Samuel was a little boy in the service of Yahweh in the Temple. He grew and became a true model for all to see. One night, Samuel was sleeping and he heard someone calling him. He thought it was Eli so he ran to him. Eli said he had not called and the boy was dreaming. Samuel was to go back to bed and go to sleep. The same thing happened again. And again, Eli sent the boy to bed. The third time, Eli realized there might be some message intended for him. He told Samuel if he heard the voice again he was to say “Speak, Lord! Your servant is listening.”
When the voice called a third time, Samuel did as he was told. Yahweh spoke. He told the boy how evil the conduct of Eli’s sons was and how Eli was failing by not truly correcting them. So the house of Eli was to be destroyed.
The next morning, Eli called Samuel to him. Eli asks if he had heard any further message. Samuel tried to remain quiet but Eli put him under oath to tell exactly what he heard. Samuel made his report.
The fortunes of the Israelites turned truly bad. They were defeated by the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the enemy. A messenger came back to Eli with the bad news. Eli was so distraught that he fell off his chair by the gate and broke his neck.
Then the fortunes of the Philistines turned bad and they figured it is because of this Ark of the Covenant they had taken from the Israelites. They put the Ark on a cart and turned the oxen loose. The animals headed right for the Israelite camp.
For a period of about twenty years, the fortunes of the Israelites were at a standstill. Then Samuel was chosen as the judge or prime minister of the people. He went around the country each year like a circuit rider. He checked on the attitudes, actions, and conditions of the people. The fortunes of the Israelites grew continually all during this time. Samuel stayed on as Judge through his whole lifetime.
As he grew old, Samuel appointed his two sons as judges over Israel. This was not good. The sons were out to make money off their position. They were definitely not leaders or examples as their father had been. The people came to Samuel and told him of their problem. They wanted a king like their pagan neighbors. Samuel was aghast at the very idea. The people insisted and Samuel decided they were going to get a king with or without his help. He decided to give them a king so that he could have some influence or control over the choice.
The first king was a man named Saul. We are introduced to him now. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, very handsome, and in the prime of life. Some of his father's donkeys had strayed or been taken so Saul and a servant went to look for them. They had looked everywhere. Saul told the servant they should return home because his father would have stopped worrying about the donkeys and would be worrying about him.
The servant had heard about Samuel so he suggested they should see him before they go home. Saul had no gift for the seer but the servant said he had a coin and they could give him that. When they got near the town, they were told that Samuel was on his way to the shrine where he would bless the sacrifice and participate in the meal. To make a long story short, Yahweh had told Samuel to be on the lookout for Saul, that he was the man he had picked out to lead his people to victory and success.
Samuel invited Saul to the banquet and treated him as the guest of honor. Saul was amazed and very humble in his acceptance of this special recognition. The next morning, Samuel anointed Saul king of Israel and told him all the greatness he was to achieve. He gave Saul some signs that all he said was true, and told Saul to go on ahead and wait for him. He would be there in seven days.
When Saul got home, he told of his meeting with Samuel but said nothing about being anointed king. Samuel appeared and the people were all gathered together. Samuel cast lots and finally narrowed the choice of the new king to Saul. But they couldn’t find him because Saul was hiding. When they found him he was anointed king of Israel. Samuel dismissed the people. All but a handful accepted Saul. They would make trouble later on.
Two points should be mentioned here. Bashfulness and fear of public office were a part of Saul’s temperament. This tendency to feel unworthy would be the source of his psychological breakdown later in life. Secondly, Saul was not unanimously liked from the start. He knew this and this contributed to the moroseness that destroyed him.
Saul had a smashing victory over the Ammonites and some of his followers wanted to bring the insurgents forward and put them to death. Saul forbad this because they had just won a victory through Yahweh's help.
The Kingdom was established and Samuel was ready to get out of the picture. He gathered all the elders together and proclaimed his innocence before them. They agreed. He warned them of the dangers that awaited if they did not follow faithfully in the worship of Yahweh. Idolatry and the fertility cults would take over and they would be cut down by their enemies.
