1 Samuel

The book of 1 Samuel continues the history of Israel, with many examples of good and bad behavior that have vital lessons for Christians today.

The books of 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one volume in the Hebrew Bible. They continue the history of the nation of Israel from the end of the Judges period to the last years of King David. The present division in our English Bibles originated from the Septuagint (Greek) version.

Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible states: “The two Books of Samuel are really parts of what was originally one book. This is shown not only by the fact that the narrative of Book I is continued without the slightest interruption in Book II, and that the style, tone, point of view, and purpose are the same throughout, but also by their appearance as one book bearing the simple title ‘Samuel’ in the oldest known Hebrew [manuscripts].”

For the sake of convenience and modern usage, this article will focus on 1 Samuel and a separate article will deal with 2 Samuel.

The three main characters

Most of the book of 1 Samuel is devoted to three main characters: Samuel, Saul and David. As throughout the history of Israel, the narrative illustrates how a nation suffers as a result of poor leadership and how people are blessed when the leaders are righteous.

The early part of 1 Samuel brings to a conclusion the annals of the period of the Judges and begins the history of the monarchy in Israel. The Philistines were a dominant force in the region and even succeeded in capturing the ark of God, resulting in the death of the high priest Eli. Eli’s two wicked sons also died at that time (chapter 4). The ark was later returned by the Philistines when God sent destructive plagues among them (chapters 5-6).

The parts that Samuel, Saul and David played in the triumphs and defeats of the nation of Israel are well chronicled, and the book closes with the disastrous battle at Mount Gilboa and the deaths of Saul and his sons (chapter 31).

Samuel appears on the scene

At the end of the period of the Judges, a low point in Israel’s history, a person with profound leadership skills and spiritual steadfastness arrived on the scene. The story of Samuel’s birth, consecration, special calling and divine appointment to God’s service is familiar to many.

Samuel played a prominent and pivotal role in rallying his countrymen against the Philistines and, more importantly, restoring proper worship of God. It was Samuel who was sent by God to anoint Saul, the first king of Israel, and his successor, David. Samuel was one of the most God-centered leaders of the Old Testament, a man with godly character and the respect of those he served.

Outline of 1 Samuel

There are slight variations in the way biblical scholars divide the contents of 1 Samuel. The following is a suggested outline:

I. The birth and early years of Samuel (1:1–7:14).

  1. The birth of Samuel; the death of the high priest Eli and his sons.
  2. The defeat of Israel and the capture of the ark.
  3. The restoration of the ark and defeat of the Philistine army.

II. Samuel and Saul (7:15–15:35).

  1. Saul chosen and anointed king of Israel.
  2. Defeat of the Ammonites and Philistines.
  3. Defeat of the Amalekite army.
  4. Saul’s stubborn nature and lack of restraint.

III. Saul and David (16:1–31:13).

  1. David enters Saul’s court: Goliath slain by David.
  2. David and Jonathan’s friendship.
  3. David’s years as a fugitive from Saul.
  4. Death of Saul and Jonathan.

Chapters 16 to 31 provide an account of the latter years of Saul’s reign, with special emphasis on the relationship between Saul and David.

Important lessons from 1 Samuel

The stories in the book of 1 Samuel have many lessons for us today. Let’s look at some of the major lessons.

Hannah, the mother of Samuel, trusts God to answer her prayers

Hannah, whose name means “graciousness,” was unable to bear children. Despite taunts and derisive remarks from others (1:6-7), she continued to trust God to provide her with a child. She prayed fervently to God with heartfelt supplications.

Ultimately God responded to her prayers, and Samuel was born. One meaning for the name Samuel is “asked of God,” and she dedicated her son to the service of God (verse 28).

The power of prayer is an important part of the Christian’s armor. The Bible is consistent in revealing to us that when we turn to God and seek Him with earnest, heartfelt prayers (like Hannah), He is willing and able to intervene for us. There will come times in our lives when we need God to show us His will on how best to handle difficult and stressful situations. Prayer is a vital tool we can use to draw closer to God and receive answers to our problems.

The book of James states: “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). Moffatt renders this verse: “The prayers of the righteous have a powerful effect.”

One of the greatest lacks among the people of Israel was that they did not put their “hearts” into their prayers. Notice Hosea 7:13-14: “Though it was I who redeemed them, they have lied to me; they never put their heart into their prayers” (Moffatt, emphasis added throughout).

