If you haven’t been doing it up to this time in reading and thinking through God’s Story, you cannot help but begin to do what Peterson says about reading the Samuels: In the reading, as we submit our lives to what we read, we find that we are not being led to see God in our stories but to see ourselves in God’s. God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.
David is introduced to Saul through a servant. The Lord brought a distressing spirit upon Saul, so that Saul’s servant recommended a young man who had every quality any person would admire:
“Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the Lord is with him” (1 Samuel 16:18).
- Why was Samuel mourning for Saul? He was heartbroken over the king’s deliberate disobedience; Samuel knew from the outset that Saul was chosen by the people with no regard for God’s choice; Saul was a perfect example of being self-absorbed, lacking loyalty to anyone but himself; 1 Samuel 16:2 shows the heart of Saul: And Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears it, he will kill me.”
- The people based their choice of Saul as king on outward appearances; they saw him as their chosen king and not as God’s anointed; God had Samuel anoint Saul, thus giving Saul the opportunity to serve according to the requirements of a king given by Moses.
- This contrasts with the Spirit who was removed from Saul, and given a distressing spirit. This distressing spirit in 1 Samuel 16:14 in the Hebrew describes something that is troubling and annoying. Music would calm this spirit. It is helpful to note that the focus of the story is that God uses David through this spirit. A question worth pondering is when the Spirit of the Lord departs from a person, what replaces it? There is no indication that a vacuum is left.
- The contrast between Saul and David is a lesson for the people to learn the difference between a king the people choose and a king the Lord chooses.
- The first recorded time in the Old Testament that the Spirit of God came upon a person and remained was when David was anointed by Samuel.
- David had all the traits of a ‘perfect’ young man. He used them wisely because God was with him.
A war with the Philistines provided the occasion that demonstrates the qualities of David’s character. The giant, ten-foot tall Goliath of Gath had troubled Saul and his army (1 Samuel 17:4). Young David, who had been sent by his father from his home in Bethlehem to visit his three eldest brothers in the camp, accepted the challenge to fight the Philistine giant with the simple weapons he had learned to use as shepherd boy. David had some training in a life of faith while tending his father’s sheep. Think about Moses’ training as a sheepherder in Midian. Where others saw an invincible giant, David saw a man who was not in a covenant relationship with God. This Philistine giant was being permitted to “defy the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:26), and David knew that God would not defend him.
- This story of David’s courage in the face of a giant reminds us of Joshua and Caleb’s courage when they faced the giants in Canaan.
- David knew many stories of how God led His people, so he could recognize Goliath’s foolish threat.
- David’s own father did not put him in the lineup (1 Samuel 16:8-11). David knew what it was to be a servant (he served his father), which prepared him to be king.
David was brought into Saul’s court and into the company of Saul’s son, Jonathan, after the victory over Goliath and the Philistines. Two men of faith met, reflected in Jonathan’s trust in the Lord at the time of battle:
Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the Lord will work for us. For nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few” (1 Samuel 14:6).God brought these two men of faith together to fulfill His purpose for Israel. Jonathan and David entered into a covenant of friendship to remain loyal friends till death. As a sign of this covenant, Jonathan gave David his own robes and his weapons. This act was prophetic, for Jonathan was giving David all that could have been his on the throne. Jonathan was willing to lay down his all for the sake of a friend, who could have been his rival.
1 Samuel 18:5 sets the tone for all the military expeditions David had in Saul’s army:
So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and behaved wisely. This description takes us back to Joshua 1:8, where Moses instructs Joshua in the way of wisdom:
This Book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe and do according to all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall deal wisely and have good success (Joshua 1:8, AMP).
David’s success roused Saul’s jealousy to the point that, in a fit of madness, he made an attempt on David’s life as he was playing before him. When schemes devised to ensnare David failed repeatedly, Saul began to persecute him. Saul’s fear of David finally settled into deadly enmity, and he gave orders to slay David:
Now Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David… (1 Samuel 19:1).
Even in his own home, David was not safe, for Saul sent messengers to David’s house to watch him and to kill him in the morning (1 Samuel 19:11). Michal, David’s wife, warned him of this. Saul intended for her to be “a snare to [David]” (1 Samuel 18:21), but her love for him made her choose to side with him rather than with her father. Michal used the same technique as Rahab the harlot of Jericho (Joshua 2:15): she let down her husband through a window (1 Samuel 19:12). David thus escaped with his life, but he lost the comfort of his home and marriage and set out on the lonely road of an outcast.
David had nowhere else to go but to the old prophet who had first anointed him. Samuel dwelt in Ramah in the Judean desert (1 Samuel 19:18). When Saul heard that David lived with Samuel at the school of the prophets, he sent messengers to fetch him. The whole plan backfired for Saul. Every messenger he sent began to prophesy. Finally, Saul went himself, and he received the Spirit of God so that he also prophesied, and then laid prostrate all day and all night. Having set out to destroy David, Saul had been frustrated by Jonathan, Michal, Samuel, and now finally by God Himself.
