I Samuel 20: the Best Kind of Friend

We should recall from the end of chapter 19 that King Saul had pursued David to Naioth in Ramah. This pursuit came after King Saul attempted many times to kill David, but David found a way to safety by the grace of God.

In the beginning of this chapter, David goes back to Jonathan (King Saul’s son) and asks him why King Saul is trying to kill him. David and Jonathan share an exchange where David explains that King Saul is hiding the fact that he wants David dead from Jonathan, in order to protect him. Jonathan, a fiercely loyal friend, says to David, “Whatever you yourself desire, I will do it for you.” Jonathan, in a faith and loyalty rare of his age, sides with David due to a combination of David’s leadership, David’s faith, and his father Saul’s erroneous decisions and overt weaknesses.

Jonathan and David make a pact to secure David’s safety and in the course of making these plans, they also renew their friendship covenant of being loyal and caring for one another’s best interests. Their care for one another is reciprocal. For Jonathan’s part, he plans for a way to notify David whether or not Saul still seeks his life. He will watch out for Saul’s reaction when David does not attend an important upcoming feast and will notify David through creative means on whether he needs to stay or flee. For David’s part, he agrees that he will not seek the life of Jonathan should David ever become king. This was at Jonathan’s request and says much about David’s visible leadership, success, and his superiority over King Saul. Jonathan was looking into the future and planning for the probability that David would eventually become king. At this time, it was common for the new king to kill the family members of the old king once he took power.

When Saul notices David’s absence at the feast, he inquires of Jonathan where David is. Jonathan is surprised when his father’s obvious desire to kill David is laid bare. Jonathan is grieved to fasting for David’s sake. But Jonathan also experiences the wrath of his father when Saul hurls a spear at him when he tells the farcical reason for David’s absence. By this act Jonathan is convinced that Saul not only would kill him, but that he is earnest in his desire to kill David as well.

Interestingly, Saul’s throwing the spear is an answer to Jonathan’s question to his father King Saul, “Why should he be killed? What has he done?” From what we know of Saul’s character, it is unsurprising that he does not have even a cursory answer. Saul is simply jealous of, threatened by, and scared of David. What sort of mindset could Saul have had that would have turned his attitude toward David around?

After leaving his father, Jonathan, goes out to notify David that Saul intends to kill him and that David should flee for his life. The chapter ends on a poignant note for the two friends. They love and care for one another, and are grateful for one another’s friendship. Had not Jonathan been there to verify, David likely would have stayed around King Saul and would have been killed. Likewise, without David, Jonathan, would not have an alternative, strong, godly example in David and would have been much more likely to follow in the footsteps of his errant father.

Think about the friendship of David and Jonathan. It is a wholesome and pure thing. The best component of it shines through when Jonathan says to David in verse 42, “May the Lord be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.” This godly desire for peace among their families was mutual, well-intentioned, and holy. In the face of the probability of great and bloody conflict, these two young men resolve to support and keep peace between one another. This is a fantastic way to forge relationships early in life that will sustain their faith, their mental health, and their safety.

Do I have the opportunity to create and forge friendships like the one on display in I Samuel 20? It is never too late in life to put people in my life that will help me in my walk with Christ and will help me get to heaven. It does not have to be a dangerous environment to create lasting bonds of mutual faith; I need only to find a like-minded believer that has room for a friend too.

I Samuel 19: David is Tormented and Protected

Saul’s disdain for David has not decreased and he still desires to kill him. In this chapter, Saul’s insecurities and jealousy of David’s abilities and blessings have grown. But Jonathan, a son of Saul, remains loyal to David and warns David that Saul has instructed his servants to kill David. David is on high alert as Jonathan convinces his father to relent from killing David. Jonathan reminds Saul of how David put himself in great danger for the sake of the kingdom to kill Goliath.

The persuasion works and Saul relents. David then joins Saul again as in times past, but we have another occurrence of Saul attempting to kill David in verse 10: “Then Saul sought to pin David to the wall with the spear, but he slipped away from Saul’s presence; and he drove the spear into the wall. So David fled and escaped that night.” You will remember a very similar passage from I Samuel 18:10-11.

