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19th March

1 Samuel 1-3; Psalm 78

Bible in a Year
In this article
19th March

1 Samuel 1-3; Psalm 78

Bible in a Year


1 Samuel and 2 Samuel should be read as one story beginning to end. They make up part of the Deuteronomistic books (Deuteronomy through to 2 Kings) that chart Israel’s history from outside Canaan through to the Israelites being exiled from their land. They’re called Deuteronomistic books because they are told through the lens of Deuteronomy 28 that obedience leads to blessing and disobedience leads to curses.

1 Samuel and 2 Samuel pick up the story after Judges with a new Judge to lead them, Samuel. The story then follows through as Samuel appoints a king, Saul, and then that king is replaced by a new one David.

1 Samuel 1-10 - Samuel’s Leadership

  • 1 Samuel 1-3 - Hannah

  • 1 Samuel 4-7 - Philistines vs Israel

  • 1 Samuel 8-10 - Saul becomes king

1 Samuel 11-31 - Saul’s leadership

  • 1 Samuel 11-15 - Saul’s initial success and then failings

  • 1 Samuel 16-31 - Saul’s decline and David’s rise

2 Samuel 1-20 - David’s Leadership

  • 2 Samuel 1-10 - David blessings and success

  • 2 Samuel 11-20 - David’s failing and family break down

2 Samuel 21-24 - Epilogue: Reflections on Saul and David’s reigns

As already mentioned, a key theme in 1 and 2 Samuel as part of the Deuteronomistic books is the idea that obedience leads to blessing and disobedience leads to curses. The Israelites are disobedient and are beaten by the Philistines. Saul is disobedient and so loses the throne. David is disobedient and we see his family break down. But in the areas where David is obedient, he flourishes.

The other key theme appears in 2 Samuel 7. David wants to set up a house for God’s presence to dwell. Instead, God say he wants to establish David’s house. That through David God will establish a kingdom that will be eternal. It’s here that we see those first seeds of a future king that will be a messiah that fulfils the promise to Abraham that through his descendants all the world will be blessed.

1 Samuel 1-3

A little like the book of Ruth, in the face of the corruption and chaos of Israel, 1 Samuel opens with a personal story about a young woman, Hannah. Her husband has two wives, and while his other wife is able to have children, Hannah can't. When the family went up to Shiloh to visit the house of the Lord to worship, Hannah would ask God for a child. She promised that if he gave her one, she would dedicate the child to him.

While the word Nazirite isn’t mentioned explicitly, there is an association we’re meant to see when Hannah says “no razor shall touch his head”. This son would be one set apart to live for God.

Because she was so expressive in her prayers, the priest, Eli, thought she was drunk and went to tell her off. She explained to him why she was praying, and so he sent her off with a blessing. She then gives birth to a child and calls him Samuel. She waits until he is old enough to no longer dependent on her and brings him back the house of the Lord to serve there with Eli.

Hannah then prays a prayer declaring God's good. She declares that God is the great deliverer, and only he can truly win the battle. He is the one that opens that barren woman’s womb and brings people back to life. She also challenges others to not be proud but to submit themselves to God. This prayer is the victory of a humble woman. Here, she serves as an example of how the rest of Israel should be.

Unfortunately, Eli and his sons do not live up to this example. The sons would often take the food that people would offer to God. The priests are normally allowed to take a portion of the offerings anyway, but these men would take more than they should, and would take it before it was offered because they wanted to cook it differently. In short, they were treating the things of God lightly and selfishly.

They also slept with the women who served at the tabernacle, ignoring the many of the commands on sexual purity. Their father Eli was implicit in this, because he knew it was happening and did nothing about it.

Because of this, God pronounces judgement on Eli and his family. Their disobedience leads him to curse them so that no one in their family will ever reach old age and tells Eli he will know God is speaking the truth because his own two sons will die on the same day. He then tells Eli he will raise up his own priest, one who will be faithful and good. Ultimately, it's a sad state of affairs. These are meant to be men of God, examples to others. Instead they are just as bad as the judges we've seen before.

