1 Kings: You Reap What You Sow

templesolomon 2

What is this book about?

There are plenty of books in the Bible that teach the lesson ‘you reap what you sow’, but none teaches it more clearly than the two books of Kings.   The stories in these books were probably chosen for just that purpose.

We see Israelite kings who devote themselves to God.  And we see them reaping the benefits of the ancient agreement their ancestors made with Him: rain for the crops, peace in the land, power over enemies.  Then we see the Israelite kings who abandon God.  And we see them reaping the disasters warned about in the ancient agreement: famine, disease, and unstoppable invaders.

Under the leadership of god-friendly King David, the budding nation of Israel blossoms.   Life gets even better under Solomon’s reign, until his wisdom crashes and he starts worshiping idols.  Then come the enemies, followed by a civil war that splits the country.

By book’s end, Ahab – one of Israel’s worst kings – lies dead in a lost battle.  His body is being washed in a pool where prostitutes bathe, and dogs are licking up his blood.

That’s not to say the same will happen to us if we abandon God.  We may not go to the dogs, literally.   But apart from God, we’ll miss out on the best that life has to offer – because we’ll miss out on God.

Highlights from the Book of 1 Kings:

David’s dying words for his son (1 Kings 2:1-12):

About 70 years old and dying, David has already given up control of Israel to his son Solomon, the new king. On his deathbed, David gives Solomon step-by-step advice about how to deal with certain people – some who had helped David, and others who might pose a threat to Solomon’s rule.  But David’s most important advice comes first, before the talk of political strategy: “You and your descendants must always faithfully obey the Lord.  If you do, he will keep the solemn promise he made to to me that someone from our family will always be king of Israel.”

Too often we ignore the well-earned advice of older people.  We treat it as words fit for a previous day, but not our day.  Solomon knew better.  He took his father’s advice, and the entire nation profited from it.

In a dream, Solomon asks God for wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-14):

Shortly after Solomon becomes king,  God speaks to him in a dream, inviting him to ask for anything.  “Please make me wise,” Solomon says.  “If you don’t, there is no way I could rule this great nation of yours.” God commends Solomon, saying the king could have asked for selfish things such as wealth, power, and long life.  Instead he asked for something to help him serve God.  Solomon becomes famous for his wisdom.

We, too, can ask God for anything.  We don’t usually need prodding to ask for more money, the power to make our dreams come true, or the health to enjoy it all.  But when we ask for wisdom, we’re asking God to make us more like Him.  Surely, it would please Him to know we love Him that much.

Solomon builds the temple (1 Kings 6:1-38):

Solomon builds the first of only three temples the Jews have ever had.  He recruits master artisans from throughout the Middle East to erect one of the most beautiful and expensive worship centres in the ancient world – a temple plated with golden ceilings, walls, and floors.  It stands for 400 years, until Babylon invades, strips away the gold, and pulls down the white limestone blocks that it is built from.

We can’t afford to build expensive temples to God in every neighbourhood.  And God probably wouldn’t want us to spend such a big chunk of our resources that way. But we can show our respect for God by respecting the place we gather to worship Him – whether it’s a church, a rented school auditorium, or a friend’s house.  Wherever it is, God is there.  And that makes it a holy place.

Solomon’s thousand wives (1 Kings 11:1-13):

Solomon marries 700 wives of royal birth, and 300 concubines (or secondary wives).  These are mainly political marriages, to seal peace and trade agreements.  After all, what foreign king would break his agreement with Israel if he knew his daughter was a wife of Israel’s king?

Political marriages are common in the ancient world, but God disapproves.  As Moses put it, Israel’s ruler “must not have a lot of wives – they might tempt him to be unfaithful to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 17:17). That’s what happens to Solomon.

It’s hard to resist pressure to do the wrong thing when that pressure comes from those we love most.  Though famed for his wisdom, Solomon chose unwisely to marry women who worshiped idols.  The company we keep has the potential to rub off on us.  That doesn’t mean we should isolate ourselves from others, but we do need to surround ourselves with plenty of people who are committed to serving God.

Israel splits, and the northerners worship idols (1 Kings 12:1-33):

When Solomon dies, his son Rehoboam becomes king.  The people have grown weary of high taxes and of being drafted to help in royal building projects.  They ask for relief.  Instead, the rookie king decides to show them who’s boss.  He promises higher taxes and harder work.

The ten Israelite tribes in the north secede and start their own nation which they call Israel.  The southern two tribes become known as Judah, after the biggest tribe.  The northerners then appoint their own king: Jereboam.  He worries that his people will go back to the Jerusalem temple to worship (in the south), and that their loyalties may eventually return to David’s family of kings.  So he sets up shrines with golden calves in the north land, telling the people, “Here are your gods who rescued you from Egypt.”

The best leaders are those who serve the people.  These two leaders served themselves, and in each case their selfishness backfired.  Solomon’s son lost half the land in his kingdom.  Jereboam’s family endured tragedy, and his dynasty lasted no more than about 25 years.   When we decide to serve ourselves at the expense of those we’ve been entrusted to serve – whether it’s on the job or in the home – everyone gets hurt, ourselves included.

Elijah runs away (1 Kings 19:1-9):

The prophet Elijah challenges Queen Jezebel’s 450 prophets of Baal to a showdown to determine who is truly God: Baal, whom Jezebel worships, or the God of Israel.  Baal’s prophets and Elijah are each to offer a sacrificial bull, laid on a pile of wood. The god who starts the fire on the altar will become the god of Israel.

Baal’s prophets pray for hours, even cutting themselves to get Baal’s attention.  But nothing happens.  Elijah prays one short prayer, and fire falls from the sky and consumes the sacrifice.  The Israelites kill the prophets of Baal.  This suddenly ends a three-year drought.

