Samuel starts out with a lovely little story about Hannah, which is pretty much the first Bible story I have memory of. I was always rather overwhelmed thinking of “poor” Samuel sent away from his mother at such a young age, but also captivated by the idea of being able to spend all one’s time very directly serving God in the Temple. And then, of course, Samuel starts hearing God’s audible voice—and I used to wish I would, like him.
Before long, though, the story of 1 Samuel turns to the people asking for a king, and Samuel warning them of what a king will do in this incredibly striking passage from chapter 8 (hcsb):
These are the rights of the king who will rule over you: He will take your sons and put them to his use in his chariots, on his horses, or running in front of his chariots. He can appoint them for his use as commanders of thousands or commanders of fifties, to plow his ground or reap his harvest, or to make his weapons of war or the equipment for his chariots. He can take your daughters to become perfumers, cooks, and bakers. He can take your best fields, vineyards, and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He can take a tenth of your grain and your vineyards and give them to his officials and servants. He can take your male servants, your female servants, your best young men, and your donkeys and use them for his work. He can take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves can become his servants. When that day comes, you will cry out because of the king you’ve chosen for yourselves, but the Lord won’t answer you on that day.
God tells Samuel, “they have not rejected you; they have rejected Me as their king. They are doing the same thing to you that they have done to Me, since the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, abandoning Me and worshiping other gods” (vv 7-9).
Saul: The king They deserved
And so Samuel anoints Saul, who begins as a seemingly-decent fellow, and turns out to be one of the most complex characters in all of Scripture. God sends an evil spirit to torment him, Saul occasionally breaks out into prophecy, and Saul does two big , bad things that have lasting consequences for him: 1) he offers a burnt offering himself rather than waiting for Samuel to do it (1 Samuel13), and 2) he consults a medium. The former leads to his being rejected by God as king, and the latter leads to his death (1 Chronicles 10:14). Saul does plenty of other foolish things during his reign (foolish vows, foolish battles, running away, trying to kill David, committing suicide), and yet it is insightful to see that these are the two things God found most dire—as evidence of Saul’s lack of trust in God, his lack of obedience, his lack of searching out God’s will. It’s also insightful that his son Jonathan clearly loved David and loved God, and even Michal, while imperfect, serves David more than her father. Saul’s family doesn’t seem as disjointed and wicked as David’s family will seem later in the story.
David: the King God loved
David’s story and Saul’s are bizarrely interwoven; two of the Lord’s anointed in the same place at the same time. And yet, from the very beginning, we see David is an incredibly different person. Specifically, he’s all the time sending off for “the ephod” to consult God, and asking the prophets for guidance. David inspires loyalty; David is fearless; David is clever and wise. David is also very kind to Saul, not only sparing his life (though Saul sought his), but helping Saul with the evil spirit by playing the lyre. And David continually gives the glory for his victories to God.
In fact, only one big negative really stuck out about David, but it’s a doozy—he lies so many times I lost track! He tells Jonathan to lie to Saul (which he does) in chapter 20. He lies to Ahimelek the priest in chapter 21 (wherein he also eats the showbread under false pretences), which leads to Saul slaughtering Ahimelek and eighty-four other priests in chapter 22. Then he lies to Achish, the king of Gath, over a considerable period of time as he lives in his shelter while claiming to be fighting against Israel but really slaughtering neighboring Canaanites, a lie which comes to a head in chapter 28 as Achish suggests that he and David go to battle against Israel together. God kindly spares David from that perplexion by having Achish uninvite him while praising David’s honesty (1 Samuel 29:6-9)!
We see that he has a temper in chapter 25 where he gets angry at the slight from Nabal and would have massacred Nabal and his men except for Abigail’s interference, and then he very promptly takes Abigail and another woman Ahinoam to wife, adding to Saul’s daughter Michal and getting a start on what will eventually be a sizable house of wives and source of unending trouble.
So, David, too, is surprisingly flawed. As I read, I kept being struck by the thought that the difference between David and Saul was not so much what kind of men they were, but rather Whose men they were. They both fell into sin and foolishness. But where Saul was trying to hide from his calling, trying to figure things out on his own, trying to push God into his timeframe, giving up on God and seeking alternate answers, wishing for the praise of men… David was quietly accepting every command God sent him, seeking God in all his actions, waiting patiently for God to provide, and glorifying God when He gave the victory. And if we add the psalms—many of which were written in this same timeframe—we get an even fuller picture of the relationship David had with his Redeemer. David had faith. Saul was unfaithful.
2 Samuel has much more about David, and I’m eager to get to it. 🙂