historicla analysis of 1 samuel 16

Historical Analysis of 1 Samuel 16:1-7 The books of Samuel describe the very beginnings of kingship in Israel and give a detailed account of the reigns of Israel’s first two kings Saul and David. The selected pericope (1 Samuel 16:1-7) is often grouped amongst what scholar’s label as the third narrative. The third narrative is largely known as the historical narrative that tells the story of David’s rise to power and gives evidence that “The Lord is with him”[1]. Without question, this text is pivotal because God sends Samuel to anoint young David as King of Israel.

However, before the writings of the Deuteronomistic Historian are discussed in regards to the book of Samuel, one must understand the backdrop of the text. After the successful crusade to take the Promised Land documented in the book of Joshua, Israel began a gradual spiritual decline that progressed for more than three centuries. During this time Israel was a confederation of tribes scattered all over the land God promised their ancestor Abraham. Over time Israel’s commitment to obey Yahweh had waned. As a result, the nations that initially were defeated by Israel began to regain strength, and eventually conquered their former captors.

During this time, God sent deliverers, or judges, to rescue His people from their distress, but every deliverance was short lived. By the end of Judges the spiritual, social and political condition of the nation had sunk to an abysmally low point in her brief history. [2] Israel had departed from following Yahweh and gone after the idols of the surrounding pagan nations and “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Our pericope, written by the Deuteronomistic Historian, commences at the end of the period of Judges in the 11th century B. C. 3] Here the writer walks us through Israel’s transition from a theocracy, or state ruled by a religious leader, to a monarchy, a state ruled by a political leader. Furthermore, the first book of Samuel is setup to establish a monarchy for Israel according to the pattern of God’s or Yahweh’s announcement in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. Moreover, the narratives reveal that Yahweh alone reserved the right to appoint his King. He personally instructed His prophet to anoint the head of the Saulide dynasty. Likewise, His prophet was instructed to anoint the head of the Davidic dynasty.

Perhaps, Yahweh’s intention to reserve the selection of the king at His prerogative is best seen in the contrast between His statements regarding the appointment of Saul. “Listen to their voice and set a king over them” (1 Samuel 8:22), and his statement regarding David’s appointment, “I have selected a king for Myself (1Samuel 16:1). ”[4] Directly related to the divine prerogative of selecting the king was Yahweh’s designation of the king as His “anointed. ” To anoint meant that one poured or smeared sacred oil on a person’s body, usually the head, or on sacred objects associated with worship rituals.

The ceremony of anointing was viewed as symbolic of the coming of God’s spirit on a person or an object. [5] This term is used 34 times in the Old Testament in apposition to a royal person and emphasizes Yahweh’s choice or selection of the individual in view. [6] The narratives in 1 Samuel are intended to answer the following questions: 1) Why did Israel need a monarch? 2) What will Israel’s monarchy be like? 3) What will the ideal king be like? [7] The first question is answered in the opening narratives depicting the sad state of affairs common in Israel prior to the establishment of the monarchy (1 Samuel 1-7).

The author (Deuteronomistic historian) answers the second question by letting the audience, the Northern Yahwists and those who backed Saul and were at the brink of witnessing the end of his reign; know that Yahweh had not been removed as King. [8] Rather, the king would be Yahweh’s representative and was to give primary attention to obeying His will and instruction. That is exactly why the selected pericope becomes relevant. In evaluating Saul by God’s criteria, the audience is forced to conclude that while Saul may have had some admirable characteristics; he didn’t quite measure up to Yahweh’s standards.

Since Yahweh remains sovereign, and since Yahweh has standards for kings, it is inevitable that Yahweh will assess Saul’s effectiveness by his faithfulness to those standards. As this assessment unfolds in 1 Samuel 13-15, it becomes apparent that the Lord does not judge according to whether or not Saul performs as well as kings of other nations, though Israel does so (1 Sam. 8:4-5). God determines Saul’s future by the king’s obedience to divine commands. When Saul fails in the manner, Yahweh removes him as divinely anointed ruler.

The human agent who carries God’s assessment is Samuel the prophet. [9] The third question answered by the narrative is related to the nature of the king himself. What would the king be like? The author of answered by contrasting both Saul in David in 1 Samuel 13-15. Although, some scholars argue that the narratives presenting David are intentionally crafted as propaganda to defend David’s legitimacy. This Samuel account of David was not written as a strict historical record, but as a carefully crafted narrative with certain theological and political perspectives. 10] In short, these narratives revealed the criteria by which Yahweh evaluated “His Anointed”, that in order to rule well, you must first be ruled by Yahweh. In this light, David was the ideal king rather than Saul. So, here in the pericope David is revealed as Yahweh’s personal choice to replace Saul as the next king of Israel. It is probably no mistake that David’s identity is concealed in the first half of the text in order to around the anticipation of the reader, and to direct his attention to an even more significant matter than the identity of the new king; namely, the basis by which Yahweh selected him (16:1).

As a result, Yahweh Himself makes His final rejection of Saul (16:1). A further function of this text is to reintroduce Samuel’s prophetic role in preparation for the task of anointing a new king. But the primary function of verses 1-7 is to reveal the basis of Yahweh’s choice of a king. The text makes it clear that Yahweh is the one who chooses in 16:1 and then reveals the basis of that choice in 16:7, thus framing the narrative and revealing this to be the central theme. Any future King of Israel must realize that he rules because Yahweh has appointed him, and the basis of that appointment is what Yahweh sees.

Yahweh evaluates in ways that ordinary men cannot. Men are limited to seeing what is external and thus must learn to depend on Yahweh who alone can discern the true inner character of an individual. While the text does teach that we are to consider more than external appearance, it is a mistake to use this teaching to imply that man by himself has the ability apart from God’s revelation. This is clearly seen in the flow of the passage and Yahweh’s emphatic statement that He would show Samuel what to do (16:3). Samuel struggled with God’s decision and mourned over Saul (16:1).

Nevertheless, he does what Saul refused to do; he gave full obedience to what Yahweh said (16:4) and went to seek out God’s anointed at Bethlehem. Samuel mistakenly assumed Eliab must be the chosen one on account of his external appearance (16:6) and was rebuked for his hasty assumption (16:7). Yahweh proceeded to reveal that He alone was qualified to select the next monarch because He alone could evaluate the candidate’s heart. Earlier the book of Samuel the people made the same mistake in selecting Saul that Samuel made here in evaluating Eliab.

It is here in the text that the audience arrives at the theological heart of the narrative. The intent of the text is to instruct all future Israelites and their leaders that they must learn Yahweh Himself who is making His final rejection of Saul and to trust Yahweh implicitly by seeking out His direction in all matters including the selection and evaluation of monarchs, for He alone is able to rightly discern what a man truly is internally. Solomon would later express this concept in Proverbs: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding”

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