Chapter 1

The Story So Far

Weddings—wonderful celebrations! Dressed in our finest, we visit with family and friends and make new acquaintances. We sing, flash pictures of bride and groom, witness the exchange of vows, and enjoy a feast. During the reception, speeches are made and we usually hear some funny stories about the bride and groom. But sometimes wedding speeches don’t get the expected laughs. Ever been confused by the best man’s one–liner that made the groom break into hysterical laughter? Although we understood the words that were spoken, we weren’t familiar with the larger story of their friendship that made the quip so funny. With a little more background, we all could have enjoyed the joke!

That’s also true for the stories of the Bible. God has set the individual scenes and characters (such as the story of David and Goliath) into larger stories (such as the one found in the book of 1 Samuel). And each of these stories are part of a still–larger story—God’s grand story of redemption, stretching from Genesis to Revelation. Before we can fully appreciate the story of David and Goliath, we need to consider what has already happened in the biblical story.

God has set the individual scenes and characters into larger stories, and each of these stories are part of a still-larger story—God’s grand story of redemption.

By the time David faces the giant, we are well into the grand story of the Bible. We have read how, although given the place of honor in God’s creation (Genesis 1:26–28), human beings chose to rebel against their good God by disobeying his direct command (Genesis 3). Despite this betrayal, God responds with grace and a promise to rescue his people from sin and its consequences. This promise is first glimpsed in Genesis 3:14–15, where “the LORD God” promised that One born in the ancestral line of the first woman would crush the head of the deceitful serpent.

As the story continues, humanity’s rebellion intensifies (Genesis 6:5). But graciously, God’s promises grow alongside humanity’s failures, as he reveals more and more about his commitment to and redemptive intentions toward humanity. In fact, we are told that God’s plan would one day bring blessing to people from all around the world (Genesis 12:3).

We also have read of challenges and seemingly insurmountable obstacles to those promises. Cain the murderer proved that he was not the promised hero, and the promise was further jeopardized by childlessness of many of Eve’s descendants. God’s promise was confronted by an unbroken pattern of sin in the children who were entrusted to carry his promise forward.

In the midst of these challenges, God proved faithful. He miraculously orchestrated the birth of Isaac to elderly Abraham and Sarah. But progeny wasn’t enough. He worked in the hearts of their descendants to shape their character. For example, Judah, who was a key player in selling his brother Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:27) and who had been living corruptly (eg: Genesis 38) would, later in life, experience God’s transformation and offer his life in place of his brother (Genesis 44:18–34). Near the end of Genesis, Jacob’s dying blessing (“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,” Genesis 49:10) suggests that Judah is at the center of God’s promised redemption plan.

Genesis demonstrates that though humanity had gotten themselves into a mess they could not fix, God was committed to doing something about it. He would bring redemption through someone born in the lineage of Eve, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, and Judah—someone who would carry a ruler’s staff.

As readers of the Bible, there’s much to relate to in the story so far. We feel the truth that things in life—both in our hearts and in our life–circumstances—are twisted by the weight of sin. We long for something that we can’t quite put our finger on. As we read the Bible, we learn that God created us to be in relationship with him, we begin to understand he is our heart’s desire. Each story in the Bible is driving toward the climax of this great longing.

We learn that God created us to be in relationship with him, we begin to understand he is our heart’s desire. Each story in the Bible is driving toward the climax of this great longing.

As the Bible’s story builds, then, every time a baby is born, we wonder if this child will carry forward or even fulfill God’s promise of rescue from sin and its effects.

At the beginning of 1 Samuel, a miraculous birth is recorded. Hannah gives birth to Samuel. The logical assumption would be that since the book was named after him, and his birth was a clear miracle, he must be the hero of the story of 1 Samuel, and maybe even the hero of the grand story. But in Hannah’s song (found in 1 Samuel 2), we learn that the birth of this child would bring salvation for God’s people in a particular way. In 1 Samuel 2:10, Hannah concludes her song exulting in the LORD, who “will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” In the story that follows, Samuel grows up to become a priest and a prophet. But according to 1 Samuel 2:10, the real hero would be a king! Remember God’s promise that Judah’s descendant would carry a ruler’s staff (Genesis 49:10)? In other words, what God reveals through Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:10 builds on his earlier promises in the book of Genesis, clarifying his rescue plan.

The coming king who will be anointed by the LORD and strengthened by him to work mightily is the prescription lens that clarifies the rest of the book. In our blockbuster movie, Samuel could be nominated as “Best Supporting Actor” for his role of setting the stage for the entrance of our hero. Reading on in 1 Samuel, we’re anticipating a king who will be anointed by the LORD for his devoted service, and strengthened by the LORD to defeat those who oppose him. Samuel will be great, but as Best Supporting Actor. His role prepares the way for the coming king.

Raised in the house of the LORD by Eli the priest (1:24–28), with annual visits by his parents (2:10, 18–19), Samuel grew into someone great. While the sons of the priest were ungodly (2:12), Samuel grew both physically and “in favor with the LORD and people” (2:26). As a faithful priest (2:35), Samuel offered sacrifices for the sins of the people, and as a prophet (3:19–21), his word went out to all Israel (4:1). When Israel was defeated by the Philistines (4:2), Samuel called the people to put away foreign gods and return to the LORD (7:3–4). He was a public figure, a holy man, and a great spiritual blessing to Israel (7:15–17).

However, Samuel was not the one, the promised king (2:10) who would be anointed by the LORD. Near the end of his life, the people of Israel asked Samuel to appoint a king for them (8:4–5), and Saul was chosen for his physical, not his spiritual attributes (9:2). God had Samuel anoint him as king in response to the people’s request (9;17; 10:1), though Saul lacked courage (10:22). His reign began well, as he led battles against the Philistines (13:4), but he rebelled against the LORD, so his days as king were numbered (13:8–15).

We have been promised a king who will be God’s instrument of salvation. We have met Samuel, a great man—a priest and a prophet, but not the anointed king. Then we meet Saul, who is anointed king, but he proves unable to live up to God’s promises of a coming Savior–king. What is God up to? What will he do next?

After definitively rejecting Saul as king (chapter 15), the LORD sent Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint one of his sons as king (chapter 16). David, the youngest and smallest, was overlooked by his family, but was chosen by God because “the LORD looks at the heart” (16:7). David was anointed by Samuel, but his official reign would not begin until Saul’s death. In the meantime, David serves as Saul’s personal musician and armor–bearer (16:21–23). All the while, we wonder if David could be the one promised in 1 Samuel 2:10, the anointed king who will save God’s people. 1 Samuel chapter 17 will tell us about the great victory of a young David and its impact on the people of Israel as a whole.

Questions for Reflection

1. In light of what you have learned in this chapter, take some time to read Genesis 1–3 and 1 Samuel 1–16. What other details in these chapters help you understand the background story that sets the stage for the David and Goliath story in 1 Samuel 17?

2. What does the story in 1 Samuel 1–16 teach you about the importance of character over external appearances in God’s eyes?

3. What are some difficulties in your life that might lead you to long for God’s rescue?