The Life of Faith in 1 Samuel

Posted on 11 January 2011

These studies in 1 Samuel look at the lives of Samuel, Saul and David and explore they way that God revealed himself to them and how they responded. The lessons for today are clear!

The Life of Faith in 1 Samuel


To understand the Book of 1 Samuel it is important to understand how it fits within its bible context. 1 Samuel to 2 Kings were only divided late in their history and really constitute one book. To understand them, the following points need to be noted:

• They are part of a section of the Old Testament that the Jewish Bible (in which some of the books are differently ordered from ours!) names the ‘Former Prophets’. This section includes Joshua to 2 Kings (excluding Ruth). 1 and 2 Chronicles tell much of the same story but are included in a different section, named the ‘Writings’.
• This identification of 1 Samuel to 2 Kings as ‘prophecy’ may challenge our understanding of what the word means… but it also tells us that these books are not merely retelling history but are understood to be the ‘word of God’ to those of us reading them.
• To help us identify what the message may be, we need to consider, first, the historical and ‘canonical’ context. Secondly, we need to reflect upon how the story is ‘shaped’ and what principles undergirded the selection of the material by the original compiler.

Historical and Canonical Context.

• Israel’s history began with the call of Abraham and his leading of the Patriarchs, it saw the nation founded in exile in Egypt and then, in fulfilment of his promises, the LORD established the nation in the land of Canaan (or Palestine).
• Israel’s history in the land moved through different stages: the commonwealth (described in Joshua and Judges) and the Kingdom (described in these four books) that led up to the Exile in Babylon.
• The Kingdom, described here, moves through different stages: preparation, the United Kingdom, the Divided Kingdoms. It ends with on a note of hope… the king still lives! This hints when the books reached their final form and the reason for their being written. God is faithful to his promises!

Literary Shape.

• These books are often known as the ‘Deuteronomic History’: in other words they are shaped by the ‘theology’ that undergirds Deuteronomy: that of covenant blessing and curse.
• More specifically, the story may be divided in the following way:

 

 

Samuel: the last of the Judges (1 Sam 1-8) >
Saul: the King acclaimed by Men (1 Sam 9-15) >
a1) David: the King chosen by the LORD (1 Sam 16-31)
a2) David: the Triumph of God’s Chosen One (2 Sam 1-10)
a3) David: his Fall (2 Samuel 11,12)
a2) David: Troubles of God’s Chosen One (2 Sam 13-20)
a1) David: his Last Will and Testament (2 Sam 21-24)
b1) Solomon: his rule established (1 Kings 1-3)
b2) Solomon: his glory (centred on the presence of the LORD in the Temple, 1 Kings 4-10)
b1) Solomon: Apostasy and Death (1 Kings 11)
c1) The Kingdom Divided (1 Kings 12-15)
c2) Elijah and Elisha: the battle for the Heart of the People (1 Kings 16-2 Kings 7)
c1) The Divided Kingdoms: Decline and Fall (2 Kings 8-25)
Conclusion: Hope for those with ‘ears to hear’ (2 Kings 25:27-30)

1:1-2:10

1 Samuel is devoted to describing three overlapping lives: Samuel, Saul and David. Thus:
Samuel occupies chapters 1-19;
Saul chapters 9-31;
David chapter 16-2 Samuel.

In the chapters especially devoted to Samuel (1-12), there are three major sections:
1:1-4:1a, Samuel’s birth, early life and call;
4:1b-7:17, Israel’s disastrous defeat, repentance and deliverance and Samuel’s role within it;
8:1-12:25, Samuel hands over to Saul.

Further:
1:1 picks up Judges 13:2 and depicts Samuel as the last judge;
4:1a presents Samuel as the first in the line of the prophets;
2:35ff describes him as a priest.

Thus Samuel is both a transitional figure and one who combines in his own person the ‘ideal’ leader of God’s people: the wise ruler, the spokesperson for God and the mediator between God and man and man and God.

Zooming in….we note:

The first section (1:1-4:1a) may be divided into four sections:
1:1-20: Samuel the child of a barren womb;
1:21-2:10: Samuel offered to the LORD to minister before him;
2:11-36: Samuel grows ‘in the presence of the LORD’ and ‘in stature and in favour’ with him while Eli’s family serve as ‘worthless men’;
3:1-4:1a: The Lord calls Samuel such that, at a time when the ‘word was rare’ the word of Samuel ‘came to all Israel’.

1:1-20, describes the work of God as commenced among a faithful family amid prevailing apostasy in barrenness (1-5) and distress (6-8) and prayerfulness when there was nowhere else to turn (9-11): a prayerfulness that is bold and uninhibited (12-18) and effective (19,20). What can we deduce from this for our own prayer life?

1:21-2:10 records Hannah’s fulfilment of her vow (1:21-28) and her prayer of thanksgiving (2:1-10). The latter may be divided in this way:
1-3: Hannah records her own experience (1) and draws out the ‘theological’ implication (2) and the practical application (3);
4-8: She extrapolates from the ‘particular’ of her own experience to the ‘general’ or ‘wider’ recognition of God and his ways; and
9,10: Extends this recognition to see its application to God’s final rule. In what way might we copy Hannah? Can we think of a situation to which we might follow the same procedure? What might we deduce?

2:11-4:1a

The present section begins by comparing Samuel with Eli’s sons. Thus:

• 11-16 is flanked by two verses that describe Eli’s sons ‘wicked/no regard for the LORD’ (11) and amplifies this with ‘they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt’ (16). The intervening verses provide the detailed evidence. Further, in
• 22-25, to ‘liturgical/theological’ offences were added moral failures (22) and in all they were impervious to rebuke and exposed to divine wrath (23-25). Tragically, pride, arrogance (3) and those who oppose the LORD (10) are found among the senior clergy/religious leaders. Finally,
• 27-36, Eli is condemned for the fact that rebuke is not accompanied by discipline. He is too tolerant and ‘nice’ toward sin. In this way, God’s grace (27-28) is spurned (29) and judgement is inevitable (30-36).

These passages, therefore, help us to trace the growth of sin from ‘loose thinking’ about God to ‘loose living’ before men and explore how such can prevail when not tackled head on.

By contrast,

• 18-21, Samuel ‘was ministering before the LORD’/ ‘grew up in the presence of the LORD’ (18,21) and his family knew the LORD’s benediction (19-21);
• 26, he ‘grew in stature and in favour with the LORD and with men’;
• 3:1, Samuel is again ‘ministering before the LORD’ while ‘the word of the LORD was rare’. Then:

3:1-4:1a: if 3:1 commences on such a negative note, it ends very differently (3:19-4:1a, especially the last verse): ‘Samuel’s word came to all Israel’. The failure of the clerical leadership is eclipsed by God’s grace to a nation consequent upon the prayers of a desperate woman (1:1-2:10). In contrast to the refusal of Eli’s sons to listen to their father, is Samuel’s ‘Speak for your servant is listening’ (10b). Listening, where there is widespread apostasy, may, however, mean the first message is a demanding one (11-18) but, in the end, it is impossible to gainsay that the LORD has spoken through his attentive listener.

