We continue reading 1 Samuel during December and January. In February, Dougie Wolf will be writing the Bible reading notes on a different part of Scripture. We shall then complete our studies in 1 Samuel in March.
Tuesday 1st December
1 Samuel 11:1-11
Yesterday we noted that when the Holy Spirit came upon Saul, he was given courage. We read in verse 6 that when the Holy Spirit came upon him something else happened as well: ‘When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger.’ We often think of anger as a bad thing, something to be avoided but there is such a thing as a righteous anger. This surely brings to mind the story of Jesus taking a whip and clearing the moneychangers out of the temple (John 2:13-160. When we see injustice, when we see people being treated badly, there ought to be a righteous anger. It is part of our spiritual calling to speak and act for the poor, the oppressed and those who cannot speak for themselves.
Wednesday 2nd December
1 Samuel 11:12-15
In these verses we see the wisdom of Saul. At the end of chapter ten, after Samuel had declared Saul to be the king, we find that this was not unanimously welcomed. In today’s passage, we find that after Saul had been victorious in battle, some people wanted to bring out those who opposed Saul’s kingship and kill them. Saul, was not of this view: ‘No-one shall be put to death today, for this day the LORD has rescued Israel.’ This shows wisdom on Saul’s part. From a human point of view, it would have been so easy to allow revenge on those who had opposed him. Suddenly he had the power of life and death over people. Many people who have had that kind of power have abused it. Saul wisely acted in a different way. This is only one example of the wisdom that we see in Saul during his early days. Remember, wisdom is not knowledge or information. It is possible to be very intelligent or very well read and yet to lack wisdom. Without wisdom, however, we cannot understand anything (see Psalm 111:10).
Thursday 3rd December
1 Samuel 11:12-15
The last point to be made about these verses is that Saul demonstrates real humility, which is a God-given virtue. In verse 13 Saul says, ‘this day the Lord has rescued Israel.’ Saul might well have claimed the credit for himself. After all, he called the people together, he organised them and he led them into battle. Instead, he gives the glory to God and demonstrates a humility which comes from the Spirit. Humility is not a natural condition but a condition brought about by the Spirit of God. As we read in Proverbs 15:33: ‘The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honour.’ Humility is one of the attributes which Paul tells the believers they should ‘put on’ having taken off the old sinful ways (Colossians 3:12). Peter says the same thing (1 Peter 5:5-6). James shows that wisdom and humility go together (James 3:13).
Friday 4th December
1 Samuel 12:1-5
Samuel, who was the last and greatest of the Judges, now takes his farewell of the people of Israel. He was their leader for some years and God used him. He also appointed Saul as king, despite his unhappiness at Israel’s desire to be like all the other nations. God had told him to do this and, as always, he was faithful and obedient to God. Above all, Samuel was a man of integrity. That is the point being made in these verses. He stands before all Israel and states that he never stole anything, he never cheated anyone, he never oppressed anyone and he never accepted a bribe. The man or woman who professes faith must have integrity. Many Christian lives have been destroyed because their behaviour did not match their claim to be the children of God.
Saturday 5th December
1 Samuel 12:1-5
Samuel’s integrity is confirmed by all Israel gathered before him. No-one could name anything Samuel had done for selfish reasons, for personal advancement or for personal gain. In other words, his witness was intact. This follows on from what we saw yesterday. When Christians fall from grace through some scandal or another, it is their witness to Christ which is damaged. Whatever we might like to think, those who are not Christians keep a close watch on those who profess Christ and are quick to point out moral failures. On the other hand, there is nothing that draws people to Christ more than a godly Christian whose life shines for Jesus and whose every act demonstrates the love of God and the integrity of a balanced Christian life.
Sunday 6th December
1 Samuel 12:6-11
In this farewell speech, Samuel reminds the people of all that the Lord had done for Israel. He says in verse 7, ‘I am going to confront you with evidence before the LORD as to all the righteous acts performed by the LORD for you and your fathers.’ He reminds them of how God delivered them from captivity in Egypt through Moses and Aaron. Despite this great act of God, the people quickly forgot the Lord their God and went after other gods. For this reason, judgement fell upon them and they were defeated by their enemies. Despite their sin, time after time God sent Judges to deliver the people from their enemies, the last of these being Samuel. It was good for Israel to be reminded of all that God had done for them. We too should constantly remind ourselves of the many blessings we have received from God.
