As I was reading a number of different overviews of 1 Samuel one thing stood out: this book is only half the story! There seem to be different reasons for why, but no-one is disagreeing it was originally intended that 1 & 2 Samuel should be one book that has been divided two halves. Of course there’s a sense in which we could see the whole Bible this way: each book simply telling a small part of the story and this reminds me of a story I used to tell in RE lessons (borrowed I think from Hinduism) about six different men approaching an elephant. In fact the Jain version is closer to how I remember telling it (info from Wikipedia!):
A Jain version of the story says that six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant’s body. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a tree branch; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a solid pipe.
A king explains to them:
All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned.
As a young Christian I was told time and time again to read my Bible, but only ever ended up reading the bits I already knew. The rest was just too much like a maze I just could not find my way out of! It wasn’t until I studied Old Testament History on my Oasis Youth Ministry course that I began to see the much bigger picture of God’s people and was fascinated by the ebbs and flows of their story. And boy, do we have ebbs and flows here! The story of Eli, Samuel, Saul and David in this particular book is full of different characters, full of God reaching out to his people, full of His people doing amazing feats in His name and full of His people getting things wrong. Just as many other books in the Bible are.
When I was young technology was not where it is today! These days there are many different ways to read and study the stories of God’s people: Youversion (I particularly like the way you can click on a phrase or passage and see what others have written about it); Biblegateway.com (very handy for finding verses in a hurry!); you can join facebook groups and have online conversations; there are DVD’s galore encouraging study and discussion on great swathes of Biblical content; blogs aplenty (you could try reading back some of the posts in this digi-disciple series!) and of course many, many commentaries in good old book format! My particular favourite book commentaries are from Tom Wright’s ‘For everyone’ series (for the New Testament), I have found them incredibly readable, thought-provoking and enlightening. I have also discovered the Jesus Storybook which is sold as a children’s Bible but I think could easily be read by every Christian. It is the beautifully poetic, wonderfully written story of God’s rescue plan for the world He created, highly recommended!
So, if you, like me, struggle to read the Bible and see the bigger picture I want to encourage you to look for a way to engage: whether through digi-disciple posts, using Youversion on your smartphone, engaging in discussion groups online, sitting with your friend in a coffee shop, or reading a commentary. God’s word has something to say to us all, and in realising there’s always more of the story to be written I hope we’ll find we really can trust the God of all history, in just the same way as Eli, Samuel, Saul and David experienced!