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22nd March

1 Samuel 13-14; Psalm 81

Bible in a Year
6 minutes
In this article
22nd March

1 Samuel 13-14; Psalm 81

Bible in a Year
6 minutes


So far in 1-2 Samuel we've read through the rise of Samuel. His mother, Hannah, was unable to have children, and every year when they went to Shiloh to worship at the tabernacle, she would pray to God for a son. She promised God that if he gave her a son, she would give that son back to God to serve him. Eventually, she gave birth to a son named Samuel and when he was old enough, gave him to the priest Eli to serve in the tabernacle.

We read as Samuel grew up in God's presence and grew in favour with God. But in contrast, Eli's own sons were disobedient and rebellious. As were Israel, and so God allowed the Philistines to defeat the Israelites, killing Eli's sons leading to Eli's own death. Samuel stepped up to fill the gap and led the Israelites to repentance before defeating the Philistines, giving the Israelites a new era of peace.

But as Samuel got older, the Israelites did not want his sons leading them so they asked Samuel for a king. Samuel warned them that this king would oppress them but they weren't interested. So Samuel gives them what they want and appoints a young man named Saul to be king. Saul led the Israelites to defeat the Ammonites who were waging war against them. Everything was going well, and so Samuel officially retires, warning the Israelites to continue to be faithful and obedient to God.

1 Samuel 13-14

With Saul king and Samuel stepping down from leadership, we now get some of the key battles in the early part of Saul’s reign. In the first, he and his son, Jonathon, raise up a small army each and Jonathon attacks a garrison of Philistines at Geba. The Philistines decided to fight back, but with a much larger force that the Israelites.

Samuel had told Saul to wait at Gilgal for 7 days (1 Samuel 10:8), which he did, but Samuel didn't come. Seeing the lack of decision, the people began to leave and hide, so Saul decided to take matters into his own hands and sacrificed an offering for God.

It was at this point that Samuel came and called out Saul for his disobedience. See, Saul could have asked for God's help personally. He didn't need to make an offering. But he wanted to do something big that everyone could see, even though he knew that only prophets and priests can make sacrifices.

He tried to please the crowd over pleasing God. Because of this, Samuel tells Saul that God is eventually going to take his crown and give it to someone else, better suited to be king. Saul has barely started his reign, and already he had failed.

The focus then turns away from Saul and his failings to Jonathan. Jonathan shows himself to be a man of God by stepping out in faith. He decides to go into battle, just him and his armourbearer, against a whole camp of Philistines.

And he doesn't do so rashly. He sets clear guidelines. If the Philistines come to them, they won't fight, but if the Philistines invite them up, they will. He trusted that God would show them the sign rather than just doing his own thing.

As they approached the Philistines, the Philistines invited them up and Jonathan and his armourbearer single-handedly kill 20 men, causing chaos in the camp. On seeing what is happening, Saul asks for the Ark of the Covenant to be brought forward so he can ask God if he wants them to go into battle too. But Saul quickly got impatient and decided to just jump into battle instead.

The Israelites win a great victory over the Philistines, defeating them so badly they begin to flee. At this point, Saul makes another rash and stupid decision. Because he so badly wants to defeat his enemies, he tells his men that no one is to eat until the Philistines are fully defeated. The problem is the men are weak and tired, and could do with a rest.

Jonathon, not hearing his father's command, decides to eat some honey and instantly feels better. One of the men tells Jonathon that Saul had told everyone not to eat, and Jonathon points out how foolish that was. If the men were allowed to eat they would have more energy to defeat their enemies. We see Jonathon's wisdom contrasted with Saul's foolishness.

The army defeats the Philistines, and then in their hunger, immediately slaughter some livestock and start eating it, without removing the blood first. This was a huge sin, according to the laws in Leviticus. But this sin isn't the responsibility of the men, they were starving for food. Saul's poor decision to ban his men from eating anything caused them to sin. We get our first glimpses of how a bad king can cause his people to sin.

Saul then decides he wants to go further, but after finally asking God whether they should, he hears nothing. He immediately realises that someone must have broken his vow and eaten something. After investigating a little, he realises it was Jonathon and insists that Jonathon must die.

This time, it was the men of the army that challenge Saul, pointing out the rashness of Saul's decision. Jonathon is the main reason for their success that day. So Saul changes his mind.

Saul has already been told that his crown is going to be passed to someone else, and we've seen why. So far, Saul has been impulsive and impatient, making foolish decisions based on pride. Unfortunately, this new king seems to be just the same as the judges that went before him.

Saul continues to fight Israel’s neighbours and win great victories, but he doesn’t seem to achieve peace. There’s always another battle to be fought.

Psalm 81

This psalm is attributed to Asaph, one of king David’s musicians, and falls into the category of oracle psalm. In this psalm, the worship leader gathers the people together and then God speaks through them. This psalm was likely sung during a feast day.

Psalm 81:1-5 - The worship leader gathers the people

Psalm 81:6-7 - God led them out of Egypt

Psalm 81:8-10 - God warns them to worship no other

Psalm 81:11-12 - The people did not listen, so God gave them to their enemies

Psalm 81:13-16 - If the people would listen, they would flourish

The worship leader gathers the people together, encourages them to sing to God. They are to raise their voices and up their instruments on the feast day at new moon and full moon.

We don’t read of any moon feasts in the Bible. The feasts likely developed later in the northern kingdom, after the kingdom of Israel split in two. I say the northern kingdom because the worship leader specifically identifies this feast with Joseph. Joseph, back in Genesis, was the father of Ephraim and Manasseh, which end up being the two largest tribes in the northern kingdom.

And then God enters the conversation. He reminds the people that he was the one who led their ancestors out of Egypt. He freed them of their burden and answered them in their distress. God then mentions that he tested them in Meribah. This was the second time that God has provided water for his people from a rock. We read it in Numbers 20:2-13. The problem was this time they failed the test and Moses was banned from the promised land.

God then quotes himself, sharing with the people now what he shared with the people then. He had encouraged them to listen to him and not to worship other gods. He was their God, and he would provide them with everything they needed.

But then God explains that his people didn’t listen to him and so he gave them over to their own decisions. But he still longs for them to listen and to walk in his ways. He would defeat all their enemies for them.

The final section gets a little more confusing to read, as it’s not clear who’s speaking. It looks like God speaks in the third person for a bit. God explains that those who hate him will be forced to submit him. But for God’s own people, he would feed them with good things. Just like in Israel’s past, he provided them with water from rock, now he would happily provide them with honey.

This psalm serves as a reminder to the people during a time of feast that God is the one that provides them with the good things they eat. He’s the one the brought them out of Egypt and he only asks of them that they be faithful to him. If they do then they will enjoy his favour just like they’re about to enjoy this feast. If they don’t he will leave them to their own devices.

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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