Monday 7th December
1 Samuel 12:12-15
Samuel continues his speech with a warning. The people had asked for a king and now they had one, Saul. Having made that choice, both king and people must be obedient to God. Samuel says that the people must fear God and that both king and people must ‘follow the Lord your God’. He also warns them of the consequences of disobedience. It was not enough for the Israelites to say that they were the chosen people, there must also be obedience. God had made a covenant with his people and the covenant included God’s law. If they followed the Lord and obeyed his law, all would be well but otherwise trouble would come upon them. That message was given to Israel in the days of Saul but it is a message which is also applicable today. When a church or a nation turns its back on God and goes its own way, abandoning the clear teaching given by God, then judgement will inevitably follow. Many would say that we today are experiencing the judgement of God on church and nation for disobedience.
Tuesday 8th December
1 Samuel 12:16-18
In these verses, Samuel reminds the people of what an evil thing they had done in asking for a king. We saw this when we looked at 1 Samuel 8. In verse 7 of that chapter God responds to Samuel’s great anger at the request of the people for a king: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.’ Sometimes God gives us what we want, even when our desires are sinful. He can use such situations to show us our foolishness and to make us repent of our sin. In order to drive the point home that God is the sovereign and not the king, Samuel calls God to send thunder and rain. It was the dry season, the harvest season and thunder and rain simply did not happen at that time of year but God did it. It had the desired effect, ‘So all the people stood in awe of the Lord and Samuel’. Do we have a sense of awe as we contemplate God?
Wednesday 9th December
1 Samuel 12:19-25
The people express their guilt at having asked for a king but Samuel reassures them that the Lord has chosen them and will continue to uphold them, so long as they serve the Lord with all their heart. It is interesting to see in this passage what Samuel promises to do for them. He says that he will pray for them and that he will teach them ‘the way that is good and right’ (verse 23). This is the task of Christian leadership and ministry. In Acts 6:4, the leaders of the church appointed men to act as ‘deacons’ to serve the church, so that they could give their attention ‘to prayer and the ministry of the word’. Both Samuel and the disciples chose to devote themselves to prayer and the teaching of God’s Word. In the Church of Scotland, we speak of the ‘Minister of Word and Sacrament’ but a more biblical description would be ‘Minister of Word and Prayer’. These are the essentials, everything else is secondary to this.
Thursday 10th December
1 Samuel 13:1-7
These verses describe a crisis that faced Israel. Saul and his son Jonathan started a war with the Philistines. They only had 3,000 men between them because Saul had sent the rest of the army home. This led to an immediate response from the Philistines who had an enormous army, as we read in 5: ‘The Philistines assembled to fight Israel, with three thousand chariots, six thousand charioteers, and soldiers as numerous as the sand on the seashore’. Did God tell Saul to attack the Philistines? We are not told. Was this over-confidence on a big scale by Saul and Jonathan? We’re not told. It is clear from many occasions in the history of Israel that God could give his people victory over large armies, even if their numbers were small. The story of Gideon is a case in point (Judges 7). The real question is the will of God. Sometimes we go ahead and make our plans, without consulting God and then ask him to bless what we have decided to do. The proper approach is to listen to God, to discover what he wants us to do and then to do it.
Friday 11th December
1 Samuel 13:8-15
Here we find King Saul making a foolish decision and being rejected by God. The story highlights an important biblical principle concerning obedience to God. The people were ‘quaking with fear’ because of the huge Philistine army and Saul was waiting for Samuel to arrive. Samuel had promised Saul he would come within seven days to meet with him. No doubt he was seeking the mind of the Lord and would come with a word from God to the king and people of Israel in this dire situation. Samuel, however, did not arrive within the promised seven days and Saul took matters into his own hands. He himself offered up a burnt offering before God, in clear disobedience to God’s command. His excuse was that he didn’t want to go into battle without seeking the Lord’s favour and so he felt compelled to offer the sacrifice. It is always a mistake to disobey God, even when we think it is for the best of reasons. The end does not justify the means.
Saturday 12th December
1 Samuel 13:8-15
When Samuel did arrive, he listened to Saul’s feeble excuses and then condemned him for his disobedience and foolishness. This is what Samuel said, as recorded in verses 13-14: ‘“You acted foolishly,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.”’ Saul’s actions were so serious (only a priest appointed by God could offer the sacrifice) that the kingship is about to be taken away from him. Soon David would become king in his place. From a human point of view, we might say, well it wasn’t too serious and he did it for the best of motives but we would be wrong. Part of the problem with us is that we make excuses for sin and play down its significance. We need to look at sin from God’s perspective to see its full horror.
