January Bible Readings

Friday 1st January
1 Samuel 16:1-13
We go back over the whole passage to reflect on the choice of David. David was a better man than Saul and he would prove to be a better king than Saul but why should this be? What is it that made David a better king? The answer is found back in 1 Samuel 13:14: ‘the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people’. This is what made David a better man than Saul, he was ‘a man after God’s heart’. That still leaves us with another question. What does it mean to be ‘a man after God’s heart?’ The answer is found in Acts 13:22, where God says, ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do’. This is what it means for David to be a man after God’s own heart – it means that he would do everything God wanted him to do. As Christians, we too are called to be men and women after God’s own heart. We must do everything God wants us to do.

Saturday 2nd January
1 Samuel 16:14-23
These verses tell us how God, in his providence, brought David into the palace. Saul was suffering: ‘Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him’. It was decided that someone should be appointed to play the harp when the evil spirit came upon Saul. One of the palace servants recommended David, ‘He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the LORD is with him’. That is quite a reference! So David was taken into the palace. This is the extraordinary providence of God, preparing David for the day when he would become king. In the same way, Moses was brought up by Pharaoh’s daughter, preparing him for the day when God would send him to speak to Pharaoh. For what is God preparing you?

Sunday 3rd January
1 Samuel 17:1-11
The smell of fear is what comes over in this first section of the famous story of David and Goliath. The story tells of how the army of King Saul and the army of the Philistines are facing each other across a valley. Then a huge, nine foot, giant called Goliath steps forward and challenges Saul’s men to put up an opponent for one to one combat, with a ‘winner takes all’ proposal. In verse 11 we read, ‘On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified’. The army of Saul was afraid of this man Goliath. Saul’s men did not believe that he could be defeated. He was huge and fearsome. The question we must ask, however, is why was Saul afraid? This was the king of Israel, God’s chosen people, with whom he had made his covenant.
The answer is that he had taken his eyes off God. Instead of looking to God and trusting in God, he had begun to look to himself and trust himself. If he had kept his eyes firmly on God and trusted God, then he would not have been afraid. God could be trusted.

Monday 4th January
1 Samuel 17:12-30
Now we are introduced to David. David was a young boy, going backwards and forwards from his home to where the army was, taking food to three of his brothers who were serving under King Saul. While he was there, Goliath came out and shouted his usual cry of defiance, calling on someone from Saul’s army to fight him. David was fascinated by this, asked what was happening and, when he was told, expressed astonishment that no-one would go out and fight Goliath. In verse 26, David asks, ‘Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?’ This did not please his older brother Eliab and he rebuked David. You can understand Eliab’s attitude. Here was a young boy whose task was to bring some food supplies to his brothers who were at the front with the army and suddenly he’s suggesting that they should simply go out and fight Goliath. Eliab was angry. What did David know? He should stick to his shepherding and being a message boy and leave the fighting to those who knew what they were doing. The boy was clearly conceited and arrogant. Yet David was right. How could Goliath dare to stand against the army of the living God.

Tuesday 5th January
1 Samuel 17:31-44
David’s remarks concerning Goliath were overheard and he was taken before King Saul. He then volunteers to fight Goliath himself! Notice, David is quite clear in his own mind that this giant Goliath could be beaten. He did not believe this because of a high opinion of his own fighting ability but because of a high opinion of his God. In other words, he had the faith to believe that God would deal with Goliath. As he said, ‘The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.’ David then prepares to fight Goliath and, having abandoned the idea of wearing Saul’s armour, he turns to his simple sling. The lesson we can learn from this is that David looked to God and trusted in him. He didn’t look at the giant and become afraid, he looked to God and believed. He had faith in God and in the promises of God. As Christians, we too must learn to trust in God, whatever the circumstances. There is no giant, no evil power, nothing in all the world which God cannot deal with if we look to him in faith.

