Jehovah’s Word Is Alive
Highlights From the Book of First Samuel
THE year is 1117 B.C.E. Some three hundred years have elapsed since Joshua completed the conquest of the Promised Land. The older men of Israel come to Jehovah’s prophet with a remarkable request. The prophet takes the matter up in prayer, and Jehovah allows them to have their way. This marks the end of the period of the Judges and the beginning of the era of human kings. The Bible book of First Samuel narrates exciting events surrounding that turning point in the history of the nation of Israel.
Written by Samuel, Nathan, and Gad, First Samuel covers a period of 102 years—from 1180 to 1078 B.C.E. (1 Chronicles 29:29) It is an account of four leaders of Israel. Two serve as judges, two as kings; two are obedient to Jehovah, two are not. We also meet two exemplary women and a valiant but gentle warrior. Such examples provide valuable lessons about attitudes and actions to imitate and to avoid. The contents of First Samuel can thus exert power on our thoughts and deeds.—Hebrews 4:12.
ELI’S JUDGESHIP GIVES WAY TO SAMUEL’S
It is time for the Festival of Ingathering, and Hannah, who lives in Ramah, is beside herself with joy.* Jehovah has answered her prayers, and she has given birth to a son. To fulfill her vow, Hannah presents her son Samuel for service at “the house of Jehovah.” There the boy becomes “a minister of Jehovah before Eli the priest.” (1 Samuel 1:24; 2:11) When Samuel is still of tender age, Jehovah speaks to him, pronouncing judgment against the house of Eli. As Samuel grows older, all the people of Israel come to recognize him as a prophet of Jehovah.
In time, the Philistines come up against Israel. They capture the Ark and slay Eli’s two sons. Upon hearing the news, aged Eli dies, having “judged Israel forty years.” (1 Samuel 4:18) Possession of the Ark proves to be disastrous for the Philistines, so they return it to the Israelites. Samuel now judges Israel, and there is peace in the land.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
2:10—Why did Hannah pray that Jehovah “give strength to his king” when there was no human king over Israel? That the Israelites would have a human king was foretold in the Mosaic Law. (Deuteronomy 17:14-18) In his deathbed prophecy, Jacob said: “The scepter [a symbol of royal authority] will not turn aside from Judah.” (Genesis 49:10) Moreover, concerning Sarah—the ancestress of the Israelites—Jehovah said: “Kings of peoples will come from her.” (Genesis 17:16) Hannah, then, was praying about a future king.
3:3—Did Samuel actually sleep in the Most Holy? No, he did not. Samuel was a Levite of the nonpriestly family of the Kohathites. (1 Chronicles 6:33-38) As such, he was not permitted to “come in to see the holy things.” (Numbers 4:17-20) The only part of the sanctuary that Samuel had access to was the tabernacle courtyard. That is where he must have slept. Apparently, Eli also slept somewhere in the courtyard. The expression “where the ark of God was” evidently refers to the tabernacle area.
7:7-9, 17—Why did Samuel offer up a burnt offering at Mizpah and set up an altar in Ramah, since sacrifices were to be offered on a regular basis only at the place of Jehovah’s choosing? (Deuteronomy 12:4-7, 13, 14; Joshua 22:19) After the removal of the sacred Ark from the tabernacle at Shiloh, Jehovah’s presence was no longer evident there. So as God’s representative, Samuel offered a burnt offering at Mizpah and also set up an altar in Ramah. These actions were apparently approved by Jehovah.
Lessons for Us:
1:8. What an example Elkanah set in strengthening others with words! (Job 16:5) He first asked depressed Hannah the unaccusing question: “Why does your heart feel bad?” This encouraged her to talk about her feelings. Then Elkanah reassured her of his affection, saying: “Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
ISRAEL’S FIRST KING—A SUCCESS OR A FAILURE?
Samuel is faithful to Jehovah all his life, but his sons do not walk in godly ways. When the older men of Israel request a human king, Jehovah permits them to have one. Samuel follows Jehovah’s direction and anoints Saul, a handsome Benjamite, as king. Saul strengthens his position as king by defeating the Ammonites.
Saul’s valiant son Jonathan strikes down a Philistine garrison. The Philistines come up against Israel with a huge army. Saul panics and disobediently offers a burnt sacrifice himself. Taking along only his armor-bearer, courageous Jonathan attacks another Philistine outpost. Saul’s rash oath, however, weakens the force of the victory. Saul goes “warring round about” against all his enemies. (1 Samuel 14:47) Upon defeating the Amalekites, though, he disobeys Jehovah by sparing what had been “devoted to destruction.” (Leviticus 27:28, 29) Consequently, Jehovah rejects Saul as king.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
9:9—What is significant about the expression “the prophet of today used to be called a seer in former times”? These words may indicate that as the prophets became more prominent in the days of Samuel and during the era of the kings in Israel, the word “seer” came to be replaced by the term “prophet.” Samuel is considered the first of the line of the prophets.—Acts 3:24.
