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THE OVERVIEW OF 1 SAMUEL

1 Samuel 1:1-31:12
Key Verse: 2:30b

1 Samuel starts with Hannah’s barrenness and giving birth to Samuel who raised Saul and David, and ends with David’s life of victory and blessing and Saul’s tragic death. God has in mind to establish through David the glorious theocratic kingdom of Israel, which would be the shadow of the messianic kingdom. God’s bigger picture was for the salvation of mankind by sending the Messiah Jesus his Son into this world. God is sovereign, the Lord Almighty. He chooses people according to his sovereign will and uses them for his purpose. However, there is a principle in God’s way of working. God said in 1 Samuel 2:30, “Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained.” We have seen the truthfulness of this word in the story of 1 Samuel. Let’s overview 1 Samuel based on this.

First, Hannah, Eli, and Samuel (1-12). Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Penninah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. It was because the LORD closed her womb (1:5, 6). This means that God had purpose in her life, but she probably had not known it for a certain period of time. At her childlessness her rival Peninnah kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. In her fatalistic situation Hannah only wept, even refusing to eat. Her husband Elkanah’s love could not soothe or comfort her. Then when she went to the house of the LORD, in bitterness of her soul she wept much and prayed to the LORD. In her great anguish and grief, she did not fight a human battle with her rival or tried to be comforted by her husband’s love. She poured out her soul to the LORD in prayer. Also, in her prayer she vowed to offer her would-be-giving son to the LORD for all the days of his life. In this way Hannah fought a spiritual fight. And her prayer for a son was not just out of her human desire, but also to serve God’s purpose.

Then God heard her prayer and gave her a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.” And she knew that she had to keep her vow before God. Then before dedicating her son to God, she stayed at home not going to the annual sacrifice in the house of God, and nursed her son until she had weaned him. Surely it was also the time of spiritual nursing to have spiritual impact on the baby Samuel. Afterward she kept her vow to God, putting her son under the care of Eli, though he was not that trustworthy priest. Then the boy ministered before the LORD. He, being protected from Eli’s wicked sons, grew in stature and in favour with God and with men.

In this way she honoured God from the time of her barren state until she kept her vow to God. During this time she learned who the LORD is, confessing in her song of prayer, “There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one beside you; there is no Rock like our God…he humbles and he exalts…He will give strength to his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed.” Even Hannah could foresee the Messiah, God’s anointed. When she honoured God, God honoured her by revealing himself and God’s way of working in history to her and by practically granting her three sons and two daughters on top of raising Samuel to be a great servant of God for the nation Israel.

Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD. They could not even wait for the meat of the sacrifice to be fully cooked before they ate it. In this way they treated the LORD’s offering with contempt. They also even slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. God said to Eli through a man of God, “Why do you honour sons more than me?” Thus Eli despised the LORD. God said to him continually through the man of God, “Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained.” And God held him responsible for failing to restrain his sons, and told him that the priesthood would cease in his family line. In his time the ark of God was captured and his sons died in the battle with the Philistines. At the terrible news Eli died in his old age falling backward off his chair with his neck broken. In this way Eli was disdained. When the ark of God was captured, the glory of God departed from Israel.

Samuel was called by God when he was a boy. When God called him, he showed his readiness, saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Soon after, he heard the judgment message concerning Eli from the LORD. It was not easy for him as a young boy to deliver the message directly to Eli, but he did so in the honour and fear of the LORD. God called Samuel to be a servant of God’s word at the time when the word of God was rare. God revealed himself to Samuel through his word. And Samuel’s word came to all Israel. God let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground, which implied Samuel’s absolute attitude toward the words of God. And in his time the ark of God returned to Israel. It was done through two cows that had calved and had never yoked, but carried a cart with the ark of God in it and went straight up to the territory of Israel, lowing all the way, although their calves were taken away and penned up. The cows overcome their natural instinct to care for their calves and kept on going on the totally new way, carrying the yoke of the cart on for the first time. When the cows came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, which was one of towns of Judah assigned to the priests (Jos 21:13-16), they were sacrificed as a burnt offering (6:7-14). The cows reminded of Jesus the Lamb of God, who went all the way to Golgotha carrying to the cross and was sacrificed on the cross for our sins and so to open a new and living way to God.

After around 20 years of suffering the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD. Then Samuel helped them very clearly, saying, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” Then the Israelites put away their Baals (the god of money) and Ashtoreths (the god of pleasure), and served the LORD only.

Samuel led a spiritual awakening for the nation at Mizpah. He interceded with the LORD for the people. They fasted and repented of their sins. Then on hearing of this assembly the Philistines came up to attack them. At the earnest prayer request of his people, Samuel cried out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf, and the LORD answered him. That day the LORD thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. God’s people won a great victory. Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebnezer, saying, “Thus far has the LORD helped us.” Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines and the Israelites enjoyed peace. Samuel continued as judge over Israel all the days of his life. He was truly a blessing to the nation.