4:1b-22

Strictly speaking, 4:1b-7:2 are not about Samuel at all, since he is not mentioned. More accurately, it refers to an episode in Israel’s history when God abandoned his people: this is focused in on the account of the history of the Ark of the Covenant during this period. Thus the focus of the story has shifted: or, more accurately, we learn the context of Samuel’s ministry.

During the period of Israel’s Commonwealth, the Philistines, living on their western frontier along the Mediterranean, were one of their ongoing enemies. No surprise, then, that we read of a war. Defeated (1b-3a), the leaders of the nation ask the correct question, but reach a faulty conclusion. The LORD’s presence (and, therefore, their certain victory) is grounded not in their seeking him (compare 7:3) but using the ark that symbolised his presence as a magic talisman accompanied by the appropriate personnel (3b,4). Thus, reassured of victory, with the enemy trembling at the presence of a powerful god in the other camp with naught but words to galvanise them, victory is surely certain (5-9). Not so! Another defeat, a loss of the ark and the ending of the priestly line of Eli follow one upon the other (10,11).

With a slowing of the story to heighten the effect and with great pathos, this is spelt out. Elderly, anxious Eli, perhaps aware of his failings in leadership but sufficient of a theologian to not go along with the popular piety he has failed to challenge, despite 40 years ‘in charge’ (12-16,18), learns of the defeat of Israel (17a), the death of his sons and, by implication, descendants and, therefore, the ending of his priestly dynasty (see 2:31) and the capture of the ark (17b). All of which is simply too much for the old man (18).

The shock also brought on the labour pains of Phineas’ wife (19) but she died in childbirth (20). Not, however, before naming her son Ichabod: ‘the glory/presence of God has departed’ (21,22). Whether she thought, with the wider public, that the glory had gone with the Ark or that the capture of the Ark indicated that the glory had already departed, is difficult to know. The latter, however, is the truth the story seeks to declare. 

From this, we learn that we can presume upon God’s presence by the assumption that the proper actions and correct personnel can guarantee it. In addition, forty years of service for the LORD was utterly wasted by Eli! Finally, we note that the LORD is less concerned for his name than his people’s faithfulness.

5:1-7:2

In 4:1b-22, emphasis turned to an episode in the history of the Ark of the Covenant: it unveils the tragic reality that when God’s people do not seek him, he would rather risk his reputation than presence himself among them. The glory of God has departed and, with it, Israel suffers defeat and loses the Ark and its most senior ‘churchmen’.

But, as we learn here, God’s ‘failure’ to presence himself among his unfaithful people does not mean that he cannot secure victory over the Philistines all on his own!

Placed as booty before the all-conquering Dagon, the local deity, the Lord turns the tables! First Dagon ‘bows’ before the LORD and then (after Dagon is propped back up!) suffers defeat as of a conquered warrior (5:1-5). Thus, the Philistines (and all with ‘ears to hear’) have to discover the helplessness of man-made religion in the face of the invisible God.

Powerless and afflicted under the ‘hand of God’, the erstwhile booty proves nothing but a curse! Three of the five major cities of the Philistines (did the others make the wise choice and refuse!?), one by one, receive and expel the Ark under the penalty of an epidemic of tumours (perhaps something like bubonic plague, 5:6-12). Israel’s God is far from a powerless deity who can be domesticated in a rival’s shrine!

What, then, to do with the Ark or are the plagues mere coincidence? This is the issue now addressed (6:1-12). People, gods and the land are all alike suffering (5b). With aknowledge of Israel’s history that Israel itself would do well to remember, the Philistines recognise the LORD is not one with whom to trifle (6). Thus they seek religious guidance and devise a strategy that seeks to acknowledge guilt (1-5a) and confirms who is in ‘control’; two milking cows provide a prophetic voice (7-12) and the LORD returns to Israelite territory entirely without the help of the Israelites themselves!

The celebration of the Israelites is understandable (13-18) but they, too, needed to be reminded that the living God is not one with whom to trifle (19). Just like the Philistine cities, the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh suffer at he hands of the holy God and send him away (20-21). Only when proper honour is afforded to him, accompanied by penitence and zeal to return to him, is there any prospect of his presence returning in blessing (7:1-2).

7:3-16

The inaugural seven chapters of 1 Samuel are focussed around the life of Samuel. Yet the story is a peculiar one since 1;1-3:21 concentrates on his family and early life, culminating with his call and 4:1b-7:2 do not mention him at all but concentrate upon a particular incident in the history of the Ark of the Covenant.

However, 7:3 picks up 4:1a as Samuel reappears, in this specific context, as the preacher and intercessor whom was used to bring Israel back into a right relationship with God. Significant, then, is the fact that the LORD had prepared Samuel, before the event, for such a time as this: evidence of the LORD’s grace and mercy and of the years that may accompany the full maturing of a man of God for his ministry.

The stirrings of repentant sorrow appear to have already been present when Samuel commenced (7:2) but Samuel’s preaching sought to assist the people to bring this repentance to fruition. Such is to be more than mere words (‘put away’) and involve the difficult tasks of both a radical re-alignment of an attitude and practice of religion that was based on human ideologies and the submission to the LORD himself (7:3,4). 

After due preparation, Samuel draws the people together to formalise their response, to continue his leading and guiding of them and to accompany it all with intercession (7:5-6).

No sooner does this happen than the ‘auld enemy’ stirs (7:7). Formerly, the Philistines feared the LORD before a presumptuous people who suffered his judgment for being so. Now there is a change: only by that prayer that issues from a right relationship to God can success be achieved (7:8). Thus, acknowledging both his own and the people’s guilt and, humbly, asking for help an answer was afforded (7:9) which stopped the enemy in its tracks, before Israel had done anything else itself (7:10): all the people had to do was ‘mop up’ the defeated foe (7:11) and celebrate ‘Ebenezer’ (7:12) not mourn ‘Ichabod’ (see 4:21,22). Indeed, substantial gains were made and on more than one front (7:13,14)…. And so it continued under a devoted, spiritual, leader whom the LORD had prepared over many years (7:15,16).

