During November, December and January, we were reading through 1 Samuel. Having taken a break from those readings during February, when Dougie Wolf led us through some readings in John’s Gospel, we now return to complete 1 Samuel, taking up the story at chapter 26.
Tuesday 1st March
1 Samuel 26:1-8
Saul continues to regard David as an enemy who threatens his kingship and so he sets out with three thousand men to find and kill David. David, however, goes with one other man, finds his way into Saul’s camp and finds them sleeping. Saul was at his mercy and Abishai, who was with David, wanted to kill Saul immediately with one thrust of his spear. Given that David had been told by Samuel that he was to be the next king and given that Saul was pursuing him with a view to killing him, could David be blamed for taking advantage of this situation? When we face moral dilemmas, how do we choose our course of action? Do we always consider what God expects of us? Or do we take the action which most benefits us?
Wednesday 2nd March
1 Samuel 26:9-11
David is quite clear that to kill Saul is wrong. He may be a wicked king, whom God had now rejected, but he was still the king and therefore the ‘Lord’s anointed’. David recognised (verse 9) that if he killed Saul he would be guilty before God. From a human point of view, to kill an enemy might be legitimate but David was obedient to a greater authority and his morality was based on a higher code, the law of God. One of the problems we face today is that many men and women neither respect nor obey the law of God and feel able to make up their own morality as they go along, as if human beings had the ability to determine right from wrong. As David knew, only God can determine what is right and good and acceptable.
Thursday 3rd March
1 Samuel 26:12-16
We see two things here. First, the reason why no-one woke up and saw David when he took Saul’s spear and water jug was that the Lord had made them fall into a deep sleep. In other words, God was with David, protecting him and watching over him. Second, having returned to his own camp, David taunts Abner, who was responsible for the king’s security. These two points highlight the two sides to every human event, the human side and the divine side. From a human point of view Abner was indeed responsible but, from a divine point of view, Abner was not responsible at all because the Lord had put him into a deep sleep. In every event of our lives there is an interaction between the human and the divine (remember the story of Joseph).
Friday 4th March
1 Samuel 26:17-21
Now King Saul hears David’s voice and becomes involved in the conversation. David pleads his innocence and, at face value, Saul admits that he was in the wrong. He says, ‘I have sinned’ and encourages David to come back home. We know from the rest of the story, however, that Saul could not be trusted. To say ‘I have sinned’ is fairly easy but to repent of that sin and walk in a new way is much harder. How many times have we admitted our sin before God (or before another person) and then within a short time committed the same sin again? Confession of sin must be followed by repentance (turning from sin to God) otherwise it is simply words and therefore worthless.
Saturday 5th March
1 Samuel 26:22-25
David and Saul exchange final greetings in which Saul says that David will be blessed and will accomplish great things. David arranges for the return of Saul’s spear and reaffirms his recognition of Saul as the Lord’s anointed. Perhaps the most significant statement here is in verse 23: ‘The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and faithfulness’. When we use the words ‘righteousness’ and ‘faith’ we are normally speaking about the means by which we are placed in a right relationship with God: justification by faith. Here, however, it refers to the righteousness and faithfulness of believers in their walk with God. Do we live in a ‘righteous’ way? Are we faithful to God in our daily lives?
Sunday 6th March
1 Samuel 27:1-7
Despite all that God has done for David, this chapter marks David’s decline into unbelief. Notice what we read in the first verse: ‘David thought to himself, “One of these days I shall be destroyed by the hand of Saul.”’ Saul had tried to kill David several times and each time the Lord had delivered him. God had promised David, through Samuel, that one day he would be king of Israel. On numerous occasions, God had shown David mercy and favour but now he begins to think that Saul will win in the end and that he will kill him. Now from a purely human point of view, we can perhaps understand something of what David is feeling. He has been under great strain. Saul has several thousand men hunting for David with a view to killing him. There have been several narrow escapes. He and his men have been living rough in the mountains, on constant alert against the enemy and they must have been tired and often afraid. Nevertheless, it is sad to see him reach the point. After having seen God’s providential care over many years, have we ever come to doubt him?