When Queen Jezebel hears what happened, she sends Elijah the message that she’s going to have him killed within 24 hours.  Terrified, the miracle worker runs to the desert – where he collapses beneath a small tree, exhausted and depressed.  An angel comes and gives him food and lets him sleep.  Strengthened, Elijah returns home and remains safe.

Even the most devout of us can get discouraged and depressed.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Sometimes, all we need is a little rest and nourishment.  But whatever the remedy, God is there helping us.

Jezebel murders for a vegetable garden (1 Kings 21:1-16):

King Ahab  (the seventh king of the northern kingdom of Israel since Jeroboam I,  and the husband of Jezebel of Sidon, according to the Hebrew Scriptures) wants to buy a vineyard near his summer palace so he can turn it into a vegetable garden.  The landowner, Naboth, refuses because Israelite law says the people are supposed to keep the land in their family.  Angry and depressed, Ahab “lay on his bed, just staring at the wall and refusing to eat a thing.”  His wife, Jezebel, quickly hatches a plan.  She arranges for two men to publicly accuse Naboth of cursing God and the king.  According to Israelite law, two witnesses are all it takes to convict someone.  Blasphemy is a capital offense, so the villagers stone Naboth to death, and the king confiscates his land.

We can manipulate people to get our own way. We can even manipulate the law to make an immoral act legal.  But it’s still an immoral act. And if we get others to do our dirty work for us, all we’ve managed to do is spread the guilt around.

Background Notes:


Ancient Jewish tradition said Jeremiah wrote 1 and 2 Kings.  These two books were originally a single book – like Samuel and Chronicles.  Jeremiah was a prophet who lived to see Babylon invade and conquer the Kingdom of Judah in 586 B.C., temporarily wiping the nation off the map.  In fact, Bible scholars today say the two books of Kings were probably written by someone from Jeremiah’s day or later to help explain why God allowed Babylon to wipe out Israel: God was punishing the people for abandoning their agreement to worship him alone, and for turning to the false gods of neighbouring nations.

Whoever wrote the book, the writer drew from several ancient sources, including three he names: a book about Solomon (1 Kings 11:41) and two books about other kings (1 Kings 14:19, 29).  The writer may also have used official  kingdom records kept by palace historians (1 Chronicles 29:29).


The stories in 1 Kings cover just a little more than a century – from about 970 B.C. until about 850 B.C.  The book starts with the last days of David’s reign, which ended when he died in about 970 B.C. The history continues with Solomon’s reign, and it ends with the nation divided into two: Israel in the north (which survives until about 720 B.C. when it is destroyed by Assyria, and all the citizens are taken away never to be seen again – thus becoming known as the lost ten tribes of Israel), and Judah in the south (which survives until about 586 B.C. when it is destroyed by Babylon, and everyone is forced into a Babylonian exile).


Most stories unfold in what is now the area of modern-day Israel.  But other nations in the Middle East play supporting roles.  For example, to get prime cedar for the temple in Jerusalem, Solomon sends loggers to what is now Lebanon.  Also, the queen of Sheba visits from what is probably southern Arabia.  Solomon opens up trade throughout the region.

Bottom-Line Summary:

David dies of old age, leaving his son Solomon as the new king. David had secured Israel’s borders and dominated surrounding nations, so Solomon rules during a golden age of peace and prosperity.  Solomon builds the magnificent temple in Jerusalem, along with a palace and fortresses throughout the country.  He starts doing business with neighbouring countries, securing peace and trade treaties by marrying royal daughters of the other kingdoms.

In his old age, Solomon starts worshiping the idols of his foreign wives.  God says for this he will rip apart part of Solomon’s kingdom.  When Solomon dies, the nation splits in two.  Solomon’s son rules in the south, and the people in the north appoint Solomon’s chief building foreman as their king.  The idolatry that Solomon supported grows worse – and so do the troubles for the two nations.

Influential People:

David, elderly and dying king of Israel.  His final word of advice for his son and successor, Solomon, is to obey God.

Solomon, next king of Israel, becomes legendary for his wisdom and for building the nation’s first temple.  But in old age, he resorts to worshiping idols – a reminder that even the loftiest of us can fall.

Elijah, a prophet who performs astonishing miracles, flees from Queen Jezebel when she threatens to kill him.  In his moment of despair, Elijah’s experience becomes a reminder that God never abandons us.

Ahab, a king who does “more to make the Lord God of Israel angry than any king of Israel before him” (1 Kings 16:33).  Among his offenses: he lets his wife, Jezebel, execute prophets and nearly wipe out all traces of Israelite religion in the country.

Jezebel, Ahab’s nasty-piece-of-work wife, from what is now Lebanon.  She’s a prime example of a person who does whatever it takes – murder included – to get what she wants.  And she does it without a shred of guilt.

Reheboam, Solomon’s son and successor as Israel’s king.  He lets power go to his head by threatening to make life tougher on the over-taxed, over-worked masses.  More than half the kingdom secedes and starts a new nation.

Jereboam, king of the split-off nation of Israel.  He builds idols to keep his people from worshiping in Jerusalem, where he fears they might transfer their loyalty back to King David’s descendants.  In so doing, he sells out his faith to hold onto his power.

Interesting fact: Prophet Schools

There were prophet schools in Bible times. People singled out by God to become prophets and to deliver His messages to the nation sometimes gathered in groups called “schools of prophets” or “sons of prophets” (1 Kings 20:35 New International Version).  Older prophets taught the younger ones.

Some quotes from 1 KIngs:

“Do what the Lord your God commands and follow his teachings. . . Then you will be a success, no matter what you do or where you go” (1 Kings 2:3). King David’s dying words to his son, Solomon.

“Please make me wise and teach me the difference between right and wrong” (1 Kings 3:9).  Solomon’s only request of God.



That’s it for this week!

Paul S.



2 Samuel: You’re Forgiven, But You’re Not Off the Hook


What is this book about?

You can describe King David as an adulterer, murderer, and ‘Dysfunctional father of the Year.’  The stories in 2 Samuel justify it.  But God describes David as “a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14 KJV).