They had a king but the king and the kingdom would disappear unless the people followed the law of Yahweh without fail. However, in spite of repeated warnings and admonitions, Saul failed the test. He was supposed to wait seven days and Samuel would come and offer sacrifice and then they could go into battle. Saul did not wait. He saw the enemy gathering and his people were afraid so he offered the sacrifice himself.
Samuel rebuked him for his disobedience and told him explicitly that he and his family would be taken from power. His kingship would not continue. Jonathan, the son of Saul, is mentioned here. He was a great leader and would become a close friend of David.
The Philistines waged a new kind of war. They knew the Israelites did not know how to sharpen their swords, ploughshares, or any metal. They brought everything to the Philistines to get the work done.
Jonathan was out with his servant and he attacked the Philistine camp. He was coming off with a great victory. However Saul had proclaimed a day of fast. No one was to eat. Jonathan found some delicious honey and he said his father was all wrong in his proclamation. He ate the honey. Later, Saul made a big deal of this ritual failure and was on the point of killing Jonathan when the people interceded and Jonathan was saved.
Then Saul decided to pursue the Philistines and won a great victory. The Philistines went home. We are then given a short summary of the family of Saul and Saul’s success against the enemy.
Then we are told what led to the rejection of Saul. Saul defeated the Amalekites and was supposed to carry out the ban on all the people and animals. Saul spared the king and many of his family. He did not destroy any of the property that was worthwhile. He got rid of everything that was useless.
Samuel accused him of his failure to obey. Saul said he wanted to offer all this booty in sacrifice to Yahweh. Samuel laid down the basic principle that was to carry through all the stories of the Old Testament and into the New.
“Does Yahweh want sacrifice or obedience to his voice? OBEDIENCE IS BETTER THAN SACRIFICE, and submissiveness better than the fat of rams. Rebellion is a sin of sorcery and presumption a crime of the teraphim. (Teraphim refer to small idols representing household gods.)
“You have rejected the word of Yahweh. He has rejected you as king!”
Saul cried for pardon and one more chance but neither was given. Samuel killed the Amalekite king and then left. He was sorry for Saul but Yahweh regretted that he made Saul king.
With that judgment, the story of Saul is ended as far as the writers are concerned. He had expelled himself from the plan through his disobedience. Samuel was to choose the next king but he was afraid of the anger of Saul.
David now entered the picture. His father did not even bring him along for the showing because he was just a little child.
Saul began to have bouts of fear and doubt and terrifying soul-searching. He went into severe self-doubt with suicidal tendencies. The only thing that seemed to do any good in these psychological bouts was music. This was the occasion for David, a young man, to come into the service of the king.
The Israelite army was at a standstill. The Philistines had a giant, Goliath. They put him up as a challenge against any Israelite. None of the Israelites would accept the challenge. David came to the camp with some food for his brothers. Just as he arrived, Goliath roared his challenge. David looked around, figuring everyone would jump at the chance. No one moved. David walked up and offered to face Goliath. His brothers told him to close his mouth and get back to the sheep.
David was adamant and was chosen. The leaders quickly decked him out in a suit of armor. David could not even move. He had them remove the armor. He took his slingshot and five smooth stones from the riverbed. He walked out to face the giant.
Note: The Israelite soldiers saw Goliath as someone too big to defeat. David saw him as a giant too big to miss.
When Goliath saw this stripling coming, he roared with laughter and disbelief. David called right back. “You trust in your big sword and your great strength. I trust in Yahweh, God of the armies of Israel.”
David put one of the stones in his slingshot and let it fly. He caught Goliath right between the eyes and the giant dropped. David cut off his head and the Philistines stood aghast. The Philistines started to run and the Israelites pursued and had a great victory.
David was presented to Saul and Saul saw a possibility of victory. Jonathan, Saul’s son, and David became very close friends. David was given charge of larger and larger forces of the army. Wherever he fought, he succeeded. Soon the popular chant was “Saul killed his thousands, David his tens of thousands.” Jealousy and envy take over the soul of Saul.
