1 & 2 Samuel

Course: Old Testament Survey

Lecture: 1 & 2 Samuel


Tonight we talk about the reign of Saul, David, and Solomon. This is what is called in many, many places the United Monarchy. The Israelites had a total of forty-three kings during their history. Forty of those kings reigned when there was a divided monarchy, that is, when the nation had split as a result of a civil war and did not become reunited. Many, many nations have split but gone back together again after a time, but North and South Israel were a lot like North and South Korea today, sometimes very bitter foes, other times more peace, sometimes actually fighting, sometimes even allies against some other enemy temporarily in certain ways, but the civil war had not been resolved and so most of the history is that way.

I. Three Kings

Tonight we deal with the beginning of Israel during which three kings, Saul, David, and Solomon reigned where the country was united under a single king. Even then we can see in the stories of the rivalry between David, for example, and Saul's sons that there were plenty of things that were not unified and the tendency for the north and the south to look at each other suspiciously, to feel separated one from another by regional differences and so on, was there from the very beginning. Nevertheless it was a united monarchy and because David ruled about forty years, his predecessor Saul ruled for some period of time, which is not certain unfortunately, Solomon, David's successor ruled, for forty years, we assume that the combined time of this united monarchy, the so called "Empire Years," was something like a hundred and twenty years. The simple problem with the reign of Saul is this: In the Hebrew, the original, it says, "And Saul reigned and two years." That is the way the Hebrew is worded. "And two years." Normally in Hebrew you say something like ten and two, twenty and two, or whatever. Normally you would assume that whatever it was it was some decade plus two. It was at least twelve, probably not more than forty-two, somewhere in the middle. In the New Testament there is a reference to the fact that Saul reigned "forty years." On that basis it would be very tempting to say, "Oh, this some kind of a botched up copy, some scribe got sleepy at that point." You know how you dream funny things or if some of you have had as many, a quarter as many, children as I have had and had to read them bedtime stories at night when you yourself are a little sleepy. My kids used to love it when I would fall asleep reading because I would drift off into nonsense. They would go, "Daddy, Daddy, you fell asleep!" They would love that. Maybe the scribe did something like that. The problem is this--forty happens to function in Hebrew like in English the expression "several dozen." In other words the word "forty" in Hebrew has a special usage. We see it so often. The Israelites were forty years in the wilderness, it turns out they were thirty-eight years and eleven months but you round it off to forty and forty means several dozen. The flood was caused for Noah by rain that came forty days and forty nights. That is an idiomatic expression that could be translated, "several dozen days and nights steadily." Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for forty days. It might have been thirty-six, it could have been fifty-one, it means several dozen. Because of this, one has to be a little careful about the New Testament reference to the Old Testament. Even though the New Testament is in Greek, the people writing the New Testament are all baptized Jews and they are all reflective of Semitic idiomatic language even in their Greek. We see lots of examples of that; it is not hard to prove it. That just gives us caution about accepting as purely literal the term "forty" in the New Testament. We do not know but everybody guesses somewhere around twenty years for the reign of Saul, probably not more than forty and that is the best we know how to do.

II. 1 & 2 Samuel

One of the wonderful things to be aware of when we start reading the stories is that 1 and 2 Samuel are really a unit. They get their name from Samuel, an early key character. He is the big early character in the book obviously. This is very normal. This is what is called incipit naming. Incipit is a Latin word, which means "the beginning of" something or "as it begins," beginning naming. We do this for many, many hymns and poems. What is the name of the hymn? "Blessed Assurance." How does it start? Blessed assurance .… What is the name of the hymn? Amazing Grace. How does it start? Amazing grace .… It is incipit naming; it is a very common thing to do. Some hymnals name all tunes by the incipit. Every tune, even if the more familiar term from the chorus, say "love lifted me", they will title the hymn, "I Was Sinking Deep In Sin." The Bible does a lot of incipit titling. An awful lot of the traditional titles come from the first couple of words or some key phrase early on or some character who is prominent early on. It turns out that Samuel dies still in what we call 1 Samuel. In a way to call a book 2 Samuel is funny. He is not in there, he is dead. Yet what really is being reflected here is that the two books were joined and were one book. It is in the Septuagint tradition, the Greek Old Testament, that we get the beginnings of the divisions. It is an awfully long book; it is easier to divide it.

