Having been in the New Testament for a few months, we are now returning to the Old Testament and to the book of 1 Samuel.
Sunday 1st November
1 Samuel 1:1-20
As we begin this book, a few words of introduction are necessary. The first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch, from two Greek words meaning ‘five scrolls.’ The Jews call these five books the Torah (or law). These five books are crucial for understanding God and creation and the early story of Israel as a nation in covenant with God. It is here that we find God’s Law given through Moses at Sinai, including the Ten Commandments. The next twelve books in the Bible, after the Pentateuch, deal with Israel’s history. The book of 1 Samuel is fourth in this group of historical books. Originally, the books of 1 and 2 Samuel probably formed one book which was divided into two scrolls because of its length. The book of 1 Samuel tells the story of Samuel, the last and greatest of the Judges and of Saul, the first King of Israel.
Monday 2nd November
1 Samuel 1:1-10
As we see in the early verses of this passage, Hannah was deeply troubled and distressed. Her situation was not an easy one. Her husband Elkanah had two wives, Peninnah and Hannah but, as we read in verse 2, ‘Peninnah had children but Hannah had none.’ This was bad enough in a culture which valued children but her situation was made worse by the fact that Peninnah provoked her and irritated her ‘year after year’. Can we imagine what this must have been like for Hannah? The only compensation in all of this for Hannah was that her husband clearly loved her. Indeed, he gave her a double portion of the sacrificial meat offered to God at Shiloh. Sadly, Hannah was so upset by her rival’s provocation, that she would not eat it. Elkanah tried very hard to comfort her but this had no effect, so deep was Hannah’s distress and sorrow. Soon, however, the Lord would come to her and meet her need.
Tuesday 3rd November
1 Samuel 1:1-11
Hannah’s experience was the same as that of Sarah, Rebeka and Rachel before her. It was not unique but it was no less painful. This was a troubled woman. Are there troubled people among us here today? Are some of you in the midst of sorrow, anger, bitterness, anguish and grief? Perhaps not for the same reasons as Hannah but real all the same. If you are in that situation you should know that there is nothing wrong with crying out to the Lord in your sorrow and anger and bitterness. Sometimes we mistakenly think that, as Christians, we should not complain to God, that we should never be angry with God, that we should never shout out at him and to him in the midst of our bitterness and grief but we can. Don’t be afraid to cry out to God in the bitterness of your soul.
Wednesday 4th November
1 Samuel 1:9-11
In the midst of her sorrow, Hannah still had faith in her God. We find her praying to the Lord at the end of verse 10 and then in verse 11 she takes a vow before God. Hannah believed that God could change her situation. She had faith in God. Notice three things about her faith. First, it was rooted in the knowledge of God. She did not have faith in just any God, she had faith in the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Faith in anyone or anything else except the living God is without value and without effect. The second thing to notice about Hannah’s faith is that she knew God could change her situation but there was no presumption. Faith in God means to place ourselves in God’s hands, trusting him but also trusting that in any situation we cannot guarantee that God will do as we ask. The third thing to notice about Hannah’s faith is that it involved a commitment to action. In verse 11 she said to God that if he answered her prayer, she would dedicate her child to the Lord’s service. This was not an attempt to bribe God or anything like that, it was simply a recognition that when God acts on our behalf we have a responsibility to serve him. Do we have faith like that?
Thursday 5th November
1 Samuel 1:9-20
In these verses we see Hannah’s prayer and its results. Picture the situation. Hannah is standing in the temple to God at Shiloh, pouring out her heart to God in silent prayer. The old priest Eli saw her and completely misunderstood the situation, thinking that she was drunk. Hannah convinces Eli that she was not drunk but was in fact in fervent prayer before the Lord and he responds by saying ‘Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.’ In the course of time, God answers Hannah’s prayer and a boy was born. We’re told that she named him Samuel because the Lord heard her prayer. Our situations will probably be very different from that of Hannah but the core message of the story is the same: God answers prayer.
Friday 6th November
1 Samuel 1:1-20
We read the whole passage again today to underline the core message about prayer. Prayer is effective because we are coming before a God who answers prayer, in and through his son Jesus Christ, who himself told us to pray. Hannah’s prayer was answered and our prayers can be answered too. But we must be as serious in our prayers as she was, and not casual or careless. Arthus Wallis put it like this: ‘A man is no bigger than his prayer life… In that coming day when the hearts of men are revealed, a day which is now nearer than when we first believed, there will be some ‘big men’ who will appear very small, and some we had thought small will appear as spiritual giants. How different are spiritual values when God takes them from the balances of human judgement and weighs them in the balances of the sanctuary.’ How do we stand when judged in that light?
Saturday 7th November
1 Samuel 1:20-28
Hannah says that she had named her son Samuel, ‘Because I asked the Lord for him’. Now this godly woman fulfills a promise she had made to the Lord. She had said that, if the Lord gave her a son, ‘then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life’ (verse 11). So she takes Samuel to Eli at Shiloh, makes the appropriate sacrifice according to the law and presents her son to Eli for the service of God. We have already seen that Hannah was a woman of prayer. Now we see that she is a woman who keeps her promises and fulfills her vows to the Lord. Have we made promises to God (or before God) that we have not kept? Then we must seek his forgiveness.
Sunday 8th November
1 Samuel 2:1-11
In this prayer of Hannah we see a woman who truly knows God and has grasped something of his character. Notice particularly verse 2: ‘There is no-one holy like the LORD; there is no-one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.’ This tells us what God is in himself (Holy), it tells us what God is towards his people (a Rock) and it tells us that there is no other God. She also says in verse 3: ‘the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed’. The more we know God, the better we can pray. Hannah knew a great deal about God and worshipped him. Too many prayers ask for things and not enough prayers worship God, with knowledge and understanding.
Monday 9th November
1 Samuel 2:12-17
Eli was a good and godly man but, as we learn in these verses, his sons were not. Indeed, we are told that they were ‘wicked men’. Through greed they cheated and threatened people who came to offer sacrifices before the Lord. They did not follow the requirements of God’s law. As we read in verse 17, ‘This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’s sight, for they were treating the LORD’s offering with contempt’. It is always sad when the children of believers go astray and do not worship the Lord. It is even worse when they pretend to be believers, while being concerned only for themselves and their own profit. The Lord, however, is not mocked and judgement would follow. God sees everything we do.
Tuesday 10th November
1 Samuel 2:18-26
Samuel ministered before the Lord and God blessed his parents with five children, in answer to the prayers of Eli for them. Meanwhile, Eli discovered the sin and immorality of his two sons and challenged them but they ignored him. There is a chilling statement in verse 25: ‘His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the LORD’s will to put them to death.’ The Lord had passed judgement on them for their sin and so did not grant to them the grace of repentance, that they might turn back to the Lord and find forgiveness. This is a warning not to trifle with God and the things of God.
Wednesday 11th November
1 Samuel 2:27-36
A man of God came to Eli and prophesied judgement upon his house and all his descendants. He also prophesied that Eli’s two sons would die on the same day. The honour of serving before the Lord would be taken away from Eli’s family and given to others. The reason for the judgement is summed up in verse 30: ‘Those who honour me I will honour, but those who despise me will be disdained’. Sometimes when we read the Scriptures we read of God’s judgement and to our fallen, human minds, it seems harsh but God is always just. We are so marked by sin that we do not understand what sin looks like in the eyes of a holy God. Only when we see things from God’s perspective can we understand his actions.
Thursday 12th November
1 Samuel 3:1-10
This is the famous passage that many of us have known since childhood, where God speaks to Samuel. Three times God called Samuel and each time he went to Eli, thinking it must have been him who was calling. It was only after the third occasion when Eli realised that this was the voice of God. At this time, we’re told that ‘Samuel did not yet know the Lord’. He certainly knew about God, since he was working in the temple under Eli but he did not yet have a personal knowledge of God. He was like so many people today who know the Bible stories about God but have never come into a personal knowledge of God, a personal relationship with God. We might say that this was the day of Samuel’s transformation into a child of God. Do you know God in a personal way?
Friday 13th November
1 Samuel 3:1-21
We read the whole chapter today, to notice what it teaches us about the word of God. First of all, verse 1: ‘In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions’. It was a barren period when God’s word seemed to have been withdrawn. Then in verse 7: ‘Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.’ Samuel still had to discover the word of God but notice, it had to be ‘revealed’. We might read the Bible but without the Holy Spirit we will not recognise it as God’s word. Next, we have verse 19: ‘The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground’ and verse 21: ‘The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word’. These verses show us that God used his word to teach Samuel and so that Samuel might grow up to become a man of God. It is the word of God which nurtures and matures us as believers.