Saul could not get over his desire to kill David, such was the depth of his jealousy and anger. He sends messengers to David’s house to watch him, then kill him in the morning. Saul’s wife Michal, another loyal advocate in David’s life, detects the danger and warns David. Recall that Michal is also Saul’s daughter, so we can be inspired that her loyalty to David is greater than her loyalty to her father. She tells David to flee the house and he does. Michal then fashioned a sleeping disguise in David’s bed using goat’s hair and clothes.

When Saul’s messengers came to the house, Michal played interference saying that David is sick. We get another look into the depth of Saul’s anger in verse 15 when Saul reveals that he would even kill David as he slept: “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” Saul is perturbed when he discovers that his daughter had deceived him.

David escapes Saul’s presence for the moment by fleeing further to Samuel at Ramah. But Saul is determined that David will die and when he hears where David is, he sends messengers to take David. But the Spirit of God comes on the messengers of Saul as they come to see Samuel leading a group of prophets prophesying at Naioth at Ramah. The messengers begin prophesying and they do not seek David. When Saul hears of this, he sends more messengers, a second and a third time, and all three times, the messengers do not complete their mission to take David because the Spirit of God comes upon them and they being prophesying.

Then, Saul takes the journey himself and the same thing happens to him. At the end of this chapter, Saul is naked and on the ground for an entire day and an entire night, prophesying. We can see many things working together in this chapter to protect God’s righteous servant David. We also see them working together to thwart and embarrass the “king” of Israel.

If we are righteous and seek to do God’s will as David did:

  • God will help us
  • God will protect us through others
  • God will reward us

If we give in to our selfish urges as Saul did:

  • We will find ourselves willing to do horrible things
  • We will go to great lengths to do evil
  • God will create the conditions for our shame

David did what was necessary to save his life. He heeded the advice to those close to him that he trusted. David had faith to do what was needed to survive. God was the orchestrator of the entire sequence of events. Recall that Saul was not meant to be a great or even a good king. Rather, Saul’s most likely purpose is to show the people how poor of a leader a fallible human king could be. David, for his part, is God’s chosen servant, and inspires the people to righteousness and faith in the one true God.

I Samuel 18: What A Difference An Ego Makes

David’s faith and bravery were on full display in the previous chapter. Here in chapter 18we see the wisdom of David in action.

Saul gives David charge over men and whatever David does, he does it with wisdom, earning honor and the respect of those whom he commands. And as he does, two things build up simultaneously in these thirty verses: Saul’s jealousy of David and David’s successes. David’s competence and success come from God’s approval of him. Both King Saul and his son Jonathan were enamored of David, but where Saul’s primary reaction was jealousy, Jonathan’s was simple admiration. There is a lesson we can learn from Saul and David: how do we react to people whose prowess and/or success eclipses our own? Envy and jealousy might be an impulse. But if our heart is right and our judgment is godly, our reaction will be appropriate, as Jonathan’s is in this chapter.

As a king, Saul’s perspective should have been more spread-out than it was. For example, as David returned from slaughtering Goliath, the women of Israel came out singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands.” Saul’s ego could not bear this disparity in numbers. As the king, he really should have been happy that he had such a man as David in his kingdom to inspire the people and defeat the enemy. Instead, Saul was small-mindedly concerned with what he saw as a slight and a diminishment of his power.  

Saul kept David close, keeping him around to play the harp to ease his fouler moods. But even when close to Saul, David was in danger: “but there was a spear in Saul’s hand. And Saul cast the spear, for he said, “I will pin David to the wall!” But David escaped his presence twice.” Saul’s impulses and emotions are getting the better of him.

One gets the impression that by verse 12 of this chapter, Saul is growing weary of David and wishes to be rid of his sight. So Saul made David captain over a thousand men. David only excelled in his reputation and the wisdom that dictated his behavior was evident to all.

Saul’s fear of David could have been a healthy one, but instead it was fearful to the point of making him an adversity. It is difficult to watch the wasted potential of Saul because we see his actions and we recognize how Saul could have been an advocate rather than an adversary of David’s. However, this was not God’s plan. Saul was never going to be a successful king in Israel.

Saul seeks to make David his son-in-law, but David is dubious, saying, ““Who am I, and what is my life or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son-in-law to the king?” Notice how David’s humility and his wisdom work together in this chapter to only increase both his esteem and his appeal. After the first offered daughter is given away to another, David marries Saul’s other daughter Michal.