Why would God do that?

David committed some incredibly serious offenses. For adultery with Bathsheba, he could have been executed – or so says Israelite law.  He could have faced the same penalty for ordering Bathsheba’s husband killed.  And although his sorry performance as a parent wasn’t subject to a similar penalty, one son couldn’t wait for him to die – and launched a coup against him.

Despite this, God saw something fundamentally good in David.  The flawed king had many good qualities: patience, generosity, honesty, dependability, and he was true to his word.  These qualities are also confirmed by the stories of 2 Samuel.

There was yet another character-trait that distinguished David.  He was quick to repent.  And his repentance wasn’t the cheap brand that resisted the consequences of his actions.  He knew he had a price to pay, and that repenting wouldn’t get him off the hook.  Although David was assured of God’s forgiveness, he knew that his actions had set into motion a sad chain of events that wouldn’t be stopped.  For David’s adultery, God warned, “your family will never live in peace” (2 Samuel 12:10).  Yet, David trusted in God’s forgiveness and fairness.

Don’t commit adultery, kill someone, or make your kids hate you.  But if you do, God will forgive you if you are genuinely sorry.  You’ll have tough consequences to face, but you can face them forgiven and as a person after God’s own heart.

Highlights from the Book of 2 Samuel:

David becomes king (2 Samuel 5:1-5):

After Saul’s death, his only surviving son becomes king of Israel’s northern tribes. But the large tribe of Judah, which dominates southern Canaan, selects as king their tribe’s hero: David.  Saul’s son is a weak leader who is assassinated after a two-year reign.  With the continuing Philistine threat, all of Israel’s tribal leaders rally behind David, a proven warrior.  They anoint him king about 15 years after Samuel had originally secretly anointed him to succeed Saul (1 Samuel 16:12-13).

David waited all this time, refusing to take at least two opportunities to kill Saul, who had been trying to kill him.  Instead of taking matters into his own hands, David trusted in God’s timing.  Impatience can lure us into a quick fix – even suggest using methods we know are wrong.  But we can’t achieve good results through vicious methods.

David dances in a religious parade (2 Samuel 6:1-23):

Israel’s most sacred object is the ark of the covenant – a chest that holds the Ten Commandments.  At the point in time of this story, it has been hiding for decades – perhaps to protect it from the Philistines who stole it once.  David brings it to his newly established capital of Jerusalem, as a symbol of God’s presence among the people.  Music and shouts of joy fill the streets.  David leads the procession with unrestrained enthusiasm.  But his wife, Saul’s daughter, criticizes him for acting undignified and “dancing around half-naked.”  She is Michal, whom Saul took from David and gave to another man.  David reclaimed her when he became king, though apparently against her will and leaving her husband distressed.

Unresolved anger will destroy a relationship.  The only follow-up mention of Michal in the Bible says she died childless.

David shows kindness to Saul’s grandson (2 Samuel 9:1-13):

When a new king takes over, it’s common in the ancient Middle East for him to order the execution of the former king’s family – to protect against a revolt.  But David’s best friend was King Saul’s son, Jonathan – who died with his father in battle.  Because of this friendship, David wants to know if any men from the family are left so he can honour them. Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth is still alive but he is crippled.   When he was five, his nurse dropped him in a rush to escape the Philistines.

David gives Mephibosheth the land Saul owned, assigns people to work the land, and makes him a permanent guest at palace meals.

The bonds of friendship can overpower negative influences.  It can even outlast your friends, enduring for generations.

David has an affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-26):

After a nap, David takes a walk on the palace roof.  Below he sees a beautiful woman bathing: Bathsheba, the wife of a soldier away at war.  David sends for her and has sex with her.  She gets pregnant. David orders her husband sent to the front line wile the troops are pulled back.  The soldier is killed and David marries Bathsheba.  The prophet Nathan confronts David about his malicious deed, and David repents.   But David and Bathsheba’s child dies.

Tragedy waits when we break Commandment number seven: “Be faithful in marriage” (Exodus 20:14).  Job had a similar strategy worth following: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look with lust upon a young woman” (Job 31:1, New Living Translation).

David orders land taken from Jonathan’s son (2 Samuel 16:1-4, 19:24-30):

David flees Jerusalem during a coup led by his son, Absalom.  On the outskirts of town he meets Ziba, the servant in charge of working Mephibosheth’s land.  Ziba gives him two donkeys loaded with supplies and says his master is staying behind to claim Saul’s throne – which is probably a lie, since crippled Mephibosheth would first have to stop Absalom, something even David’s army can’t do.  Angry, David gives Ziba all of Mephibosheth’s land.

When David returns after the coup fails, Mephibosheth says Ziba lied and took the donkeys he planned to use to accompany David.  Unsure who’s telling the truth, David divides the land between the two.

Hasty decisions are often wrong.  If you’re going to trust your instincts, make sure your instincts are informed with the facts.

Absalom dies in a coup against his father (2 Samuel 18:1-33):

Resentment erupts between David and his son Absalom when David fails to punish another of his sons.  Amnon – Absalom’s half-brother – raped Absalom’s sister.  Absalom waits two years before taking revenge.  He arranges the murder of Amnon, then flees the country.  Three years later David calls Absalom home, but refuses to see him for two more years.  By then, Absalom has decided to overthrow his elderly father.

The armies of father and son clash in a forest, resulting in thousands of casualties.  Absalom’s long hair gets tangled in tree branches, pulling him off  his donkey and leaving him dangling.  David’s soldiers kill him against David’s orders.  David is devastated and wishes he had died instead.

Unresolved family problems feed on silence.  Talk.  Tackle the problems early before they tackle you.

Background Notes:


The same unidentified person who wrote 1 Samuel – which was originally combined with 2 Samuel as a single book – is likely the author. In its original language of Hebrew, both books fit onto a single scroll.  That’s because ancient Hebrew uses only consonants – no vowels.  The book’s length doubled when it was translated into Greek, sometime between the third to first centuries B.C., and it was then split in two.

