One of the most unfortunate divisions of text in Scripture into chapters and verses has to be the division between First and Second Samuel. Chapter and verse numbers are a much later invention that we use to help find particular Scriptures. Sometimes they accurately reflect the natural structure of the text and sometimes they get it wrong. Add to this the unfortunate division of Samuel and Kings each into two books and the interpreter would miss such things as the fact that 1 Samuel 28-2 Samuel 1 is a unit. And not only is it a unit but it is the climax of the single book of Samuel. Samuel is intended to be read as ONE BOOK, not two.
So far we have covered 1 Sam 1-20. 1 Sam 21-27 shows us Saul vs. David, the wilderness years. We have already seen David’s exodus from the house of the evil king and know that eventually he will enter the “promised land” (so to speak) but for now he is in the wilderness. Just as it points back to the exodus story, it therefore points forward to the story we will see with Jesus.
Some points of similarity with the exodus narrative are these: Israel had manna to eat as the priest will provide David and his men with holy bread (1 Sam 21:1-6), Israel was opposed by Edom as Doeg the Edomite (who is pro-Saul) opposes David (1 Sam 21:7, 22:11-19), just as the Ammonites and Moabites did not give Israel bread or water, so Nabal the Calebite would not give David bread or water (1 Sam 25:11).
David = the true Israel as a type of Jesus who is the true Israel. Also like Jesus, others in the nation sought to betray him to his death.
This section brings us closer to the kingdom shifting from Saul to David. As Leithart puts it, “When Saul attended the feast where Samuel anointed him, he received the priestly portion of the sacrifice, and one of the signs that confirmed his appointment was the gift of bread. Similarly, the priests at Nob filled David’s hands with bread.” This bread was holy bread that the priests alone could ordinarily eat. David’s men were not just clean (kept from women), but they were holy – they had been consecrated as temporary priests for the war (something like a Nazirite vow).
At Nob, David takes up the sword of Goliath (1 Sam 21:9), then flees to Goliath’s hometown of Gath, acts like he is insane in front of the king of Gath after being recognized, and fled and found refuge for his family with the king of Moab.
The people of Gath even say, “Is not this David the king of the land?” (21:11). The Gentiles treat David better than the people of Israel and they have enough insight to see that David is the true king and not Saul.
In the next scene, Doeg the Edomite at the command of Saul killed 85 priests and then destroyed their city and killed everyone and everything in it except one of the priest’s sons named Abiathar escaped and fled to David’s protection. The priests had plausible deniability because David had told them that he was doing something for Saul. This raises interesting ethical questions about whether David was right to mislead the priests here and to deceive the people of Gath by acting insane.
Chapter 23 shows us David as the true savior of Israel. Of course, I say this understanding that the ultimate savior is YHWH God. And that is clear in the text as David inquires of YHWH twice and twice (so you know the outcome is certain) YHWH says that He will save Keilah. “So David saved the inhabitants of Keilah” (1 Sam 23:5). Saul should have gone to save Keilah but only shows up when he hears that David is there. Throughout the chapter David shows restraint with his fellow Israelites rather than attacking his enemies within the nation. This means he will often flee when necessary.
In chapter 24 we see David spare Saul’s life. He cuts off the corner of Saul’s robe when Saul was in a cave going to the bathroom. David then tells Saul that he is not out to get Saul and swears that he will not utterly destroy Saul’s house (which fits the covenant he just made with Jonathan in chapter 23). Thus the chapter begins with “cutting off” from the robe and ends with Saul asking David not to “cut off” his descendants.
It was wrong to cut off the corner of the robe. The robe, even Saul acknowledged, would one day pass to David. David deserved the corner that he took, but it was wrong to take it. The robe symbolized the office and so David cutting the robe was an attack on the office of the king of Israel. Saul had earlier done this to his adoptive father Samuel (1 Sam 15:27).
Chapter 25 opens by noting the death of the prophet Samuel but the chapter is mostly about David’s dealings with Nabal (a worthless man) and how Nabal’s wife Abigail provided David and his men with food.
This confrontation with Nabal is at the center of chapters 24-26, with the conflicts with Saul coming before (ch.24) and after (ch.26) it. This chapter will show us that not only should David not kill Saul because Saul is YHWH’s anointed but because David should not become king with the blood of his fellow Israelites on his hands.
An interesting aside: Nabal is Laban spelled backwards (in both English and Hebrew). There is a parallel between Jacob and David throughout the text that I am not highlighting too much, but just wanted to point out here because Nabal is the Laban of the David story. That Jacob is a type of David is no surprise since Jacob is Israel and David is the true Israel.
In chapter 25 David learns by experience to wait upon the Lord for vengeance. Abigail kept him “from bloodguilt and from avenging [himself] with [his] own hand” (25:33). YHWH had restrained David from hurting Abigail and her family. The next morning when Abigail told her husband Nabal (she calls her husband a fool, his name means fool) what had happened and “his heart died within him, and he became as a stone and about 10 days later YHWH struck Nabal, and he died.”
David learned the lesson as he says, “Blessed be YHWH who has avenged the insult I received at the hand of Nabal, and has kept back his servant from wrongdoing. YHWH has returned the evil of Nabal on his own head.”
This has been a theme of this section. David had said to Saul, “May YHWH judge between me and you, may YHWH avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you” (1 Sam 24:12) and Saul said, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil” (1 Sam 24:17).
