My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If Phil Campbell is right that “clarity is the new black” (Saving Eutychus, loc 539), and if even the Apostle Paul thought that “making it clear” is how he ought to speak (Col. 4:3-4), then Tim Chester’s new book, 1 Samuel For You, is indeed for you! Clarity of thought and expression is a commodity that Chester offers in abundance in all his books, and this one is no different.
And yet, clarity does not come at the expense of substance. He is quick to point out Hebrew puns and chiastic patterns in the narrative structure. Thorny apologetic questions are given brief but sober treatment (the command to destroy the Amalekites is ethical cleansing rather than ethnic cleansing [loc 1387]). And rich forays are made into the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures (the mountain separating David from his pursuer Saul leads David to sing of God in the Psalms as his Rock) as well as into the NT.
Take the chapter on David versus Goliath, for instance. Here we find that the Hebrew word for Goliath’s armour is “scales”. David, like Adam, must face the snake. He had already tamed the lion and the bear, and now, as a small fulfillment of God’s promise in Genesis 3:15, he lops off the head of the serpent (Goliath). Following this on into the NT Chester writes, “Jesus is the true Adam, crushing the snake and taming the beasts [referring to Mark 1.13]. Jesus is the true Israel, trusting God, defeating giants and securing our inheritance” (lo 1813).
Clarity is also achieved by allowing 1 Samuel to speak powerfully to our lives today. The rather domestic story of Hannah and her barrenness yields this encouragement:
Maybe you have made gospel choices which mean you cannot afford the lifestyle of your neighbours. Maybe you have chosen to give your time to serve others rather than indulging yourself. Maybe you have served on a children’s camp instead of going on holiday…Maybe you have taken on a draining pastoral situation. Maybe you have made choices that mean you face hostility. You speak for Christ even though it will harm your career or ruin your day. Maybe you are childless like Hannah and have chosen not to accept fertility treatment that would mean unused human embryos are destroyed. The message of Hannah’s story and Hannah’s song is this: It is worth it. (loc 302)
Not only is this book marked by clarity. It is also marked by Christ-centeredness. In each chapter Chester follows legitimate paths, not of his own making, from 1 Samuel to King Jesus.
We see how the apostles and early Christians went to 1 Samuel and the psalms of David to show that Jesus was the Christ, not in spite of all his sufferings, but because of them (loc 2355). “So when the early church wanted to prove that the despised and rejected One was in fact God’s true King, this is where they went” (loc 2366).
1 & 2 Samuel contain 20 chapters on the life of David while he was king. But they also include 20 chapters on David before he became king. In 1 Samuel 23 to 26, David faces three tests to skip the suffering and hardship and come into the glory of kingship on his own steam. (loc 2521). Jesus too will be tempted to skip the suffering bit and go straight on to his glory. David refuses to shed Saul’s blood; Jesus “does come to his kingdom through bloodshed, but the blood which was shed was his own.” (loc 2642).
If our King had to go through suffering before glory, we should expect no different. However,
Too often, we expect to be able to get on in our careers without our faith creating problems for us. Too often, we expect to be able to share our faith without facing opposition. Too often, we expect God to solve our problems and take away our suffering. In other words, too often we actually expect glory now without suffering. (loc 2424-2436)
I’ll leave you with Chester’s summary of the book of 1 Samuel, and then with one of my favourite quotes:
In this sense, the whole of the history of God’s people and of the world, from the coming of the first Adam to the return of the second Adam, is captured in the tale of the two kings that is the book of 1 Samuel. (loc 3155)
“Where is the glory or the weight? It is around Eli’s waist.” (loc 639)
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