The books of Samuel and Kings form a basic foundational study in the Old Testament.1 An understanding of this basic history is essential, not only to understanding the Old and New Testaments, but in gaining a valid perspective of eschatological issues as well.
Together the two books of Samuel explain Israel's transition from loosely associated tribes led by local "judges" to a unified nation led by kings. They cover the history of Israel from the last quarter of the 12th century b.c. to the first quarter of the 10th.
The book of 1 Samuel was really the story of Samuel, the last of the judges, and the transition to a king, with the dismal career of Saul. Samuel, Israel's last and greatest judge, was also a prophet2 and a priest.3
This first book of Samuel can be outlined as the story of two men, though the Biblical focus soon shifts from the flawed Saul to his more godly successor, David.
There are also many practical lessons in exploring these two basic Old Testament books. In the earliest chapters of 1 Samuel, we find a painful lesson God taught to His people Israel, and through them He teaches to us.
Israel had failed to treat God with respect. Even Eli permitted his own sons to defile the priesthood. It's clear that Eli failed with his sons. But ironically, Samuel himself also had a similar failure! We read that Samuel appointed his grown sons as judges, but that they "turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice."4 Samuel personally was a godly person, dedicated to God from his childhood. Yet, how do we explain his failure with his sons? Do godly parents always produce godly children?
Consider the following excuses:
- Busy parents don't give enough time to their children.
- Godliness in parents is not attractive to children.
- Godly parents expect too much of their children and turn them away.
- Godly parents are a good influence but influence cannot determine what a person will become.
- Children, like parents, have to make their own spiritual commitments.
What do you think?
The Ark of the Covenant
The people also tried to manipulate God by bringing the ark to the battlefield "so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies."5 This was basically a pagan view of the ark, and they failed to sense that it was only a symbol, pointing to God, with no magical or divine power in itself. Yet the ark was associated with God; it had been set apart to God, and as such was a holy thing.
The Philistines discovered that Israel's God was supreme when He judged them and their god for treating the ark as a victory trophy (in what has to be one of the most humorous passages in the Old Testament!).
And when God's own people failed to show respect for the holy, they too were struck down. Why? Because Israel desperately needed to recover a sense of the holiness and the power of God. Only when the people of God honored Him again could He bring His people blessing.
Another of the most instructive incidents (especially to those of us considering audacious ventures) is the provocative instance of Jonathan and his armorbearer.6 This almost defines the concept of spiritual boldness!
And what a contrast this was to Saul and his failure to follow Samuel's instructions regarding King Agag and the Amalekites!7 This error cost Saul his kingdom.
Echoes in Later History
When we get to the Book of Esther, we encounter a dramatic contest between the evil Haman, Xerxes' prime minister or vizier, and Esther's benefactor, Mordecai.
It is interesting that the villain of the narrative, Haman, was an "Agagite," a royal Amalekite, the last of his proud house to occupy a position of influence and power,8 and thus a descendant of the Agag whom Saul had failed to kill, and the reason he lost the kingdom.
The hero of the narrative, Mordecai, was a descendant of Shimei, 9 whom David declined to have killed.10 If David had let Abishai kill Shimei, perhaps the drama of Haman's attempt to exterminate the Jews might have ended differently!
The Reign of David
In 2 Samuel we enjoy the career of the greatest king whose perpetual dynasty is climaxed in none other than the Messiah Himself! Understanding God's commitment to David is fundamental to understanding the New Testament and virtually all eschatological issues. Furthermore, David is, in many ways, a personal example to us all. He alone was called "a man after God's own heart." (Why?)
David's accomplishments as Israel's ruler are unmatched. 11 David's rule was strong and aggressive and his accomplishments were unparalleled. Other men of history have demonstrated military and administrative capacity, but David overshadows them all by the breadth and depth of his ability. To cap it all, David is one of the great men of faith. His personal qualities and faith provide examples for believers of every age.
But perhaps even more important, he is an anticipatory type of Jesus, who will rule as God's coming King. In what ways was the kingdom of David prophetic of that of Jesus Christ?
