the first time, because of a few missing donkeys! In the territory of Benjamin lived a powerful man named Kish, who had a good-looking son by the name of Saul (1 Sam. 9:1-2). Saul was actually the tallest man in Israel—standing head and shoulders above the rest.
Kish’s donkeys wandered off, so he sent his son Saul and a servant off to look for them (v. 3). The two men searched from the mountains of Ephraim south toward home without finding a trace of the missing animals (4). Saul decided they had better go back home, or his dad would end up being more worried about them than his missing livestock (5). The servant, however, talked Saul into consulting the prophet about the donkeys and even provided the money to pay the “seer” to inquire of the Lord for them (6-10).
As they made their way up the hill toward the town, they learned from some young women that the seer was hosting a banquet that evening (11-13). Meanwhile, Samuel was en route to the high place, having heard from the Lord the day before that He was sending the new commander-in-chief his way from the land of Benjamin (14-16). Even though they had rejected Him as King of Israel, YHWH intended to use Saul as king to deliver them from their Philistine oppressors, saying, “I have looked upon My people, because their cry has come to me” (16).
As soon as Samuel laid eyes on Saul, YHWH told him this was the man who would reign over Israel (17). So when Saul asked him for the whereabouts of the seer, Samuel identified himself and invited the young man to his feast (18-19). Furthermore, he surprised Saul by saying not only had the donkeys been found, but “on whom is all the desire of Israel? Is it not on you and on all your father’s house?” (20).
Saul pointed out that he was from the lowliest family in the least of the tribes of Israel. “Why then do you speak like this to me?” (21).
Without another word, the prophet led the two men into the banquet hall and seated Saul in the place of honor at the table (22). In front of the thirty-some men in attendance, Samuel had the cook serve Saul the best portion of the sacrifice that had been prepared for the feast (22-24). After the meal, he brought the young men home with him to spend the night (25).
When they rose early next morning, Samuel escorted Saul to the outskirts of the city, and then had him send his servant on ahead (26-27). He wanted to declare to Saul in private the message God had for him.
1 Samuel Chapter 10
When they were alone, Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it onto Saul’s head, kissed him, and announced, “Is it not because the LORD has anointed you commander over His inheritance?” (1 Sam. 10:1). He then made a series of prophecies concerning the rest of Saul’s journey, to prove to Saul that he was God’s man for the hour:
- Sometime after leaving Samuel, Saul would meet two men at the tomb of Rachel, who would inform him the donkeys had been found, but now his father was worried about him (v. 2).
- Near the terebinth tree of Tabor, he’d encounter three men going to worship at Bethel—one carrying three young goats, another three loaves of bread, and the third a skin of wine. He was to accept two loaves of bread, which the men would offer with their greeting (3-4).
- At the hill of God where there was a Philistine stronghold, Saul would meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place, worshiping on various instruments and prophesying. At that point, the Spirit of YHWH would come upon Saul and he would prophesy, as well, “and be turned into another man” (5-6).
When all of this was fulfilled, Samuel urged Saul to do “as the occasion demands; for God is with you” (7). Samuel also promised to meet the young man in a week at Gilgal, where they would make burnt offerings and sacrifices of peace and Samuel would provide further instruction (8).
“So it was,” the Scripture tells us, “when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day” (9). When people heard that Saul had prophesied, they were amazed and asked, “What is this that has come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” (10-11). So that became a proverb among the people thereafter (12).
When they arrived home, Saul’s uncle asked where he and the servant had been, to which they replied, “To look for the donkeys” (14). When they mentioned their visit to Samuel and he asked what the prophet had told them, Saul only mentioned the part about the donkeys being found, not about being anointed king (15-16).
1 Samuel Chapter 11
The people got to see their new king in action when Nahash the Ammonite came and encamped against Jabesh Gilead. When the inhabitants of the city asked for terms of peace, the brazen military commander replied, that he would leave off his attack only if they agreed to let him “put out all your right eyes, and bring reproach on all Israel” (1 Sam 11:1-2). They asked for a week to see if anyone would come and help them, otherwise they would agree (v. 3). Soon messengers arrived in Gibeah of Saul and told everyone the news (4).
When Saul came in from the fields and learned what everyone was weeping about, the Spirit of God came on him and aroused a holy outrage in the new king (5-6). He took a couple of oxen, cut them into pieces and had them delivered to each of the tribal territories with the following message: “Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen” (7). The people got the message, so they assembled en masse at Bezek—300,000 men of Israel, plus an additional 30,000 from Judah alone (7-8).
They sent messengers to Jabesh Gilead to inform them help was on the way (9). The men of Jabesh, however, did not let the Ammonite know, but sent him this message: “Tomorrow we will come out to you, and you may do with us whatever seems good to you” (10). This, of course was a lie, since the Israelites had told the men of Jabesh they’d be arriving at that time. My guess is it was a tactical maneuver, in order to catch the Ammonites off guard.
The next day, Saul divided his 330,000 men into three companies and struck the unsuspecting Ammonites early in the morning (11). So complete was their victory that no two survivors of the enemy remained together by that afternoon!
Then the people realized Samuel had appointed a valiant leader over them. Some of the people wanted to execute those who had spoken against Saul, but he restrained them, saying, “Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the LORD has accomplished salvation in Israel” (12-13). So, not only was the new king a warrior, but also a diplomat. Samuel had everyone go to Gilgal to throw a victory party and confirm Saul to the kingship (14-15).
1 Samuel Chapter 12
Now that their king was installed and had proven himself, Samuel was ready to defer to him and go into semi-retirement (1 Sam. 12:1). First, however, he gave a farewell speech to his former constituents.
Samuel reminded them how he had served the people since his youth (v. 2). He challenged them to bring evidence of any corruption in him during the time he had judged Israel (3). Of course, they could name no incidents where he had cheated anyone or taken a bribe (4).
Again, Samuel reviewed their history, recalling how Jacob had moved to Egypt, and then Aaron and Moses led them out (6-8). He reviewed the time of the judges, when God turned the Israelites over to various enemies when they worshiped false gods, and then gave them deliverers after they repented of this sin (9-11). Most recently, they faced Nahash, king of the Ammonites and demanded their own king, “when the LORD your God was your king” (12).
Samuel said, so long as the people feared and served the Lord, “then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the LORD your God” and things would go well for them (13-14). “However, if you do not obey the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers” (15).
With that having been said, Samuel called down rain during the dry season of the wheat harvest, to show how displeased YHWH was because the people had demanded a king (16-18). Then everyone cried in fear of both God and His prophet, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves” (19).
Samuel assured them of God’s commitment and grace and told them not to give up on following Him (20 & 22). He said not to pursue idols, or “go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing” (21). Furthermore, he promised to continue to intercede for Israel and to teach them godly behavior (23). He urged them to fear and serve YHWH with all their hearts, remembering all the good He’d done for them thus far (24). If they did wickedly, he warned, “both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Sam 12:25, NIV).