Saul’s jealousy was so great that he wanted David dead even if it meant the destruction of his kingdom. Saul offered his daughter, Merab, in marriage. Then to insult David, he gave her to another man. Saul wanted David to continue fighting and hoped that the Philistines would kill him.
Saul had another daughter, Michal, who fell in love with David. Saul was pleased. He would give her to David in marriage. However David needed a ‘mohar” or “bridal dowry” worthy of the king’s daughter. He had nothing but a few sheep and they belonged to his father.
Saul came up with his plot. He would accept the foreskins of 100 Philistines. Saul figured David would be killed in the attempt to get the dowry. David went out and engaged a group of Philistines and killed 200 of them. He brought their foreskins back to Saul and counted them out for him. Saul was even more afraid of David and developed an undying enmity toward him.
Jonathan saw the attitude of his father toward David and interceded for his friend, David. Saul agreed with Jonathan and David again came into the service of the king. Saul fell into one of his moods. David came quickly to play and sing for him. Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear but David was lucky enough to escape. Michal helped David to escape. When Saul found out about it, Michal said she did it only because David threatened her life.
Jonathan was not convinced that his father was so angry or that he wanted to kill David. He tried to get David to go back into the court. David came up with a better plan. They would test the attitude of Saul. Jonathan was finally convinced that Saul was out to kill David when he even tried to kill Jonathan for defending David.
Jonathan went out to meet David and told him that he should get lost. His life was not worth anything with Saul. David fled.
He did not have anything with him, not even his sword. David came to the priest of Nab and asked for food to eat along the way. The priest was suspicious but David told him a story and got the loaves that had been offered at the altar. These were holy bread and reserved for the priests.
Then David said he had left on his mission for the king in such a hurry that he did not bring his sword. He asked to borrow a sword. The only sword present was the sword of Goliath and David took that.
Doeg, an Edomite, the chief of Saul’s guardsmen, was present at the time and saw all of this happen.
David decided to seek help or refuge in Gath. They remembered that he had been head of Saul’s army and had been very successful, so they decided that David should die. David played the madman and they chased him away.
Now David truly became an exiled outlaw in the kingdom. He hid in a cave and was joined by the members of his extended family. They numbered about four hundred men. David secured sanctuary for his parents with the king of Moab.
Now Saul took his vengeance on the town of Nob. Doeg told what he saw happen there and Saul summoned all the priests of Yahweh before him. They admitted that they had helped David because he was such a loyal and important servant of Saul. Saul said they were all to die. He commanded his servants to kill them. The servants refused to obey. Then Doeg took the sword and killed all the priests.
Samuel died at this time and all Israel gathered to mourn his passing. David went into the desert. There was a man there whose name was Nabal. (Nabal is the Hebrew word for “fool” and the name fits the man in this story.) Nabal was a wealthy shepherd. David and his men had guarded him when they were shearing their flocks. David sent some of his men to ask for some supplies from Nabal and they were given a curt and insulting refusal.
David decided Nabal was to be taught a lesson and he took his 400, all armed, to teach that lesson. Meanwhile, Abigail, Nabal’s wife, was told about the incident. She realized how stupidly her husband had acted. She meets David and his army with the supplies he needed.
When Abigail returned home, Nabal and his men were in the middle of a drunken orgy. She waited until he sobered up the next day and then she told him what she had done. Nabal apparently suffered a stroke and died of it about ten days later. Then David proposed to Abigail and was accepted. Now he had two wives, even though Saul had taken Michal and given her to another man.
David now showed how easily he could get rid of Saul if he wanted. Saul and his army were encamped. David and one of his men sneaked into the camp while they were asleep and took Saul’s spear and water jug. Then they walked out of the camp and called across the valley to alert them as to what they had done. Saul and his army realized how easily David could have killed them.
Saul protests that David was safe but David was not fooled. He now decided that he must go and live among the Philistines. At least he would know who his enemies were. His force had now increased to six hundred men. Saul stopped the pursuit.
