The Kind of Person God can Use
If you want to understand the basic message of 1 and 2 Samuel, then you may find it helpful to think of Thomas Edison. He may not have been the original inventor of the light bulb, but he built tirelessly on the work of others to find the kind of filament which would make it an invention all the world could use.
Thomas Edison’s experiments in 1879 were very much like the book of Judges, which covers the two and a half centuries leading up to the start of 1 Samuel. He passed electricity through many different filaments in the hope of finding one which burned brightly in the darkness. Many of them failed to do so – like Barak, the man God called to display his glory during a Canaanite invasion in around 1257BC. He was so unwilling to let God use him that God had to show his power through a foreign woman instead.1
Other filaments shone as brightly as Thomas Edison intended, but failed to burn as long and consistently as was needed. They were like Gideon, who displayed God’s saving power when he defeated the Midianites in about 1210BC, but who quickly succumbed afterwards to the sins of idolatry and polygamy. They were like Jephthah, who shone brightly for the Lord when he routed the Ammonite army in about 1107BC, yet knew God so dimly that he went home and made a human sacrifice of his daughter in a misguided attempt to glorify him.
Finally, the Lord told a barren mother that she would conceive and give birth to Israel’s twelfth and greatest judge so far. Samson would “be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb” and he would “take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”2 He would be like the filament which Thomas Edison produced from carbonised cotton thread and which made him so excited that he filed for a patent for his light bulb at the end of 1879. Like that filament, however, Samson also proved to be as flawed as the eleven judges who had gone before. When the power of God came upon him, it revealed he was still governed by his lust and anger instead of by the Lord. Thomas Edison’s cotton filament destroyed itself after only thirteen hours. He had still not found the kind of filament he could use.
Thankfully, the message of 1 and 2 Samuel is that God did not give up on his search. He was determined to reveal his glory by finding the kind of person he could use. We read in 1 Samuel 1-7 that he found a humble person in the form of the fourteenth and final judge, Samuel, and that he used him to do everything which Samson had failed to do. We read in 1 Samuel 8-15 that he looked for an obedient person, and that when the first king, Saul, failed to be such a person God revealed a better candidate in a shepherd-boy named David. In 1 Samuel 16-31, we discover the lengths God went to in order to make David into a pure person so that he would be the kind of person he could use.
The story continues in 2 Samuel 1-10, as David begins his reign and proves himself to be a person who loves God’s name. He is as different from Saul as Samuel was from Samson, like the filament of carbonised bamboo which Thomas Edison discovered in 1880 and which burned for over 1200 hours, marking the invention of the first commercially viable electric light bulb. God has finally found the kind of person he can use, and 1 and 2 Samuel look like they have reached a happy ending.
But they haven’t. David sins, and badly. He fails the Lord more dramatically than Barak, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson and Saul put together. 2 Samuel 11-24 ends the story by telling us that God is looking for a repentant person who admits his sin and looks to a better, brighter Saviour than King David.3 The Hebrew Old Testament groups 1 and 2 Samuel with the books which are known as ‘the Former Prophets’ because the writer always intended us to receive his work as more than just a history book. He prophesies the coming of someone far greater than David, God’s anointed one – the word in Hebrew is messiah. He prophesies that David’s dynasty will produce a greater Son who will perfectly fulfil the message of these chapters and become the ultimate Person God can use.
1 and 2 Samuel must have been completed some time after 930BC, since they refer repeatedly to ‘Israel’ and ‘Judah’ as two distinct kingdoms.4 They must also have been completed some time before 925BC, since they tell us that Ziklag belonged to the kings of Judah “to this day”, and we know that Ziklag was annexed by the Egyptians in that year.5 This means that the readers of 1 and 2 Samuel had four hundred years to wait before God gave them a commentary on its meaning after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon. He gave them 1 and 2 Chronicles, the last book of the Hebrew Old Testament,6 which the Greek Septuagint translation simply entitles ‘The Things Which Were Omitted’. The author of 1 Chronicles intended his writing to serve as a supplement to 1 and 2 Samuel, and he deliberately fills in some of the blanks in order to help us understand its underlying message. He takes a selective view of the same incidents in the life of David and uses them to point to a better Messiah who will be the greatest filament of them all.
So get ready for the message of 1 and 2 Samuel, which are as much a personal biography of Samuel, Saul and David as they are a national history of Israel and Judah. If you read them and respond to their message – imitating Samuel’s humility and David’s obedience, purity, passion for God’s name, and repentance when he sinned – then God will enable you to take your own place in the great drama which he is still performing through Jesus, his Messiah. He will fill you with his power and make you glow brightly in this dark world to the praise of his all-surpassing glory.
Get ready to be part of God’s great salvation story. Get ready to let him shape you into the kind of person he can use.
This is one of a series of extracts from Phil Moore’s book Straight to the Heart of 1&2 Samuel. This and other books in the series can be purchased through his website.
- 1 Judges 4:8-9 makes it clear that this was shameful. The song of praise which follows blesses Jael, not Barak.
- 2 Judges 13:5. Unless we understand the failure of Samson, we cannot understand the success of Samuel.
- 3 It is one story because 1 & 2 Samuel form one book in the Hebrew Old Testament. It was split into two books by the translators of the Greek Septuagint because Hebrew was written without vowels and therefore fitted more onto a scroll than Greek. Just to confuse things further, the Latin Bible labelled them ‘1 & 2 Kings’ and labelled what we call 1 & 2 Kings ‘3 & 4 Kings’!
- 4 1 Samuel 11:8, 17:52, 18:16 & 27:6, and 2 Samuel 5:5 & 24:1-9. This is one reason why it is a misinterpretation of 1 Chronicles 29:29-30 to think Samuel was the primary author (that and the fact he dies halfway through!), and a misinterpretation of 2 Samuel 23:1 to think David was the primary author.
- 5 Other similar clues can be found in 1 Samuel 5:5, 6:18, 9:9 & 30:25, and 2 Samuel 4:3, 6:8 & 18:18.
- 6 1 & 2 Chronicles is also one book in the Hebrew Old Testament, as is 1 & 2 Kings. The Hebrew Old Testament orders the books differently from English Bibles, placing 1 & 2 Chronicles right at the end.