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1st Samuel


I will explore the message of 1 Samuel which has had a profound effect on Israel’s history. We will see how God revealed himself to his people and especially the great love He had toward Israel, his chosen people. Also, we will see that God is present with his people and sends his anointed ones to do his will. Current pastoral applications from this passage will be addressed.

The book of 1 Samuel is part of the Deuteronomic history which was put together after the time of Josiah’s reform at around 600 BC. At this time the northern kingdom had already fallen and the Southern kingdom was a couple of generations before the exile to Babylon. "It is not possible to date with precision the origin of 1-2 Samuel. In part, these books undoubtedly contain very old materials, some dating from the first years of the monarchy in Israel" 1 In the Jewish canon, 1-2 Samuel was originally one book. "The division into two books is derived from the Greek and Latin traditions of the text, especially in the early MSS of the Septuagint." 2

The name Samuel is given to the book, "because he was the great prophet who was the leading figure at the beginning of the book. He is not mentioned at all in 2 Samuel, but in the original Jewish canon there was only one book of Samuel." 3 Since Samuel is part of the Deuteronomic History, it contains the themes of the establishment of the temple in Jerusalem, the institution of the Davidic line, covenant renewal, the renunciation of idolatry, the use of prophets as means of God’s breaking into the lives of Israel. There is also the beginning of the conflict between kings and prophets and it started with Saul who was the first anointed king of Israel.

The story of 1 Samuel takes place around the years 1000-950 BC. This was going to be a great transition time for Israel because they were in a period of great social and political disorganization under the period of judges, when their way of life had changed from being nomads to being farmers. This also brought along great theological crises because they were being drawn to the fertility cults of the Baals.

The people are restless and want to have a king so that they can be like other nations and God gives them what they want. God commanded Samuel to anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. Saul received a new heart and prophesied, but later on he would disobey God’s command twice. Samuel said to Saul that obedience is better than sacrifice and that the kingdom will be torn away from him. God left Saul to be tormented by an evil spirit and has Samuel anoint another young man called David, one after His own heart. Saul, at first, had taken David in his house and had treated him like his own son. David had grown in favor in God’s eyes and the eyes of the people of Israel. Saul had become aware of this and grew jealous of David, therefore he desired to kill him. David had found this out from Jonathan and went into hiding from Saul.

In 1 Samuel 26, we see God protecting those whom he loves. This story seems to be a parallel account of 1 Samuel 24, because in both cases David spares the life of Saul, whom the Lord delivered into David’s hands. Saul wants to kill David and knows that the Lord is with David. In (26:8), the LORD delivers David’s enemy before him and David does not kill him (26:9). The question that struck me here was why David would not raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed? This theme is pervasive throughout the story (26:9,11,16,24). The words for "the anointed of the Lord" in Hebrew is meshiach Yahweh which we later associate with Jesus Christ the Messiah. David referred to Saul as the Lord’s anointed. Saul was anointed by Samuel, but so was David. "David had a profound respect for the Lord’s anointed, because it was God who willed that Saul be anointed, and because Saul as king anointed of the Yahweh is sacrosanct and not to be physically defiled--a reflection of beliefs about the inviolability of the kings body." 4 David still recognized Saul as the king of Israel, the one who was anointed as king. He feared that God would punish those who raise their hand against those whom He anointed. David does not want to be blamed for the king’s death so he tells Abishai of three other possibilities how Saul may die (26:10) Later on in the story David calls out to and "indicts Abner, who had this important responsibility of guarding the king, ‘the Lord’s anointed.’" 5 Abner had no response for David. David believes that he will be delivered from all trials because he did not raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed (26:23-24). On the contrary, David too was the Lord’s anointed and Saul tried to raise his hand against him, but the Lord did not allow David to be harmed. Saul was punished when the Lord left him and dwelt with David. Saul ended up dying by committing suicide in a battle with the Philistines.

Another theme in the story is that God is in control. I thought to myself at first, under normal circumstances, shouldn’t there have been guards posted to protect the king and warn the camp of trouble? Yet the Lord puts those in the encampment under a deep sleep (26:12). God was with David and "Yahweh is helping David’s cause by casting over the camp of Saul a tardema, a very deep sleep or even trance that elsewhere is most often divinely imposed (Gen 2:21; 15:12; Isa 29:10)." 6 God is in control of the events that take place during this story. David had the chance to kill Saul, but he took his spear and his water jug (26:11-12). The spear of Saul "was representative of many different aspects of his life such as defense, as safety, as expression of anger, as sign of authority which was now in David’s hand." 7 David shows both the spear and water jug to Saul as proof that the Lord delivered him into his power. Yahweh was with David and there was nothing Saul could do to capture and kill him.

