1 Samuel 1-15
The Books of Samuel comes to us as anonymous, but there is a long, unbroken tradition of Samuel as the author. 1 Chronicles 29 mentions that Samuel left behind many writings, so at least, we can say that Samuel likely had a hand in the writing of these books (which were originally one book). Despite how much input Samuel had in the composition of these books, he is he primary character until his death in 1 Samuel 25.
The book itself is a seismic shift in Israel’s history. First, you have the exodus and the entry into the promised land. Once most of the people are settled and Moses and Joshua are dead, the era of the judges commences. That is a few hundred years of mostly wickedness and idolatry. Samuel will begin the era of the kings by the coronations of Saul and David.
The book opens with Samuel’s birth. His mother, Hannah, was barren. Her husband, Elkanah, took another wife, Peninah, in order to have children. During the yearly journey to the tabernacle to make sacrifices, she is heavily grieved and begins praying. The priest Eli finds her by herself, sobbing and quietly mouthing her prayers. He thinks she’s drunk, so he wants her to leave. She assures him that she’s simply heartbroken at her condition, and he blesses her.
Miraculously, Hannah conceives. She promises that her son would be given to the Lord for all his kindness to her. This likely means that she will dedicate him as a Nazirite (such as was the case with Samson). She is so ecstatic about this blessing to her that she writes her own song, which is included in 1 Samuel 2. We will soon find out that God blessed her with five more children (1 Samuel 2:21).
The story shifts focus to Eli and his children. Both of his children are priests, but they are wicked and see the priesthood as means of gain. Instead of following the generous prescriptions of the Mosaic law that took good care of the priests, Eli’s sons were stealing and making demands upon the worshipers to have their meat prepared a certain way. They did not serve as mediator between God and Israel; they saw the priesthood a way to serve themselves.
God chooses to remove Eli’s family from the priesthood. Eli has failed to correct his sons. By no means is every case of a child’s disobedience the fault of the parent. But in this case we see that Eli did nothing to correct his sons. He knew what they were doing was evil, but he did not stop them. So Eli’s family is fired. We will even see later that Samuel’s sons do not follow in his ways. They, too, will “[take] bribes and [pervert] justice” (8:3).
But God will raise up Samuel as a priest. Much like how the common refrain from book of Judges of “there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes,” we’re told here that “the word of the LORD was rare in those days” (3:1). Samuel will be the next prophet and priest of Israel. This likely is a note to explain why Samuel did not know that the voice he heard was God’s.
In the word he receives from God, he is told that Eli’s household will be removed from the priesthood, and no sacrifice will be given for their atonement. God charges them with blasphemy. From this point on, Samuel will regularly hear from the Lord.
When the Philistines attack Israel, Israel is defeated, the ark is captured, and Eli’s sons are killed. As the special presence of God among the people, having the ark captured is a serious problem for Israel. “The glory has departed from Israel” (4:21).
Capturing gods or their corresponding idols was a common ancient practice, representing the greater power of your god. Dagon is well known to be a god from ancient Mesopotamia. But the done, true God will not permit such blasphemy. God gives the Philistines tumors all over their bodies, which makes them want to return the ark. When they ask the priests what they need to do to return the ark, they must fashion either five or ten, depending on the best way to translate the phrase, five golden tumors and five golden mice, as a guilt offering. Because no obvious connections are given between the mice and tumors, it might be as simple as the tumors were shaped like mice. But the meaning of the number is more clear: one tumor for each city of the Philistines (6:17-18).
The priests also tell the Philistines to build a cart, attach it to some cows that have never been yoked (trained to plow a field), and put the ark on it. If the cows bring the ark to the people, they will know that God was not behind the ark’s seizure (meaning that they were also not at fault). If the cows take the ark another direction, they will know that God is angry with them. The cows do take the ark back to Israel, so the people know that God was behind it.
After this break in the story, Samuel returns to focus. As judge, he calls the people back to faithfulness after what took place with the Philistines. He makes an offering on behalf of the people, and the people beg Samuel to keep praying for them. As they are worshiping, Philistia attacks Israel. However, God intervenes and sends them into confusion. This gives the Israelite men time to prepare and attack. The Philistines are defeated.
Even as Samuel proves to be a good and faithful judge, the people are not satisfied. Because of Samuel’s age, the people want a king instead of a short-term judge. But God affirms that the people are actually rejecting him, not Samuel. Samuel warns the people the dangers of a monarchy. A king will make demands of his people in a way a judge would not. That means taxes, slaves, and a standing army.
Regardless, the people maintain that they want a king. God tells Samuel, “Obey their voice and make them a king” (8:22). Saul is then introduced, who will of course be the first king of Israel. God has already told Samuel that on the following day, he will send Saul to Samuel to anoint as the first king of Israel. None the wiser, Saul is caring for his father’s donkeys, and one gets loose. As he and a servant are out looking for the donkey, the servant recommends going to a nearby town to ask the local prophet where the donkey might be. As providence would have it, Samuel is that prophet.
