1 Samuel 10

Saul, the tall, handsome Benjaminite, was God’s choice to be the first king of Israel. It is not clear why Saul was chosen out of all the men of Israel. He was clearly not a natural leader, and neither was he particularly godly. Saul was going to need a radical change of heart and a special work of God in his life before he would be ready to ascend the throne. God was about to give him three heart-altering (v.9) experiences that would have a profound (though not a lasting) effect on Saul.

First, Samuel opened a flask of oil and poured it over Saul’s head, a sign that he was being set apart for the Lord’s exclusive service as king. Second, the prophet predicted a series of “signs” (confirmations) that Saul would encounter that day. It all happened just as the prophet said: he met two men near Zelzah who had news about the lost donkeys, he met three pilgrims on their way to worship at Bethel, and he met a band of prophets in Gibeah. As soon as Saul saw the prophets, he had a spiritual experience unlike any in his past. He was suddenly overpowered by the Holy Spirit and began to “prophesy”, most likely in the form of an inspired, spontaneous song of praise (given the musical nature of this particular group of prophets, v.5). Saul’s uncharacteristic spirituality surprised those who knew him, and it surely took Saul by surprise, too. When he met his uncle at the place of worship in Gibeah, he did not even mention it.

Samuel called the nation together for Saul’s introduction and coronation. The old prophet had a flair for the dramatic, allowing the suspense to build through a series of casting lots. When Saul was announced as the chosen king, he was hiding among the supplies — perhaps he was still in shock from his prophetic experience, or maybe the enormity of the situation had hit him hard. When he was brought before the people of Israel, they could not contain their excitement. They shouted their blessings to their first king — but the approval was not unanimous (v.27).

Saul returned home with shouts of “Long live the king!” ringing in his ears and a group of brave men “whose hearts God had touched” following him, perhaps the beginnings of a royal military unit (v.26). The tide had turned in Israel. The people had gotten their way, they had rejected God as their King (v.19), and they would have to live with their choices.

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1 Samuel 9

As a young boy, the prophet Samuel had prayed, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” As an old man, Samuel was still listening and the Lord was still speaking (v.15-16). The nation of Israel had called for a king, and the Lord told Samuel who that king was to be. In order to get that man into Samuel’s presence so that he could be anointed king, God arranged a most unusual situation to bring about a meeting of the two.

A young man named Saul from the tribe of Benjamin was sent to find his father’s lost herd of donkeys (v.2-3). I don’t want to read too much into that, but I think I can safely draw this parallel: the people of Israel were like those wayward, unrestrained donkeys. As a nation, they were stubbornly determined to go their own way, to run from their Heavenly Father, and to wander ignorantly into a place devoid of His protection and blessing. Saul would be the human instrument of God’s authority to restrain His people.

Saul is presented as a handsome young man, apparently the best-looking man in Israel (v.2). We also learn that Saul was unusually tall, standing head and shoulders above anyone in his nation (Saul is the only Israelite in the Bible noted for being tall). He certainly looked like “king” material, but appearances can be deceiving when it comes to godliness in leadership (as Samuel would later learn; see 16:7). The account of the divinely arranged meeting of Saul and Samuel hints that Saul’s physical superiority would not make up for his shortcomings. He was unable to locate the lost livestock, he did not think to seek spiritual help in his search, and he was essentially led by his servant to consult the prophet. Additionally, it seems that Saul did not even know about Samuel, the revered man of God who was known by the whole nation (see 3:20, 4:1), and who lived near Saul’s home town.

Saul was understandably surprised by the prophet’s invitation to the banquet, the honor given him there, and Samuel’s mysterious compliments (v.20-21). After spending the night on the prophet’s roof, Saul and his servant left for home. On the outskirts of the city, Samuel stopped Saul in order to “make known the word of the Lord” (v.27), something Saul desperately needed in his life.

Could God use an inept shepherd, an unspiritual man to lead His people? Not without a radical, heaven-sent change in Saul’s heart. The same is true for me (and you, too…right?).