8:1-22

1 Samuel 8 is a transitional chapter. Up till now, the LORD has governed his people through specially appointed persons such as Moses or, more recently, the Judges. Samuel is clearly described as a ‘judge’. However, from chapter 9 onwards, Israel will have a king: this chapter explains how this came about. While it describes events which took place over 3000 years ago it is part of God’s storybook and contains lessons that we need to hear today!

The people of God face a dilemma. Samuel has led them well. Called and equipped by the LORD, he has guided them, prayerfully and wisely, for many years and they have flourished under his God-given leadership. Such is the story of chapter 7. However, he is now elderly, he has needed his sons to deputise for him at the more far-flung locations (Beersheba was to the far south of Israel’s territory) and they have proved, like Eli’s sons before him, unfit for the task (1-3). Something clearly needs to be done and so the national leaders gather to address the situation and make their recommendation (4-5). The recommendation seems reasonable and even ‘biblical’ (see below) but ominously, there is no reference to their ‘seeking the LORD’.

At this point we are faced with an interesting question. The people want a king and the LORD had earlier indicated to them (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20) that this was in accordance with his plans for them. So why is Samuel displeased and why does the LORD regard the proposal as a (typical) act of rebellion against himself (6-8)? The answer appears to lie in the little phrase ‘as all the other nations have’ (5b, see 20a). In fact, Israel has reverted to ‘type’: just as the ark was the answer to their earlier needs (chapter 4), so now a king, rather than the LORD, is seen to guarantee their future. While chapter 7 placed at the centre of the people’s life and blessing a God-appointed intercessor, their answer to their needs is a good general!

Samuel spells out the implications of such a change of administration (his words are realistic and not over-stated, 10-17), stressing that the people must bear the consequences for their choice (18). The people are intransigent and the LORD agrees to their request (19-22). Sometimes it would be better if the LORD did not answer our prayers!

9:1-10:16

Chapter 8 describes how elderly Samuel was pressured by the national leaders to agree to appoint them a king. While the LORD concurs with the people, he does so in the recognition that their request (or certainly the manner in which it was asked) was an act of rebellion against him. So the people go home to await Samuel’s choice and Samuel goes home to await the LORD’s choice!

9:1-14 read rather like an unusual but not unparalleled day in the life of a well-off hill farmer (1). True, he had Israel’s candidate for Mr Universe as his son (2) but nothing is made of this… yet… More to the point, Kish needs to recover his escaped livestock (3,4). The task proved fruitless (4) and Saul begins to be concerned that his family will think him lost too (5)! Only a suggestion from his servant brings Saul to Ramah to ask for Samuel’s help (6-11). Happily he is ‘home’ (11-13) and in the melee, equally happily, they bump into Samuel (14) who is able to assure them of the safety of the donkeys (20a). So, we might suppose, concludes a moral tale that assures us that the LORD leads and guides us individually. But this is far from all….

Significantly, then, we are told that the LORD had prepared Samuel for Saul’s visit (15). The young man is the LORD’s candidate: not as king (the LORD is that!) but leader or prince (16) who is to ‘govern’ (not rule) the people (17) and (mercifully!) to provide the leadership that will deliver Israel from the ever-present Philistine threat (16).

What then follows is that Saul is gently prepared for the change in life that is shortly to occur to him. Samuel refers (mysteriously) to his preferment (20), Saul is given a privileged place in a feast where he is given a leg of meat to eat. In Exodus 29:27 this was reserved for the priests: here the suggestion is that Saul has been called to a ‘sacred’ task (24). The following day, privately, Samuel privately reveals he is the LORD’s choice (9:25-10:1).

How can Saul be sure? In advance, he is told of three remarkable co-incidences. Saul will ‘bump into’ strangers at a particular location giving news of the donkeys discovery and Kish’s anxiety for Saul (2), others will greet him and offer him the dignity of a ‘priest’ (3,4) and he will have an encounter with some prophets in which he will be equipped to serve (5-7); something that will be evident to those who formerly knew him (8-13). Meanwhile, the secret is kept from the nearest family (14-16) while Saul prepares to meet with Samuel again (8): Saul is to be obedient to the word of the LORD through Samuel.

So what has all this to do with us? Its application lies at two levels. Firstly, it reminds us that leadership (whether in ancient Israel or the contemporary church) is to be a divine appointment not the fulfilment of a personal ambition and that such leadership is a sacred calling, marked out by obedience to the LORD’s word, the responsibility to ‘stand between’ people and the LORD and is witnessed by a recognisable (not least, to others) divine consecration to the task. It is supremely seen in the Messiah to whom all earlier messianic figures pointed! Such is a scarily ‘high’ calling. Secondly, it applies to us all in two ways: a) how do we recognise those whom God has given to lead us and how should we respond to them? b) how, then, should we live? We, too, are called to obedient servanthood; ready to respond to God’s call on us in spheres in which he has called and equipped us to serve.

10:17-11:15

Simply, this passage describes Saul’s coronation and first success as the nation’s battle-leader. But woven within the story are elements that have long puzzled students of this book: not least the apparent conflict between sentiments that appear to be pro-kingdom and those anti-kingdom. Some have even speculated that this is the result of clumsy editing of materials that originally belong to two conflicting ‘camps’! We need not resort to such an expedient but we do need to face this apparent contradiction and make some sense of it so that we can learn from it ourselves!

Samuel, requested to choose a king, calls the people together at Mizpah for the coronation of his (so far unknown to the people) choice. He reminds them that their demand fails to reckon with the fact that the history of the people is one in which the LORD has shown himself to be their warlord and, thus, to seek another is to abandon their trust in the LORD (11:17-19a). The lesson is one that the people of God under both covenants have regularly failed to grasp. Victory is always the LORD’s and human strategies to meet the needs of his people invariably acts of unbelief.

And yet… the LORD uses means… here Saul!  Despite his obvious qualifications for the task the people wanted him to do (11:23) there were (as there always are) doubters (11:27). However, the focus of the story is less interested in them than in the qualities that Saul demonstrates. We note the following:

1) He himself recognised his human unfitness for the task (11:2-23a). If he could have run away, he would have done.  If the people see Saul as the answer, Saul is only too well aware that he lacks the resources for the work he is called to undertake.

2) He does not respond as those in authority often do to those who doubt his competence (11:27) because he has no evidence upon which to affirm it. True leadership is won and consensual, it cannot be demanded… or, if it is, it is not true leadership.

3) He lives humbly in the midst of his people (11:5). King he may be, but high office in the LORD’s kingdom is for those ready to serve not to lord it over the people.

4) His success is wholly dependent upon the Spirit of God at work through him (11:6). Those of us who know the story will know that this is poignant in the light of the eventual sequel of Saul’s later rule… but here the point is well made. Under Saul’s leadership and organisation (11:11) the first threat to the LORD’s people is overcome.

