New Book: 1 Samuel

by Justin Lau

Jeers from the opposing camp; despairing groans from his own. He grips tightly his slingshot, fingering five smooth stones. Sun in his eyes, sweat on his brow. Lord, I trust You.

Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath. But 1 Samuel contains other memorable stories, e.g. boy Samuel hearing God’s voice in the night, Saul vs David, David and Jonathan’s friendship, and so on.

From epic showdowns to heart-rending bromance to nail-biting narrow escapes too close for comfort, 1 Samuel is packed with fast-paced events and rich characterisations.

Set in c. 1050 B.C. after the period of Judges (with ‘trustworthy prophet’ [3:20] Samuel being the last judge), the writer focuses on three major characters: Samuel (1–7), Saul (8–31) and David (16–31). They aren’t clear-cut heroes or villains, but rather are depicted as complex, multifaceted and very relatably human who embody recognisable strengths and weaknesses.

Notice how God works through the lives of ordinary people. God chose Saul who was ‘only a Benjaminite, from the least of all the tribes of Israel’ (9:21). He chose David who was just a shepherd boy, looking not at his ‘outward appearance, but […] the heart.’ (16:7)

There is a key theme: obedience to God.

Israel undergoes a change of government: instead of tribes ruled by judges, they transition to a monarchy ruled by a king—firstly Saul (who fails), then David. Both are chosen by God and anointed by Samuel; both handle their responsibilities differently and with respective consequences.

Saul was proud and disobedient: ‘the LORD was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.’ (15:35) How tragic to witness his rejection by God!

Yet God still showed grace (e.g. listening to the Israelites’ complaining and request for a king). He ends up choosing David, not based on status but his humble trust and obedience: ‘a man after his own heart’ (13:14).

(Fun fact: You can link several of David’s Psalms to specific events in 1 Samuel, e.g. Psalm 59 to 1 Samuel 19:11; Psalm 34 to 1 Samuel 21:12–22:1.)

1 Samuel chronicles the events preceding David’s full-on kingship in 2 Samuel. Despite him coming close to death many a time, the Lord proved faithful to David who was faithful to Him. Subsequently, he’ll be a key figure in Jesus’s lineage, demonstrating how the Lord can ultimately turn any and all evil into good.