1 Samuel 8

In my opinion, one proof of the Bible’s truthfulness and accuracy is its honesty. The great heroes of the faith, including the impeccable prophet Samuel, are presented in Scripture with their doubts and failings alongside their goodness and faith. For instance, if someone had fabricated a story about a prophet named Samuel as an example of faithfulness, surely they would have left out the material here in chapter 8. But it is included, and therefore we learn from Samuel’s life that God’s plans will succeed even when our plans fail.

Samuel’s plan could have worked. Appointing his sons, Joel and Abijah, as judges in order to assist their father was actually a return to the God-given model of government outlined in Deuteronomy 17:8-13. All the evidence indicates that Joel and Abijah had an excellent role model in their father, but the plan ultimately failed because they did not follow his example. “They did not walk in his ways” — they became greedy for money and “turned aside” from the way of righteousness which they had seen in their father.

The elders of Israel knew it wasn’t working, so they approached Samuel with an alternate plan: a form of government patterned after the surrounding nations, with ruling power centralized in a single man. “Give us a king,” they said (v.6). Samuel felt that it was not right, and God confirmed that suspicion as he went to prayer: “They have rejected Me from being king over them” (v.7). But God told Samuel to allow it, knowing all the while that a change in government would not fix Israel’s underlying problem of persistent disobedience to God. (Hey, is there a message here for America? Hmm…)

God gave Samuel a message for the people, a warning about the destination at the end of the path they were about to choose. The caution was simple: no matter what the elders thought a human king could give them, they would learn in time that he would instead be a taker (the warning “he will take” appears six times in verses 11-17). Instead of enhancing their freedom, a king would take away their freedom, enslaving the people with harsh demands, forced tribute, and high taxes.

As the people ignored the word of God and snubbed their noses at the man of God, they shouted their demand for a king. They reasoned that as Commander-in-Chief of Israel’s military, a king would fight their battles and lead them to victory (v.20). They had forgotten the lessons of their history, that it was the Lord who led Israel into battle and defeated their enemies. Reliance on any man — even a king — would prove to be futile. Because they turned a deaf ear to the Lord, that was a lesson Israel would have to learn the hard way. Let’s not make that same mistake.

1 Samuel 3

During the time when little Samuel was growing up around the House of the Lord, he would have seen the activity of sacrifices and offerings, he would have learned the details of religious ceremonies, and he would have known the rhythm of Sabbaths and feast days. But Samuel would not have been familiar with “the word of the Lord” — what we would call preaching and teaching. There were no prophets confronting sin and calling for revival. There were no rabbis unpacking the life-changing truth of God’s Word. There were no preachers casting a vision of righteous living. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days” (v.1). But that was about to change.

One night as Samuel was lying on his bed near the Ark of the Covenant, he heard his name being called. Thinking it was Eli calling him, Samuel ran to him. Eli had not called the boy, so he sent him back to bed. This happened a second and a third time before it dawned on the old priest that it might be the Lord calling Samuel. He sent him back to bed for the third time with this instruction: “If you hear your name called again, tell the Lord you are listening.”

The Lord did call again (this time He said his name twice for emphasis, v.10), and “stood” near Samuel. Picture little Samuel, sitting wide-eyed in the dark as the Lord begins to speak. The prophecy was simple and it was awful: because of the wickedness of Eli’s sons and the sinful negligence of Eli himself, God was finished with the man, his ministry, and his family. It was over for Eli. The next morning, Samuel was afraid to tell Eli what God had said, but when Eli insisted he told it all. Eli’s reaction is strangely emotionless. He does not weep, he does not repent, and he does not beg the Lord for mercy.

As for Samuel, he had faithfully delivered his first prophecy. It was the first of many occasions he would have to speak on the Lord’s behalf. From that moment on “Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord” (v.20). His words were trustworthy and authoritative. The drumbeat of Scripture is that God was at work in Samuel’s life. Can that be said of you? Is God at work in your life? Is He speaking to you? Are you listening? Try this: after reading this blog and the Scriptures, turn off everything that might distract you, get by yourself, and pray like Samuel: “Speak Lord. Your servant is listening.” Then just wait, taking time to listen to the Lord. Be patient. Wait on the Lord.

