The Gospel in 1–2 Samuel

This article is part of the Christ in All of Scripture series.

The Great King

The books of Samuel are about Israel’s first kings, Saul and David: who they were, how they came to the throne, and how they fared. But more than that, the books are about the great King, God himself. In the riveting stories of 1 and 2 Samuel we catch glimpses of who God is, what he does, what life is like with him and without him, and what life can become by his grace and in the power of his Spirit. These stories are part of our family history as children of Abraham by faith (Gal. 3:7–9, 14). They are meant to instruct us, “on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11), to teach us endurance and, “through the encouragement of the Scriptures,” to give us hope, in order that we may “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:4, 6).

These are gospel-filled stories, unflinchingly honest about sin and society, but saturated with hope of salvation. The two key characters (apart from Samuel the prophet) are both royal sinners. But Saul and David are as different from one another as darkness is from light. For Saul, God does not appear to be a major concern, perhaps not a reality at all. For David, God is his ultimate concern. For David, God is the ultimate reality. And he carries ultimate weight. This is what it means to “honor” God. By the criteria established early in the books—“those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed” (1 Sam. 2:30)—Saul is destined to fall and David to rise.

Avoiding Misinterpretations

Because stories tend to convey their messages indirectly—which is to say, we see what characters do and hear what they say but are seldom offered explicit commentary—they are susceptible to misunderstanding. One common misunderstanding sees Saul as all bad and David as all good. Another reverses the approach and sees Saul as not so bad and David as little more than an unscrupulous political animal.

These are gospel-filled stories, unflinchingly honest about sin and society, but saturated with hope of salvation.

A careful reading disallows both misinterpretations. Saul is not all bad, at least at first. He exhibits some “good faith” at the beginning, but because he is devoid of “true faith” in God this good faith erodes over time into self-centeredness and suicide. David is certainly not all good, and the accounts of 1 and 2 Samuel make no attempt to hide his sins!

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But David’s relationship with God is fundamentally sound. He knows God, prays to God, confesses to God, and finds strength in God. He knows himself to be a sinner, and he knows what it means to be saved by grace. Does he also sense that God, in putting him on the throne, is about much more than just establishing a limited, local kingdom? Surely he has some sense of this, even if without full discernment. After all, God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3), which finds numerous echoes in the promise to David (2 Sam. 7:4–17), culminates with the prophecy that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). David cannot foresee just how this blessing will work out, but he seems aware that something grand and glorious is underway (2 Sam. 7:18–29).

Only to us, those privileged to live after the coming of the true King, the Lord’s Anointed (Messiah) from David’s line, is it given to understand that “the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever . . . Hallelujah!” (from Handel’s Messiah).

This article is adapted from the ESV Gospel Transformation Study Bible. Browse other articles in this series via the links below.

Old Testament

GenesisExodusLeviticusNumbersDeuteronomyJoshuaJudgesRuth1–2 Samuel1–2 Kings1–2 ChroniclesEzraNehemiahEstherJobPsalmsProverbsEcclesiastesSong of SolomonIsaiahJeremiahLamentationsEzekielDanielHoseaJoelAmosObadiahJonahMicahNahumHabbakukZephaniahHaggaiZechariahMalachi

New Testament

MatthewMarkLukeJohnActsRomans1 Corinthians2 CorinthiansGalatians EphesiansPhilippiansColossians1 Thessalonians2 Thessalonians1 Timothy2 TimothyTitusPhilemonHebrewsJames1 Peter2 Peter1–3 JohnJudeRevelation

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