Seeing Christ in 1 Samuel

Bart Byl
10 min readMay 27, 2021

The First Book of Samuel contains a gripping collection of stories, crafted by a master narrator (or team of narrators): Hannah crying out for relief from her vicious sister-wife; David silently snipping off the robe of King Saul in the cave; the dramatic night-time visit to the witch of Endor. As I discovered after preaching 28 sermons through 1 Samuel, Old Testament narrative offers plenty of opportunity to engage the imagination through narrative.

David Playing the Lyre for King Saul (Rembrandt)

But there’s something deeper in this book than exciting stories. As Christian readers, we recognize that the whole Old Testament points to Christ, as Jesus himself taught the two disciples on road to Emmaus.

So where is Jesus in 1 Samuel? Let me offer some suggestions on how each of the major units of the book (divided, for the most part, by chapter) points to Christ.

1 Samuel 1:1–2:11 (The Dead End)

The LORD of hosts begins the transition of Israel to the monarchy by blessing barren Hannah with a son, Samuel.

Where’s Jesus? Jesus was born of a virgin, an even more impossible and miraculous birth than Samuel’s. He is God’s true king who arrives to save his people when they can no longer do anything themselves. It turns out that the end of our dreams is where God’s plan begins. God hears the cry of those who reach out to him in desperation, and his salvation will dawn on his waiting people with unimagined brightness.

1 Samuel 2:12–36 (Deadly Contempt for God’s Offering)

God pronounces doom on Eli’s priestly house for treating the offering with contempt and promises a faithful priesthood; meanwhile, Samuel grows up before the LORD.

Where’s Jesus?

  1. Christ is the atoning sacrifice. Treating his blood with contempt cuts us off from the mercy of God.
  2. Christ is the one mediator who intercedes for us when we sin against the LORD.
  3. Christ is the faithful priest who ministers in the presence of the LORD forever.
  4. Christ honoured God supremely, and so will be supremely honoured.

1 Samuel 3 (“Speak, Lord, For Your Servant Is Listening”)

God takes the first step in national renewal by calling Samuel to speak his word to Eli and to Israel.

Where’s Jesus? Our greatest need is for divine revelation. God wants to disclose himself, and he does so fully in His Son. Christ is the greatest and final prophet (Hebrews 1) who proclaims God’s Word with power (John 1). Are we attending?

1 Samuel 4 (The Folly of Using God)

God allowed Israel to be defeated and the ark to be captured to demonstrate that he will not be coerced by unrepentant covenant people.

Where’s Jesus? The freedom of God is not a threat, but good news: his freedom is gracious. He sent his Son to people who could never manipulate God into being favourable. Like the ark going into exile, Jesus takes on the humiliation of our defeat to manifest the power of God.

1 Samuel 5 (God Fights His Own Battles)

God turns his defeat and capture into a victory tour over the Philistines and their gods.

Where’s Jesus? To both his disciples and his enemies, the cross seemed like a terrible defeat, but Jesus descended into the land of darkness where he defeated the powers and emerged victorious. Salvation is a work of God alone!

1 Samuel 6:1–7:2 (Who Can Stand Before This Holy God?)

God turns out to be just as dangerous to the Israelites as he is the Philistines.

Where’s Jesus? “Who is able to stand before this holy God?” Only Christ — and those safely clothed in him. He transforms the terrified urge to push God away into joyful confidence to enter boldly into the holy place.

1 Samuel 7 (God Helps Repentant People)

Samuel leads Israel to repent of their idolatry and turn to God in total service and dependance. God responds by rescuing them from the Philistines.

Where’s Jesus? Christ is the greater Samuel who leads us back home to God. As prophet, his powerful word awakens repentance. As priest, his intercession and sacrifice reconcile us to God and save us from our enemies. As judge, his leadership ensures we stay faithful day to day.

Christ is also our Ebenezer. Our faith rests on his cross and empty tomb. “Thus far the LORD has helped us” — and surely he will be with us always, even to the end of the age.

1 Samuel 8 (A King to Keep Us Safe)

God grants Israel’s rebellious demand for a king, warning them through Samuel that it will lead to oppression.

Where’s Jesus? Christ is the human-divine king God is going to appoint for his people — a king who gives instead of taking.

