[Taken from the monthly “Notes” for March, 2012.]
1st Samuel spans the years from the end of the period of the Judges and ends with King David as an old man contemplating how his young son Solomon will take over the kingdom. That is about 100 years covered in just 30-40 pages. We read of Samuel who gives the book his name, though clearly someone else finishes the book, because he dies at Chapter 25! We learn a lot about King David, of course, and the other key person is Saul, the first king of the united kingdom. But why?
Well, for one thing it is interesting history. We deal with military coups, palace & political intrigues, immorality, and why we should not be too quick to assume that leaders are really godly just because they look godly. Just like today! But why did God cause this collection of stories to be written? Is it merely so we can learn from the characters? — to be like David and not like Saul? Perhaps and in a little way, yes, but we will struggle to make sense of some parts if all we do is look for moral examples or warnings in the lives of Samuel, Saul & David. What shall we do when we are not sure whether someone should be copied or not? What will we say about ourselves when we try to copy the “good guys” but fail? Where is our hope then?
This is not just any old narrative; it is God’s history. If it is God’s history, then this book makes most sense in the context of all that he was doing throughout the Old Testament. So, it is real history and it is theological history at the same time. And because we read this book now from the perspective of knowing that Jesus Christ has come, we know that 1 Samuel must somehow taking us from the Garden of Eden to the Cross and Empty tomb of the Lord Jesus, and beyond. In this sense we know more than those who were caught up in these events as they happened – Eli, Elkanah, Samuel, David, etc – even though they had much more detail. The godly people in the narratives were all real people, and they all knew that God was doing something to fulfil his promise made in Eden to crush the head of the serpent, and the godly knew that this would somehow involve the seed of a woman [Gen 3:15]. But they did not know how it would all end; we do. As with any story, knowing how it all ends shines great light upon why the author weaves his many characters together. So it is with God’s story as “His-story” leads up to the coming Saviour.
Israel had already seen her “saviours” come and go in the personages of the Judges. Those “saviours” had worked – for a bit – but never sufficiently and they had never really provided security for the whole land as a “kingdom”; and kingdom is where Samuel takes us. Now we know that Kingdoms need kings, and that kings, for all their faults, can be of two sorts: God-worshipping and grace-appreciating as David was, or “God-using” and grace-despising as Saul was. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference but over time we’ll tend to know. From David on, this is the pattern.
So there we have it: 1 Samuel is the story of how God sets up his king, and sets him up in a way that exposes all other sorts of king. In time, the son of David [Solomon] will build the Temple but neither David nor David’s son will be adequate to keep God’s covenant. They sin, and their descendants eventually sinned their kingdoms into judgment and exile. The whole of the Old Testament brings us to the point where eventually, at the right time in God’s history and in fulfilment of promise, Jesus came, born as David’s royal descendant. He is the true “Son of David” and as our Champion secures an eternal kingdom, inherits all the covenant promises and builds a living temple out of living stones [I Peter 2].
Is he building with you?