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Monarchy Out of Mayhem

Posted by James Carroll on

The books of the Old Testament are not arranged chronologically. Genesis, as the word means, is the beginning, and Malachi is the last word before the long silence that precedes the New Testament. But the bits in between are shuffled up a fair amount. The arrangement of the books in our English versions of the Bible owes more to the type of writing than to a strict timeline. We have the Law, then the history books, then the poetic writings, then the prophets. More confusingly, some books, like Psalms, Proverbs, and even Jeremiah, don’t arrange the material chronologically. It can be tricky, but certainly not impossible.

Despite these issues, chronology is important for Bible study. Through all the smaller stories and varied writings, God is telling a single story. This narrative has a definite beginning, clear movements, an extraordinary climax, and an infinitely great ending! We could summarize this story in a number of ways, but one of my favorites is to think of it in terms of God’s Kingdom. To borrow language from Vaughn Roberts, God is working out His plan to establish a Kingdom with His people, living in His place, and enjoying His rule and blessing. It’s critical, then, when we come to any book of the Old Testament, to understand how it fits into the larger story that culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The book of 1 Samuel, for example, tells a critical part of this story that must be understood within the context of time and place it describes. Emerging from the spiritual abyss of the period of the judges, God’s people are living in the Promised Land, but failing to enjoy God’s best. In almost every regard, they had rejected God’s rule and suffered the consequences for their disobedience. What began with such hope under Joshua’s leadership has descended into mayhem by the time God opens Hannah’s womb to give she and Elkanah a son, Samuel.

This book unfolds in three distinct sections: the story of Samuel (1:1-8:22), the story of Saul (9:1-15:35), and the story of David (16:1-31:13). The story of Samuel is a critical link from the dark days when “there was no king in Israel” so “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Those statements close the Book of Judges and set the stage for what happens next. Likewise, 1 Samuel 8 prepares us for another transition in the story by describing Israel’s cry for a king. This request for a human monarch was foretold by God in Deuteronomy 17 and fulfilled despite Samuel’s objection. The tragedy of Saul’s life and reign gives way to hope as the nation is united under a man after God’s heart, King David.

This story of the establishing of a human monarchy in Israel is tumultuous and the individual passages are often riveting. However, the truest meaning and deepest significance lies one layer beneath the surface. It’s not hidden so that we can’t find it; rather, it’s a thread easily seen running through each story. The key to seeing it is realizing that God was the real King of Israel and His answer for establishing His rule and reign through a human monarch was not Saul or David. Instead, the plan was always to establish the Kingdom under His Son.

In the coming months, I’m excited to lead us to study through 1 Samuel on Sunday mornings as we see God bring monarchy out of mayhem and provide a shadow of His greater work through Jesus.

 

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