1st Samuel:  A Prophet and a King

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1st Samuel
A Prophet and a King

Lives of Samuel, Saul, and David.

Background: Written shortly after the reign of David, perhaps using earlier records and eyewitness accounts. The books of Samuel and Kings are a continuous record.
Theme: The institution of the Monarchy and Prophets
Outline: Samuel, Saul, and pre-king David
Key Verse: "But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command." (1 Sam 13:14, NIV)

Chapter Index to First Samuel


The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Vol I, Old Testament) is an excellent resource and is referred to as the BKC.

I. Preparations for Monarchy (1-9)

A. Samuel’s Childhood (1)

1:1 Elkanah was a Levite, mentioned as an Ephraimite because of where he lived, not because of tribal membership. Samuel would therefore be a Levite, and able to serve in the Tabernacle.

1:2 Perhaps Elkanah loved Hannah but took a second wife because she was barren. Compare this to Abraham taking Sarah’s Egyptian handmaiden (Hagar) who bore Ishmael, and the resulting rivalries.

1:11 Samuel contrasts with an earlier Nazirite by birth, Samson, and may be compared to the later Nazirite by birth, John the Baptist.

1:28 It is much easier to take a vow or make a promise of what we will do if the Lord blesses us than it is to carry out that vow. Hannah truly believed the child was from the Lord, and her strong faith put this into practice by bringing Samuel to serve at the tabernacle. This verse is often used in the dedication of a child to the Lord (where believer’s baptism is practiced), the parents promise to raise their child in the ‘nurture and admonition’ of the Lord. In Hannah’s case, the child was left at the tabernacle. In modern child dedication, the parents are to raise the child and train him/her to serve the Lord.

B. Hannah’s Song (2:1-10)

Chapter 2 may be seen as a chiasm emphasizing the difference between Samuel and Eli's sons and between Eli and Samuel's parents.

   Hannah's Song 1-10
        Samuel Serves 11
            Eli's Sons Sin 12-17
                Samuel Serves 18,19
                    Eli Blesses Samuel's Parents 20, 21a
                Samuel Serves 21b
            Eli's Sons Sin 22-25
        Samuel Serves 26
    Man of God's Oracle 27-36

2:1-10 Hannah prayed this poem or song. Did she make it up? Perhaps it was a victory song for God's people that she knew and thought appropriate for her situation.

2:3 Hannah is able to rebuke Peninnah, who taunted her in prior years.

C. Situation at Shiloh (2:11-36)

2:12 The Tabernacle has come on hard times when compared to it's status during the Exodus. Now we see the heirs to the High Priest as wicked men.

2:27 A prophet reveals the will of God to the high priest, Eli. Samuel will function as a priest and prophet.

2:29 Note that Eli participated with his sons in the sin of eating the sacrifice in an unlawful manner. It is difficult to discipline our children as they become adults. But Eli was not only weak on discipline, he actually cooperated with their sin.

D. Samuel’s Call (3)

3:8 There is more than one purpose in God's call here. We think first of the LORD speaking to Samuel for the first time, but the message Samuel is given is directed at Eli. By having Samuel go to Eli three times in the night, the LORD is showing Eli that He is speaking to Samuel. Eli will know that it is the LORD, and not a child's dream or fantasy. Also, the High Priest Eli will confirm that Samuel, the first of the line of prophets, is hearing the voice of God. In the same way, when the Lord is at work in our lives, it is not only for our benefit but for those around us who may see that our Lord is a living and caring God.

E. The Ark (4-7)

4:1 During the earlier Judges oppressions by the Canaanites were, in part, due to Israel not finishing the task of conquest of the land. Here, the Philistines included those in the land before the conquest and additional migrations around 1200 BC (Samuel was born around 1200 BC). The additional population would pressure the Philistines to expand their borders.

4:3 This use of the Ark, apart from seeking the Lord Himself, may be likened to the casual use of the Cross, medallions, or religious miniature statues today. Even the seeking or use of symbols ordained by God (the ark) cannot substitute seeking the Lord. This is a continual temptation to God’s people, and many on the edges of Christianity are deceived into acceptance of the symbols without the reality of going to God in faith and prayer. It would have been better for Israel to ask God instead of seeking her own answer ("Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today?"). Indeed, it is easier to go to church on a Sunday morning than to truly seek the Lord’s will and understand how He is working in our lives. In either case, the easy surface answer is no substitute for genuine seeking of the Lord’s will in our lives.