When Samuel became old and his sons did not walk in his ways, all the elders of Israel asked him to appoint a king over Israel like other nations. This was rejecting God as their king and rejecting his servant, Samuel himself. Samuel was displeased at this request. But he came to God and prayed and received God’s answer to listen to them. He obeyed this direction wholeheartedly. He carefully saw God’s leading at each step and finally recognized God’s chosen one Saul and anointed him the first king over Israel. In his farewell speech he testified to his clean life to his people, taught them sense of God’s history upon the nation, helped them to repent of their sin of the evil of asking for a king, and assured them of God’s unchanging love for them, his own. Samuel loved Saul and raised him up wholeheartedly. However, when Saul was going on a wrong way in disobedience to God, Samuel had to deliver God’s message of rejection to Saul to his heart-pain and said, “You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!” (15:26). And then with much care he found and anointed David new king over Israel, hearing God’s word, “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (16:7). And throughout his life he engaged in prophet-disciple raising ministry for the future of the nation. When he died, all Israel assembled and mourned for him. Certainly, Samuel’s life was the life of honouring God and being used by God honourably in a great degree during the time of transition of the nation from the era of judges to that of kings. In God’s honour Samuel laid the foundation of the nation Israel after the time of anarchy, and was known as the spiritual father of the nation.

Second, Jonathan, Saul and David (13-31). Jonathan was a son of King Saul. First of all he was a man of faith. The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore. The Israelite soldiers were only three thousand and not a solider had a sword or spear in his hand except Saul and Jonathan. In that situation Jonathan wanted to attack the Philistine camp first. He said to his young armor-bearer, “Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.” There was a cliff between the two camps. But Jonathan climbed up the cliff, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. Then strangely the Philistines fell before Jonathan. Soon the ground shook and it was a panic sent by God. God brought about the great deliverance in Israel accepting Jonathan’s faith.

Jonathan was on his way to be the next king as crown prince of Israel. But when he came to know David, he became one in spirit with David and loved him as himself, making a covenant with him. Jonathan took off his robe and gave it along with all his other royal possessions to David. This act was giving up his right to kingship. He did this certainly discerning God’s will that David would be king of Israel and he be the second. He defended David before his father Saul who tried to kill David. He stood on the side of David to the end, which he believed was right before God, all though it meant breaking the relationship with his father. David’s life was safe through Jonathan’s protection. Jonathan had sworn friendship in the name of the LORD having God as witness between them and between their descendants forever. When David was fiercely pursed by Saul at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, Jonathan went to David and helped him find strength in God. Jonathan’s friendship with David is forever beautiful in God’s work and history beyond his time in this transitory world. Jonathan truly honoured God, not ruled by his selfish ambition and we believe that God’s eternal honour was with him.

Saul was a man who seemed to be humble in the eyes of people. When he was about to be established as king before the people of Israel, he hid himself among the baggage. He experienced the power of the Spirit of God through which he could muster three hundred and thirty thousand men of Israel and defeated Ammonites who threatened the people of Jabesh Gilead. But he did not know obedience to God. When he was fearful, he compromised with the people and the situation and did not obey God’s direction absolutely to wait for Samuel seven days. Samuel said that Saul had acted foolishly, not keeping the command of the LORD. God granted Saul another chance to obey God by giving him a command to destroy the Amalekites totally, not sparing anything. But Saul spared Agag king of the Amalekites and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lamb—everything that was good. He obeyed in his own way, which was disobedience to God. Yet, after this he went to Carmel to erect a monument in his own honour (15:12). When he met Samuel, Saul insisted to Samuel that he did obey the LORD. He was in self-deception. Then Samuel replied, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams….Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.”

In his pride and disobedience with no repentance to God, Saul was self-centred and in broken relationship with God. He was jealous of David, who was praised by people more than he. Then the rest of his life was to pursue David to kill him, only to fail to do so, because David’s life was in God’s hand. While in the pursuit of David, in his anger toward those who did not seem to support him, he even had eighty-five priests killed. When his heart was filled with terror because of the army of the enemy Philistines, he inquired of the LORD but there was no answer. In his desperateness he consulted even the dead Samuel, only to hear the same truthful message as he had heard from Samuel when he was alive that God had turned away from him and rejected him and tore the kingdom out of his hands because he disobeyed the LORD. Finally his life ended in a tragic death in the battle with the Philistines, his head was cut off and his armor stripped and his body put in the temple of the foreign gods. When Saul despised God in his pride and disobedience, he was disdained and ended his life in great dishonour.

David was a mere shepherd obey in Bethlehem as the youngest son of Jesse. When Samuel came to Jesse’s house to find next king, David was not even in the list Jesse recommended. He was in the field tending his father’s sheep. When he was brought, the LORD said to Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” Afterword David, a seventeen year old boy defeated Goliath the Philistine campion on a duel with just a stone on a sling. The stone David flung sunk into the forehead of the Philistine and he fell facedown on the ground. Then David killed him with the sword of the Philistine. He had said to Goliath, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defined.” David’s triumph over Goliath could be the preview of Christ’s victory over Satan crushing his head through his death and resurrection. After the victory David became very popular among Israel, especially among women. At this very moment of people’s recognition God’s training began.