A. Really what it is, is a bifid. I have used this term before, I will use it again. A bifid book, the Book of Samuel, does divide rather neatly down the middle at the end of the reign of Saul. You have, in what we call 1 Samuel, half way through the whole thing roughly, you have the reign of Saul and the life of Samuel and in the second half, as it were, you have the reign of David.

B. We are also going to go into 1 Kings 1-11 tonight to talk about Solomon. Notice the situation. Solomon who was in some ways Israel's most prestigious king, richest, most famous around the ancient world, perhaps most influential, at least in some key ways, he gets eleven chapters though his reign is forty years. Whereas Saul and David who certainly do not reign any longer than Solomon and who were much more local and less, kind of, cosmopolitan and international get much more coverage. In the same way we talked about the way the book of Judges is organized with a desire to get a message across and not as strong a desire to try to tell every thing "even Steven" chronologically. "If three years went by, let's give that this much space in our text. Three more years, that same amount of space." No. You want to make points, you want to get themes across, you want to teach people about God's relationship to his people and that is going to adjust your space needs and the ratios of space-to-time events in a different way than if you just told everything evenly according to chronological spacing. Same thing in Joshua as we saw it. I think it is obvious in Genesis that we saw that and we have it here again in the books of Samuel and the lives of the three great kings up until 1 Kings 11. We are going to see that likewise in the rest of the historical books, 1 and 2 Kings and in Chronicles and so on. It is very important, therefore, when you are thinking about planning out a preaching series not to say, "Well, I'm just going to cover everything evenly." You have to ask instead the question, "What is emphasized here? How has God inspired this? How is it put together?" If a heavy amount of the main principial material is loaded in the first quarter of the book should I preach more sermons from the first quarter of the book where the juicy stuff is than I do from any other quarter? The answer might be of course, that is exactly what you should do. When you are doing a Bible study, the usual thing is, "We're going to do chapter 14 next week because we did Chapter 13 tonight. Right?" The usual way. If you are wise about it you might just say, "Guys, I have organized this Bible study a little bit differently. Bear with me; I think you'll like it. We are going to do sometimes three or four chapters in one week and other times we are going to do a few verses in one night. The reason we are doing this is because there are some things that we'll see that way that we might otherwise miss." If people try it with you I think they can often enjoy the benefits accordingly. It is always useful to appreciate that the structure of these things and the things emphasized can sometimes be not in normal, typical proportion to the actual passage of time. They are not just what we call annals or straight, chronologically-based history. It is not just reports typed up. No, this is stuff where what happened is selected from and written up in a way that is constantly teaching you about what God wants, what his values are, how he is at work, and how we should be reflective of his purposes and interests. It is another kind of literature from straight history and we have to use it that way.

III. Three Levels of Narrative

I would like also to say something else while I am talking about introductory matters. This is something that we talk about in the book, How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth, but I just want to be sure you hear it. There really are three levels of narrative operating all the time. "Narrative," formal storytelling, that is what narrative is.

A. First, there is the top level of narrative and that is the level that really is the Bible's story as a whole. The great grand story of redemption. Here we are living in a planet where we are in sin and we need a rescue, we need a savior to come and help us, cannot do it ourselves and the Old Testament leads up to that and primes you for it and teaches you how it is a necessity. The New Testament shows it happening and points toward eternal life and so on. That is the big picture, the Bible story, the great top level.

