1 Samuel Overview

God’s voice kicks off the book, calling Samuel, but after that is something of a deus ex machina, engineering plot twists and victories. Very much a narrative with little editorialising or sermonising.  You can’t assume because a character is a bible hero or villian everything they do is God’s will or is evil.  They go in and out of obedience. Samuel plants a rock, Ebenezer, that stands constant throughout.  Samuel, the rock and the ark are earthly images of God, saying the truth, constant, a power unable to be tamed to personal ambitions.

Samuel’s story is one of grace vs earthly power. God’s blessing passes to him from the previous preist Eli’s family, because God called him. The story echos the Kingship struggle that will come.

David is the hero of the book, in tune with God but he does some dreadful things. Particularly after Samuel dies, David goes a bit astray.

Saul is a tortured villian, constantly repenting but unable to relinquish his love for his own power.

Jonathon is the most grace filled, obedient person in the book, he is shown winning a victory by trusting God, in contrast to his father King Saul, and then accepts God’s choice when David is anointed to his inheritance.

God speaks through a number of grace filled women in the book too, Samuel’s mother, Micah and Abigail, David’s wives, and even a fortune teller Saul resorts to.

So I learned to look for God’s will in life, to live obediently, be prepared to let my own plans go. I saw the line of Jesus established through relentless unblinking plans and grace of God, and I read a ripping yarn of how those plans are executed through sinful actors and second best situations.

The call of Samuel, grace arriving and grace departing
1 Samuel`s choosing by God… miraculous birth, check, humble god-fearing parents, check
2 About being chosen and grace. We are able to choose to be among chosen today. Samuel compared to corrupt priest’s sons.  He is dedicated to live in the temple
3 God calls Samuel 3 times. Eli the priest interprets, knowing the grace has left his family

An untamed God… attempts to bend the Ark to human service
4 A nation ripe for spiritual transformation, treating the Ark like a magic box to win battles.  Eli, the source of this form of idolatry, and his sons, die in battle.
5 Philistines capture the Ark and find it powerful. Jehovah is not tame. I wonder why they don’t believe, but then with more evidence than them, why don’t we?
6 The Ark freaks out the Philistines, they send it back, then Israelites are disrespectful and many die. We​​ve been warned. Don`t pick a fight with God.

Samuel’s leadership –  not enough
7 Samuel leads Israel.  God win the next victory, the people have well directed reverence. Samuel plants a rock, Ebenezer.  A reminder of how Jesus is planted in history like a rock
8 The people ask for a King. Samuel and God think its a bad idea. The people persist, Its another plan B that ends up being the plan 

Saul – aware he should acknowledge God but clings to his own kingship
9 Saul is chosen as King
10 He has the characteristics of a good king, humility, good looks, he’s from the least tribe (Benjamin) to avoid disputes
11 Saul wins a victory in the Lord`s name, but the people give him the kudos. Win-win is not the third commandment, we mustn`t expect that life will deliver goods for following God
12 Some coronation speech from now old Samuel: God is the only king. Earthly king represents any earthly hope, it will fail, it will disappoint
13 Trust and obey… Saul thinks there is another way, him allowing circumstances to make an exception… so they head into battle not in God`s trust….
14 Contrasting victories of Saul and son Jonathon, the legalist and the believer. Saul seems to have lost confidence in God, Jonathon improvises counting on God to reward his obedience
15 Another act of disobedience and Samuel is forced to predict the end of Saul’s kingship. Samuel no longer supports Saul, the men love each other, its a very  sad chapter

