Through the Bible in a Year: 1 Samuel 16-20

This Week’s Readings

Monday, May 14: 1 Samuel 1-5
Tuesday, May 15: 1 Samuel 6-10
Wednesday, May 16: 1 Samuel 11-15
Thursday, May 17: 1 Samuel 16-20
Friday, May 18: 1 Samuel 21-25

The overall year’s plan is here.

1 Samuel 16

Things had gone really downhill for Saul. His attitude had become awful. Before being rejected as king by God, he had built a monument for himself (15:12). Now, when Samuel is called by God to appoint a replacement for Saul, Samuel actually fears for his life.

The end of it all is that the LORD himself sends an evil spirit to "terrorize" (16:14, NASB) Saul.

1 Samuel 17

A cubit is the distance from a man’s elbow to his fingertips. Typically, a cubit is considered to be about 18 inches (1.5 feet or 45.7 centimeters). A span was the distance from the thumb to the middle finger or pinky, when stretched out as much as possible. That is generally treated as being a half a cubit or 9 inches. This would make Goliath 9 feet 9 inches tall (2.97 m).

Goliath was from Gath, where the Anakim, a race of giants, were said to be left, though they were driven out of almost all the rest of the land of Canaan (Josh. 11:22).

David was not a part of the Israelite army. He was simply bringing bread to his brothers when Goliath showed up for his daily challenge.

Saul had promised to give great riches to the man who killed Goliath. He had also promised to let him marry his daughter and to make his family free in Israel. The general agreement of commentaries (and the note in the NAS Bible I’m using) is that "free"meant that his family would not have to pay taxes nor, possibly, provide sons for public service.

1 Samuel 17:55-58

This passage seems like a problem. David had been playing the harp whenever Saul was terrorized by the evil spirit. Saul had sent for David by sending a message to Jesse, David’s father. The harp playing had gone so well that Saul "loved him greatly, and he became his armor bearer" (16:21). Because of that, Saul sent a second message to Jesse, asking for David to be able "stand before" him (16:22).

So why did Saul not know who David’s father was?

I have three possible explanations. Two of them can be found in commentaries here, and the other is purely mine.

  1. Saul forgot David’s father. Saul was a king, David only played before Saul occasionally and only when Saul was terrorized by an evil spirit, and Saul had lots of servants. It may also have been a long time since he had last called for David because David was back attending sheep again.
  2. The Keil-Delitzch commentary, which is highly respected, thinks the theory that Saul forgot has "but little probability." They insist that Saul was not actually asking the name of David’s father, but asking more information about David’s father and their family’s social status. In other words, "Why is this shepherd boy from an obscure family such a warrior that he kills lions, bears, and is not afraid of the giant from Philistia?"
  3. Finally, my theory is that 1 Samuel, covering the history of Samuel, Saul and David, was not written day by day or month by month as the events happened. 1 Samuel was written in one or several sittings after David became king so that his story would be on paper. That meant that the historian who wrote it had a collection of stories and memories to work with. The stories are in somewhat chronological order, and their details match, but not exactly. Notice that David is introduced all over again in 17:12, as though we had not already been introduced to him. Also, both 16:22 and 18:2 give reasons that David stayed at Saul’s palace rather than returning to the sheep.
       In my opinion, that is because the historian had both the story of David as Saul’s musician and the story of David killing Goliath in front of him. He set them both down, one right after the other, in the order that made the most sense. However, since both stories involve David’s introduction to Saul, we are left not knowing whether Saul really didn’t love David as much as 16:21 suggests or whether the killing of Goliath was really David’s formal introduction to Saul.

I realize, of course, that my theory is considered "liberal," but I just don’t see that "inspired" means "gets every detail correct of all stories, math, and science, even if the author had no way of knowing such things."

I pointed out when we began reading the Gospel of Luke that Luke says that his Gospel is the product of research, not an eyewitness report. Just because some detail of some story or parable does not exactly match the details as given by Matthew, who was an eyewitness (but who probably didn’t write until at least 20 years after Jesus died and rose), should not surprise us, distress us, or cause us to wonder about God’s inspiration.

We are followers of the Spirit, not of the letter (2 Cor. 3:6). We do not violate the Scriptures, but we follow God by the Spirit, not by our interpretations of Scripture.

That may sound strange, but the Pharisees considered themselves followers of Scripture. In fact, they adhered so diligently to Scripture that they angered God, crucified his Son, and had the kingdom of God taken away from them and given to another (spiritual) nation (Matt. 21:43). Jesus rebuked them for the stand they took on Scripture. He said that Scripture should have driven them to him, but they couldn’t see it (Jn. 5:39-40).

As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. (Rom. 8:14)

1 Samuel 18

1 Samuel 18 merges the two stories of David as Saul’s harpist and David as Saul’s leading warrior.

Even by my theory, given above, I believe both stories are true. However, the historian, writing years, or perhaps decades, after the actual events, was unable to harmonize the details of Saul meeting David and assigning him to the king’s staff on a permanent basis. Once both stories are introduced, it was easy to continue the story, for David was both the king’s harpist and a soldier.

Having said all that, don’t miss this great history of David. The rise of David from shepherd boy to king is possibly even more complicated than the quite similar route Joseph took.

David put himself in incredible danger out of trust in God. He faced Goliath, and he fell from leading the king’s soldiers to being chased through the wilderness by the king’s armies, unwilling to defend himself if the Lord did not defend him (coming in the next chapters).

1 Samuel 19

Strange things in this chapter!

First, why did Michal have a household idol to use to put in David’s bed(v. 13)?

I liked Keil & Delitzch’s comment that Michal probably kept the household idol in secret because she was barren, which may have been the reason that Rachel, Jacob’s wife, stole her father’s household idols as well (Gen. 31:19).

Other commentaries said such household idols were popular among Israelite women, which would be a very sad commentary on their spiritual state.

Second, the way that God defended David while he was with Samuel is strange, too!

1 Samuel 20

This chapter describes the beginning of David’s time of flight from Saul.

It is not just David’s trust in God that led to the writing of so many Psalms. It is also the hardships he endured during this time of flight that helped shape him into the king and psalmist that he was.

Joseph, Moses, David … they all had their "wilderness" time. Do not despise yours, nor let your faith falter, for risk and suffering is the only route to spiritual depth.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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