14:24-32, 44, 45—Did Jonathan lose God’s favor for eating honey in violation of Saul’s oath? This act does not seem to have placed Jonathan in God’s disfavor. First of all, Jonathan did not know about his father’s oath. Moreover, the oath, prompted either by false zeal or by a wrong view of kingly power, caused problems for the people. How could such an oath have God’s approval? Although Jonathan was willing to accept the consequences of breaking the oath, his life was spared.
15:6—Why did the Kenites receive special consideration from Saul? The Kenites were the sons of Moses’ father-in-law. They assisted the Israelites after these pulled away from Mount Sinai. (Numbers 10:29-32) In the land of Canaan, the Kenites also took up dwelling with the sons of Judah for a time. (Judges 1:16) Even though they later resided among the Amalekites and various other peoples, the Kenites remained on friendly terms with Israel. For good reason, then, Saul spared the Kenites.
Lessons for Us:
9:21; 10:22, 27. The modesty and humility that Saul had when he first became king safeguarded him from acting rashly when some “good-for-nothing men” did not accept his kingship. What a protection such a mind-set is against irrational actions!
12:20, 21. Never allow “the unrealities,” such as trust in men, confidence in the military might of nations, or idolatry, to turn you aside from serving Jehovah.
12:24. A key to maintaining reverential fear of Jehovah and serving him with all our heart is to “see what great things he has done” for his people in ancient as well as modern times.
A SHEPHERD BOY IS CHOSEN FOR THE KINGSHIP
Samuel anoints David of the tribe of Judah to be the future king. Shortly thereafter, David slays the Philistine giant Goliath with a single slingstone. A bond of friendship develops between David and Jonathan. Saul places David over his warriors. In response to David’s many victories, the women of Israel sing: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” (1 Samuel 18:7) Consumed with envy, Saul seeks to kill David. After three attacks by Saul, David flees and becomes a fugitive.
During his years as a runaway, David spares Saul’s life twice. He also meets and eventually marries beautiful Abigail. As the Philistines come up against Israel, Saul inquires of Jehovah. But Jehovah has left him. Samuel has died. Desperate, Saul consults a spirit medium, only to hear that he will be killed in the battle against the Philistines. During that battle, Saul is severely wounded, and his sons are killed. The account closes with Saul dying as a failure. David is still in hiding.
Scriptural Questions Answered:
16:14—What bad spirit terrorized Saul? The bad spirit that deprived Saul of his peace of mind was the bad inclination of his mind and heart—his inward urge to do wrong. When Jehovah withdrew his holy spirit, Saul lost its protection and came to be dominated by his own bad spirit. Since God permitted that spirit to replace His holy spirit, this bad spirit is termed “a bad spirit from Jehovah.”
17:55-58—In view of 1 Samuel 16:17-23, why did Saul ask whose son David was? Saul’s inquiry was not just about the name of David’s father. Very likely, he wanted to know what kind of man fathered a boy who had just accomplished the amazing feat of slaying a giant.
Lessons for Us:
16:6, 7. Rather than being impressed by the outward appearance of others or judging them hastily, we must try to see them as Jehovah sees them.
17:47-50. We can courageously face opposition or persecution from Goliathlike enemies because “to Jehovah belongs the battle.”
21:12, 13. Jehovah expects us to use our mental faculties and abilities to deal with difficult situations in life. He has given us his inspired Word, which imparts prudence, knowledge, and thinking ability. (Proverbs 1:4) We also have the help of appointed Christian elders.
25:23-33. Abigail’s sensibleness is exemplary.
30:23, 24. This decision, based on Numbers 31:27, shows that Jehovah values those who serve in supportive roles in the congregation. Whatever we are doing, then, let us “work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men.”—Colossians 3:23.
What Is “Better Than a Sacrifice”?
What fundamental truth is emphasized by the experiences of Eli, Samuel, Saul, and David? It is this: “To obey is better than a sacrifice, to pay attention than the fat of rams; for rebelliousness is the same as the sin of divination, and pushing ahead presumptuously the same as using uncanny power and teraphim.”—1 Samuel 15:22, 23.
What a privilege we have to share in the worldwide Kingdom-preaching and disciple-making work! As we offer to Jehovah “the young bulls of our lips,” we must do our best to obey the direction he gives through his written Word and the earthly part of his organization.—Hosea 14:2; Hebrews 13:15.
For locations of various places mentioned in the book of First Samuel, see pages 18-19 of the brochure “See the Good Land,” published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Picture on page 23]
Israel’s first king changed from a humble and modest ruler to a proud and presumptuous monarch
[Picture on page 24]
Of what can we be confident when we face opposition from Goliathlike enemies?