Yahweh yields to the demand of his people and has Samuel, prophet and last judge, anoint Saul of Benjamin as Israel’s first human king (1 Samuel, chs. 9-10). Previously, both Yahweh and Israel had understood him to be Israel’s king.
Initially, Yahweh is with Saul. When the Ammonites threaten to gouge out the eyes of every Israelite in Jabesh-Gilead, Yahweh inspires Saul and the people of Israel to defeat the Ammonites (ch. 11).
After this victory, Samuel speaks to the people of Israel. He tells them that if they and their king will heed the words of Yahweh and remain loyal to him, all will go well. This is quite a concession on Yahweh’s part, since they had rejected Yahweh as their king and had instead expressed loyalty to Jupiter for insisting on a human king. Yahweh confirms Samuel’s words with thunder and rain, signs of his presence, and “all the people greatly feared Yahweh and Samuel” (12:18).
Samuel reassures them that Yahweh will not abandon them because he is different in from Jupiter and other false gods. Samuel also reassures them that he will continue to teach them the ways of Yahweh and pray to Yahweh on their behalf. Against Jupiter, Samuel establishes his authority as a witness to Yahweh distinct from and superior to that of the king (vs. 22-25).
Saul feels the pressure of events: a large Philistine army with superior weapons threatens Israel. The soldiers with him begin to desert. Rather than waiting for Samuel as told, Saul offers a burnt offering to Yahweh with the goal of rallying his troops.
Immediately after Saul offers the sacrifice, Samuel arrives. Samuel tells Saul that he has sinned. Loyalty to Yahweh means discerning and affirming the words Yahweh speaks today. Samuel also tells Saul that Yahweh, in response to Saul’s disloyalty, has chosen someone else, someone loyal, to serve as king of Israel (ch. 13).
Soldiers of Israel also challenge Saul’s authority. Saul curses anyone who eats before he defeats the Philistines in battle. Unknown to Saul, his son Jonathan has already won a daring victory against the Philistines with Yahweh’s help. Because Jonathan had not heard Saul’s curse, he had eaten some honey. When Saul finds out, he wants his son executed. The soldiers refuse to do so (ch. 14).
Samuel tells Saul that Yahweh wants Saul and his army to attack and destroy the Amalekites. Saul defeats them but, contrary to the word of Yahweh, he spares their king and the best of their animals. When confronted by Samuel, Saul explains that he is going to sacrifice the animals to Yahweh. Samuel replies that, to Yahweh, obedience to his living word matters more than sacrifices. Again, to hear and obey Yahweh’s word today matters more than conforming to a moral code based on yesterday’s word. Samuel tells Saul that because he rejects Yahweh’s word, Yahweh rejects him as king (ch. 15).
Yahweh then sends Samuel to Bethlehem and has him anoint David as king over Israel (ch. 16). David then spontaneously confronts the giant Philistine Goliath. David assures Goliath that victory in battle does not belong to Mars and weaponry but to Yahweh alone. Yahweh agrees and, to everyone’s surprise, Goliath falls (ch. 17).
Clearly Yahweh is with David. Then Saul’s son Jonathan covenants with David and Saul’s daughter Michal falls in love with David and marries him. Even the people celebrate in popular songs David’s greater military victories. So Saul grows envious, afraid, and hateful of David and commits himself to David’s murder (ch. 18).
Samuel dies (ch. 24). The Philistines press hard against Israel with renewed vigor. Saul cannot get a word from Yahweh, whether in a dream, from the priests, or through a prophet. In desperation, he consults the dead Samuel through a medium. Samuel tells him what he already knows: Yahweh has abandoned him, his sons, and thousands of his soldiers to death at the hands of the Philistines—the next day. As predicted, the Philistines kill Saul, sons, and soldiers in battle (chs. 28, 31).
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