Wednesday 6th January
1 Samuel 17:45-58
The battle lines are drawn and David and Goliath meet. Goliath mocked David and ‘despised him’. He called David to come closer so that he could kill him. David, however, was brave and confident: ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head’. Notice, this was not bravado, this was a simple confidence that God would give him the victory. David says two other notable things to Goliath. First, that his victory over Goliath would be a witness to the living God: ‘the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel’. Second, that ‘the battle is the Lord’s’. This second point is one that sustained David through many battles during his time as king. The simple message is that our God, when put to the test, never fails.

Thursday 7th January
1 Samuel 17
Read the whole chapter again today and reflect on the faithfulness of God. Although this is a story about David and Goliath, it is ultimately a story about God and his faithfulness. Saul acted as if God was not faithful, David acted on the assurance that God was faithful. The Psalmist makes a clear statement of this truth in Psalm 100:5: ‘For the LORD is good and his love endures for ever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.’ Then the famous words from Lamentations 3:22-23: ‘Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’ It was these words from Lamentations which inspired that great hymn: ‘Great is thy faithfulness’. Surely all of us have known this faithfulness of God? As we look back over our lives we can surely see how he has kept us and blessed us and provided for our needs and protected us, and so on.

Friday 8th January
1 Samuel 18:1-4
In our studies in 1 Samuel we have come today to chapter 18 and it is all about relationships and their power to build up or to destroy. The first relationship is between David and Jonathan. Following the victory over Goliath, David is now established as one of King Saul’s servants. In these first few verses of the chapter, we find the beginning of a strong personal relationship. Jonathan loved David and David loved Jonathan. It was a friendship which would last through the years and which would actually save David’s life on at least one occasion, as we shall see as we continue in these studies. These young men had a great deal in common. They were both brave, they both believed in the power of God and they both understood God’s covenant with his chosen people. Their friendship was deep and solid. If any of you have had a ‘best friend’ since childhood, a friendship which has lasted through the years, then you will understand this relationship between David and Jonathan.

Saturday 9th January
1 Samuel 18:5-14
The second relationship we find in this chapter is between David and Saul but this relationship is neither so positive nor so beneficial as that between David and Jonathan. Rather, it was a relationship marred by jealously and fear. At first, King Saul was hugely impressed by the young man David. After all, he had done what none of his soldiers was brave enough to do, he had killed Goliath. Saul’s attitude changed when he began to hear people singing songs about himself and David in which David was given greater prominence. Saul became afraid that David would try to take the kingdom from him (not knowing that God had already decided to give David the kingdom). This chapter brings together a series of stories about David, which took place over a number of years, in order to help us to see the deteriorating relationship between David and Saul. Saul tries various ways to kill David but is unsuccessful. What we can take from this, is that pride, fear and jealousy can destroy relationships.

Sunday 10th January
1 Samuel 18:15-30
The third relationship we find in this chapter was between David and Michal, daughter of Saul. It had been intended that David would marry Saul’s daughter Merab but she was given to another. When King Saul learned that David and Michal loved each other, he promised her in marriage to David but set a ‘bridal dowry price’ which meant he would have to kill a hundred Philistines. Saul hoped that David would be killed. David succeeded, however, and married Michal. This was a deep and loving relationship and Michal was devoted to David and helped to save his life. Unfortunately, after a long separation when David was in hiding, fleeing from Saul’s attempts to kill him, the marriage turned sour. There arose resentment and bitterness which ultimately destroyed their relationship. As we shall see over the coming days, David and Michal did not do enough to maintain their relationship and to continue to build on the love and trust with which their marriage began. Do we take care to nurture our relationships?

Monday 11th January
1 Samuel 18
We read the whole chapter today, in order to reflect a little further on relationships. Relationships can have enormous effects on our lives, for good or bad. On the positive side, loving, caring relationships provide a secure place for growth and development. On the negative side, abusive relationships can leave people damaged for the rest of their lives. Where there has been fear, physical, sexual or mental abuse, where there has been bullying and controlling behaviour, men and women and children can be severely traumatized. The effect of relationships can also be seen at a national or international level. In the late 1970s, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, sought to build a relationship between their two countries in order to bring an end to the Arab Israeli conflict. Sadat was the first Arab leader to visit Israel and address Israel’s parliament. The two leaders worked with the United Nations in order to develop peace in the Middle East. They were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. Their personal relationship paved the way for peace.

