Sunday, February 27, 2011
Scripture Sunday: The First Book of Samuel
We're well into Israel's history now, and 1st Samuel has three main people whose stories we're following: Samuel, Saul, and David. Samuel and Saul are mainly the lead-up people before David arrives, because David and his family dynasty really dominate the historical books of the Bible.
Samuel was a special child. His mother Hannah was barren (you see a lot of childless women miraculously having children in the Old Testament) and she promised God that her son would serve the Lord all his life. And Samuel does. He's literally raised in the tabernacle by Eli, a wise old priest and judge who made a major mistake with his own children but somehow managed to show Samuel the right path. Samuel excels at his service and we're told "the Lord was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground". If Samuel says something is going to happen, it happens.
Samuel is a good judge for the people, but he has the exact same problem Eli had; he did not pass on any of his righteousness to his sons. Samuel's sons are as worthless as Eli's were, so Israel decides they've had enough of judges--they want a king. Samuel warns the people that if they get a king (which is not a form of government God has set up for them), the king will tax and oppress them and they'll regret it. But the people demand their king and Samuel anoints Saul, a tall handsome guy from the tribe of Benjamin. The Israelites are impressed with his appearance, but though Saul has some big military victories over the Philistines, it's not long before he shows some extreme lapses in judgement and the people are regretting their decision.
Saul makes wild, crazy vows on a regular basis and he disobeys God's outright orders. Samuel gives him a set-down about all his dangerous nonsense and Saul gets panicky because he knows that he's not going to stay king for long. Samuel goes to Bethlehem and anoints David, a teenager (I think) from the tribe of Judah to be the next king. This sets up a problem: we've got two anointed kings, and the first one is murderously jealous of the second. It doesn't help matters that David is inherently awesome--he's an amazing musician who plays the harp to calm the king down when he's troubled, he kills a giant with a sling and a stone, and as he gets older, he has more military victories than Saul.
So Saul tries to kill David. He throws a spear at him (twice). He gives David impossible tasks in the hope they will kill him, but David accomplishes the tasks. Saul tells his own sons to kill David, but Johnathan is David's best friend and he's definitely not doing that. David has to run away and hide from Saul, which leads to a lot of hardships, but David never tries to harm Saul, further proving that he's the better man. Saul spirals close to insanity, and God will not talk to him through any of the usual means. After Saul tries to contact Samuel's ghost, a forbidden practice that nonetheless succeeds, he learns that he and his sons will die in battle the next day. The prophesy comes true--Saul dies and the Philistines nail his corpse to a wall as a trophy. The First Book of Samuel ends with some Israelite men rescuing the desecrated bodies of Saul and his sons and burying them. A gory, sad end for Israel's first king.
My favorite person in this book: Saul's son Johnathan is incredible. Johnathan and his armor-bearer fight a whole garrison of their enemies by themselves and they kill twenty men. But he's not just an exceptional person because of his fighting skills--Johnathan has a rare gift for compassion and loyalty. Chapter 18 says that Johnathan "loved [David] as his own soul," which is a phrase I'm not sure we hear anywhere else in the Bible. You'd think Johnathan would be furious that he's not going to inherit the kingship, but instead he's 110% supportive of his friend. Johnathan's a man with integrity, and though he loves his father Saul, he knows that Saul is a ruined king and his reign is doomed.