David’s path to the throne – flawed guy, but accepting God’s kingship
16 Samuel anoints David as King while Saul still reigns, the spirit leaves Saul and comes to David. Did Saul sense it in him when he got David to court for his musical ability?
17 David and Goliath, boldly improvising based on faith in God. I pray for boldness
18 David offers the foreskins of philistines as a bride price. I contemplate whether this is God’s will or just a reported incident. Samuel is low on editorialising. Saul, tortured by Davids grace, channels it into hating David rather than repentence
19 Saul chases David, he runs to Samuel.  All the players wind up worshipping God, its extraordinary. I contemplate D J Trump winning the US election
20 Saul back to wild jealousy, throws a spear at Jonathon for even mentioning David. The friends bid an emotional farewell, they both accept and obey where Saul cannot
21 David on the run fudging and lying a bit… including feigning madness. He’s not perfect
22 God’s plan continues despite David’s unfaithfuless, his lie last chapter results in deaths, and Saul’s murderous rage he has been told is futile.  Our disobedience only hurts us, not God’s plans
23 The great chase, Saul after David. One full of grace, the other empty and self serving
24 Delivered into David’s hands, he can’t act against Saul, because he is God’s anointed
25 David marries while in exile… odd episode foreshadows his weakness, Abigail his new wife has a story of grace. And tossed in… Samuel’s death. Why isn’t this book called ‘David’
26 Saul in a cycle of murderous rage and repentence towards David, who shows him mercy many times.  Tortured guy.  Saint or sinner, I wonder.
27 Not ready to be king, David becomes a mercinary, loyal to Israel by deception, but … I conclude not true to God’s
28 Two sinners, Saul and David. One accepts God’s kingship, the other doesn’t because he doesn’t like the truth that his is over
29 David’s deception as a traitor to the Philistine King comes to a head when he is scheduled to fight the Israelites.  The other generals send him home, divine intervention. H’es living in enemy territory, as I often feel I am. Needs to start living for God. 
30 All that David has in Philstine is destroyed by invaders. He addresses God for the first time in chapters. Its time to go home…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Samuel 31

The tragic end of Saul and his family. Jonathan too! That hurts.

It’s been gonna happen since Samuel predicted it in chapter 15. Saul has been raging, fighting fate, and terrified of it. 

They lose to the philistines attack. His sons killed in the battle, Saul takes his life. Several Judean towns flee and the philistines take the territory. 

So ends a book that has been an amazing political and human narrative.

What does this say about God? It’s classical, you can’t run from God. Can’t fight him. 

The words of one of Bob Dylan’s christian songs spring to mind “surrender your crown on this blood stained ground, take off your mask”

1 Samuel 30

Last chapter I concluded that, when you love god, it’s important to have something to do. David gets something urgent to do when he returns to the philistine town he’s been living in and finds the Amelakites have taken everyone and everything they left behind.

He turns to God, first time in three chapters. He finds a priest and consults, and gets his courage in god back.

He gets back all he has lost. He shares the spoils of the raid as one who has been given them by God, not selfishly. 

He re-contacts his old Israelite friends, sending them a gift of “spoils from their enemy”.

David is back!

I’m reminded and I pray to God again today: therefore, go, do stuff!

1 Samuel 29

Holiday in Philistia. 

David, sick of being hunted by mad jealous Saul, has been hiding out in the enemy country. The narrative is disturbingly lacking in editorial comment. I don’t know what it really means. But he seems to be on holiday from God, and from the expectations of being god’s anointed.

The inevitable comes and he’s called upon to fight his own people. Will he? He says so. He and the philistine king exchange all sorts of statements of trust and affection. 

We know from the last chapter though, that he has been lying to the king about how much of a traitor to Israel he’s really been. The philistines generals don’t buy it for a second. Slaughter requires quite some commitment, their instincts are good I think.. He is sent home.

The narrative doesn’t say it’s divine intervention, but I reckon it is. He must have been relieved to avoid that dilemma. The former shepherd seems like a lost sheep. God’s plan has come to a stand still. 

I love that my new church is a doing church. After the service on Sunday, we wrapped parcels for the homeless and poor people they regularly minister to . They preached on the great commission, Jesus last words to his disciples. After all they’ve been through, Jesus says “therefore, go…” …and do something. 

What should I do? I feel a bit like I’m living out my life in enemy territory, not really god’s, not really not god’s? Lying a bit to both.

1 Samuel 28

The philistines prepare to attack the Israelites, with David, convincingly a traitor, bizarrely as the philistine king’s bodyguard.  Saul facing the enemy encampment is deserted by God and terrified.

He has banned and purged all witches and mediums. But in desperation he consults one anyway.  She summons up the spirit of Samuel.  Its all very dramatic, but spirit Samuel doesn’t say anything at all remarkable or new in this scene: Saul is stuffed. He will die. He confirms Saul’s dread.