Tuesday 12th January
1 Samuel 19:1-7
As our passage opens, we find Saul issuing an order to kill David. The anger and jealousy which Saul felt had grown to the point where Saul had decided to be rid of David once and for all. Notice, however, that he specifically involves his son Jonathan in this order to kill David. He must surely have known that Jonathan and David were the very best of friends and indeed were closer than brothers. Did he really expect that Jonathan would do such a thing? You can imagine Saul saying to Jonathan that if he wanted to be king one day, then he must get rid of David, the only one who posed a threat to Saul’s family dynasty. Jonathan would have none of it and took action to protect David. Jonathan was effective in his advocacy and Saul changed his mind. There were several times during David’s life when Jonathan protected David from almost certain death at the hands of his father Saul. This was a life-saving friendship.

Wednesday 13th January
1 Samuel 19:8-17
War had broken out again and, as before, David led the army into battle against the Philistines. He was so successful that the Philistines fled and the battle was won. No doubt David arrived home in triumph and once again the people would sing their songs about the greatness of David. No doubt Saul was feeling the same jealousy and anger as before. This time, however, there was another factor. We are told in verses 9-10 that, ‘an evil spirit from the LORD came upon Saul as he was sitting in his house with his spear in his hand. While David was playing the harp, Saul tried to pin him to the wall with his spear, but David eluded him as Saul drove the spear into the wall.’ This concept of an ‘evil spirit from the Lord’ is an unusual one. The expression only appears twice in the Bible, both in 1 Samuel and both referring to Saul. The other occasion is in 1 Samuel 16:14. It probably means that, just as Pharaoh hardened his own heart before God hardened his heart, so the sending of the evil spirit simply confirmed Saul in the course of action on which he had determined anyway, the murder of David.

Thursday 14th January
1 Samuel 19:11-17
David escaped Saul’s attempt to murder him and made his escape. This time, however, Saul was so determined to kill David that he sent his soldiers after him. David’s wife Michal comes to the rescue and lets him out down through a window. Then there comes a curious twist to the story. In order to deceive the soldiers who had come to kill David, Michal put an idol in the bed, to make it look as if there was someone in the bed. One of the commentators on 1 Samuel, W.G. Blaikie, asks an interesting question: why did Michal have an idol in the first place? As we noted before, the relationship between David and Michal gradually deteriorates as the story goes on. Blakie wants to trace the beginnings of this to the idol mentioned here. He argues that this is evidence for a real difference between David and his wife in terms of their religious beliefs. David is clearly committed to serving and worshipping the Lord, whereas Saul’s daughter, David’s wife, is still using the old idols. Whether Blaikie is correct or not is difficult to say but it is certainly possible. Where there is division in a home on fundamental matters of worship and faith, trouble can follow.

Friday 15th January
1 Samuel 19:18-24
When David fled from Saul, he went to see Samuel at Ramah. After all, Samuel was still the spiritual leader of the nation and it was Samuel who had anointed David as king of Israel, telling him that God had rejected Saul and that one day he would be king. It was natural, then, that David would go to find refuge with Samuel. Recognising the danger from Saul’s pursuing army, however, they left Ramah and went to Naioth. It was not long before Saul was told where David was and he sent his soldiers to kill him. Then the story takes a very strange turn. Saul sends a group of soldiers to kill David, the Holy Spirit comes on them and they prophesy. The same thing happens to the second group and to the third group. Then finally Saul loses patience and goes himself and the same thing happens to him. In a strange way that we can’t quite understand, the Holy Spirit was protecting David, just as Jonathan and Michal had done.