5) He is magnanimous with those who doubted him, even in the face of his victory (11:12,13) since he recognises everything is down to the LORD… at one level the men were right to doubt him! Spiritual success can easily turn the head: not so Saul who knew the source of his victory lay not in himself.

And so the people have every reason to rejoice in their king and reaffirm his rule (11:14-15) because, for all the wishes of the people, Saul (perhaps well tutored by Samuel) has proved to be the sort of leader the LORD always intended for his people. Hence, the apparent contradiction noted above is more apparent than real… and Saul demonstrates the grace of God to an undeserving people: he is the sort of leader of God’s choosing not theirs!

Once again, therefore, we are encouraged to reflect upon how we face up to the challenges we face as the people of God, with what attitude we apply bible-based solutions, what sort of leaders we are to expect and honour. As a leader, I must take this template and use it to examine my own suitability.

Yet, finally, we are reminded that Saul, the first anointed king of Israel point forward to the last and great king, Jesus. There are marked contrasts. Jesus had every right to claim and exercise high office and receive the obedience and adulation of his people. Yet, he supremely, was the ‘servant king’ who came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for all his people… and if we serve him we will live like him.

12:1-25

As we get older we tend to look back more and more (sometimes boringly so) and also reflect upon what sort of legacy (monetary or otherwise) that we can hand on to the next generation. We would like to think that, at least if formal opportunity presents itself, our last words offer something of a comfort and challenge to those who must ‘take up the baton’ after us. Samuel is now in this situation, ‘old and grey’ with a grown up family (2) and he is no different…. Though actually he has a few years before him yet!

His opening words look like the words of someone who wants to face death without any unfinished business to trouble them (1-5). But they are really something more than this! They seek to draw out the people’s affirmation as to both his integrity and servant-heartedness… so as to invite his hearers to listen seriously to what he says. After all, none of us take seriously the testimony of the fraudulent and liar… not when we know this to be the case!

The first point he makes is that past history can be of vital importance for present and future conduct (6-12). It is often said that those who do not know their history simply recapitulate the mistakes of the past… Samuel is a firm believer of this view. Specifically, he makes the following points:

• Earnestly (7) he speaks of God’s grace, compassion and sheer generosity to them (8)… a generosity that led to complacency and to their ‘slipping away’ from following after him (9a).
• He invites them to reflect on the sequel. Plunged into a mess of their own making, they recognised their sinful abandonment of God, confessed that they had looked to man-made expedients to meet their needs and were brought face-to-face with the fact that the LORD was the only one who, served faithfully, offered any hope (9b,10).
• They had discovered, time and again, that the LORD had raised up people (including Samuel himself) to lead and guide and prosper the people of God when they served him (11). The LORD’s earliest grace was matched by undeserved mercy to those who had sought to live before him and trust him, despite past failings: he had been incredibly longsuffering!
• The lessons of the past had, however, been ignored by his hearers (12). The kingship of the LORD was exchanged for a mere human expedient.

Old lessons, these are a new as they can be! We fail to acknowledge them to our cost.

The second point is that, even if we have forgotten the lessons of the past, we can recall them and act upon them now!

But, all is not lost, they have what they want but if both they and the king follow after the LORD they will all know his blessing. But if they fail they, too, will have to face the consequences (13-15). And if they need proof, those things that the ancient world deified are seen as subject entirely to the LORD (16-18). Their well-being (good harvests) is subject to the LORD not nature gods… or the finance markets or capitalism….

This might have been a dramatic point to conclude a sermon… but it was a message in two parts. Once the people had ‘got’ the first part of the message (19) they were offered both reassurance and challenge. The LORD would not abandon them, but they had to learn to serve him ‘from the heart’ (20-22,24) otherwise both they and the king they had based their hopes on would be swept away (25). Meanwhile, Samuel is resolved to pray for the people and speak to them along the same lines… so that they ‘get’ the message.

For those who live the other side of the life and work of Jesus we have greater reason to recognise the grace we have experienced, our helplessness without the LORD and the fact that only humble obedience can offer us any hope… but are we going to forget too!... and don’t be surprised if I prove to be a Samuel… banging the drum and pleading with the LORD that I and we all ‘get it’.

13:1-23

Chapter 12 is a solemn chapter. It has exposed the people of God in their rebellion against him, in their desire to find human expedients to resolve their problems. But it has given hope, even with a king, if the LORD is faithfully followed. So we start reading chapter 13 with cautious optimism.

At first, such optimism seems justified. A Philistine outpost is attacked and victory secured (1-3) and the people are summonsed to Gilgal:  the place where the people had renewed their covenant with the LORD and heard his word through his prophet (4).

But this is not the whole story! Why did Jonathan engage in an action that stirred up a hornets nest (4) and, if justified, why Jonathan not Saul, and if Jonathan why does the national press spin the story to give the credit to Saul? And when Samuel summoned the people to Gilgal (8) what was his purpose? Is verse 12 significant: Saul recognised that he had started a war without the LORD’s affirmation. Saul had run ahead of the word of the LORD.

This, in fact, becomes the feature of the tragic story that unfolds. Premature action exposes Israel’s hopelessness. The existing Philistine ‘grip’ had been such as the Israelites were weapon-less (19-22). Moreover, the aroused enemy was of such a size that it dwarfed that of the weapon-less Israelites and instilled panic in them (5-7a) and even those most faithful to Saul began to scatter (8).

We can understand Saul’s anxiety and his feeling that ‘he must do something’. But what follows reveals how ‘out of sync’ he was with biblical faith: for him ‘ritual’ acts (9) was more importance that obedience to the LORD’s will (13). On his arrival, Samuel spells this out. He cuts through Saul’s self-justification (11,12) and goes straight to the point. Such actions are foolish (13a) and faithless (14,end). If the ‘kingship’ is to continue, it requires a very different sort of person (14). Then, he who was God’s spokesperson, doubtless at Gilgal to (otherwise) guide Saul in the divine strategy that would have brought success, leaves Saul. He no longer has access to the LORD’s guidance: he is alone!

There can have been no doubt about the nature of the Philistine threat: they were strangling the life out of Israel and, now aroused, threatened the very existence of the people of God! The people themselves were impotent and frightened. Something had to be done… but faithful listening were key to them (as to us) but faith without sight proved too high a hurdle to jump. The tragic consequences are a warning to us, too!

14:1-52

The end of this chapter reads like an obituary… an obituary of someone who successfully achieved all that Israel had hoped to find in a warrior king (47-52). Humanly speaking, Saul was a popular and successful leader.