Monday 7th March
1 Samuel 27:1-7
Today we read these verses again, to underline the importance of reliance upon God. Just because someone is a believer does not guarantee that they will not backslide and fall into sin because our strength is not in ourselves. When we become Christians, God does not give us an entire store of grace and power to last us our whole lives. He expects us to draw these resources down daily. This is what Jesus said in John 15:4-5: ‘Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’ David doubted God, ceased to depend on God and ceased to draw his spiritual strength from God and so he descended into sin. Are we relying upon God and drawing down all the spiritual strength that we need for each day?
Tuesday 8th March
1 Samuel 27:8-12
We have seen that David began to doubt God. Today we see that this doubt led David into some very sinful actions. Since he feels he can no longer trust in God, he begins to trust in himself and in his own schemes. First, he goes to the land of the Philistines, where he thinks he will be safe. Here is the man who would later become the greatest king Israel ever had and where is he to be found? He is hiding among the enemies of Israel because he does not trust God to keep him safe from Saul’s attacks. He and his men attack and plunder and when Achish asks him where he was raiding, David lied. Then, in case anyone from the towns he was raiding should tell anyone the truth, he engaged in genocide, murdering men, women and children in every town he attacked. Can we see where David’s lack of trust in God has led him? We must learn from this. When we doubt God, it will always lead us into sin.
Wednesday 9th March
1 Samuel 27
In reading the whole chapter today, we can see that the experience of David is one that we can all recognise. When we begin to neglect the things of the faith, our lives begin to return to the old ways and we gradually decline, not only in our faith but also in our morality. Professor Blakie says that sin is like an enemy who is trying to capture a city. At first he deals with the small surrounding villages, which might seem of little importance but before long he has gained a strong base from which to make his final assault on the city itself. In the same way, says Blaikie, sin at first ‘hovers about the outposts of the soul’. Perhaps we allow our minds to contemplate what it would be like to sin in a particular way, or perhaps we harbour lustful desires. At first it is all in the mind and we pretend to ourselves that it is harmless but ultimately it leads to actions which take us deep into sin. That is why it is vital for us to remain in Christ and so to draw daily spiritual strength from God.
Thursday 10th March
1 Samuel 28:1-4
As our chapter opens, we find everything shaping up for a major battle between the Israelites and the Philistines. There had been many smaller engagements between their forces, affecting one or two towns or one wider area. This, however, was the big one, this was the occasion when all Israel would be called out to fight the largest Philistine force they had ever faced. Even David, who had been enjoying the protection of King Achish was drawn into the battle on the Philistine side although, as we shall see, he was sent away because the other Philistine leaders did not trust him. The important point, however, is that this was no skirmish, this was to be a massive battle which would determine the very future and survival of the Israelites or the Philistines. In this crisis, we see the final decline of Saul. There is a famous saying which goes, ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’. The idea is that in a great crisis, a leader emerges who shows bravery and wisdom, in order to save the day. In Christian terms, we might say that God provides the gifts needed for the most difficult of situations. In earlier days, Saul had these gifts but they had been withdrawn. This is the beginning of the end for him.
Friday 11th March
1 Samuel 28:4-6
We are told that when the battle lines were drawn, the Israelites were faced with the seriousness of their situation. As we read in verse 5, ‘When Saul saw the Philistine army, he was afraid; terror filled his heart.’ It was clear to Saul that the Philistine army ranged against him was superior to his own forces and he was terrified. Saul decides to ask God for guidance but there was silence. As the passage says, ‘he enquired of the Lord… but the Lord did not answer him.’ Saul now finds himself in a terrifying situation. He faces an overwhelming enemy and God is silent. Notice, although Saul enquired of the Lord God, there is not the slightest evidence of repentance, confession of sin, or anything that might have helped to restore his relationship to God. He was in trouble, so he wanted help from God but he remained a man in rebellion against God. It was too late. Saul had turned away from God long ago and God had judged him and rejected him as king.