Samuel entertains Saul and his servant. They lodge with Samuel for the night and leave the next day. Samuel tells Saul’s servant to go on ahead so he can have a private conversation with Saul. Samuel anoints Saul with oil, telling him all that God has already revealed. God will confirm his word to Saul with a sign: on his way home, two strangers will tell him that the donkey has been found and his father is worried about him. Three other men will offer him food for the journey. He will then meet some prophets and begin to prophesy himself. Then, most especially, the Holy Spirit will rush on him.
Saul had a good start. We’re even told that “God gave him another heart” (10:9). Samuel convenes the people to announce Saul as the king they had demanded. Samuel reminds the people of how they are rejecting God by demanding a king; and yet, this does not change a thing. He reminds the people of the demands a king will place on them. Saul is spooked; he’s hiding during his own coronation. But once the people find him, they’re glad to see that such a tall, handsome man is called to be their king.
Saul’s first duty will be to defeat the Ammonites. Again, the Holy Spirit rushes on Saul, and he is encouraged to stand up to the task before him. To muster an army, he chops some oxen into pieces, sends them to the various tribes, and says that the same will be done to anyone’s oxen who does not fight him with. His mission is successful, and the surviving Ammonites scatter. This victory inspires the people, and they gather at Gilgal to re-establish Saul’s kingship.
Samuel’s role will change since there is now a king. Since there’s no real break in the text, it seems like Samuel addresses the people at the same time they are at Gilgal for Saul. He basically calls the people to continued faithfulness, but he has little that’s good to say about them. But regardless of how they obey, “The LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake” (12:22).
13:1 is a difficult text because of how it describes the timing of Saul’s reign. However, in the ancient Near East, it was common to speak of the early part of a king’s reign as if it was a separate part of the reign (for more on this, see Genesis Unbound by John Sailhammer). Regardless, it has little effect on anything. We do see, though, that Saul has grown up. Jonathan was his son, so since being called a young man in chapter 9, he’s apparently taken a wife and had at least a son.
Saul musters another army and fights against the Philistines again. This time, they are completely outnumbered. In fear, many of the Israelites hide. Some even flee in fear. Saul asks Samuel to come and offering a burnt offering to ask for help from the Lord. But Saul gets impatient, and he performs the sacrifice himself. The role of king did not include any priestly duties, so Saul has sinned grievously. Instead of waiting on the Lord, Saul grows more impetuous.
Like father, like son. Jonathan gets his armor bearer to go with him to the Philistine garrison without his father’s knowledge of what he was doing. Jonathan somehow knows that there will be a sign from the Philistines about whether or not he will be successful. If the Philistines see Jonathan and tell him to come down to them, he will know that God will make him successful. This is exactly what happens, and he kills about 20 men. That incident caused a panic, presumably because the Philistines expected more Israelites to show up.
Saul’s watchmen notice the panic and tell Saul about it. The chaos just increases, so Saul has the priest get the ark to go into battle. By this time, he recognizes that Jonathan is up to something since he and his armor bearer are the only ones gone. The battle is a victory for Israel.
The army is exhausted, but food is scarce on the battlefield. Saul has everyone take a vow that no one will eat until everyone can eat. Since Jonathan is not with the army, he has no idea the army-wide vow. He eats some wild honey, breaking the vow.
When Saul asks for priestly confirmation about the next military victory, he does not get an answer. He takes it as a evil among the camp; it could be found in his soldiers or in himself and Jonathan. He assumes that someone is guilty of a great sin, and that is why God is not responding. They cast lots to find the offensive party, and the lot falls to Jonathan. Jonathan confesses that he had wild honey while he was ignorant of his father’s rash vow. Because it was a rash vow and would end in an innocent man’s death, he is relieved of his vow. Contrast this incident with Jepthah in Jduges 11.
The next kingly mission from the Lord given to Saul is to attack the Amalekites. No one is to be spared, man or animal. However, Saul and his army did not kill the king, and they kept the best of the animus for themselves. The only things they destroyed were worthless things.
We’re then told that God “regretted” making Saul king. Does God change his mind? God does not think his choice of Saul was a mistake, but he does retreat Saul’s sinfulness. There is a charted course in God’s mind that even an unlimited number of evil kings cannot overturn. God sends Samuel to tell Saul that he has rejected Saul as king. After all the ways that Saul has spurned his covenant role as king, disobeying the command to destroy the Amalekites was the final straw.
Luke describes the resurrection as taking place “on the first day of the week at early dawn”. Some debate (not very well) that Jesus was actually crucified on Wednesday, not Friday, but all the gospels clearly say that Jesus was raised from the dead on Sunday. “They” is clearly the women from 23:55-56.
At first, Luke says that the women met two men at the tomb, but he will later clarify in v.23 that they were angels. It’s not that the women misunderstood who they were and the apostles got it right, because angels/messengers often appeared as real people. The gospels do not so much record different numbers of angels as much as they do record what took place in particular ways. For example, Mark is not saying that only one angel was there, but he is simply recording the words of one angel. Taken as a composite, the four gospels do not contradict themselves.
One interesting piece that Luke includes is that most of the apostles did not believe the women’s report. However, Peter believes, so he goes to the tomb. Going to the tomb is not an act of disbelief. His belief is contrasted with the disbelief of the other apostles. His going to the tomb is contrasted with two other disciples going to Emmaus. Interestingly, Peter will not see Jesus at the tomb, but the two disciples will meet Jesus on the road.
The two disciples finally understand that the their Scriptures prophesied all that took place to Jesus. However, they have been dissuaded from belief by his death. Famously, Jesus, who they do not yet recognize as the risen Lord, explained all of it again from Moses straight through the whole Scriptures. As they are having dinner with this man, their eyes are opened, and they recognize him. He vanishes, and they begin to connect all of the dots. They inform the other apostles that Jesus has risen indeed.
Once he is with all of his disciples, he again explains who he is and what he has done through Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms, which is another way of saying the entire Old Testament. Christ himself had to open their minds for them to understand. He promises the Holy Spirit and describes him as “power from on high.” He is then taken up into heaven. As Luke began with Zechariah and Elizabeth in the temple, the apostles are now proclaiming the Christ in the temple.
It has long been understood that the gospel of John is a entirely different way of assembling the life and ministry of Jesus. Matthew begins with a genealogy, Mark begins with John the Baptist, and Luke begins with a priest in the temple. However, John begins with a philosophical treatise about who Jesus is.
Moving on to John the Baptist, the apostle John describes the kind of hostility the religious leaders had toward the Baptizer. While not explicitly describing Jesus’s baptism, we are told that the Baptizer saw the Spirit fall on the Son.
This all moves along at a quick pace. “The next day” repeats itself a few times. One of John’s favorite titles for Jesus is the Lamb of God. Jesus begins calling the main twelve disciples. Andrew must have been one of the Baptizer’s disciples, but he leaves John to follow Jesus. Andrew brings Peter to see Jesus, who is also called to follow him. Then comes Philip and Nathaniel. Nathaniel famously asks if anything good can come from Nazareth, Jesus’s hometown. Nazareth wasn’t a bad place, but it was such a small town that it seemed unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
John describes seven “signs” or miracles that Jesus performs. Hint, the resurrection will be the eighth, being raised on the eighth day, signifying a new creation week. The first sign (2:11) was the turning of water in to wine in Cana. In order to understand much of the gospel of John, we need to understand many little words like these. The signs point somewhere, and John is showing how these miracles point to Jesus as the beginning of the new creation.
Another such word is “hour”. When Jesus tells his mother that his hour had not yet come, he’s not going to wantonly identify himself as the Coming One, the Messiah. He must first correct many misconceptions about what the Messiah will do and who he is. Even by seemingly not answering his mother’s question directly, he is turning the tide in Messianic expectation among the people. Jesus did many other signs (2:23, 3:2), but John chooses seven to call out as a way of pointing out who Jesus is and what he did.
There is debate on whether Jesus cleansed the temple once or twice. Either interpretation does not change anything of any significance. The difficulty is that John places Jesus’s cleansing of the temple as one of the first things he does and does not record a second one. However, the synoptic gospels (those that share most of the same timeline and details) also only record one cleansing and place it at the end of the life of Jesus. Two possibilities emerge: there were two cleansing of the temple, and each gospel only records one. Or, John is arranging the life of Jesus topically without focusing on a timeline. Both are possible, because 2:13 does not having the language of “the next day”, “immediately”, etc.
Nicodemus is interested in what Jesus is saying. Jesus explains that only those who are born a second time can enter the kingdom of God. This stumps Nicodemus, because the imagery is seemingly particular to Jesus. As a Pharisee, though, Nicodemus should be able to grasp this idea. The background to being born of water and Spirit is likely Ezekiel 36, one of the two most important passages about the new covenant (the other being Jeremiah 31). In Ezekiel, God says that he will cleanse his people with clean water and give them a new spirit.
John 3:9-15 are incredibly important Christology. When Jesus descended from heaven, he did not leave fellowship with the Father. The Trinity is completely unbroken throughout the time of the incarnation and the Son’s earthly ministry. The Old Testament prefigures Christ in many ways, clearly in the raising up the bronze serpent in the wilderness. In the same way the people looked up the serpent, those who look to Christ will be saved.
Because of Greek grammar, it’s hard to tell if John 3:16-21 are the words of Jesus or are John’s explanation of what just took place between Jesus and Nicodemus. It does not change the meaning one bit, because regardless of the source of inspiration, it is wholly inspired and binding on the Christian.
Psalm 91: God guards those who make himself their fortress (quoted by Satan in Matthew 4).
Psalm 92: The righteous will be guarded by God.
Psalm 93: God is the creator and sustainer.
Psalm 94: God remembers every one of his people.
Psalm 95: God is worthy of praise because of his patience.