The Daily Office Lectionary in the 2019 Prayer Book starts us in on 1 Samuel this morning. This is the beginning of a long journey through four books with a continuous historical coverage. In fact, the two books of Samuel and the two books of Kings are so closely related that they are known in the Greek Old Testament as the four books of the Kings (or alternatively, 1-4 Kingdoms). This is not commonly known among English-speaking Christians today apart from the Eastern Orthodox, though it was given a shout-out in the 1611 Bible authorized under King James.
Anglican Prayer Book lectionaries historically have walked through these four books in the summertime; the way ours is set up it takes us from July into November (since we’re reading from them in Morning Prayer only, and not Morning & Evening Prayer in parallel like the older daily lectionaries). As time goes on, our lectionary does something that a couple other 20th-century lectionaries have done, and include elements from 1 & 2 Chronicles interspersed with the material from 1 & 2 Kings. This has the downside of interrupting the continual “voice” of the four books of Samuel/Kings, but is arguably balanced with the gain of the several stories unique to the Chronicles.
A large swathe of history is covered in these four books, but, like the earlier book of Joshua, it is subject to a gradual fast-forwarding effect.
- 1 Samuel deals with the life of the Prophet Samuel (he is born in chapter 1 and dies in chapter 25), and the life and reign of King Saul. In all that’s approximately 80 years of history.
- 2 Samuel deals with the reign of King David, approximately 40 years.
- 1 Kings begins with the death of David, and takes us just over 100 years, through the reigns of Solomon and 8 Judean kings and 8 Israelite kings.
- 2 Kings zips through close to 300 years of history, covering the demise of both the Israelite and Judean kingdoms.
In addition to that accelerating-time-coverage effect, there is also a shift of emphasis in the latter two books away from stories about the kings themselves and toward the lives of certain prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha. Indeed the amount of material dedicated to the succession from Elijah to Elisha, in the beginning of the fourth book (2 Kings 2), is reminiscent of the attention given to the birth of Samuel (1 Sam. 1-2) and the establishment of the reigns of Kings Saul (1 Sam. 8-10), David (2 Sam. 2-5), and Solomon (1 Kings 1-2).
Besides these connections within these four books, there are also major connections to other parts of the Bible. The Song (or prayer) of Hannah, Samuel’s mother (1 Sam. 2) is a prototype for the Song of Mary (or Magnificat) in Luke 1, and the divine provision of Samuel’s birth prefigures the hand of God in the conception also of John the Baptist and of Jesus. King David would go on to become one of the foremost Messianic figures in the Old Testament, forever after cited as an ancestor of the Christ. King Solomon would go on to become a subtle antichrist figure, starting off as a wise and powerful ruler and ending up an apostate tyrant whose annual income would be re-used in the book of Revelation as “the number of the beast” (1 Kings 10:14 & Rev. 13:18). The Prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha, performed many signs and miracles that Jesus would later copy and teach about. The fall of Jerusalem and eventual leniency toward the last king (2 Kings 25:27-30) would set the stage for the later Prophets and the Second Temple Era, a dramatically different phase of Hebrew history that led straight to the events of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So although there is much history in these books, one can see that the most fruitful readings of this material is not to be purely historical, but typological or Christological: how do these events and characters point ahead to Christ? How is the Gospel foreshadowed? What do we learn here about the People of God, the Church? We will see the centrality of listening to (and obeying) God’s Word, the hopeless imperfection of man, the deadly dangers of idolatry and faithlessness, and the loving-kindness (or covenant-faithfulness, or heseð) of God.