David played a very dangerous double game while he lived here. He would go out and raid various villages and kill off all the people. Then he would tell the Philistine king that he had killed off certain Israelite villages. The Philistines figured they had David in a real bind. He could never go back to his own people because of his fighting against them and he would have to stay with the Philistines as their servant.
The reign of Saul was winding down in a rather dramatic way. The Philistines had encamped against Saul and his armies. Saul saw their size and power and called someone to tell him what the future held. Samuel was gone and Saul had commanded that all seers and visionaries and witches be killed. He learned that there was a witch at Endor and sent for her. She figured it was a scam but Saul insisted she was safe. He just wanted to consult Samuel.
She called Samuel and he confronted Saul. He told him the message had not changed from the message he gave the king during his lifetime. Saul would be defeated and die as also would his armies. Saul fainted with fear and had to be revived to get back to the camp.
Meanwhile the showdown came for David and his men. The Philistines had gathered all their troops, and David and his men were brought along by Achish. When the Philistine general saw these Israelites he was amazed. He figured it was some kind of plot and demanded that David and his men be sent packing. David put on a show of being offended at the lack of trust but he and his men gladly got out of the delicate situation.
When David got back to his camp, he saw that the Amalekites had been there and taken everything. David took four hundred of his men and set out in pursuit. They captured one of the enemy and came into the camp when they were all celebrating victory and lying around drunk. David and his men destroyed them.
The story of Saul ends. He and his armies were soundly defeated at Gilboa. Saul wanted one of his servants to run him through with a sword but the servant was afraid and refused. Then Saul committed suicide by falling on his own sword. The Philistines desecrated the bodies of the Israelite soldiers. They made a special show of defiling the body of Saul. So the life of Saul ended in total failure and disgrace.
At this point in the story, the Bible makes a division of the book of Samuel. The next part of the story is called Second Samuel. This is strictly for the convenience of referring to the story. The story goes right on in an uninterrupted way.
The young man who refused to slay Saul now told some lies that brought about his own death. He came into David’s camp bearing the crown and bracelet that belonged to Saul. He said that he had killed Saul at his own request and brought the proof to David. David was amazed at the audacity of the young man and he had him slain on the spot. The truth would probably have saved his life.
Then David mourned the death of Saul and Jonathan. One of David’s songs, an elegy, is inserted here. It is a beautiful dirge that commemorates the friendship and loyalty of David to these two men.
Now David went to Hebron and was anointed king of Juda. Meanwhile, Abner, Saul’s commander-In-chief of the army, anointed Ishbaal, Saul’s son, as king of Israel. So there were now two kings. Then came a series of stories of the intrigue and conniving that took place in the various camps. Finally, all the troubles were settled and David became the King of all Israel. He was thirty years old and he reigned for forty years.
Jerusalem was captured. The Ark of the Covenant was brought to the city. David was appalled that he was living in a nice house built of cedar and the Ark was dwelling in a tent. He asked Nathan whether he should build a shrine worthy of the Ark. Nathan agreed immediately. Then he was told by Yahweh that David was not to build the shrine. Instead, Nathan gave David a much greater vocation. Yahweh promised David a kingship that will last forever.
Reference to New Testament
Second Samuel 7:8-16 is the most important part of the whole recorded life of David. This is the promise that will be recalled and renewed, time and time again, by the prophets. When Jesus comes, he will see himself as establishing this promise in all its fulness. In Jesus, the kingdom of God, promised in David, finally arrives.
The rest of the story of David is one of intrigue, failures, and successes. David is frequently idealized as the great king of Israel. However the writers of the Bible never forgot his feet of clay and how often they stumbled.
One of those stories is told in 2 Samuel, chapters 11-12. It is the story of Bathsheba, Uriah, and David. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah and a beautiful woman. David saw her and was filled with lust. He wanted her but learned she was married to one of his soldiers. He took Bathsheba to bed and she became pregnant. David called her husband back from the front lines and figured he would think it was his own child. Uriah fooled him by abstaining from his wife while on leave.