David passed through a long period of discipline and trial at the hand of Saul. God used these experiences to draw out his faith and patience, and prepared him for his life work as king. In the midst of this period, the aged prophet Samuel died (1 Samuel 25:1), and David had to turn to God alone.
During this time in his life, David applied what he learned from Samuel, reflecting in Saul’s plots of evil against him: he consulted the Lord. When Saul called the people together for war, David turned to the priest:
“Bring the ephod here.” Then David said, “O Lord God of Israel, Your servant has certainly heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah to destroy the city for my sake.” (1
His conversation with the God of Israel brings to mind the intimate relationship God had with Moses.
David possessed trained and patient faith that not only trusted in God’s help, but also waited for God’s time. In his last encounter with Saul, David came to realize that no matter how he approached him, Saul would not change his attitude. This tested David’s faith so that 1 Samuel 27:1 records what was on his heart:
“Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul.” David moved into the area of the Philistines with his family and men. He lived in Ziklag for sixteen months, during which time he continued his raids upon the enemy that lay along the border of Judah.
- The Philistines were Israel’s servants because of David’s victory over Goliath, so he was safe in Philistine territory (1 Samuel 17:9; 27:1).
- Ziklag is listed among the cities of Judah (Joshua 15:31), but at this time it was under Philistine control.
Saul’s self-willed life ended in utter ruin and disaster during a final war with the Philistines. Finally, he decided to inquire of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him. Saul had rejected the Lord and as a consequence was rejected by the Lord. This takes us back to Samuel’s announcement to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:23 (NIV):
“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.”
In desperation, Saul sought for a medium:
Saul said to his servant, “Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her” (1 Samuel 28:7). The servant knew of one living at En Dor. It is helpful to notice the development of this incident:
- Joshua 17:12: …the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of [En Dor], but the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land. Saul returned to an area where worship of foreign gods had a stronghold.
- Judges 17:5, 13: The man Micah had a shrine, and made an ephod and household idols; and he consecrated one of his sons, who became his priest… Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will be good to me, since I have a Levite as priest!” This story illustrates the darkened understanding of the time, descending to the level of superstition.
Saul’s consultation of a medium is a clear indication of unfaithfulness and disobedience. In the days when Saul followed the Lord, he had thrown all the mediums out of the land, thus obeying the requirement found in Leviticus 20:6 (GNT):
“If any of you go for advice to people who consult the spirits of the dead, I will turn against you and will no longer consider you one of my people.”
Saul had rejected the counsel of prophet, priest, and son, and instead turned to a spiritist for advice, which unknown to him, would bring judgment from God! The type of divination in which this medium engages was common in Palestine and the Middle East. The spirits of the ancestors were often invoked in times of trouble or difficulty, or for predictions about the future. The spirits consulted are demonic, but they usually take the shape of someone familiar, impersonating that person in order to oppress others or demand a sacrifice.
Samuel (or a demon taking on his appearance) appeared when the medium woman was asked by Saul to bring him up, but the sight of Samuel alarmed her. This was something outside her usual experience of magic arts. For some reason the Lord allowed an actual appearance of Samuel, or a likeness of him, to visit Saul. It is clear from the medium’s reaction that she could not compel him to appear. Notice that it does not tell us that the medium brought Samuel up. It merely states that when the woman saw Samuel, she cried out:
“I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth” (1 Samuel 28:12-13).
The spirit representing Samuel brought God’s last warning to Saul, which was a repeat of the judgment when God rejected Saul as king:
“…the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor…” (1 Samuel 28:17; see 15:28). This judgment on Saul totally sapped his strength. The man who had made self-will his rule of life had no power of will left.
- At the end of his life, Saul called on the Lord and was ignored. He had a history of not listening, and nothing had changed at the end of his life (1 Samuel 28:6).
- If Saul had killed the Amalekites when he was told to, they would not have finished him off.
- En Dor was in Philistine territory.
- The spirit surprised the medium, for she had not even called it up. The text says the medium saw Samuel (1 Samuel 28:12), so we need to keep this in mind no matter what view we hold to regarding “a spirit ascending out of the earth” (1 Samuel 28:13). The point of the story is that God was getting a message across to Saul.
- The message delivered by Samuel to Saul was simply a repeat of the judgment pronounced on him previously.
- The lesson is that we should not seek the will of God in unholy ways.
God had cleared the way for David to ascend the throne without blame for Saul’s end. But David did not rush in to claim it. He still had to wait on God’s divine timing. He received news of Saul’s death while still in exile, and his reaction was not jubilation. He and all who were with him mourned the deaths of Saul and Jonathan and all the others who had fallen.
In preparation for our next session, read God’s continuing story in 2 Samuel 1-24 about God’s relationship with David as the second king of Israel.