The portrait of the witch is sympathetic.  She forces him to take some food despite his refusal, she goes above and beyond in generosity.

God is supernatural after all.  She may have been faking Samuel’s appearance, but it may have been real, doesn’t really matter. As so often the message from the other side is the same as the message on this side.  The wise men found Jesus by astrology. It works, and sometimes its the only religion people know.

I think issue with mediums is not always that they are fake, its that its an unnecessary way to approach the supernatural that avoids god’s spirit.  Like a back door to the spiritual for people avoiding God.  God is in our hearts, just pray! I’m sure the devil is happy to talk with people attracted to him, but his overriding aim is your destruction.

Saul is in denial.  When confronted, we’ve seen him acknowledge David’s state of grace and bless it, but rebellion against God’s choice keeps overwhelming him.

It is tempting to see it as unfair that God deserted him even though he so desperate for spiritual guidance. But I don’t think God deserted him.

He’s literally living the old “two ways to live” pamphlet they used to hand out: he’s clinging to his kingship, and denying God’s. It’s not that he doesn’t know God’s will, he just doesn’t like it. So he keeps asking, like there might be a different answer if he asks a different way.

Its a good idea when tempted to pray “why won’t you answer me God?” to ask yourself if in truth he already has.

Two great sinners, David and Saul.  Only one has truth in his heart.

 

 

1 Samuel 27

What? David the lying murderous soldier of fortune!??!!

In this chapter David goes off and becomes a mercenary solider for the philistines, the enemy he has been defending Israel from since killing Goliath.

He lives in a philistine town with permission of the king. He spends his time attacking other enemies of the Israelites, so in practice if not appearance he remains loyal to Israel.

The worst bit, he lies to the philistine king. He tells him he’s a traitor attacking his own people, raiding towns in Judah. To prevent the lie being discovered he kills everyone in the towns he raids.

So he goes in, takes all the valuable livestock etc. Then kills every man woman and child, so no one can report to the king that he was raiding an enemy of Israel, not an enemy of the philistines.

This episode of his life lasts a year and a half.

The chapter follows the pattern I thought observed in 25. After a story of great grace and heroism, we have a story that shows David much worse.  One chapter on, one chapter off.

There’s a few theories about how to comprehend this.

He could have abandoned God. He’s bitter and cynical. He’s hunted a as a criminal in his home, after being anointed king by Samuel. He’s had chances to kill king Saul, however his respect for god’s anointed didn’t let him.  And now his life makes no sense.

He’s tired of living on the run unfairly, so he forgets God and takes matters into his own hands, doing the only thing he’s good at: war and killing. Being a coldly brilliant and effective commander.

The collateral damage, the lives he takes to cover his lies is a chilling echo of his more famous sin, organising the “accidental” death of the husband of the woman he wants.

The second interpretation I think of as the nationalist one. It’s harder for modern people to take. In this view we the reader are supposed to applaud what he does.

He’s completing the work god’s chosen people never had the stomach for, getting rid of all the original inhabitants of the promised land, and what’s more doing it smart right under the nose of his enemy.

On this view lying to an enemy is acceptable to further god’s work.  It’s all about the holiness of god’s people, no one else counts.

The narrator makes no editorial content on David’s actions. Except two things.

David makes the plan in his “own heart”, usually it mentions him finding god’s will for his actions.

Also he takes the plunder from his raids. When the Israelites were occupying the promised land they took nothing for themselves. That was a very hard and fast rule.

So I don’t believe we are being told to applaud David here. They are just telling us what he did. And it is shameful.

Thinking a lot about christian leaders recently in the context of the u.s. presidential election and closer to home. There is the tendency to admire them too much or demonise them too much.

David would later write:

Free me from the guilt of murder, of shedding a man’s blood,  O God who saves me.  Now my tongue, which was used to destroy, will be used to sing with deep delight of how right and just You are. Lord, pry open my lips  that this mouth will sing joyfully of Your greatness.

I would surrender my dearest possessions or destroy all that I prize to prove my regret, but You don’t take pleasure in sacrifices or burnt offerings.  What sacrifice I can offer You is my broken spirit because a broken spirit, O God, a heart that honestly regrets the past, You won’t detest.