Saturday 12th March
1 Samuel 28:7-10
Since he could not get God to speak to him by the normal means, Saul decides to consult a witch. This was an astonishing decision and shows how desperate Saul had become. The law of God (see Leviticus 19:31) forbids consultation with fortune tellers and mediums. Saul knew this. Indeed, in verse 3 of our chapter we’re told that, ‘Saul had expelled the mediums and spiritists from the land’. He knew what was right and what was wrong but, in a moment of desperation, he decided to consult a medium, known as the ‘Witch of Endor.’ Saul goes in disguise to consult the woman, taking two men with him. She is terrified, thinking that it is a trap and needs much reassurance before she will go on with the business. Notice, she is terrified of Saul and his pronouncement against mediums and spiritists but she seems to have no fear of God and his law. The fear that comes from evil is one thing but the fear of God is something else entirely. Neither the woman nor Saul feared God. Do we fear God?
Sunday 13th March
1 Samuel 28:11-14
The woman asks Saul who she should call up and is told Samuel. Samuel had been the one who appointed Saul as king and guided him in his early period of kingship, while he was still humble enough to accept help and guidance from the Lord’s servant. Ultimately, however, Saul had disobeyed the clear teaching of God, set a path for himself contrary to God’s command and Samuel had turned his back on him and refused to visit him again. Saul knew that if anyone would tell him the truth it was Samuel so, even though he had failed to listen to him during his life, he now wants to speak to him in death. The woman describes a man she ‘sees’ coming and, from the description, Saul knows that it is Samuel. Samuel then speaks. Tomorrow we shall consider the meaning of this event. Today we must simply recognise the danger of such activities. Those who are fascinated by horoscopes, or get their palms read ‘for a bit of fun’ or use ouija boards, or consult a medium should be aware of the danger in which they place themselves.
Monday 14th March
1 Samuel 28:11-14
Before we consider what is said by Samuel, we must ask what really happened in this incident. Christian commentators on this passage have presented two different views. Some commentators believe that this was a mere apparition or that it was Satan who appeared, disguised as Samuel. After all, this woman is engaged in devilish pursuits and surely did not have the power to bring a saint of God down from heaven. The devil pretends to be Samuel and speaks his message. Other commentators agree that the woman had no power to bring Samuel down from heaven and agree that she was an agent of the devil but they suggest that it really was Samuel who spoke. They point out that the woman herself was more surprised than anyone else when Samuel appeared and that the things Samuel said tied in with what he had said to Saul during his life. They argue that God had permitted a supernatural appearance of Samuel. I am inclined to this second position because it does seem to make most sense of the text.
Tuesday 15th March
1 Samuel 28:15-25
When Samuel speaks, it is not the message which Saul wanted to hear. Samuel makes it clear that because of Samuel’s earlier disobedience, God was about to bring his kingdom to an end and David would take his place. Saul would be defeated by the Philistines and Israel would be handed over to her enemies. Even more chilling was the promise that by the very next day Saul and his sons would be dead. Saul discovered that he could not play games with God. He discovered that God’s patience sometimes reaches an end point. He discovered that when God pronounces judgement, it is real and awful to contemplate. As the writer to the Hebrews says, ‘It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’ Let’s be sure that our understanding of God is firmly based on his self-revelation in Scripture, rather than a nice description of what we would like God to be like. He does and will judge.