When I was reading the last part of the story (26:17-25) I did not understand why Saul called David his son, because I thought that Saul considered him his enemy. David still responds to him as his Lord king and recognizes that as long as Saul lives, he is still the king of Israel. Even though "Saul recognizes David and calls him ‘my son,’ a term of intimacy and perhaps legitimacy (v. 17), David responds formally. It is not "my father", but only ‘my lord, O king’." 8 David is not a fool and puts the onus on Saul to give reasons for his pursuit, because knows he is innocent. We see in this conversation the tension between David and Saul. Saul definitely has the advantage as far troops and resources go, but David has the Lord on his side and Saul is aware of this. We can see a political struggle between the two because they were both anointed kings, but who was the real king? If David wanted to hide from Saul he could have stayed in the hill country. Yet he finds Saul encamped near him and decides to go spy on his camp instead of running away. For Israel there seems like there can be no separation of faith and politics.

We can see the political tension in David’s appeals and responses to Saul. David appeals to Saul for the reason why he is being pursued. In 26:18-22, David asks Saul what he has done to incite his anger. David does not want to be driven to another land away from his God, but later on he will stay a while with Philistines to stay away from Saul. Saul admits that he has done wrong and blames himself for his wrongdoing. If he blames himself for wrongdoing, why does Saul call David to come back to him? David does not go down to see Saul, "Instead, David shows the spear for the first time, reminding Saul how vulnerable and ‘defrocked’ Saul is now." 9 Then David tells Saul to send one of his men to come over and get it.

Another theme in this story is the importance of righteousness before Yahweh. In 26:23-25, David appeals to Yahweh to reward those who do his will and have been righteous in their action, "in contrast to Saul, David is a man who has done righteousness and faithfulness. He has done so by his decision to spare Saul when he could have killed him. Thus David’s righteousness is not a general claim but a quite specific one, derived from this narrative event."10 Saul knows that David is righteous in Yahweh’s eyes because David spared his life. He blesses David, because Yahweh is with him and then he parts David’s company.

This passage has some good pastoral applications and gives us some insight about the sacramental value of anointing. As Christians we view Jesus Christ as, the Messiah, the anointed of the Lord. We partake in that anointing when we are baptized and confirmed. The anointing of Baptism brings us into the family of God and we receive the Holy Spirit. When we do harm or sin against our brothers and sisters in Christ, we in a sense are raising our hands against the Lord’s anointed. We need to see and reverence our brothers and sisters as people loved by the Lord because they are His anointed, a kingdom of priests.

Another pastoral application to this passage is that God is in control of many of the events that happen in our lives. We try to control and micro-manage every little aspect of our lives and in doing so we forget that God has a plan for our lives. God writes the story of our lives with crooked lines. We don’t always see God’s presence in the things we do, but when we look in hindsight and reflect upon the events, we realize that God works through ordinary things and people to have his will done. When we try to control the events of our lives without God’s help, we usually end up in chaos and distress. When we allow God to lead us, we will begin to have peace within our soul. Even the difficult events within our lives become bearable because we are striving to do His will.



1. James C. Turro. 1-2 Samuel. Jerome Biblical Commentary. (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1968.) p.163.

2. P. Kyle McCarter. I Samuel. The Anchor Bible. (Garden City: Doubleday & Company. 1980.) p.3.

3. McCarter. I Samuel. p.3.

4. McCarter. I Samuel. p.407.

5. Walter Brueggemann. First and Second Samuel. A Commentary. (Louisville: John Knox Press. 1990.) p.186.

6. McCarter. I Samuel. p.408

7. Brueggemann. First and Second Samuel. p.184.

8. Brueggemann. First and Second Samuel. p.186.

9. Brueggemann. First and Second Samuel. p.187.

10. Brueggemann. First and Second Samuel. p.187.



Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel. A Commentary. Louisville: John Knox. 1990.

McCarter Jr, P. Kyle. I Samuel. The Anchor Bible. Garden City: Doubleday. 1980.

Turro, James C.. "1-2 Samuel." in Jerome Biblical Commentary. R. Murphy et al eds.

Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. 1968.


Dean Perri, Seminarian, St John's Seminary, April 15, 1997

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