But what a peculiar place to put an obituary: Saul does not die until chapter 31…. And why preface this tribute with the preceding story that does not place Saul in the best light?

Here a little detective work is required… an ability to read between the lines. The first thing we notice is that Saul, without Samuel to guide him, has sought help from Eli’s rejected family (14:3). Toward the end of the chapter the consequence of this is spelled out in Saul’s question (41): he has no access to the word of the LORD. A rejected king seeks out a rejected priesthood, looks to the ‘trappings of religion’ to support him but finds the skies as brass when he needs divine guidance and help. If he succeeds as a man, he fails as a disciple: and ultimately the Bible narrative (and its God) is only interested in the ‘one thing needful’. Little wonder that the subsequent chapters are more interested in David and his early history and the present chapter ends with a premature obituary (or is it?).

Moreover, without the LORD’s wisdom, Saul succeeds, despite himself (24-46): but could have achieved so much more (30,46: the victory is not total and it will be the Philistines who, ultimately, bring about Saul’s death and the near-destruction of the kingdom). And note the irony of verse 45: it is Jonathan not Saul who is the saviour of Israel. It is he who has ‘worked with God’ while Saul had adopted human and, frankly, foolish strategies.
So our attention is drawn to Jonathan (especially in 1-23). While tremulous Saul has established his base in a cave, Jonathan shows a boldness that, probably, he knew would not meet with his father’s approval (1b). While recognising the LORD’s sovereignty, he also acknowledges his power to work, even through a couple of people (6). He also seeks the LORD’s guidance (10) rather than look to his own bravado and finds the LORD honours his faith. Meanwhile, Saul is merely chatting to the priest in the presence of the ark…. (19). If Saul is involved in the mopping up process, it is the LORD though Jonathan who wins the day; even if the victory is, ultimately, proves phyrric one!

We might note that, to a degree, 1 Samuel is becoming somewhat repetitive in the lessons it is teaching and it will make the same points again. So we need to ask the question, why? The answer is not hard to discover. Just as these lessons were not grasped by Israel, despite repeated and dramatic illustrations being given, we , too, can be slow on the uptake. We, too, can take the eye off the goal, achieve personal success but lose the divine benediction. We, too, need to be reminded that true discipleship looks, humbly and in faith, to the sovereign God to accomplish his purposes through us. That is the one thing that ultimately counts…. Look at Jesus!

15:1-35

At the end of chapter 14 we noted Saul’s ‘obituary’: not because Saul is dead but because of the fact that Saul is ‘spiritually’ dead and the focus in the story must now turn to the future: to the rise of the person who would be a king after God’s own heart. The present chapter is a ‘bridge’ to the new section which will begin with the ‘secret’ anointing of David. It teases out for us the reasons for Saul’s rejection.

The story begins with the LORD giving very clear instructions to Saul through Samuel as to the utter destruction of the Amalekites (1-3) who had been given 300 years to submit to the LORD and were no better than they had ever been: mercy had been afforded but the LORD must, ultimately, act against sin. Saul initially seems to do what had been asked of him (4-7) but, very soon, we realise better: the LORD might assist him to victory, but he wanted the spoils (8-9). His God was a talisman who lined his pockets!

At which point there is a break in the story, for there is something else we need to know before the tale proceeds. The LORD is about to act in a manner that we might perceive as ‘over the top’ in rejecting Saul. We need to understand that it breaks the LORD’s heart to reject anyone (11a) and it grieves his faithful servants, like Samuel (11). Yet, we also need to understand the ground for the LORD’s actions: not to obey the LORD’s word is to ‘turn the back’ on him (11b).

The following verses explore this theme more fully. Saul has already undertaken his ‘devotions’ and is on his way to worship (12) when confronted by Samuel and challenged as to his obedience. In response to being exposed, Saul acts in a manner characteristic of those who seek to evade the call to radical repentance:

• he blames others: ‘they… the people’ (15) are blamed: cant that Samuel immediately cuts off in mid-flow (16): he points Saul to his own personal responsibility before the LORD: ‘you’ (repeated, 17-19);
• he listens but does not hear: he continues to blame others and promote his own faithfulness (20-21).

So Samuel is forced to expose the seriousness of disobedience. He stresses:

• the trappings of formal religion are of little importance alongside obedience to the LORD (22);
• disobedience is as bad as being a spiritualist or worshipping another god (23). There is only one to whom we are to go for guidance and help: to go elsewhere is high treason before the only true God.

Saul’s reaction is tragic:

• he shows remorse but still places the blame elsewhere and appears to think that a mere profession of his sorrow will enable him to resume his relationship with the LORD, as previously (24,25). Saul believes in cheap grace.
• when faced with the terminal consequences of his actions (26-29), he declares his repentance but only so that he will not lose face (30,31). His repentance is self-driven not conviction-wrought.

16:1-23

The end of chapter 14 offered something of an obituary for Saul… surprising given the fact that he was yet to live a number of years. Chapter 15 explains this enigma: Saul is ‘spiritually’ dead, having shown himself both incapable of that obedience that the LORD demands of those who lead him people and unable to find himself to repentance when confronted with his failure. So what next for the people of God?

Sorrow can sometimes be self-indulgent. Samuel was, as we have already noted, right to bemoan Saul’s failure and he may have felt somewhat responsible (1a). However, the LORD steps in (1b). Samuel is commissioned to anoint a new king even while Saul lives (1b).

Much of the detail of this chapter is there to provide the setting. For example, Samuel, obviously had to act with circumspection (2-5). Such detail provides the setting for the critical points that are emphasised. Note, therefore,

The people clamoured for a king when Saul was appointed (chapter 8). Here, however, the initiative lies with the LORD himself (1). This clarifies the point that it was not so much that the LORD was opposed to Israel having a king but that it was his sort of leader not theirs that was all important. This reminds us that leadership among God’s people is not determined by our choice but his.

Samuel’s reaction to seeing Eliab brought a shart rebuke from the LORD (6,7). Not the David was not a ‘pin up’ (12a) but that it is not essentially these qualities that the LORD looks for: he looks for those whose inner life is directed towards him. Leadership among God’s people should be in the hands of those who are seeking to follow him in all things. At this stage David was only a young man, he needed to be brought to maturity, but it was his attitude not his natural attributes that are singled out.

David’s leadership was characterised by the clear evidence that the Holy Spirit was present in his life (13). Those whom the LORD calls and are wholehearted for him, receive the divine equipping that they need to perform their calling.