Sunday 13th December
1 Samuel 13:8-15
We read these verses one more time to underline the principle which is at stake in this story. It is simply this: the work of God must be carried out in God’s way. It is never right to disobey God’s clear command in order to try and achieve God’s purposes. We find another example in Genesis 16. God had promised that Abraham would have many descendants but, as the years passed, it seemed as if this was not going to happen, so Sarah decided to take action. She told Abram to sleep with her Egyptian maidservant Hagar in the hope of building a family through her. God had made it clear (Genesis 2:24) that one man was to have one wife, and for a man to take a second wife, or a concubine, was wrong but Abraham and Sarah were willing to disobey God’s command in order to try and fulfil God’s promise. They knew that it was God’s will for Abram to have many descendants and so they tried to achieve that end by sinful, human means. They tried to do God’s will in their way. They believed that the end would justify the means. They were wrong.
Monday 14th December
1 Samuel 13:16-22
Many of the Israelites had run away, others had hidden themselves and even those who remained with Saul were quaking in fear at the prospect of fighting the massed ranks of the Philistines. Their situation was made worse by the fact that, as we see in verses 16-22, they had no weapons with which to fight. The commentators tell us that the Philistines controlled the supply of iron. More than that, they charged exorbitant amounts of money for sharpening tools or weapons. So we have an army which is small and not equipped with appropriate weaponry, going up against a vast, well-armed force. Nevertheless, they had God on their side and numbers do not matter to him. Perhaps the lesson to be learned from this is that when we face challenges which seem insurmountable, when we have problems that seem to have no solution, when everything seems to be against us and we can see no way through – look to God.
Tuesday 15th December
1 Samuel 13:23 – 14:14
Jonathan, the son of Saul, embarks on a mission against the Philistines with only his armour bearer in support. This seemingly rash enterprise was successful because God was in it. In fact, by the time Saul and the rest of the Israelites come to help, the battle was effectively won and the Philistines were routed. The key statement of Jonathan’s faith is found in verse 6: ‘Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few’. I remember as a young Christian hearing a preacher make this point by saying ‘God plus one is a majority’. In other words, it does not matter if we are part of a great crowd or stand alone, if God is with us he is able to give the victory. Sometimes we worry too much about numbers. The truth is that a faithful few can be mightily used by God.
Wednesday 16th December
1 Samuel 13:23 – 14:14
The only person that Jonathan told about his intentions was his armour bearer. If he had made it known more generally that he intended to attack a Philistine outpost with only one man in support, people would have said that he was mad. They would undoubtedly have tried to talk him out of this foolish enterprise. They would have told him that he was needlessly risking his life. No doubt Jonathan realised this because, as we read in verse 1, ‘he did not tell his father.’ Jonathan was confident that God could defeat these Philistines with just two men. The next question was whether or not God would do this. There are many things that God could do but which, in his providence, he might decide not to do. In order to determine this question, Jonathan asked for a sign. If, when the Philistines spotted Jonathan and his armour bearer, they said ‘Come up to us’ that would be the sign that God had given them into their hands. This was, in fact, what happened and Jonathan and his armour bearer duly fought against the Philistines and were successful.
Thursday 17th December
1 Samuel 14:15-23
The main point of this story is that God gave the victory. Notice first of all verse 15, where the Philistines were thrown into panic and we’re told, ‘It was a panic sent by God.’ Saul’s lookouts see this panic setting in and report back. Saul then prepares for battle. Notice, he tells the priest to bring the Ark of God. Why did Saul do this? Surely it would have been safer to leave the Ark where it was? Saul, even having been rejected by God for his disobedience, understands that victory will only come if God is with them and the Ark was a symbol of God’s presence among his people. Notice the conclusion in verse 23: ‘So the LORD rescued Israel that day.’ Israel didn’t win because of anything in themselves, it was entirely down to the Lord. There were times when God was not with his people, when he was angry with them because of their sin and disobedience and on those occasions they lost battles. The history of the people of Israel is a history of strength and victory when God was with them and utter failure when they depended on their own strength, or wisdom or ability.
Friday 18th December
1 Samuel 14:24-30
Here we see King Saul’s behaviour becoming more and more erratic and his decisions more and more suspect. This is a man who is unpredictable and dangerous, a man who believes more in his own judgement than in the voice of God. As the passage begins we are told that Saul’s army was in real distress. They had been engaged in a long and hard battle and they were hungry but the king had decided to order a fast and to accompany it with an oath. Anyone who broke the fast would be condemned to death. This was complete foolishness and indicated a man who, sitting in the comfort of his palace, issued decrees with no real connection to reality. When a king or a leader has total control over his subjects and the power of life and death, he often becomes a foolish despot, issuing orders all over the place, at his own whim. Jonathan, the king’s son, had not heard about this oath and so ate some honey. When he was told of the fast and the curse upon anyone who broke the fast, he understood clearly that his father had made a foolish decision. This was the beginning of the end for Saul.
