The book of 1 Samuel in the Bible is something of a bridge between eras in Israel’s history. Samuel himself is something of a bridge. He’s the last of the judges. He’s a prophet. He anoints two different kings. He oversaw the transition between Israel as a group of tribes in which everyone “did that which was right in his own eyes” (the theme of Judges) to Israel as a unified nation under a king.
But the transition was not a smooth one. In desiring a king, Israel had rejected the Lord’s leadership. The first king, Saul, had much to recommend him, but he failed spectacularly. David was anointed king, but didn’t come to the throne for several years, and he was on the run from Saul much of that time.
Perhaps the contrast between David and Saul is why Warren W. Wiersbe titled his commentary on 1 Samuel Be Successful: Attaining the Wealth that Money Can’t Buy. But other characters in 1 Samuel have varying degrees of success in following and serving the Lord as well.
The book begins with a childless woman with a longing. Hannah had no children, and she pleaded with the Lord to grant her a son. She promised that she would give the child back to the Lord.
There’s so much treachery, bloodshed, and confusion recorded in 1 Samuel that it’s refreshing to meet at the very beginning of the book a woman who represents the very best that God has to give. The leaders of Israel had failed, so God sought out a woman He could use to help bring truth, peace, and order to His people. She served God simply by being a woman and doing what only a woman could do—give birth to a baby and dedicate that child to the Lord (p. 194).
It’s an awesome fact that, humanly speaking, the future of the nation rested with this godly woman’s prayers, and yet, how much in history has depended on the prayers of suffering and sacrificing people, especially mothers (p. 20).
Eli was a priest whose sons committed awful atrocities in their offices as priests. Eli knew what they were doing and rebuked them, but didn’t restrain them. When Hannah weaned Samuel, the child the Lord had given her, she brought him to Eli’s care in the tabernacle.Somehow Eli protected Samuel from the corruption of Eli’s sons.
The Bible says that during this time, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” (1 Samuel 3:1). Wiersbe comments, “It was a tragic day in the nation of Israel when the living God no longer sent His people signs and prophetic messages (Ps. 74: 9; Ezek. 7: 26; Amos 8: 11–12; Mic. 3: 6). The silence of God was the judgment of God” (p. 32).
Yet at this time, God spoke to Samuel, and Eli taught Samuel to listen and respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:4-18). And “the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:21).
Blessed are those older saints who help the new generation know God and live for Him! However Eli may have failed with his own sons, he helped to point Samuel in the right direction, and the whole nation benefited from it. . . . Eli hadn’t been a great spiritual leader, but he was one small link in the chain that led to the anointing of David and eventually the birth of the Redeemer (pp. 195-196).
Samuel became a godly man who followed the Lord all his life and led the people faithfully. The one spot on his record is that his sons also abused their ministry. We don’t know the circumstances, but Samuel isn’t blamed for his sons’ behavior as Eli had been. Wiersbe offers some possibilities as to what could have gone wrong with Samuel’s sons, but ultimately we just don’t know. Samuel repeatedly pointed the people to the Lord.
Samuel is an example to all older believers who are prone to glorify the past, resist change in the present, and lose hope in the future. Without abandoning the past, Samuel accepted change, did all he could to make things work, and when they didn’t work, trusted God for a brighter future. God didn’t abandon the kingdom; He just chose a better man to be in charge, and Samuel helped to mentor that man. Every leader needs a Samuel, a person in touch with God, appreciative of the past (p. 197).
Saul started out well. He seemed humble in the beginning. But there doesn’t seem to have been much of a personal relationship between him and the Lord. Wiesrbe says, “His was the shallow heart of our Lord’s parable of the sower. There was no depth, the tears were temporary, and no lasting fruit ever appeared” (p. 195). Saul began taking matters into his own hands instead of waiting on God and following His directions. “Serving God acceptably involves doing the will of God in the right way, at the right time, and for the right motive” (p. 92). “To know God’s will and deliberately disobey it is to put ourselves above God and therefore become our own god. This is the vilest form of idolatry” (p. 95). Then Saul began to be jealous of David’s fame, then became murderous and unstable. His decline is one of the saddest parts of Scripture.
When Saul was chosen king, he was given authority from God and from the nation, but when he won this great victory, he gained stature before the people. It takes both to be an effective leader. The difficulties began later when Saul’s pride inflated his authority and began to destroy his character and his stature. David was humbled by his success, but Saul became more and more proud and abusive (p. 65).
Jonathan was Saul’s son and heir to the throne, yet Jonathan recognized his own father’s instability and David’s call. He was a true friend to David.
Jonathan leaves behind a beautiful example of what true friendship should be: honest, loving, sacrificing, seeking the welfare of others, and always bringing hope and encouragement when the situation is difficult. Jonathan never achieved a crown on earth, but he certainly received one in heaven. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Rev. 2: 10) (p. 200).
David was a “man after God’s own heart.” As I mentioned in an earlier post, pastor Stephen Davey says this doesn’t mean David was perfect, but his priority was God and His will and his relationship with God. Much could be said about David. He’s one of my favorite Bible characters, though I’ve grieved over the fall to come in the next book.
David was a unique blending of soldier and shepherd, musician and military tactician, commander and commoner. In spite of his sins and failures—and we all have them—he was Israel’s greatest king, and always will be until King Jesus reigns on David’s throne as Prince of Peace. The next time we’re tempted to emphasize the negative things in David’s life, let’s remember that Jesus wasn’t ashamed to be called “the son of David” (p. 200).
Finally, 1 Samuel isn’t just a book of exciting stories, downfalls and successes, battles and failures. “The Lord is mentioned over sixty times in 1 Samuel 1—3, for He is the chief actor in this drama” (p. 17). Throughout the book, God orchestrated His will to be done and His coming Messiah’s preparation.