5:2 When one nation conquered another, it was natural to assume that their god was more powerful than the god of their enemy. In this case, the ark of the LORD was brought to the temple of their 'god' Dagon, whom they assumed was more powerful. Events will show that the LORD was more powerful than the empty idol Dagon.

6:6 The diviners and Philistines knew of the Exodus encounters with Pharaoh some centuries earlier, which shows that God’s dealings with Israel were know to some degree by the neighboring peoples. God had further revealed some truth to the Philistines by His actions, the plague of tumors and toppling of Dagon. The Philistines, however, did not seek to worship God but to get rid of Him.

7:12 This stone, Ebenezer, is referred to in the song "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." The verse reads "Here I raise mine Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come". This reference puzzles many who sing the song, but simply means that the LORD has brought us to our present point in our spiritual (and physical) life. He has been sufficient for every need and trial.

F. Selection of a King (8-9)

8:7 In the theocracy to this point in history, the LORD was King and ruled directly. He intervened by raising up judges. The judgeship was not passed from father to son, but for some reason the people seemed to expect Samuel's sons to follow him. However, the LORD tell Samuel that this is a matter of rebellion against Him, and not dissatisfaction with Samuel. It was the LORD's desire to eventually give a king, for the rules of kingship were given through Moses in Deuteronomy.

9:3-11 BKC 1 More specifically, the term ‘seer’ in Hebrew and in English is related to the word ‘see’ and indicates revelation by means of visions or dreams. The word ‘prophet’ emphasized the speaking of the word of God, and may be predictive prophecy or simply declaring what God has to say. Seer and prophet are synonyms.

II. Kingship of Saul (10-31)

A. Saul’s Rise (10-14)

10:1-8 BKC 1 On verse 6, ‘changed into a different person,' by context can be taken as Saul temporarily having a different ‘character,' he certainly acted out of character by wildly prophesying. The sequence of exact events could not have randomly occurred, as Samuel had foretold them, and they were evidence of the Lord speaking these words through Samuel. This may have been an ecstatic praising of the Lord. Was Samuel 'Charismatic'?

11:2 The blinding of one eye would destroy the men’s military value as well as be a disgrace to Israel. It would be difficult to fight with only one eye, and especially make the bow and arrow difficult to use.

11:10 The men clearly lied as they did not intend to surrender. Perhaps subterfuge is allowed in war?

12:17 Asking for a king was evil because the people did not want to rely upon the LORD. God had intended to inaugurate a kingship which would culminate in the coming of the Messiah. However, the people did not want to wait, but wanted a king like other lands.

12:25 This verse sets up a major theme which continues until the exile, that if the king and people do evil they will be swept away.

13:9 The king is not a priest, and cannot actually offer the sacrifice himself. By doing this, Saul broke the law as well as the command of Samuel to wait for him. Kings are subject to obey the word of the LORD spoken through prophets.

14:6 Jonathan had faith, and did not rely on human resources above the resources of the LORD. His faith was put into action, while his father was passive.

14:24 A rash oath. It appears that Saul was more interested in his own glory and revenge than he was in the glory of the Lord.

14:39 The priest acted wisely in reminding Saul of the LORD, but Saul takes a second rash oath.

14:45 The men had good reasons to rescue Jonathan. Would Saul have been right in killing his son? I think it would have been a sin to kill him under these circumstances, although Saul sinned by taking an oath that he did not fulfill. Taking of oaths is very serious business, and we must remember that we do not have control of our lives and the future. It is easy to take an oath, but not always easy or possible to carry it out.

B. Saul’s Rejection (15)

15:13 Irony is evident in Samuel’s reply, "What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears?" That Saul disobeyed is evident. Note also that Saul speaks religiously to a man of God (‘The LORD bless you’) and yet had build a monument to himself, not the LORD. As John would later say, "Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and truth. (I John 3:18 NIV)"

15:22 A memory verse, "To obey is better than sacrifice ..."

