1 Samuel Commentary: Chronicles of Kings and Prophets

1 Samuel Commentary

1 Samuel is a recording of the early history of Israel, marking the transition from the era of judges to the establishment of monarchy.

It opens with the poignant story of Hannah’s prayer and Samuel’s subsequent birth, setting the stage for his pivotal role as Israel’s last judge and first prophet. The narrative then shifts to the tumultuous reign of Saul, Israel’s first king, whose initial promise gives way to disobedience and downfall.

Amidst the political and spiritual upheaval, the young shepherd David emerges, anointed by God as the future king. Through battles, anointings, and prophecies, 1 Samuel offers the rich history of leadership, faith, and the complex relationship between God and His people.

1 Samuel 1-3, Samuel’s Birth and Calling

In the first three chapters of 1 Samuel, we are introduced to the story of Hannah, a woman deeply distressed by her inability to conceive. Her fervent prayers and vow to God lead to the birth of Samuel, marking the beginning of a significant life dedicated to serving God.

And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

1 Samuel 1:11, ESV

The narrative transitions to Samuel’s early years in the temple under Eli’s mentorship. Samuel’s calling is a dramatic night-time event, illustrating his destiny as a prophet.

The repeated calls from God, initially mistaken as Eli’s voice, signify the transition of divine communication from the old priest to the young prophet.

And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”

1 Samuel 3:10, ESV

Samuel’s calling isn’t just about his personal destiny; it’s a transformative moment for Israel. As Eli’s house falls from grace due to his sons’ wickedness, Samuel rises as a beacon of hope and leadership.

1 Samuel 4-7, The Ark Captured and Returned

These chapters narrate the tumultuous journey of the Ark of the Covenant, symbolizing God’s presence among His people. Initially, Israel’s defeat and the Ark’s capture by the Philistines are grave signs of the nation’s spiritual and political decline.

And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

1 Samuel 4:11, ESV

Yet, the Ark’s journey isn’t just about loss and defeat. The Philistines face calamities, acknowledging the power of Israel’s God. This segment highlights the undeniable supremacy of God, irrespective of human possession or location.

As the Ark returns, Israel’s repentance and renewal under Samuel’s leadership mark a revival. The defeat at Ebenezer turns into victory, symbolizing hope and divine favor.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”

1 Samuel 7:12, ESV

1 Samuel 8-12, Israel’s Demand for a King and Saul’s Anointment

In these chapters, Israel demands a king, a request that displeases Samuel and God. This section explores the tension between divine rulership and human authority, highlighting Israel’s desire to be like other nations.

And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.

1 Samuel 8:7, ESV

Despite God’s warning, the people persist, leading to Saul’s anointment. Saul’s early reign, including victories and the reaffirmation of kingship, reflects a complex period of transition and expectation.

Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head and kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you to be prince over his people Israel? And you shall reign over the people of the Lord and you will save them from the hand of their surrounding enemies. And this shall be the sign to you that the Lord has anointed you to be prince over his heritage.

1 Samuel 10:1, ESV

Saul’s rise to power isn’t just a political shift; it’s about the human heart’s desires and the consequences of choosing earthly authority over divine guidance.

1 Samuel 13-15, Saul’s Disobedience and Rejection

Saul’s reign takes a dark turn as he disobeys divine commands. This isn’t merely about political missteps; it’s a profound exploration of obedience, faith, and the fear of man.

But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.”

1 Samuel 13:14, ESV

Samuel’s declaration of Saul’s rejection is a sobering reminder of God’s standards for leadership and the cost of disobedience.

And Samuel said,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to listen than the fat of rams.

1 Samuel 15:22, ESV

As Saul’s dynasty crumbles, the stage is set for a new, unexpected leader, opening a chapter of hope and divine surprise.

1 Samuel 16-18, David’s Anointing and Victory over Goliath

These chapters introduce David, anointed as the future king, juxtaposing his humble beginnings with God’s grand vision. David’s encounter with Goliath is not just a tale of victory but a testament to faith and divine selection.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah.

1 Samuel 16:13, ESV

David’s triumph over Goliath is a defining moment, showcasing God’s power through the faith of the young shepherd. This victory isn’t merely military; it’s a spiritual conquest that reverberates through Israel’s history.

So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine and killed him. There was no sword in the hand of David.

1 Samuel 17:50, ESV

David’s rise isn’t without complexity; his growing popularity sets the stage for future conflicts, marking a journey filled with both divine favor and human challenges.

1 Samuel 19-23, David’s Flight from Saul

As Saul’s jealousy escalates, David’s life turns into a relentless flight.

These chapters aren’t just about survival; they depict the psychological and spiritual battles in the midst of adversity.

And Jonathan told David, “Saul my father seeks to kill you. Therefore be on your guard in the morning. Stay in a secret place and hide yourself.

1 Samuel 19:2, ESV

David’s interactions, whether with Jonathan’s friendship or the priests at Nob, reflect a web of relationships affected by Saul’s pursuit. Each encounter reveals aspects of loyalty, fear, and the providence of God.

In this fugitive life, David’s psalms and actions reflect a heart pursuing God’s righteousness amidst human injustice.

1 Samuel 24-26, David Spares Saul’s Life

David twice has the opportunity to kill Saul, yet he refrains. These moments aren’t just about mercy; they’re profound demonstrations of respect for God’s anointed and the principles of justice.

May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you.

1 Samuel 24:12, ESV

David’s speeches to Saul are as much about affirming his own integrity as they are about challenging Saul’s perception. Here, 1 Samuel delves deep into themes of revenge, forgiveness, and the divine right of kings.

In the backdrop of these personal encounters, the narrative continues to weave the broader political and spiritual fate of Israel.

1 Samuel 27-31, David among the Philistines and Saul’s Death

As David aligns with the Philistines, the narrative explores themes of survival, allegiance, and identity. David’s actions raise questions about loyalty and strategy, reflecting the complexity of his situation.

And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

1 Samuel 30:6, ESV

Saul’s tragic end on Mount Gilboa isn’t just the fall of a king; it’s a somber reflection on human frailty and divine judgment. The narrative intertwines personal downfall with national disaster, setting the stage for a new chapter in Israel’s history.

As the book of 1 Samuel concludes, the reader is left pondering the intertwining of divine providence, human agency, and the relentless flow of history.