As a part of my Bible reading throughout 2020, I am highlighting 5 things from the books of the Bible that have stood out to me and taught me.
Here are 5 things I have learnt from the books of 1 & 2 Samuel.
God is Jealous for His Glory
The God of the Bible is a jealous God. He says so Himself in a number of places in the Old Testament (e.g. Exodus 34:14). It may seem strange to talk about God in this way. Often, to accuse someone of being jealous is to point out a flaw in their personality. We wouldn’t encourage jealously in our children, and we find jealous adults to be contemptible. Why would we say God, who we confess to be perfect and holy, is jealous?
In normal conversation, we use the term ‘jealousy’ as a synonym to the term ‘envy’ and so to call God jealous seems to imply that He would be desiring something for Himself that is not, by rights, His own. But what could an almighty and all – powerful God desire after that He does not have? We need to instead think of God’s jealousy in a different sense. He is not coveting something that does not belong to Him, but rather He is zealously defending that which is already His by right.
Perhaps a human example is useful. Imagine a husband who walks in on his wife having an affair with another man. Suppose this husband is a good husband, who loves his wife and has kept himself pure for her alone. We would not expect such a husband to be indifferent to the actions of his wife. In fact, we would not think he was a particularly good or loving husband if he were to be indifferent towards the affair! Instead, we expect him to be jealously angry. His wife had made a covenant with him in their marriage vows to be with him alone and she had broken that. Rightly, he considers her love specially to be his by right of the vows they made. His jealously is for that which his wife is to give to him, and him alone. In a similar way, God is jealous for His glory that is owed to Him by right, and it is not to be shared with another.
However, that’s exactly what happens in the 1 Samuel 5. The Philistines capture the ark of God’s covenant and put this holy object in the temple of their god, Dagon. They place the ark next to the idol they had made of Dagon, setting the glory of God next to the supposed glory of Dagon. After just one night, the statue of Dagon had fallen down in front of the ark, its head and hands having been broken off the idol. Moreover, the city of Ashdod where the ark was being kept suddenly broke out in disease. Quickly, the Philistines realise that this was a judgement from God, and they return the ark to Israel. God would not be mocked and placed next to a handcrafted false idol. He was jealous for His glory in a way that made the Philistines tremble.
God’s Purposes are not Based on Human Wisdom
The book of 1 Samuel is the story of two kings – David and Saul. Saul is anointed as the first king of Israel, but he turns his back on following God is rejected by Him. God them sends His prophet Samuel to anoint the future king, a young shepherd boy, David. It is clear that God’s favour is on David and is not on Saul. In turn, Saul becomes envious of David and tries to kill him a number of times.
It may be difficult to have understood these events as an average Israelite living through this time. Saul is described as being handsome and taller than any other man. He was a fearsome warrior who had qualities that seemed to make him perfect for the choice of king. He looked the part and, in his early military victories (1 Samuel 11, 13) seemed to indicate he was of kingly material.
However, ultimately, it was the small, young shepherd boy, David, that would rise to become the greatest king of Israel. To human eyes and reason, it was difficult to believe. In fact, when Samuel went to anoint God’s chosen king after school, he ends up as the house of Jesse and Jesse calls his seven eldest sons to present themselves before Samuel. Yet, though his older sons were tall and strong, God says to Samuel:
“Do not look on [one of David’s elder brother’s] appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
God’s purpose in choosing David was not found in the wisdom of man, which would have preferred Saul, or one of David’s seven elder brothers. However, it was David’s heart that the Lord was after and what enabled David to become the greatest king of Israel.
Vengeance Belongs to the Lord
Although David had been anointed king by Samuel as a young boy, Saul was still on the throne. David actually becomes an armour – bearer to the king (his employ at the time when he fought the giant Goliath) and Saul is said to have “loved him greatly” (1 Samuel 16:21).
However, relations between the king and his appointed successor did not remain so genial. He initially becomes envious of David after a song in honour of success on the battlefield was sung by women in Israel said that Saul slew thousands, but David slew ten thousands. Saul tries to get revenge on David by getting him killed by the Philistines (1 Samuel 18:20 – 30). Yet David survives, and Saul became afraid of David, and became his enemy.
