John Woodbridge titles his commentary on 1st Samuel, “Looking for a Leader.” He writes, “The book of 1 Samuel takes us back more than 3,000 years. The date was about 1050 b.c. It was a time when the question of leadership was very much in the air in the small and relatively young nation of Israel.” It had just endured several centuries of confusion, social upheaval, and near anarchy. It was the time during which there were 13 cycles where the nation sinned against God. God brought punishment to them. They repented and cried out for salvation. God would then send a judge or a deliverer. Then, the cycle would begin again. Each time the nation found itself in dire straights, they called for God to send a deliverer. God sent them one to “lead” them against their enemies. The book ends with the phrase, “there was no king in Israel, so each man did that which was right in his own eyes.” In the Hebrew Old Testament, 1 Samuel comes right after the book of Judges. In English Bibles, Ruth found its way between the two books because its first verse places it in the time of the Judges. So Woodbridge concludes, “In other words, there was no established and permanent political authority in the land. Anarchy reigned. There was a crisis of leadership in Israel. Or so it seemed.” We’ll read the story of three leaders: Samuel, Saul, and David, whose story will be concluded in 2 Samuel.

1 Samuel begins by introducing a man named Elkanah. The first verse says, “There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite.” We don’t know much about Elkanah besides what is recorded in the opening verses of 1 Samuel. To some degree, we might say Elkanah was a nobody. The book of 1 Samuel is about how God uses “nobodies” to accomplish his will. He chooses a nobody and makes a “somebody” out of them. Samuel, the maker of kings, is the descendant of Elkanah, as we’ll see, and God uses him to establish the united kingdom of Israel under King David.

Down the lineage of Elkanah was “Zuph.” He is called an “Ephrathite.” He was also a nobody from a place that was a “no place”: Bethlehem! But the “little town” was to become famous as the Prophet Micah foretold long after the story of 1 Samuel takes place. He writes in Micah 5:2, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” So “The book of 1 Samuel is going to tell us the extraordinary story of the leadership crisis in Israel at the end of the second millennium b.c. In ways that will surprise us, it will point us to God’s astonishing answer to Israel’s predicament. We will see that God’s answer for Israel turns out to be his answer for the whole world and for each of us individually.”[1]

[1] Woodhouse, John. 2008. 1 Samuel: Looking for a Leader. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.