Long Live the King: What I Noticed When I Read the Books of Samuel

Wes  —  March 14, 2018
  • Sumo

When someone became king in Israel, a priest would pour oil on that man’s head and he would then be known as the Lord’s “anointed.” The Hebrew word for “anointed” is “messiah.” So this is the story of two messiahs, Saul and David. When I started this Bible reading plan, I mentioned I would be following the Hebrew structure, in which books like 1 and 2 Samuel are actually one book. Here are a few of my observations from the books of Samuel

Notice the Contrasts

In order to understand the message of Samuel, it seems to me, you must constantly be looking for the contrasts throughout the story. In fact, the second verse of the book mentions a contrast, “Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.”

The next major contrast is between Eli and Samuel. Because Eli’s sons are horribly wicked and Eli does not restrain them, the Lord tells him, “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to what is in my heart and in my mind. And I will build him a sure house, and he shall go in and out before my anointed forever.”

But the primary contrast is between David and Saul. When we first meet both men, they are taking care of their fathers’ animals. However, Saul has lost his father’s donkeys and cannot find them, while David fends off a lion and a bear to protects his father’s flock. Saul is a coward who hides in the luggage, but David is a warrior who fights giants. In fact, a song of contrast is mentioned several times, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”

Notice the Comparisons

There are also several subtle, and not so subtle, comparisons throughout the story. One of the obvious comparisons is that Israel wants to be just like the other nations. The thing that is supposed to set Israel apart is that the Lord is their warrior King. He fights their battles for them, but the people of Israel say they want to “be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” Saul becomes another living example of corrupt human kings.

Saul is also compared to earlier judges of Israel. For example, Saul makes a rash vow, like Jephthah, promising to kill anyone who eats anything before he has had victory over his enemies. Unfortunately, Saul’s son Jonathan ate some honey, so Saul swore to keep his promise and kill his son. Thankfully, the godly people of Israel redeemed Jonathan’s life so he was not put to death.

Two Messiahs, Two Kingdoms

Throughout most of the first volume, there are two anointed kings in Israel. There is Saul, a man after the people’s own heart. And there is David, a man after God’s own heart. Or to put it another way, Saul’s kingdom is an earthly reign, but David’s kingdom is a heavenly reign. When David was at his best, we got just a small taste of what it might be like for the Lord God to truly reign through a “messiah.”

These two kingdoms existed side-by-side for many years. The messiah after God’s own heart gathered to himself, “everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul.” But Saul persecuted David unrelentingly. Surprisingly, in submissive humility, David would not raise his hand against Saul, because Saul had also been anointed by the Lord to serve a purpose.

The Beginning of the End

Sadly, even David was not the perfect messiah. He was probably as close as any man ever came, but he gave into temptation. In the weakness of his flesh, he lusted, fornicated, murdered, enslaved, and trusted in the strength of chariots and armies. In the end, David turned out to be somewhat like other human kings; and in his lifetime we already see the cracks starting to form in Israel. We begin to see some of the things which will eventually lead to Israel’s exile.

Yet David gave us a tiny glimpse of what it might be like for the Lord to reign over the earth through a man. His strength makes us say, “Perhaps there is a human who could do the job,” but his weakness makes us say, “No, the only one who can reign is the Lord.” It turns out, of course, both of those sentiments are correct.

The Implications

To me, the implications of this story are incredibly important. We live in a time when there are two kingdoms. There is the kingdom of the earth (which has countless manifestations around the globe) and then there is the kingdom of heaven. Though the kingdom of earth has been anointed by God to carry out a task in the world (Romans 13:1-7), that ought not to be the kingdom to which God’s people give their allegiance.

God has anointed His own Son to be the Messiah of the whole world. The Lord God is reigning through a divine human being, who is the first a new creation. We are the people in distress and debt and bitter in soul, who have been gathered to Him. Like David, and like our own King, we humbly submit to earthly rulers and refuse to raise our hand against them in rebellion, but our allegiance is to heaven’s King and our citizenship is in the heavenly kingdom.

As we wait for the reign of human kingdoms to come to an end, we patiently endure and we sing to the Lord, “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations” (Psalm 145:13). 

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams