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Preaching on 1 Samuel

An overview of the historical background and theology of 1 Samuel to help you develop your sermon series and apply it to your hearers.
Preaching on 1 Samuel
Image: Pearl / Lightstock

Historical Background

First Samuel was written to the people of Israel sometime after the death of King Solomon in 930 BC and the subsequent division of the nation into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Like a civics class in high school, 1 & 2 Samuel (which were originally a single book) helped the people of Israel understand how they got their government. It describes the transition of Israel from the occasional leadership of judges, to the monarchy beginning with Saul, and followed by David, Israel’s greatest king. The author of 1 Samuel is not identified.

First Samuel answers two questions important to Israel: How did their nation change from being a loosely joined amalgam of twelve tribes without a central authority to a monarchy? Why was the house of Saul rejected from the monarchy and supplanted by the house of David?

Sermon Series

A Leader After the Heart of God
Text: 1 Samuel 1:1–28
  • Title: How God can Work Through People’s Unfulfilled Desires
  • Exegetical Idea: God used Hannah’s unfulfilled desire for a child to bring her to a place where she would surrender her child to serve God in the temple. And so was born Samuel, one of the most faithful prophets in Israel.
  • Big Idea: God often fulfills his greatest purposes through our deep, unfulfilled desires, when we surrender them to him in prayer.
  • Christ-Focus: Unfulfilled desires for things in this world stem from the greater yearning that our heart has for God and which can only be fulfilled in Christ (see Phil. 3:8).
Text: 1 Samuel 2:1–10
  • Title: God’s Greatness on Behalf of the Needy
  • Exegetical Idea: Through the birth of her son Samuel, Hannah came to a heightened understanding of the incomparable greatness of God, especially on behalf of the needy and lowly.
  • Big Idea: God is incomparably great, especially on behalf of the needy and lowly who believe in him.
  • Christ-Focus: In his earthly ministry, Jesus showed his greatness and special compassion on behalf of the needy.
Text: 1 Samuel 2:11–36
  • Title: What God Does when Leaders Are Wicked
  • Exegetical Idea: God will judge the neglect and evil of Eli and his sons as heads of God’s house, and he will graciously raise up a faithful leader in Samuel.
  • Big Idea: God will judge wicked and negligent leaders with serious consequences, and he will graciously raise up faithful servants to replace them.
  • Christ-Focus: In contrast to Eli and his sons, Jesus is the true and faithful high priest over the house of God.
Text: 1 Samuel 3:1–4:1a
  • Title: Learning to Hear and Speak God’s Word
  • Exegetical Idea: God raised up Samuel as a faithful leader by teaching him to hear and speak his words.
  • Big Idea: Faithful ministry is based on hearing and speaking the Word of the Lord.
  • Christ-focus: Jesus is the true and better Samuel, the ultimate prophet who hears and faithfully speaks the Word of the Lord, and leads God’s people to repentance.
Text: 1 Samuel 4:1b–7:1
  • Title: Who Can Stand Before this Holy God?
  • Exegetical Idea: When the time came for God to judge his people and his enemies, those who had violated his holiness could not stand.
  • Big Idea: Those who violate the holiness of God suffer the wages of sin, which is death.
  • Christ-Focus: We all need Jesus Christ to save us from the wrath of God. Only he can qualify a person to stand before the holy God in perfect acceptance, blamelessness, and holiness, free from all condemnation.
Text: 1 Samuel 7:2–17
  • Title: Why Repent of Idolatry?
  • Exegetical idea: When Israel repented of idolatry, God enabled her to defeat her enemy.
  • Big idea: When we repent of making things other than God our ultimate concern, he delivers us from discipline.
  • Christ-focus: Just as Israel overcame their enemies when they followed a godly, anointed leader who spoke the word of the Lord, so in a far greater way when we believe in Christ, he saves us from idolatry, sin, the world, and Satan.
Text: 1 Samuel 8:1–22
  • Title: Choosing Your King
  • Exegetical idea: Israel wanted a human king because they had rejected God as King.
  • Big idea: If we choose some king other than God, that king will take from us, take more, and then take even more.
  • Christ-focus: Christ is the true king over God’s kingdom, who brings good, not harm, to his subjects.
Text: 1 Samuel 9:1–10:27
  • Title: When God Chooses You for a Task
  • Exegetical Idea: God gave tremendous favor and advantage to Saul when he chose him to be king of his people.
  • Big Idea: God does not choose a person for an assignment without giving grace and favor.
  • Christ-Focus: The ways in which God showed favor to Saul are similar to the ways God showed favor to Jesus as his chosen King, confirming his choice supernaturally with many signs, anointing him with the Holy Spirit, and confirming his choice through prophets.
Text: 1 Samuel 11:1–15
  • Title: How God Confirms His Chosen Leaders
  • Exegetical Idea: God confirmed Saul as king in the eyes of the people by giving him victory over an enemy.
  • Big Idea: God may allow threats to arise against his people in order to confirm his call upon a leader.