Saul kept David close because he was afraid of him, reminding us of the adage “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Verse 21 reveals Saul’s intentions with David in actuality. Before this verse, we may have deduced that Saul feared David yet did not wish to do him actual harm. But here we learn that Saul’s jealousy and fear have crossed over into deeper sin: “So Saul said, “I will give her to him, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.” Therefore Saul said to David, “You shall be my son-in-law today.”

Even with the coming marriage arrangement, Saul’s jealousy of David makes him uneasy and he seeks to control him. Saul bids his servants to entreat David to comfortably become the son-in-law of the king. Instead of a dowry, Saul seeks for David to bring one hundred Philistine foreskins. Saul’s idea was that David would perish in this venture. But just as God was with David during the fight with Goliath, God is with David during this fight with the Philistines. David doubles the number of foreskins he brings to Saul to two hundred.

Saul, for all of his insecure thoughts and small-minded actions, gets nothing for his attempted manipulations with David except increased sorrow and feelings of inferiority. Contrast this with David: David’s humility and obedience are the prime ingredients of his success. These enable God’s blessings upon David and make the conditions of his success sure. David’s confidence in God is what propels him to his blessed state. Where Saul was worried about his image and legacy, David was concerned with honoring God and holding up His name.

How can we be more like David and less like Saul in our personal lives? How can we be more like David and less like Saul in our families? How can we prepare ourselves to be blessed like David? Obeying God and being humble are the right places to begin.

I Samuel 17: What is Your Goliath?

A large battle has been brewing between Israel and the Philistines and as we read the opening verses of I Samuel 17, the stage is set. There is the Philistine army on a mountainside, the Israeli army on another mountainside, and a valley in between.

Goliath came out of the Philistine camp, nine feet and nine inches tall. The armor he was wearing weighed in excess of one hundred and twenty pounds. Goliath was bold and confident as he shouted to Israel: “Why have you come out to line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and you the servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us . . . I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together.” The Israelites were greatly afraid and despaired their lot at this terrible champion, for they knew that they had no one to challenge great Goliath. Goliath presented this challenge to Israel for forty days.

David was Jesse’s youngest son, and by the descriptions we receive in this chapter, the least equipped to fight. Indeed, David’s function in war was more one of service to the warriors than one of action in fighting. David’s three eldest brothers followed Saul the king, but David was more likely to be found shepherding his father’s flock in Bethlehem. David’s brothers are at the battle camp as Goliath taunts Israel and Jesse is interested in how his sons are doing. Jesse sends David on an errand to take them food and to come back with news of how they are faring.

David’s timing is providential as he comes upon his brothers, for he arrives to greet them just as Goliath is making his daily pronouncement. David is intrigued by Goliath and curious as to what the Israelite that defeats Goliath would receive. David’s sense of faith here is brought into focus as he asks, “who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” This comment is an early indication of David’s faith. It shows that he is certain that the one that defies the armies of God will not go unpunished. His confidence in Goliath’s punishment is a contrast to what many of the other men must have been feeling when viewing Goliath: fear and uncertainty. At this time David also learns that whomever among the armies of Israel defeats Goliath will get great riches, the king’s daughter for a wife, and exemption from all taxes in Israel for him and his father’s house.

But David’s faith and confidence are not valued by his brother Eliab. The exchange between David and Eliab in verses 28-30 show a history of mistrust and poor treatment between brothers. In fact, others in the area at that time also disbelieved David. They thought him insolent and foolish.

King Saul heard of David’s words and sent for him. David tells the king that he will fight Goliath. King Saul is naturally dubious, and has no confidence that David will succeed. David is quick to defend himself and offer tales of his competence. He tells King Saul of when he has defended the lambs he protects, killing both lions and bears, saying that God will see him through.

Seemingly out of confidence in David’s words, Saul says for David to go, and bids that the Lord be with David in his fight against Goliath. Saul gives David his armor, but it is too heavy for David and he must remove it.

But David persists in his pursuit to kill Goliath. On his way to the battle, David selects five smooth stones from a stream, bringing along his staff and sling.

David’s encounter with Goliath is dramatic and inspiring. Of course, Goliath laughs off David, perceiving him as a youthful nonexistent threat. But David persists, his faith once more showing in the words he uses to challenge the giant: “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you. And this day I will give the carcasses of the camp of the Philistines to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel. Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give you into our hands.”