The two books take their name from the first leading character in the history: the prophet Samuel.  Whoever compiled the stories into a book likely drew from government records and “the history writen by the prophets Samuel, Nathan, and Gad” (1 Chronicles 29:29).


The stories cover David’s 40-year reign as Israel’s king, from about 1010 – 770 B.C.


Most of the stories take place in Israel.  David, however, expands the nation’s dominance east into what is now Jordan, and north into what is now Syria and Iraq – collecting taxes from the kingdoms in these regions.

Bottom-Line Summary:

At the beginning of the book of 2 Samuel, Israel is on the brink of collapse.  King Saul and his three sons are all dead – killed in a battle lost to their most feared neighbours, the Philistines.

Although David has been an outlaw in hiding during much of Saul’s reign, the giant-killer is still a hero to the Israelite people.  They proclaim him king, and he sets up the nation’s capital and worship centre in Jerusalem.  He crushes the Philistines, a nation that invaded Canaan about the same time the Israelites did.  He also conquers neighbouring kingdoms in what are now Jordan, Syria, and Iraq.  The taxes he collects from these people pay much of his expenses to maintain his government and army.

Although David is a big success in politics and war, he’s a terrible failure on the home front as a husband and a father.  His first wife hates him.  His stepchildren rape and kill each other.  He commits adultery, foll0wed by a cover-up murder of his lover’s husband.  And one of his sons – the crown prince – leads a nearly successful coup against him.

Influential People:

David, Israel’s second king.  Although he commits several serious offenses during his 40-year reign, he quickly seeks forgiveness and remains loyal to God throughout his life.

Bathsheba, wife of an Israelite soldier, commits adultery with David and becomes his wife.  Their son, Solomon, ends up becoming one of Israel’s greatest kings – a tribute to God’s ability to produce something good out of a tragic personal failure.   (Although, Solomon eventually displays faults of his own… but that’s another story).

Absalom, David’s oldest surviving son, leads a failed coup against his father.  His life and tragic death is a heartbreaking reminder of how unresolved family problems can get out of control and destroy lives.

Nathan, a prophet and David’s chief advisor, has the courage to confront David about his wrongdoings concerning Bathsheba.

Miscellaneous Odds and Ends:

Why didn’t David punish his rapist son?

Amnon was originally David’s oldest surviving son, and considered the crown prince – the man who would inherit David’s throne.  He fell in love with his half-sister, Tamar, who was David’s daughter by another one of David’s many wives.  Amnon arranged for Tamar to feed him when he pretended to be sick.  Alone with her, he asked her to have sex with him.  She refused, knowing Israelite law forbade children of the same father to have sex (Leviticus 18:12).  So he raped her.

Afterward, “Amnon hated her even more than he had loved her before” (2 Samuel 13:15).  He ordered a servant to throw her out.  Tamar left crying loudly and covering her face with her hands.  She later moved from the palace into the home of her full brother, Absalom.  The last we hear of her, the Bible says she was always sad and lonely.   She probably never married, and as a raped woman lived in a perpetual state of widowhood – rejected by the man who  should have married her.  By law, a rapist was required to marry his victim, and was forbidden to divorce her (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

“When David heard what had happened to Tamar, he was very angry.  But Amnon was his oldest son and also his favourite, and David would not do anything to make Amnon unhappy” (2 Samuel 13:21).

What was so wrong with taking a census that 70,000 Israelites had to die?

Near the end of his reign, David ordered a count of everyone who could serve in the army.  The Bible doesn’t explain why this was wrong – only that it was wrong, and the leaders knew it.  David’s commander, Joab, recommended against it (2 Samuel 24:3).  And afterward, David said it was “stupid and terribly wrong,” and asked forgiveness.

One census that Moses took suggests that there were only certain rituals that needed to be performed in order to prevent a plague (Exodus 30:12).  Perhaps David skipped the rituals.  Some people in the ancient Middle East also believed that a census drew the attention of demons and invited disaster.  But the explanation that may make most sense to people today is that the census could have been an expression of David’s pride.   He wanted to boast about the size of his army, as though it – and not God – was responsible for Israel’s rise to power.   Who knows?

Whatever the problem was, the consequences were serious.  God gave David the choice of three punishments:  seven years of famine, three months of running from invaders, or three days of a plague.  David chose the plague, which killed 70,000 people.

Suicide in the Bible:

Ahithophel, an advisor of King David who joined Absalom’s revolt, is one of only six people in the Bible who committed suicide.  He hanged himself after Absalom refused to take his advice (2 Samuel 17:23).

Other suicide victims were:

  • Samson, who killed himself along with thousands of Philistines by pushing over two support pillars in a temple (Judges 16:30).
  • King Saul and his armor-bearer who both fell on their swords after a lost battle (1 Samuel 31:4-5).
  • King Zimri, who set his palace on fire when he saw his city had been captured (1 Kings 16:18).
  • Judas, betrayer of Jesus, who hanged himself (Matthew 27:5).

The Bible doesn’t say if suicide is wrong.  In fact, the Bible doesn’t even use a word equivalent to “suicide,”  which means “self-murder.”  The early church, however, soon began teaching that suicide was the same as murder, and was forbidden by the sixth commandment: “Do not murder” Exodus 20:13).  Famous theologians such as Augustine added that the likelihood of repentance and forgiveness for suicide was small.

Centuries later, Christian writers challenged Augustine’s position by arguing that it put limits on the mercy of God.

Most Christians today consider suicide wrong.  But questions remain about whether God would hold the person responsible, especially in cases of mental illness or stress so high that it’s indistinguishable from mental illness.