Many times after that, Saul tries to kill David, but every time David manages to escape and evade him. Despite Saul’s repeated attempts on his life, David does not seek revenge on Saul. In fact, the Lord gives Saul into David’s hand more than once, and David has an opportunity to exact vengeance on Saul and kill him. Yet, David never takes the opportunity (e.g. 1 Samuel 24). He respects the authority that God has placed in his life and recognised that vengeance would indeed be meted to Saul, but that it would come by God’s own hand and in God’s own time. David had the choice to be a vigilante killer, but instead respected and gave glory to God in trusting God’s plan for justice over his own.
The Davidic Covenant
One of the lasting comments that has shaped how I read the Bible (specifically the Old Testament) was made by the late R. C. Sproul. He talked about revelation of God in the Old Testament being like a picturesque landscape. All of it is beautiful, but sometimes there are great moutain peaks that stand high above the ground. There are some chapters in the Bible that are God’s great mountain peaks of His revelation to us. In the 2 Samuel 7 we get one such mountain peak, allowing us to see further into God’s plan of redemption than ever before.
In an incredible covenant to David, God blesses David’s family line with perpetual royalty.
“The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: when your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (2 Samuel 7:11 – 16)
This meant that God was blessing David with his descendents being the kings of the land. As we find out later in the books of 1 & 2 Kings, the kings were rarely God – fearing men, and often fostered immorality and idolatry in their lands. However, God never revokes His promise to David. Often, He did use ‘human hands’ to bring judgement on the unworthy kings.
More important than the fate of the subsequent kings of Israel, this covenant to David finds a greater fulfilment in the person of Jesus. Much is made in the New Testament about Jesus being in the line of David. This is precisely because the covenant in 2 Samuel 7 finds ultimate fulfilment in Jesus as David’s true heir. Through Jesus is David’s kingdom to endure forever.
The angel Gabriel tells Mary that the child she was carrying would inherit the throne of His father, David, and will reign there forever (Luke 1:32 – 33). For this reason, Paul calls Jesus the seed of David (Acts 13:22 – 23). The great office of Christ’s redemptive work as our king is established and foretold here. No wonder David’s immediate response is a prayer of thanksgiving and praise (2 Samuel 7:18 – 29).
The Necessity of Repentance
Whilst David is described as a great leader, a great warrior, a man of humility, and particularly as “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), this is not to say that David is perfect. In fact, the Bible portrays him as anything but perfect. Like is the fate of many prominent men in the Old Testament, David falls into sexual sin.
As an aside, this fact alone should teach Christian men, in particular, to be weary of this most successful and cunning of Satan’s lures. The more visibly prominent a member of God’s community, the more Satan seems to pile on the temptation to sexual sin. The strongest man (Samson), the wisest man (Solomon), and the most godly man (David) in the Old Testament all fall into sexual sin – and that is by no means a complete list! This is not to say that women are immune for this tactic of the Devil (certainly Gomer’s exploits cause immense pain in her sexual infidelity in the book of Hosea), but Biblical evidence points to the fact than men succumb to this temptation with great regularity.
As mentioned above, David is one such man. In one the Bible’s most infamous tales, sleeps with Bathsheba whom he sees on a nearby rooftop. After she conceives a child, David attempts to get her husband, Uriah the Hittite (a member of David’s army) to sleep with his wife and pass the child of as legitimate. However, this does not work, so David decides to have Uriah indirectly murder by sending him to an almost certain death on the battlefield. Ominously, the end of the chapter records that “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” (2 Samuel 11:27).
Then God sends a prophet, Nathan, to show by way of a parable how displeasing David’s actions were. David realises his sin. 2 Samuel 12:13 records David saying to Nathan simply “I have sinned against the Lord.” and Nathan shows that David’s repentance was genuine as he replies saying “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”
David’s forgiveness in God’s sight shows his true sorrow and repentance of his sin. We know more of David’s repentance through Psalm 51 which is wrote after being confronted by Nathan. Here we get David’s heart revealed as he recognises his sinfulness before God, offering a “broken and contrite spirit” (Psalm 51:17), and asks for a clean heart in order to praise God and teach others of God’s ways.
Of course, there is much more to the books of 1 & 2 Samuel than just these 5 points, but they are the ones that stood out to me as I read through 1 & 2 Samuel in 2020. Enjoy reading them for yourself!