Saturday 14th November
1 Samuel 3:11-21
We don’t know what age young Samuel was at this time but imagine how he must have felt as God described what was going to happen to the house of Eli. He was just a boy, yet he had been selected to serve as the mouthpiece of God for the whole nation of Israel. Eli, being the man of God he was, asked Samuel to tell him what God had said and not to spare his feelings. Having heard the judgement, it is a tribute to his faith that Eli said, ‘He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes’. This is similar to what Job said in the midst of his many troubles: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised’ (Job 1:21). Is our trust in the Lord such that it sustains us in times of great difficulty and even tragedy? The young man Samuel, meanwhile, went on to become a mighty man in the hands of God, as we read in verses 20-21.
Sunday 15th November
1 Samuel 4:1-11
The Israelites lost in battle to the Philistines and 4,000 men were killed. They couldn’t understand why God had allowed this, so they brought the Ark of the Covenant from Shiloh, along with Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas. The Philistines were scared because they had heard what the Lord had done to the Egyptians but they went into battle and defeated the Israelites again. This time 30,000 Israelites were killed. Worse still, the Ark of the Covenant was captured. In the midst of all this, in fulfilment of the word God had spoken to Samuel, Eli’s sons were both killed. We see here a pattern which continues throughout Israel’s history: when the people were right with God, then victory came but when they were disobedient, defeat came.
Monday 16th November
1 Samuel 4:12-22
When Eli hears the news about the death of his sons and about the capture of the Ark of the Covenant, he fell backwards off his chair, broke his neck and died. Then his daughter-in-law died giving birth, naming her son ‘Ichabod’ (literally ‘no glory’) for, as she said, ‘The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured’. The Ark of the Covenant was a symbol of the presence of God among his people. They understood that the living God could not be contained in the Ark but that was where God has chosen to ‘presence’ himself, to be among his people. For the Ark to be captured was an overwhelming tragedy. God, however, remained the sovereign ruler of the universe, working all things out for the good of his people and for his own glory, as would soon become apparent.
Tuesday 17th November
1 Samuel 5
The God we worship is a sovereign God. That is the message of 1 Samuel 5. In this passage we see something of the awesome power of Almighty God. These Philistines experienced the judgement of God. They had stolen the Ark of the Covenant and God was not pleased. These Philistines did not realise who they were dealing with. They had never come across a God with such power. God made his displeasure clear, as we see from verses 6, 9 and 11. Verse 6: ‘The LORD’s hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation upon them and afflicted them with tumours.’ Verse 9: ‘So they moved the ark of the God of Israel. But after they had moved it, the LORD’s hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumours.’ Verse 11: ‘So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.” For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy upon it.’
Wednesday 18th November
1 Samuel 5
In this chapter God struck down those who had captured the Ark. The actions of God ought to make us fear him. The Psalmist calls us to fear the Lord (see Psalm 33:8-11). In Deuteronomy 10:12-13 Moses addresses the people and also tells them to fear God. If we ask what it means to ‘fear the Lord’ we must turn to Deuteronomy 6:1-3. In that passage there is a connection stated: ‘so that you… may fear the LORD your God… by keeping all his decrees and commands’. How do we fear the Lord? By keeping his commands. This is not the cringing fear of the person who is being hurt or abused. Rather, it is fear in the sense of awe, respect and submission. In other words, the fear of the Lord is the recognition that our very lives are in his hands. If people realised this, they would act differently.
Thursday 19th November
1 Samuel 6
In chapters 4 and 5 of 1 Samuel we read of how the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant of God. God judged the Philistines for this act and wherever the Ark went, it brought trouble on its captors. It was quickly passed from pillar to post and nobody wanted it because people had heard what God had done to those who accepted it into their towns. As we come to 1 Samuel 6, we discover that the Philistines had had enough. They called for their priests and diviners and asked them what they should do, and how they could get the Ark of the Covenant back to its rightful place. They were told what to do and followed the instructions they were given. The Ark was duly returned. This led to great celebrations. God had acted to bring his Ark home to Israel. Notice, God did this without help from the Israelites. We sometimes think that God is dependent upon us but, of course, the opposite is the case.
