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You will find an introduction and outline to 1 Samuel here.

A prayer to use before reading from the liturgy of John Chrysostom, 4th century:

Incomprehensible Creator, the true Fountain of light and only Author of all knowledge: deign, we beseech Thee, to enlighten our understanding, and to remove from us all darkness of sin and ignorance. Thou, who makest eloquent the tongues of those who lack utterance, direct our tongues, and pour on our lips the grace of thy blessing. Give us a diligent and obedient spirit, quickness of apprehension, capacity of retaining, and the powerful assistance of Thy holy grace; that what we hear or learn we may apply to Thy honor and the eternal salvation of our own souls. Amen

An Outline of First Samuel ( from Birch)

A. 1 Samuel 1:1-7:17 Samuel and the Crisis of Israel

B. 1 Samuel 8:1-15:35 The Kingship of Saul

8:1-22 Demand and Warning

9:1-11:15 Saul becomes King:

11:1-11:15 Saul Delivers Jabesh-gilead: This story sounds a bit like a story from the book of Judges, there is a crisis and God empowers someone to deliver Israel. Why gouge out one eye? Scholars think the reason is that one eyed people do not make effective warriors.  Notice that Saul is not doing “king-like” things. He is plowing his field. The messengers don’t particularly seek out Saul, their message is to everyone. But Saul hears and the spirit of the Lord enters him. There is a combination of righteous anger and God’s power. While Saul is the hero of the story, God is the one who actually delivers Israel.  In verse 10 there is a word play in Hebrew which is lost in English. The word yasa means “come out” and can there for mean “surrender” (verse 3). But is can also mean “come out to do battle”. So the reply in verse 10 is ambiguous. The Israelites know help is coming, but Nahash and the Ammonites do not.  After the victory there is a demand for the “worthless men” to be put to death. From our perspective, Saul appears magnanimous in prohibiting their death. But actually, more is at stake. The “worthless men/troublemakers” not only slander Saul who did God’s will but also God. In the Old Testament a “worthless man” is one who slanders God or breaks sacred law or destroys justice or life or rebels against the king- all serious offences that call for death. When Saul shows mercy, he states it as a command. It is a legal pronouncement showing that Saul has the authority to judge and rule.

12:1-25 Samuel’s Address to Israel: This address has distinct parts, verses 1-5 the exoneration of Samuel, verses 6-15 recalling the Covenant and God’s faithfulness, verses 16-18 a sign is given, verse 19 the people confess and ask for help, verses 20-25 closing remarks. In verses 1-5 Samuel seems to be speaking as part of some sort of ritual. Samuel refers to what he has done, especially with the king, and he makes a series of statements about the ethical/moral quality of his service as prophet. Verses 6-15 transitions the story from the time of the judges to the time of the kings. Notice how both the people and the king are to follow God. Israel may have a king, but the king must keep covenant faithfulness and is answerable to God.  Then in verses 16-18 Samuel gives a demonstration of his power as prophet. Rain was uncommon at the time of the wheat harvest. Thunderstorms are often associated with God’s presence. The final verses  encourage the people to remain faithful to God.

13:1-15:35 The Exploits and Rejection of Saul: Now we return to the story of Saul after the discussion of covenant and kingship.

13:1-23 Saul Rejected from Dynasty: Verse 1 is an incomplete formula(typically used to introduce a king’s reign, see 1 Kgs 14:21;22:42) which announces Saul’s reign. But right away there is trouble both from the Philistines outside Israel and Samuel within.  The chapter has some difficulties. Samuel’s instructions to wait seven days sounds like his instructions in 10:8 but there Saul is a boy. In chapter 13 Saul has a grown son, Jonathan. It is difficult to tell what Saul did and what Jonathan did (see v 3 and 4). In spite of these (and other) difficulties the important message of the chapter is clear. Jonathan wins a victory over some Philistines but the end result is the Philistines retaliate. Saul’s military situation, seemingly solid at the start of the chapter, rapidly deteriorates by verse 15. The last verses of the chapter (15-23 ) tell us that the Philistines did all the ironwork in the area. So the Israelite army (except for Saul and Jonathan) do not have iron weapons. In verses 7-15 Saul is supposed to wait for Samuel, but when Samuel doesn’t arrive and the army’s moral deteriorates Saul takes matters into his own hands. To us, Saul’s reasoning may sound plausible, but not to Samuel. Samuel tells Saul his kingdom will not last and that God has selected another to lead. For Israel, God chooses the king. Recall in chapter 12 Samuel’s statement that the king is answerable to God. There are limits to a kings powers and authority. What does this story tell us about Saul and Samuel? What does it say about power and authority?

14:1-52 Jonathan and Saul Against the Philistines: Notice how differently Jonathan and Saul act. Jonathan acts boldly and Saul does not. Also notice that God is given credit for the victory. The chapter starts with Jonathan trusting God and acting boldly while Saul is under a tree with a priest. Jonathan does not presume victory. Armor-bearers were more than servants the were also close companions. Jonathan and his armor-bearer attack and are so successful that Saul’s camp notices the fighting. Saul doesn’t join the battle, he checks to see who is missing and consults with the priest. Finally Saul joins the battle and also Hebrew mercenaries and Israelites who had hidden in panic earlier join the battle. God give the victory. In verse 24 Saul takes an oath which causes harm to his troops by making them weak. Also not everyone was aware of the oath. Jonathan unknowingly eats and when told of the oath criticizes his father (29-30). Then things get worse, Saul’s troops begin to slaughter and eat in an ritually inappropriate way. After the sacrifices, Saul wants to pursue the Philistines but is stopped by the priest. Lots are cast to discover who has sinned and Jonathan’s action of breaking the oath is uncovered. What do you think about this? Jonathan did not know about the oath. On the other hand, Saul’s oath caused harm to the troops and as a result of the foolish oath, the troops also sin by eating meat with blood in it.  The people will not let Saul kill Jonathan. Saul lets the Philistines escape to their homes. Verses 47-48 talk about Saul’s military successes and the chapter ends with information about Saul’s family and how Saul built his army.  What does this story say about piety and action, heroism and authority, trust and moral decisions?

Read More About It:

Here are several good sources to aid your reading of 1 Samuel

Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.

Birch, Bruce C., “The First and Second Books of Samuel, in  The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.

Cohn, Robert L. “1 Samuel” in  HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.

McKenzie, Steven L, “1 Samuel”  in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Aporcryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Fully Revised 4 th Edition,  Michael Cougan, ed. (New York:Oxford University Press) 2010.

Stinespring, William F. and Burke O. Long “1 Samuel” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.

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