1 Samuel Chapter 13
A year or two went by, and Saul gathered 3,000 elite troops and divided them between himself and his son Jonathan (1 Sam. 13:1-2). Jonathan attacked a Philistine garrison in Geba, and then his father summoned everyone to war (v. 3-4). He let everyone believe he had been responsible for the attack.
When the Philistines assembled in response to this, their superior troops vastly outnumbered the Israelites, with 3,000 chariots, twice as many charioteers, “and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (1 Sam 13:5, NIV). Naturally, the Israelites were intimidated and went to hide themselves in caves, woods, pits, etc.; others crossed the river to seek quarter among the Transjordan tribes (6-7). Over the course of the week that Saul waited for Samuel to arrive, so many men had deserted, there were only about 600 left (8 & 15).
When Samuel had not gotten to the camp by the seventh day, Saul called for the sacrificial animals and made a burnt offering himself (9). No sooner had he performed this priestly act, than Samuel arrived and confronted him (10-11). Saul justified his actions, essentially saying he’d been forced to make the sacrifice because Samuel didn’t keep his appointment (11-12).
Samuel replied, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God” (13). As a consequence of this overstepping of his kingly duties, God was not going to leave the kingdom in Saul’s hands, but would give it to another (13-14). “The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart,” and that person would be made commander-in-chief over Israel instead of Saul (14). So Samuel returned to Gibeah, while Saul mustered his paltry army (15).
Saul and his son took their men back to Gibeah (16). Meanwhile, the Philistines sent out raiding parties to harass the Hebrews (17-18). There was not much the Israelites could do to resist their enemies, since the Philistines had removed all the blacksmiths from the land. The Hebrews could not even so much as sharpen their iron farming implements without paying a high sum to a Philistine blacksmith (19-21). So of all the men in Saul’s army, only he and his son had proper weapons (22).
1 Samuel Chapter 14
While Saul had previously acted courageously under the influence of the Holy Spirit (See chapter 11), it appears his son was even more bold. Definitely a man of action, Jonathan probably got tired of hanging around doing nothing, so he told his armor-bearer to come with him over to the Philistine stronghold and see what happened (1 Sam. 14:1). He did not think to report his plan to Saul, however.
Saul and his 600 men, meanwhile, were hanging out under a shade tree just outside of Gibeah (v. 2). He had Ahijah, the older son of Phinehas, with him wearing the priestly garb (3).
When they reached the twin monoliths or escarpments in front of the Philistine garrison, Jonathan proposed that he and his squire present themselves to the enemy to see what they would do. If they invited them up the cliff to where they were, then Jonathan and his companion would take it as a sign that the Lord had delivered their foes into their hands, and they would go up and attack. If not, then they would stay where they were. “For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.” The younger man was willing to do whatever his master desired. (4-10).
When they hailed the Philistines, the enemy soldiers said, “Look, the Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hidden,” and summoned the two young men to them (11-12). That was the sign Jonathan was looking for, so he told his armor-bearer, “Come up after me, for the LORD has delivered them into the hand of Israel” (12). Then he and his helper scrambled up the narrow space between the rocks and came after the twenty men at the top (13-14).
In the midst of their slaughter, the Lord sent an earthquake, which further terrorized the Philistines (15). Saul’s watchman observed the enemy scattering and reported it to his sovereign (16). That’s when Saul took roll call and discovered his son was missing (17). Saul started to inquire of God through the priest, but then broke it off, as the chaos in the Philistine camp increased (18-19). So Saul and his 600 engaged in battle and were soon joined by the men that had previously deserted the army (20-22). “So the LORD saved Israel that day…” (23).
Then Saul made a rash move. Probably intending for his men to focus all their attention on finishing off the Philistines, he pronounced a curse on anyone who chose to eat before they had wiped out the enemy (24). So the soldiers grew faint from hunger by the end of the day, and were so famished they started to eat meat that had not been drained of its blood (31-32). Saul finally had to stop everything and order the men to bring their animals to a large rock in the middle of the battlefield, so they could be properly slaughtered and eaten (33-34). Probably in order to burn the fat of the animals and offer thanks, Saul erected his first altar on the spot (35).
Jonathan, meanwhile, had not heard the decree of Saul and sampled a bit of honey during the heat of the battle (25-26). When told of his father’s oath, Jonathan replied,
After they had eaten, Saul proposed they should resume their attack through the night; however, when he consulted the Lord on the priest’s suggestion, God wouldn’t talk to him (vv. 36-37). Using the Urim and Thumim, Saul sought to discover the source of the Israelites’ offense in the Lord’s sight, vowing, “…though it be in Jonathan my son, he shall surely die” (38-39).
When the sacred lots revealed the fault did indeed lie with Jonathan, Saul demanded to know what he had done (40-43). Jonathan replied with heavy sarcasm, “I only tasted a little honey with the end of the rod that was in my hand. So now I must die!” Saul was prepared to kill his own son on the spot, but the people restrained him, pointing out how he had initiated the attack that brought such great victory to Israel (44-45). So Saul broke off his pursuit and returned home, allowing the Philistines also to slink back into their own territory (46).
Thus, Saul was established as king over a sovereign nation and fought against all of Israel’s enemies—including Moab, Ammon, Edom, Zobah, Philistia and Amelek (47-48). Saul had five children though his wife Ahinoam: Jonathan, Jishui (called Abinidab in 1 Chronicles 8:33 & 9:39) and Malchishua were his three sons; Merab and Michal were his daughters (49-50). Saul’s father’s brother, his uncle Abner, was the general of his army (50-51). Anytime the king spotted a strong or brave fellow among the Israelites, he conscripted him into military service (52).
Some scholars suggest the reason for killing both the people and their livestock was because this culture practiced bestiality and all sorts of other nasty things that would have made the animals unclean for God’s holy people. It may simply have been that YHWH so wanted to wipe out the memory of these pagan people that He didn’t even want them to have cattle or sheep that they could remember had once belonged to Amelek. At any rate, no beast or human was allowed to remain, if Saul were to carry out God’s orders.
So Saul mustered his 100,000 men of Israel, plus another 10,000 from Judah alone, and approached his first Amalekite city to attack it (vv. 4-5). Close by he found the Kenites, the in-laws of Moses, and warned them to relocate so they wouldn’t be destroyed with Israel’s enemies (6). Then he launched his attack, killing every man, woman and child in the area (7). However, contrary to God’s strict orders, Saul spared the Amalekite king, Agag, and the best of the livestock (8-9).