Friday 20th November
1 Samuel 6
We read this chapter again today to reflect on the holiness of God. The Ark is returned but unfortunately, some of them were more curious than was good for them. They knew that the Ark was to be revered and that no-one except the priest was to look inside but many of them took the opportunity to treat the Ark (and its God) with disrespect, disobeying the clear commands of the Lord. As a result many of them died. It was not only the Philistines who would be judged for treating the Ark of the Covenant with disrespect. In verse 20, after they had experienced the heavy hand of the Lord in judgement, we read this, ‘the men of Beth Shemesh asked, “Who can stand in the presence of the LORD, this holy God?”‘ Notice those words because this passage tells us that God is holy. Holiness describes what God is like in and of himself. That is to say, it tells us that the essential characteristic of God is holiness. The Bible tells us many things about God but when everything else is stripped away, holiness is what characterises God.
Saturday 21st November
1 Samuel 7:1-4
In these few verses we see a description of true repentance. In verse 2 of our passage we are told that the people of God ‘mourned and sought after the Lord.’ First of all they ‘mourned.’ The Lord had allowed their enemies to defeat them because of their sin but now they recognise that sin and seek to turn from it. Second, they ‘sought after the Lord.’ There was a determination to seek God’s face and seek God’s forgiveness. If we take these two together, the turning from sin and the seeking the Lord, we have repentance. They genuinely turned away from their sin and they turned to the Lord. Both are necessary. To turn away from sin but without seeking the Lord would be like turning over a new leaf – we would be depending upon our own will power and would soon fail again. To seek the Lord but without forsaking our sin would also be ineffective. We cannot seek God’s face while continuing to live in ways which are contrary to his will and law.
Sunday 22nd November
1 Samuel 7:3-9
Here Samuel, as the great Judge and leader of Israel, makes intercession for the people before God. First (verses 3-4) he says that if their turning to the Lord is genuine then God would deliver them from the hands of their enemies. That is God’s promise to the people of Israel, made through Samuel. The people having pleaded with Samuel, he now prays for them. Notice verse 5 of our passage: ‘Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah and I will intercede with the LORD for you.”‘ Then read the second part of verse 9: ‘He (Samuel) cried out to the LORD on Israel’s behalf, and the LORD answered him.’ The most neglected weapon in the armoury of every Christian is prayer. We have all these examples in Scripture of how God acted in response to prayer yet we don’t take that seriously enough. Do we believe that God answers prayer?
Monday 23rd November
1 Samuel 7:10-17
In verses 10-11 we see how the Lord delivered Israel from the Philistines. There can be no doubt but that God comes to the aid of his people when they cry out to him. Think of the Exodus, the stories of the Judges and so on. Can God answer our prayers to deliver the Church in the west today from the sin, liberalism, denial of the truth of Scripture, immorality and plain disobedience which is everywhere evident? Of course he can. He is the all-powerful God. More than that, he has demonstrated in the past what he can do. Notice verse 12: ‘Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the LORD helped us.”‘ That is it in a nutshell. Just as the Lord has helped us before, so he will help us again.
Tuesday 24th November
1 Samuel 8:1-5
We come this morning to one of the most significant points in the history of the people of Israel. This passage marks the transition from leadership by Judges to leadership by Kings. As our chapter opens we find the elders of Israel coming to Samuel and asking for a king. The first reason for this request was a real dissatisfaction with Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah. They were dishonest men who took bribes and perverted justice. The second reason why the elders of Israel wanted a king is found in verse 5: ‘appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.’ Their first reason for wanting a king, the wickedness of Samuel’s sons, was perhaps a good reason. They wanted the leadership of the nation to be placed in better hands. This second reason, however, was much more serious. They wanted to be like the other nations. The problem was that they were not like the other nations, they were God’s chosen people. The desire to be like others, when God has called us to be different, always leads to compromise and sin.