More on rape:

When David’s daughter Tamar was raped, her brother Absalom gave advice many rape victims still hear today: “Don’t tell anyone what happened.  Just try not to think about it” (2 Samuel 13:20).  Absalom thought this was in the best interest of her and the family, especially since her half-brother raped her.  But it wasn’t.  Without understanding the hatred that the rape generated, David didn’t punish his rapist son.  Two years later, Absalom arranged to have Absalom killed.  But for Tamar the damage would be beyond repair.  In that culture she could never hope for a husband and family.

More on David’s adultery:

When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he already had a large harem.  The Bible names eight of David’s many wives, and says he left ten in Jerusalem to take care of the palace when he fled during a coup.

Some Quotes from the Book of 2 Samuel:

“You were truly loyal to me, more faithful than a wife to her husband” (2 Samuel 1:26).  David’s song of lament for his fallen friend, Jonathan, a son of Saul.

“I’ll be kind to you because Jonathan was your father” (2 Samuel 9:7).  David honours the memory of his friend by helping Jonathan’s only son.

“I keep your laws in mind and never turn away from your teachings” (2 Samuel 22:23).  David’s song to God.


That’s it for this week!

Paul S.








1 Samuel: When God’s Not in Charge


What is this book about?

God can do as He pleases; that’s one perk of being God.  But He doesn’t push himself on us.   People can accept Him or reject Him.  First Samuel is a story about both kinds of people – and what happens to them as a result of their decisions.   That’s good news for us because we get to observe and learn from some someone else’s mistakes and – on occasion – their smart choices.

This book opens with a scene about an infertile wife who’s being ridiculed because she can’t have a baby.  Her husband loves her and tries to console her.  But she knows that in her culture a woman’s most important responsibility is to provide her husband with children.  She sees herself as a failure.  But she doesn’t take her problem to the Canaanite god of fertility as many other Israelites are doing.  She keeps God in charge and prays to him.  Samuel is born a year later.

The tribal leaders of Israel do not choose so wisely.  Their contract with God is supposed to make Israel different than any other nation.  God leads them; He is their king.  But what do the elders want?   “We want a king to be our leader, just like all the other nations” (1 Samuel 8:5).

God gives them fair warning to be careful what they wish for.  A king comes with baggage.  A king does as he pleases.   That’s one perk of being king.  And a king won’t hesitate to push himself on others.  The tribal leaders insist they know what they’re doing, so they trade down – a King for a king.   Sad stories follow.


Some Highlights from the Book of 1 Samuel:

Hannah prays for a son (1 Samuel 1:1-18):

Hannah appears to be an infertile woman who desperately wants a son.  She goes to the worship centre, and, crying, she prays that if God gives her a son she will let the boy serve him.  She is so emotional that priest Eli thinks she is drunk.  “Sober up,” he tells her.  Hannah says she’s not drunk, but that she’s upset and telling God about her problems.  Eli softens and says God will answer her prayer.  A year later she finally has a son: Samuel.

Hannah’s supposed infertility had made her life miserable.  It was all she could think about.  But she took her problem to God.  Perhaps we, too, should talk with God about the problems in our life.  He may not answer the way we like, but he will certainly help us in some way.

God speaks to a young Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-21):

As Hannah promised, she takes Samuel – while he’s still young – to live and work at the worship centre.  Eli will finish raising him, though Hannah and her husband will visit often. One night God’s voice awakens the young Samuel and says that Eli’s sons are evil and won’t be allowed to follow their father as Israel’s leader.   Samuel tells this to Eli, who replies with faith, “He is the Lord, and he will do what’s right.”

God may not speak to us in an audible voice, but he speaks within us.   His voice is recognizable – it’s the one forever encouraging us toward goodness.  Like Eli, we need to trust God’s voice.

Israel demands a king (1 Samuel 8:1-22):

When Samuel grows old, tribal leaders come to him and ask for a king.  Samuel is upset and feels rejected, but he takes their request to God. “Do everything they want you to do,” God says.  “I am really the one they have rejected as their king.”  Samuel warns them – at God’s direction – that a king will tax them, take their best land and livestock, and force their sons to join the army.  But the people insist they know what’s best for them.

We can try to run our life on our own, without God’s help.  But we don’t know ourselves as well as God does.  And we certainly don’t know the future as He does.  When  we have to make important decisions, it’s perhaps wise to consult God and to follow His leading.

God chooses David as Israel’s second king (1 Samuel 16:1-13):

Saul, Israel’s first king, is a terrible disappointment.  He continually disobeys God – by taking spoils of war from defeated people, for instance.  When that happened during Joshua’s day, the culprit (Achan) died.  In this case, Saul’s kingship died.   God tells Samuel to go to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem, to secretly anoint one of his sons as the next king.  Samuel thinks the oldest son is a perfect choice.  But God says, “Don’t think Eliab is the one just because he’s tall and handsome.  He isn’t the one I’ve chosen.  People judge others by what they look like, but I judge people by what is in their hearts.” God chooses Jesse’s youngest son, David.

God’s reasoning in this case holds true for us today.

David fights Goliath (1 Samuel 17:1-52):

Goliath is a Philistine warrior more than nine feet tall.  In a standoff between the armies of Philistia and Israel, Goliath taunts his enemies: “Choose your best soldier to come out and fight me!  If he can kill me, our people will be your slaves.”   All the Israelites cower except teenage David who is bringing food to his brothers.  And in one of the Bible’s most famous stories, David drops Goliath with a slingshot.

David had said, “the Lord rescued me from the claws of lions and bears, and he will keep me safe from the hands of this Philistine.” We can all take courage by looking over our shoulders at where we’ve been, and seeing how God took care of us in the past.  We don’t fight our battles alone.

