Samuel 1

The prophet Samuel anoints Saul as the first king of Israel. When David becomes a threat, Saul tries to kill him, but fails. Saul is killed in battle.

ELI AND SAMUEL — 1:1-4:22

Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninah.  Penihah had children but Hannah had none because God prevented it (1:1-5). So Hannah prayed and prayed until one day she promised, if she had a son, to raise him as a Nazarite and a Judge (1:9-16). (In the story of Samson, Samson was also a Nazarite. A Nazarite was someone especially devoted to God. He was not to drink wine nor have his hair cut. Nazarite law is defined in Numbers 6:1-21.) God heard her and gave her a son whom she named Samuel. As soon as Samuel was weaned she put him in the care of Eli, the priest of Shiloh (1:17-25).

Eli had two sons who qualified as scoundrels because they violated the laws of sacrifice and they had sex with women in the tabernacle (1-12-17, 22). A man of God came to Eli — who was also a man of God — and prophesized that God will kill his entire family and deny him ancestry; his two sons will die the same day and a faithful priest will continue in his place (2:27-36). His two sons will die the same day and someone else will continue his priesthood (2:27-36). Long after, Samuel told Eli of a vision from God that the death of his two sons was imminent (3:1-18).

In a battle with the Philistines, the Israelites were defeated and lost 4,000 men. In the next battle they took the ark of the covenant with them but it made things worse. They were not only defeated, they lost even more soldiers, 30,000 of them; the ark was captured and Eli’s sons were killed. When Eli heard the news, he fell off his chair and broke his neck and died.  His daughter-in-law died in childbirth but the child survived (4:1-22).


The Philistines set the ark in one of their temples in the city of Ashdod where an idol of their God, Dagon, stood. The next day the idol fell face down to the ground so they restored its position. The following day the idol fell face down to the ground again, but this time it broke apart. Shortly afterward the people of Ashdod fell sick with tumors so they sent the ark to the city of Gath; tumors broke out again. (The KJV uses the word “emerods” which means hemorrhoids.) The ark was sent to Ekron where the plague was worse yet. Whatever these tumors were, they were fatal. By seven months the Philistines had enough, so they returned the ark to the Israelites with a guilt offering of five gold tumors (hemorrhoids?) and five gold mice. (Current speculation is that it was the bubonic plague related to rat infestation.)

The ark found its way to the Israelite town of Beth-shemesh who made the mistake of opening the ark. According to the NRSV, seventy men were killed. The KJV gives the precise estimate of 50,310 dead (6:19).   The ark was then shipped to Kiriath-Jearim where it sat for twenty years. 


By this time the reputation of Samuel as judge, priest and prophet was well known throughout the land. So when he told the people to return to God, they did. In one battle when Samuel was judging, God helped defeat the Philistines by thundering with his mighty voice so that he threw them into confusion (7:10). (The Philistines were afraid of thunder?) The Israelites recovered the land they lost to the Philistines and they lived in peace with the Amorites (7:14).

When Samuel was old he made his sons judges but they “took bribes and perverted justice.” So the elders of Israel pleaded to Samuel for a king. To this, God felt rejected as king (8:7). Normally, God would have few thousand, but this time only told Samuel to try to discourage the Israelites. They wouldn’t be discouraged, so God relented.


Saul was a handsome young Benjamite whose father sent him out to find some lost donkeys. When he wandered as far as the land of Zuph without finding the donkeys, his boy assistant talked him into paying a visit to Samuel because he might be helpful. The day before, God told Samuel that when he meets a Benjamite the next day, he is to anoint him ruler. Because “He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines; for I have seen the suffering of my people.” (9:16).  (Compare that with 7:14 which portrays Samuel as a successful judge.) When they met, Samuel ceremoniously anointed Saul as the new ruler of Israel.   After they parted, Saul met a band of prophets as Samuel had predicted and went into a “prophetic frenzy”, whatever that is (10:10).

Comment: In 9:9 I quote: “(Formerly in Israel, anyone who went to inquire of God would say, "Come, let us go to the seer"; for the one who is now called a prophet was formerly called a seer.)” This phrase reveals that the story of Samuel was an ancient story when it was written. However in 1 Chronicles 29:29 it claims “Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the records of the seer Samuel, and in the records of the prophet Nathan, and in the records of the seer Gad,”. If Samuel had written of his meeting with Saul he would not use the term “formerly in Israel.” The story of Samuel’s anointing of Saul is tainted. 

SAUL THE SAVIOR — 10:17-12:2

Saul’s first challenge was King Nahash of the Ammonites who had gouged out the right eye of every Gadite and Reubenite east of the Jordan River. The king was about to take Jabesh-gilead and gouge out more right eyes when the elders of Jabesh got the king to agree to a week’s grace. When word got to Saul he immediately mustered 370,000 troops by sending each tribe of piece of oxen and threatened to do the same to their own oxen if they did not join him (11:6-8). The next day, the Ammonites were thoroughly defeated. Samuel anointed Saul in public so all would know who is the first king, and retired (11:12-12:2).

SAUL THE FOOL — 13:1-45

Saul and his son Jonathan were doing well in their war with the Philistines until he told his troops to fast until evening; Jonathan was not aware of the curse. When Jonathan came upon some honey he ate well and tried to convince the troops to defy the curse. Later that day, the troops grew so hungry after battle that they ate livestock, blood and all. Saul reacted by making the men slaughter all their oxen and sheep and eat them (13:2-14:34).  When Saul found out that his son defied the curse, he wanted to kill him ¾ literally ¾ but his people restrained him (14:24-45).

THE FALL OF SAUL — 15:1-16:23

Samuel gave Saul, God’s blessings in the upcoming battle with the Amalekites. His orders were to spare no one, not even children, infants and livestock (15:3).  But when Saul defeated the Amalekites he spared their king Agag and allowed his troops to keep anything of value.  God was angry, Samuel was angry.  So Samuel gave Saul a good tongue lashing and chopped Agag to pieces personally (15:4-15-33). God sends Samuel out visit Jesse of Bethlehem to find a new king to replace Saul. Samuel looked over seven of Jesse’s sons, but it wasn’t till he saw David that he saw the makings of a new king. At the time when Samuel anointed David, Saul turned evil (15:34-16:14). The two off them met when Saul hired David to be his personal musician.


Goliath the Philistine was big, about 10 feet tall with garments of heavy armor. One day, he challenged the Israelites to a one on one battle. If Goliath lost, the Philistines would surrender, if the Israelite fighter lost, the Israelites would surrender. For forty days Goliath stood at the front of his army but no Israelites would go against him. It wasn’t until Saul offered riches and his daughter in marriage when David offered to go against Goliath. To Saul’s doubts, he explained that he had experience killing lions and bears by hand; Goliath would be no different. So Saul gave David his blessings along with armor and sword. David rejected the armor and sword because he wasn’t used to it.  When David and Goliath got close they exchanged threats; David slung a stone right into Goliath’s forehead, killing him. David took Goliath’s sword and cut off his head, the Philistines fled with the Israelites giving chase. After coming back from the chase, they plunder the Philistine camp.

SAUL’s ENVY GROWS — 18:1-19:24

Saul sent David on other missions and every time David would be successful. As a result, Saul made David leader of the entire army. David’s continued success made him even more popular than Saul. Saul became so afraid of David that he twice threw a spear at him but missed.  Saul even demoted David, putting him in charge of only a thousand soldiers, but David’s military success continued to grow and so did Saul’s envy. Saul tried to get David killed by the Philistines by promising David his oldest daughter, Merab, in marriage if continued to fight valiantly. But instead he gave Merab in marriage to someone else. Learning that his other daughter, Michal, loved David, Saul tried again to get David killed by the Philistines. He offered her as a wife if David could bring back a hundred Philistine foreskins.  When David brought back the foreskins, Saul was even more enraged (18:1-30).

Saul talked openly of killing David to his servants and to his son Jonathan. And as much as he tried, Jonathan could not dissuade his father. David continued to have success on the battlefield; again Saul tried to spear David to the wall. The last spearing incident plus warnings from Jonathan and Michal was enough to convince David not to spend another night in his home. Good thing too. Because that evening, Saul sent soldiers to arrest David. Three more times Saul sent soldiers to fetch David but three times they each went into a “prophetic frenzy” when they saw Samuel. Saul went himself to find David, and when he too met Samuel, he stripped naked and went into a “frenzy” that lasted a day and a night (19:1-24).


 Let’s add it up. First there was love at first sight; Jonathan even strips himself naked in front of David (18:1-4). At risk to himself, Jonathan tried to temper his father’s anger against David; he even warned David of his father’s thoughts of killing him (19:1-7). Saul let out his anger at Jonathan for warning David to stay away from a ceremonial feast; he even threw a spear at him. Certain this time that Saul is out to kill David, Jonathan was so upset that he could not eat (20:24-34). There are times when I have to return to the KJV because modern translations tend to smother embarrassing tidbits. David and Jonathan met privately for what they knew would be the last time. David kneeled and bowed three times; they kissed and wept together (20:41,42). The terms love, kiss and naked don’t prove the two had sexed together but in 2 Samuel 1:25,26 David compares his lovemaking with Jonathan to lovemaking with women. He says of Jonathan, “your love to me was wonderful.” The phrase “your love to me was wonderful” has an entirely different meaning then the phrase “your love [for] me was wonderful.” The two had a homosexual affair.