1 Samuel 9:1–10:16 (An Encounter With Destiny)

Samuel anoints a surprised Saul as leader of Israel in order to save his people from their enemies.

Where’s Jesus? Christ is the king God has given us to save us from our enemies. But will the promise of Christmas be fulfilled? Jesus does not hang back from the terrible burden of leadership. His filling with the Spirit is immediately followed by him going into the wilderness to fight the enemy, and he finishes the job at the cross. He is the only one worthy of the title “king”. Your own destiny is fulfilled when it joins his.

1 Samuel 10:17–11:15 (The King Earns His Crown)

Saul proves he is God’s chosen king by saving Jabesh Gilead from the Ammonites and their serpent king in the power of the Spirit.

Where’s Jesus? Jesus is the Spirit-empowered anointed one who earns his crown by saving his helpless people from the serpent. He exercises his triumph in magnanimous mercy as his people celebrate and feast before the LORD.

1 Samuel 12 (An Appeal to Faithfulness)

Samuel exhorts the Israelites to remain faithful to their covenant God as they transition to the kingship.

Where’s Jesus? God’s gift of his Son is his supreme demonstration of his covenant faithfulness to an unfaithful people. God used their sinful rejection of their true king to redeem them. Christ’s death and resurrection form the basis of a new covenant in which our unfaithfulness is completely and permanently dealt with.

1 Samuel 13 (The Waiting Test)

Saul loses his dynasty because he is more concerned about immediate military necessity than obeying God’s command and waiting on him.

Where’s Jesus? Jesus is the true king after God’s own heart. His supreme concern on earth was to obey the will of his Father. Saul, and all of us, repeat the sins of the old Adam; Christ is the new Adam whose total obedience secure an everlasting kingdom. We receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

1 Samuel 14 (Faith That Risks for God)

King Saul, never in synch with God, compares unfavorably to faith-filled Jonathan, whom God uses to save Israel from the Philistines.

Where’s Jesus? Christ is the greater Jonathan, who burns for the glory of God and goes in weakness into the camp of the enemy, where he wins the victory. We are the cowards who mop up in his wake and enjoy the spoils of victory.

1 Samuel 15 (To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice)

Because Saul rejects the word of the LORD, God rejects him as king.

Where’s Jesus? The king represents the people, and he is called to account for their sins. King Jesus, the only human to obey God without reservation, is rejected in our place and becomes the evil thing devoted to destruction. Because of his total obedience, God has exalted and established him as king forever — he will not change his mind — and we are safe in his dominion.

1 Samuel 16 (The Spirit-Filled King)

God choose, anoints and grants the Spirit to the shepherd-boy David, whom Saul invites to court to soothe his tormented mind.

Where’s Jesus? David is the prototype of Christ: God’s chosen shepherd-king Messiah, who has received the Spirit without measure, drives out evil spirits, and blesses his enemies.

1 Samuel 17 (The Man Between the Armies)

David demonstrates his fitness for kingship by defeating the Philistine champion Goliath in single combat.

Where’s Jesus? Christ is the ‘man between’ who triumphs over the Enemy through the weakness of the cross. We are the fearful Israelites who rise with a shout to finish off the fleeing foe in the wake of our champion.

1 Samuel 18 (Glad Surrender to the True King)

After killing Goliath, David continues to be successful, because God is with him. Everyone loves him — except Saul.

Where’s Jesus? By conquering sin, death and Satan, Christ has earned lordship over God’s people. No enemy can stand against him, because God is with him. Covenant with him means continued blessing and salvation.

1 Samuel 19 (Under God’s Protection)

David repeatedly escapes from Saul’s obsessed attempts to murder him, because he is under God’s protection.

Where’s Jesus? Christ is David’s Son, who gave himself up to those who came to arrest him, in order to save his followers who desert him.

1 Samuel 20 (Family, or the King?)

David and Jonathan carry out their plan to clarify Saul’s real intentions, which are to murder David.

Where’s Jesus? Because of our certainty in Jesus and his coming victory, we entrust our own future and our children’s future into his hands. And surely, if we are faithful to the future king, he will not neglect us, betray us, or forget us. He promises that everyone who casts their lot with the hidden king now will share with him when he comes into his full inheritance. As we pray, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he is already preparing a place for us.