Jealous Saul attacks David (1 Samuel 18:1-11):

David becomes an instant hero.  When the army returns home, dancing women welcome them home with the song, “Saul has killed a thousand enemies; David has killed ten thousand enemies!” Saul becomes livid with jealousy, and – brooding and depressed – he begins acting crazy.  When David tries to calm him with the soothing sounds of a lyre, Saul grabs a spear and throws it at the boy – but misses.  Later, Saul sends David on a dangerous military mission intended to get him killed.   David survives, however, and gets the promised reward of marriage to Saul’s daughter.  Saul then sends assassins to kill David in his home – in front of Saul’s daughter.   But David escapes and becomes a fugitive, with a growing band of followers.

Jealousy can drive us all to do awful things we would never otherwise do.

David spares Saul (1 Samuel 24:1-22):

Saul leads an army of 3,000 men on a manhunt for David and the 600 men with him, tracking them to an oasis honeycombed with caves.  Saul decides to relieve himself in what happened to be the very cave where David and his men are hiding.  David’s men whisper that this is the chance they’ve been waiting for, and they should kill the king.  Instead, David sneaks up behind Saul and cuts off a corner of his robe.  When Saul leaves, and is a good distance away, David calls him, waves the cloth, and says he would never kill the king.   Humiliated, Saul leaves.

When you believe something is wrong – as David believed about killing Saul – don’t do it, even if that means standing alone against your colleagues.

Saul consults a spirit medium (1 Samuel 28:1-25):

The Philistines invade Israel, and Saul rushes to stop them.  But when he sees their forces, he’s terrified.  He asks God if Israel will win, but God doesn’t answer him in dreams or through prophets because of Saul’s long history of disobedience.   Samuel, a reliable messenger of God’s word is now dead.   So Saul visits a nearby medium and asks her to contact Samuel’s spirit – a violation of God’s law against consulting mediums and psychics.  To the medium’s distress, Samuel’s spirit appears.  Saul asks what he should do.  “If the Lord has turned away from you and is your enemy, don’t ask me what to do,” Samuel says.  “Tomorrow the Lord will let the Philistines defeat Israel’s army.”

Saul and his three sons die in the battle.

When we turn away from God, we suffer the consequences and spread it around.


Background Notes:


First and Second Samuel were written by an unknown writer – perhaps many writers over several generations or even centuries.   Because the two books give personal information about the prophet Samuel and kings Saul and David, the writer probably had access to government records.  According to the Bible, such records did exist: “Everything David did while he was king is included in the history written by the prophets Samuel, Nathan, and Gad” (1 Chronicles 29:29).  Samuel probably wrote about his life as well as Saul’s reign.

It’s unclear when the stories of 1 and 2 Samuel were pulled together into a single book.  Many scholars say Israel’s early history as an emerging nation – from the books of Joshua through 1 and 2 Kings – probably weren’t completed until after Babylon defeated Israel and took the people into slavery.  Without a temple in which to worship God, literature about the story of God’s dealings with Israel became more important.


The stories in 1 Samuel begin with the birth of Samuel in about 1150 B.C. and end with the battlefield death of King Saul in about 1010 B.C.


Israel is the setting for the stories.  Shiloh, a town about 20 miles north of Jerusalem, is the religious centre of the nation before Israel appoints a king.  This is where the worship-centre tent is set up, and where Eli and Samuel live.  After Saul becomes king, he establishes his capital in his hometown of Gibeah, a few miles north of Jerusalem.  At this time Jerusalem is a mountain stronghold still controlled by the Canaanites.

Bottom-Line Summary:

Israel (at this point in its history) isn’t a nation as we think of one – with a central government and army.  They are a loosely united group of extended families (tribes) led by God.  They come together for annual religious festivals at the village of Shiloh, where the worship centre is located.  As the book opens, a priest named Eli is the nation’s spiritual leader.  His sons die in battle.  So Samuel, whom Eli has raised as a child uniquely  devoted to full-time service for God, grows up to become Israel’s next spiritual leader.    Samuel serves as a prophet who delivers God’s messages to the people, and as a traveling judge who settles disputes.  When he grows old, he appoints his two sons to replace him as judges.  But they are crooked, taking bribes in exchange for unfair rulings.  The people call this to Samuel’s attention and ask for a king so they can be “like all the other nations” (1 Samuel 8:5).

But Israel isn’t like other nations.  The Israelites are supposed to be God’s people, and He is their king.  Even so, God agrees to their request.  He chooses a shy man named Saul as their first king.  Over the years, Saul becomes vain, disobedient to God, and depressed.  For repeated disobedience, God rejects him as king and chooses a shepherd boy named David to become Israel’s next king.  First Samuel concludes with the tragic deaths of Saul and three of his sons in battle against the Philistines.


Influential People:

Samuel, a prophet and Israel’s spiritual leader, is a model of obedience to God, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense.  On God’s command, he anoints Israel’s first king even though he knows it’s wrong for the people to demand a king.

Saul, Israel’s first king, repeatedly disobeys God.  He, his family, and the entire nation suffer the tragic consequences, providing a portrait of how one person’s wrong-d0ings affect many others.

David, Saul’s successor.   Even as a teenager, David exhibits such remarkable faith in God’s power that he’s willing to put his life on the line for it, and battle a giant.

Eli, a priest who raises Samuel.  His own sons become priests who disrespect God.  Eli’s refusal to discipline them with more than words leaves God charging that Eli honours them more than he honours God.  Eli is a sorry example of a man who puts his family above God.  Eli and his family eventually suffer the consequences with the death of the sons.

Key Ideas to Know:

Character flaws.

Each main character in 1 Samuel is flawed.  Priest Eli has two sons who show contempt for God by (among other things) taking for themselves sacrificial meat intended as burnt offerings for God.  Eli doesn’t stop them, leading God to tell him, “You honour your sons instead of me” (1 Samuel 2:29).

Samuel has a similar problem: two sons who become judges on the take.

King Saul begins his reign as a humble and shy person.  But he reinvents himself as vain and spiritually defiant.  Jealousy leads him to try to kill David.  Saul later offers a pre-battle sacrifice that only a priest can rightfully offer.  He also consults a medium – a capital offense – to see if he will win the next day’s battle.