Saturday 19th December
1 Samuel 14:31-52
As soon as the fast was over, the soldiers were so hungry that they pounced on the animals which had been take in plunder from the Philistines and hurriedly cooked and ate the meat with the blood still in it. This, of course, was against the law of God. They were starving and in their hunger they broke the law but it was Saul’s fault for ordering such a foolish fast in the first place. God had not ordered a fast, Saul ordered a fast. Then when this has all happened, they lose a battle and Saul is convinced that it is because someone broke the fast. He discovers that it was Jonathan and orders that he be put to death. His foolishness known no bounds. Indeed, he is clearly becoming deranged. What foolishness that Jonathan should be executed for the trivial offence of having some honey and thus breaking an oath about which he had never even heard! Euripedes once wrote, ‘whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.’ That is the wisdom of a pagan writer but it surely could be said to speak of Saul. He was becoming mad, as we shall see in the coming days.
Sunday 20th December
1 Samuel 14:31-52
One of the strange features of this story is that, as he becomes more and more foolish in his decisions and actions, he appears to become more and more religious. We see this in three ways: first, he makes a religious oath, second, he calls a fast and third, he builds an altar. What is happening here? The truth is that Saul was outwardly religious but there was no reality to it, it was fake. He could make religious oaths, call fasts and build altars as much as he wanted but it didn’t disguise the fact that he had turned away from God and would soon be finally rejected as king. Here then is a strange situation. As King Saul drifted away from God, he became more and more religious. We might say that he replaced true religion (to love the Lord our God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and to love your neighbour as yourself) with empty form and ritual. A living relationship with the living God through Jesus Christ our Mediator, is the only kind of religion that is pleasing to God.
Monday 21st December
1 Samuel 15:1-9
This is the famous passage where Saul is told to slaughter the Amalekites, men, women and children. We might well regard this as the final opportunity for Saul to demonstrate obedience to God but he fails to do so. The Amalekites, because of their sin against the people of God, were to be destroyed. Samuel communicates this instruction to the king and Saul prepares the army. He also ensures that the innocent Kenites are given the opportunity to move away from the Amalekites, so that their lives will be spared. Saul then goes to war against the Amalekites. He is victorious in battle but he fails to do everything that God had commanded. God had given instructions that no-one was to be spared, yet Saul spared Agag, king of the Amalekites. God had also given instructions that all the livestock was to be slaughtered, yet Saul allowed his men to keep the best of the livestock. Once again, he has refused to completely obey God. Are we obedient to God in everything?
Tuesday 22nd December
1 Samuel 15:10-21
Saul’s disobedience led to a second word from the Lord to Samuel (verses 10-11). After a night of crying out to the Lord, Samuel goes to see Saul, to confront him with his disobedience. Saul’s first response, however, is to declare that he has done everything he had been commanded to do (verse 13). Samuel was having none of it and directly confronted Saul with his disobedience (verses 14-19). Saul still refuses to admit any wrongdoing. Samuel asks him (verse 19) why he disobeyed the Lord and Saul replies, ‘But I did obey the LORD,’. Saul just couldn’t see it. He had only spared one man and brought him back as a trophy of war. He had allowed the men to keep some of the animals, but only so they could be sacrificed. Saul was saying that he did almost everything that God had commanded and the two small things he failed to do were for good reasons. You can almost hear Saul saying, ‘Surely God is not going to be difficult when I’ve done 90% of what he asked me to do? He had done 90% of what God asked him to do but 90% is not enough. Now this is a very important lesson for all of us. We can be just like Saul! We too can be satisfied if we’ve done most of what God wants us to do. It is not enough.
Wednesday 23rd December
We take a break from 1st Samuel for a few days, in order to do some readings appropriate to Christmas. We begin with this astonishing and deep passage of Scripture, in which we are introduced to the incarnation: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning’. Then in verse 14 this one who is God is identified as the one who came to this earth, namely Jesus of Nazareth. The passage goes on to tell us that he was the agent of creation. Even more significantly, he is the one who brings light and life. From the rest of Scripture, we can say that God is three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, took human flesh and became a man. That is what we celebrate at Christmas.