[Note: if you are interested in a deeper study of the books of Samuel I recommend Volume 7 of the New American Commentary by Dr. Robert Bergen. Dr. Bergen was my Old Testament and Hebrew professor at Hannibal-LaGrange University, where he still serves. It is my favorite commentary in my library, and the best one I have ever read.]

1 Samuel 2

Hannah had received the precious gift of a son from the Lord, a baby boy she named Samuel. Along with her husband Elkanah, she took little Samuel to the Tabernacle and presented him to Eli the priest for a lifetime of service. Hannah had poured out her heart in a prayer of distress and desperation in chapter 1; chapter 2 records her prayer of joy and thanksgiving.

Hannah’s theologically rich prayer in verses 1-10 is a beautiful psalm of praise. In many ways it mirrors the song of Mary (the “Magnificat”) in Luke 1:46-55. As Hannah expressed her gratitude she affirmed the very heart of Israelite faith: the Lord is the creator of the world and the controller and judge of mankind; He rewards those who seek Him and empowers those who fear Him; He lifts up those who are put down by the world and He puts down those who lift up themselves.

The remainder of this chapter presents a deliberate contrast between Samuel, the boy Eli would raise to serve the Lord, and Hophni and Phinehas, the sons Eli had raised to serve as priests. The chapter begins with a song of praise to God for the birth of Hannah’s son, and it ends with a prophecy from God about the death of Eli’s sons. Verse 12 states that Hophni and Phinehas were “worthless men” who did not know the Lord, while verse 21 indicates that even as a child Samuel had a growing relationship with the Lord. Hophni and Phinehas were fakers and takers, but Samuel gave of himself in ministry. The sin of Eli’s sons grew worse and worse (v.17, 22), but the favor of Hannah’s son increased more and more (v.26).

An unnamed man of God came to Eli and pronounced a chilling message of doom for the old priest and his family (v.27-36). Verse 35 hints that as the family of Eli was being brought down, the family of Samuel was being raised up.

This chapter emphasizes the value of a life of faithfulness to God and the futility of a life of sin and hypocrisy. In the end, one woman’s simple prayer of humble dependence on God outweighed the selfish pseudo-service of two priests. The little boy who served the Lord in purity and innocence was honored above grown men in powerful positions. Honor God by the way you live today, and He will honor you. He has given us His word on that (v.30).

1 Samuel 1

For the rest of the month of June we are going to be reading thirteen chapters from the books of Samuel. In those chapters we will encounter great men like Samuel, Nathan, and David — some true heroes of the faith. But the first chapter of First Samuel tells of a amazing woman named Hannah and her heroic faith.

The first thing we learn about Hannah is that she was involved in a polygamous marriage. It should be noted that while polygamy was never a part of God’s ideal for marriage, it is not condemned as adultery here and is merely presented as a fact. As God continued to reveal Himself and as Scripture continued to be written down, polygamy disappeared from among God’s people (and is never mentioned among New Testament believers). For Hannah it was a reality, and a source of pain in her life.

Hannah was childless and barren. In her culture, a wife who could not produce children was regarded as defective, cursed — even worthless (v.16). While her husband, Elkanah, favored and adored her, Peninnah, the other wife, was brutal. The annual family trip to Shiloh was painful for Hannah; it highlighted the hurt. Peninnah’s cruelty drove Hannah to despair. She wept, starved herself, and kept it inside. Verse 7 says that when Hannah went to the house of God “year by year”, she isolated herself and cried. Not even Elkanah understood the depth of her pain (v.8).

One year during the family worship time Hannah slipped away from the supper table and went to the Tabernacle. Her pain had become unbearable and her desperation had reached a tipping point. For the first time that we know of, Hannah did the very best thing she could have done: she prayed. It was an emotional, fervent, earnest prayer. Notice how her prayer is described: in “deep distress” she “prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly” (v.10); “she continued praying” (v.12); she was “troubled in spirit” so she “poured out her soul before the Lord” (v.15); she prayed out of “great anxiety and vexation” (v.16). So passionate was her prayer that Eli the priest thought she must have been intoxicated!