  • Christ-Focus: God confirmed Christ as the only Savior of his people by empowering him to rise from the dead, overcoming death and Satan.
Text: 1 Samuel 12:1–25
  • Title: What to Do if You’ve Blown it
  • Exegetical Idea: Although Israel had rejected God as king, God would not reject them as his covenant people if they would walk faithfully with him.
  • Big Idea: Even if we commit a serious sin, God will not reject us if we will resume following him.
  • Christ-Focus: Just as Jesus restored Peter after his threefold denial, he will restore you if you will resume following him.
Text: 1 Samuel 13:1–15
  • Title: What God Wants from You
  • Exegetical Idea: Saul failed to obey God because he was not after God’s heart.
  • Big Idea: What pleases God is your love and the obedience that flows from it.
  • Christ-Focus: The Son of God is the only one who fulfilled God’s search for a man after his heart who obeys him perfectly.
Text: 1 Samuel 13:16–14:23
  • Title: How many Troops Does God Need to Win a Battle?
  • Exegetical Idea: Nothing can hinder God from saving his people in battle, whether by many or few.
  • Big Idea: If we have faith and boldness, nothing can hinder God from giving us success.
  • Christ-Focus: Jesus singlehandedly defeated Satan, his demons, and his biggest weapon: death.
Text: 1 Samuel 14:24–52
  • Title: The Seed of Self-Destruction
  • Exegetical Idea: God’s rejection of Saul’s kingdom began its fulfillment immediately after Samuel’s pronouncement, as God allowed Saul to begin the dissolution of his own house by pronouncing a foolish oath and attempting to kill his own son.
  • Big Idea: Without God’s blessing on us, we do foolish things that cause our life to fall apart.
  • Christ-Focus: Jesus always walked in wisdom under the blessing of his Father, and he can enable you to do the same.
Text: 1 Samuel 15:1–35
  • Title: The Total Problem with Partial Obedience
  • Exegetical Idea: God rejected Saul as king because Saul rejected the word of the Lord.
  • Big Idea: Obedience is better than sacrifice.
  • Christ-Focus: Jesus obeyed his Father perfectly and therefore reigns as king over God’s people forever.
Text: 1 Samuel 16:1–13
  • Title: Keeping Your Heart for God
  • Exegetical Idea: God chose David to be king because “The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
  • Big Idea: The way of the world is to look on your outward appearance, but the way of the Lord is to look on your heart.
  • Christ-Focus: Jesus is the only person who has kept a perfect heart toward God. Therefore God provided him to be our king and anointed him with the Holy Spirit.
Text: 1 Samuel 16:14–23
  • Title: How Christians can Help in Ways Others Cannot
  • Exegetical Idea: While Saul, the king rejected by God, is tormented by harmful spirits, David, the man anointed by God, can bring spiritual blessings even to Saul.
  • Big Idea: God’s favor and anointing make you able to be a spiritual blessing even to tormented souls.
  • Christ-Focus: Only Jesus can restore the soul and dispel its darkness.
Text: 1 Samuel 17:1–58
  • Title: The Battle Is the Lord’s
  • Exegetical Idea: The battle is the Lord’s, so when David gave himself to fight for God’s glory, even a giant had to fall.
  • Big Idea: The battle is the Lord’s, but he fights through you.
  • Christ-Focus: Christ makes his followers more than conquerors.
Text: 1 Samuel 18:1–30
  • Title: The Value of God’s Favor
  • Exegetical Idea: God gave David, his chosen one, favor and enabled him to succeed in all his undertakings.
  • Big Idea: God’s favor is a priceless gift.
  • Christ-Focus: Jesus Christ has the Father’s highest favor, and through faith in Christ we, too, receive God’s favor.
Text: 1 Samuel 19:1–24
  • Title: You’re Safer than You Feel
  • Exegetical Idea: After a season of great favor, David moves into a season of persecution and danger, but God protects him repeatedly and in surprising ways.
  • Big Idea: Those who enjoy God’s favor can also go through seasons of great difficulty, but God can protect his favored ones again and again, through many people, and in astonishing ways.
  • Christ-Focus: The Lord Jesus will rescue us from every evil deed and bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom (see 2 Tim. 4:18).
Text: 1 Samuel 20:1–42
  • Title: How to Walk in Peace with Friends
  • Exegetical Idea: In the face of increasing danger and stress on their friendship, David and Jonathan renew their covenant of peace, pledging to protect each other, maintain steadfast love, sacrifice for each other, and have the Lord between them forever.
  • Big Idea: We can maintain peace with friends over the long term when we protect each other, maintain steadfast love, sacrifice for each other, and determine to have the Lord between us forever.
  • Christ-Focus: Jesus Christ enters a covenant of peace with all who sincerely believe in him.
Text: 1 Samuel 21:1–15
  • Title: When You Are Desperate
  • Exegetical Idea: As David was forced to become a fugitive, he appears to rely more on resourcefulness—and deception—than on God.
  • Big Idea: When you are desperate, you need to rely ultimately on God, walk in truth, and use whatever resourcefulness he gives you.
  • Christ-Focus: Jesus refers to this story when his disciples picked grain for food on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1–8). The point was that Jesus was greater than the Temple (Matt. 12:6).