Actually the words “good” and “evil” are more frequent in chapters 24-26 than the rest of 1 Samuel. The words bring to mind the tree of testing – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is because David’s wilderness experience is a time of testing like Jesus. He is tempted to be impatient and go ahead and grab the power that was going to be his. David would have been tempted to be like Ehud and kill the enemy on the toilet, or to kill Abigail’s husband who was also provoking him, or to kill Saul the second time. But he was to wait on God.
In chapter 26 David spares Saul’s life a second time. And Abishai who had gone with David said, “God has given your enemy into your hand this day. Now please let me pin him to the earth with one stroke of the spear, and I will not strike him twice” (1 Sam 26:8). However, David is not going to kill Saul. “YHWH will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish,” David says (1 Sam 26:10). In chapter 27 David returns to live with the people at Gath where he fled to the first time during this section.
Throughout these chapters David inquired of YHWH through the priests (cf. 1 Sam 22:10), through the prophets (1 Sam 22:5), and as himself a king (1 Sam 23:2, 4, 10-11). In the next section, Saul will inquire of YHWH and YHWH will not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets and so Saul would inquire of the dead prophet Samuel using the witch/medium of En-dor. Here the theme of asking, which was present from the birth of Samuel (see the meaning of his name discussion) continues. In fact, the verb often used for “inquires” in this section is sha’ul (a pun on Saul).
And the text attributes David’s survival to God, as “God did not give him into [Saul’s] hand” (1 Sam 23:14). The events described in these chapters do not hide the fact that God is working behind the scenes. The humiliation of David, with God, will be followed by exaltation. The exaltation of Saul will come to a humiliating end. David is the true savior of Israel, but he was rejected by the people of Israel (e.g., 1 Sam 23:19) for Saul whose only interest was attacking David and not for saving Israel from the Philistines.
But David was not a sinless savior. This is highlighted especially by his taking a second wife. 1 Sam 25:40-42 he takes Abigail as his wife. The next verse adds Ahinoam of Jezreel was his wife and the next verse mentions that Saul took his daughter Michal back and gave her to another man. This means that David is no longer to inherit the kingdom from Saul by marriage. He is no longer Saul’s son. This is likely meant by YHWH as a judgment for David taking more wives. Even though David will become king, this will be one of his most prominent faults (i.e. Bathsheba) and it will lead to problems with his children.
The second section we will look at briefly (1 Sam 28-2 Sam 1:27) is the climax of the book of Samuel. When we get to the end of Samuel we will look back on the three poems in more detail. The poems are found in the opening section, the climax of the book (cf. 2 Sam 1:19-27), and the ending section.
The poem here at the climax is David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan. It was a poem that the people of Judah were to learn. Here we see David the psalmist at work. It is the lament of a son for his father and brother. The death of neither was to be celebrated – only mourned.
Chapter 28 shows us Saul seeking the witch-medium of En-dor. Remarkably, Saul had done right at first: “Saul had put the mediums and the necromancers out of the land” (1 Sam 28:3). But when he saw the Philistines gathered to wage war against Israel “he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of YHWH, YHWH did not answer him…” (1 Sam 28:5-6). Even “inquiring of YHWH” is a good step.
Saul had done such a good job of ridding the land of mediums and necromancers that the witch of En-dor said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and necromancers of the land. Why then are you laying a trap for my life to bring about my death?”
If only this were true, instead Saul made a foolish oath that she would not be punished for doing this even though Deuteronomy is very clear that the reason YHWH was driving out these nations from the land was that they were doing these kinds of abominations. Saul has become Canaan.
The witch of En-dor then brought up the soul of Samuel – David’s John the Baptist – whom Saul recognized because of the way his clothing was described. You find this description in 28:14 and another OT John the Baptist in 2 Kings 1:8.
And Samuel interprets the failure of YHWH to answer Saul as YHWH has turned from Saul and become his enemy. Thus the dead Samuel tells Saul that YHWH has torn the kingdom out of Saul’s hand and will give it to David. And Saul continued by obeying the witch and eating rather than fasting and repenting.
Chapter 29 repeats the song concerning Saul and David a third time: “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Sam 29:5). Here we see David ready to fight on the side of the Philistines against Israel and Saul. But the Philistines rejected him, except Achish. Achish testified, “I know that you are as blameless in my sight as an angel of God” (1 Sam 29:9). This keeps David, the true Israel, from shedding the blood of his fellow Israelites.
In chapter 30 the Amalekites raided and captured David’s wives and many others. The text highlights the fact that “David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel” (1 Sam 30:5). This reminds us of the flaw of David. The people even spoke of stoning him because of their anger about the capture of their wives and children. But David “strengthened himself in YHWH his God” and “inquired of YHWH” using the priest’s ephod and got an answer. David then was able to recover everything that the Amalekite raiders had stolen including his two wives.
Chapter 28 – Saul finds out he will be defeated because he did not destroy Amalek
Chapter 29 – The Philistines reject David
Chapter 30 – David is victorious against Amalek
Chapter 31 – The Philistines defeat Saul
Chapter 31 then tells us about the death of Saul and 2 Sam 1:1-16 tells us about David getting the news. David executed the Amalekite that said he finished Saul off.
The turning point of the book of Samuel then is the death of Saul.