The gifting of God will be appropriate to the calling and be recognised by others (18). The last paragraph is something of a peculiar one and understanding the details are difficult. Was Saul ‘possessed’ or are we to understand that when the LORD departed from him, a deep depression fell on him that music could ameliorate? We cannot be sure… in wehat sense is ‘spirit’ to be understood here? But what we do realise is that the marks of David’s future calling were present as the ‘sweet singer of Israel’, as wise beyond his years, as gifted for war and peace… above all of the LORD’s presence with him.

And David is now at Saul’s court… the best place (if the most dangerous) for advancement. But that is another story…. What we need to grasp is that the LORD knows his people need to be led. However, determining whom he has called requires more than our choosing the sort of persons we would like best. We must be alert to the spiritual qualities of those we appoint and be diligent to look for those evidences that show their wholehearted commitment to the LORD and that (even if only in embryo) the necessary qualities are present in them. Above all, perhaps, we look to the example of Jesus. To what extent is the spirit of Christ, described in Philippians 2:5-11 witnessed in those we consider fit for leadership?

17:1-58

In chapter 14, an obituary is provided for Saul: as far as the LORD he is no longer the LORD’s anointed. Chapter 15 teases out the reason: Saul’s self-seeking and ongoing reluctance to put the LORD first. So who is the LORD’s anointed now… chapter 16 tells us: it is David: someone the LORD has taken the initiative and chosen himself: someone (16:7, the key text!) whose ‘heart’ is right with God. This naturally leads us to ask the question: what does this sort of person ‘look’ like? Chapter 17 is intended to supply us with an answer.

The story commences with Israel in a ‘big hole’ about 15 miles west of Bethlehem where the story last left us. They are faced:
a) by an armoured super-man, probably near double the height at just under 3 metres of most of those in either the Philistine or Israelite camps (4-7: note, we are spared no detail that is not intended to make us quake in our boots)!
b) by his ‘super-words’ (8-10), oft repeated (16) such as produce the natural reaction:
c) panic (11, see also 24)!

Consummate story-teller as our author is, he builds up the tension as he re-introduces us to David (12-22) and takes us step by step with David till he finds himself in the front line and he hears Goliath for himself (23) and witnesses Israel’s reaction (24).

We know, of course, the rest of the story… but do we? What are the human and divine authors wishing us to grasp?

The key to understanding this chapter is the repetition of a word in the original Hebrew that is variously translated in the NIV ‘defy’ (10,25,26,36,45) and ‘disgrace’ (26). The clue to understanding this is that Goliath’s act is to be viewed as defiant mockery of the living God of Israel (26,36,45) and it is David who grasps this. Goliath (10) and the people (25) merely see the event in terms of political power games. It is this reality that guides David’s conduct… even if there is a prize at the end no-one is likely to win (25,27)! It is not without significance that this is the first time that David speaks in the Bible: his heart is revealed here. Away in the wilderness as a shepherd boy he has learned to one thing needful and is ready to apply it.

But before he is able to put his faith into practice he has to face the faithless comments of others… first, interestingly, by both ‘macho’ men of the sort one might have humanly expected to have relished the challenge of tackling Goliath. Thus Eliab mocks David with the typical scorn of a cornered faithless bigger-brother (28,29). Big brute as he is, Eliab is already speaking not for Israel but for Goliath. Thank God he is not Israel’s anointed!

And David must face a second Goliath before he tackle the ‘real article’ (30-39). The encounter with Saul highlights David’s weakness (33,38,39 and Saul’s thinking like Goliath: might is right. No wonder the LORD has rejected him. David does not stand a chance against Goliath.

Finally, he has to face the bravado of Goliath himself (41-44): words that send a tingle of fear down the spine!  But David recognises the score and has confidence in the LORD (45-47); not in his faith! After all the build up, the denoument is brief (48-51) and Israel’s subsequent victory complete (52-54). It is almost as though the author’s interest in the story has waned… it was inevitable, after all, wasn’t it?

So what sort of person does the LORD look for? Someone single-hearted for him and his glory. Someone ready to face mockery and contempt. Someone whose confidence ig God outweighs any personal sense of weakness. Someone confident in the victory of God himself. Someone like great David’s greater Son (Phil. 2:5-11).

And the warning: we can sometimes have the mind of Goliath when faced with our David’s.

18:1-30

The LORD has rejected Saul (chapter 15) and, secretly, appointed David in his place (chapter 16). Why the rejection of one and the choice of the other: chapter 18 has spelt this out in showing that David (not always perfectly… but that is another story) put the LORD first! Yet chapter 17 ends with a strange scene. Saul, who already knew who David was, asks who he is! Here is no reason to suppose the author is confused (the expedient of faithless interpretation) but to use the imagination! Saul’s spies (for every good ruler has them) may have picked up something about Samuel’s trip to Bethlehem…and David is the ‘son of Jesse of Bethlehem’ (17:58). Ah now….

However, as we read through the story we notice that nearly everyone loves David: Jonathan (1,3), all Israel (16), Michal (20,28), Saul’s attendants (22).. all except Saul, who fears David (you cannot miss it: 12,15,29).

And why did the crown prince divest himself of his person and position (1-4) and why is Saul antagonistic (see, especially, 29):  ‘because the LORD was with David’. Both recognised that the Goliath incident pointed the finger at who was the LORD’s next king. Whether they liked it or not, friend or foe, especially foe, recognised that the LORD was with David (12,14,28).

Meanwhile, David goes from strength to strength. He is feted for his success at overthrowing Goliath (5-9), seems to do everything right as military general (12-16) and even when Saul attempts first to kill him directly (10,11) and adopts a similar strategy to the one that David will use with Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, it backfires and David become a member of the family (17-27)… and success continues (30).

Was David blind to what was going on? Possibly. 10f could be dismissed as ‘one of Saul’s bad days’ and 17ff. a naïve response to what, in the circumstances, might seem an incredible and privileged offer…. The LORD’s blessing may have obscured |Saul’s malice!

So what does the story teach us?

• some of us can become so blind to the blessing of God of others that we strive to work against the LORD;
• for some of us to recognise the LORD’s blessing of others may mean we have to ‘decrease’;
• some of us can be so caught up with the LORD’s blessing of us that we fail to detect the signs of real and sustained evil behind the apparently affirming or ‘explicable’ words and actions of others.

The New Testament is full of those who were like the first… even one of Jesus’ closest friends, John, Jesus’ older cousin knew the second and, repeatedly, Jesus and his followers warned against ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. There is much for us to learn here!

19:1-24

In the last few chapters Saul has been rejected by the LORD (14): the reason, disobedience (15). Consequently, David is, secretly, chosen (16) and the wisdom of the LORD’s choice demonstrated in David’s faithful trust (17). At the end of the chapter (17:55-58) the ‘penny drops’: Saul recognises that David is the one appointed to succeed him. Indeed, David’s continuing success marks him out as the entire nation (bar one) come to love David. Saul is roused to fearful hatred… a showdown is to be expected!