Wednesday 25th November
1 Samuel 8:6-21
Samuel was very displeased by the request for a king, indeed he was angry with the people. It would seem from verse 7 that he regarded their request as a rejection of his leadership. God had to reassure him that the request for a king was really a rejection of God. At God’s command, Samuel told the people all that a king would do and what he would cost them and the problems he would bring to them but they would not listen. Samuel’s leadership was nearing the end and nothing would ever be the same again for Israel. Indeed, after the death of the third king, Israel would split into two separate nations and ultimately both nations would go into exile. No wonder that Samuel was grieved and that he tried to persuade them against this idea but all to no avail. Do we ever choose our way instead of God’s way?
Thursday 26th November
1 Samuel 9:1-17
The significance of this passage is that we meet Saul for the first time, the man who would become the first King of Israel. Who would have thought that some lost donkeys would lead to Samuel identifying the first King of Israel? The Providence of God is very mysterious. Sometimes a seemingly random sequence of events can lead us to the place where God meets with us and our lives are completely changed. As far as Saul was concerned, he was simply obeying his father’s instructions to take one of the servants and go look for the lost donkeys. In fact, God was bringing him to Samuel. God does not work his purpose by interfering with our freedom. Saul’s father made a decision, Saul accepted it and the search for the donkeys began. As far as they were concerned, they had made decisions and were following out the consequences of those decisions. Behind it all, however, God was working out his purpose. Do we see God at work in the circumstances of our lives?
Friday 27th November
1 Samuel 9:18-27
Although this passage describes the first meeting between Samuel and Saul, the really important point of the story is what God is doing. When we read the previous passage, we noted that God led Saul to Samuel by the most unusual circumstance of the lost donkeys! Now we see more of God’s preparation. The day before Saul arrives, God speaks to Samuel and tells him what to do. Samuel is surprised to have been expected (the special portion of meat which had been set aside for a special guest the day before)! He also cannot understand why he should be treated in this way because he was from a small tribe and an unimportant family. The message is that God, in his sovereignty, prepares the way. Remember, God does not just act in the cases of important people like Saul and Samuel but in each of our lives. How is God leading you?
Saturday 28th November
1 Samuel 10:1-8
Samuel takes Saul aside privately and, as God’s representative, anoints Saul as King. This was done privately because a day would come when he would be chosen by the people and a formal coronation would take place. Samuel then made three prophesies about what would happen in the next day or two in order to confirm the truth of the anointing and to reassure the young man Saul as to what he ought to expect. All of this was designed to reassure Saul that what Samuel had said was true and that he really was God’s anointed one. Then Samuel makes the most important statement of all: ‘The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person.’ This surely bears comparison with 2 Corinthians 5:17, ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!’
Sunday 29th November
1 Samuel 10:9-27
In this passage the Holy Spirit comes upon Saul. This raises a question: Is the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament different from the work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament?
In the Old Testament a significant part of the work of the Holy Spirit was to come upon prophets and kings and leaders and to anoint them with power and to enable them to fulfil their function and do what was expected of them. Thus the Holy Spirit came down upon Saul when he became king. Due to his sin and disobedience, however, the Holy Spirit was later taken from him. This is to be distinguished from the other work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. He reveals God, through prophecy and the giving of the Scriptures and he works in individual lives, in renewal and sanctification. All of this is to be distinguished again from the work of the Holy Spirit after Christ, when he takes all that the exalted Christ has down and applies it to believers. Everything has changed because Christ’s work is completed and Jesus has been exalted. Now he sends his Spirit upon his people. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit comes in power on all believers and he continues this work today. Every Christian has been baptised in the Holy Spirit and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Monday 30th November
1 Samuel 11
Yesterday, we saw that the Holy Spirit came upon Saul in power and God changed Saul’s heart. In this chapter, we see that the Spirit comes on Saul again, this time to prepare him for battle. In particular, the Holy Spirit gave him courage for this task. In 10:25, when Samuel wanted to publicly proclaim Saul as king, he was nowhere to be found. Eventually they discovered him hiding behind the baggage. In this chapter we find him calling the nation together and leading them in battle against their enemies. Can this really be the same man who was hiding, afraid to come out? It was very important that the king was a man of courage and so that was what God by his Holy Spirit made him. A king in those days had to be a warrior king. He was the one who would lead the people into battle, defend them from their enemies and so on. That was the kind of king the people wanted. God prepared and equipped him for the task. In the same way, God prepares and equips us for every task he calls us to undertake.