At Nob, David lied to the priest, Ahimelech, telling him he was on a mission for Saul to meet some young men at another site.  To qualify for holy bread, he even told the priest that the men are holy and do not go near women and even convinced the priest to give up Goliath’s sword (21:1-10). David mistakenly thought he could hide in Philistine kingdom of Gath, but King Aschish learned that David was his most formidable enemy (21:10-22:1). He escaped by convincing the king he was crazy (21:11-22:1). Finally he went to Judah.

Saul’s chief servant, Doeg, saw the priest give David provisions and Goliath’s sword. So Saul accused the priest of conspiracy and had him and 85 other priests killed.  Then he had everyone else in the town killed, men, women, children and even livestock (21:9-19). One of Ahimelech’s son’s escaped, to whom David admitted he saw Doeg and knew he put the town’s lives at risk (22:20-23).

During the pursuit, Saul stops near a cave to “relieve himself,” (That could be urinate or defecate.) where David is hiding. David managed to sneak up behind Saul and cut off a piece of this cloak.  David felt guilty for damaging a garment of God’s anointed but there is no mention of remorse for what happened at Nob (24:3-6). As Saul is leaving, David calls out, showing him the swatch as proof he is of no threat (24:8-15). Saul admitted his wrongdoing and that he knew David would be the next king (24:16-22).  Samuel dies (25:1).


There was a rich man named Nabal and his wife Abigail; she was as beautiful as he was mean. When David heard of him, he sent ten men to plead for food; Nabal refused.  When David got the news, he was ready to kill Nabal. When Abigail heard what her husband did, she generously supplied the needed provisions without his knowledge. David agreed to her plea to spare Nabal. God kills him ten days later. David was grateful to God for killing someone who insulted him. David and his God sized ego saw this as “evildoing.”


There was a second occasion when David snuck up on Saul when he was off guard. Resisting the pleas of friends to kill Saul, David is now confident that God will put an end to Saul’s life. When Saul was asleep in camp with 3,000 of his soldiers, David took a spear and a jug lying at Saul’s side. God gets the credit for causing a deep sleep. From a safe distance, David shouted out to Saul to prove he is no threat; and again Saul admits wrongdoing, promises not to harm David and admits David’s likely success.


David still does not trust Saul; so with 600 men and two wives he heads off to the Philistine city of Gath, the kingdom of King Achish. There, the king took a liking to him and gave him a territory called Ziklag for his troops. David lived there sixteen months where he raided gentile settlements.  With typical barbarism, he killed every person alive and plundered the livestock (27:9). David lied to Achish, telling him he was raiding Judah and the king trusted him (27:1-12). The king wanted David and his men to join the Philistines on some raids and made David his bodyguard for life.

Comment: Though there were no kings of Judah until at least a hundred years later, Ziklag, it says, eventually belonged to the kings of Judah (27:6). What makes this adventure truly amazing is that David was well known as the killer of Goliath and responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Philistines. In 21:10-22:1 we learned that David escaped likely death by pretending to be crazy.  Now he returns fully sane and convinces the king he is no longer a Philistine hater. David traditionally left no witnesses to his despicable raids but that need not stop the king from sending his own trusted witnesses along on the raids. Either Achish was the stupidest king in existence or, most likely, it is what happens to history when it is carried by memory for a hundred years.


Samuel was dead and Saul had expelled mediums and wizards from the land. But when Saul saw the Philistines assemble en mass he felt fear. So he went incognito to a medium [witch] at Endor, asking her to consult a spirit. After being convinced she would not be punished, she brought back Samuel. What do I do about the Philistines, Saul asked.  Replied Samuel; God became your enemy when you defied him by sparing Amalek. Tomorrow you and your sons will die and the Philistines will destroy your army.  Saul was mortified.


When all the Philistines were gathered on the day of battle, the other Philistine commanders would not let David and his men join the battle because they did not trust him. In phrases you will certainly not hear from the mouth of a heathen king, Achish confirms his trust to David: “As the lord lives, you have been honest,” and “you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God” (29:6, 9). David returned to the land of the Philistines.


When David returned to Ziklag, his home in the Philistines, he found it burned down and all his people taken captive by the Amalekites; no one was killed. (Compare that to David’s code of ethics in 27:9 and the following.) When David and his band of four hundred found their way to the Amalekites, they killed everyone except for four hundred men escapees.  The Amalekites harmed none of his people and all the spoils were returned.


On the day of battle with the Philistines, the men of Israel were routed and Saul’s three sons, including Jonathan, were killed.  Saul was badly wounded by an arrow.  It would have been a disgrace for the king of Israel to be killed by someone uncircumcised, so he asked his armor-bearer to finish him off. When he refused, Saul committed suicide by falling on his own sword. His armor-bearer did likewise. The next day the Philistines cut off Saul’s head, stripped off his clothes and displayed his body in public. Some of Saul’s loyal followers stole his body back and gave him an honorable burial.