B. But then there is going to be a middle level and that is going to be the individual, large blocks of material. For example, we might say the stories of Saul. These occupy most of 1 Samuel. All about how there was a need for him to become king and how he was chosen and the various up and down things--the whole account of Saul. Sometimes people use the term "cycle" for that. I am not sure why because it does not seem to me all that descriptive. But they will talk about the "Saul Cycle" and I think the idea probably is that you draw a circle around it and say in this circle is all the stuff about Saul--the Saul Cycle. I would just say the stories, the block that is about Saul.

C. But then there is going to be the lowest level or the lower level. That is going to be any particular, individual story about him. How, for example, he hid among the baggage one time when he should have been out there leading the people. Individual story, might be ten verses long or a chapter long or whatever. But that is the individual story. Maybe the story of how David could have killed him when he was in the cave but David did not and so what that demonstrated about Saul. Individual story, sometimes just a few verses, sometimes as long as a chapter or so. You need to appreciate the fact that that is the way it works all the time in narrative. You have always got three levels going at once. The richness of what God has inspired normally comes out better to you and to others if you will just say, "Alright, our Bible study, I'm ready to talk about the low level, that is this particular story of how Saul would get furious and how David calmed him down with music. I am ready to do that." But am I ready to say how does this fit within the overall block about Saul. What part of the story about Saul does this fill in? What if it were not there? What would we not know about Saul that we ought to know about Saul? That is the preparation in the middle level. But then for really effective Bible study I suggest you want also to say, "How does this relate to the big picture? Why is this thing in the Bible as a whole? With all the wonderful truths in Scripture, how come God included this story? What is the purpose? What is its special role, its particular contribution, its support to the real big plan of redemption?" That is very useful to ask. You do not want to overbuild the story and say, "This story about Saul and the cave is key to the atonement." You do not want to do that, you are overdoing it, so you have to put it in its proper place. It may be that you will say that this is a very small thing but you always ought to see how it somehow touches on the top level. This is part of really properly addressing a Biblical story. By the way, the term is often used pericope this term for an individual level of a narrative. A pericope means something you can cut around, it is a small unit but it is self-contained. You can say, "Yeah, here is a little story, a little incident." It is a story. Obviously, it is part of something bigger. You can actually cut it out of the page and you can still read it and say, "Okay, that is a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end." We call that a pericope. Another term that is used is passage. Passage is a looser term than pericope. Pericope specifically means a true, self-contained unit. Whatever is a particular, smallest, self-contained unit that you have got. You want to identify all three levels. Definitely in preaching you want to do that. If you are preaching through 1 Samuel, you are preaching through the middle level but you are preaching each week on one of the lowest level pericopes and hopefully you are always relating it every week to the big picture so that people come away saying, "I'm glad that I heard that sermon because that explained to me from that passage about things that relate to the big picture of why I'm a Christian and why I am trying to follow Christ and what my purpose is in life and what God's purpose is for me and for this world of his." It is great to do that. We talk about it and give some illustrations of it from the book of Genesis, and so on, in the chapter on reading narratives in How To Read the Bible For All Its Worth. But I think that this is a good kind of thing to be aware of. Sometimes this top level gets call the "Meta-Narrative." From the Greek meta that can mean, kind of, overarching, it is one of its possible meanings, or accompanying everything. The meta-narrative is the top level; just another terminology that is sometimes used.

