Bleak times had descended upon Israel. The people remained idolatrous, their judges were not always men of integrity, and Philistine power was oppressive. Israel would find deliverance, but at what cost? The story is told in 1 Samuel.
1 Samuel is the ninth book in most English Bibles, and it is the third book among the “former prophets” in Hebrew. 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book, divided into two in antiquity; such is why there is no break in the narrative between 1 Samuel 31:13 and 2 Samuel 1:1. The book receives its name from the prophet/judge Samuel who features prominently at the beginning of the book. The events within 1 Samuel represent the transition from the time of the judges into the united monarchy, around 1100-1000 BCE. 1 and 2 Samuel were likely written at the end of the united monarchy or perhaps toward the beginning of the divided kingdom (ca. 950-850 BCE), and finally put together with the rest of the history of Israel around 600-500 BCE. 1 Samuel describes the transition between the period of the judges and the united monarchy of Israel, focusing upon Samuel, Saul, and David.
1 Samuel begins with the story of Samuel. 1 Samuel 1:1-2:11 introduces us to Eli the High Priest, a man named Elkanah and his wife Hannah, and tells us of Hannah’s barrenness, her prayer before God, and how God blessed her with a son Samuel whom she dedicated to God for His service. 1 Samuel 2:12-4:22 describe the impiety of Eli’s sons and the consequences for Israel: Eli’s rebuke of his sons, their continued disobedience, war against the Philistines, Eli’s sons bringing the Ark of the Covenant to the battlefield, and the defeat of the Israelites, the death of Eli’s sons, and the capture of the Ark by the Philistines. 1 Samuel 5:1-7:2 tell of the Ark’s fate: the humiliation of Dagon the god of the Philistines, the affliction of tumors, and the restoration of the Ark to the Israelites. 1 Samuel 7:3-17 describes how Samuel judged Israel and how God gave Israel victory over the Philistines after they repented of their idolatry.
In 1 Samuel 8:1-22, after Samuel’s sons prove corrupt, the people of Israel demand a king like the other nations: after being warned about kings and their demands, the people still want a king, and so God will grant one to them. 1 Samuel 9:1-10:27 describes how Saul of Benjamin was chosen and made king of Israel. Saul defeats the Ammonites in 1 Samuel 11:1-15; Samuel makes his final address to the Israelites in 1 Samuel 12:1-25. Saul and his son Jonathan get victories over the Philistines and the Amalekites; nevertheless, Saul does not fully follow after God’s purposes, so God rejects him as king (1 Samuel 13:1-15:35). God then sends Samuel to the house of Jesse of Bethlehem in Judah to anoint his son David as Saul’s successor (1 Samuel 16:1-13).
1 Samuel 16:14-31:13 relates the rise of David and the growing paranoia and hostility of Saul toward him. David proves to be a faithful servant, playing the lyre for Saul, defeating Goliath the Philistine and many other Philistine armies, marrying Michal the daughter of Saul, and maintaining a deep friendship with Jonathan the son of Saul (1 Samuel 16:15-20:42). Yet Saul continually seeks to kill David, and David flees into the desert: Saul is always just behind or is unwittingly preserved alive by David, while David and his posse continue to grow and gain strength (1 Samuel 21:1-26:25). Ultimately, David flees to the Philistines and fights Israel’s enemies in the south; Saul, fully abandoned by God, consults a medium and learns of his fate: he and his son Jonathan would die in battle against the Philistines, and so it happened (1 Samuel 27:1-31:13).
1 Samuel explains how Israel came to be ruled by kings, and begins to tell the story of David, a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). In 1 Samuel we can see the consequences of not only disobedience but also incomplete obedience, and God’s faithfulness toward His people even when in the face of their rejection of Him as their King. Let us learn from the example of Israel and make sure that God is King in our lives, and let us follow after Jesus the son of David, the Lord and Christ!
Ethan R. Longhenry