Into Samuel we now go, and in Samuel we will stay for some time. In fact, it will be mid-May before we are done with Samuel and its sequel Kings.
I am a little less than ambivalent about that. A little on the negative side of ambivalent, that is. I don’t dislike Samuel. My belief that the entire Bible is the inspired word of God prevents me from disliking it or any other biblical books.
But I’m not exactly thrilled about it, either. There is something about Samuel, the sequel Kings, and their summary Chronicles that I don’t like.
Some Long Books
And as soon as I wrote that line, I realized what that something is: the length of these books. If you combine the “1” and “2” books into one (as they originally were and still should be), then Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles become the top three longest books of the Bible. Each of them beats Jeremiah, the fourth longest, by around 5,000 words.
For me, that is a difficulty. I like the shorter books of the Bible. I like the short stories and the short messages. Always have, always will.
What I see now, though, is that there is a value in these lengthy books. Actually, what I see is that the length of these books itself communicates their value.
A Central Story
Here’s what I mean: the fact that God allowed these books to be so long is an indication of the importance of the story these books tell.
God did have a choice in the matter. He could have told this story in a much shorter way. He could have surveyed the material in these books just as He surveyed the Creation and the Fall and the Flood and most of the other stories in the Old Testament.
But He didn’t. He took His time with this one. He gave a lot of space to this one. Double the space, in fact. He actually tells this story twice; Chronicles is a summary of Samuel and Kings, covering the same material a second time. Not only so, but He tells this story last; in the Hebrew arrangement, Chronicles is the final book, making this story the concluding story of the Hebrew Bible.
All of that is telling us something. It is telling us this story is an incredibly important story.
The Center of the Story
So what is this incredibly important story? Well, we get some idea when we look at its characters. There are several characters in this book: Eli, Abigail, Goliath, etc. But there are three key ones: Samuel, Saul, and David. In fact, just as Ruth should really be called Naomi (as I told you last blog), so Samuel should really be called Samuel, Saul, & David because it really is about these three men. More accurately, the story moves through those three men.
It starts with Samuel. Even though he has one book named after him, Samuel is still one of the most underrated of all biblical characters. He probably wrote at least part of three books of the Bible (Judges, Ruth, and Samuel), and his birth was a verifiable miracle. Either of those alone makes him notable. The most important thing about him, though, is that he simultaneously held three spiritual roles. He was a prophet, a priest, and a judge (the last of the judges, actually).
The story then moves to Saul. There are two important things about Saul. One is that he was king of Israel. He was the first king of Israel, in fact (if you don’t count Abimelech from Judges 9, that is). The time of the judges ended and the time of the Israelite monarchy began with him. The other is that he was a wicked king. He seems to be concerned not with God’s will but with preserving power, which is what he did or at least tried to do until the day he died.
Then the story finally lands on David.
The Covenant King
Like Saul, David is king of Israel. Unlike Saul, David was concerned about God’s will. David was so concerned about God’s will that God Himself called David “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Not only so, but God made a covenant with David, promising that He would “establish [David’s] throne forever”. It is even possible (but not certain) that David offered sacrifices to God, something kings weren’t normally allowed to do (2 Samuel 6:18 & 24:25).
For this reason, I call David “the covenant king”. This is similar to Plato’s “philosopher king”, except it is even greater. Plato believed the best ruler was one who combined authority with philosophy, that is, who had the power of a king and the heart of a philosopher. I believe he is on to something there, but I believe an even better ruler is one who combines authority with a relationship with God, that is, who has the power of a king and a heart of and for God.
David was that. In David we see the two great themes of the entire Bible, covenant (i.e., relationship) and kingdom (i.e., authority), coming together in one man and being expressed in a great way. Not a perfect way, of course, but a great way. In David we see a type (that is, a kind or foreshadowing) of what Jesus would be and do even better.
Worthy of the Length
That’s what Samuel shows us more than anything else: the coming of a type of covenant king. That’s what Samuel predicts: the coming of a greater covenant king. That is an incredibly important story. That is a Gospel, in fact. And that is why God gives so much space to it. That is why we should read it. That is what we need to see in it.