YHWH, fully aware of what Saul had done, notified His prophet, saying, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments” (10-11a). Was God admitting to Samuel that He had made a mistake? Of course not! How can a perfect God, who knows everything, err in any way? The Lord knew what was in Saul’s heart—both the good and the bad. He knew what the man was capable of doing. But, just like a loving Father, the Lord had hoped for the best from Saul and had maximized his potential for success. Unfortunately, Saul chose his own way instead of God’s.
Naturally, Samuel was upset and spent all night praying for the king (11b). The next day, he went to look for him and was told he had erected a monument for himself and then gone over to Gilgal (12).
When Samuel approached the king, he greeted the prophet as though nothing had happened—in fact, he had the audacity to claim he had carried out his orders (13). Samuel shrewdly replied, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” (14). Saul said the people had brought them from Amelek “to sacrifice to the LORD your God,” but assured Samuel the rest had been slaughtered as commanded (15).
Lest the foolish king should dig himself a deeper hole of self-justification, Samuel told him to shut up and listen to what the Lord had to say (16). He reminded Saul:
Saul insisted he had carried out God’s orders, even though he mentioned bringing back Agag alive (20). The matter of the livestock he blamed on the people, again trying to justify their actions by saying they planned to sacrifice them to the Lord (21).
Samuel came back with this powerful statement:
“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.
For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
He also has rejected you from being king” (22-23).
In other words, it was more important to God that Saul do what He said than to try to cover up his sin with religious rituals. Doing our own thing is as serious a crime as witchcraft or idolatry in the Lord’s eyes. Because he refused to listen to God and do what He said, the Lord could no longer count on Saul to lead His people properly. Saul was being served his ‘pink slip’ as executive vice president of YHWH’s company by the Chief Executive Officer of Israel Himself!
Saul finally admitted he’d messed up, but he blamed his underlings: “I feared the people and obeyed their voice” (24). This is a classic case of the ‘fear of man’ overriding a healthy fear of God. Had Saul really understood his position and the greatness of the God who sent him on his mission in the first place, he would’ve chosen to do what the Lord said, rather than caving to the desires of his military men. Now, he was disqualified from leadership.
Saul asked Samuel to pardon his sin and come with him to worship the Lord, but Samuel refused—probably not wanting to validate Saul’s bad leadership with his presence (25-26). As Samuel turned to leave, Saul grabbed his robe, causing it to tear (27). Samuel wheeled and declared, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 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” (1 Sam 15:28-29, NIV). Again Saul admitted his sin, but begged the prophet to honor him in front of the people by accompanying the king to his worship service (v. 30).
It is especially important to notice how each time Saul spoke, he referred to the Lord as Samuel’s God, using the pronoun, “your.” Also, even though Saul admitted he had sinned, he did not express genuine sorrow over his sin. He was more concerned about keeping up appearances in front of his subjects.
Although Samuel went back with Saul while the king worshiped the Lord, he wasn’t about to let Saul leave his mission undone (31). He had the Amalekite king brought to him (32). While the foreign monarch tried to assure himself the worst was over, Samuel declared, “As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women” (32-33). Then and there, the prophet hacked Agag to pieces! Then Samuel went home to Ramah, while Saul returned to Gibeah (34). Never again did the prophet go to see the king, although he mourned Saul’s failure and God’s rejection of him (35).
1 Samuel Chapter 16
When YHWH decided Samuel had mourned long enough, he sent the prophet to Jesse the Bethlehemite, telling him that one of his sons would be the next king (1 Sam. 16:1). Because Samuel was afraid the king would kill him if he heard of it, God told Samuel to take a heifer and inform the people that he was coming to offer a sacrifice (v. 2). Jesse was to be invited, and then God would point out which of his sons was the man he was looking for (3).
So Samuel did as he was told, and when Jesse’s oldest boy, Eliab, showed up, he was sure this was the guy (4-6). However, YHWH said, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (7).
Samuel should not have been surprised, considering what happened with Saul. He looked noble enough, but his heart was not whole-heartedly devoted to God.
Likewise, Jesse presented his next two sons, Abinadab and Shammah, but God told Samuel they were not His chosen (8-9). One by one, each of Jesse’s seven eldest sons paraded past the prophet, but each one was rejected by the Lord (10). So Samuel asked whether all of Jesse’s sons were present, to which he replied, “There is still the youngest…but he is tending the sheep” (11).
When this last son was brought in, Samuel saw he was tanned, good-looking and had beautiful eyes (12). At YHWH’s urging, the prophet took his horn of oil and anointed David right there in front of everyone—including his elder brothers (12-13). From that day on, David was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Meanwhile, the Spirit of the Lord left Saul and assigned a “distressing spirit” to harass the apostate king (14). We know from Job chapters 1-2 that God is in charge even of evil spirits. In this case, He used a fallen angel to punish Saul for his disobedience. It is never good for a king to be unhappy, so when his servants realized what was going on, they proposed that Saul employ a skilled harpist to play soothing music to calm him down whenever the spirit oppressed him (15-16).
Someone mentioned David the son of Jesse as a man who was not only skillful in playing a harp, but also “a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the LORD is with him” (18). Impressed by this resume, Saul had the young man summoned to court (19-20). As soon as he laid eyes on David, Saul “loved him greatly, and he became his armorbearer” (21). He kept David around, so that any time the evil spirit started to bother him, Saul would have the young man play his harp, so he could find relief (22-23).
1 Samuel Chapter 17
Once again the Philistines and the Israelites went to do battle (1 Sam. 17:1). While they faced off on opposite sides of a valley, the Philistines did something unusual (vv. 2-3). They sent out a monstrously huge man, who stood over nine-and-a-half feet tall, was fully armored with a bronze helmet, shin guards and a coat of mail weighing over 110 pounds, and carried a massive spear and javelin (4-7). He challenged Israel to send out a man to fight him, rather than all of them engaging in combat (8). Whoever won the battle would determine the outcome for the two armies: If Israel’s champion won, the Philistines would serve them. If Goliath, the giant from Gath, won, then Israel would serve them (9-10).
While the army of Israel cowered in fear before the Philistine champion twice a day for forty days, Jesse wondered what was keeping his three oldest sons away at war for so long (11-14 & 16). David at that time was going back and forth between serving his father with the flocks and Saul with his harp (15). During one of the occasions that he was home, David’s elderly father sent him with provisions for his brothers and their captain to go to the front and see what was happening (17-18).
Early the next morning, David left the sheep with another caretaker, loaded up the food his father had sent with him, and headed toward the military encampment (20). He got there just in time to see the two armies face off against one another (21). He left the supplies with a soldier designated to look after that sort of thing, and then went to where his brothers were assembled with the rest of the army (22).