Thursday 24th December
On this Christmas Eve, we remember the story of how the birth of Jesus came about. When Mary discovered that she was pregnant, before they were married, Joseph was minded to quietly divorce her (they were pledged to be married and it required a ‘divorce’ to break that). Then he had a dream and an angel spoke to him and made two amazing statements. First, that the baby she was carrying was ‘from the Holy Spirit’. Second, that he was to give the baby the name Jesus ‘because he will save his people from their sins’. Imagine how a humble carpenter tried to cope with this astonishing revelation from God, being told that the birth of Jesus was by the Holy Spirit and would bring salvation to his people. Do we believe, as Joseph did?
Friday 25th December
On this Christmas Day, read this passage slowly and take it all in. The words are so familiar that we often skip over them too quickly. The birth of the child, the shepherds, the angels and so much more. It is a wonderful story of how the Son of God who had been sent by the Father (John 3:16) came into the world as a helpless child, born in a stable. Perhaps the key to the whole story is verse 11: ‘Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’. This identifies Jesus as the Messiah (Christ) whom the Jews had been expecting for 800 years. More importantly, it explains why he came, namely, as a Saviour. As Paul said in 1 Timothy 1:15: ‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’. Have you discovered Jesus to be a Saviour?
Saturday 26th December
1 Samuel 15:22-26
Samuel pronounces the judgement of God upon Saul, in verses 22-23: ‘Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.”’ Notice that, Saul had rejected the Word of the Lord and because of that, God had rejected him. Saul thought he knew better than God. He had kept some animals to offer a sacrifice, surely God would be pleased with that? Do you see what was happening there? He did something religious, instead of obeying God. God didn’t want a sacrifice, God wanted Saul to do what he had been told to do but Saul thought he knew best. Do we sometimes think we know better than God?
Sunday 27th December
1 Samuel 15:27-35
Here we see the separation of Samuel from Saul. Having initially been against the appointment of a king, Samuel did everything in his power to make the kingship work. In this chapter, however, we see Samuel’s deep anguish over what Saul was doing. It grieved him to see Saul making shipwreck of his life. Although it grieved him, Samuel did not flinch from pronouncing God’s judgement on Saul. Even when Saul admitted his sin and asked for forgiveness, Saul did not give way. The time for all of that was passed. As we read in verse 35: ‘Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him.’ This was the parting of the ways, the separation of Saul from Samuel. This separation of Saul, the political leader of the nation, from Samuel, the religious leader of the nation, was bound to have serious consequences.
Monday 28th December
1 Samuel 15:27-35
We saw yesterday the separation of Saul from Samuel but we read these verses again to notice the even more serious separation of Saul from God. God had reached the end of his patience with Saul. The Lord makes it clear that someone else will become king in his place. In verses 28-29, Samuel passes this on to Saul: ‘Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbours – to one better than you.’ Over the coming days we shall see this prophecy come to pass, as Saul becomes more and more erratic and dangerous, while David is anointed and prepared to become the second king of Israel. Once God had decided to separate himself from Saul, there was no going back. As we see in verse 29: ‘He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.’ The parting was final. Verse 35 repeats what we read in verse 11, ‘The LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel’. We cannot treat God as Saul did and escape the consequences.
Tuesday 29th December
1 Samuel 16:1-5
So far in these readings we have studied the life of Samuel and the short kingship of Saul. Now in this chapter we are introduced to David, the man who was to become Israel’s most famous king. The passage begins with God sending Samuel to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse. God tells Samuel, ‘I have chosen one of his sons to be king’. Here we see an example of God’s sovereign choice. We see this sovereignty at work throughout the Bible. For example, listen to Jeremiah 1:4-5: ‘The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”’ If we are Christians, then it is because God has chosen us. It also means that God has been preparing us for his service. What is it that God wants each of us to do in his service? What has he been preparing us for?
Wednesday 30th December
1 Samuel 16:6-10
When Samuel arrived in Bethlehem and saw Jesse’s son Eliab, he was immediately convinced that this was the one he was to appoint as king. It is clear from the context that it was Eliab’s appearance which persuaded Samuel that this was the man to be king. The truth was, however, that appearance was not important. God makes this clear to Samuel in verse 7: ‘The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’. The first seven brothers were brought to Samuel and God did not choose any of them. We often judge people by outward appearances but God does not. God is able to look into our hearts and to know what we are really like. Other people might be fooled by an outward show of piety but God is never fooled. God knows us inside out!
Thursday 31st December
1 Samuel 16:11-13
Samuel had to ask if there was another brother. We pick up the story in verses 11-12: ‘So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”’ We don’t have to be older, strong, beautiful, rich, brilliant or especially talented to serve God. God often chooses the unlikely person. That was the point Paul was making in 1 Corinthians 1:26-27: ‘Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong’. We don’t have to be special in the eyes of the world to serve God.