Even David, described as a man after God’s own heart, has an idol in his house (1 Samuel 19:13).  His wife dresses it up and puts it in bed to convince soldiers who come to arrest him that he’s too sick to get up.

Some character flaws are fatal.  Saul and Eli’s sons die because of their continual disobedience.  But Eli, Samuel, and David all seem to retain their faith in God.  And there is no indication in the Bible that David actually worshipped the idol that may have belonged to his wife.

These people weren’t perfect.  We’re not either.  But we don’t have to be to stay in God’s favour.  We do, however, need to love and respect him.  If we reject him, He will honour our wishes and leave us – taking his blessings with him.

Final Facts:

  • Samuel wasn’t the only Bible kid miraculously born to a previously infertile mother.  So were Isaac, Jacob, Samson, and John the Baptist.
  • First and Second Samuel were originally one book.  They fit on one scroll in Hebrew, a language without vowels.  But when the book was later translated into Greek, a language with vowels, it took up twice as much space.  So it was split into two books so each could fit on a scroll.

Final Quote:

“They don’t want me to be their king any longer,” (1 Samuel 8:7 New Living Translation).  God, speaking to Samuel after the Israelites ask for a king.



That’s all for this week.

Paul S.









The Book of Ruth: A Story of Hope and Redemption

ruth wheat

What is this book about?

Ruth is someone we’ve all been from time to time: a disenfranchised outsider.  No influence.  No respect. No control over her situation.  Why?

–  She’s a woman in a time when men rule.   Under ancient law, she can’t even own land.

–  She has no children.  From the point of view of that time, a woman’s main job is to have children.  Those who don’t are thought cursed of God for some terrible reason.

–  She’s a widow.  With no husband or son to take care of her, she’s poverty-stricken and dependent on others for her survival.

–  She’s a foreigner, a Moabite who suddenly shows up in Bethlehem.  She arrives with her mother-in-law, Naomi, who is also a destitute widow.   But at least Naomi is an Israelite with distant relatives who might help her.   The Moabites lived in the area that is now Jordan.   They tried to stop Moses and the Israelites from entering the promised land.  That was the start of a long and hostile relationship between the two nations.

As far as the ancient Israelites are concerned, Ruth is cursed of God.

But the story is just starting, and many good things are on their way for her.  Ruth becomes a wife again, a mother, an an Israelite.  And she becomes an ancestor of David, Solomon, and Jesus.  God gives her influence, respect, and a starring role in history – it didn’t matter to Him that she was an outsider.  And Jews still honour her by reading her story at harvest festivals each year.

Highlights from the book of Ruth:

Ruth stays with her mother-in-law (Ruth1:1-22):

A drought in Israel drives a Bethlehem family to Moab, a neighbouring country to the east, in what is now Jordan. The man and his wife, Naomi, take their two sons with them.  The sons marry  women from Moab.  Tragically, within 10 years all three of the men (father and the two sons) die.  In ancient culture, women are treated much like minors are today.  They have very few rights and aren’t permitted to own property and make business transactions. That means Naomi and her two daughters-in-law are destitute.  Naomi hears the drought in Israel is finally over, so she plans to return home – hoping one of her relatives will take her into their home.  She urges her daughters-in-law to return to their families, with the prayer that God will give them each another husband.

One daughter-in-law reluctantly agrees.   But Ruth staunchly refuses: “I will go where you go, I will live where you live.  Your people will be my people, your God will be my God.” Common sense would say Ruth should have stayed behind – that she’d be more likely to find a husband among her own people than among foreigners.  But she put the needs of another above her own.  God would eventually bless her for that, just as He blesses us when we do the same.

Boaz marries Ruth, saving her from poverty (Ruth 2:1-4:13):

Ruth and Naomi arrive in Bethlehem in time for the spring barley harvest.  By law, Israelite farmers are supposed to let the poor pick leftover crops, following behind the harvesters.  Naomi goes to the field of Boaz and gets permission to do this.  Boaz tells the harvesters to leave extra for her. He found out who she was, and he was impressed with her loyalty to her mother-in-law. When Naomi finds out about Ruth’s success she’s delighted.  Boaz is related to her late husband.  By law, the closest male relative of the dead husband is supposed to marry the widow if she has no children to take care of her.  Ruth has no children.  So at Naomi’s instruction she (Ruth) proposes to Boaz.  He has already taken a liking to her, and admires her loyalty to Naomi and the Israelite traditions.  He accepts, and they marry.

The Israelite term describing Boaz is “family redeemer.”  He saves Ruth and Naomi from poverty, and becomes the legal head of their household.  Like Ruth, we also have a Redeemer – one who is willing to lead our family out of spiritual poverty.  It seems fitting that Boaz of Bethlehem is an ancestor of the ultimate Redeemer: Jesus.

Ruth and Boaz have a son (Ruth 4:13-22):

When Ruth becomes  pregnant, the Bethlehem women gather around Naomi and celebrate.  “Praise the Lord who has given you a family redeemer today!” they say.  “May he be famous in Israel.  May this child restore your youth and care for you in your old age” (Ruth 4:14, New Living Translation).

Naomi, living with Ruth and Boaz, takes care of the grandson (who was named Obed) as if he’s her own child.  In fact, the Bethlehem women call him “Naomi’s boy.” Obed grows up to become the father of Jesse, grandfather of King David, and great-grandfather of King Solomon.

The fact that a woman from Moab became the mother of Israel’s most revered family of kings sends an important message.  Israelites aren’t the only people of God.  God welcomes and accepts everyone who comes to Him, no matter what his or her background.  The Israelites were a chosen people, but they were also meant to be a beacon to draw others to the Lord – “a blessing to every nation on earth” (Genesis 26:4).

New Testament writers realized this, which is why they included Ruth in Jesus’ family tree (Matthew 1:5).  Jesus descended from the marriage of a Jew and a non-Jew.  And the salvation he provides is meant for everyone on earth.