David’s proclamation that the Lord fights not with sword and spear are striking. David knows that God works in ways undetectable to man, and it shows that David is not intimidated by the unbalanced fight; he knows that God can and will save even when the odds of success seem impossible.

When David strikes Goliath’s head with the stone and kills him, he must use Goliath’s own sword to remove his head. This detail underscores how unexpected the victory was from all sides. Indeed, the Israelites chased the Philistines as they fled, all the way to the valley’s entrance. They plundered their tents and David retained Goliath’s armor. King Saul comes to know David, asking him whose son he is (Jesse’s).

There are many lessons we can learn from this story, and many lessons that we likely already know if we were taught this as a child. There many lessons for the mature believer today. Here are just a few:

  • Might does not make right
  • God works through and rewards the humble in spirit
  • God works through and rewards those that have absolute faith in Him
  • Strong, true faith breeds bold action
  • God makes the impossible possible

The most striking of these just may be David’s faith. If you put yourself in David’s shoes and imagine the environment before Goliath is defeated, you can see just how alone David was in his convictions. His audacity was so out of place that it reached the ears of the king. Some small credit to King Saul here for believing in David, whether facetiously or not. David’s faith and confidence are not only singular but also at odds with the rest of the nation. When everyone else was convinced of the might of this great warrior (and at nine feet, nine inches tall, rightly so), David’s steady belief was in God.

There are times in our lives when the odds are against us, and it is likely that our odds are not as hopeless as the odds David had against Goliath. It compels us to ask, when conditions are aligned against us, against our way of life, against our beliefs, and defeat seems inevitable, how does our faith manifest? Does it stay quiet in the shadows? Or does our confidence in God feed our faith until we are compelled to do something (even something audacious) for the sake of our Creator? For God’s will and His success are sure. What are we doing to create opportunities for God to succeed so that others can see and glorify His name?

I Samuel 16: The Lord Looks At The Heart

When we last left Samuel and Saul, they had a falling out as the result of Saul’s disobedience to God and God regretted that He had made Saul King over Israel.

Starting in this chapter, God is working with Samuel to identify the next King of Israel, who will be much more suited to the task. Samuel, fearing retribution from Saul, is a bit weary of traveling to Bethlehem to find a king among the sons of Jesse. But God provides Samuel with a pretense that will shield his intention: Samuel is to go to Bethlehem with a heifer to sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel will invite Jesse to come to the sacrifice as well so that the kingly identification can be facilitated.

When Samuel arrives, the elders of the city were scared of him, thinking he had come to execute the judgment of God. But Samuel allayed their fears by inviting them to sanctify themselves and sacrifice with him. Samuel also makes sure to include Jesse and his family.

In the course of the sacrifices and in viewing Jesse’s sons, Samuel sees Eliab, Abinadab, Shammah, seven sons in total. When seeing Eliab, Samuel remarks that this one must be the king-to-be because his stature and physical appearance are great. However, God says to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) There is more to learn here than just the common phrase to not judge a book by its cover. God searches our hearts and Davis knew it as well. From Psalm 139:23-24, a Psalm written by David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Emulating David’s attitude here will afford us greater humility and will increase our stature before God. Admitting fallibility and committing to do whatever is necessary to eradicating the sources of our faults will lead us along godly paths. In this way we can discover our true character, the character that God desires we fulfill.

When Samuel has viewed all of Jesse’s sons that were present, he comes to know that the youngest son is out tending sheep. So Samuel sends for him, and this is our first appearance of David. David of course will come to be known as a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), and will be the great King of Israel, father of Solomon and first of the root of Jesse, the bloodline of our Savior Jesus Christ. David is a great example of Christians everywhere to behold because although he held great esteem an was favored by God, he was also very human in making his own mistakes, and the example he gives of godly sorrow in the wake of his sin.  

When Samuel sees David, God identifies him as the one to Samuel. Samuel anoints David with oil and the Spirit of the Lord comes down upon David. God’s spirit of the Lord being upon David denotes the favor and blessing that God is showing to David because of David’s character and the plans that God has for him.

At the same time God’s Spirit comes to David, it departs from Saul. Verse 14 tells us that now a distressing spirit comes upon Saul. Saul’s servants notice the resulting emotional downturn and offer to find a skillful harp player to refresh his spirit. No doubt through providence, David is ultimately sent to Saul and early on in their relationship, there is mutual respect and admiration for one another, even love. David becomes Saul’s armorbearer and his harp-playing eases Saul’s spirit.

David is called upon twice in this chapter, once due to God’s providence and foreknowledge (vs.12) and once due to his reputation as a skillful player, mighty man of valor, man of war, prudent in speech, and handsome (vs. 18). David’s character was one of attraction to God and man alike. It should inspire us – what would be the assessment of my character by God and by my fellow man? Would I be spoken of in such glowing ways? And the answer of course will vary depending on who you are, but there is one constant to be found: we cannot deny David’s humility in these early stages. He is humbly shepherding, working, serving, willing to give of his gifts and talents however and whenever he is asked. He has a godly and a willing spirit, and this much any of us can have. David was a renaissance man, a man of war and the arts. He could do menial labor well and also impress a king. At this stage of David’s life, perhaps what we can best learn from him are the examples of his willingness to serve and his humility.

I Samuel 15: The Disgrace of Saul

God directs Saul to orchestrate the killing of Amalek. Saul is to kill “both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.” This is in retribution to the way that Amalek had victimized Israel.

Saul showed mercy on the Kenites in asking them to remove themselves from among the Amalekites. These people were interspersed within the larger group of Amalekites, who were nomadic. Israel had been loosely associated with the Kenites since the time of Moses’ marriage to Jethro’s daughter, a Kenite (Judges 1:16). Saul’s mercy on the Kenites would not have represented disobedience because the Kenites were not Amalekites, and the Lord had instructed Saul to attack and destroy Amalek.

However, Saul does take a very wrong turn in verses 8 and 9 when he spares King Agag and the best of the livestock, as well as other things of value. Saul’s motivation is not clear. He should have done what the Lord commanded and killed everyone and laid to waste every valuable; the severity of the command is surprising and difficult to carry out, but it demonstrates the depth of the Lord’s judgment on Amalek. Instead, Saul saved Agag and kept some spoils. Why did Saul disagree? It is unclear at this point, but he could have been seeking the glory for himself, envied the valuable resources, or he might have even supposed that God would have wanted Israel to enjoy the spoils of Amalek. Whatever his reasoning is makes little difference. Just like us, when Amalek acted beyond what God had directed, He disobeyed and sinned. In doing so, Saul not only brought judgment on himself but he also made of lesser effect the judgment and punishment that God had decreed for Amalek.

We get an insight into Saul’s thinking as we read through verses 13-15. Saul thought and acted beyond what God said and he took liberties with the Lord’s commandment, supposing that God would prefer for the good animals to be sacrificed rather than destroyed. He thinks himself within the realms of obedience. The extent to which he is in denial is not known.

When Samuel reminds Saul that he was supposed to have utterly destroyed everything, Saul responds by blaming the people. This blame not only further reveals Saul’s disobedience, but also underscores his ineptitude as a leader. Samuel responds in verses 22-23 in a song or verse of sorts that condemns Saul’s actions, rejects him as king, and illuminates some facts:

  • To obey God is better than to offer sacrifice to God
  • Rebellion, like witchcraft, is sin
  • Stubbornness is also sin and a form of idolatry (self-worship)

Saul admits his mistake and reveals more of the reason behind his disobedience. Earlier he seemed to blame it on the people, but in verse 24 we learn that he was actually scared of the people. This likely means that Saul knew what God had asked and tried to lead the people to do as God said, but Saul was too weak to instruct and lead the people when they challenged him. This is a deeper insight into the lack of Saul’s leadership abilities. Saul seeks forgiveness, but Samuel rejects Saul also, because “you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.”

Saul accidentally tears Samuel’s robe by grabbing it as Samuel is leaving him. Samuel uses the opportunity to demonstrate to Saul that the robe tore just as God tore Israel away from Saul. Saul again seems to repent, and entreats Samuel once more to worship with him. This time Samuel allows it, perhaps seeing sincerity in Saul’s plea.

In the end of this chapter, Samuel is the righteous man to do the dirty work. He gorily kills Agag before the Lord in Gilgal. Samuel and Saul part ways after this and “the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel.”

Saul’s downfall and disgrace here are embarrassing and deplorable. He seems to have a heart that wants to serve God but his resolve is weak. The lesson for us is clear: it matters ever so much less what we intend to do with God’s commandments than what we actually do with His commandments. With our God, it is not the thought that counts, it is the action.