While David was talking to Eliab, Abinidab and Shammah, Goliath came forward and made his morning taunt (23). The Israelites shrank back in fear and explained that whoever would kill him would be enriched by the king, would have Saul’s daughter’s hand in marriage and would find his family exempt from taxes (25-26). David, incensed that “this uncircumcised Philistine… should defy the armies of the living God,” asked those around him to repeat what would be done for the man who removed this reproach against Israel (26-27). When his brother Eliab accused him of pride and of shirking his duties as a shepherd to watch the battle, David retorted, “What have I done now?” as if he was used to his older brother criticizing him (28-29). He ignored his older sibling and continued his inquiry, until someone reported it to the king (30-31).
Saul had David brought to him, and the young man said, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine” (32). The king essentially told David he was too young and inexperienced to fight a seasoned warrior like Goliath (33). The younger man related how he had stood up to both a lion and a bear that had tried to steal from his father’s flock (34-35). Likewise, he intended to kill the Philistine, “seeing he has defied the armies of the living God” (36). Just had God had delivered him from these ferocious predators, David was confident that He would rescue him from the giant (37). With no other prospects, Saul said, “Go, and the LORD be with you!”
Although he probably didn’t expect much from David when he faced the giant, Saul wanted to at least give the kid a fighting chance at defending himself. Therefore, Saul loaned him his personal armor (38). Naturally, it was too heavy and awkward for the boy to move very well, so David took it all off (39). All he took with him onto the battlefield was his staff, a slingshot and a bag containing five smooth stones (40).
When the Philistine saw it was a mere ‘pretty boy’ coming out to fight him, he must’ve thought it was a joke (41-42)! He hollered, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” (43). He cursed the lad in the name of all his pagan gods and threatened to feed his carcass to the birds and wild animals (43-44).
In response, David boldly declared,
With that, the two opponents charged one another, and as the Philistine lumbered toward him, David let fly from his sling a stone that nailed the giant right between the eyes (48-49). Although he fell face-first, the Philistine was apparently not dead—at least not until David grabbed his own sword and decapitated the man (50-51).
Seeing their champion so easily defeated, the Philistines fled in terror. So much for the terms of Goliath’s challenge! The men of Israel followed in hot pursuit, and then returned to plunder the abandoned Philistine camp (52-53).
David, meanwhile, took the giant’s head and armor as trophies (54). Perhaps because of mental illness caused by the demon, Saul did not recognize David; neither did Abner (55-56). When David came back from the field of battle, Abner presented him to Saul, who asked who he was (57-58). David identified himself as “the son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.”
1 Samuel Chapter 18
It appears that Saul’s son Jonathan was in the king’s tent when David was presented to his father. A bold and courageous man himself, young Jonathan was so impressed by David that his soul was “knit” to that of David, and he “loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam. 18:1). While his father permanently commissioned him as a member of his standing army, Jonathan made a personal commitment to the young hero (vv. 2-3). He took off his princely robe, his armor, sword, bow and belt and gave them to David as a sign of the covenant between them (4).
Any time Saul sent David on a mission, he behaved wisely, so that men older and more experienced were happy to serve under David’s command (5). Everything seemed great until the army returned home. Then some women came out of the villages singing, playing instruments and dancing (6). It wasn’t that they were singing his praises that bothered Saul, as much as what they said about the young champion: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (7). Considering that the people credited this young upstart with greater achievements than their own king angered the monarch (8). He wondered, “Now what more can he have but the kingdom?” So, from then on, Saul kept a jealous eye on David (9).
The day after their return from battle, the evil spirit took hold of Saul, causing him to foretell the future (10a). When David came in to play his harp, as usual, the king flung his spear at the young man, trying to pin him to the wall, but David eluded him (10b-11).
Seeing God was with his rival and not him, Saul was afraid of David [Who was throwing the spear at whom?] (12). He put him in charge of a thousand men and sent him out on various missions away from the palace (13). While Saul probably hoped some fatal attack would rid him of the young man, David behaved wisely and continued to walk in the favor of God and men, so Saul became even more paranoid (14-16).
Saul tried to offer his older daughter’s hand in marriage, so David would continue to serve as a military commander against the Philistines (17). However, David did not consider himself worthy to be the king’s son-in-law, so Merab was given to another man (18-19). When Saul learned that Michal, his younger daughter, was in love with the young man, he decided this might be an even better distraction to trip David up, so he would fall before the Philistines (20-21).
This time, not only did Saul offer his daughter’s hand to David, but he got his servants to encourage him to marry Michal as well (21-22). David objected that he was too “poor and lightly esteemed” to become the king’s son-in-law (23). So Saul told his servants to inform David that his dowry would be 100 foreskins of the Philistines, which he was sure would be the death of the young man (24-25). However, when David triumphantly returned with twice that many and Saul saw how happy his daughter was to be married to him, Saul was beside himself with dread (26-29). So, while Saul became increasingly more hateful toward David, the people regarded him more and more (29-30).
1 Samuel Chapter 19
Saul became so poisoned with envy and fear of David, he told his firstborn and his servants to kill the young man (1 Sam. 19:1). Because of his love for his friend, Jonathan warned David and told him to hide until he had a chance to sound his father out (vv. 2-3).
Jonathan took his father out in the field and reminded him that David had never wronged Saul, but had always been good to him (4). He recalled how the shepherd boy had risked his life in fighting the Philistine giant, through which God brought about a great victory for Israel. “Why then will you sin against innocent blood, to kill David without a cause?” he asked (5). Saul listened to his son and vowed not to harm his son-in-law; so Jonathan brought David back into the king’s court (6-7).
Not long afterward, David won another impressive victory against the Philistines (8). When David was playing the harp for Saul during another bout with the demon, the king hurled his spear at the young man, meaning to pin him to the wall, but David escaped (9-10).
Saul sent soldiers to surround David’s home, so they could kill him in the morning (11). David’s wife persuaded him to escape through an upstairs window, and then disguised an idol to look like him (11-13). When Saul’s agents arrived, she told them her husband was sick, but Saul said to bring him anyway, so he could kill him (14-15). When her ruse was discovered, Michal told her father David had forced her to help him (16-17). David wrote Psalm 59 in remembrance of how this made him feel.
David went to Samuel in Ramah and told him all that had happened, so he and the prophet went to stay in Naioth (18). When Saul sent men to arrest David there, the Spirit of God was so powerful among Samuel and the other prophets that the soldiers started to prophesy, as well (19-20). When Saul was informed, he sent a second and then a third group of soldiers, but each of them was overtaken by the Spirit and prophesied, too (21). So the king himself went, and was so overcome by the Spirit of God that he stripped off his clothes and prophesied naked in front of Samuel—once again prompting those who heard to ask, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (22-24).
1 Samuel Chapter 20
Poor David found his friend again and asked Jonathan what he had done to make his father angry enough to try and kill him (1 Sam. 20:1). Jonathan thought he must surely be mistaken, since his father had not said anything about such an intention, and he never made a move without informing his firstborn (v. 2). David swore an oath and said Jonathan hadn’t heard about it, because his father knew about their friendship and didn’t want to upset his son. “But truly, as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death,” David insisted (3).
