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The Big Book–Cover to Cover: 1 Samuel

This is episode 9 of our series: The Big Book–Cover to Cover.

We’re in the first of six books that make up a the majority of the historical texts. In 1 Samuel, we witness the transition from the period of the judges to the monarchy.

We’ll see what happens when Israel makes their own choices rather than aligning themselves to God’s choice, and how we really aren’t so different.

Have a biblical or theological question? Ask Dr. E! Call and leave your question for us at 615-281-9694, or email question@michaelincontext.com, and Michael will answer your question on an upcoming episode of Ask Dr. E!

Show Notes:

In review:

The first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch.

Then we move to the Historical Books, and when we come to 1 Samuel we begin what I call the “first and seconds”

1 & 2 Samuel
1 & 2 Kings
1 & 2 Chronicles

These books are a large corpus of material that extend through Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther.

The Torah or Pentateuch is the Law, these are the Historical Books, and then we’ll look at Wisdom Literature before moving to the Major and Minor Prophets.

One reason this is important to look at this from a high-level synthetic as opposed to a verse-by-verse study is that it reminds us of the big picture and small pictures, and it’s helpful to keep both in mind as we study the Scriptures.

It’s hard to miss the repetition of Biblical sin and narrative.

There are key women as the backbone of many of the stories. For example, we have Sarah and Hagar – big problem, big tension.

Then we have Rachel and Leah – big problem, big tension.

Now we come to Hannah and Peninnah – big problem, big tension.

It’s nothing new, it’s the same issue. One’s fertile, one’s infertile. Every time.

Genesis 30:1

Infertility is nothing new. It was true in antiquity, it’s true today.

As a side-note: every woman in scripture who is infertile eventually had one or more children.

Hannah prays for a son, and the son is Samuel. She prays “if you give me this son, I’ll give him back to you.

Changes in Leadership

1 Samuel begins with the record of a change in leadership. We move from judges to a judge named Samuel, who becomes a prophet named Samuel, who installs the monarchy.

We’ve gotten the Law but now we need to understand not just the history, but how God will work through fallen leaders.

Samuel is the “last judge” and the “first prophet” of God.

Read: 1 Samuel 3:10-21

The Ark of God and the Tabernacle Complex — the portable worship center — was at Shiloh.

Samuel grew up in that complex and Eli was the priest.

The Philistines are a constant frustration for Israel. There was a constant issue of fighting them and not fighting them.

During Samuel’s time, Israel gets ahead of themselves and goes to battle with the Philistines. They take the Ark as sort of a lucky charm or amulet, “we’ll go up against the Philistines and we’ll use the Ark of God.”

But what happens? The Ark is taken and the two sons of Eli with it were killed.

When Eli hears the news about the Ark and his sons, he falls backwards and breaks his neck.

So Samuel becomes the prophet. Now that Eli is off the scene, Samuel is the Judge-Prophet.

Interestingly, Eli had two wicked sons, but Samuel doesn’t do too well with his sons, either.

Nothing is new under the son.


As with many books of the Bible, the authorship is disputed. Samuel could not have written all of 1 and 2 Samuel. I think he wrote most of it.

A careful reading leaves little doubt that Samuel could have written most of the account.

We have two texts: 1 Samuel 22:5 and 1 Chronicles 29:29 that indicate that the prophets Gad and later Nathan also contributed.

Central Figures

Remember, there’s three offices in the Old Testament: Prophet, Priest, and King. No one can hold the authority of all three.

The One who comes — the Messiah — is the only Prophet-Priest-King.

This is the foundation for the three primary characters, Samuel, Saul and David, who represent the tension of the Prophet, Priest, and King that we’ll read throughout the storyline.

Warren Wiersbe writes:

“Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are books of history that record the establishment of the kingdom, it syears of victory and defeat, and the end of a divided kingdom. One lesson is obvious as you read these books: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people”(Proverbs 14:34).

Whenever the nation exalted God, God exalted the nation; but when the rulers, prophets, and people turned from the Law, God removed His blessing.

This truth is seen not only in the history of the nationcollectively, but also in the lives of the leaders personally. Both David and Solomon disobeyed God and paid dearly in their own homes and personal lives.”

— Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1993), Ru 4.

God’s sovereign faithfulness to His chosen people sets the stage for the one true King.

Samuel is God’s Judge/Prophet (1 Samuel 12 illustrates Samuel’s integrity)
Saul is Man’s choice of a king
David is God’s choice of a king.

Read 1 Samuel 15:10-35

“But the people!

Oldest trick in the book, right?

“But the woman you gave me!-” “But the serpent!-”

When we were raising our kids we tried to instill in them that if they’d just say, “yes, I did this,” it’d make things so much easier. We will offer so much mercy if you’ll say, “I lied, I stole it, I set my brother/sister up, I own it.”

Every parent’s going, “yep, we tried that. Didn’t work.”

It didn’t work in the garden, either. It’s the same old story.

Obedience is better than sacrifice.

Saul is flawed from the beginning. He fails to trust God and offers the burnt offering and peace offerings. Rather than lead his people, he oversteps his role. Saul had a clear command from the Lord to destroy Amalek, but he disobeys.


Saul is a choice man. He’s tall, handsome, head and shoulders above everybody else (1 Samuel 9). He looked like a king and was the son of a valiant warrior. He’s the one the public chooses, and Samuel calls all of Israel together at Mispah and says, “okay, I’m going to announce to you this king that you’ve wanted-”

But there’s a problem: he’s no where to be found.

1 Samuel 10:22-23

Compare this with teenage David. David had been anointed by Samuel. Jesse sends him with donkeys loaded with provisions for his brothers to the battle line.