I Samuel 14: A Study of Faith in Father/Son

The story of King Saul continues as he and his son Jonathan fight against the Philistines. Their respective approaches are very different. King Saul is fighting for himself, while Jonathan is fighting for the Lord.

Verses 1-23: Jonathan and his armorbearer

In the midst of the Philistine threat, King Saul’s son Jonathan is inspired to defeat the Philistine garrison. Saul was not very far away with a detachment of approximately six hundred men. But Jonathan did not seek help from his father, probably because his father would have rejected the plan. Reckless as it seems, Jonathan’s plan to trick and then sneak up on the Philistines was successful, resulting in Jonathan and his armorbearer defeating twenty men by themselves. Jonathan was bold and acted in faith. His actions were sincere and courageous and God rewarded him with victory.

King Saul, on the other hand, made an attempt to be virtuous and godly in his approach, but we can see in his actions that his sense of self was caught up in the fight and that he would rather make the decisions for himself than following the guidance of the Lord. We can see from verses 18 and 19 how King Saul allowed himself to get distracted from consulting with the priest and he instead went directly to battle in the following verses.

Despite Saul’s independent thinking, God still handed the Israelites a victory that day. This can be seen as grace and the will of the Lord.

Verses 24-52: Saul’s faulty leadership

In more evidence that Saul is taking this Philistine fight personally, he places his people under an oath that they would not eat until the Philistines are defeated: “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies.” This was a very unwise order because the people need sustenance to give their bodies strength to defeat the Philistines.

Jonathan was away when his father placed the people under the oath. Because of this, he freely ate some honey in the forest when the Israelites came across it. The people told Jonathan of the oath. But when he heard it, Jonathan reacted in a way to convince them that his father had “troubled the land” by putting them under such an oath. The people, encouraged by Jonathan and his win over the Philistine garrison earlier, began eating. But Israel sinned against God in this because they ate the livestock without draining the blood, which was in violation of God’s law (Leviticus 17:10-14).

Saul, trying still to do what is right and please the Lord, hears of this. He allows the eating and has a great stone set up so that the people can properly drain the blood of the animals that they are eating. Saul then seeks the counsel of God in what to do next, whether to attack the Philistines or not. But he hears no answer, so he deduces that there must be some sin in the camp. In order to divine who is responsible for this, lots will be cast and he says that whomever is at fault will be put to death, even if it is his son Jonathan.

When Saul finds that his son Jonathan is responsible of breaking the oath by eating, he sticks to his word. But the people stood in the breach for Jonathan in I Samuel 14:45: “But the men said to Saul, “Should Jonathan die—he who has brought about this great deliverance in Israel? Never! As surely as the Lord lives, not a hair of his head will fall to the ground, for he did this today with God’s help.” So the men rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death.”

Saul’s relenting to the word of the people was wise. This and his acts of war helped to protect the nation against surrounding belligerent nations and established his status as king.

The lessons for us today are few but not hard to find:

  • We can get along without God for so long, devoted to Him in half-measures, but this is temporary
    • King Saul is trying to serve both himself and God simultaneously; the result is that his service to God is empty and insincere
  • “Blind” faith in God and courage to act can be rewarded with great blessings
    • Jonathan may have acted surprisingly, but because he did so in belief and faith that God would see him through, he was blessed with victory and mercy

It is important to recognize that not everything Saul did was wrong or bad. He tried to serve the Lord, but unfortunately his focus was not always on God, but instead was often was on what he wanted. Each morning and night when we pray, we should examine our priorities, intents, and motivators. A pure and honest heart that wants to serve God and God alone is precious in His sight.

I Samuel 13: That Foreboding Feeling

Do you ever have that sick feeling in your stomach that something is not right? A feeling that there is something bad coming your way? Maybe you made a decision that was clearly wrong in hindsight, or perhaps you are confident, but still have the feeling that things are not going to turn out well. That is the feeling that King Saul likely had at the end of this chapter.

We left chapter 12 with the warning from Samuel in verses 24-25: “Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king.”

The actions we see Saul taking in the early verses of chapter 13 show a king that is not seeking the counsel of the Lord. Saul builds up a small army, which may have been to protect the king and his cohorts. But then he uses this army to attack a nearby Philistine garrison. He then blows a trumpet, as a way to make all of Israel understand that more fighting was likely on the way. Saul’s son Jonathan makes an appearance here and will play more prominent roles in the story as we progress through the book.