God told the people of Judah that during their years of captivity they would come to see the need to seek Him. “Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13). It is important that we do not neglect this powerful key in our daily lives.

Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2 is a beautiful example of a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude. (For further information, you may also want to read the article titled “Hannah.”)

Eli’s lack of judgment

In 1 Samuel 1, Eli is introduced as a priest of God (verse 9). Eli’s sons, however, not only disrespected God and broke the law (2:22), but by their abuse of their responsibilities caused the Israelites to sin by disrespecting and disobeying God as well (2:24). Eli knew about his sons’ flagrant disobedience, but he allowed them to continue their evil practices. This greatly displeased God and resulted in their premature deaths (4:11), as well as Eli’s death (4:18).

Those who profess to be Christians should not use human reasoning to justify sins in their lives. One who has experienced genuine godly repentance must no longer be driven by self-will but truly surrender his or her own ways to the will of our Creator.

Who does God respond to? “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite [humble] spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2). A willingness to sacrifice our desires and purposes in order to obey God is an attitude of mind He loves.

Israel’s desire for a king

Despite the fact that Samuel warned the people about the problems they would encounter under a human king, they insisted on a physical monarch. Their request—“Make us a king to judge us like all the nations”—displeased Samuel (8:5-6). The people did not acknowledge that they already had a King ruling over them (1 Samuel 12:12). That King was God Himself!

The people were in effect rejecting God as their ruler. God told Samuel, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).

And so Saul was chosen to be king. God knew Saul was the type of person the people were seeking, one of the tallest men in the nation and handsome (9:2). Unfortunately humans often judge others by their outward appearance and not their inward character (1 Samuel 16:7).

God must be the King in our lives. He wants us to put Him first in our minds, hearts and lives. The Israelites did not understand the great commandment that Christ taught. When a lawyer asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, Christ said: “‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’ So he answered and said, ‘“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,” and “your neighbor as yourself.”’ And He said to him, ‘You have answered rightly; do this and you will live’” (Luke 10:25-28).

Clearly, it is God’s desire that we put Him first in our lives.

The tragic end to Saul’s rule

When Saul was young, he appeared to be humble and tried to do what is right. But as time went on, he made a number of rash decisions that were contrary to God’s instructions. The first major departure is described in 1 Samuel 13 when he became scared and impatient and, instead of waiting for Samuel to arrive and officiate, presumptuously sacrificed a burnt offering himself (verses 8-10). This was contrary to Samuel’s instructions and God’s laws (verse 13); and as a result, Samuel told Saul that his rule would not continue (verse 14).

In chapter 15 Saul made an even more serious mistake. He did not follow God’s clear instructions to utterly destroy the Amalekites and their livestock (15:3), but instead spared Agag the king and the best of the livestock (verse 9). When questioned by Samuel, Saul put the blame on the people (verses 14-15), and the tragic result was that Saul was a second time rejected as king over Israel (verse 26).

Even though Saul acknowledged that he had sinned (verse 24), it appears it was merely an excuse and an outward show of remorse. The apostle Paul warned members of the Corinthian Church that there is a false “sorrow of the world” that leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:10). Sorrow and tears do not necessarily constitute genuine godly repentance.

Saul was stubborn and self-willed—serious flaws in his character that eventually led to his untimely death.

If Saul had exhibited true godly repentance, God would have forgiven him and his life would have been spared. His successor David was a “man after My own heart, who will do all My will” (Acts 13:22). In 2 Samuel this important and vital biblical principle is explained in more detail.

Proving and doing the will of God

As we study the various books of the Bible, we encounter few people who lived their lives according to the will of God. And yet God’s will in our lives is at the heart and core of what true Christianity is about. The apostle Paul encouraged the members of the Church of God in Rome to “prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

As we submit to Him, God will help and give us the necessary guidance: “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

By the continual study of God’s Word, the Bible, you will come to a greater understanding of what the will of God is for all nations, peoples and for you personally. May you be blessed as you study and put into practice His Word! Read more about God’s will for us in the section on “Christian Conversion.”

For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.

About the Author

André van Belkum

Andre van Belkum

Andre van Belkum currently serves as the pastor of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in New Zealand and the Pacific region. Previously he pastored congregations in southern Africa, including South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

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