1 Samuel 21–22 (Sanctuary)

David eats the holy bread and takes Goliath’s sword from the sanctuary of Nob, recklessly exposing the priests to the rage of Saul.

Where’s Jesus? David is a good but imperfect king. He points past himself to Christ as the true king we all need. Jesus doesn’t make David’s mistakes. He doesn’t risk others as he flees for safety: he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. So long as we’re following him, even if our discipleship is imperfect (and it always is) Christ will take care of us. He will provide for our needs, he will protect us from our enemies, and he will bring us safe into the kingdom at last.

1 Samuel 23 (Kingly Responsibility)

David is betrayed to Saul twice: first by the citizens of Keilah and then the Ziphites. In between, though, Jonathan comes to strengthen his hand in God.

Where’s Jesus? David learned more about true kingship in the wilderness than in killing Goliath. The king takes responsibility for others. Following King Jesus may seem dangerous, but because we’re aligned with him, we are covered by God’s protection of his chosen king.

1 Samuel 24 (God’s Will, God’s Way)

David and his men are trapped in the cave, while Saul comes in to relieve himself. Will David seize the throne or wait for God to give it?

Where’s Jesus? What Satan promised Jesus was the will of God — “all the kingdoms of this world.” It was God’s will, but not in God’s way. It was the crown without the cross, glory without suffering—a shortcut out of the wilderness. Jesus, the greater David, resisted this temptation and committed himself to the justice of God, proving himself to be the worthy king.

1 Samuel 25 (Heed Lady Wisdom)

Wise Abigail restrains David from slaughtering her foolish husband Nabal and his house, urging him to trust God’s destiny for him.

Where’s Jesus? In our relationship with our Creator, humanity is like Nabal: rude ingrates headed towards destruction. Yet Christ arrives, but not on a mission of vengeance. He silently bears spitting and insults to save us from the consequences of our own sinful foolishness.

1 Samuel 26 (Kingdom Values in the Wilderness)

David asserts his faith in God’s promises by stealing Saul’s spear and water jug on a dangerous night raid into the Israelite camp.

Where’s Jesus? In the ultimate expression of trust in God, Jesus went alone into the midst of his enemies and emerged with the keys of death and hell in his hands.

1 Samuel 27 and 29 (The Limits of Our Cleverness)

Having fled to the Philistines, David is put in the terrible position of having to fight against his own nation. But God rescues David from this potential disaster.

Where’s Jesus? David had 600 men trusting in him, and he nearly got them killed because of his own cockiness and failure to inquire of the Lord. But there are no such leadership failures with Jesus. Christ is the only hero of whom we can say, “I find no fault in him.” His single-minded devotion to God’s will and love for his people are our confidence and security.

1 Samuel 28 (The Road That Ends in Death)

Abandoned by God, a desperate Saul has Samuel summoned up from the dead by a medium, only to hear his doom.

Where’s Jesus? People turn to mediums because they are desperate for reassurance about their future. But instead of some shadowy figure from the underworld rebuking us, God has given us Jesus, who emerges victorious from the grave, telling his fearful disciples, “Peace be with you!”

1 Samuel 30 (The Economy of Grace)

David and his men return to their base of Ziklag, only to find it plundered and their families missing. After they recover their loved ones and their belongings, David ensures even the weaklings receive a full share of the reward.

Where’s Jesus? David here is a true picture of Christ, the risen Lord who established a kingdom governed by the strange economy of grace, where none of us deserve anything but yet find ourselves blessed by God, given reward for which we have not fought, and invited to join in the celebration of Christ’s victory.

1 Samuel 31 (Human Failure and God’s Kingdom)

Saul meets the doom he had feared: total annihilation by the Philistines at the battle of Mt. Gilboa. Has Hannah’s hope failed? Is God’s story over?

Where’s Jesus? Are our eyes on God’s anointed? Have we harnessed our faith to human leaders? The fate of God’s kingdom is not in the hands of any mere human being, someone with a fatal character flaw that will destroy us all. Christ the King is on the throne. What we thought was his defeat in battle, when he was humiliated and tortured, when he was impaled naked before the taunts of his enemies, turned out to be God’s greatest victory. The darkness of the crucifixion becomes the light of Easter morning. And there, and there alone, rest all our hopes.

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Bart Byl

Th.M. student at Regent College. Canadian in Georgia. 🇨🇦🇬🇪