The Davidic Covenant
One of the most important passages in all of Scripture is the unique commitment that God announces through Nathan regarding the eternal dynasty of David:
Also the LORD telleth thee that he will make thee an house. And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.
2 Samuel 11-16
It was this very throne that was confirmed by Gabriel to Mary:
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
The Scepter of Judah
This rulership of the tribe of Judah was prophesied as early as Genesis when Jacob prophesied over each of the twelve tribes. Among these seemingly cryptic riddles, the best known one concerns the royal tribe of Judah:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.
The term "scepter" refers to their tribal identity and the right to apply and enforce Mosaic Laws and adjudicate capital offenses: jus gladii. It is significant that even during their 70-year Babylonian captivity (606-537 b.c.) the tribes retained their tribal identity.12 They retained their own logistics, judges, etc.13
The term "Shiloh" was understood by the early rabbis and Talmudic authorities as referring to the Messiah.14
The Scepter Departs
In 6-7 a.d., King Herod's son and successor, Herod Archelaus, was dethroned and banished to Vienna, a city in Gaul. Archelaus was the second son of Herod the Great.15 The older son, Herod Antipater, was murdered by Herod the Great, along with other family members. (It was quipped at the time that it was safer to be a dog in that household than a member of the family!)
Archelaus' mother was a Samaritan (1/4 or less of Jewish blood) and was never accepted. After the death of Herod (4 b.c.?), Archelaus had been placed over Judea as "Entharch" by Caesar Augustus. Broadly rejected, he was removed in 6-7 a.d. He was replaced by a Roman procurator named Caponius. The legal power of the Sanhedrin was immediately restricted and the adjudication of capital cases was lost. This was normal Roman policy.16
This transfer of power is mentioned in the Talmud17 and by Josephus:
After the death of the procurator Festus, when Albinus was about to succeed him, the high priest Ananius considered it a favorable opportunity to assemble the Sanhedrin. He therefore caused James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, and several others, to appear before this hastily assembled council, and pronounced upon them the sentence of death by stoning. All the wise men and strict observers of the law who were at Jerusalem expressed their disapprobation of this act... Some even went to Albinus himself, who had departed to Alexandria, to bring this breach of the law under his observation, and to inform him that Aranius had acted illegally in assembling the Sanhedrin without the Roman authority.
Josephus, Antiquities, 20:9
This remarkable passage not only mentions Jesus and His brother James as historical figures, it also underscores that the authority of the Sanhedrin had already been passed to the Romans.
When the members of the Sanhedrin found themselves deprived of their right over life and death, they covered their heads with ashes and their bodies with sackcloth, and bemoaned, "Woe unto us for the scepter has departed from Judah and the Messiah has not come!"18 They actually thought that the Torah, the Word of God, had failed! They should have known better.
The scepter had, indeed, been removed from Judah, but Shiloh had come. While the Jews wept in the streets of Jerusalem, a young son of a carpenter was growing up in Nazareth. He would present Himself as the Meshiach Nagid, Messiah the King, on the very day which had been predicted by the Angel Gabriel to Daniel five centuries earlier.19
Some Self-Test Questions
This brief teaser cannot do justice to these critical historical books of 1 and 2 Samuel, but we hope we have stimulated you to undertake an in-depth study of them. Here are a few "prods" for you to consider:
- How could Samuel anoint a member of the tribe of Benjamin when Jacob had predicted that Judah would be the royal tribe, 20 and the Book of Ruth predicted the line of the David?21
- Why would Ahithophel, David's private counselor, later turn against him by encouraging Absalom's rebellion?22
- In Psalm 51, David prayed, "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me."23 Can we pray that? Why not?24
- And what does the strange episode with the Witch of Endor25 teach us about the occult?
- Even the familiar account of the defeat of Goliath has deeper overtones than most of us are probably aware of.26 (Why did David pick up five stones when he crossed the brook to face the giant? The answer is in an accompanying article on the post-flood Nephilim!)
God always rewards the diligent student: we pray you will have a fruitful journey through these fascinating foundational books.
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