Many Philistines come close to Israel, in an area called Michmash. This caused many of the Israelites that were nearby to flee and hide. Saul had been told what to do by Samuel back in I Samuel 10:8: “You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and surely I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and make sacrifices of peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, till I come to you and show you what you should do.”

Saul waited the seven days, but Samuel did not come within that seven days. Saul also saw that the people had hidden and were scattered, so Saul felt compelled to act, regardless of what he had been told before by Samuel. Saul still believes in God and that God can and will deliver them. But with his next act Saul goes beyond the things that God had laid out for him. Saul offers a burnt offering when it was Samuel’s place as high priest to do so. This was a violation of God’s law. Saul might have quelled his guilt by telling himself that Samuel did not come within the seven days, so it was okay. In verses 13 and 14, Samuel clearly explains the details of Saul’s offense: “And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

The last verses of the chapter explain how the Philistines are coming out against Israel and how the Philistines have prevented the Israelites from fashioning effective metal weaponry. The Philistines were quite politically savvy in that they also prevented the Israelites from making and improving their own farm implements. This could have been a ploy of the Philistines to make Israel dependent on them. The chapter ends with the Philistines coming out to the pass of Michmash.

The main lesson for tonight’s chapter for us is that a sin is a sin, whether it is done under duress, under what we feel are justifiable conditions, or even if it is done with clean intentions. Saul’s offering was all of these things, but it was still a sin because only a high priest was to make the offering. We should think about this as it applies to our own lives. When I sin, do I couch it in what I judge to be justifiable conditions? Do I forgive myself for the sin because it was during a very stressful time? Do I allow myself the sin because I feel like it was in the pursuit of  higher purpose? All of those noble ideals surrounding the sin do not the sin forgive. Only God can forgive sins, and it is only within the conditions that he has determined and laid out for us (the cross). We simply cannot create the conditions within which a sin can be excused.

I Samuel 12: You Would Go After Empty Things

This is a special chapter, full of foreboding and warnings for the people of God that dared to ask Him for a king when He was already their king. Samuel is old now and he seeks the attention of the people during Saul’s official coronation as king of Israel. As Saul claims, he has not done wrong by the people, and has always been a faithful man of God before them. Samuel establishes his integrity before the people by asking for them to witness his faithfulness and righteousness.

Samuel begins a sermon/history review of sorts to the people starting in verse 6, outlined as follows:

  • Moses and Aaron brought their fathers out of Egypt
  • The people forsook the Lord
  • The Lord gave them up to the Philistines
  • The people recognized their need for the Lord once they saw their condition
  • The Lord sent strong righteous men to deliver them from their enemies
  • Once back under the protection of God, the people deign to request an earthly king
  • God gave them Saul

After Samuel leads them through this brief history, he submits that God did grant them a king in Saul. We can interpret this act from God as grace because the Lord should have been their king and they truly had no need for an earthly king. But God gave them one out of grace and love, simply because they asked for it. The people would do well to heed Saul’s advice that nothing has changed in terms of their relationship with God:

“If you fear the Lord and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the Lord your God. However, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the commandment of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers.” I Samuel 12:14-15

Then Samuel rightly chastises them for not recognizing that they did not need a king to begin with. They should have recognized that God was the only king they needed. This is followed by a miraculous display of weather, prayed for by Samuel and meant to underscore the seriousness of their covenant with God and the precarious situation they find themselves in after having asked for an earthly king. They were at odds with God and it was increasingly unlikely that they would follow God in obedience given their history of leaving the Lord.

Despite the history and the warnings from Samuel, the people certainly seem like they understand their condition and that they are making the changes in their mind to obey and please God. They say in verse 19: “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die; for we have added to all our sins the evil of asking a king for ourselves.” This statement from the people is a prime example of souls that serve God with words but not in action. Are we guilty of this sin? Most definitely.

