These three men (Samuel, Saul, and David) are the three main human characters in 1 Samuel. All three are leaders, so leadership is very naturally the focus of 1 Samuel. Remarkably, the prayer-song of Hannah, Samuel’s mother, anticipates four key lessons on leadership that will repeatedly come to the forefront in the pages that follow.
First, Yahweh is unrivalled in His uniqueness and in what He is for His people (2:1-2).
Hannah herself experiences God as her Rock in His delivering her from the ignominy of barrenness (1:19-20; 2:1-2). Even after Israel gains a king, God is still Israel’s sovereign who will sweep them and their king away if they forsake Him (12:25).
Second, God knows and assesses all human actions (2:3-5).
Godly Eli, for example, finds himself rebuked by God for his failures as a father and sees the demise of his family. Saul may have felt good about his victory over the Amalekites (he was even building himself a monument), but God viewed the matter differently and told him so through the prophet Samuel.
Third, Yahweh is sovereign over the affairs of mankind and often reverses human situations based on His assessment (vv. 4-8).
Samuel walks with God and rises from obscurity to nation-wide prominence as Eli’s replacement (3:20). David, a brother not even worth calling from the sheep pen, is anointed as Israel’s next king in the midst of his seven older brothers (16:11-13).
Finally, no one prevails apart from God’s favor, blessing, and empowering (vv. 9-10).
Jonathan prevails in his battles with the Philistines because he worked with God (see chapter 14). Saul loses God’s blessing when he chooses to disobey, and his personal life and reign unravel.
These four themes recur in the stories of 1 Samuel (and in 2 Samuel as well). I have given only a couple examples for each. Hunt out more as you read.
A word that occurs in 1 Samuel more than any other book in the Old Testament is the noun anointed (2:10, 35; 12:3, 5; 16:6; 24:7, 11; 26:9, 11, 16, 23). Used in Leviticus to refer to the anointed priest, Samuel uses it for the first time to refer to the office of kingship and, specifically, to the king as God’s anointed. Significantly, this term anointed is the word from which we get Messiah and some Bible versions even translate it as Messiah in Daniel 9:25-26. Samuel is introducing us to Israel’s kingly office as a type of the future Messianic King.
Why is it a problem that Israel asks for a king?
First, as we saw in Ruth, God was already at work in providing a king for Israel. Israel jumped the gun. Samuel may have been old but he lived on for another couple of decades—long enough, in fact, to anoint both Saul and David. Second, Israel’s motive in wanting a king was wrong. They wanted to be like all the nations (8:5, 20). They desired a king to fight their battles—a human leader they could look to for deliverance in tough situations, instead of being so dependent on God.
In giving Israel Saul, God gave them what they asked for. Saul was physically impressive and successful on the battlefield (like other nations’ kings), but he lacked any kind of genuine relationship with God. As you read about Saul, look for troubling signs: he does not even know who Samuel the prophet is. He takes his cue from what’s happening around him or what his people are saying rather than what God has commanded. He builds his first altar to the Lord in a time of desperation. He begs Samuel to worship with him primarily in order to save himself from embarrassment.
By contrast, God chose David because of what He saw in David’s heart. “Man looks on what his eyes can see, but Yahweh looks on the heart” (16:7). David is by no means perfect—as even the stories of 1 Samuel reveal—but his heart is wholly turned toward Yahweh and because of this he experiences the help, favor, intervention, protection, and empowering of the Lord. As you read of his harrowing days as a refugee, keep track of the many ways in which God providentially cared for him.
David is a leader worth emulating and will ultimately become the standard by which all future kings of Israel are measured. He becomes the most mentioned human character in the Bible and a central figure in the lineage of Messiah.
- What three men are the chief human characters in 1 Samuel?
- Explain why Hannah’s prayer-song is significant.
- What are the four key “lessons in leadership” found in 1 Samuel?
- Cite an example from Samuel that illustrates each of these lessons. (Try to find an example other than the ones listed above.)
- What is the significance of the word anointed in 1 Samuel?
- In what two ways was Israel’s request for a king wrong?
- What are some indications in the text of Samuel that Saul lacked a genuine relationship with God? (Were you able to find the references to these as you read?)
- Saul was the people’s choice for king. (God gave them what they wanted.) David was God’s choice. What was it that led God to choose David?
- Think through David’s days as a refugee. Did David always act at the highest level of faith? What are some ways God providentially delivered David? (Do you think David needed to resort to lying and deceit in order to avoid death on other occasions?)