Background Notes:


This is considered to be one of the most captivating stories in all of Hebrew literature, yet the writer remains unknown.  Jewish tradition says Samuel wrote it, but that’s unlikely.  The reason is that the book’s climax reveals Ruth is King David’s great-grandmother.  Samuel died before David was crowned king.

Like many stories of the Old Testament, the Book of Ruth was probably passed along by word of mouth from generation to generation before someone wrote it down.  The reason for preserving the story is uncertain.  It may have been to trace the family tree of David, Israel’s most popular king.  Another theory is that it was written after the Jews returned from exile  in Babylon during the 500s B.C., and as an opposition to the priest Ezra’s command for Jewish men to divorce their non-Jewish wives (Ezra 10:11).  Ruth wasn’t a Jew, yet she married a Jew and became the mother of Israel’s family of kings: David and his son Solomon).


The story takes place during the rough and tumble times of the judges, “before Israel was ruled by kings” (Ruth 1:1).  The Israelites were settled in the land, but there were occasional outbreaks of oppression by neighbouring nations – raids and even hostile occupation and enslavement.  It’s uncertain whether Ruth’s story unfolds in peacetime or during hostility.  But the fact that Boaz sleeps in his field at harvest time possibly suggests he’s afraid someone will steal his grain.


Bethlehem is where the story begins and ends.  In between, the story shifts briefly to Moab, Israel’s neighbour east of the Dead Sea in what is now Jordan.  Naomi, along with her husband and their two sons, are from Bethlehem.  Ruth is from Moab.

Bottom-Line Summary:

Drought devastates Israel, killing crops and pastures.  A Jewish man in Bethlehem moves with his wife and two sons to a neighbouring country (Moab) in the east.  There, the sons marry local women.  Tragically, all three men die, leaving their women destitute. The mother, Naomi, decides to go back to Bethlehem in the hopes that her extended family will take care of her.  She urges her daughters-in-law to return to their families as well.  One does. But Ruth refuses to abandon the elderly woman.

The two widows arrive in Bethlehem in early spring, during the barley harvest.  A farmer related to Naomi lets Ruth pick some barley for her and Naomi.  Ruth marries the farmer and they have a son: Obed, the grandfather of King David.

Influential People:

Ruth, a widow from Moab and great-grandmothr of King David.  She is an example of love and loyalty to her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi.

Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law from Bethlehem.   She becomes destitute when her husband and sons die, but her character elicits love and admiration from both of her daughters-in-law.

Boaz, Ruth’s second husband.  He’s a man of honesty, moral integrity, and devotion to his family responsibilities.

Key Ideas to Know:


The old and widowed Naomi shows her selfless devotion to her widowed daughters-in-law.  Instead of asking them to come with her back to her hometown of Bethlehem, 50 or more miles away in the Judean hills, she puts their interests first.  She urges them to go back to their hometowns in Moab, where they would be more likely to find another husband.

Ruth shows her firm loyalty to Naomi by refusing to abandon her, and by pledging, “your people will be my people, your God will be my God.  I will die where you die and be buried beside you” (Ruth 1:16-17).

God rewards both women for their devotion to each other.  God honours the unselfish.

May the Lord bless you.

Throughout this story, you’ll often find people saying this to each other.  It’s not just a greeting.  It’s a prayer, asking God to reward someone for the kindness they’ve expressed.  Boaz greets his workers this way, and they return the greeting.  Naomi blesses Boaz for giving extra grain to Ruth.   and Boaz blesses Ruth for her devotion to Naomi.

The Israelites believed they had the right to offer blessings in God’s name – and that God would answer those prayers.  We have the same right.  A blessing is nothing to sneeze at.

Why did Ruth slip under of covers of a sleeping Boaz?

Naomi told he to do so, apparently so Ruth could propose marriage.  Naomi said, “Take a bath and put on some perfume, then dress in your best clothes” (Ruth 3:3).  After Boaz fell asleep outside by the pile of barley harvested that day, Ruth sneaked under the covers at his feet.  He awoke in the middle of the night and saw her.

The first words they exchanged suggest she was following an accepted custom.  As a childless widow, she had the right to ask a relative of her husband to marry her and produce a son who could inherit his dead father’s property.

“You are the relative who is supposed to take care of me.  So spread the edge of your cover over me” (Ruth 3:9).  Even today, marriage ceremonies in the Middle East often feature the groom extending his cloaked arm to embrace and cover the bride, as a symbol of his promise to protect her.

“This shows how truly loyal you are to your family,” Boaz replies.  “I’ll do what you have asked” (Ruth 3:10-11).

Interfaith/interracial marriage.

Ruth’s story is a call for tolerance toward interfaith marriage.  Jews in Bible times preferred to marry Jews.  That’s because they feared that foreign mates would lure them away from worshiping God, and convince them to worship foreign gods instead.

That’s exactly what happened to Solomon.  “As Solomon got older, some of his wives led him to worship their gods… Solomon worshiped Astarte the goddess of Sidon, and Milcom the detestable god of Ammon” (1 Kings 11:4-5).

After the Jews returned from exile in Babylon – an exile supposedly orchestrated by God as punishment for Israel’s idolatry – a priest named Ezra stood before a Jerusalem crowd and said, “We must promise God that we will divorce our foreign wives and send them away, together with their children” (Ezra 10:3).  Ezra didn’t want the nation to fall back into idolatry and suffer another exile.  The Jews complied.

Ruth’s story, however, offers the compelling argument that foreigners are capable of embracing Israel’s faith in God.  And God is clearly willing to embrace them, as evidenced by the blessings he pours out on Ruth.

One last fact…

According to Jewish law, if a childless woman outlived her husband she couldn’t remarry outside of the family.  Her husband’s brother or another family member was obligated to marry her and take care of her (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).


That’s all for this week!

Paul S.