IV. The Kingdom of Saul

Let's take a look at a map and just get a feel for something that I think is helpful to observe. This map is titled The Kingdom of Saul and I know you cannot see all of the individual locations and so on, but can you see that within the promised land there is this red line delineating the kingdom of Saul? Can you also see that there are a couple of circles within the outer red line? Those circles represent key territory that even during the kingdom of Saul was absolutely not in Israelite hands. If you had enough time and a very fine pen you could draw a lot of other circles too, because, in fact, lots and lots of Canaanites were living everywhere among the people. Broadly speaking, Saul was the dominant political leader of the whole area and the Israelites were more dominant than the Canaanites except in these two areas. One of them is around Jerusalem, the other is up in the country around Beth-shan and you see that right around that area is also the designation Mount Gilboa. Mount Gilboa is the place where Saul loses his life at the end of the book of 1 Samuel. That final chapter when he is killed and Jonathan the crowned prince is killed, they are battling it out at Mount Gilboa. What this means is that as I have drawn the arrow, the Philistines which already have a big bulge in there during his time, have driven the Israelites all the way in to other non-Israelite territory. Saul is fighting to keep the country from being totally divided. That is how desperate things were and how powerful the enemies could be at various times. Did Saul generally keep this under general on-balance Israelite control? Sure, but it was not easy. During the reign of Saul the conquest still remains incomplete. We saw the issues related to Joshua, the problems of sin, the example of it in chapter 7, the sin of Achan. We saw in Judges the references to the fact that the land was not entirely in the hands of the Israelites and sadly the Israelites were not very worthy occupants of the land in their behavior so their enemies often oppressed them. Now we see during the days of Saul it is continuing. It is still problematic and difficult.

V. Orienting Data for 1&2 Samuel

Let me then give a little bit of orienting data for 1 and 2 Samuel.

A. Here is a summary of the content.

1. The transition, that is a very carefully chosen word, from the last judge, Samuel, to the first king, Saul. That is important. This is the book, 1 Samuel, in which we move from the era of the judges, which was a very long period of time, somewhere between 250 and 400 years, a really long time, and the kingship, which is of course inaugurated by Saul. So Samuel is the last of something. He is the last of the judges. He does function like a judge. He is sometimes a military leader. He is sometimes a spiritual leader. He is even more specially very often functioning virtually as a priest but by all means he was also judging, that is, like any prominent national leader in Bible times he became kind of an appeals court. The king did this, the leader of any country; the leader of any tribe would become an appeals court. It happened to Moses, it continued to happen to leaders. Of course they used the name judge because that is one of their inescapable duties.

2. But also I have said here the rise and tumultuous reign of David. We tend to think of David in very, very favorable terms because of his role in the history of salvation, the plan of redemption. David plays a key role in the plan of redemption but he plays it very imperfectly. He is in many ways a real scoundrel and in many ways a weakling at what he does. What David is so good at is military leadership. He is just a fabulously good, extremely skillful military leader. In most other ways he is not good. The picture of David, which is described mostly in 2 Samuel (2 Samuel is basically the story of David's reign as king), one observes David having numbers of rebellions against him including from his own family, being a pretty poor husband and father and having all kinds of strife and hardship as a result in his family. We also see him not well able to handle some kinds of things and other people have to do his work for him. Even late in his life we see him in the beginning chapters of 1 Kings saying to Solomon, "You know, I always wanted to get rid of Joab but I couldn't. Why don't you do it?" The weak kind of leader who says I need somebody else to fire this person, I cannot bring myself to do it directly. The great thing about David is that he is God's choice and if God makes him his choice God is going to do through him what he wants to do. So God appoints him to be the king who will be the beginning of the dynasty in Jerusalem that will not end but will in fact come to fabulous fruition in the King of kings, that is, Jesus. So God just designates him. It is not that he says, "David, as I've examined you, I have found you like Noah, just righteous in my eyes." No that is not said, he is a rascal in many ways but God has a plan and a purpose. He is going to use this guy and he is going to give him a prominent position in history and accordingly there will be much made of David in the Scripture. But, since we have so much detail about him we know that he is hardly a moral example.

B. We also do not know who the author is here; we have the problem of not knowing who wrote most of the Old Testament narrative books. These people are not named. We can call somebody the Chronicler or we can call somebody the author of whatever but we really do not know. However, I think it is reasonably said often that these books are called the former prophets. That is a longstanding traditional designation in Judaism and it is because of two things. 1) These books reflect just as the prophets do God's story based on his covenant with his people. There is a lot of good advice, good knowledge in these stories. 2) Whenever there is any hint given of who the author is it is a prophet. There are a few places where it will say, "Are not the rest of these things found in the chronicles of the prophet Iddo, or is not this found in such and such." Because whenever you have a sense of who the author might be of some little section that was largely borrowed or whatever then you find out that it is a prophet. There is a lot behind the idea of calling these books the Former Prophets. In Judaism you have four blocks of material. You have the books of Moses or the Pentateuch; the Former Prophets, what we call from Joshua to 2 Kings; then you have the Prophets, the sixteen prophetical books; then the rest are lumped together called the Writings. That is a simple, easy, catch-all type of coverage for designating the books. We are right in the heart of the former prophets with what we deal with tonight.