Saturday 16th January
1 Samuel 20
The chapter before us today concerns David and Jonathan. David is convinced that Saul wants to kill him and so decides to stay away from the king’s presence. Jonathan does not believe that his father intends this at all but promises to keep David informed. It transpires that David was right and Saul was furious when David went missing, such that he even throws a spear at his son Jonathan who said he had given David permission to go to Bethlehem instead of coming to the palace. Jonathan is shocked and angry and tells David to flee. Jonathan then entered into a covenant before the Lord with the House of David. Jonathan, as the king’s son and heir to the throne, was the powerful figure in this friendship and it was he who made the covenant with the House of David. In doing so, he put relationship before position. In one sense this is a reflection of the covenant between God and Israel. God was under no obligation to enter into a covenant with Israel and to promise them so much. To do so was an act of grace and generosity. Similarly, Jonathan put his relationship with David before his status as the king’s son and heir.

Sunday 17th January
1 Samuel 21
We come today to chapter 21, one of the saddest chapters in this whole book, where we find the great David telling lies to protect himself, pretending to be mad to escape his enemies and generally using deceit and pretence to avoid trouble. We find David in a very poor spiritual condition in our chapter today. Contrary to everything we know about his character and everything we have previously seen about his faith, David’s actions demonstrate a man with no faith or with very weak faith. In this chapter, he acts as if God were unable to keep the promises he had made to him. As W.G. Blaikie writes, ‘It is painful in the last degree to see one whose faith towered to such a lofty height in the encounter with Goliath, coming down from that noble elevation, to find him resorting for self-protection to the lies and artifices of an imposter.’ Has our faith ever grown so weak that we feel we have to depend upon our own schemes to get us out of trouble?

Monday 18th January
1 Samuel 21:1-9
David goes to Nob where the tabernacle of the Lord was and where the lawful worship of God was taking place. He enters the sacred place and talks to the priest Ahimilech. Sadly he tells him a pack of lies. Ahimilech is somewhat frightened because David has come alone: ‘Why are you alone? Why is no-one with you?’ It may be that he has heard rumours of a dispute between Saul and David or it may be that he simply cannot understand why someone as important as David was travelling without the support appropriate to his status. Either way, it says he ‘trembled’ when he saw David coming. David tells his lies and tries to put Ahimilech at his ease. What are we to make of this encounter between David and Ahimilech the priest. It is clear that David does not come out of it well. David’s God is called ‘the God of truth’ in Psalm 31:5 and twice in Isaiah 65:16, yet David resorted to lies. In the New Testament the Son of God says, ‘I am the truth.’ So David’s actions were not in keeping with the character of his God.

Tuesday 19th January
1 Samuel 21:10-15
David now travels to Gath. This was a strange choice of refuge because Gath was the city of Goliath, a Philistine city. Why would David go there? More than that, why would he go there carrying the sword of the defeated Goliath – surely that would have been seen as a severe provocation? There may be an explanation. In those days, a mighty warrior was held in respect, even by his enemies and if such a warrior left his own side, he might well expect to be welcomed even by his enemies, on condition that he transferred his allegiance and fought for them instead. Was this what David hoped for? Either way, they recognise him and he is suddenly in trouble. Then he pretends to be mad to save his life. Achish the king is not impressed and David is chased away from the king. It is surely sad to see the great David in this condition, reduced to a pretence of madness. Once again David shows that he has lost confidence in the power of Almighty God, choosing subterfuge instead. Very sad.

Wednesday 20th January
1 Samuel 21 and Psalm 34
We read this story again to remind ourselves of the good news, in all of this mess, that David did not remain in that condition of weak faith, lies and foolishness. Instead, he recovered his faith. How do we know this? Well, after this incident at Gath, David wrote Psalm 34. The inscription at the beginning of that Psalm reads, ‘Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.’ Take time today to read that Psalm and see that David has recovered his faith and trust in God. Notice especially verses 6-9: ‘This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him lack nothing.’