Wednesday 16th March
1 Samuel 29
In this chapter we see a wonderful example of the sovereign providence of God. David was asked by King Achish to join him in the battle against the Israelites but the other Philistine leaders insisted that Achish send David back to Ziglag. They didn’t trust him. Now we might think that David would have been pleased at this outcome because it released him from a considerable dilemma, enabling him to avoid fighting against his own people. Yet David was not pleased. This wish to go and fight against Israel underlines the fact that this period of exile away from Israel, living among the Philistines, was David’s lowest point spiritually. He had been treated very badly by Saul and perhaps he thought that once Saul was defeated he could go back home in peace. Happily, the sovereign providence of God was at work and prevented David being on the side of the Philistines in a battle against his own people, the Israelites. This was to be the battle where Saul would be killed. How could David have become king if he had been part of the army which killed the Lord’s anointed? How would David have been viewed by the Israelites? God was at work here.
Thursday 17th March
1 Samuel 30:1-5
In our modern world we are familiar with the terrible things that happen in war and conflict situations. Not long ago many young girls were captured by rebel forces in Nigeria. The same has happened in other places. In these verses before us today, we see a similar situation. While David and his men were away, the Amalekites raided Ziglag and carried off all the women and children and old people, the ones left while the men were away. David and his men were distraught and wept until they had no tears left. We saw yesterday the way in which God’s providence was at work in preventing David fighting against Israel. Here we see another example of the same providence. If David had gone to war against Israel and not returned to Ziglag when he did, then he would have been too late to go after the Amalekite raiding party which had burned his city and taken all of the women and children as plunder. God intervened and so rescued the situation for David.
Friday 18th March
1 Samuel 30:6-8
Some of the men were talking about stoning David because he had taken them away from the city and left it vulnerable. We read, ‘each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters’. David, however, in his deep distress, sought the Lord. He called the priest and enquired of the Lord as to what he should do. The Lord answered David and told them to pursue the raiders and that they would be successful. Two points here. First, notice that David did not set off with his men until he knew the mind of God. Many of us make the mistake of choosing a course of action, setting off and asking God to bless our plans. Instead we ought to listen to God first before making our plans. Second, see the contrast with Saul, who enquired of God and found silence. God listens to his faithful ones and leads them.
Saturday 19th March
1 Samuel 30:9-20
David and his men find an Egyptian, the abandoned, sick slave of an Amalekite. He agrees to take David and his men to the raiding party of Amalekites. Battle commences and all of the Israelites who had been captured were recovered, as was all of their flocks and property. Once again we see the remarkable way in which God blessed and protected David and gave him victory over his enemies. This underlines a truth that we find again and again in the Old Testament, namely, no-one can successfully stand against the Lord and his covenant people, unless the covenant people are themselves under the judgement of the Lord. We should take heart from the fact that God, in his sovereign power, is greater than any opposition that we might face in living the life of faith.
Sunday 20th March
1 Samuel 30:21-31
Despite seeing the gracious hand of the Lord at work, some of David’s men were greedy and selfish. In fact they are called ‘evil men and troublemakers’. They were refusing to share the plunder with the 200 men who had been too exhausted to go into battle and had remained at the Besor Ravine. David insisted that they have their share and made it a rule for Israel in all future conflicts that those who remained with the supplies were to have equal shares in the plunder. This shows David to have been a just and fair man. It also shows up in a bad light the characters of some of his men. As Christians, we should be just and fair in all of our dealings. God has blessed us richly and so we should seek to bless others.
Monday 21st March
1 Samuel 30:21-31
We noted yesterday that these verses demonstrate David to have been a man who was just and fair. We also see in these verses a generosity which goes beyond simple justice for those who could not physically take part in the battle. Here we see David distributing some of the plunder taken from the Amalekites to many of the towns where David and his men had been. Professor Blaikie likens this to the rich generosity of the Lord himself: ‘It is a most blessed and salutary thing for you all to cherish the thought of the royal munificence of Christ. Think of the kindest and most lavish giver you ever knew, and think how Christ surpasses him in this very grace as far as the heavens are above the earth. What encouragement does this give you to trust in him!’