But the two do not slug it out because David, the great warrior, is willing to be a refugee rather than force the issue before the LORD’s time. It will be 13 chapters more before David ascends to the office to which the LORD has appointed him.

Meanwhile, the present chapter, describes four different attempts by Saul to ‘liquidate’ David:

1) ‘he was found dead in a dark alley’ (1-7): the work of the secret assassination squad
2) ‘oops! It slipped again! (8-10): Saul’s murderous attempt.
3) ‘Oh! He unfortunately lost his life when being taken in for questioning’ (11-17): lets try the Police;
4) ‘Get the traitor!’ (18-24): no pretence now, ‘Just get him’.

But what are we to learn?

• The evident success of God’s ‘anointed’ can prompt repeated attempts at termination by those opposed to the LORD. The approval and blessing of God will frequently bring to the surface the evil dispositions of those who are not really seeking God but only themselves;
• Sometimes the opposition against the LORD’s ‘anointed’ appears highly effective (David has to run away), humiliating (helped by a woman to escape through the bedroom window) and leaves us powerless and unprotected (Samuel might be God’s prophet but he had no temporal power and received no respect when the enemy was in view!
• Sometimes reason may succeed (for a time), and friends may prove valuable, but only the LORD can keep us safe. There is of course an irony that the two who helped David were Saul’s own children. The former used reason, the latter guile. Each offered a temporary protection. But ultimately, only the LORD could protect David and, sometimes, the Spirit needs to do so with brute power. And there is irony here, too. What ‘prophesy’ means is unsure; possibly it means they were coerced to join in the worship of the LORD. Intent on destroying the LORD’s anointed they forced to offer worship to his LORD. How utterly embarrassing!
• Sometimes the fact that we are still standing is testimony to the fact the Lord is with us. David was still not safe… and would not be for some time. But he was still standing and sometimes the evidence the LORD is with us is just that!

Of course David’s greater Son can stand alongside this chapter and say ‘Amen’ to it… and so can many others in the history of God’s people. How, then, might it apply to you, me… us?

20:1-42

David now knows he is in trouble (3): the fourfold attempt of Saul to liquidate him in chapter 19 can leave him in no doubt but that, as far as Saul is concerned, his life is forfeit. So what can he do?

Humanly speaking, the last place to go is Jonathan. Saul makes the point in verse 31 in the words, ‘you and your kingdom’: simply put, for Jonathan to ‘side’ with David involves his own forfeiture of his own future as the King of Israel! But David’s actions don’t make sense either: he promises (14,15) to preserve Jonathan and his family when he becomes king. Again, put another way, David risks his own well-being by not liquidating the potential challengers to his authority. Neither actions are common sense to those who live by the world’s standards: which is why Saul gets so angry: he doesn’t ‘get’ it (30).

Why, then, such strange conduct? It is not simply that the two men were fond of one another (little is made of this in the present chapter). The key lies in verse 8: ‘you have brought me into a covenant of the LORD’. Simply, in obedience to the will of God, they have committed themselves to one another: the ‘greater’ (Jonathan) submitting to the ‘lesser’ (David) and the ‘lesser’ promising to honour the ‘greater’ when, he himself, has risen to power and authority. In this relationship, there is security ‘peace’ (42) and the certainty of protection and help. And it is this that stands at the heart of the chapter. As a story we can pass from 11 to 18 but to understand its ‘theological’ point, 12-17 are essential!

That, then, is the lesson of this chapter… and it provides us with ‘pre-echoes’ of the New Testament where the language of covenant re-emerges in the interpretation given by Jesus of his own death. From that perspective:

• Jonathan prefigures another ‘prince of peace’ who, to fulfil his covenant obligations to us, ‘made himself nothing’ that we might receive all!
• If we are in such a ‘covenant’ then it is a place of ‘peace’ and security. The communion service understands the security of Jesus’ covenant with you and me: ‘the body and blood of Jesus Christ keep you to eternal life’. And the New Testament is full of statements that declare he ‘saves from death, destruction and despair’.
• Those who have entered into God’s covenant, live the life of a covenant community. Baptists have always emphasised this and been quick to seek to disciple the erring. The challenge is this: within the Church ‘Life does not consist in achieving your goals, but in fulfilling your promises.’ (Davis) Or, from another perspective, life in community is the place where security, trust, peace, the fruit of self-abnegation, is to be found.
• Finally, this life-style is counter-cultural. It doesn’t make sense except to those for whom obedience is the primary virtue and who know the empowering presence of God’s Spirit in their own lives.

Once again, then, an obscure chapter in the Old Testament proves that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable…that the man and women of God may be … equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3:16f). May we so view Jesus and appreciate the covenant into which he has brought us that we live as those who are the covenanted people of God… not by the standards the world expects.

 

21:1-15

David’s life is forfeit… Saul is determined to ‘have’ him and covenant with Jonathan or no, the future does not look bright for the LORD’s anointed. So what happens next…

It is easy to read chapters such as this ‘moralistically’ (e.g. Should David have gone to Abiathar and eaten the ‘bread of the presence’? Was he wise to flee to the Philistines? Should he have gathered together with the ‘riff-raff’ of society?). This is especially so when until 22:5, God does not seem to figure in the picture at all! Indeed, the LORD, until 22:5 seems silent and best and absent at worst!

But this fails to recognise that this is part of a ‘succession narrative’ that traces God’s replacing Saul by David. It is telling us how the LORD brought this to pass. We need to read the section in this light: the LORD is at work here… but how? Note then:

He gives us our daily bread (21:1-9). The reference to Doeg (7) is ominous, as we shall see, and Abiathar is right to suspect that David is not telling the whole truth; and David may have done so to protect him, we cannot know! However, the point is that David obtains what he needs ‘then and there’: a meal and a means of self-defence. This was enough for the moment.

He saves us from ourselves when we are witless (21:10-15). That David flees to the Philistines is testimony to his confusion. He is, presumably, worried witless and makes a serious and possibly fatal error of judgement. But he gets away with it. Surely there must be someone ‘upstairs’ looking after his case.

He provides protection from the most unlikely sources (22:1-2). They were not the friends that David would have chosen: ‘Give me a band of crack, trained military personnel’ might have been his own request. But friends and supporters were provided… people who would fight ‘tooth and nail’ for him: after all; they were more desperate than him, he was their only hope.

He over-rules our past so as to provide answers in the present (22:3-4). David’s Mum and Dad probably did not want to be uprooted at their age. But David had a Moabite ancestry (Ruth was his Greatgranny) and that past was to be able to provide and answer to David’s family needs.