God honors that kind of faith and desperation, and through Eli God promised Hannah a son. “In due time” she gave birth to a baby boy and called him Samuel, a name that sounds like the Hebrew word for “God heard me”. The God who heard Hannah listens to you, too. Be honest with Him. Give Him your hurts. He can replace your hurt with hope!

True to her vow, Hannah brought little Samuel to the Tabernacle as soon as he was weaned. In an extreme act of faith and gratitude, she entered her very young son into the ministry, giving him over to Eli to raise as a servant of God and Israel. In her beautiful statement of dedication in verses 26-28, Hannah “loaned” Samuel to the Lord. She was releasing her child into the care of his Creator. Little did she know that he would become one of the greatest, godliest leaders in the history of her nation. Children are a gift from the Lord, but they are the greatest blessing when we make them a gift to the Lord.

Song of Solomon

As a young king, Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom, and God granted his request by making him the wisest man in the world. Out of that wisdom God used Solomon to write three books of the Bible. As a young man he wrote The Song of Solomon, a passionate rhapsody of love; as an elderly man he wrote Ecclesiastes, his testimony about the meaning of life; and in between the two he compiled the Proverbs, the Bible’s book of wisdom.

The Song of Solomon is unique among the sixty-six books of the Bible. It is mysterious and tucked away deep in the Old Testament — that is where most people would rather keep it, but I encourage you to read it. Today’s blog will serve as a reader’s guide to this beautiful piece of Holy Spirit-inspired poetry.

The Song of Solomon is romantic, it is poetic, and it is explicit. One tradition says that the Jewish rabbis would not allow a man under 30 to read this book because it speaks freely about the physical love between a man and a woman on their honeymoon — but that is a good, God-given, beautiful thing. The introductory verse gives us the title: “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s” (v.1). The Bible says that Solomon had written 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32), and this is his “greatest hits” collection. You will notice as you read it that the songs are not necessarily in any kind of order, but they are on “random shuffle”. They are various love songs that a husband and a wife sing to one another.

You will notice that the publishers of your Bible have tried to make it easier to understand by telling you who is speaking, like reading a Shakespearian play. The truth is, sometimes they just guessed at it using grammatical clues, but basically it is a very small cast of characters. There is the man, Solomon, and his wife whose name we do not know (we do know that she was a country girl from the Shulammite region; see 6:18). And then there are the “back-up singers”, her friends who regularly drop in to repeat certain lines or to pose questions, like a Shakespearian chorus.

The main theme of Solomon’s songs is the beauty of intimacy between a husband and wife. We hear these lovers sing about physical nearness, kissing, embracing, and holding each other (see 1:2 and 2:4-6). The physical expression of intimacy in marriage ought to be celebrated and redeemed from the filth our culture has turned it into. The Song of Solomon is God’s encouragement to enjoy to the fullest one of His most brilliant creations: the capacity for physical intimacy between a husband and wife. It is a sacred and beautiful gift.

We also hear Solomon and his wife expressing their intimacy verbally, in words of compliment and appreciation. These are the most memorable lyrics in the book, as the man and woman alternately give each other a valuable gift: to see themselves through the eyes of the one who loves them most. (For a sampling of this sweet-talking from the man, see 4:1-5; from the woman, see 5:10-16).

​Many people look at The Song of Solomon and ask, “Why is this in the Bible?” For me, another passage of Scripture answers the question; Titus 2:14 says, “Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.” In that statement I find two purposes for The Song of Solomon. First is the purpose of redemption: Christ came to redeem us from all wickedness, including that part of His creation that has been most ruined and perverted by sin — romantic love between a man and a woman. Second is the purpose of reflection: there is a call here to reflect the redeeming love of Jesus in the most precious of human relationships — love given unconditionally and expressed freely in marriage.