The books of Samuel put great emphasis on three men: Samuel, Saul and David. These three central figures are the first of great beginnings, the transition from theocracy to monarchy, and yet it ends tragically, all of it. We see that these three are not alone, but a fourth who has been always there, watching and controlling… God.
The people of Israel and God seemed to have a love and hate relationship, more like a dating couple. God’s strangle hold seemed to have cramped the people’s space and wanted out. They desired someone like the other nations had, a human king. They did not want God as their king anymore. “And the Lord told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king…. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do'” (1 Samuel 8:7,9). But still God was willing to heed their cries and played along. He played the ever-strong “boyfriend” who they always come back to in the end.
God was not willing to let his people go easily. He withdrew from close contact with the people but stayed with them in spirit. He never recognized their kings as a representative of His word yet he chose their kings for them. Instead He spoke to them through his prophets where Samuel was the first. He basically defined the role of the kings to be the ones to govern the people and the role of the prophets to be the ones to reveal God’s will to them.
Before Samuel, there was Eli, a high priest during the time of the judges who, in the training of Hannah’s son, demonstrated a clear understanding of God’s purpose and call (1 Samuel 1,3). Yet his life ends in despair as God judged his sacrilegious sons as the sacred Ark of the Covenant fell into enemy hands (1 Samuel 4). Eli’s death marked the decline of the influence of the priesthood and the rise of the prophets in Israel that Samuel spearheaded, and also the trend of finishing badly throughout the books.
Samuel’s story is introduced with Hannah, his mother, who had a great faith in Him. God remembered this and used her and Samuel as a foothold for advance. She dedicates her son to God; “…I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”(1 Samuel 1:28) and she gives us a glimpse of his purpose, “…he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor. For the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; upon them he has set the world” (1 Samuel 2:8). With no doubt Samuel became an instrument of God, becoming a kingmaker finding and anointing both Saul and David.
Saul was a king anointed after the people’s own heart to “…appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5). Saul was all that the Israelites wanted and more. He had unusual physical strength, but he was disturbed and failed the people. He was weak spiritually and also as a leader, first abandoning God and later destroying the livelihood of Israel with its endless wars with the Philistines.
David on the other hand was a king anointed after God’s own heart. David’s attitude towards God creates an opportunity for God to bring an unfound greatness to the kingdom of Israel, as “David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel”(2 Samuel 5:12). David is chosen to be king by Samuel of course and is crowned over Judah and then over all of Israel (2 Samuel 5:1-5). He then brings back the Ark of the Covenant to the tabernacle (2 Samuel 6:1-23) and completes the conquest of the Promised Land begun by Joshua (2 Samuel 8-10). Yet David also had his faults like taking a census (2 Samuel 24:1-25) but he still confessed his sin when charged with it rather than trying to deny it as it’s shown clearly in 2 Samuel 22:17-27. But in all, he was loyal to God and became God’s instrument in progress and blessing.
The people wanted time away from God, so he gave it to them only to show them that no one can really substitute Him as seen in Saul. David was one God had appointed to show how much the people can have if they went back to Him. God also had a middleman so that the people will never forget Him. Much like in a dating situation, woman (Israel) breaks up with man (God), or takes some time off, whichever you want to put it. Woman dates around (Saul and David). Has the ex-man’s friend always lurking and bumping into woman (Samuel). But eventually sees her mistake in leaving man.