When Jonathan offered to do whatever David asked, his friend proposed a plan (4-7):
- He would hide out during the New Moon Festival.
- If Jonathan’s father missed David, he should tell the king that David asked permission to attend an annual sacrifice with his family.
- If Saul was okay with that, then it was probably safe for David to return; if he was angry, then Jonathan would know his father had it in for his son-in-law.
He reminded Jonathan of the covenant they had made together and asked him to treat him with kindness. If he was guilty of some sin, he would rather have Jonathan kill him personally than to turn David over to his father (8).
Jonathan wouldn’t entertain such a thought, and assured David he had nothing to worry about; he would be sure to let his friend know how his father responded (9-13). Jonathan made David swear that, once God had given him victory over his enemies, he would treat him with kindness and not harm him or his family (14-16). The two made this solemn agreement out of love for one another as intense as they loved their own lives (17).
They arranged between themselves a mechanism by which Jonathan could secretly inform his friend of the outcome of their test (18-23): Three days from that time, David was to hide behind the rock Ezel. Jonathan would shoot some arrows and send a boy to retrieve them. If he told them the arrows were close, that would be the signal that all was well; if he said they were beyond the lad, that was his warning that David needed to go.
The first night of the feast, Saul noticed David was absent, but figured something had happened to make him unclean (24-26). But when David was gone a second night, Saul asked Jonathan what was going on (27). When Jonathan told him the story about David asking to be excused to go to a family dinner in Bethlehem, Saul flew off the handle (28-30). He essentially called Jonathan a bastard for choosing David’s well-being before his own future, “For as long as the son of Jesse lives on the earth, you shall not be established, nor your kingdom” (30-31). When Saul ordered his son to bring David to him, Jonathan demanded, “Why should he be killed? What has he done?”(32). Then Saul hurled his spear at his own son (33)! So ashamed and angry was Jonathan that evening that he lost his appetite (34).
The next morning he went out to the prearranged location with a little boy and gave the signal that David needed to run for his life (35-39). He sent the boy back into town, and stayed behind to say goodbye to David (40). Three times David bowed to the earth in gratitude and then embraced his friend. These two valiant warriors wept like babies at the thought of leaving one another—David even more (41). Reminding his friend of their covenant, Jonathan urged his friend to “Go in peace,” then the two of them parted company (42).
1 Samuel Chapter 21
Now by this time, the tabernacle must’ve been moved from Shiloh to Nob, since this is where David came to Ahimelech the priest, requesting something to eat (1 Sam. 21:1). For some reason the clergyman was afraid of David and wondered why the young warrior was alone. David told him the king had ordered him on an important secret mission, which was so urgent he hadn’t had time to gather provisions for himself and his men (vv. 2-3). The priest said all he had on hand was the showbread that had been replaced by fresh loaves in the tabernacle. Although the Law stated this was to be eaten only by the priests and their families (See Leviticus 24:9 & Matthew 12:3-4), Ahimelech said it was okay for David and his men to partake of it as long as they had not been made unclean through sexual intercourse (1 Sam. 21:4). When David assured him his men and he had had no contact with women for three days, the priest allowed him to take some of the holy bread (vv. 5-6).
When David also asked for a sword or spear, Ahimelech said the only weapon on the premises was Goliath’s sword, which was wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod (8-9). Considering that David himself had probably dedicated the weapon as a trophy of God’s saving grace, it made sense for him to have it. So he took the sword and the bread and went on his way.
From there, David fled to Achish the king of Gath (10). Why he would go to the mortal enemy of his people is beyond me! The servants of Achish mistakenly identified David as the king of Israel and reminded Achish of the top song on the Hebrew music charts, that credited him with killing tens of thousands, while Saul killed only thousands (11). One wonders why they failed to mention that he had slain their champion, Goliath, who had come from that very town.
David heard their words and, fearing he’d be killed, pretended to be insane, scratching on the doors and drooling all over his beard (12-13). Achish was disgusted and asked his servants, “Why bring him to me? Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me?”(1 Sam 21:14-15, NIV). The entire incident made such an impression on David, that he wrote two songs to commemorate his narrow escape (See Psalms 34 & 56)
1 Samuel Chapter 22
From the Philistine city of Gath, David escaped to the cave of Adullam, where he was soon joined by his extended family and everyone else in the country who was tired of the current administration in Israel (1 Sam. 22:1-2). Before long, he had a modest army of 400 men, so this had to be more than just some little hole-in-the-wall! To commemorate this time in the cave, David wrote Psalms 142 and 57.
Concerned for the safety of his elderly parents, and probably wanting to spare them a life on the run, David took his mom and dad to the king of Moab in Mizpah and asked him to let them stay there “till I know what God will do for me” (3). You may recall that Jesse was of Moabite descent through his grandmother, Ruth, so this may have made the arrangement more reasonable in the king’s eyes. Jesse and his wife stayed there “all the time that David was in the stronghold” (4). God sent the prophet Gad to tell David to move on, so he relocated to a forest in the land of Judah (5). Sounds like a Bible-time Robin Hood to me!
About that same time, Saul was complaining to his servants,
While Jonathan had made a covenant with David and sent him away to safety, he had not stirred up David against his father. Neither was the young man lying in wait for him. That was all in Saul’s addled, paranoid brain! Who knows why anyone would choose to follow such a sick man?
Saul told his fellow Benjaminites that David, of the tribe of Judah, was not going to give them property or promote them to positions of honor in the military (7). He was using pity and greed to motivate them to inform him against his supposed enemy, David.
That’s when Doeg, a man from Edom, spoke up. According to 1 Samuel 21:7, he was Saul’s chief herdsman and happened to be “detained before the LORD” the day David came to Nob to ask the priest for help. He told Saul he had seen the son of Jesse approach Ahimelech the priest and ask for a word from the Lord, provisions and the sword of Goliath (1 Sam. 22:9-10).
So Saul had Ahimelech and his entire family brought to him, and then accused the poor fellow of conspiring with David to overthrow him (vv. 11-13)! To his credit, the priest kept his head. He asked, “who among all your servants is as faithful as David, who is the king’s son-in-law, who goes at your bidding, and is honorable in your house?” (14). This was not the first time the son of Ahitub had inquired of the Lord for David. He added, “Let not the king accuse your servant or any of his father’s family, for your servant knows nothing at all about this whole affair.” (15).
Completely unwilling to listen to reason, Saul ordered the execution of Ahimelech and his entire family for not telling him where David was (16-17). None of the Israelites in Saul’s service dared to raise a hand against the priests of YHWH, but Doeg—who obviously did not fear the Lord and was eager to win a promotion—took a sword and killed the man he had accused, along with 85 members of his family (17-18). Not only that, but he slaughtered every living human and animal in Nob, the town where the priests lived (19). What kind of man would take the lives of the innocent like that?