The focus then moves to Samuel. If Eli’s sons are the epitome of disobedience and rebellion, Samuel is the epitome of obedience and faithfulness. We getting an interesting story of God calling out to Samuel and Samuel getting confused and thinking it is Eli.

It's sad that until this point Eli hasn't taught Samuel how to recognise God, but eventually Samuel calls out to God himself and God speaks to him. God tells Samuel his plan for Eli and his sons, and Samuel tells Eli the next day. From that point on, God regularly speaks to Samuel and Samuel begins to gain a reputation for being a prophet and a man of God. Even though the official priests are not being obedient to God as they should, here is a young man that is serving God well.

Psalm 78

This psalm is attributed to Asaph and falls into the category of wisdom psalm. It journeys through Israel’s history point out the cycle they fall into of rejecting God and being punished for it.

Psalm 78:1-8 - A message to be passed down generations

Psalm 78:9-39 - Round 1

  • Psalm 78:9-11 - The people forget and reject God

  • Psalm 78:12-16 - God was gracious to them

  • Psalm 78:17-20 - They rebelled

  • Psalm 78:21-39 - God pours out judgement

Psalm 78:40-66 - Round 2

  • Psalm 78:40-42 - The people forget and reject God

  • Psalm 78:43-55 - God was gracious to them

  • Psalm 78:56-58 - They rebelled

  • Psalm 78:59-66 - God pours out judgement

Psalm 78:67-72 - God chooses Judah over Israel

The psalmist starts with a call to others to listen to them. The psalmist will teach them things from years gone by that are meant to be passed down from generation to generation. Of all the great works God has done for their people.

God chose Israel to be his people and gave them commandments they were to pass on to their children. These commandments would guide them and give them hope, and hopefully each new generation would learn what the previous generations could not. How to be faithful to God.

The psalmist then starts their first round of reflecting on Israel’s history. They specifically focus on how Ephraim turned away from God, not keeping his commands and forgetting what he had done for them.

This psalm is likely written after the kingdom of Israel split in two. The northern kingdom kept the name Israel, but were sometimes referred to as Ephraim, as it was the largest and most powerful tribe of the northern tribes. The southern kingdom took on the name of Judah, their largest tribe.

Looking at Ephraim, this northern kingdom’s failings, the psalmist points to their ancestors. God brought their ancestors out of Egypt through miracles and wonders. He led them with great power and authority.

But despite this, their ancestors rejected God. They sinned against him and doubted his power to help them, despite the fact that even in the wilderness, he provided them with food and water.

So God poured out judgement on them. He continued to give them what they asked for, manna and meat, but then he crushed them. He killed the people for rebelling and eventually they turned back to him. But there was a falseness in how they returned to him. Their hearts were unchanged.

Yet despite this, God had mercy on them. Then we go back in for the second round. After all this, the Israelites once again rebelled against God. They tested him, provoked him, and forgot all that he’d done for them.

God had defeated their enemies. Recounting the plagues, the psalmist mentions the rivers of blood, the swarms of flies and locusts. The hail and thunder. God killed every firstborn in Egypt, breaking their control over the Israelites.

He led the Israelites through the sea and then drowned the Egyptians in it. He brought them through the wilderness and cleared the way of the nations before them.

But despite all this, the people rebelled again. They mocked God by worshipping idols. And so God poured out his judgement on them again. The psalmist mentions the time in 1 Samuel 4 where God allowed his tabernacle to fall into Philistine hands and his people to be defeated and killed.

And so the psalmist comes in to close. Because of their long history of forgetting God and turning from him, God has rejected the northern kingdom. Instead, he chose to dwell in the southern kingdom of Judah. In Jerusalem. He chose David to be his king, to shepherd the Israelites and lead them in what God has called them to.

The point of this psalm is to remind the people, using their history, that disobedience leads to punishment and rejection. But obedience leads to dwelling with God’s presence. The people are to remind themselves and teach their children this so that they never forget and turn away.

Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.

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