He leads us (22:5). This is the crux. The LORD has abandoned Saul. He is without divine guidance or witness. But the prophet is sent to David! In extremis, the LORD is not silent: he speaks and guides.

And if he did this for David, he will do it for us. While we may long for peace and he seem far away, he is present, if unseen, working and shaping our circumstances to his purposes and so as to fulfil his plans for us.

 

22:1-23

We have already noted that we are in that part of 1 Samuel that is often described as the ‘succession narrative: it shows how the LORD effected the transfer of power in Israel from Saul (whom he had rejected) to David (whom he had appointed as one ‘after his won heart’ and in Saul’s place). The story continues to outline how the LORD protected David from Saul but, here in particular, contrasts Saul’s self-destructive decline with the LORD’s provision and leading of David.

Saul’s power-base is weakening under the impact of his murderous megalomania and, as history repeatedly depicts, such leads to his resort to threats and brutalised conduct (after all he now has nothing else; even the Benjamite bodyguard, selected from his own ‘tribe’, are not wholly at his beck and call!). This is accompanied by bewilderment that any should side with his rival (a typical reaction of a bully who has lost touch with reality). Such a person is pitiable… but dangerous.

However, having apparently lost the full confidence of the other tribes, he uses a typical appeal for self-preservation to at least keep his own tribe on side: though it appears he believes they, too, have abandoned loyalty to him… like his son (6-8). Meanwhile, his belief/fear that the high priest has betrayed him and played the traitor (or, simply, his frustration that another seems sympathetic to David), comes at a tremendous cost to Ahimelech and his family (18,19) but also to Saul. He loses the support of the palace guard (17) and (by means of his own action) the LORD’s guidance. Along with the prophets, the priests were the guardians of the ephod, through which the LORD revealed his will, and such were his spokesperson’s. Here Saul ignores the one (14,15) and loses the other (23:6). Instead, he mimics the LORD’s commands whose disobedience of which had lost him the LORD’s support (compare 22:19 with 1 Sam. 15:9). Antichrist is revealed.

The passage is instructive. Disobedience, unaccompanied by repentance, means that we can suppress (and even seek to destroy) the LORD’s testimony. We can. ourselves, become ‘antichrist’. 

But this is not the whole story… Abiathar escapes to David (22:20-23) and, brings the ephod with him (23:6). And with both Gad the prophet (22:5) and Abiathar and the ephod, the LORD is seen as present with David to guide and protect him (23:13). All that Saul had lost, David has received: in the case of the ephod, through Saul’s own madness. Saul may huff and puff but is, ultimately, powerless against the LORD’s anointed… as Satan was with great David’s greater son!

We note, therefore, the contrast… Saul, disobedient, unrepentant, worldly in attitude, left ultimately with nothing except an ever more isolated brutality against those who seek the LORD and his ways. And… on the other side, the divine presence and his guidance and protection. True, it may not come the way it did for David… (and even for him it was in the midst of death-defying difficulty!) but the certainty is, nevertheless, one to which we can hold on!


23:1-29

Those of us who have been following the story are well aware of the background to this passage. David is in mortal danger as a refugee from a malevolent king who is seeking to use every power in his hand to find and kill the man he views as the greatest threat to the ongoing success of his dynasty. There is, of course, a profound irony here: Saul is himself his own ‘worst enemy’. It is his refusal to live in obedience to the LORD that has brought about the threat of the demise of his rule…. However, that is not the main focus of the present section which is devoted, rather, to showing how the LORD helps and encourages David through his dangerous flight. And what was true for David, we can be sure is true for us too.

What becomes very apparent in these stories is that Saul’s spy network was effective (as every sovereign would wish). Despite David’s deliverance of Keilah (1-6), there were those ready to pass on the news of his whereabouts to Saul (7). Similarly, the Ziphites revealed his location (19). By 26a the effect is such that we expect ‘squelch’ and the end of the story of David! This is not, of course, what happens. David is delivered, ironically, by the Philistines (26b-29)!

So we note that:

1) when were are living in God’s will, he will deliver us in the most unanticipated ways and by the most unexpected people. Our hopelessness and helplessness is not the end of his purposes. 

But, if the LORD delivered David by what was an apparently remarkable piece of timing, it is not the only way he cared for him in this section. Note, therefore:

2) When Saul was confident ‘God’ had delivered David into his hand (7,8), David was, once again, guided by the LORD (9-13a) and Saul was left to rue the opportunity (13b). When we are walking in God’s will, he will guide us and protect us. Again, the means may be different (we do not have an ephod) but the certainty remains.
3) When David found himself in the wilderness (and his own personal wilderness) the LORD provided friends to support him and encourage him (15-18). That Jonathan found his way when Saul did not is remarkable. But the LORD knew David’s need and supplied it. When we are walking in God’s will, he will provide us the comfort we need.
4) Even more so, Jonathan’s presence was accompanied by his reassuring David of the truth of the LORD’s word. In trial we can forget it… but even Saul knew the truth! Friends are great… but those who remind us of the certainties of the word of God are better! When we are walking in God’s will, his word can be trusted.

Thus, try as he might ‘antichrist’ Saul was as powerless… as the dragon in Revelation 12.  If we walk in the will of the LORD we can be confident of the one who is our LORD and God… as David’s greater Son discovered!


24:1-25:1

David may have been spared the immediate prospect of liquidation by the intervention of the Philistines: but it was a mere moment before, appraised once more by his MI5 of David’s whereabouts, Saul is back: this time with his crack troops (1,2).

But there are some needs that are common to kings and refugees: and a ‘bathroom’ is one (3a): and Saul’s need apparently turned the tables: he is now defenceless (perhaps literally ‘with his trousers down’) in the presence of David and his armed men (3b). SO much for the background…

The rest of the chapter is almost all conversation…. and highly applicable conversation, too.

The response of David’s band of ‘merry men’ is understandable; they know God’s promise and here is a heaven-sent opportunity to bring it to fulfilment (4a). Surely David must realise ‘This is the Day’ when the enemy is overthrown and God’s purposes fulfilled (Davis suggests that you can almost hear them singing the chorus!) Or is it?

David’s first response seems to be to agree (to cut off part of the royal robe is to claim royal status) but then he is mortified by what he has done (4b,5). With strong words (the Hebrew for ‘persuaded’ 7, is VERY strong!) David sets the apparent providence, even the promises of God, alongside the recognition that Saul has a sacred role (6). And herein lies a profound lesson for us. Reading the signs is not as easy as we sometimes imagine; sometimes it requires reflection that itself gives a discernment of what is taking place and how we should act. Attentiveness to God in his word… a

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