A single member of the high priest’s family managed to escape—a young man named Abiathar (20). He found David and the others and told them what happened (21). David, sorry to have caused the death of the young man’s family by ignoring misgivings he had about Saul’s servant being present that day in Nob, offered his protection to the young priest. “For he who seeks my life seeks your life…” (22-23). Psalm 52 was written in protest of what Doeg had done.
1 Samuel Chapter 23
David was told that the Philistines were attacking the town of Keilah in the middle of Judah and stealing their grain (1 Sam. 23:1). Concerned for his people, David consulted YHWH about whether to go and fight the Philistines or not (v. 2). When he informed his men that God had told him to go, they were scared, so David checked again (3-4). Again the Lord instructed him to go, adding, “For I will deliver the Philistines into your hand” (4). So David and his 600 went and defeated the invaders, saving the inhabitants of the city (5).
Saul heard David was staying at Keilah and thought he could trap him in this walled city with gates and bars, so he headed that direction with his army to besiege this town that was part of his own kingdom (7-8)! When David learned of the impending attack, he called Abiathar to bring the ephod he had carried away during the massacre at Nod (6 & 9). David reported to the Lord that he had heard Saul was willing to demolish the city to get at him and asked whether the men of Keilah would turn him over to the king to prevent such a fate (10-12). When God said they would deliver him to Saul, David realized it was not safe to stay, so he left before the king arrived (12-13). How sad that the people he had risked his life to save could be so ungrateful!
David’s next hide-out was the strongholds in the mountains in the Wilderness of Ziph in eastern Judah near the Dead Sea (14). Saul looked for him daily, but God never let him find David. Jonathan, however, located his friend in the forest and encouraged him, saying, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that” (15-17). This leads me to believe that Jonathan may have been sending messages to David to inform him of his father’s movements. Sadly, the part about Jonathan being at David’s side when he became ruler in Israel didn’t happen. But the two friends reconfirmed their covenant with one another in the forest, before going their separate ways (18).
The Ziphites learned of David’s location and sent word to Saul, expressing their willingness to turn him over to the king (19-20). Saul blessed them for their concern, but asked them to be sure of David’s whereabouts, saying he was extremely cunning (21-23). By the time Saul and his men arrived at Ziph, David had been informed and relocated to the Wilderness of Maon, so Saul followed suit (24-25). With nothing but a mountain between them and Saul’s men rapidly closing in, David was sure he was a goner (26). However, YHWH sent messengers to inform Saul of another invasion, so the king broke off his pursuit (27-28). To commemorate this deliverance, David named the mountain “Rock of Escape,” and then moved to the strongholds of En Gedi (28-29).
1 Samuel Chapter 24
After he got back from fighting the Philistines, Saul heard that David was now in the Wilderness of En Gedi (1 Sam. 24:1). So he rounded up 3,000 elite soldiers to pursue his son-in-law once again (v. 2). Searching at a place called the Rocks of the Wild Goats, Saul decided to go into a cave to relieve himself—unaware that David and his men were hiding in the recesses of that very cave (2-3)!
While the king stood nearby, literally with his pants down within spitting distance of his quarry, David’s men told him this was his chance to kill the king and be relieved of this mortal enemy (4). David didn’t kill Saul, but only sliced off a corner of his robe. Even that didn’t sit well with the god-fearing man, so David restrained his servants from doing any harm to the anointed king (4-6).
When Saul walked out unharmed, David followed and called out after him (7). Not only calling Saul, “My lord the king,” but also bowing before this man who had long since violated his respect, David tried to reason with Saul (8). He asked, “Why do you listen to the words of men who say, ‘Indeed David seeks your harm’?” (9). Then he told the king what had happened in the cave and held up the piece of Saul’s robe as proof of his good intentions (10-11). He called on the Lord to judge between him and the man who was so relentlessly pursuing him, but said twice, “my hand shall not be against you” (12-13). Trying to show how minimal a threat he was to the king, David said, “Whom do you pursue? A dead dog? A flea?” (14). He concluded by appealing to YHWH to take up his case and rescue him from Saul’s hand (15).
Saul, a part of him still noble in spite of the affect of the demon jealousy, wept with shame over his actions (16). He admitted, “You are more righteous than I; for you have rewarded me with good, whereas I have rewarded you with evil” (17). He could think of no one else who would let an enemy escape when God had put him within his reach and invoked YHWH’s blessing on David for sparing his life (18-19). Certain that God would indeed make David king over Israel, Saul asked him to swear not to wipe out his family when Saul died (20-21). So David swore, and then the two men and their armies separated in peace (22).
While he and his men had hung around Maon, they had watched over the flocks and herds of a man of Carmel. When David and company heard the wealthy businessman was shearing his 3,000 sheep, he sent messengers to see if the fellow would share some of the food from his festivities (vv. 2 & 4-9).
Unfortunately, the owner of the flocks and servants was a bull-headed Calebite named Nabal (3). When David’s messengers arrived and brought their greeting, he rudely replied,
When the messengers reported this rebuff to David, he called his men to arms and headed out with 400 in tow, while 200 stayed back to guard their supplies (12-13). He intended to kill Nabal and every male in his household for repaying his kindness to the man and his servants with evil (21-22).
Meanwhile, a servant of Nabal went and told his wife what he had done (14). He said the men of David “were very good to us, and we were not hurt, nor did we miss anything as long as we accompanied them, when we were in the fields. They were a wall to us both by night and day, all the time we were with them keeping the sheep” (15-16). Considering his master’s rudeness, the servant was concerned that something bad was about to happen and urged his mistress to take action herself, since her husband was too surly to accept counsel from anyone (17).
Abigail, a wise and beautiful woman (3), did not hesitate for a moment. She quickly gathered 200 loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five butchered sheep, about a bushel of roasted grain, 100 clusters of raisins and 200 cakes of figs and loaded them onto donkeys (18). While she rode on an animal of her own, she sent servants on ahead with the gifts, but said nothing to her husband about her intentions (19-20).
When Abigail intercepted David and his men, she dismounted from her donkey and bowed at his feet, apologizing profusely for the oversight on her part (23-24)! She begged David to pay no attention to her scoundrel of a husband, pointing out that as surely as his name, Nabal, meant “fool,” so folly was ingrained in him, and then she pronounced an off-handed curse on her husband (25-26). She explained that she was unaware of the coming of David’s messengers and asked him to accept the gifts she now offered (25 & 27). She begged his forgiveness, saying, “the LORD will certainly make for my lord an enduring house, because my lord fights the battles of the LORD, and evil is not found in you throughout your days” (28). She compared the lives of Saul and the others pursuing David to rocks that were cast out of a sling; while David’s life was bound up by YHWH his God in the bundle of the living (29). If, indeed, he accepted her gift and broke off his intentions for revenge against Nabal, then David could ascend the throne of Israel with a clear conscience when God fulfilled His promise to make him king (30-31).