Samuel then gives them the obvious advice in verse 20-24 that they need to follow in order to stay close to God. There are two verses in his guidance that stick out for us today:

  1. Verse 21: “…do not turn aside [from God]; for then you would go after empty things which cannot profit or deliver, for they are nothing.”
    • The meaning is remarkable because it applies to life in the Old Testament as well as life in our modern age. We might think that a new social perspective, new technology, or new ideas are worthy of our faith and belief, but the really only represent the same thing to us as the earthly king did to Israel. Things that bring us away from God seem initially to be important, and they demand and (we feel) deserve our attention due to a fabricated sense of urgency. But what is at the bottom of this journey? These fallible and temporary things eventually reveal their emptiness. We find ourselves then back where we began, and where we should have remained: God is the direction we should be pointed in, He is the place that best deserves our belief, our faith, our trust, and our hope.
  2. Verse 22: “For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you His people.”
    • This simple message underscores the grace and love that God constantly incorporates into His relationship with us. Did the people need a king? Certainly not. Would it help them get closer to God. Not likely. So then why did God give them one? Because He loved them. If you look at your life and are honest, you could find things you have asked God for and received that you did not need, or that might even make it more challenging to obey Him. If you received these things, why did God give them to you despite these failings? Because He loves you.
    • We can add the concept as well that any material things, resources, or generic blessings that God puts into our lives can also be used to teach us. They can be used to make us suffer, so that we come closer to God. The Israelites at this time will continue to fail repeatedly under the poor leadership of King Saul, and they will struggle with their faith as a people.

We can look at our lives in parallel with the history of the Jewish people as a model for how to be reconciled to God. We will hear God’s Word and at points in our life and in different degrees, we will rebel. But, if we come back to Him more times than we leave Him, He will always be there to welcome us just as in the parable of the prodigal son.

However, do not rely on God’s grace, as Paul warns against in Romans chapter 6. For if we stray too far away from God, we will not find our way back to Him. Instead, God will give us up to the consequences of our sins.

I Samuel 11: When God is With Us

Saul has taken the kingship of Israel with little fanfare. Some of the Israelites despised him and did not believe that he would be a good leader. Ultimately, the doubters will prove to have truth in their beliefs. For this chapter, Saul gives many people reason to believe that he will be a great and godly king.

An Ammonite named Nahesh came to the Israelite city of Jabesh, located in the Gilead region east of the Jordan. The Israelites in Jabesh were intimidated by Nahesh and his army and offered to make a deal with him so that they would not be attacked. Nahesh answered: “On this condition I will make a covenant with you, that I may put out all your right eyes, and bring reproach on all Israel.”

Seeing that they would get no mercy from Nahesh, the elders of Jabesh seek assistance from the different factions of Israel. When Saul hears of this threat, he admonishes all of the other peoples of Israel to rise up with him against Nahesh and the Ammonites. Saul had God on his side for this endeavor, guiding him through the actions he took: “Then the Spirit of God came upon Saul when he heard this news, and his anger was greatly aroused.” Saul cut an oxen into pieces and sent them throughout all the land of Israel with the warning, “Whoever does not go out with Saul and Samuel to battle, so it shall be done to his oxen.”

Under Saul’s inspired leadership, the people came to Saul, ready to fight for the defense of their countrymen in Jabesh. The men came during the morning watch and killed Ammonites “until the heat of the day.” The Ammonites were defeated and devastated so totally that when they were scattered, “no two of them were left together.”

The people, seemingly all of them now, are so impressed with this victory and with Saul as a leader that they want to put to death those men that expressed no confidence in Saul before these events. But Saul showed mercy, ““Not a man shall be put to death this day, for today the Lord has accomplished salvation in Israel.”

The final verse is a picture of victorious celebration as Saul leads the people to Gilgal where he is made king before the Lord, and sacrifices and peace offerings are made to the LORD.

This chapter is a very important one in the story of king Saul. We have the picture of a man that is inspired by God and leading the people in a strong and righteous way. Under the inspiration and power of Almighty God, there is not a wrong step that can be taken nor is there a fallible path set before him. Such is the divine nature of our life when God chooses to directly bless us with His wisdom and guidance. Saul might not have known it, but he was in the loving arms of God. Who knows when we, unbeknownst to ourselves or our loved ones, are also working under the power of God as an aid to a person or people in need? Although it seems more likely that God would directly inspire men of importance such as world leaders to sway the ways of the world, the imagination comes alive to think that He also might inspire you or me to humbler deeds. Only when we are faithful and open to His guidance will we experience it. Otherwise, we are operating under our own imperfect will.