First Samuel Highlights Importance of Obedience
THE importance to Christians of obedience can hardly be overemphasized. In particular is this true as to God’s commands to them. Is not all the trouble in the world due to our first parents’ having disobeyed God’s command forbidding their eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad? Yes, those who desire God’s approval must obey him.—Gen. 2:16, 17; 3:1-19.
The book of First Samuel serves very well in stressing the importance of obedience. It not only contains precepts commanding obedience but illustrates the fruits of obedience and the results of disobedience.
Originally this book constituted with Second Samuel one volume (scroll). It covers upward of 100 years of Israel’s history, from shortly before the birth of Samuel, who proved to be the last of the line of judges, to the death of Saul, the first of Israel’s kings. The outstanding historical event it records is Israel’s change from rulership by judges to a monarchy. Three persons are made most prominent, the prophet Samuel, King Saul and David. The book covers in sequence: (1) Samuel and his judgeship; (2) Saul’s early kingship; (3) David’s exploits, Saul’s persecution of David and Saul’s suicide on the field of battle.
There has been much conjecture as to who wrote the book of First Samuel. However, for those with faith in the Bible’s inspiration, 1 Chronicles 29:29 is plain: “As for the affairs of David the king, the first ones and the last, there they are written among the words of Samuel the seer and among the words of Nathan the prophet and among the words of Gad the visionary.” That is, the prophet Samuel wrote all of Samuel until his death, as recorded at 1 Samuel 25:1, Nathan and Gad writing the rest. And that is the view held by ancient Jewish scholars as well as by most of the early Christian scholars.
As to the authenticity or the genuineness of the things recorded in the book: Many of its events are referred to in the book of Psalms and in the Christian Greek Scriptures; there is a straightforwardness and candor that stamps the book as truth. Archaeology also has testified to the accuracy of some of the things that the book records.
Further, the literary quality of the books of Samuel is such, in fact, that it might be said to add weight to its authenticity. Says a noted Hebrew authority: “Samuel contains some of the finest examples of Hebrew prose in the Bible. . . . Like all good Hebrew, it achieves the maximum effect with the greatest economy of words. Its narratives are masterpieces of historical writing.” This is something we would expect from Samuel, as he heard the Scriptures read at the sanctuary from the time he was weaned. The prophets Nathan and Gad may well have attempted to imitate his writing.
SAMUEL, JUDGE AND PROPHET
First Samuel opens by telling of a certain Hannah grieving because she is childless. While at the tabernacle at Shiloh, in prayer to God, Hannah vows that if He will give her a son she will dedicate him to Jehovah’s service. God answers her prayer. She names the child Samuel, meaning “name of God.” As soon as she weans him, most likely when he is between three and five years of age, she brings him to Shiloh to serve. As one who obeys God’s command, as stated at Deuteronomy 23:23, to fulfill what one vows, she has a fine reward! It is no doubt a joy for her to see her son Samuel become such a mighty servant of Jehovah God!—1 Sam. 1:1–2:11.
The two sons of Eli the high priest are of just the opposite frame of mind. Though serving as priests at the tabernacle, they flagrantly disobey God’s laws both with regard to their activities as priests, and in being grossly immoral. Although Eli chides them for these things, they pay no attention. Jehovah is so greatly displeased with their disobedient course of action that he warns that he will punish the house of Eli, using young Samuel to give this message. Jehovah uses the Philistines to execute this judgment by defeating the Israelites in battle. In this battle, not only do the sons of Eli die, but the Philistines capture the sacred ark of the covenant, which the Israelites have brought to the battlefront hoping that it may serve as a charm to ensure victory. Hearing about the loss of the ark, high priest Eli, old, very fat and blind, falls backward off his seat, breaking his neck.—1 Sam. 2:12–4:22.
But it is not Jehovah’s will to let the Philistines keep the ark. By a series of plaguing judgments, God maneuvers them into returning the ark to Israel.
Upon reaching manhood, Samuel serves as priest and judge of Israel. When the axis lords of the Philistines again gather to do battle, Samuel pleads with Jehovah, with the result that the Israelites gain a striking victory over their enemies. Year after year Samuel keeps judging Israel, making a “circuit of Bethel and Gilgal and Mizpah.”—1 Sam. 5:1–7:17.
