Some parts of Samuel’s story will be familiar; others less so. Try to answer the following before checking the references and see if there are any surprises:
1. What was Israel like when Samuel was born? Read 1 Samuel 1:1-2
2. Were the people at peace or at war? Read 1 Samuel 4:1-4
3. How did people worship God? Read 1 Samuel 2:12-16,22, 7:3,4
4. Where was the tabernacle? Read 1 Samuel 1:3
5. What strange events surrounded Samuel’s birth? Read 1 Samuel 1:19-20
6. How old was he when he was given to God? Read 1 Samuel 1:21-23
7. Where did he live when he was given to God? Read 1 Samuel 2:18-21
8. Were there other prophets around at this time? Read 1 Samuel 2:27,34-35, 3:1
9. How did he become a prophet? Read 1 Samuel 3:2-5
Bearing these things in mind...
1. Did God choose Samuel or did Samuel choose God? Read Jeremiah 1:5, 1 Peter 2:9. Did God choose you?
2. Did Samuel know God’s purpose when he was chosen? Do you have to understand why God chose you before you can believe you are His choice?
3. Samuel makes his “declaration of faith” as a child. Do you think Eli’s other sons might have done the same? What might be different about how Samuel comes to faith and how Eli’s sons failed to believe?
Geography: The Philistines lived on the coast. The tribe of Judah had settled the land between Philistia and the Dead Sea. Ephraim and Benjamin lived North of Philistia and Judah, and it was important for the Jewish tribes to maintain access to sea and land trade routes.
History: Egypt was under attack from Libya and from the Sea Peoples.
Religion: Many cultures shared traditions of visiting a god’s house and staying there in order to obtain a vision directly or through a priest (hence temple prostitution in pagan cultures). The cult of Dagon is recorded outside the Bible as was a major religion in the Middle East, so it’s not surprising that the Philistines worshiped Dagon. Carrying booty from a foreign god as tribute to your own was a common practice in war. So...
1. What happened to the Ark of the Covenant? Read 1 Samuel 5:1-5,8,11. The Israelites took the Ark into battle, not because God told them to, but because they believed it would protect them. Do we ever try to imbue things with a power that only belongs to God? Can you think of examples where Christians have used the Bible instead of letting God change them? How can we avoid doing that?
2. What happened to the Philistines? Read 1 Samuel 6:3-6. It’s likely the Philistines were struck with bubonic plague, which led their religious leaders to remember the plagues of Egypt. How easily do we remember God’s deeds?
3. What happened to the Israelites? Read 1 Samuel 6:19. Doing the right thing didn’t protect them. Should we expect doing right to protect us?
At this point most of Israel falls under Philistine rule. The Ark ends up in Kiriath-Jiarim (Read Joshua 9:17, 15:9, 18:14-15) on the border of Judah and Benjamin. And 20 years pass (otherwise known as half a generation).
1. Did the people turn to God for help? Read 1 Samuel 7:3,4. Do we turn to God for help, or do we turn to the gods of our modern world? Which gods?
2. Was Samuel a prophet, priest, judge or warrior? Read 1 Samuel 7:9,11,15. What made the people trust him? What makes us know who to trust in leadership positions, or in positions of power?
3. Israel had been ruled by judges before. What goes wrong this time? Read 1 Samuel 8:1-3. Was Proverbs 22:6 meant to make us feel guilty if our kids don’t do as we’d wish?
4. What do the people turn to for help now? Read 1 Samuel 8:4. How easily do we turn to politics instead of faith?
5. Samuel prophesies, or reveals, what a king will be like, then anoints a wandering Benjaminite. Do you remember what Saul was doing when he was anointed? Read 1 Samuel 9:5-6, 15-16. What did he do next? Read 1 Samuel 10:10,20-22.
History: Read 1 Samuel 13:19-22 The bronze age is just giving way to the age of iron, and historically, the Philistines knew the art of the blacksmith but weren’t sharing it. This makes fighting the Philistines harder than fighting the other tribes. But tribal warfare is the norm (as non-Biblical sources make clear) and continues unabated.
1. One city, of one tribe, is threatened by the Ammonites. Saul raises an army and defends it, then Samuel crowns him at Gilgal. But war with the Philistines is looming again. Saul, once a prophet, now a king, loses God’s favor by disobeying God’s instructions when Samuel seems to be late to a sacrifice. Read 1 Samuel 13:8-10. How often are we tempted to “do it ourselves” instead of waiting for God?
2. Saul fights so many wars he has no time to establish a throne. Where does he place his trust? Read 1 Samuel 14:18,24,27,47-48,52. Where do we place our trust? When are we tempted to make foolish vows?
3. Samuel, the prophet, is still passing on God’s instructions. Read 1 Samuel 15:1-3. Remembering what happened to the Philistines when they captured the ark, can you think of a humanly logical reason why God might have given that command? When people use the words of the Bible to “prove” God is vengeful, what are they missing? The Amalekites do cause trouble for Israel later—some argue that’s why God wanted to destroy them.
4. Saul disobeys, of course (his 3rd mistake) and now Samuel is on his way to anoint a new king, David. What happens to Saul in the meantime? Read 1 Samuel 16:14. David is brought to his camp to soothe him with music. What psalm might David have sung?