Tuesday 22nd March
1 Samuel 31:1-2
The battle was fierce, the Philistines were strong and Saul’s three sons were killed. One of these, Jonathan, has played a significant part in the story but now meets an unhappy end. Jonathan was a good and wise man but he was caught in an impossible situation. David was his friend, and Jonathan knew that God had decided David would be king. He was willing to step aside from his rightful place as heir to the throne in favour of his friend. Nevertheless, he was his father’s son and was loyal to his father right to the end, dying alongside him. Even righteous people will suffer when their nation comes under God’s judgement. The problem with Jonathan was that he had mixed loyalties. He wanted to be loyal to God but also loyal to his father. Ultimately this was not possible. Sometimes we have to make a choice between personal loyalties and loyalty to God. Sometimes a relationship or a friendship can get in the way of our commitment to God. Standing firm for God must not be compromised.
Wednesday 23rd March
1 Samuel 31:3-6
Here we see the end of Saul’s reign as king. The Israelites are joined in battle with the Philistines and are losing badly. The Philistines advance and Saul’s sons, including Jonathan, are killed. Saul realises that it is only a matter of time before he himself will be captured or killed. He does not want to end up in the hands of the Philistines (no doubt aware of the barbaric acts they might inflict upon him) so he asks his armour bearer to kill him. The terrified man refuses and so Saul falls on his own sword. A tragic end to a tragic life. His death was the result of decisions taken much earlier. Make no mistake, sin has consequences and disobedience to God will ultimately result in tragedy of one kind or another. Saul was a military king, proud and boastful, a despot both in his family and kingdom. He was jealous and vindictive. Saul did not stand for God, he stood for himself. He was more interested in his own succession, his own dynasty, than in serving the God who had chosen him as king in the first place.
Thursday 24th March
1 Samuel 31:7-13
When the deaths of Saul and his sons was discovered by the Philistines, they were overjoyed. Saul’s body was desecrated and displayed as a trophy. As we read in verse 9: ‘They cut off his head and stripped off his armour, and they sent messengers throughout the land of the Philistines to proclaim the news in the temple of their idols and among their people’. Then the bodies of Saul and his sons were taken into the temples of the pagan gods and so these pagan gods were thought to have triumphed over the God of Israel. It was only when the men of Jabesh Gilead heard about this that the bodies of Saul and his sons were recovered, cremated and buried. What a tragic end to a story which had such a fine beginning. Saul started well and seemed to be a man of God. He did not end well. To begin with God is one thing, we must also persevere to the end.
Friday 25th March
1 Samuel 3
Having completed our readings in 1 Samuel, we now take two days to reflect on the key figures in the book, namely Samuel and David. We begin with Samuel and read again chapter 3. Samuel was the last and greatest of the Judges. He was also a priest and a prophet, much used by God and he led the people of Israel faithfully for many years. This man stood firm for God through thick and thin. There was only one time when he wavered and that was when the people asked for a king. Samuel was very angry with the people but God allowed the people to have a king, against Samuel’s wishes. How did he respond? Well he did what God told him. He appointed Saul as king and later David. Sometimes in the church people think that standing firm means making sure that nothing ever changes, as if the traditions of the past should last forever. That is not standing firm for God, that is just keeping things the way we like them and the way we’re used to them. We must be open to God doing a new thing and not be left behind. There are some people who take great pride in ‘standing firm’ when in fact they may be holding a church back from seeing all that God wants to do. When God did something that Samuel didn’t like (giving the people a king) Samuel accepted this. He did what God wanted, even when it was contrary to his own wishes and intentions. It is easy to stand firm for God when what we want coincides with what God wants, it is much more difficult if God asks us to do something we don’t want to do
Saturday 26th March
1 Samuel 17
In concluding these readings, we reflect on David and read again the story of his triumph over Goliath. What can we say about this man? David stood firm for God, despite his failures and sins, and became king. To stand firm was very costly, he was exiled and hunted and in danger. Perhaps the main lesson about David is that, although he weakened in his faith for a time (when he convinced himself that Saul would kill him and ran off to live among the Philistines), he learned his lesson and came back foursquare to serve God. How do we react to sin and failure? Do we assume that God can never use us again? Do we go into a corner and feel sorry for ourselves? Do we convince ourselves that we can never again stand firm for God? The way in which we deal with failure will determine the course of our lives. Every one of us will sin and will fail and will let God down. The real sign of faith is what we do in those situations. We live in difficult times when it will be costly to stand for Christ. Like David, we must stand firm but, if we fall down, then we must brush ourselves off and get up on our feet again.