SAUL, ISRAEL’S FIRST KING
There is no question about Samuel’s obeying God’s commands and being blessed for it, but with his sons it is a different story. They ‘follow unjust profit, accept bribes and pervert judgment.’ The people of Israel use this situation as a basis for asking for a king to rule over them. There is also fear of aggression from surrounding nations. Israel’s request for a king is a real blow to Samuel. But God assures him that by asking for a human king they not only are rejecting Samuel but are really rejecting God from being their King. Samuel warns them of how great a burden having a king will be for them, but still they want one. They want to be like the nations round about them. Jehovah indicates his disapproval of their decision by causing an unseasonal thunderstorm. Still, Jehovah does not turn his back on his people. He selects a king, modest Saul, who is head and shoulders taller than any of his people and who truly has the appearance of a king. Samuel first anoints Saul privately and then publicly, and has Saul proclaimed king over the nation of Israel.—1 Sam. 8:1–10:27.
Saul at first shows himself to be an able king. He unites the fighting forces of Israel to defeat the Ammonites who have threatened to impose a sadistic condition on the men of Jabesh, whose city they have taken. At this time Samuel gives what might be termed his farewell speech. He reminds his people of how justly and honestly he has judged Israel all the days of his life and repeatedly urges them to fear and serve Jehovah faithfully.—1 Sam. 11:1–12:25.
After this, King Saul, in disobeying God’s commands, makes one bad mistake after another. An emergency arises, with a large force of Philistines threatening to attack. Saul is told to wait for Samuel, who will supplicate Jehovah for help by offering sacrifices. Because Samuel delays in coming and there seems to be an emergency, Saul presumptuously disregards the command to wait and proceeds to offer the burnt offerings and the communion sacrifices. Right after he does so, Samuel appears. Because of Saul’s presumptuous impatience, Jehovah rejects him as king: “Because you did not keep what Jehovah commanded you.”—1 Sam. 13:1-23.
Saul again makes a serious mistake, that of not obeying God’s command to wipe out completely the nation of Amalek. Centuries earlier, the Amalekites made a dastardly attack on the Israelite stragglers who were weary and exhausted on their march through the wilderness. (Deut. 25:17-19) Because Saul, together with the people, spares the choicest of the flocks and the Amalek King Agag, Samuel tells him: “Does Jehovah have as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Look! To obey is better than a sacrifice . . . Since you have rejected the word of Jehovah, he accordingly rejects you from being king.” Thereafter Samuel sees Saul no more, although he greatly grieves over him.—1 Sam. 15:1-35.
Shortly afterward Jehovah sends Samuel to the home of Jesse to anoint the youngest son David as Israel’s next king. Now Jehovah’s spirit leaves Saul and he is plagued with mental depression. Since David is an excellent harpist, he is chosen to play before King Saul, bringing relief to him. Next we learn of David’s slaying the boastful Philistine giant Goliath with only a sling and a stone. David’s great faith in and zeal for Jehovah’s name so endears him to Saul’s son Jonathan that ‘Jonathan begins to love David as his own soul.’ (1 Sam. 18:1) Though it becomes clear that David rather than Jonathan will be Israel’s next king, Jonathan continues to be David’s loyal friend, taking David’s side even at the risk of his own life.
David now becomes so successful in battle that the women of Israel sing: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” This fills Saul with a jealousy that becomes a consuming passion with him; uppermost now in his life is trying to get rid of David. During the time that Saul hunts David like a wild animal, David himself has two opportunities to kill Saul, but he refuses to ‘touch Jehovah’s anointed.’—1 Sam. 18:1–24:22; 26:1-25.
The fugitive David is joined by other Israelites who have grievances, and they are rated as an outlaw band. But they serve to protect the farmers and their flocks from predators. Because of this, David asks a reward from a wealthy owner of sheep, Nabal. He, however, insolently rejects David’s request, for which action David vows dire punishment. But Nabal’s wife, noting what has happened, and fearing the worst, proceeds to pacify David with generous gifts. As a result, when Nabal suddenly dies, David asks her to become his wife, to which she gladly consents.—1 Sam. 25:1-42.
When the Philistines again mass for attack, King Saul seeks in vain for guidance from Jehovah. But Jehovah’s spirit has departed from him. Saul’s prayers go unanswered and the priests have no word for him from Jehovah. In desperation he consults a spirit medium. She gives him only bad news. In Saul’s last battle Israel suffers a terrible defeat, his son Jonathan is slain and Saul himself, mortally wounded, commits suicide.—1 Sam. 28:1–31:13.
The book of Samuel is truly part of the things written aforetime for our “instruction.” It is “beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that [we] may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” In particular does it stress the importance of obedience and the tragic consequences of disobedience.—Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17.