Thursday 21st January
1 Samuel 22
This story is a terrible example of what hatred and jealousy can do to someone. Everyone is forced to take sides, for Saul or for David. The priests are killed because they gave David food and a sword, even although they believed that David was on a mission from Saul. Anyone who has witnessed (or experienced) hatred and jealousy know what this is like. The hated person is the enemy and no-one must say a good word about them. If we are friends, then you must also hate my enemy. If you do not, I will become suspicious of you and doubt your own loyalty and so it goes on. Hatred and jealousy are festering sores which can destroy families, communities, even churches. No wonder that Jesus taught us to love even our enemies because hatred is corrosive.

Friday 22nd January
1 Samuel 23:1-6
David and his band of men (around 400) were on the run from King Saul. In our passage today we find them in an area bordering the west coast of the Dead Sea. In chapters 21 and 22 we saw David telling lies to protect himself, pretending to be mad to escape his enemies and generally using deceit and pretence to avoid trouble. We saw how these actions led to the deaths of the priests. Today, however, we see David back where he should have been in his relationship with God. Several times we see David seeking God’s guidance, whereas before he seemed intent only on saving his life. When the decision had to be made about whether or not to attack the Philistines, David sought God’s guidance. Notice verse 2, ‘he enquired of the Lord’ and the Lord answered him. When his men expressed unhappiness about this course of action, we see in verse 4, ‘Once again David enquired of the Lord and the Lord answered him.’ How good it is when a believer is restored after a period of sin or backsliding.

Saturday 23rd January
1 Samuel 23:7-18
In this story we have another encounter between David and Jonathan. This was a most instructive meeting, from which we learn a good deal. Jonathan says that he knows David will be king and Saul knows it too! Most important, however, is the fact that Jonathan helps David to find strength but not in himself. As we read in verse 16, Jonathan ‘helped him to find strength in God.’ Finding strength in God, so important. In a strange way, we are most able to find strength in God when we are at our weakest and in the greatest need. Remember when Paul described his ‘thorn in the flesh’ in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. He wants to be delivered from this thorn (whatever it was) but God says to him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. We ourselves must find strength in God. It is there for us, when we need it.

Sunday 24th January
1 Samuel 23:19-29
David is not so fearful in today’s passage as we have seen him in our previous two studies. Saul is still trying to kill him but David seems more at peace, trusting in the providence of God. We see that providence of God in the fact that when Saul and his men were closing in on David and were about to capture him, they receive the message about the Philistine attack and turn back. That was surely a fine example of the providence of God. David came more and more to trust in God. In Psalm 25:15 he writes, ‘My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only he will release my feet from the snare.’ Can we understand and identify with that – albeit that our lives are rarely in the danger that David was in? Read also Psalm 34 which is related to this chapter of Scripture. Do we accept the providence and plan of God even when it is not what we would have wanted?

Monday 25th January
1 Samuel 24:1-7
David and his band of men are still on the run from King Saul. We have here described an occasion when David could have killed Saul but did not. This took place in the region of Engedi. The whole area of Engedi consists largely of limestone rock, which often forms deep caves. David and his men were hiding in one of these large caves. Saul comes in to the cave, perhaps to get some relief from the hot midday sun, perhaps to rest for a while. David cuts off a piece of the cloth from the corner of Saul’s robe. When Saul had left the cave David came out after him, showed him the piece of cloth and used this as evidence that he had no intention of killing Saul. One of the striking points here is David’s respect for Saul simply because he was the king. As the king, he was the Lord’s anointed and David honoured that, even when Saul was seeking his life. We can respect an office (Queen, Prime Minister, Moderator) even if we disagree with the person’s views and actions.

Tuesday 26th January
1 Samuel 24:8-15
Here we have David’s great speech to Saul. In this speech David tells what he had done (and could have done) as evidence of good faith. He asks God to bring vengeance but he will not do it himself. In this David shows both wisdom and respect. He is acting upon a principle which Paul laid down clearly in Romans 12:19: ‘Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. David calls God as a witness and asks God to judge what is right. There are many times when we might seek revenge for some wrong which has been done to us but the better way is to leave the matter before the Lord. There is a coming day when God will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ. We must all submit to that court.

