Samuel and Saul (1 Samuel 9)

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Samuel and Saul were transitional leaders in Israel’s history during the period dating from approximately 1070-1000 B.C., between the time of the judges and the united monarchy. “In those days the word of the Lord was rare” (1 Samuel 3:1), but the miraculous conception of Samuel to the barren Hannah (1 Samuel 1), along with Samuel’s unique prophetical call (3:4-14), denoted a special work of God on behalf of His people. Seemingly not of priestly stock (1 Chronicles 6:49-53, 1 Samuel 1:1), although his father was a Levite (1 Chronicles 6:25-26), Samuel grew up at Shiloh, Israel’s primary worship centre, where he was trained under the high priest Eli (1 Samuel 1:27-28, 2:11, 3:1). Samuel’s ministry, however, was not that of priest, but of prophet (3:20-4:1a, 6-11). He spoke on God’s behalf and called the nations to repentance (7:3, 8:10-18, 12:6-25, 13:13-14, 15:1-2, 17-23). Samuel both appointed early kings (10:1, 24, 16:12-13) and denounced them (13:13-14, 15:22-23, 28:17-19), and he enforced God’s covenant in Israel (7:15-17).

Saul was a tragic expression of Israel’s waywardness. Under Philistine oppression the Israelites began to question God’s presence and power among them (cf. 4:21-22) and to imagine that only a warrior-king could bring them deliverance (8:20). In so doing they rejected God as their king (8:7). Saul was tall, strong and courageous (9:2, 1:6-11), and the people chose him as king without hesitation (8:18, 9:16, 10:24, 12:13). Indeed, he embodied the human ideal of a king. God commissioned Saul to fight both the Philistines (9:17, 10:7, 17:11) and the Amalekites (15:2.3), but Israel’s first king often failed to follow all of God’s directives (e.g. 1:13, 15:17-19, cf. Deuteronomy 17:14-20). Three confrontations with Samuel made clear Yahweh’s verdict: Saul’s kingship was rejected, and he would be replaced by an individual hand-picked by God (1 Samuel 13:14, 15:28, 28:17). The remaining years of Saul’s reign were scarred with fear, treachery and anger, as David rose to prominence in Israel. Saul’s death at the hands of the Philistines ended his reign.


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