Text: 1 Samuel 22:1–23
  • Title: How Needy People can Think About Helping Others
  • Exegetical Idea: Saul brings harm to his followers, while David brings protection and comfort to his.
  • Big Idea: In times of need, you can still be empowered to protect others because Jesus Christ, the ultimate Protector of God’s people, will protect you.
  • Christ-Focus: In gathering people to his leadership and protecting the outcasts, David is a type of Christ, who draws people to himself and protects them.
Text: 1 Samuel 23:1–14
  • Title: Inquiring of the Lord
  • Exegetical Idea: When David inquired of the Lord about what to do, he succeeded and remained safe despite Saul’s efforts to kill him.
  • Big Idea: When we face difficult, risky decisions, we can move with confidence if we ask God for direction.
  • Christ-Focus: Jesus is the Good Shepherd who promises to guide and keep his followers.
Text: 1 Samuel 23:15–29
  • Title: How God Providentially Protects Us
  • Exegetical Idea: God used Jonathan, David’s covenant friend, and even Israel’s enemies to encourage and protect David.
  • Big Idea: God’s control of human events is so great that he can use covenant friends, enemies—whoever he wants—to protect us, and he can do so with precise timing.
  • Christ-Focus: We can see the Rock of Escape (v. 28) as a type of Christ. Jesus is the Rock who stands between us and our enemies.
Text: 1 Samuel 24:1–22
  • Title: The Test of a Good Conscience
  • Exegetical Idea: Passing a crucial test, David spares Saul, refusing to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed king, refusing to return evil for evil.
  • Big Idea: We must not do what we believe to be wrong to promote what we know to be right.
  • Christ-Focus: Jesus is the ultimate example of one who surrendered his glory to God, refusing to seize power and position himself, trusting God to give him power in his time and way (Matt. 4:8–10; Phil. 2:5–11).
Text: 1 Samuel 25:1–44
  • Title: God’s Ability to Work Justice on Your Behalf
  • Exegetical Idea: After Nabal gave David evil for good, and David determined to take revenge, God showed he was fully able to work justice for David.
  • Big Idea: When we are wronged, God is fully able to work justice for us.
  • Christ-Focus: Jesus taught us not to take revenge and justice into our own hands, and he modeled this in the way he treated those who wronged him in the events leading up to his death on the cross.
Text: 1 Samuel 26:1–25
  • Title: Waiting for God by Doing what Is Right
  • Exegetical Idea: Saul again displayed how unworthy he was to be king, through his treachery toward David, while David displayed that he was worthy of being king, by waiting on the Lord in trust and refusing to act unrighteously.
  • Big Idea: We may undergo the same test more than once (see 1 Sam. 24), so we need to persist in doing what is right and waiting on God.
  • Christ-Focus: Jesus will help us overcome testing and temptation (Heb. 4:14–16).
Text: 1 Samuel 27:1–28:2; 29:1–30:31
  • Title: The Fallout of Making Decisions Leaning on Our Own Understanding
  • Exegetical Idea: David made a mistake in moving to Gath because he leaned on his own understanding and acted in unbelief and fear (27:1). As a result, he found himself in compromising situations and relationships, until he strengthened himself in God, inquired of the Lord, and followed God’s direction (30:6–7).
  • Big Idea: When we make decisions based in fear and unbelief, we make our situation only worse.
  • Christ-Focus: If we will inquire of Jesus, he will be our Wonderful Counselor (Isa. 9:6).
Text: 1 Samuel 28:3–25
  • Title: The Tragic End of a Soul Lacking Love for God
  • Exegetical Idea: Saul is a warning, showing the trajectory of any human soul more in love with self and this world than with God. Samuel told him that rebellion was like divination, and so it is not a surprise that Saul spends his last night and meal with a necromancer.
  • Big Idea: If we do not love God supremely but instead live for this world, when God does not give us what we want we usually resort to evil.
  • Christ-Focus: Jesus wants to save us from ourselves, from the power of evil within us, from the power of the world, and from the power of Satan.
Text: 1 Samuel 31:1–13
  • Title: A Tragic Life, A Tragic Death, A Noble Response
  • Exegetical idea: Although Saul’s failed leadership ends in death for him and all around him, the noble actions of the men of Jabesh-gilead show that even in a disaster God can work to show he is with his people.
  • Big idea: Even in a disaster, God can shine his light through your noble deeds.
  • Christ-focus: The tragic evil of humankind was the occasion for the greatest love ever known, as God so loved the world that he gave his Son.
Alternative Outline: Six Crucial Truths You Must Know About God
Text: 1 Samuel 1, 2, 3, 15, 16, 24, 26
  • Title: The Lover
  • Big Idea: God sees and cares supremely about our hearts.
Text: 1 Samuel 2–6, 15, 28, 31
  • Title: The Holy One
  • Big Idea: God vindicates his holy name.
Text: 1 Samuel 3, 7, 12, 13, 15
  • Title: The Word
  • Big Idea: God gives us his Word and deals with us based on how we deal with his Word.
Text: 1 Samuel 8–12, 15, 16
  • Title: The King
  • Big Idea: God provides his king for his people.
Text: 1 Samuel 1–2, 13, 14, 17, 23–26
  • Title: The Redeemer
  • Big Idea: God saves and uses the lowly and repentant who trust in him.