David then had Uriah put on the front lines where the fighting was the heaviest. Uriah was deserted by his own men, surrounded by the enemy, and killed. When the report was brought to David, the commander said that if David got angry at the military loss, just to add that Uriah was dead. David started to bluster at the stupid campaign and then when he heard the closing line he smiled and quieted down.
Nathan, the prophet, came to David and told him a story about a rich shepherd and a peasant. He told how the rich shepherd took the peasant’s only sheep for his banquet rather than take one out of his flock. David rose up in righteous indignation to condemn the man. Nathan said simply: “YOU ARE THE MAN!” Then he applied the story to the deeds in the Uriah-Bathsheba story.
Bathsheba had the baby but the baby died. Then she conceived again and this time she had a baby who was called Solomon. We shall hear a lot more about him.
Some of the problems that plagued David in his personal life now cropped up in his family. The story of Tama, Amnon, and Absalom is one most filled with intrigue and lust. Amnon was the first-born of David and specially favored. Tamar was his sister and a very beautiful girl. Absalom was the brother of both. Amnon pursued and raped Tamar. Then he kicked her out of the house and she had to portray herself as a harlot. Absalom sees the situation and he killed Amnon. Then he had to flee because David was going to kill him. Joab talks David into forgiving Absalom and bringing him back to the kingdom.
Absalom returns the favor by plotting against David even to the point of stealing his harem. There was a pitched battle between the forces of David and Absalom. David was so miscued as to his love for Absalom that he tells his men not to kill Absalom. They did not like this favoritism.
Absalom finally met death in a rather gruesome way. He wore his hair in a high bundle on top of his head. He rode a mule under the branch of a tree. The hair caught in the branch and Absalom was hanging on the branch while the mule kept going. The soldiers came and killed him and then cut him down. Even then, David was excessive in his grief for a wayward son to the point of not even appreciating what his men had done for him.
The life story of David ended with one of his beautiful victory songs, an account of a rebellion and many battles and victories, and then David’s last mistake. He commanded a census to be taken. This was considered an insult to Yahweh and an attempt to exercise power over the people apart from God. A plague struck the whole land as punishment. David ended by offering sacrifices of atonement and the plague stops.
As the reader can see, there is no attempt to give a glamorous picture of this founder of the Jewish Kingdom. David was painted in all the lurid colors of pride, lust, revenge, and murder even though he was able to win the control of Palestine for the Israelites. His image was gradually cleaned up a bit especially in song and prophecy. But the stories were always there in writing for all to see and read.
David's successor was Solomon, his son by Bathsheba. Solomon was noted for his wisdom when he came to the throne of his father. However, he quickly surpassed his father in lust and had countless wives and concubines. With each concubine came foreign idols and ritual practices. Solomon tolerated these and took part in many.
His outstanding deed was the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. This was and is a magnificent structure 90 feet long, 30 feet wide and 45 feet high. The stones were all quarried and brought to the site ready to be placed. Nothing remains of that original temple, today. However, it was a grand sight for those days and clearly a center of religious unity for the people.
The second quality for which Solomon was noted was his wisdom. It was both practical and intellectual. He is considered the founder of all Israelite wisdom and all the wisdom literature, even in 50 B.C. is attributed to him.
Solomon ruled until 930 B.C. and when he died the kingdom split into the north and the south. Juda, with Benjamin as a tiny attachment, was the southern kingdom. The other ten tribes were the northern kingdom. The northern tribes built their own temple in the north and quickly turned it completely to idolatry. The north was wiped out and dragged into captivity by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The southern kingdom was able to hang on until 587 B.C. At that time they were slaughtered in battle by the Babylonians and dragged off into captivity. In 538 B.C. the Persians allowed a small remnant to come back to Jerusalem.
Application to New Testament:
This remnant kept alive something of the Jewish tradition until the coming of Jesus. Jesus constantly stressed that he was trying to establish the people of God as they were supposed to be. This picture was the one drawn for us in the prophets.