When David hears the story of Goliath:

1 Samuel 17:22

The tall king was hiding in the baggage, David left his baggage to run to the battle line.


God’s choice should be our chief concern.

When our children were young we’d read books and spend time in devotional materials nightly, and one question we ask our kids when they’re young: what do you want to be when you grow up?

I’d tweak that a bit and ask my kids: What do you think God wants you to be when you grow up?

That’s a very different question. Not that it was helpful, but it was a different question to put to them.

The western culture has been so co-opted by the idea of chasing our dreams to realize our destiny, but what Samuel teaches us is that God’s choice is what matters. If we turn away, things are going to go poorly.

Sewn through 1 Samuel is a remarkable study of the word “choose” or “chose.”

If you grab a concordance or use an online tool and look up the words ‘choose,’ ‘choice,’ and ‘chosen’ and follow that word through 1 Samuel, it’ll blow your mind.

The biggest theme of this book is that God’s choice is what we are to align to.

God warned Israel that the price of having a king, that being like other nations, would be too high. God instructs Samuel to deliver the message to Israel. Recorded in 1 Samuel 8:1 details that the king will:

  • Take your sons (for his army)
  • Appoint commanders of 1000’s & 50’s to work fields and make weapons of war
  • Conscript your daughters to make perfumes, cook, bake
  • Take your fields, vineyards, olive groves
  • Takea 10th of your seed, flocks
  • Conscript men and women servants
  • And there will come a day:
    1 Samuel 8:18 “Then you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

The tension will continue through the reign of Saul and of David.

Saul will continue to choose for himself, David will make a different choice.

Fast forward to our own lives: God gives us grace and mercy when we sin and many of us, the consequences of our sin have been taken away, but some of our consequences have not been taken away.

I have many friends who have come out of substance addictions, and live a clean life, but some have medical consequences because of their past abuse of substances.

When we make a choice that’s not God’s choice He sustains us in mercy and grace, but that does not mean there are never consequences.

Some people think He should wipe all those things away. Saul’s confirmation as king didn’t mean there wouldn’t be negative consequences when he turned out to be a flawed king. Quite the contrary.

People get so upset reading this book, “How could God do this to Saul? God chose him!”

Well, no. Not if you read carefully.

We have the freedom to make a bad choice, and we may experience negative consequences as a result of those negative choices.

God’s grace and mercy extends even when we make a bad choice, and that will bear fruit in the man of David.

But we still may limp along.

None of us can say we haven’t made some bad choices and have lingered with the consequences.

They chose a king. 1 Samuel 12:12-25 can be summed up: fear the Lord, serve Him, listen to His voice, do not rebel.

If you or the king rebels, God’s hand will be against you.

Even in this, God did not abandon His people on account of His great name.” 1 Samuel 12:22

I’m always struck when I read:

He forgive our transgressions for His name’s sake.

That always dismantles me. He doesn’t forgive me because I deserve forgiveness or say the right words. He forgives me for His name’s sake.

The lesson for a believer is: you and I need grace and mercy to endure the consequences of our poor choices.

Otherwise, we’d be hopeless.

1 Samuel 13:2 Saul chose for himself…
1 Samuel 16:1 God has selected a king.

That word “selected” is another fascinating word study in the Old Testament. Psalm 78:70

God chooses a king for Himself among Jesse’s son, and in a major turn of events, God doesn’t choose the firstborn. He chooses the youngest.

Seven times we hear, “The Lord has not chosen this one either,” (1 Samuel 16:8-10) and then David comes.

1 Samuel 16:12-14

Meanwhile, Saul is described with a spear in his hand while David is described as having a harp in his hand.

Now, Israel is confronted with their choice v. God’s choice. And then comes the challenge: The Philistines’ champion, Goliath.

1 Samuel 17:8-11

Who was the tallest guy in the army? Saul.
Who should’ve gone out and faced the giant? Saul.

When the boy, David, comes up and hears the story, and he can’t handle Saul’s armor, and he relies on what he knows – his sling – David left his baggage and goes to the front line.

Goliath: 1 Samuel 17:5

1 Samuel 17:16 – Did you catch it? For 40 days and, twice a day, 80 times, the Philistine taunts: Choose A Man. Choose a man.

God’s people chose Saul when they should’ve chosen Yahweh Elohim.

1 Samuel 17:40 – David chose for himself five smooth stones…

Who should’ve been the choice? The taller soldier, the one with the armor, the king.

Israel could not have missed the contrast between all the days of Saul and David.

God chose a kid, not a man. He turns things over.

The sound principles of wisdom aligns with the question: Is this God’s choice?

Set aside your experiences and feelings: What do you think Christ thinks of your choice?

The answer for me, that’s my fallback wisdom principle is:

If I choose this, and it works out, does God get the glory?

If I were to choose it and I’d get the glory, it’s probably a fool’s errand.

So it comes back to God’s choice of David, not Saul, to give God the glory. He chose Samuel as the prophet, not others, and Samuel is the one with integrity throughout the storyline and dies with his integrity in check.

Saul, of course, is an epic failure. David has epic failures but is a forgiving king.

When we go to Israel and take you up to Ein Gedi, where David is on the run and Saul comes in to relieve himself and David’s men tell him, God’s delivered him into your hands!

What does David do? Cuts off part of the coat that later he lays beside him.

Full-circle, when Samuel prophesies to Saul and tears his coat, “God has torn your kingdom from you,”

Fast forward to the boy David, “I shouldn’t have done this. I cut off your garment, you’re the king.”

There couldn’t be a more polar difference between God’s choice and Man’s.

Whom will you choose? God’s choice, or man’s?

Michael Easley

About Michael Easley

Michael is husband to one, dad to four, and host of Michael Easley inContext.

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