David blessed God and Abigail for working together to keep him from taking matters into his own hands (32-33). He told the woman, had she not intercepted him, not one man of Nabal’s household would have survived the night (34). David accepted the food she had brought and sent the woman home in peace (35).
When Abigail returned home, her husband was presiding over a feast fit for a king. He was too drunk for her to talk to him, so she kept quiet until the next morning (36). When Abigail related what had happened, her husband suffered a stroke and died ten days later (37-38).
When David heard, he recognized the Lord had kept him from committing evil, but had taken care of Nabal Himself (39). In honor of Abigail’s request to “remember your maidservant” (31), David sent messengers to offer his proposal of marriage to her. The widow accepted, bringing along five maids and humbly offering herself as “a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord” (40-42). So David married her and another woman, named Ahinoam of Jezreel, since Saul had taken David’s wife Michal and married her to another man in David’s absence (43-44).
1 Samuel Chapter 26
Again, the Ziphites informed the king of David’s whereabouts, so Saul took his 3,000 to pursue him (1 Sam. 26:1-2). Saul camped near the hill where the Ziphites had told him he’d find David, but David was by that time somewhere else (v. 3). When David’s spies informed him of Saul’s arrival, David and two of his men came to see for themselves (4-5). One of the men, Abishai, took up David’s challenge to go down into the enemy camp where Saul was sleeping in the midst of his army (5-7).
When they reached Saul, Abishai was ready to strike the king with his own spear, but David would not allow it (8-9). He was not about to incur guilt on himself by raising a hand against the anointed king; David trusted that God would determine the time and means of his demise (9-11). Instead, David and Abishai removed the jug of water and the spear on the ground near Saul’s head and then slipped out of the camp unnoticed. No one woke during all this time, “because a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen on them” (12).
When David and his friend had reached a safe distance, David called out to Abner, the king’s general and personal bodyguard, and asked why he had failed his duty to protect his master (13-16). As evidence, he held up the jug and weapon he had removed from the camp.
Saul recognized David’s voice and called him “my son David” (17). David again asked why he insisted on pursuing him (18). He said,
David again compared himself to a flea or a mere partridge—hardly worth King Saul’s attention—and begged him not to pour out his blood on the ground (20).
Saul again admitted his sin and invited David to come back home with him, “For I will harm you no more, because my life was precious in your eyes this day. Indeed I have played the fool and erred exceedingly” (21). David knew better than to accept the invitation of a madman, but had Saul send a soldier to retrieve his bottle and weapon (22). He said,
David trusted the Lord, but not his former boss. So Saul blessed him as before, and the two men went their separate ways (25).
1 Samuel Chapter 27
Tired of running and seeing no end to Saul’s madness in sight, David thought to himself, “I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines; and Saul will despair of me, to seek me anymore in any part of Israel…” (1 Sam. 27:1). So he, his family and his men sought refuge with Achish, the king of Gath (vv. 2-3). As anticipated, Saul heard of David’s defection and left him alone (4).
David wisely requested a town for himself and his men outside the royal city of Gath, so Achish gave him Ziklag (5-6). Whoever compiled the historical record we know as 1 Samuel later added, “Therefore Ziklag has belonged to the kings of Judah to this day.” For a year and four months, David and his companions sojourned in the territory of the Philistines (7).
Quite possibly as a condition of their stay, or in proof of their loyalty, David and his men went on missions raiding the enemies of the king of Gath. While their targets were actually pockets of Geshurites, Girzites and Amalekites between Philistine territory and Egypt, David referred to them as inhabitants of the Negev of Judah or some other vague reference to Israel’s allies (8 & 10). He was careful to leave no survivors among these settlements to inform the king that he was actually attacking the enemies of Israel and bringing back their possessions to Gath (9 & 11). So Achish was convinced David had turned against his own people and would stay and serve him for life (12).
1 Samuel Chapter 28
Once again, the Philistines gathered to go to war against Israel, and Achish informed David that he expected him and his men to come, too (1 Sam. 28:1). When David replied, “Surely you know what your servant can do,” the king told him he intended to make him one of his chief bodyguards (v. 2).
Meanwhile, Saul gathered his army, and as the two forces faced off together, he was scared to death (4-5). When the King of Israel tried to consult the Lord, however; God would not answer his prayers—either by dreams, the holy lots or by prophets (6). This made him even more anxious and desperate. Verse 3 informs us that Saul had previously gotten rid of all the mediums and spiritists from the land of Israel. But now he told his men to go and find him one, so he could inquire of her (7)! Interestingly enough, the men knew of a medium in En Dor. For whatever reason, her life had been spared during Saul’s expulsions—most likely because Saul’s soldiers were some of her customers, or perhaps some important person was related to her.
Saul disguised himself and went to the woman’s house that night, accompanied by two of his men. Adding to the sins he had already committed, he asked the woman to conduct a séance for him, in violation of Deuteronomy 18:9-14 (1 Sam. 28:8). Fully aware of the Mosaic Law commanding death to mediums (Leviticus 20:27), and fearful of being betrayed to the king, she said, “Why then do you lay a snare for my life, to cause me to die?” (1 Sam. 28:9). Regrettably, Saul swore to her in YHWH’s name that she’d be safe, so she agreed (vv. 10-11). What an abominable misuse of His name that must’ve been to the Lord!
Samuel was dead, and since he had been Saul’s spiritual adviser in the past, he was the one Saul had the woman summon for him. Verse 12 says, “When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice,” and then she accused Saul of deceiving her, somehow knowing it was actually him. Saul gave her more assurances and then asked her to describe what she saw (13). “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth,” she replied. That word for “spirit” in the Hebrew is actually elohim, a word elsewhere translated “rulers,” “judges,” “angels,” “gods” or even applied to YHWH Himself! When she described this apparition as an old man, covered with a mantle, “Saul perceived that it was Samuel,” and bowed in respect to his former mentor (14).
Much debate has occurred over whether the medium was actually able to call up Samuel’s ghost or not. The language used in this passage would seem to indicate it may have been a demon masquerading as Samuel’s spirit. It might possibly have been the very spirit that had been oppressing him all along! Whatever the case may be, Saul was convinced it was his old friend and conversed with the spirit through the woman.
“Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” the spirit identified as Samuel asked (15). Saul explained his predicament and said he hoped Samuel could tell him what to do. His answer: “Why then do you ask me, seeing the LORD has departed from you and has become your enemy?” (16). Reminding Saul of Samuel’s previous prophecy, the spirit said, “…the LORD has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the LORD nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek…” (17-18). Moreover, he informed Saul that the army of Israel would be defeated, and Saul, his sons and his men would join him in the abode of the dead by the next day (19).
