1 Samuel 15-17

Good morning! Saul really hits the skids with God in today’s passage (1 Samuel 15-17), after which Samuel anoints God’s chosen replacement, and we see David’s epic battle with Goliath. The nature of David’s conduct and character reveal what God finds attractive and righteous, at least according to these narratives.

Saul’s war-making prowess continues in chapter 15. He receives the divine command to destroy utterly the Amalekites (ugh). But Saul and his soldiers do not—they keep some of the livestock alive, along with the Amalekite king. We saw before with Achan in Joshua 7 what happens when folks disobey the command to destroy all that the enemy possesses, but now it’s the king himself who has disobeyed. When confronted by Samuel, Saul explains that he wanted to sacrifice all the best at the tabernacle in Gilgal (again a priestly function). Samuel says that God withdraws support for Saul as king, and Saul begs otherwise. Saul asks for Samuel’s continuing presence—it provides legitimacy for his kingship—and Samuel consents. Then Samuel executes the Amalekite king, following thru where Saul failed to act. Saul and Samuel then part ways, never to see one another again.

Chapters 16 and 17 describe in several ways how David rose to royal prominence. In chapter 16, Samuel chooses David after all the attractive, tall, athletic older brothers have passed before him. God’s choice of David as the youngest sibling demonstrates again God’s preferences for the weak and small. God moves Samuel to anoint David as the king in place of Saul. Meanwhile, Saul is tormented by an evil spirit, so a servant seeks out David. (Curiously, David is described as “a man of valor, a warrior”, though this isn’t how we picture him earlier in the chapter.) Saul takes a shine to David and the youth becomes an armor-bearer for Saul.

Chapter 17 imagines a different way that David gained the attention of Saul—his victory over the Philistine giant Goliath. (This narrative seems to be placed here independently of the other story before it.) Goliath is heavily armored and defiant of Israelite troops. David should be keeping his distance from the front lines, but he marches up there, sent by Jesse his father to check on his older brothers. When David gets up and hears what the soldiers are saying about Goliath and what Saul will do to repay one who slays him, his oldest brother Eliab’s disdain for him sounds common to any fight between siblings, as does David’s reply: “It was only a question.” David’s bold speech to Saul declares that Goliath will fall as surely as any lion or bear that threatened his flock. Saul tries to equip him with the king’s own armor and sword, but David declines. The story places repeated emphasis on David’s faith, with the suggestion that this is how he triumphs. David goes into battle with nothing more than his sling and five smooth stones, which might as well have been the testimony of his faith: “The battle is the Lord’s”. The narrator emphasizes David’s victory when there was “no sword in David’s hand”—in contrast with Saul and all his armor and weaponry. David wins the victory, the Philistines flee, and Saul asks to meet the one who slayed Goliath. Whether we believe this telling that emphasizes David’s defenseless heroics, or that of chapter 16 with its emphasis on the smallest sibling, it’s clear that God has chosen the next king in a most unexpected way, and means to do much with him. Happy reading!

Read 1 Samuel 15-17.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 1 Samuel 18-20. Thanks for reading!

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