1 Samuel For You (Book Review)

One of the most famous and fascinating books in the Bible is the book of Samuel.  In the Christian arrangement of Old Testament books, Samuel is divided into two parts: 1 Samuel (narrating the rise and fall of Israel’s first king Saul) and 2 Samuel (telling the story of the promise, rise, and tragedy of Israel’s second king David).  The book is named Samuel for the man who was Israel’s last leader during the historical period of the judges, who was also a prophet (i.e., known as a “seer” in those early days of Israel).

1 Samuel contains some of the best known and beloved stories in Scripture.  Almost everyone has heard something of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17).  Many are familiar with the friendship between David and Saul’s son Prince Jonathan (1 Samuel 18, 20), and the Lord’s gentle audible call of the boy Samuel to be his prophet (1 Samuel 3).  The book of 1 Samuel is literally chock full of ancient Israel’s history.  But more than this, 1 Samuel is a book first and foremost about the birth of the visible “king”-dom of God on earth, and as such contains all sorts of pointers, symbols, shadows, types, and predictions of the greatest king of Israel: the eternal Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Author and pastor Tim Chester has written an excellent and readable study of 1 Samuel called 1 Samuel For You (1SFY).  It’s in The Good Book Company’s “Read, Feed, Lead: God’s Word For You” series that continues to churn out wonderful studies of biblical books for individual devotion and group study.  Each book in the God’s Word For You series has an accompanying study guide booklet useful for digging a little deeper into a passage and reflecting on its meaning and application for today.  My Bible study group at church has used many books in the God’s Word For You series to study God’s Word together with great benefit.  Chester’s 1SFY proved to be on of our favorites.

From the Series Preface (pg 5):

Each volume of the God’s Word For You series takes you to the heart of a book of the Bible, and applies its truths to your heart.  The central aim of each title is to be Bible centered, Christ glorifying, relevantly applied, and easily readable.  You can use 1 Samuel For You:

To read.  You can simply read from cover to cover, as a book that explains and explores the themes, encouragements and challenges of this part of Scripture.

To feed.  You can work through this book as part of your own personal regular devotions, or use it alongside a sermon or Bible-study series at your church.  Each chapter is divided into two shorter sections, with questions for reflection at the end of each.

To lead.  You can use this as a resource to help you teach God’s word to others, both in small-group and whole-church settings.  You’ll find tricky verses or concepts explained using ordinary language, and helpful themes and illustrations along with suggested applications.

…Our prayer is that as you read, you’ll be struck not by the contents of this book, but by the book it’s helping you open up; and that you’ll praise not the author of this book, but the One he is pointing you to.

That last goal is a tall order.  Not because Jesus is not worthy of the Christian’s highest praise and devotion.  He is!  But because Chester and the God’s Word For You series deserve a certain kind of praise for how these books assist in pointing to, explaining, and directing the reader to Scripture as the source.  The Book of books is about Jesus, and Chester understands that making 1SFY finally about Jesus must also be his goal.  “Well done, good and faithful servant” is the kind of praise it deserves.

So, you might be wondering, how does an OT book point to the story of Jesus?  The episode of David and Goliath is a good example.  In 1SFY, Chester’s exposition makes two connections that make the story of Jesus explicit.  First, he notices and examines what it means that Goliath’s battle armor is described in the original language (Hebrew) as “scales”.  Many commentators conclude the author of 1 Samuel is comparing Goliath to a giant serpent ready to kill the appointed representative warrior of God’s people.  For the biblically literate reader, any mention of “serpent” should remind of the fall in the Garden of Eden.  In Genesis 3, the third chapter in the Bible, Satan, in the form of a serpent, slithers up to Adam and Eve and tempts them to trust his word instead of God’s.  That first serpent battled God’s representative warrior for control of God’s kingdom.  So Goliath the giant Philistine warrior recapitulates that first battle between the serpent and God’s people.  In 1 Samuel 17, we have another round of the seed of the serpent (Goliath) making war on the seed of the woman (David).  Again, astute Bible students should recognize an echo of Jesus battling Satan in the wilderness just before Christ officially embarks on his earthly gospel ministry.  In the first episode, God’s representative lost to the serpent (Genesis 3).  In the next episode, God’s rep triumphed by faith over the serpent (1 Samuel 17).  In the early years of the New Testament, Jesus as God’s anointed champion for his people Israel decisively triumphs by faith in God and his Word over the devil himself (Matthew 4).  And only at the end of history, when Christ returns to finish the epic age-long war between the serpent and God’s anointed king (Revelation 12), will the final battle ensue when Jesus the Son of David and eternal King of kings forever finishes off the that serpent of old and his seed (Revelation 20).

David and Goliath, portrayed as one important skirmish in the cosmic battle between Christ and Satan the Serpent, is just one example how Chester highlights the many Christological themes in 1 Samuel.

Since half 1 Samuel is about the life of David, who was Israel’s most prolific and celebrated psalmist, 1SFY appropriately includes an appendix that maps every Davidic psalm to its corresponding (1 & 2) Samuel narrative.  In all there are 15 psalms that map to particular chapters in Samuel.  One of my favorites is Psalm 63 in which David sings of his soul-thirst for worshiping the Lord in the sanctuary while he is body-parched wandering in the wilderness of Judah on the run from Saul attempting to murder him.  Digressing to read Psalm 63 in the middle of the chapter retelling David’s wilderness sojourn sheds new light on the story.  Can you feel David’s heartfelt struggle as his body is weary for a drink of cold fresh water?

Psalm 63  A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. 1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  2 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  4 So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.  5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,  6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;  7 for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  8 My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.  9 But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth;  10 they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals.  11 But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

The one (very) minor criticism I have of 1SFY is that the copy-editor could have done a better job.  It seems the book was rushed to press to meet the demand for more book in the series.  At more than a few points I stumbled across grammatical mistakes and repeated words.  They are instantly recognized by authors who are in the habit of editing and reediting their work.  We make the same mistakes trying to move phrases around in a sentence to avoid splitting infinitives and ensuring modifying phrases are not separated from that which they modify.  I hope these 1SFY errors are cleaned up in the next printing because they’d be so easy to correct.

My Bible study group is now a couple weeks into 2 Samuel, using the accompanying For You study book by Tim Chester.  Hopefully in that book, which traces the remainder of David’s life (actually David doesn’t die until the beginning of the following book: 1 Kings 2), will build on the strengths of 1SFY and avoid the editorial oversights.  But first things first—if you want to get a Christ-centered easy-to-grasp-handle on the early history of God’s kingdom in ancient Israel, then 1SFY is an excellent place to start.  Who knows, you just might start to pick up on the author’s way of reading the OT and begin to see Jesus other places in the OT.  He’s everywhere in there you know, just waiting to be discovered and adored!

Resources

Audio interview with the author:

Read a sample of the book

Supplementary “1 Samuel For You” Bible study booklet

The author’s blog

The author’s articles at Desiring God

The Bible Project’s Illustrated and Thematic Overview of 1 Samuel:

Reviews

Amazon

Craig’s Book Reviews

Goodreads

Jeff Randleman

Jennifer Guo

The Reagan Review

Thoughts, Prayers, and Songs

Torrey Gazette

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