“RUNNERS take your marks,” the starter barks his signal, and the crowd turns quiet attention to the athletes walking towards the line. “Get set”… in position now, muscles tense, nervously anticipating the sound of the gun. It resounds! And the race begins. In any contest, the start is important, but the finish is even more crucial. Often a front-runner will lose strength and fade to the middle of the pack. And there is the tragedy of the brilliant beginner who sets the pace for a time, but does not even finish. He abandons the race burned out, exhausted, or injured.
The book of 1 Samuel is about great beginnings… and tragic endings. It begins with Eli as high priest during the time of the judges. As a religious leader, Eli certainly must have begun his life with a close relationship to God. In his communication with Hannah, and in his training of her son Samuel, he demonstrated a clear understanding of God’s purposes and call (chapters 1, 3). But his life ended in ignominy as his sacrilegious sons were judged by God and the sacred ark of the covenant feel into enemy hands (chapter 4). Eli’s death marked the decline of the influence of the priesthood and the rise of the prophets in Israel.
Samuel was dedicated to God’s service by his mother, Hannah. He became one of Israel’s greatest prophets. He was a man of prayer who finished the work of the judges, began the school of the prophets, and anointed Israel’s first kings. But even Samuel was not immune to finishing poorly. Like Eli’s family, Samuel’s sons turned away from God; they took bribes and perverted justice. The people rejected the leadership of the judges and priests and clamoured for a king “as all the other nations have” (8:5).
Saul also started quickly. A striking figure, this handsome (9:2) and humble (9:21; 10:22) man was God’s choice as Israel’s first king (10:24). His early reign was marked by leadership (chapter 11) and bravery (14:46-48). But he disobeyed God (chapter 15), became jealous and paranoid (chapters 18, 19), and finally had his kingship taken away from him by God (chapter 16). Saul’s life continued steadily downwards. Obsessed with killing David (chapters 20-30), he consulted a medium (chapter 28) and finally committed suicide (chapter 31).
Among the events of Saul’s life is another great beginner – David. A man who followed God (13:14; 16:7), David ministered to Saul (chapter 16), killed Goliath (chapter 17), and became a great warrior. But we’ll have to wait until the book of 2 Samuel to see how David finished.
As you read 1 Samuel, not the transition from theocracy to monarchy, exult in the classic stories of David and Goliath, David and Jonathan, David and Abigail, and watch the rise of the influence of the prophets. But in the midst of reading all the history and adventure, determine to run your race as God’s person from start to finish.
PURPOSE: To record the life of Samuel, Israel’s last judge; the reign and decline of Saul, the first king; and the choice and preparation of David, Israel’s greatest king
AUTHOR: Possibly Samuel, but also includes writings from the prophets Nathan and Ga (1 Chronicles 29:29)
SETTING: The book begins in the days of the judges and describes Israel’s transition from a theocracy (led by God) to a monarchy (led by a king)
KEY VERSES: “And the LORD told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king… Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do’ “ (8:7,9).
KEY PEOPLE: Eli, Hannah, Samuel, Saul, Jonathan, David
Eli and Samuel (1:1-7:17) We see a vivid contrast between young Samuel and Eli’s sons. Eli’s sons were selfish, but Samuel was helpful. Eli’s sons defrauded people, but Samuel grew in wisdom and gave the people messages from God. As an adult, Samuel became a prophet, priest, and judge over Israel. A person’s actions reflects his character. This was true of Samuel and Eli’s sons. It is also true of us. Strive, like Samuel, to keep your heart pure before God.
- Samuel’s birth and childhood
- War with the Philistines
Samuel and Saul (8:1-15:35) Saul showed great promise. He was strong, tall, and modest. God’s Spirit came upon him, and Samuel was his counsellor. But Saul deliberately disobeyed God and became an evil king. We must not base our hopes or future on our potential. Instead, we must consistently obey God in all areas of life. God evaluates obedience, not potential.
Saul and David (16:1-31:13) David quickly killed Goliath, but waited patiently for God to deal with Saul. Although David was anointed to be Israel’s next king, he had to wait years to realise this promise. The difficult circumstances in life and the times of waiting often refine, teach, and prepare us for the future responsibilities God has for us.
- Samuel anoints David
- David and Goliath
- David and Jonathan become friends
- Saul pursues David
- Saul’s defeat and death
EXPLANATION: Because Israel suffered from corrupt priests and judges, the people wanted a king. They wanted to be organised like the surrounding nations. Though it was against his original purpose, God chose a king for them.
IMPORTANCE: Establishing a monarchy did not solve Israel’s problems. What God desires is the genuine devotion of each person’s mind and heart to him. No government or set of laws can substitute for the rule of God in your heart and life.
EXPLANATION: Israel prospered as long as the people regarded God as their true king. When the leaders strayed from God’s law, God intervened in their personal lives and overruled their actions. In this way, God maintained ultimate control over Israel’s history.
IMPORTANCE: God is always at work in this world, even when we can’t see what he is doing. No matter what kinds of pressures we must endure or how many changes we must face, God is ultimately in control of our situation. Being confident of God’s sovereignty, we can face the difficult situations in our lives with boldness.
EXPLANATION: God guided his people using different forms of leadership: judges, priests, prophets, kings. Those whom he chose for these different offices, such as Eli, Samuel, Saul, and David, portrayed different styles of leadership. Yet the success of each leader depended on his devotion to God, not his position, leadership style, wisdom, age, or strength.
IMPORTANCE: When Eli, Samuel, Saul, and David disobeyed God, they face tragic consequences. Sin affected what they accomplished for God and how some of them brought up their children. Being a real leader means letting God guide all aspects of your activities, values, and goals, including the way you bring up your children.
EXPLANATION: For God, “to obey is better than sacrifice” (15:22). God wanted his people to obey, serve, and follow him with a whole heart rather than to maintain a superficial commitment based on tradition or ceremonial system.
IMPORTANCE: Although we are free from the sacrificial system of the Jewish law, we may still rely on outward observances to substitute for inward commitment. God desires that all our work and worship be motivated by genuine, heartfelt devotion to him.
EXPLANATION: God faithfully kept the promises he made to Israel. He responded to his people with tender mercy and swift justice. In showing mercy, he faithfully acted in the best interests of his people. In showing justice, he was faithful to his word and perfect moral nature.
IMPORTANCE: Because God is faithful, he can be counted on to be merciful towards us. Yet God is also just, and he will not tolerate rebellion against him. His faithfulness and unselfish love should inspire us to dedicate ourselves to him completely. We must never take his mercy for granted.
©Kingsway International Church, 1973.