When Samuel was first written it was one book. That changed when the Old Testament was translated into Greek, a version of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. At that time, the Book of Samuel was divided into two books. 1 Samuel is the saga of Israel and their first earthly king, Saul. 2 Samuel is the saga of Israel and their king David. Today’s reading begins after David had been on the run from Saul for perhaps as many as seven years. The constant moving and trying to keep the lives of 600 men safe plus families and their livestock was no mean feat. Saul was determined to kill David and David was ready to be settled someplace. To go to Gath was genius because Saul would not go anywhere near the Philistines. That meant David was finally safe, even though he was in enemy territory. How crazy is it that David was safer in enemy territory than he was at home. Regardless of where David was, God was using everything that was happening to him to mold him into the leader He wanted David to be…just like Joseph before him.
David had been in Philistine territory before, but his life was in greater danger then and he had to act like a madman to keep himself safe. Using his best diplomatic skills David revealed to Achish, the king of Gath, he did not deserve to live in the royal city. In reality, David did not want to live there because he didn’t want the Philistines to know what he was doing. David asked for his own city and Achish gladly gave him Ziklag which was on the border of Simeon’s territory. This was a perfect place. This allowed David and his men to go out on raids, destroy people Joshua and his successors had failed to destroy, and accumulate large quantities of spoils. The people David was eliminating were most likely allies of Achish!
Over a year passed and David and his men were right at home in Ziklag, but war loomed on the horizon. Saul was gathering troops together to fight the Philistines and David and his men were prepared to fight against Saul. The Philistine commanders did not trust David, afraid he would turn and fight against the Philistines. David and his crew were sent back to Ziklag but when they arrived it had been burned down and everything…people and livestock had been carried off by the Amalekites. It was in fact the grace of God that sent David back to Ziklag so that he didn’t have to fight against Israel and have his brothers’ blood on his hands. But he did have to fight the Amalekites. Because Saul had won only a partial battle against them, they were still free to roam about and cause trouble for God’s people.
David had been making raids against the Amalekites and they knew there was war brewing between Israel and the Philistines so the focus would be there instead of what they were up to. This was the perfect time to retaliate against David. Most of the men were with David and there would be little resistance. This was a first for David and his 600 men because they had never lost a battle. Again, we see the Lord’s mercy on full display. The Amalekites spared the lives of the women and children, which was unusual. Scripture tells us David was greatly distressed. This Hebrew verb means he was pressed into a tight corner, the way a potter would press clay into a mold. Some of the people wanted to stone David, no doubt angry that he had taken them away from Ziklag and into Philistine territory. Others were tired and angry their loved ones were gone. Instead of lashing out at his men like Saul might have, David turned to the Lord. He wasn’t exactly the model of obedience either, but God answered him anyway.
David and his 600 men set off to find their families but 200 of his men were so tired they could go only part way. They stayed behind to guard the provisions. God provided an Egyptian slave who had been abandoned by his Amalekite master and the slave told David where to find the Amalekites. Amazing things happen when we turn to the Lord and then trust what He tells us. David and his men fought for an entire day and defeated the Amalekites. He and his men rescued their families and took home large amounts of spoils, along with all of their possessions. When they rejoined those who had stayed behind, the men who had fought did not want to share the spoils with those who did not fight. We will see this same attitude in the New Testament when Jesus tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard.
In the middle of this story, we find Saul, frightened enough of the Philistines to go against his own command. He had driven all the seers, mediums, and soothsayers out of Israel. Saul is desperate to speak to someone who will speak back to him. He had consulted the Lord and the Lord was silent. He wanted to speak to Samuel, but he was dead. The only option left was a medium and there happened to still be one in Endor. Of many stories in scripture that happened at night this one might be the strangest. In Israel’s darkest hour the Lord had deserted them. Except it was Saul who had deserted the Lord. Saul went to see a medium, dressed as someone else. He broke his own rule. And the medium was no dummy. She knew it was illegal to practice and said so. She didn’t want to fall into some trap. Saul assured her she would not get into trouble, but we know Saul was not to be trusted. When the medium asked who Saul wanted brought up, he said Samuel and she knew it was Saul.
What is most interesting was that she called Samuel and he showed up. She seemed truly amazed that he was there. Samuel did not come up from the realm of the dead because she was a good medium. He appeared because the Lord willed it to happen. She saw the prophet, but Saul didn’t. However, Samuel spoke directly to Saul, and not through the medium. Saul had one question…what do I do? Samuel reminded Saul that he had been disobedient to the Lord and that the Lord had torn the kingdom out of his hands and given it to a neighbor. And that neighbor was David who would inherit the kingdom. That was bad enough, but Samuel also told Saul that the next day he and his sons would be killed in battle and they would join Samuel in the realm of the dead.
Saul wanted a message, but he did not get what he wanted to hear. At the news he fell prostrate on the floor, partly out of shock and partly because he had not eaten all day. Perhaps he was fasting to try to win the good graces of the Lord. And some scholars believed there were mediums who required people to fast before they came to see them. Nothing Saul might do would change the outcome Samuel had shared with Saul. The following day the fighting was fierce between the Philistines and Israel. But the Israelites were out matched, and the men began to flee out of fear for their lives. Many were killed in what turned into a rout by the Philistines. Saul’s hour of judgement had come.
One of the rules of ancient warfare was to kill the king first. The Philistines didn’t do that. Saul’s three sons were killed first although the fourth didn’t seem to have been at the battle. And then Saul was fatally struck by an arrow. He did not die right away and commanded his armor bearer to kill him. The man refused so Saul fell on his own sword. The armor bearer followed suit. When the Philistines came looking for spoils the next day they came upon Saul and his sons. They cut off their heads and took the heads and their bodies home where they hung them on the city wall…a display of their war trophies. When the residents of Jabesh-Gilead heard about it they came by night and took the bodies down. Saul’s first military victory was the delivering of Jabesh-Gilead from the Ammonites and they people felt an obligation to vindicate Saul’s memory. They burned the bodies but did not cremate them. They only would have burned off the dead and decaying flesh and left the bones for burial. That generally only happened when the bodies were too badly damaged to be able to be washed properly for burial.
In looking at this book we see four successes and two failures. Hannah, Samuel, Jonathan, and David were the successes. Saul and Eli were the two failures. Those who succeeded were not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they were faithful, and they turned to the Lord when trouble struck. Saul and Eli didn’t fare as well. Both men struggled to see the Lord and eventually fell away from their faith. As we move through the Bible, we will continue to see both types of people. There will be times when the nation of Israel is faithful and times when they are far from the Lord. But there will always be a remnant left who will worship, praise, honor, and turn to the Lord.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W