C. When would they have been written? It just seems like Solomon, a commissioner of so many things, Proverbs and other documents, might have been the one to have these all written down, gather the materials together, have them composed. Thus, since you are covering David's reign and then Solomon's reign with 1 and 2 Samuel and the beginning of Kings, it is just likely that 1 and 2 Samuel are written down during Solomon's time and that Solomon's story would have been written down shortly after he died in around 931 B.C.

D. It is from the last judge, Samuel, maybe 1090 B.C., to the last years of David's kingship, that is 971. David apparently reigned 1011 to 971 B.C. That is the best dates that anybody has been able to come up with.

E. What are some of the emphases? We have talked about he overview, what are some of the emphases? Here are fourteen of them.

1. Any historical narrative is going to include the continuation of God's plan of redemption. That is important to appreciate. You look for that in one way or another, that is what they are doing. Here is a plan; a promise that starts in the book of Genesis, God is carrying it through. There may be lots of ups and downs but you are following the progress. God will not let his people just fall off into nothing and be decayed. He will not let this world fail to hear his good news so he has got a way of working the plan in, it is leading somewhere, it is always going somewhere.

2. The need for transition, that is a terribly important theme.

3. Samuel's good service. He is a fine figure and has a few flaws but not many. He is a real welcome breath of fresh air after the book of Judges ends its story of the judges with someone like Samson. Boy, is Samuel a nice contrast by comparison.

4. Danger from the Philistines. There are many enemies that bother the Israelites, the Amalekites now and again, the Moabites now and again, various groups, but always the Philistines just as it was in the book of Judges so it is in 1 and 2 Samuel. The powerful enemy, the one they really have to fear, the one that is the massive threat, that is the Philistines--constant, steady threat. The Philistines are stuck on the coast and they want inland. If I just show the map again for a moment, you see everything along the west is Philistine territory. But it is a coastal plain and you can only do so much in a coastal plain. There is a lot of sand there; there is a certain amount of grain that can be raised but very difficult to raise cattle there, very difficult to raise sheep and goats. Almost impossible to grow figs and wine, it just will not grow there as well. The Philistines want to move inland. That is what they want. They want the same territory that the Israelites have got. The Philistines are well organized, they are skillful, their culture is far superior to that of the Israelites, unfortunately for the Israelites. You may remember the small reference in the book of Judges to the fact that when people wanted to get a sword or spear sharpened, or for that matter, an ax handle or anything else, they really had to go to the Philistines because the Israelites were in effect still living in the Bronze Age and the Philistines were technologically much advanced. This is so archeologically. You look at Philistine pottery, some of it is fabulous, beautiful stuff, well made, beautifully shaped, beautifully decorated. You look at Israelite pottery and it looks like something a kid made in kindergarten. You look at Philistine homes, beautiful paved-floor homes, very nice. Look at Israelite homes, all dirt floor and not very big and not very fancy. Did God pick the Israelites because they were good, the kind of people who could have gotten a PhD if it had been offered? No, he did not pick them because they had anything going for them. They were a bunch of former slaves in Egypt. That is all they were. They did not have the skills, the technology, the prestige, the education, the anything but he chose them to be his people. It is a wonderful story. That is what he does with people all the time today. You cannot impress God; he is not impressed by that sort of thing. He chooses whom he will and when he chooses it is wonderful thing to be part of that people that he has set up for himself. The fact that you can ask to get in is really wonderful.