1 Samuel 26

I wonder if Saul will be in heaven? Even yahoo answers does not know. I know it is for god to judge not me, but it’s interesting to think about his relationship with God. 

His dance with his demons is a lot like the cycle of failure and forgiveness we are all in. David treats him with grace the way God treats us.

In this chapter David continues to be pursued like a criminal by Saul with murderous intent.

God is on David’s side, and he once again is given the opportunity to kill Saul or show mercy, chooses mercy, and Saul breaks down and begs forgiveness for foolishly and needlessly pursuing David.

He realises he is a sinner, is humble and asks forgiveness. But then he seems to wake up with hatred of David in his heart. Such a tortured guy.

But aren’t we all when it comes to sin.

1 Samuel 25

An odd chapter. I’m flying solo on it, I haven’t read any commentaries. 

Starts with Samuel dying, very flatly reported and not referred to again. But the chapter is then about what kind of man is David. Samuel has been the voice of God, announcing god’s will. David is now on his own. 

And the episode we’re thrown into has uncomfortable echoes of his greatest sin, his desire for Bathsheba. 

In the last chapter David was noble and godly, full of grace. This chapter seems to exist to tell us not to get too carried away with him.

A greedy man, Nabal  is married to a woman, Abigail, David finds attractive. So you gotta wonder about David’s motives when he sets a test to expose what a scoundrel nabal is, and then resolves to destroy him because of it.

God has given David power, military strength and resources to be king. Not to kill selfish men with gorgeous wives.

The intervention of God in the story saves David from his own abuse of power. First Abigail comes and pleads for nabal with gifts and apologies. Her eloquent beautifully brave persuasion is the heart of the chapter. I’d marry her myself! 

David attributes her intervention to God saving all of Nabals men from slaughter.

Then in a convenient and literal Deus ex machina twist Nabal dies of a mysterious disease, which is also attributed to God. So, happy ending, David gets to marry Abigail, after she has demonstrated her worth, without a corrupting slaughter. 

Yet. But his tendency towards lust and abuse of power has been foreshadowed.

And the narrative coolly notes that David married another wife as well, and that Saul traded his first wife Michal off to another king (remember her… She engineered his escape from the palace a few chapters ago).  A reality faceslap worthy of Jane Austen, just when you were feeling all romantic. 

A woman, Abigail, is the hero and voice of God in this story, but their lives, even the daughters of kings, pretty much sucked.

1 Samuel 24

Classic story of grace. David gets Saul cornered when he wanderers into the caves they were hiding out in. But he won’t kill him and Saul walks free.

David has the opportunity to talk with Saul and explains that he won’t act against him as the lord’s anointed. Saul is shamed and promises to stop attacking David if David just agrees not to obliterate his line.

Saul appears, at least here, to be as jonathan said in the last chapter. Ultimately he accepts that God is in charge and can make David king. 

David does not have what Donald trump would call a winning temperament. He doesn’t hit back twice as hard when hit. What he displays here is a profoundly godly temperament. His behaviour has nothing to do with his own victory or power and everything to do with god’s.

It’s refreshing. It’s like learning to believe in good again, truth will out, fair play will triumph. 

With a wave of backlash around the world, the gospel of putting yourself first, this is a prayer I suddenly want to pray with passion.

1 Samuel 23

Complicated time in Israel’s history, Saul and David are conducting a civil war with constant breaks for international war against the philistines.

David has learned his lesson about involving people in his fight against Saul. He takes a side quest to save a city from the philistines. he then leaves the city before Saul can come and start killing the inhabitants for associating with him. 

David’s group, on the run, is nearly encircled by Saul’s forces, but Saul is called away to yet another philistine aggression.

This while episode is about Saul’s refusal to accept god’s will if it means losing earthly power. Saul struggles to find David, but Jonathan, who shares in god’s grace with David, is mysteriously able to visit him at will. He reports that Saul knows David will inevitably be king. 

I was struck with David’s easy relationship with God. He talks conversationally with him, and also consults a priest to discern the will of God. I’m puzzled by the varying methods. But the message is clear: god is with David, every step. 

Saul praises god when a city informs on David’s whereabouts during the manhunt: both sides of a war always claim God. 

But Saul’s quest is defiant, his religion empty and self serving.