Wednesday 27th January
1 Samuel 24:16-22
When Saul hears David’s speech, he is overcome by emotion and admits that David is the more righteous man. Saul recognises that David will be king one day and asks that his own dynasty will be spared, which David promises to do. All in all, Saul appears to repent of his evil ways. Unfortunately, as we shall see, this repentance was short lived and before long he was again seeking to kill David. Real repentance is a deep turning from sin to God and this was not the case with Saul. By this stage in the story he is a condemned man, rejected by God and waiting for the final act of the drama to play out.

Thursday 28th January
1 Samuel 25:1
The first verse of this chapter deserves treatment on its own because it records the death of Samuel, the great leader of God’s people. This was the death of the greatest man of God since Moses. Samuel was not only the last and greatest of the Judges (Acts 13:20) but he was also the first of the prophets (Acts 3:24) and the man used by God to appoint the first king, Saul and then later to anoint David as the second king. His mother Hannah had consecrated him to the Lord’s service in thanks for God’s answer to her prayers and he faithfully served God all his life. When he died, all Israel gathered and mourned. They knew that he was a great man and they knew that he had led Israel faithfully for a very long time. He died full of honour and dignity, recognised as a man of God. He died a good death, as a faithful man of God and there can be no doubt that he went straight into the presence of God.

Friday 29th January
1 Samuel 25
Having only read one verse yesterday, today we read the whole chapter, so as to get the full story of Nabal and Abigail. David and his men had been in the area for some time and had protected Nabal’s men and their flocks. The time of sheep-shearing came round and in Israel this was a time when hospitality was normally extended. David sent some men to bring greetings to Nabal and to ask for some food. Then the trouble began. David’s message was gracious and friendly, full of respect but Nabal’s reply was not. When David heard this reply he was furious. The number of his men had by now grown to six hundred and so he left two hundred behind and set off with four hundred men, armed for battle, determined to kill Nabal and wipe out every one of Nabal’s men. This was entirely due to Nabal’s wickedness. One of Nabal’s own men summed up his character, ‘He is such a wicked man that no-one can talk to him’.

Saturday 30th January
1 Samuel 25
Abigail, Nabal’s wife, immediately acts to avert the disaster about to fall upon them. She sends food to David and goes herself to ask for forgiveness. She bows before him and begs David to turn aside from the violence he intended upon the house of Nabal. David accepts the food, accepts her plea for forgiveness and thanks her for keeping him from the blood guilt which would have followed the massacre he had planned. In the course of their exchange, however, we learn that even Nabal’s wife has a poor opinion of her husband’s character. Notice verse 25: ‘May my lord pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name – his name is Fool.’ When Abigail returned home, Nabal was drunk. The next day she told him all that had happened and how close he and his men came to being massacred. Nabal had some kind of stroke, his heart failed and he became like stone. Then we read in verse 38, ‘About ten days later, the LORD struck Nabal and he died.’ When David heard about this, he sent for Abigail and she became his wife. Nabal was a wicked man but Abigail was a wise woman.

Sunday 31st January
1 Samuel 25
Having reflected on Samuel’s death a few days ago, the other death that we read about in this chapter is the death of Nabal. Let’s sum up his character as we have it shown to us in this chapter: Nabal was surly and mean in his dealings, he was rude and aggressive towards David’s men, he was a wicked man that no-one could talk to and even his wife said that he was a wicked man who lived up to his name, which meant ‘fool.’ Then we learn that at the time of his greatest danger he was too drunk to know what was happening. Finally, we are told that he was struck down by God. His death was different from the death of Samuel. There can be little doubt that God’s judgement on him in this life was confirmed later and that he now spends an eternity in Hell. Will we live good lives and die good deaths?