The Sovereign: God works in inscrutable ways, with perfect control, to fulfill his purposes both in judgment and salvation, both through those who fail him and through those who trust, obey, and wait patiently for him (1 Samuel 1–31).


With its many detailed narratives and interesting people, the 1 Samuel is both a story-teller’s dream and a moralizer’s temptation. It is easy to wrongly apply its stories to our lives today. Before you preach through 1 Samuel, I recommend reading the chapters on “Applying the Message” and “Preaching Old Testament Narrative” in Preaching God’s Word, by Carter, Duvall, and Hays.

For example, I don’t think we should take every small detail of human action in the text and say: Do this or don’t do that, and here’s what will always happen to you as a result. But as my ideas above show, I do treat significant human action as grounds for sermon application. Still, when I preached through 1 Samuel, I worked hard in each sermon to ask the question of what we learn about God and our relationship with him from the passage and how the passage shows us our need of Christ or addresses messianic themes such as kingship.

Another key question to ask in order to properly apply the text is: How is the human situation in the preaching passage similar to that of Christians and how is it different? For example, Saul was the first king of Israel, appointed because Israel rejected God as king; we are not in that situation. Still, there are legitimate parallels.

Here are a few themes for application that have a high profile in 1 Samuel:

  • The importance of God’s words and the necessity of obedience and having a heart for God (1:23; 3:1–4:1; 13:13–14; 15:1, 22–26) (Key NT cross references: Mark 12:30; John 15:9–10).
  • Leadership: qualifications, responsibilities (Key NT cross references: Titus 1:5–9; Luke 12:48).
  • Inquiring of God (9:6–10; 10:20–22; 14:36–43; 22:9–15; 23:1–13; 28:3–7; 30:6–10) (Key NT cross references: James 1:5; 1 John 2:27).

Theological Themes

The kingship of God over his people. God’s anointed king. The Messiah as King (2:10; 8; 10:17–19; 12; 15–16; 24:6, 10; 26:9, 11, 16, 23; these examples are not exhaustive)

The central focus of 1 Samuel is the monarchy. Although Israel’s request for a king came from wrong desires, God worked through those desires to bring about a great good. He raised up David as a model king who loved God and ruled over God’s people in a way that foreshadowed the perfect rule of the Son of David, Jesus Christ.