15:23 Rebellion (against the Lord) and arrogance are attitudes and are labeled as sinful, compared to divination and idolatry.

C. Saul and David (16-26)

16:7 This is a great memory verse of a timeless truth, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the eart." For this reason we should seek the Lord’s wisdom in prayer about people we know and meet.

16:17 The soothing effects of some music is well known and documented. This verse is perhaps the first recorded use of Music Therapy.

17:11 Remembering that Saul was a head above the other Israelites, we might expect him to take on Goliath.

17:37 Killing the bear and lion gave David confidence, but his confidence was properly placed in the LORD who delivered him from the bear and lion. Our victories in the LORD should be remembered, and glory given to Him. They also prepare us for struggles ahead.

18:13 David was put into danger in military exploits, and sent away from court where he was gaining favor and a coup would be possible. Saul measured David by his own heart and what Saul would do, not by David’s character.

19:1 Two of Saul's children, Jonathan and Michal, will be loyal to David and work to save him from their father's anger.

19:6 This is a good oath, but unfortunately Saul will keep it only for a season.

19:20-24 As in Chapter 10, this prophesying may have been an ecstatic uttering of praise to God. The men and Saul had gone in opposition to God and His plan, but were subject to the LORD and were overwhelmed by His Spirit (although not willingly).

20:33 This is perhaps akin to saying, "Saul was so angry he took a swing at him!" Saul is repeatedly seen to be ineffective with a spear when he is in a rage, having previously missed David on a number of occasions.

21:1-6 Jesus would later say of David, "He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread -- which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests" (Matt 12:8). In this reference Jesus approved of what David did and placed a higher priority on life and mercy than on obeying the letter of the ceremonial law.

22:3 Ruth, from Moab, was David's great-grandmother. Also, Saul had fought against Moab. Both of these are reasons for the King of Moab to shelter David's family from Saul.

22:5 Only one king may reign, but more than one prophet may be active. Although Samuel is still alive, God uses the prophet Gad to speak to David.

23:16 David was a man after God's own heart and a natural leader. Even so, it is a friend who "helped him find strength in God." Are we able to do this for our friends? Or is our advice based on our own abilities and 'self-help'?

24:6 and 26:9-10 David was very careful not to strike the LORD’s anointed. In 26:10 he indicates it is the LORD’s prerogative to remove Saul, not David’s. A parallel is the instruction in the New Testament on only removing an elder (including a pastor) for serious cause and with two or three witnesses.

25:22 David takes a strong oath, yet will be talked out of keeping it.

25:44 So we see David with three wives at this early time, a characteristic of his later kingship where he continued to gather wives. This was a characteristic of pagan kings, and was a spiritual and moral flaw in David.

26:19 Serving the LORD would be in the context of being with His people and in the land he gave to them. By being chased from the land, David is being deprived of his place in Israel and among the LORD's people. David will not forsake the LORD, but the complaint is that he is being denied the privilege of being in God's land with God's people.

D. Saul’s Death (27-31)

27:2 David will become a vassal and ally of a Philistine king. He will raid the enemies of Israel, but not the Philistines. Still, the people he raids are allied with the Philistines, and he will be walking a dangerous path.

28:10 It is ironic that Saul swore by the LORD to the medium, whose practice was clearly condemned by the law.

28:19 Even after being told by Samuel that he would lose the battle die with his sons the next day, Saul went into battle.

29:8 David was actually relieved that the other leaders kept him out of the battle. He could not fight against Israel, yet I do not think he wanted to betray Achish (although he had no obligation to the other Philistines).

30:1 The Amalekites took advantage of the Philistine-Israeli war and the absence of David’s men. If David's men battled along with Achish, they would not have returned to Ziglag until later, and perhaps it would have been a defeated or weakened David that did return. Saul had displeased the LORD by not destroying Agag, the king of the Amalekites, years earlier.

31:10 It was a common practice to hang the bodies of the enemy leaders as a sign of scorn.

Please send comments or suggestions to Samuel@iStudyBible.com
Updated March 2012

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