While he was with Saul in Saul’s house, Saul tried to pin him to the wall ruled by an evil spirit. But David eluded him twice. Even through marriage with his daughters to make David his son-in-law, Saul planned to destroy David. But Saul’s schemes didn’t work out. Another time David was in his own house, Saul sent his men to capture David. But it also didn’t work. Finally David had to flee from Saul. He once went to the house of God for help in his hunger and danger. But in the end, the priest Ahimelech who gave him the consecrated bread out of compassion on him was killed along with his father’s whole family. The horrible killing was done by Doeg Edomite, Saul’s head shepherd who saw what had happened in the house of God and told it to Saul. Unwittingly David made others suffer tremendously because of his own life situation. He thoroughly experienced the evilness of man. Surely he could not understand humanly why such a thing had to happen. But when he came to God, he could believe in God’s unfailing love, being convinced that the evil would face everlasting ruin, but the righteous have final victory. Another time he had to act like a mad man despised and humiliated among people.

While he escaped to the cave of Adullam, all those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him. They were needy and demanding people about four hundred. But David wanted to take care of them as a shepherd and leader of them. Later the number increased to six hundred, and in David’s shepherding they became his men.

Another time David and his men saved the people of Keilah from the Philistines who attacked them. But the citizens of Keilah were ready to surrender David to Saul, completely forgetting the grace that had come to them through David. He had to experience another side of evilness of men. Yet, he learned to come to God more and more inquiring of the LORD at each difficult time. God answered him without fail. David could not trust unfaithful men, but God was faithful and trustworthy. David fled here and there escaping to the Desert of Ziph and then the Desert of Maon. While he was in the Desert of Maon, David and his men were chased by Saul and his forces very closely and about to be captured by them. At that moment Saul heard the news of the Philistines’ raiding the land. At this Saul had to break off his pursuit of David and went back to meet the Philistines. God’s invisible perfect protection was there. Faithful God was his refuge.

Then the situation became opposite. David had two opportune times to destroy Saul. While David was in a cave in the Desert of En Gedi, Saul came in there to relieve himself. His men told David that this was the day. Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe. Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to the men, “The LORD forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, or lift my hand against him; for he is the anointed of the LORD” (24:6) With these words David rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. This one incident showed that David honoured God as God with the fear of God in his heart at that very moment. What another perfect opportunity! David and Abishai came to the place where Saul was lying inside the camp with the army encamped around him. They were all sleeping, because the LORD had put them into a deep sleep. Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of my spear; I won’t strike him twice.” But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed and be guiltless?...the LORD forbid that I should lay a hand on the LORD’s anointed” (26:9-10). David and Abishai just took Saul’s sword and water jug that were near his head. This act of David confirmed that he truly honoured and feared God as God. The time of God’s training was so hard that he felt like a dead dog (24:14). Yet in such difficult situations David mentioned “the LORD’s anointed” seven times (24:6, 6, 10; 26:9, 11, 16, 23).

On another occasion David had enough reason and power to avenge himself toward Nabal, who had paid him back evil for good. But through listening to Abigail Nabal’s wife, he did not avenge himself even toward Nabal-kind person. Soon after God dealt with Nabal and struck him to death. David surely had accepted Abigail’s insightful advice that he should not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or having avenged himself at any case in his life and kingdom. This event also showed David’s honouring God as God.

God’s last training upon David in 1 Samuel was that his six hundred men were talking of stoning him. For each one was bitter in spirit at the unspeakable sorrow of having their wives and children taken captive by Amalekites. David was greatly distressed because, on top of losing his own two wives, his men’s so bitterly and unexpectedly turned against him. He became totally alone. This was the situation in which he could have been bitter toward God and given up everything. But he found strength in the LORD his God. Thus he was paving his way to be a man after God’s own heart. Then with the strength in the LORD he fought the raiding party of Amalekites and recovered everything. Nothing was mission. David brought back everything, even the plunder the Amalekites had taken from the Philistines. The plunder was overflowing and his men shouted, “This is David’s plunder.” But he knew that it was the LORD’s plunder and shared the plunder with all those related to him. The day was the day of great victory and blessing to many others, otherwise it could be the most bitter day in his life.

When we think of the God of David, he is the God of training with his great purpose. God trained David to mould him to be a man after God’s own heart. At each time of God’s divine training David had a right attitude with the honour and fear of God in his heart. When David honoured God, God’s honouring him followed. Later on he would be raised as king over Judah and then over Israel in 2 Samuel. I pray that we may not avoid God’s training but receive the divine training with a right attitude at each time so that his purpose for us will be accomplished in our lives.

Thank God for our study of 1 Samuel. May we deeply accept the words of God, “Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained.” May we honour God as our God, sovereign King through our obedience to him and by having a right attitude toward his training for us. May the honour and fear of God grow in our hearts, especially at each difficult life situation so that we can be used by God in his redemptive work and history.

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