God’s sovereignty, providence, and divine 'coincidences' (4; 5; 6; 9; 23:15–29; 24:1–11; 26:1–17)

God called Samuel, Saul, and David to be leaders in ways that demonstrated his meticulous control of events: getting people where he wanted them, when he wanted them there, and having them hear and say and do what he desired, yet without manipulating them like robots. God exhibited the same control of events in the Ark narrative and how he protected David from the murderous desires of Saul.

The holiness of God (2:2, 17; 2:27–6:21)

In holiness, God is jealous to vindicate his name. His judgment on Eli and his sons and house for profaning the name of the Holy One are some of the most terrifying recorded in the Bible, revealing his holy jealousy for his tabernacle. And the Ark narrative is a sobering illustration of the question, “Who can stand before this holy God?” Apart from Christ we are all undone.

The work of the Holy Spirit (10:6, 10; 11:6; 16:13–14; 19:20–24)

The Holy Spirit is a powerful player in the lives of key figures in 1 Samuel. He changes the hearts of Saul (temporarily), and David, making them new people. He rushes upon prophets in ways so powerful that they speak ecstatically for hours. Kings answer to the anointed prophet Samuel, to whom God reveals his words and will.

God’s greatness in delivering his people from their enemies (2:10; 7; 11; 14 [especially v. 6]; 17)

God is mighty to save his people from their enemies. God saves Hannah from Penninah. God saves Samuel, Israel, Saul, and Jonathan from the Philistines. God saves David from Goliath. God gives mighty victories even when Israel is completely overmatched.

Human depravity and its consequences: rebellion, the seriousness of the sins of omission and negligence, the severity of God’s judgments (2:12–6:21; 3:13; 12; 12:23; 13:8–14; 15; 22:20–23; 31)

Eli, his sons, and Saul are some of the most vivid examples in Scripture of how fallen human nature can be. Humans express their depravity in rebellion against the commands and words of God. We do what God tells us not to do, and we fail to do what he says we should. We try to hide, minimize, ignore, or rationalize our disobedience, but our sin finds us out.

The role played by prophetic words and blessings (1:17–18; 2:1–10; 3:11–4:1; 8:10–18; 10:5–13; 19:20–24; 22:5; 23:16–17; 24:12–22; 25:24–33; 28:6, 15)

The words that the people in 1 Samuel speak are important. Time and again they are prophetic. Blessings and curses matter. Prophecies, even unwitting prophecies, matter. God uses his words, and his words through people, instrumentally to produce his will.

My Encounter with 1 Samuel

I decided to preach 1 Samuel because I felt as though our church needed a change of pace. As I recall, I had been preaching from an Epistle for some time, with some topical messages mixed in as I thought they were needed. So I had a strong desire to preach from stories. Because I love the Old Testament, the ideal change would be to do sequential exposition through an Old Testament narrative.

First Samuel was and is one of my favorite books in the Bible, so it was a natural choice. The lives of Hannah, Samuel, David, and Jonathan inspire me. The warnings provided by the lives of Eli and Saul are relevant and unforgettable. And Goliath keeps taking his stand against God’s people.

By preaching this series, I wanted the people in our church to be up close and personal with David. The title “Son of David” is so important in the New Testament, and the prophecies given by David and connected to him are so important, that Christians need to know him intimately. By understanding what made David great, we better understand the perfect glory of his Son. David is the prototypical king.

And Samuel is the prototypical prophet, who functioned in a way foreshadowing Christ. He brings the word of the Lord. His words do not fall to the ground. He leads the people in repentance. He is faithful to God and zealous to obey him in each, minute detail of his particular mission. I wanted the people in our church to understand Samuel up close and personal because Jesus is the true and better Prophet.

I did not use a title for the extended series, but the title I might now use is, "A Leader after the Heart of God." I would apply this to leaders, to every Christian as called to influence others, and to Christ as our ultimate Leader.


Peter J. Leithart, A Son to Me (Canon Press, Moscow, Idaho, 2003).

ESV Study Bible notes.

Craig Brian Larson is the pastor of Lake Shore Church in Chicago and author and editor of numerous books, including The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching (Zondervan). He blogs on Knowing God and His Ways at craigbrianlarson.com.

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