Praying through the Bible LOGO (square)

As we noted in the introduction to this section, First and Second Samuel, and First and Second Kings, are one continuous narrative divided into four “books.” It relates certain events from the history of the Israelites from the conquest of Canaan until the Babylonian Exile. The transition to kings from judges and prophets is an important topic. The writer(s) are addressing the question of whether a king is good or bad. The prayers in these stories function to address that issue, too. 

We have examined sixteen different passages that include prayers. There are nine petitions and four intercessions, two prayers of confession and repentance, two vows, three blessings and one curse. There is also one prayer of praise.

The petitions are offered by Hannah, for a son which she dedicates to God (1.11–17), and an example of both asking God for something we want and being able to dedicate it to him. Samuel offers most of the petitions. He asks for a king, as the people want (8.6), then a prayer to find Saul when he hides from his appointment (10.22). In a series of prayers, Samuel petitions God for the people to be protected by God (12.8–23). In these prayers, we learn that God will sometimes indulge us in something we want, even if it is not best for us, and that the role we have in prayer should be approached with seriousness. Likewise, in 14.41 and 24.12–19, we learn from Saul that rash prayers may bring difficulties for us. Another series of prayers are by David and show his desire to seek God before he makes important decisions, no matter how clear he thinks the answer might be (23.2–11; 30.8). Finally, we learn that God has his limits with the prayer attempts by Saul near the end of his life (28.6).

Two of the intercessions are positive examples, and two have a cloud over them. Samuel offers prayers for the people who recognize their unfaithfulness to God (7.5–9; 12.8-23). These stories are good examples of God’s willingness to forgive despite the level and time of one’s straying and sin. The next two intercessions are by Saul; both offered without thinking through the situation. One was when he confronts a priest for interceding for David; another was when his conscience is pricked again about his treatment of David (22.10–16; 24.12–19). Both teach us the importance of bold and unselfish prayer.

The two prayers of confession and repentance are both by the people of Israel (7.5–9; 12.8–23). Both come when they have sinned against God and, recognizing their failure, confess it and also ask Samuel to then interceded. We see here that confession and intercession can go together. 

Hannah offers the first vow in 1 Samuel, along with the petition mentioned above for a child. If God gives her a son, she will dedicate him to God (1.11–17). The second is a vow offered by Saul, but it is an ill-conceived vow, for if he had been held to it, he would have had to kill his son Jonathan (14.41). Our vows should not be offered in rashness and without careful consideration.

The three blessings are offered by Eli, Jonathan, and Saul. Once again, Saul’s prayer, while sincere at the time, is an emotional reaction to David sparing him his life (23.21). Eli blesses the newborn Samuel (2.20); Jonathan blesses David (20.13–16). All are examples of brief blessings that are models for our blessings.

The lone curse in 1 Samuel is in 1 Sam 3.17, made by Samuel. Though Samuel is held up as a model leader and prophet in this book, this vow is prompted by self-protection. Even Samuel, the writers show us, is not perfect. It is a good lesson to examine ourselves before we pray in many instances.

First Samuel contains a helpful variety of prayers for us to learn from—not only in the types of prayers, but in the attitudes behind the prayers and the purposes involved.