Sunday 27th March
With five readings before the end of the month, it seemed fitting that we might reflect on some of David’s sayings in the Book of Psalms. His life as a soldier and later a king was complemented by his writing. In modern parlance, they would say ‘he had a hinterland’. In other words, in the midst of many troubled times, he was able to reflect and to worship and to write beautiful, God-given poetry. Here is one example, written when David pretended to be insane to escape Achish King of Gath (1 Samuel 21:13). Psalm 34:8: ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.’ David knew that the only way to discover the love and goodness of the Lord was to ‘taste and see’. It is as we entrust ourselves to God that we discover all the riches of his grace. We must take that step of faith.
Monday 28th March
This Psalm shows David’s God-centred attitude to life. There are five expressions in the first nine verses which underline this. First, in verse 3: ‘Trust in the Lord’. We must not not put our trust in anyone or anything else, other than God. Second, in verse 4: ‘Delight in the Lord’. This helps us to see that the life of faith is one of joy and delight and not simply one of obedience. This is reflected in the first question and answer of the Shorter Catechism. Q. What is man’s chief end? A. To glorify God and to enjoy him for ever. We are to enjoy God and delight in him. Third, in verse 5: ‘Commit to the Lord’. There is all the difference in the world between an occasional dalliance and real commitment. Commitment is permanent. Fourth, in verse 7: ‘Be still before the Lord’. Taking time before God, often in silence, with the Bible open before us, helps us to hear and know more of our God. Fifth, in verse 9: ‘Wait for the Lord’. Do not run ahead of God, do not lack behind but wait before him, seeking his will and guidance.
Tuesday 29th March
David describes his experience in this Psalm. The first three verses are well known and often sung: ‘I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God’. Most of us can identify with that experience. It may describe our conversion experience, when we first came to know God through Jesus Christ. Or it might refer to a particularly difficult moment in our lives when we thought all was lost, until the Lord came to our rescue and lifted us up into his presence and filled us with joy. It makes me think of a parent coming to the rescue of a small child caught in the mud and terrified. The parent reaches down, the child is recued, hugged and cleaned up. The Lord cares for us like a Father caring for his children.
Wednesday 30th March
This is the psalm David wrote after the prophet Nathan had confronted him concerning his adultery with Bathsheba and his complicity in the death of her husband (2 Samuel 12). People react in different ways when their sin is pointed out. Some react angrily, denying the sin ever happened. Others try to justify their actions, saying that no-one has the right to criticise them. David reacted by recognising his sin and by falling down before God seeking forgiveness. The words of verses 1-2 are most expressive and provide an example of how we ought to respond when we have sinned. David understood that only by the mercy and love of God could he be forgiven. He knew that he needed cleansing. For us today, the need is the same. The only difference is that God sent his Son to die on the Cross and so we must look to the blood of Christ to cleanse us from sin.
Thursday 31st March
This was written at a time when David was being pursued by his enemies and was in danger of his life. There are several verses which, taken together, indicate David’s belief that God could and would rescue him from all. These verses provide a refrain (or chorus) repeated in the Psalm. First, in verse 3: ‘When I am afraid, I will trust in you’. Second, in verse 4: ‘in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?’ Then third, in verse 11: ‘in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’ There will be times in our lives when we are afraid. There will be times when we feel that the whole world is against us. There might even be times when we face attack for our faith. In all of these circumstances, David shows us what we must do – trust in the Lord.