Mortified, Saul fell flat on the ground, immobilized by fear, and weak from having fasted all day (20). The last thing the woman wanted was for the King of Israel to expire in her home, so she urged him to eat something and be on his way (21-22). At first Saul refused, but then the medium and his men convinced him, so he sat on her bed, while the woman butchered a calf and made unleavened bread for him to eat (23-25).
1 Samuel Chapter 29
Meanwhile, in the Philistine camp, the kings paraded their troops before the battle (1 Sam. 29:1-2). When Achish’s army brought up the rear, with David and his men in full regalia, the other Philistine leaders nearly had a fit. “What are these Hebrews doing here?” they demanded (v. 3). When the King of Gath defended their loyalty, the Philistine lords were unconvinced. They ordered Achish to send David and his men back to where they had been living, for fear that he would fight against the Philistines in the heat of battle (3-4). They reminded the king of Israel’s hit song attributing tens of thousands [of Philistines] to David, and said they could see no better way for the young man to gain reinstatement into Saul’s good graces than to bring their heads to his former king (4-5)!
When Achish broke the news to his faithful servant, the language he used seems to indicate David’s faith had rubbed off on this pagan monarch: “Surely, as the LORD lives, you have been upright…” The king commended David’s conduct and said he’d never done anything wrong as far as he was concerned. “Nevertheless the lords do not favor you” (6). He asked David to go back to Ziklag quietly, so he wouldn’t further upset the other Philistine leaders (7). When David asked what he’d done wrong and said he wanted to stay and fight the king’s enemies, Achish replied, “…you are as good in my sight as an angel of God,” but repeated the other rulers’ orders that David not go with them to battle (8-9).
Although he surely felt slighted, David obeyed his master’s orders and got up early in the morning to head for home. The Philistines, meanwhile, moved on to Jezreel. (10-11). David was reluctant to go; nevertheless, it was God’s providence that he returned to Ziklag—not only because it kept the future King of Israel from having to fight his own countrymen, but also because something was not right back home, as we shall see in the next chapter.
1 Samuel Chapter 30
Three days later, David and his men returned to Ziklag to find their city was in ruins, and their wives and children were all gone. Amalekites [quite likely survivors of Saul’s incomplete campaign] had invaded the southern part of Judah—including David’s city—and had taken everyone captive, carried off the spoils and then burned everything left to the ground (1 Sam. 30:1-3).
The men were so upset, they sat down and wept, until they had no more tears or strength left (4). Not only were David’s wives, Ahinoam and Abigail, gone with all the others, but the men were threatening to stone him for getting them into this mess (5-6). However, in the midst of this distress, “David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.”
Telling Abiathar to bring the ephod, David inquired of YHWH, “Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them?” (7-8). Encouraged by God that he should not only go after the invaders, but that he would recover everything they had taken, David and his men headed out (8-9). About 200 of his 600 men were too exhausted to go on, so he and the other 400 left them behind at the Brook Besor (9-10).
The men found an Egyptian slave abandoned in the field. After they had given him food and water, he told them he’d been left there by his Amalekite master three days before, when he had become sick (11-13). He said they had just completed an invasion of the southern territory of the Cherethites [Philistines], Judah and Caleb and had burned Ziklag (14). When asked if he could lead them to the raiders, he agreed—provided they neither killed him nor turned him over to his master (15).
David and his men found the invaders feasting on the spoils (16). They fought all day, until all the Amalekites were dead—with the exception of about 400 who escaped on camels (17). As God had promised, every single person, animal and possession David and his men had lost was recovered, along with all the Amalekites had taken from the other cities (18-20).
When David and his men returned to where the others were camped, some trouble-makers in the group said those who had stayed behind should get only their families back (21-22). David, however, said, “My brethren, you shall not do so with what the LORD has given us, who has preserved us and delivered into our hand the troop that came against us” (23). He then established a policy that those who went to battle and those who guarded the baggage should have an equal share of the loot (24-25).
Upon his return to Ziklag, David sent messengers with equal portions of the loot recovered from the other territories to the elders and his allies in Judah and all the places he and his men had previously stayed. He told them, “Here is a present for you from the spoil of the enemies of the LORD.” (26-31).
1 Samuel Chapter 31
When the Philistines and Israelites engaged in battle, the Hebrews were so badly beaten, their dead lay strewn all over Mount Gilboa (1 Sam. 31:1). Saul’s sons, Jonathan, Abinadab and Malchishua, were all cut down by the Philistines, while the king himself was severely wounded by their archers (vv. 2-3). Fearful of being abused by his enemies, Saul commanded his armor-bearer to kill him before they got there. When the young man refused, Saul fell on a sword and took his own life (4). Seeing his master was dead, the armor-bearer followed suit (5). Realizing their king, his sons and his army were defeated, the people in the nearby cities of Judah fled, leaving them for the Philistines to occupy (6-7).
The next day, when the Philistines came to strip the dead, they found Saul and his sons, cut off Saul’s head and stripped his armor. They put the armor in the temple of their goddess, hung his body on a wall and sent word to all their towns and villages of their defeat of the Israelite king (8-10).
When the men of Jabesh Gilead heard of it, they marched all night from their city to Beth Shan, where Saul and his sons had been hung. Then they took the bodies away and burned them in Jabesh. For seven days after burying them under a tree they mourned and fasted. (11-13). It is important to realize the reason for their devotion is that Saul rescued this city from the power of Nahash the Ammonite decades before, when the son of Kish was first anointed King of Israel (See 1 Sam. 11:1-11). This explains why they were willing to risk their lives to retrieve the bodies of King Saul and his sons.
Thus ended the administration of Israel’s first king.
There are many lessons to be learned from this historical book:
- First, those desperate enough to seek God’s face often find Him eagerly waiting to bless their socks off! Hannah wanted children so badly, she was willing to give her firstborn to the Lord. Not only did He give her a son, but he blessed her with many others, once she fulfilled her vow. And the child she gave up became one of Israel’s most influential leaders.
- Second, God takes very seriously His relationship with His people. Even when we fail Him, He is still committed to His promises and will continue to do what is right. Although Israel rejected YHWH as king, he still stuck with them and gave them someone who would help them fight their enemies.
- When God gives an order, He intends for His words to be carried out exactly as given. He accepts no excuses and allows no compromises, especially from those in authority. Saul lost everything—his kingdom, his family and his relationship with the Lord—all because he tried to serve God on his own terms.
- When one man sins, others are affected. Not only did Saul perish in battle, but so did his army and his sons—including righteous Jonathan.
- Finally, God is looking for good men and women to bless. No matter how bleak our circumstances may seem, God is still working everything to our benefit. A person committed to doing the right thing will be strengthened in adversity, so long as he/she continues to trust God. We saw this in Abigail’s situation and in David’s. In 2 Samuel, we’ll see further evidence of this fact.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.