5. Saul's tragic reign. Sadly his story is a tragedy, that is, it ends unhappily rather than happily. It starts out with great promise and goes down hill.

6. The hopeful rise of David. This is a big theme, the rise of David. Because almost all through 1 Samuel the action is with David. David is mentioned more in 1 Samuel than he is in 2 Samuel, which is about his reign. So the name David actually appears more during the time that he has been anointed in this early, private anointing that he had as king. Then Saul is still king and David is trying to serve him and work with him and do this and that and half of the time running from him. All these different things that are happening and he is still technically rising. It is obvious that David is on his way to be king. We just keep following the story of the "Rise of David". A couple of scholars have even used the abbreviation HDR (History of David's Rise) to describe the preponderance of texts in 1 Samuel that are obviously on that topic.

7. God's protection of His people is a great theme; you ought to always preach and teach that.

8. The need for not just any king but a good king. That is terribly important. What the Israelites thought is, "We need a king". What Samuel reminded them, what Deuteronomy 17 had already predicted to them, what many of them understood but many did not was that they did not need a king, they needed a good king. That is the key. A lot is to be made of that, I think, in your preaching and teaching.

9. The messianic "Davidic Covenant". A very important theme that we will look at, I hope.

10. Completion of the conquest. David is the one. David really does subdue the whole Promised Land very decisively.

11. The choice of Jerusalem. Jerusalem eventually becomes the biblical city--the place where we all belong, the metaphor in Scripture for heaven itself.

12. The horrible consequences of David's adultery, and they are severe. The prophet comes to him and says, "The sword will not depart from your family." A way of saying, "From now on, family warfare."

13. Various rebellions against David showing that he was a weak leader in many ways from the point of view of popularity. If it were not for very great personal loyalty to him on the part of some key people he would not have stood a chance to retain his position as king until his death.

14. Initial plans for a temple. They come out of a disastrous plague in the last chapter as you have read it, 2 Samuel 24. The temple is a very important thing and the transition, therefore, from tabernacle to temple is also technically going on in these books. It is a transition from judgeship to kingship and a transition from non-monarchy to monarchy and transition from tribal to federal. But it is also, interestingly enough, a transition from tabernacle to temple. That is partly built into this because certainly when you finish with the story of Solomon you have got the temple all full built and no more tabernacle.

VI. Overview

Finally take a look at this little overview. It just may help put a couple of things in perspective for you.

A. If you look at the first seven chapters Samuel is it. He is the focus of those chapters. Yes, Eli is in there and Samuel's mother and so on but it is ninety-five percent Samuel.

B. Then, from 1 Samuel 8 to 1 Samuel 15 you have Samuel and Saul working together. So the stories tend to be about them both, interaction between the two of them.

C. Then when you hit 1 Samuel 16 and onward suddenly David is in the picture and Samuel is not. Samuel has almost no role to play. Mention is made of his death very briefly but he has just suddenly receded and the inspired author is now working with the pair, David and Saul.

D. Then after the breakpoint, after the middle of the bifid point, after the division of the book, you have in 2 Samuel David alone. The transition thing that I have talked about is kind of even emphasized. Here is one person then somebody joins in and then that person fades and somebody comes in and joins him--it is almost like the way we think of a relay race. One person for a while they are together then one person takes over for the other. It is almost like that. You move then from the last judge to the greatest of the kings, David. I say Solomon is in many ways thought of as greater but the Bible presents David as the greatest in a very interesting pattern where what could have been said other ways was not but rather this is very thematically organized to be sure you see that as God was working he was working through this person, the next one came in and then the next one comes in and there is a replacement going on but it is very orderly, very steady during this "United Monarchy." It will not be steady necessarily and it will not be orderly necessarily during the divided monarchy. In the north it will be chaotic at many, many points. Likewise in the south, though the south will preserve always the David dynasty. Every king of the south will be descended from David. None of the kings of the north will be. So one dynasty for the whole history of the south, many for the north. Lots of intrigue, assassinations, usurpations, and so on.